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The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee
Mass Market Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Spectra
ISBN-10: 0553581279
ISBN-13: 978-0553581270

One of the best things about older science fiction is its ability to stand the test of time. Although The Silver Metal Lover was originally published in 1981, the story, characters, and events are so universal that it could have been written only yesterday. Many of today’s authors have lost this knack, the talent of writing universal stories that will be as applicable in twenty or forty years as they are this year.

Jane is a living girl afraid to live. Having grown up as a pet project of her mother’s, she has no will or thoughts or opinions of her own, merely what those around her believe she should have. Her mother has even chosen what Jane will look like, ordering her prescriptions and hair treatments that leave her plump and plain. Her friends are not really her friends, and the course of her life has been set since the moment her mother chose to be artificially inseminated.

All of this monotony changes in a moment when Jane sets her eyes upon Silver for the first time. S.I.L.V.E.R. stands for Silver Ionized Locomotive Verisimulated Electronic Robot. Electronic Metals has released a new and innovative line of robots, designed to appear nearly human and with extraordinary creative skills. Silver is one of these robots, let out into Jane’s city to act as a walking advertisement for the new models. He sings and plays music like that of a master musician, and Jane is instantly drawn to and repelled by him.

As they run into each other over the next few days, Jane begins to realize that Silver is like no man or robot she has ever encountered before. Eventually, she falls in love with him, and gives up everything she knows to buy him and be with him. When the government forces Electronic Metals to recall their too-human robots after pressure from a discontented public, Jane and Silver must run from the corporation determined to melt him down into scrap.

Jane herself is represented well as an inexperienced, sheltered rich girl. She doesn’t lord her wealth over others, but does take it for granted in the usual privileged way. Her most telling sacrifice and the true start of the story is when she sells her possessions in order to pay for Silver. Jane has never exerted her will or her own desires on anyone, always letting others take the lead, especially her mother. It takes a dramatic upheaval in her emotions for her to begin realizing how very controlled she is, and for her to start breaking that control. Silver is a catalyst for asserting her own independence.

The relationship between Jane and Silver could so easily have become clichéd and sickly sweet, but instead the problems that arise between them are serious and taken seriously. Their relationship isn’t perfect, and neither are either of them, regardless of the fact that Silver was supposedly constructed perfectly. As Jane begins to live her own life, she in turn brings Silver to life through her own human emotions and reactions. They grow and change through each other, in a way that two human partners often don’t learn how to do.

The side characters in the story are themselves interesting people, each with their own neuroses and flaws. Clovis, possibly Jane’s closest friend, is unable to love or be loved. He frequently uses cheap parlor tricks to get his live-in lovers to vacate, including holding phony séances in which a spirit tells them to leave. He is also very casually and matter-of-factly gay. Egyptia is a self-absorbed drama queen, often putting herself at the center of attention in as loud a way as possible. Jane’s mother, Demeta, is a distant and calculating figure, manipulating Jane and her life in whatever manner she deems best. Each character we meet plays a vital part in the story, no matter how minor it may seem at the time.

I wouldn’t call this story realistic, because in reality I think life would have been much harder for them once they moved into a place of their own and tried supporting themselves. But again, it’s science fiction, and it’s difficult to imagine what the reality of this situation would be like. Tanith Lee has a very elegant touch with descriptive words and personal narratives. You never get tired of hearing Jane’s inner thoughts, and it’s fascinating to watch Jane grow from a mousy child into an independent woman. There are some corny parts in The Silver Metal Lover, but it is after all a love story, and they are kept to a minimum.

This book not only brings up questions of self awareness and personal freedom. Hinted at is the implication that even as humanity strives for perfection within themselves and their machines, a truly perfect copy of a human would never be accepted. The idea that a machine could be a better human than a real human is a concept that the general public could never tolerate. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for thought provoking science fiction on top of a good love story. I know I’ll be thinking about The Silver Metal Lover for days.

