Two events with Cadwell Turnbull

IMG_8463.jpg

At the end of June and the beginning of July, I’ll be appearing with Cadwell Turnbull at a pair of bookstore events! Cadwell is releasing his debut novel, The Lesson, and he’s asked me to be the Q part of the Q&A for each event.

I recruited Cadwell for The Verge’s Better Worlds anthology, and his story, “Monsters Come Howling in Their Season” is a really fantastic read and listen, about a community-focused AI, and how people are working to cope with the upcoming hurricane season.

The Lesson is also set in the Caribbean, and is about what happens after an alien ship parks itself over the US Virgin Islands, and their violent responses when they’re personally messed with. I’m reading it now, and it’s a really interesting read. And I do have questions!

So, I’ll be asking him questions at the following events:

If you’re in the area, please come and say hello!

Also, for Vermonters: he’ll be appearing at Phoenix Books in Burlington on September 12th.

Costumes in progress

IMG_8063.jpg

While I’m writing a book about cosplay, I figured it was a good time to take a look at my own list of costume projects that have been in the works for a while. I’ve got a bunch of things that are in the works, above and beyond the costumes I already regularly use (Stormtrooper, First Order Stormtrooper, AOTC Clonetrooper, Shoretrooper). I’ve been meaning to take stock, to figure out what I need to do to clear off the to-do list.

Here’s what I’ve got, ranked in order of most complete to just shy of pipe dream.

First Order heavy trooper, The Force Awakens

This costume is actually done, wearable, and 501st approved, but there’s some additional things that I’m working on to flesh it out. I’m getting a friend to print me up an F-11D blaster for my First Order trooper, and I need to get a pistol for the thigh as well. I’ve got a couple of parts for a set of quadnocs that they carry around to use for troops where I can’t carry a blaster, and need to get the rest printed up. I also need to get the backpack painted — there’s some small details that I need to finish up on it, before I figure out how to get it attached to the costume itself. I saw someone at Celebration who had attached it to their equipment vest, and I might try and do something similar, rather than bolt it to the back of the suit, something I’ve been wanting to avoid.

212th Airborne Clone Trooper, Revenge of the Sith

I love this set of armor. It looks fantastic, and I really dig the orange-and-white color scheme, as well as all the gear that’s on it. I do like the 501st Legion clones from The Clone Wars, but the 212th Attack Battalion is by far my favorite.

A couple of years ago, I picked up the armor for this trooper, in trade for another clone that I’d made for Megan that she wasn’t wearing. This is the costume that I’ve got that’s closest to being completed: it really only needs some minor adjustments to get it to sit right. I tried it on recently, and really just need a spare set of hands to help me figure a couple of things out.

Some of the minor things: I need to put some screw on micro-grenades on the left shoulder bell (they’re held on with glue, and have a tendency to pop off. The shoulder strap needs some Velcro, I need to trim out a bit of the knee pads so that the foam isn’t visible, and I need to do something with the Kama.

The biggest issue so far has been the shins, which I haven’t been able to wear at all until now, because of how the 501st Legion handles approvals. I’ve made a small fix to allow me to get them on, and I think that that’ll work eventually with some fiddling. It’s definitely a costume that’s going to require a dedicated wrangler to get dressed.

Shoretrooper Grunt or Captain, Rogue One

So, I liked the Shoretrooper well enough that I went out and bought another one when it was on sale, with the intention of building it for my wife. This one’s fully trimmed out, but it’s sort of been languishing for months, because she’s pregnant and won’t fit into it for at least this year. So, maybe I finish it? Maybe I sell it? Who knows?

Sam Bell, Moon

This was a fun costume to throw together, and it’s another comfortable, casual con one. This one has all the patches on it — I just need a bigger logo decal for the back of the jumpsuit (I think that’s an iron-on thing), and it’ll be 100% finished. I’ve ordered one of the yellow shirts (Wake Me Up When It’s Quitting Time!) to wear under it. I’ve been searching for the red had that he wears, but it’s not required. I should find a pair of cheap aviators to hold in a pocket or something. Maybe I can find a coffee mug with the logo on it as well.

Jack Cooper, Titanfall 2

This is sort of a casual thing that I haven’t gotten around to doing yet, but I have the main component already: Cooper’s helmet. I loved Titanfall 2, and particularly the look and feel of the pilots who drive the giant mechs around.

Helmets are usually the most distinctive part of a costume, and this one is one of those rare pieces of merch that’s out there. I picked it up on sale a couple of years ago, and it’s a really nice piece. I’ve also ordered a pair of gloves that should work for this.