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Lois McMaster Bujold is a Science Fiction and Fantasy author, with several series in both genres. Her most recognizable work is her science fiction series, The Vorkosigan Saga, featuring the intrepid genius Miles Vorkosigan and his extended family. Bujold’s characters are complex and interesting, and her series remain relevant even years after publication. (Due to the length of the interview, half will be posted today and half tomorrow, 02/09/10)

Q1: What draws you to speculative fiction?
LMB: I’ve been reading the stuff since I was nine years old, and found the magazines and books my engineering professor father left lying around — he used to buy SF to read on the plane during consulting trips. I of course read the children’s versions found in my school library, when I ran out of horse stories — I find I’m by no means the only SF writer of my generation with fond memories of Eleanor Cameron’s The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet — but my dad’s discards were the first fiction aimed at adults that I’d read.

What drew me was the adventure and the humor I occasionally found. One of the earliest hits for me was Eric Frank Russell’s Men, Martians, and Machines, which had it all, and L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt’s The Incomplete Enchanter on the fantasy side. (Which actually inspired me at age 15 to read Spenser’s entire epic poem The Faerie Queene, although probably not in the mode Spenser’d had in mind. But no writer can imagine all their readers.) William Tenn and Robert Sheckley, I dimly recall, also had occasional humorous short stories. James Schmitz’s The Witches of Karres — I own a Chilton first printing, bought new. I first encountered Bradbury about then, too. I don’t note him for humor, but he did have some upbeat tales like “A Medicine for Melancholy” that kept me coming back. When I had a subscription to Analog Magazine back in the 60s, I would always open it up and read the stories illustrated by Kelly Freas first, in the hopes that they would be funny. Randall Garrett was always a good bet. Adventure was offered by too many writers to name, but then as now, smart humor was thin on the ground

My current favorite fantasy writer is Terry Pratchett, so my hunger for humor seems not to have shifted much over the decades.

Q2: What was the first piece you ever had published?

LMB: My first professional sale was a short story, “Barter”, which appeared in the now-long-defunct Twilight Zone Magazine in 1985.

Curiously enough, it was a little comedy.

Q3: What did it feel like?

LMB: Like being lifted by a rescue helicopter. I’d been circulating a few short stories while working on my first novels, and had collected several rejection slips, experiencing the agonizing waits for same. About four months after I’d sent the tale in and had despaired of it, the acceptance appeared as a little blue Twilight Zone letterhead post card, with a typed message from editor T.E.D. Klein on the back, fallen down to the bottom of my front porch post box. I still have the card, somewhere. (A quick look in my filing cabinet just unearthed the original contract, which was for $250 and dated September 1984; the story was published in the spring of 1985.)

I was wildly excited, and ran upstairs to show it to my then-husband, who was perhaps less excited to be woken up. (He, and I, did a lot of shift work back in the day.) Validation from actual grown-ups! In New York City! The boost to my morale was enough to keep me writing through the end of The Warrior’s Apprentice and all of Ethan of Athos, at which point my second professional sale was three completed novels to Baen Books.

Now, that was a day — mid-October, 1985. That news came as a phone call from Jim, about whom I knew absolutely nothing at the time; my reaction was a weird amalgam of total elation (and relief) undercut by newbie-writer paranoia. I eventually learned enough to get over the paranoia, but it took some time.

Q4: What was the defining moment that made you say “Yes, I’m a writer”?

LMB: I’m not sure there was one defining moment; more a succession of steps. Finishing the early short stories, finishing the first novel, finishing something in my life for a change. (I had many false starts.) Encouragement from friends. The professional sales were what first allowed me to say “I’m a writer” out loud in front of people, though. At that point, I had proof, not just a dodgy and time-consuming hobby.

Q5: How long have you been writing? What keeps you writing?

LMB: The two short answers, in order, are: Since third grade, and Need for income.

To expand a little, I really started trying to write in junior high school, and kept trying through early college. (The results were fragmentary.) I was then distracted for a decade by marriage, work, and eventually children, and did not come back to those aspirations till my early 30s. At that point, it was time to railroad, as the old turn of phrase has it.

Once my career was finally up and running, it provided a lot of positive reinforcement: income, an adult identity, much-longed-for personal validation, and human attention. SF is both a career and a community.

This line of work also meshes well with both my control-freak and my reclusive proclivities. I am not entirely sure that writing (and reading) fiction isn’t actually a dissociative disorder, which suggests that I will keep on regardless of need for income, or till someone comes up with the right meds.

Q7: What is your favorite speculative fiction work?

LMB: I’m not sure I have a single favorite, but certainly The Lord of the Rings is the work to which I’ve returned most persistently, since I first read it in 1965. The text is the same, but I keep changing, so the reading of it keeps changing. Remarkably durable, that book.

I’ve occasionally thought that if I ever end up taking one of those one-way trips to a hospice, that would be the book I’d want to take along. For one thing, it would be all right if I didn’t get a chance to finish…

Q8: There are 13 books and at least 5 short stories within the Miles Vorkosigan universe. How many more books and/or short stories do you think you’ll write for the series?

LMB: I have no idea. The series structure is open-ended, so there is no final grand climax at which I have ever been aiming. But after a several-book break from the series, I have just completed a new Miles novel for publisher Toni Weisskopf at Baen. (I’ve been working with Toni for almost as long as with the late Jim Baen.) I finished final revisions this past July.

Title is CryoBurn, projected publication date is November 2010, which makes right now a little early to start promoting. It’s an adventure with Miles in mystery-mode, an Imperial Auditor investigation on a planet called Kibou-daini, a new setting, which I hope will help keep readers from totally second-guessing the plot before the book’s even printed. Miles is now 39. The tale is multi-viewpoint, featuring Miles, Armsman Roic, and a local lad named Jin Sato. As usual, what Miles starts out to do and what he ends up doing are only tenuously related.

Q9: Which of the Vorkosigan books or short stories is your personal favorite and why?

LMB: Hm, hard question. Memory, I suppose, because it’s where my on-going central theme of personal identity and how it breaks and grows and changes gets the hardest workout. And it’s all about second chances, which grow increasingly important as one grows older, if only because one has long ago used up all one’s first chances.

And A Civil Campaign, because it’s ornery and a comedy.

Q10 & 11: Because of his body, Miles must rely on brain over brawn, making him almost an anti-hero. What was the inspiration for such a strange main character? Is Miles Vorkosigan based off of anyone in real life?

LMB: Not whole. Like most characters, he’s an amalgam who is forged by the events of his books into an alloy, and becomes himself through his actions (and he’s exceptionally active.)

He actually began as a thing to do to Aral and Cordelia — I first envisioned him back when I was still writing Shards of Honor. I knew their first son and heir would be born damaged, and be smart, short, and difficult. I knew that before I knew his name, or that he would be an only child. With that for a magnetic core, he began to attract other elements. Direct inspirations include T.E. Lawrence, another ambitious soldier who was brilliant, squirrelly, and short, and a physical template from a hospital pharmacist I used to work with back in my 20s, from whom I stole the height, physique, chin tic and leg braces. Miles’s “Great Man’s Son” syndrome comes from my relationship with my own father, who was a professor of engineering of international repute.

Side note: What is the precise definition of the term “anti-hero”, anyway? My old dictionary doesn’t help. But I don’t think Miles is one.

Return tomorrow for the second half of the interview.

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For more information about Lois McMaster Bujold and her writing visit her fan-run website, The Bujold Nexus.

You can purchase books from The Vorkosigan Saga and her other series through Amazon, Borders, and Powell’s Books

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Tu Publishing is a new small press trying to raise enough money through donations to buy their first manuscripts. They are focused on promoting multi-cultural Science Fiction and Fantasy in Young Adult Literature, a goal that A Working Title fully supports. Stacy Whitman is the Editorial Director. They have 18 days left for their fundraiser at KickStarter and still have a lot of money to raise. I hope the readers of A Working Title will do what they can to help get this small press off the ground.

Q1: What drew you to create Tu Publishing?

TP: Several things, really. I’d been looking for the next step for a while, after freelancing for about six months after a layoff, and a friend actually suggested it one night—let’s start a small press. I thought she was joking, but in fact she was serious. We started putting together a business plan, and looking at niches we might be able to fill. I wanted to work on fantasy and science fiction because that’s what I love. I’ve always tried to seek multicultural characters and settings as an editor, and I’d become even more aware of the issue because of the RaceFail discussion. While RaceFail mostly addressed adult fantasy and science fiction, the discussion carried over into an awareness of how few multicultural settings and characters we really have in YA SFF, too. So it seemed quite natural to investigate how the small press I wanted to start might be able to fill at least a little of this gap.