After that, I need the rest, and need to do a lot of research. At the very least, I need a red jumpsuit, and a bunch of accessories. I think I can get away with regular combat boots, but I need a pad for the shoulder (which I can get printed), knee pads (which I can probably modify from existing ones), body armor (not sure how to make that yet), knee coverings (probably something to sew together and strap on), combat knife, ammo magazines, the jetpack (not sure how to do that just yet), and a gun or two (which can be printed up). So, a lot to do, but a lot of the parts are out there, provided I get some time with a 3D printer.

ODST, Halo ODST

I have a random ODST helmet that a friend made years ago, with the idea of putting together an ODST costume at some point. I honestly thought I’d gotten rid of it, but I’m starting to think that I might just go and do it. There are a ton of printing or foam options when it comes to armor, and it could be a fun one to do. First step will be to finish up the helmet and get that cleaned up — it has some soft details in place, but i think that’ll be okay once it gets painted up. Not a huge priority, but it might look cool on a mannequin.

Belter, The Expanse

I don’t have anything for this one yet, but it’s a pretty easy thing to put together: blue jumpsuit, a bunch of patches, boots, fake tattoos. Should be pretty easy to put together, and like the Sam Bell costume, it would make for a good one for walking around a convention. There’s a growing group of people doing these costumes as well, which is cool. I’ve also got a helmet that was the base for a belter spacesuit helmet, and I need to do a bit of printing to get all the parts for that together.

Update: ordered coveralls and patches. Should be easy to throw together once they arrive.

Martian Marine Armor, The Expanse

Okay, this is the most ambitious project I have on my plate, and it’s a particularly fun challenge, because i haven’t worked a whole lot with foam yet. I’ve really wanted to put together Bobbie’s armor from The Expanse, because it looks awesome, and because Bobbie is one of my favorite characters from the series.

I have a bunch of foam mats that can be used for it, and looking at the armor itself, the shapes aren’t all that complicated. I need to do up a body drawing to get the basic shapes of each piece of armor sketched out, then do some trial-and-error. There’s a lot there — shoulders, upper arms, forearms, chest, abs, back, thighs, knees, shins. It’s on par with a stormtrooper with piece count, and it’s a bit more complicated, although some bits look like they should be pretty easy, like the thighs, shoulders, upper arms, and knees.

Someone in one of the Expanse costuming groups has been modeling the helmet, which would make things a whole lot easier. People have already begun sourcing the undersuit, which is cool, and another big component to check off the list.

Other Stuff

IMG_1210F98BF11B-1.jpeg

I have a handful of other things that I’ve been working on. I’m working on a ChemRail rifle from the movie Elysium, which just got its first coat of black paint. That’ll need another coat, some detail work, like coloring in the lettering, and painting the magazine, and a couple of other things here and there. This one doesn’t go with a costume, but it’ll make a nice display piece when it’s finished. I’ve also got some pieces of a Han Solo blaster that I’ve started printing out, but my printed is out of commission right now, and also a little too small for what I need. Might need to outsource that, but it’s not exactly a huge priority.

I’ve also got a couple of round satellite dishes that I acquired years ago from a friend, with the thought of turning one into a Captain America shield. After watching Avengers: Endgame, I’m thinking that I might start that project up again (if I still have them), with the intention of putting together something to mount on a wall.

Somewhere in there, I need to make a costume for my son for Halloween. Spider-man is a favorite right now, but that could obviously change at some point.

Finally, after Celebration, I ran into a couple of people who were suited up as Blue Squadron pilots from Rogue One. Imperial Boots sells the entire ensemble (minus the helmet), and while it’s a bit pricey, it looks fantastic. I’m very tempted. Maybe I’ll sell off the unfinished Shoretrooper to fund this.

I'm writing a book about the history of cosplay!

5223717678_45940ecb7f_o.jpg

Some personal news that I can now announce: I’m writing a book about the history of cosplay!

I’ve been calling the project Cosplay: A History, (something that might change), and it should be out by Summer 2021. Syfy has the details here.

But as fascinating as the current state of cosplay is, Liptak is also interested in exploring where it came from by researching the history of halloween costumes, Hollywood designers, and old costume masquerades from the earliest conventions. Cosplay: A History is a deep-dive examination into the dynamic story of cosplay and how it has grown to become a world-wide phenomenon.

Seth Fishman sold the book to Joe Monti at Saga Press, which I’m extremely excited about. Saga has published some really great books in the last couple of years (Seriously, I’m sharing the same space with people like Kameron Hurley, Rebecca Roanhorse, Ken Liu, Elizabeth Bear, Theodora Goss, and more — to say that I’m feeling imposter syndrome is an understatement.)

I’ve spoken with Joe a bunch of times over the years, and the topic of cosplay came up more than once. Those conversations dovetailed with a growing interest in Cosplay. I’ve dressed up in armor with the 501st Legion for more than a decade now, but I’ve begun thinking and writing about how people come together in larger communities over a shared interest in suiting up as their favorite heroes. I’ve written about costuming for outlets like io9 and The Verge, spoken about it on Vermont Public Radio and at Norwich University. In particular, I’ve gotten really interested in how the movement formed, and how it’s changed over time as new franchises pop up and as makers have begun to use new techniques to make costumes.