Q2: What is the idea behind the Multicultural aspect? Do you feel that Young Adult fantasy and science fiction is currently lacking in diversity?

TP: Yes and no. A number of really great fantasies have come out lately with diverse characters—Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix, Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Shannon Hale’s Book of a Thousand Days, and Alison Goodman’s Eon: Dragoneye Reborn to name a few. Yet these books might not be as well-known to a general audience as some other middle grade and YA fantasy titles, and there are fewer of them. It’s hard to get solid numbers on fantasy, but if you look at the CCBC’s numbers from 2008, out of 3000 books that year, only about 3% of those books had significant African or African American content that wasn’t a geography book, and 2% were Latino.

It’s hard to say how many of those were fantasy, or if the CCBC counted fantasy separately from multicultural books, but another list that was recently put together by Elizabeth Bluemle, a bookseller (I’m looking for the link, but I believe it’s waaay back in my Twitter feed), of recent books featuring African American or other characters of color, and about 24 of over 600 books were fantasy. Even adding in the 50-some books we listed in separate book list blog posts, that’s not a large number.

We often have “diversity” in fantasy in the different kinds of fantasy species we run into—whether that be elves, dwarves, pixies, or dragons. But often the main human character is white, and the folklore upon which the story depends is Western European. There are so many cultures from around the world, and so many different kinds of foundations upon which a fantasy story can be built. I think it’s important for us in publishing to remember that. And we’ve got great examples of this kind of storytelling, but we need more of them.

Q3: What do you hope to accomplish through Tu Publishing?

TP: To publish great stories that entertain and inspire, and for those stories to reach a wide audience, including an audience that might not have seen themselves in fantasy before.

Q4: Why focus on YA and children’s books?

TP: Why not? Children’s and YA is the place to be! I love what a renaissance we’re going through in YA right now. Stories for young people tend to focus on the story more than in many adult genres: they’re more about characters and plot and less about showing the reader how artful the writer can be with a sentence. And I think this makes for better writing. Now, there are a number of adult books that I enjoy. But I love seeing individual child readers light up at finding a story they really connect with—stories that make them lifelong readers.

Q5: Why science fiction and fantasy?

TP: While realistic novels and picture books have plenty of publishers making sure that a wide variety of stories get told, with a wide variety of cultures and people represented in them, fantasy tends not to get this kind of attention. We still have a long way to go on many fronts, don’t get me wrong. But fantasy is a genre that, due to my experience and qualifications, I can do something about.

Q6: Who are some of your influences?

TP: There are so many, it’s hard to really pick! A major influence on getting started on this project in the first place would be my friend Charisa, who is the friend whose joke started the whole idea. She’s a huge anime fan and got me watching a lot of it this last year or so (I have liked it for years, but never knew where to start beyond Miyazaki and Avatar: The Last Airbender), and my awareness of anime and manga got me thinking about what I now know to be interculturalism (see below for more on that).

Robert Jordan was one of the first authors I read who created a world inspired by our whole world—not just European culture, but Asian culture, African culture, a wide range of mixing and matching of different influences. I loved picking out possible inspirations for all the different cultures he created, and I loved yelling at his characters and telling them to just talk to each other—as I kept devouring volume after volume. I’m actually in the middle of a reread of the books, because I haven’t read them for a few years and the newest volume is out now, and it takes me back to 1992 when I first picked up The Eye of the World as a freshman in college, wide-eyed, from a farm town in western Illinois where I could count on one hand the people of color I knew. As a kid, I’d always wondered why I wasn’t born Japanese, and in Jordan’s books I was able to explore a multitude of cultures.

But most of all, I blame my college roommates. 🙂 Over the course of a few years, I lived with two Laotians, two Brazilians, two Koreans, one black Englishwoman, three Canadians, one Puerto Rican, and one Mexican (the last with whom I plan on eating Thanksgiving dinner with on Thursday!). That doesn’t even count those who came in later years. These strong, intelligent, awesome women, and many other neighbors and friends over the years, taught me about their cultures and helped me to see beyond my own. I always joke that one day I’m going to go on a world tour and never stay in a hotel, but really, they gave me a world tour by being my friends. Why shouldn’t everyone get to have a similar experience through reading?

And, of course, I hope that our books, in some small way, also might influence people to find more of a reason to seek out friends of different backgrounds from themselves in real life.

Q7: What has it taken to get Tu Publishing started? Can you walk us through a little of the process?

TP: I’ve been working on the business plan since March of 2009, and registered the business that summer. I’ve been working with a Small Business Administration coach to help me navigate the parts of starting a business I’m not as familiar with (accounting, for example), and she’s been a huge help in the process. As I built my business plan, I also have been learning Illustrator, because though I have a designer friend who will help me, I’ll be implementing a lot of his art direction. I’ve been putting together a marketing and PR plan, putting together financials such as P&Ls for sample books, cash flow statements, and budgeted income statements, and basically doing the footwork for planning a business—and of course, being in publishing makes it that much more complicated. I’ve had to calculate royalties, plan for how I’ll handle advances, and explore accounting procedures. I had to decide whether the business should be an LLC, S-corp, or C-corp. I’ve been reading a LOT of business and marketing books to be sure that I’m well-grounded in the areas of the business I’m not as familiar with.

The biggest challenge has been funding, of course. It takes a lot of money to start a publishing company. We’ve been running a fundraising campaign at Kickstarter that has about 18 days left to go (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1586632165/tu-publishing-a-small-independent-multicultural) and to support that, several friends have started an online auction (http://community.livejournal.com/kickstart_tu/) to benefit the Kickstarter. I’ve applied for grants, and I have had a private investor approach me, as well. Between all these and a small business loan, we hope to be open for submissions come January 2010.

Q8: You are relying on donations to buy your first manuscripts. How much do you still need to reach your goal?

TP: Right now, our Kickstarter is 31% funded. So we need another $6900 to reach our goal by Dec. 14. The best part about this kind of fundraising is that, much like a PBS campaign, everyone who donates–whether it’s $5 or $50–gets a reward for their donation. Bookmarks, advance reader’s copies, books donated to their library, that kind of thing.

If we reach our goal, everyone wins. If we don’t reach our goal, no money exchanges hands. It seemed like a great way to get started and to get the word out about what we hope to accomplish at the same time. We’ll also be approaching banks for a small business loan, but we’ve all been hearing about how few loans are getting made in this economy, so we hope that between the Kickstarter and a few other resources (including, of course, money out of my own savings account and out of my pocket going forward–$10,000 is only the beginning of what a company like this will need) we’ll be able to show a few sales to the banks first.

Q9: Do you have any particular authors or future authors in mind for your first purchases?

TP: I have several authors in mind, and many more who I’ve been talking with, but I’m not at a point yet where I’m ready to talk about specifics. I’ve worked with a number of authors in the past who I’d love to continue working with, and hopefully some of those authors will have something that will work for us.

Q10: Who makes up the staff of Tu Publishing? Can you tell us about some of the backgrounds of your crew?

Stacy Whitman

TP: I am the editorial director, of course. In my day job, I’m the publication manager for the Astronomical Society of the Pacific Conference Series, as well as a freelance editor working with Mirrorstone, Marshall Cavendish, and a number of other publishers. Prior to going freelance, I spent three years as an editor for Mirrorstone, the children’s and young adult imprint of Wizards of the Coast in Seattle. I hold a master’s degree in children’s literature from Simmons College. Before that, I edited elementary school textbooks at Houghton Mifflin, interned at the Horn Book Magazine and Guide, and spent a brief stint working as a bookseller.

I’ve worked with authors such as James Dashner and Tiffany Trent. Some of the titles I’ve edited include The New York Times best-selling picture book A Practical Guide to Monsters, the acclaimed YA series Hallowmere, and the middle grade fantasy adventure series that debuted with Red Dragon Codex by R.D. Henham.

My art director is Isaac Stewart, who designed the maps for the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson and draws the Rocket Road Trip webcomic (http://rocketroadtrip.com/). He’s a talented artist and designer—he designed our logo—and I’m excited to work with him.