This book will be an attempt to expand on some of the writing that i’ve done over the years, looking the roots of cosplay and how costuming became this big, global phenomenon, how internet culture has helped shape it, and what it means for the future of entertainment. It’ll include interviews with folks about their involvement in the space, along with photographs of people I chat with along the way.

Obviously, there’ll be some nerding out about the 501st Legion, but also things like 3D printing, the rise of Comic-Con, and historical reenacting. I’m also hoping to talk about the wide range of costumes that are out there, from the marquee superheroes to the obscure characters that show up in the background of the Mos Eisley Cantina.

20046762_1001080719751_5090273547021363115_n.jpg

What I’m hoping to ultimately cover in this project is the relationship that people have with stories, and how costuming brings them closer to the characters and worlds they love, and how it allows them to interact with the text in unique ways.

I’ll be working on the book this summer and fall, and I’ll likely have a bunch of updates and anecdotes as I do so. The best way to stay up to date will be to sign up for my newsletter, but I’ll probably be posting up pictures to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter while I’m at conventions or generally researching it. I’d also like to hear from cosplayers from all eras — I’ll be setting up a way to get in touch about that.

My shop

IMG_7794.JPG

When we bought our house back in 2012, one of the biggest selling points was a basement workshop that the previous owners had installed. The husband/father was a tinkerer, according to his daughter, and there’s evidence of that scattered throughout the house in little ways: different types of screws holding on light fixtures, innovative shortcuts when it comes to things that were repaired, duct tape holding together random pipes. I’ll alternatively curse and marvel at this now that I’m the one doing my own work to fix or upgrade things.

I’ve put this workshop to use in the time that we’ve owned the house. I’ve built several costumes here, and worked on a bunch of other projects for the house. It’s got a fantastic work surface, plenty of outlets, and a lot of storage space that I’ve squirreled away parts and tools into. It’s become a bit of an organic mess, and one of my projects this year (along with the rest of the basement) is to give the walls a coat of paint to make it not quite so dark and cave-like.

I’ve been spring cleaning, and finally gone through and done a periodic cleanup down there. Basic stuff: putting the tools back into place, cleaning up a random pile of cat barf, swept up plastic and ceramic bits off the floor, restacked armor bins, and so forth. I’m in project mode right now, so I’m also taking stock of what projects I’ve got in the works.

I also need to set up some sort of shelving system for the various suits of armor that I’ve accumulated. It’s not entirely practical to mount them on mannequins when they’re not in use — it takes a long time to get them on and off. I also need to figure out some sort of gun rack for the various prop guns that I’ve accumulated over the years (E-11, E-22, DC-15, 2 DC-15Ss., and the ongoing ChemRail project), as well as helmets (X-Wing pilot, 3 Stormtroopers, Shoretrooper, First Order Stormtrooper, 212th and regular Clone, and a random Halo ODST bucket I forgot about.)

Another project(s) to add to the list of things to do this year.

A Roci of my own

IMG_7784.JPG

I’ve long been a fan of James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse series, and I’ve really enjoyed how the Syfy Channel (And now Amazon) have adapted the books for television. The show has largely nailed how I imagined the look and feel of the world presented in the books, and I was particularly happy with how the Rocinante turned out. It looks pretty much how I’d imagine a small Martian Corvette-class gunship might look like.

I recently reviewed the latest book in the series, Tiamat’s Wrath, and as with the rest of my book reviews, I’ve taken a picture of the physical book. I typically will throw in some sort of little knickknack that relates to the theme or subject of the book (like with my reviews for Big Damn Hero, Red Moon, or Solo). I actually used my 3D-printed model of the Rocinante for my review of Persepolis Rising back in 2017, but the angle didn’t really come out as well as I’d liked.

I got the model a couple of years ago when the Syfy Channel released a series of models from the series on Thingiverse, and someone went and posted some files for the guns. For that original review, I planned on painting it up to look like the MCRN Tachi, painting it up in black and then bright orange. That didn’t come out nearly as well as I’d liked — the orange paint I used wasn’t model paint, and it didn’t go on evenly.

For the new review, I wanted to reuse the model, and figured it was time to redo the paint job. I opted to turn it into the Roci, and painted over the entire thing with a couple of coats of gray automotive primer, which was about the right color. The paint cracked a little (too impatient), but between that, the extra sanding, and some of the scratches, it gave the surface a bit more of a worn, damaged/patched look.