I also have a number of talented freelancers I’ll be relying on for editorial and marketing/PR help. Mostly, though, as with most startups, I will be wearing a lot of hats while we get started, until I can hire full-time helpers. I’ll also be relying upon interns for manuscript reading, for example.

Q11: Do you have any available staff positions open right now? When will you start accepting manuscripts for consideration?

TP: Not at the moment. I already have a number of friends in the industry who have offered their assistance, and I have contacts at the local universities with whom I’m working to arrange intern help when it’ll become necessary. I hope that these freelance gigs will turn into full-time jobs for some people, but that will take time. We’re only going to publish two books our first year, so I’ll be the only full-time staff member—and I won’t be taking a salary.

Q11: Have you received support or negativity for this project?

TP: I’ve received a lot of support—overwhelming support. It’s been a good experience. My friends and friends of friends and people just out of the blue continuously encourage me and tell me that they think this is a great idea.

I have had one or two people tell me that they feel that “multicultural” to them means an attack on white people, but I honestly don’t know how to answer that. I’m white, and I don’t feel like exploring other cultures is any way an attack on my cultural heritage. I love that I’m Swedish/Irish/Scottish/English/German/Prussian—and I love exploring my heritage. Perhaps that’s why I love asking other people about theirs? I’m not sure. But I hope that the stories we publish will appeal to a broad range of people, including white people. I think that there are emotional experiences that resonate across cultures, and I think it’s entirely valid to say, “Where’s the Latino Harry Potter? Where’s the African American (or Ghanan, or Iranian) Twilight?”

On the flip side, some have suggested that the word “multicultural” might be past its prime, and that we should be able to publish a wide variety of characters and stories without having to label those stories into a ghetto of sorts. I agree that this is a niche that should appeal to everyone, and I intend to acquire books that have a wide appeal. Personally, I think fantasy and SF are a great place for expansion of the niche, because of their detachment from the real world—often, fantasy and SF can explore issues that have emotional baggage in the real world—and I hope that the stories we publish will bridge the niche to a wider readership. We don’t want to publish African American stories only for African American readers, and Asian stories for Asian readers, and so forth.

I love the term “interculturalism,” actually (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interculturalism), as a way of explaining the kind of reach we hope to have across cultures—as Wikipedia defines it, “an inherent openness to the culture of the ‘other.’” Aren’t we all “other” in some way to other people? And one way of bridging that divide is to explore stories from perspectives not our own. Check out Renee@Shen’s Multicultural Minute on the subject: http://www.shens.com/blog/2009/08/the-multicultural-minute-2-int.html.

Q12: What’s the best positive reaction you’ve received?

TP: I’m really not sure I could pin it down to just one. I think every time someone retweets what we’re talking about, every time I see that someone has linked to us and said they’re looking forward to seeing us succeed, it gives me confidence. We’re not the only people to think of this, and certainly not the first—we’re part of a huge team of people and hope to be one more force for good.

Q13: What are some ways besides donating that supporters can help get Tu Publishing off the ground?

TP: Right now, the best thing you can do is spread the word. Share links to our site with friends on Facebook, talk about it with real-life friends and on Twitter and wherever you’re having conversations. Read our blog (http://www.tupublishing.com) and comment, and point out to us people who we might want to interview for the blog. And as far as the reality of making sure we have enough money to get off the ground, the more people who know about us, the more a few people who might have an extra $20 might think, “Hey, I like this idea, and I can totally spare that much to get a coupon for a book.” Once we’re open for submissions, they can tell all their writer friends about us too (well, and that one doesn’t have to wait until we’re open, either!). We know how tough the economy has been on people—I myself made do without insurance while barely getting by as a freelancer for a year after getting laid off—and we know how much of a sacrifice even $20 can be, so we appreciate those who can spare even a little, and understand how few people might be able to do that much.

Q14: Where do you think the future of speculative fiction is going? More inclusive of diverse characters, or more exclusive?

TP: We’re at a point where a lot of people are thinking about race in children’s books—not only RaceFail but Justine Larbalestier’s Liar cover controversy has brought up the issue in the collective consciousness. So I think a number of people are thinking more consciously about the issue than they perhaps might have been in the past, and I hope that more people are paying attention to the books they buy.

But publishers publish what the “market” demands—they publish where book sales are greatest. Bookstores, of course, have a huge part in this, as do librarians, and I hope that the Liar issue helped us all in the book business to become more aware of it. What it comes down to is readers demanding books that reflect a wide variety of people by buying good books with diverse casts of characters, and publishers making sure that we pay attention to this issue.

All that is to say: Yes, I think speculative fiction is going to become more diverse. Or really, at least as far as science fiction goes—to become diverse again, because if you read Heinlein, he believed the future was a lot of shades of brown. I hope that the leaders in writing diverse fantasy will have many followers in their footsteps, too. But it will only happen if readers look for those books, and if publishers publish those books.

Q15: Finally, do you have anything else you’d like to add?

TP: Thanks so much for the interview! Also, feel free to check out our blog at http://www.tupublishing.com, follow us on Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/tupublishing), or fan us on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Tu-Publishing/112191230046). Keep an eye on any of those venues for announcements of submission guidelines, contests, and other news.

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The first five commenters will get 2 free and awesome Tu Publishing book marks, one for you and one to pass out and spread the word, which A Working Title will mail to you, anywhere in the world.

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Steven Boyett is a well known author as well as a DJ. His first book, Ariel, he wrote when he was just 19. He runs several successful music oriented websites, inlcuding Podrunner. He lives with his wife and a split personality, the DJ versus the Writer.

Q1: What draws you to write Speculative Fiction?

SB: I think the appeal of speculative fiction in general is its inherent ability to provide perspective, to step outside of the framework of the world, of everyday life, of even the human condition, and be able to comment on it, often uniquely by contrasting these with something else. Unfortunately I think it rarely aspires to this. Usually it steps outside because the reader and/or the writer simply wants the hell out. That has value, too, but it seems a shame to waste a valuable resource and squander such potential.

Q2: What was the first piece you ever had published?

SB: My first novel, ARIEL.

Q3: What did it feel like?

SB: Relief, honestly. I know I was young, but I’d been sending out fiction for years and banging my head against the wall looking for solutions and angles, and ARIEL had utterly occupied my every waking moment. So when it was accepted, I’m sorry to say that I didn’t feel elation, euphoria, a glorious epiphanic confirmation that I was truly bound to the shining golden rail of my writerly destiny. I felt relief. The kind of painful pleasure that comes after a long-clenched muscle can finally relax.

Q4: What was the defining moment that made you say “Yes I’m a writer”?

SB: There wasn’t one. I’ve been a writer since I was at least five. There was a defining moment when I realized I wanted to write for a living, though. When I was fourteen I picked up Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren. I loved the original cover, and the first sentence (“to wound the autumnal city.”) intrigued me. The book begins and ends midsentence. There in the bookstore I looked to see if they joined up, and they did: the book looped. (Though now I would offer that there’s a halftwist in the narrative that makes the book a Mobius strip.) At the time I had not read Finnegan’s Wake, so the idea that an author could reach out through a page and make me do that and by implication serve me notice that I was in for a deeper, more involving experience than I might be accustomed to, had me from the first line. It opened up the idea of fiction for me, something like the way 2001: A Space Odyssey opened up the idea of movie when it was released. And the rest of the novel only continued unfolding and subverting the conventions of novels themselves. This guy was using fiction to write about language. Holy shit.

I’d been writing fiction since I was about five, but I clearly remember the moment I realized I wanted to write for a living. I was in the school cafeteria about to be late to class because I couldn’t stop reading this book. Everyone had picked up their trays and gone to class and I was almost alone in the big room and totally absorbed. And it hit me: I want to do this. I want to write something that does for someone somewhere what this book is doing to me. I’m fourteen years old, and I want to do this for a living.

Q5: How long have you been writing? What keeps you writing?