I then went to the local model store and picked up some dark orange paint and a couple of fine brushes. Once the primer had completely dried, I hand-sketched on the bigger details with a pencil, and then applied the orange paint, then white. After that, I mixed up some black acrylic and watered it down, and then painted and wiped it off to give it a weathered look — kind of what I did with my Shoretrooper a couple of years ago.

This was the first time I’d ever actually painted a model, so the details are… rough, and a more experienced painter would do a much better job, I’m certain. I’m not actually sure it’s a hobby for me (although damned if I’m not getting Fantasy Flight’s Shoretrooper expansion when it’s out later this year), but it was fun to try out. I’m particularly happy with the pinup on the side, which I roughly painted on. It’s good from a distance, and it’ll hang out on the shelves in my office for now.

Wordplay: Star Wars Celebration, Rogue One, and Literary SF

I sent out the latest issue of Wordplay to subscribers yesterday, in which I recounted Star Wars Celebration and hanging out with other Shoretroopers, a bit about Rogue One, and some rants/thoughts about how the literary genre is simultaneously using / ignoring science fiction as a genre, even as more literary-styled novels are telling what are pretty much science fiction stories.

I’ve also recounted some of what I’ve been read and have been reading. You can read the latest issue here, or read past issues and subscribe here.

Star Wars Celebration 2019!

47628975951_c43d576fdb_b.jpg

I’m back in Vermont after a couple of days of travel to and from Chicago for Star Wars Celebration. I haven’t been since 2005’s Celebration III in Indianapolis, and it was an outstanding time.

Since i joined The Verge in 2016, I’ve gone to a bunch of big conventions — San Diego Comic Con and New York Comic-Con, both of which were a lot of fun, but extremely busy. We didn’t send anyone this year, but I’ve been wanting to go, so I took time off to attend on my own to work on a project that I’ve been working on, and I’ve just been wanting to go, you know, as a fan. The last couple of Celebrations have found me sulking at home, watching pictures of the fun on Facebook.

Because I wasn’t working for this con, I was able to bring along my Shoretrooper. I ended up buying a new case for it (one of these — I’m kicking myself for not buying one earlier) to transport my armor, and got on the train in Albany, and got in Friday morning. There were a bunch of panels that I thought about getting in line for, but ended up skipping everything in favor of just floating around taking pictures of cosplayers and conducting a bunch of interviews.


That ended up being a huge highlight. Big conventions like this bring out a ton of costumers and cosplayers, and just about everyone I asked was eager to pose for a quick portrait. I took a bunch on my regular camera, but I ended up taking most with my iPhone’s portrait mode, which worked out nicely. You can see the images I took in an album here. I’ve got some more that I need to process and upload.

Of course, I saw the trailer, standing in the middle of the exhibition hall with a ton of people. It looks fantastic. Palpatine’s laugh at the end had everyone screaming in the room, but what was really something was seeing Ian McDiarmid coming out on stage: “Roll it again.” My friend Bryan Bishop made a good observation on Twitter: that Palpatine has been the antagonist from the beginning of the franchise, and it seems appropriate that he’ll be there at the end, in one form or another. Plus, Lando back on the Falcon! Leia and Rey! Remnants of the Death Star! I’m excited for it.

The only other thing I was able to really check out was the Vader Immortal VR game coming out for Oculus Rift. That was something — I haven’t really used a VR headset before, and playing with a lightsaber was quite a bit of fun in that format. I don’t know that it’s something that I’d buy, but it was quite a bit of fun to experience.

47576710712_492f7ab73c_b.jpg

The most fun that I had was hanging out with other Shoretroopers. I spent Friday looking for them, but only caught glimpses of one or two, but on Saturday, I came across a group, took a couple of pictures, then ran up to my room to suit up. It took me 20-30 minutes to find the group. We then wandered around for a while, posting for pictures. I found myself in another group on Sunday after the big 501st Legion picture. We ended up at a big prop — a TX-225 tank — and posed for pictures with people there. I didn’t have my gun with me, and ended up on top, where I directed people to imagine that they were firing down range at rebels. The tiny bit of immersion was fun to play with. I de-suited for lunch, then returned a couple of hours later to take part in a larger Rogue One picture, which had a bunch of characters from that film, which was a lot of fun. (Still haven’t seen pictures of that floating around, weirdly).

And then, it was over. I got back on the train to Albany, rewatched Rogue One on the ride back, met up with Megan and Bram at a resort for the next day, then returned to Albany to pick up a couple of friends who had their flight canceled from under them. This was a lot of fun, and I’m kind of meh today — post-con blues are a thing, y’all.

What I loved about this show was just how positive things were. Everyone was thrilled to be there. Celebration is a good name for it — people are sharing in this collective obsession, and it was fun to be part of all of that. I’m already thinking about going to Celebration 2020 in Anaheim, California.

Wordplay: Tolkien and the horrors of World War I

This past weekend was the 16th annual Tolkien in Vermont conference, and I had a presentation this year, one that looked at Tolkien’s experiences during World War I. I’ve sent the entire presentation out in my latest newsletter, which you can read here. As always, you can sign up and read past issues here.

I included a couple of other things: I’ve opened up an account with Curious Fiction, a short story platform which looks really neat. You can find my profile here, and I’ve added up a couple of short stories. I’ve also restarted my Instagram account, because it turns out that it’s going to be kinda required for a new project I’m working on. You can follow along here. Expect… lots of costuming and book pictures.

Wordplay: streaming TV, science fiction & advertising, and fan fiction

59e7a76a-e9fb-4d17-a163-92f16223e452.jpg

The latest issue of Wordplay is now live and out to subscribers!

This issue covers a couple of topics: the proliferation of streaming services, and the opportunities that that leads to for creators, some thoughts on science fiction’s relationship with advertising, and some complaints about some recent fan fiction coverage online.

You can read the latest issue here (and past issues here), and subscribe to the letter here.

My Top 10 Games

NintendoSwitch_TLOZBreathoftheWild_artwork_illustration_01.0.jpg

There’s a tweet going around about the games that are your personal top 10 video games of all time. It’s been fun to think about, especially as I’ve never really been a huge gamer. But looking back, there have been a bunch of games that have been a huge influence on how I’ve thought about stories and speculative fiction over the years. Here’s my personal top-10 list.

10. Titanfall 2

I really wanted to like the original Titanfall, but I really don’t like online games. It’s just not an experience I enjoy. But Titanfall 2 was fantastic. I love the story, love the gameplay mechanics, and I REALLY love the fantastic mechs. I’m bummed that there doesn’t appear to be a third game on the horizon. This feels like a world that could really challenge Halo, and I’d love to see more of this world.

9. Mario Kart / Super Mario Odyssey

When I bought my Nintendo Switch, I quickly bought Mario Kart on Megan’s advice. It quickly became a good game that we could all play as a family, and something that we could cart along on family trips for when we had downtime or something. I also picked up Super Mario Odyssey, which we’ve also played quite a bit. I haven’t beaten this game, but I’ve had a lot of fun watching Megan and Bram play it.

8. Diablo 2

When I worked at Camp Abnaki, there was one year where we had a shared computer in the equipment room. It was an easy assignment that left a lot of time for playing, (or playing after hours), and I spent a lot of hours at Camp, and later, when I got my own computer, playing through this. I’m not sure that I ever actually beat the game, but I did have a lot of fun leveling up my character.

7. Sim City 2000

Who doesn’t love Sim City? I love building epic cities in this, and all the fiddly bits that it requires, from raising / lowering taxes to playing with crime rates, roads, and zoning. I’ve played a bunch of mobile apps, but none of them really compare to this one.

6. Age of Empires

When I got my first computer, one of the games I got hooked on in high school / college was Age of Empires. That shouldn’t be a surprise — I studied history, and loved this take on it, building up civilizations and destroying my neighbors. I haven’t been able to play it for years, but I’ve been thinking of taking out my old computer to give it a spin.

5. King’s Quest VI

My friend Laura Hudson’s game list reminded me of this one, and it brought back a flood of memories. I’m pretty sure that this game came with our first Compaq computer in the mid-1990s, and I spent hours and hours exploring the Green Isles and reveling in its mashup of mythologies and fairy tales. I recently went and watched a play-through on YouTube, and was struck at how funny and clever it is. This was a hard one — it took me forever to finish it.

4. Pokémon Go

I missed the boat on Pokémon when I was a youth. Kids at summer camp played it, but I thought it was kind of dumb — I only played serious games like Dungeons & Dragons (where we accidentally exploded a moose). But when Bram got into the franchise via friends at daycare and school, I started playing the game with him, and it’s been a good motivation to get out and walk around quite a bit more.

3. Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

This was probably the first video game that I ever really played, aside from the occasional visit to friends’ houses. My parents bought me a Game Boy, and it came with Zelda. It took me an embarrassingly long time to beat it, but I loved the game, and cried when I finally finished it. I went and replayed it just before Breath of the Wild came out, and it holds up nicely. I’d wanted to see a BOTW-style remake, but I’ll certainly be playing the 3D remake that’s coming later this year.

2. Halo / Halo: Reach / Halo: ODST

Halo was the first time I really got into gaming. It came out when I was a summer camp counselor at Camp Abnaki, and every summer for years, I played with my friends while we had downtime. I love military science fiction, so the power armor and FPS thing works for me, but the controls and gameplay were intuitive, the design was great, and it’s a neat story in a much larger narrative. I’ve since really gone on to love Halo: ODST for its story, as well as Halo: Reach for enriching the backstory. I’m a bit more lukewarm on Halo 3, but I do really enjoy Halo 4, especially its guns. Halo 2 and 5 are a hot mess, though.

1. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

I can’t begin to imagine just how many hours I’ve spent playing this game. Not just in beating the main story, but just wandering around and exploring. This is a game that rewards curiosity, and walking, running, and riding across this fantastic version of Hyrule never feels like wasted time. I played this a lot with Bram, who watched and helped me with the puzzles and shrines, an experience that I’ll treasure forever. On top of that, the design and artwork is stunning, the gameplay is incredibly good, and the shrines and quests are wonderful.

Meet Robbie

Rosie (closest) and Robbie (furthest). I hope they’ll be friends.

Rosie (closest) and Robbie (furthest). I hope they’ll be friends.

When Megan and I got married, I put a Roomba on our wedding registry on a whim — I didn’t actually think anyone would get one for us. But someone did, and it was a delight to have a robot servant in the house. I named it Rosie, and for the last seven years, it’s been dutifully cleaning the floors.

Seven years is a long time for a robot, as it turns out. Things break, and I’ve replaced its brush motor, brushes, and other random pieces over the years. I’ve even printed parts for it on occasion, and dismantled it completely for a couple of cleaning sessions. Robots that crawl around on the floor picking up dirt get dirty — go figure. It’s still chugging away, but it’s a bit louder, and doesn’t always work as well on the carpets.

I’ve been thinking of replacing it for a while now, and when another one popped up for sale, I splurged and bought one. This new one is a slightly upgraded model — a Roomba 640, which I’m calling Robbie. It’s a bit of a step up and a step down from Rosie, which is a Roomba 500 model. This new one is quieter, it seems like it’s a bit smarter, and it works exceptionally well. But while I can schedule Rosie to begin work at 9AM, this new one doesn’t have a scheduling feature, and it’s a little hard to tell when it’s charging. But, after running it in our bedroom, Megan came home and asked if I’d vacuumed it. High praise.

I’d originally thought that I’d hand off Rosie to a friend, but after putting the two of them together, I realized just how attached I’d become to it. That’s not uncommon, apparently. In Wired for War, P.W. Singer wrote about how soldiers became incredibly attached to their packbots (also made by iRobot). Rosie’s been a constant presence in the house, even though it can be loud and exasperating at times, it’s almost like a pet. So, Rosie will stick with what it’s good at — handling the harder floods downstairs, while Robbie will handle everything else — bedrooms and basement

Wordplay: Netflix's Anthology and the Apollo program

50b22255-2db9-4323-8ada-cdaed46172b4.jpg

Wordplay is back on schedule, with a new post this last weekend. I spoke about a couple of things: Netflix’s new science fiction anthology, Love, Death + Robots, which is quite a bit of fun to watch, and adapts stories from people like John Scalzi, Ken Liu, and Marko Kloos.

I also write about the recent documentary Apollo 11, which is fantastic.

You can read this latest issue here, and if you like it, sign up and read past issues here.

Wordplay: Awards scuffle and influence

This latest installment of Wordplay has been… delayed. I’ve been sick, and only just now gotten around to typing it up and sending it out. You can read the latest installment here. In it, I’m talking about Betty Ballantine, my probable nominations for the Hugo Awards (due Saturday), and some thoughts on the latest awards scuffle. Plus, what I’ve been reading and what’s coming up.

If you like it, subscribe here.

Wordplay: IP + Collective SF

4789f2b8-9a0f-4aa1-b300-097a14c330ef.jpg

I’ve had two installments of Wordplay go up this month:

The first is The future will be collective, a short musing on two Verge stories that went up at the beginning of February: Cadwell Turnbull’s Monsters Come Howling in Their Season, and my feature about Front Porch Forum. Both touch on a couple of similar issues: pushing governance down to a community level, and how that seems to be a good model for tackling major problems.

The second came out last weekend while I was at Boskone, and came out of a couple of conversations that I had with people about intellectual property and how authors and creators should have this at the back of their mind, and how the model for developing new works is beginning to shift in some interesting ways. Plus, some whining about convention panels.

As always, you can sign up and read back issues here.

While I’m at it, I’ll recommend signing up for Eliot Peper’s newsletter — he does a bunch of book recommendations each month, and they’re always pretty interesting.

Appearance: Tolkien in Vermont Conference

download.png

I got word last week: UVM’s Tolkien in Vermont conference has accepted my proposal for a presentation for its upcoming, 16th annual conference, Tolkien and Horror. The conference is a neat, two-day event that the university’s English department hosts. In line with this year’s topic, I’ll be talking about the impact of Tolkien’s experiences during the First World war had on him, and his fiction.

Tolkien, of course, participated in the conflict, and it left him profoundly shaken. I’ve presented at this a couple of times already — in 2014 and 2015, mainly about Tolkien’s impact on fantasy. I also spoke at Norwich University’s Sullivan Library back in 2016 on a related topic, although this year’s paper will delve a bit more into wartime imagery worked its way into Tolkien’s Middle-earth — think Frodo, Sam, and Gollum’s trek over the Dead Marshes in The Two Towers, where they encounter the dead from an ancient battle.

This year’s conference will take place on April 5th and 6th (my talk will be on the 6th, although I’m not sure what time, exactly) at UVM in Burlington. It’s open to the public — tickets are $25 ($15 if you’re from Vermont, and free for UVM students), and the last couple of times that I’ve gone, it’s been a delightful, enlightening afternoon. If you can’t make it, i’ll probably include my presentation in my newsletter.

New Project: TST ChemRail Rifle from Elysium

IMG_6791.jpg

I’ve got a new prop-building project that I’m embarking on: a TST-ChemRail rifle from Neill Blomkamp’s 2013 film Elysium.

I’m a big fan of the film — it’s one of my favorites out there, with a solid story, fantastic worldbuilding, and messaging. Not everyone agrees, but it’s one that I’ll stand by. One of the things that have always impressed me with Blomkamp’s films is the design of the world, and Elysium’s far-flung future is loaded with military gear and tech. In particular, I’ve always really liked the ChemRail gun that’s used at a pivotal point in the film — Max grabs it when he’s onboard the station, and uses it as he works his way to the control center. It’s a futuristic weapon, but one that’s functional and realistic-looking device that isn’t cartoon-y, like so many science fiction weapons can be.

Last fall, the Replica Props Forum posted up a couple of pictures on Twitter from one of their member-builders: a ChemRail gun that they had designed based on reference images and sold as a 3D-printed kit.

I ended up splurging on it at the end of the year, figuring it would make for a good build project. It just arrived earlier today, and I’m really impressed with the quality and detail. The print is extremely clean (ANY seller who cleans up their 3D prints before shipping is appreciated) and finer details like logos and functional pieces are printed right into the design. It isn’t an exact match — I spotted some tiny things that differ, but they’re unnoticeable if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

IMG_6795.jpg

The printed blocks are also finely-printed, which means that they won’t need a whole lot of cleanup anyway — a bit of sanding, then glue, a couple of coats of primer, paint, and then weathering. It’s kind of goofy-looking now, because the printer just threw whatever filament they had on hand to get it finished.

So, step one will be to sand down the entire thing. I did a little with a piece of fine sandpaper to start over lunch, and it works nicely. Fortunately, the original prop models were also 3D printed, and they have some of the print lines remaining, so I don’t actually have to make this super-smooth. The only thing I really need to get for this is a thin dowel to go through the middle, which will provide it with a bit of a spine when everything is glued together.

IMG_6792.jpg


Once it’s done, it’ll go… somewhere. I’ll probably find a way to mount it on the wall in my office. I’m not a huge fan of real guns, but I’ve always thought it would be cool to have an armory of weapons from science fiction and fantasy films at some point.

Interviewed by File 770 about Better Worlds

VRG_BW_Lede-1024x768.jpg

Mike Glyer at File 770 recently interviewed me about the online anthology that I’ve been working on, Better Worlds. Mike asked some good questions about the balance between science and technology, the larger impact of the project, and some advice for aspiring writers.

MG: What’s your advice for aspiring science fiction authors?

ANDREW LIPTAK: There’s a lot of advice out there that’s good — read a lot, write a lot, and read what you’ve written out loud, and so forth.

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is how incredibly valuable it is to break out of your shell / community / circle of writers / group to discover new ideas and viewpoints. I recently moderated a panel on the implications of artificial intelligence at the United States Military Academy at West Point, and I came out of that three-day experience with a notepad full of ideas for potential stories, based on what I’d seen and heard.

In other, related Better Worlds news, we’ve released a couple of other stories since I first updated about the project back in January. We’ve got ‘Online Reunion’ by Leigh Alexander, ‘A Model Dog’ by John Scalzi, ‘Monsters Come Howling in Their Season’ by Cadwell Turnbull, ‘St. Juju‘ by Rivers Solomon, ‘The Burn’ by Peter Tieryas, ‘A Sun Will Always Sing’ by Karin Lowachee, and ‘Skin City’ by Kelly Robson. We’ve got three more stories coming up — ‘Move The World’ by Carla Speed McNeil (coming Friday), ‘Overlay’ by Elizabeth Bonesteel (coming Monday), and ‘Machine of Loving Grace’ by Katherine Cross (coming Wednesday).

The project has been a bear, and it’s great to finally see the stories up online. Of the entire group, I think my favorite stories are the ones by ‘Monsters Come Howling in Their Season’, ‘A Sun Will Always Sing’, and ‘A Theory of Flight’, but that’s not to say that I don’t really like everything else on this table of contents. The art is superb — all credit there goes to William Joel, our Art Director for the project, and I’ve really enjoyed the videos — especially ‘A Theory of Flight’ and ‘A Sun Will Always Sing.’ The video for ‘Overlay’ is also quite good — you’ll see that next week.

I’m also a big fan of the audio adaptations, which feature full casts and sound effects, which really puts them a leg up and above other fiction podcasts that I’ve heard. I’m biased, of course, but the general feedback that I’ve seen in online comments on the videos and on Twitter / Facebook have been almost uniformly positive.

Three cool songs I've been listening to

I’m constantly on the hunt for new music to listen to, and in the past week, I’ve added a couple of new songs to what I call my “.Best New” playlist. It’s a playlist (the . at the beginning ensures that it’s at the top of my playlist column in iTunes) that I basically dump any new song I come across that I’ve been enjoying, and keep it around until I’ve heard it enough.

First up is a new song from Josh Ritter, “Old Black Magic”. He just announced a new album called Fever Breaks, which is due out in April of this year. Ritter is one of those artists that will pretty much get me to drop anything and preorder. I’ve been a fan of his for over a decade now, and I’ve seen him a bunch of times in concert — he always puts on a great show.

This song is a good one of his, and it really highlights some of the progression I’ve seen him go through as an artist — he has a great Americana sound, going from melodic to folksy, to rock. This one’s definitely more on the rock end of the spectrum, and I really love the beat and drive that this one has. It really has me eagerly anticipating Fever Breaks.

The Mountain Goats are another band that I’ve been a fan of over the years, although I haven’t listened to them as closely as I have with Josh Ritter. I’ve always appreciated the nerdiness of The Mountain Goats, who have released songs about H.P. Lovecraft (“Lovecraft in Brooklyn”), vampires (“Damn these Vampires”) and some others. I interviewed their lead singer, John Darnielle, and we had a good conversation about American gothic literature. Sadly, the audio didn’t work out, and I’ve never published it.

Their next album looks like it’s going to be their nerdiest one yet: it’s a collaboration with Dungeons & Dragons called In League with Dragons. Darnielle described the album as “Dragon noir,” which sounds utterly perfect. Also instantly preordered.

The final song is one from an album I’ve already preordered: Extra-Ordinary by Lost Leaders, who I discovered last fall while traveling to Toronto. This is the song that they teased on their campaign video for their upcoming album, Promises Promises, which is due out next month. I really love their sound, and this one really popped for me — the chorus is really great, and I’ve been listening to it non-stop for a week or so now.

Front Porch Forum feature

I just published a big feature on The Verge: “How a Vermont became a model for online communities.” It’s a piece that’s been in the works for more than a year now, about a social network here in Vermont called Front Porch Forum.

The piece started back in the fall of 2017 — I made an offhand comment about it during a story meeting, which peaked our Editor in Chief, Nilay Patel’s interest. FPF is a network of forums that exists here in Vermont — each town gets a forum (for the most part), where they can post messages to. Most people use it for things like asking for recommendations (I’ve gotten reliable names for plumbers and carpenters through it), for highlighting lost pets, or in more extreme instances, helping with disaster recovery, as what happened in 2011 when Irene devastated the state. It was particularly helpful in my hometown of Moretown.

I began work on the article, and our staff photographer, Amelia Krales came by to take pictures of various locations in Vermont — Moretown, Westford, and Burlington. Her pictures are fantastic, and worth clicking on the story in and of themselves.

Between my other responsibilities at work, this was a slow-burning piece. That worked a bit in our favor, because last year was when social media had a pretty bad year — Facebook was engulfed in a bunch of scandals, while Twitter had its own issues. What makes FPF stand out, I think, is that it’s pushing social connections down to a local level, rather than a global one — and, they police their content, and are pretty proactive about booting people who are being abusive.

It’s a complete coincidence that it came out today, just after Cadwell Turnbull’s short story, Monsters Come Howling in Their Season, went up on the site, which deals very much with some similar (fictional) issues.

A lot of people helped with this: Josh Dzierza and Casey Newton edited, our features editor Kevin Nguyen took a pass. Adia Watts copyedited all 4000+ words, and Amelia took the fantastic pictures. I’m really happy with how it turned out, and I think it’s one of the better things I’ve written for the site.

Wordplay #7: Tolkien, Tolkien, Tolkien

IMG_6658.jpg

This latest Wordplay letter was late: I had to contend with a busy work schedule last week (I write these in bits and pieces of the week, then send it once it’s all compiled), as well as a snowstorm in which my snowblower conked out.

No huge overarching theme this week, but I’ve been in a bit of a Tolkien mode the last couple of weeks, so I’m talking about that.

Give the issue a read here, and sign up here.