SB: At least since I was five. What keeps me writing now is volition. I quit entirely for about five years, around 1999, and learned a lot of other things and became quite successful at some of them. I learned that this whole notion that you have to have no choice about writing is absolute bullshit. I’ve come to feel that it’s a motivational lie, something writers perpetuate to keep themselves writing. I told myself that lie for decades. What I learned by quitting is that if you really are an artist, then that engine will operate in whatever vehicle it is given. And that I’d rather have a good life than a good career, if it comes down to making a choice. The years that I quit writing were some of the happiest years of my life.

Now I write because I want to, not because I have to. That’s astonishingly different from the attitude of my younger self. It’s so much less romantic, so much less mysterious. But I just don’t have the patience or temperament for that navel-gazing drama-queen self-importance anymore. I write because I’m a writer and it’s fun and I want to do it, and I try to spare myself and the world all the usual trumped-up angst.

Q6: Who are some of your influences? (Authors, Personal Friends, Teachers, etc.)

SB: I’m a very critical reader, so it’s fair to say that everything influences me in that even the worst book is educational if you ask yourself why it sucks. That can be just as difficult to answer as why something is great, really.

Q7: What’s your favorite speculative fiction work?

SB: Dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delany (assuming we can count it as such. I dunno if Delany does).

Q8: How do you balance writing and music, being an author and a DJ?

SB: By sleeping four hours a night.

Q9: Who are some of your musical influences?

SB: I am totally serious when I say that I would have to be a much better composer to have influences. There are plenty of people I like but I honestly don’t have the chops to learn, borrow, or steal from them the way artists do. I just plink stuff out a note at a time. I haven’t composed in a few years, though; I have so little time. I really miss it. (My wife is one of the most naturally gifted composers I have ever met, and fascinatingly the only one to exhibit no discernible influences.)

Your readers can download one of my tracks at http://www.djsteveboy.com/steve_boyett_-_rachele.mp3, if they’re morbidly curious.

DJ-wise, John Digweed was an enormous influence until I found my own flavor, which I call New Old Funk (much more evident in my Groovelectric [www.groovelectric.com] mixes than in my Podrunner [www.podrunner.com] mixes).

Q10: Did you really expect to have ARIEL published when you began writing it?

SB: Why else put 150,000 words on a stack of pages? I don’t have any patience with writers who say they’re doing it for themselves. Who are they kidding? They sat on their collective ass and filled up a stack of blank paper with words with no intention of them being read? I’m so sure. In my life I have known exactly one artist with that kind of purity, if I can use that word in this context, and I married her.

Of course, when you’re young you have no idea how the deck is stacked against you, and that very ignorance paradoxically allows you to accomplish more than you’re likely to when you’re older & wiser. When you’re older you know that the windmill always beats Quixote, and that tilting at it isn’t romantic, it’s stoopid. When you’re young, though, you’re like the Fool card in a tarot deck. People tend not to understand that’s a very positive card. It sort of means being blissfully oblivious.

Q11: What do you think has kept ARIEL relevant even over 25 years later?

SB: Well, I’m glad you think it is! Besides good luck, I think the fact that it strives to be about more than its events, that despite some dated details it isn’t a slave to its time, and that it’s about some of the painful tradeoffs we make as we enter adulthood, resonates with readers.

Q12: Who was your favorite character in the original book and why?

SB: In a cinematic, scenery-chewing, character-actor sort of way, Malachi Lee steals the book. He’s crazy as hell, fearless, quirky, fun to cast (there’s a thread on my forum [http://www.steveboy.com/forum] devoted to casting the novel, which is kind of fun).

But more substantively it’s Pete, because he’s an interesting character and a fun voice to speak with. People often assume he’s simply my alter ego, and that isn’t true at all. Pete is as sarcastic as I am, but he’s much more innocent than I ever was. I was nobody’s innocent at 19 when I wrote the book. Pete’s a weird combination of raw nerve and survivalist utilitarianism. I think he’s kind of imprisoned by this, a feeling that’s definitely borne out in ELEGY BEACH.

Q13: What’s the best positive reaction you’ve received from ARIEL?

SB: Many years ago a schoolteacher wrote me to tell me about a problem student who was failing everything across the board. He wasn’t motivated, didn’t care, couldn’t see why he should bother. He discovered ARIEL in the school library, I think simply because he liked the Barclay Shaw cover, and it sparked something in him, struck some responsive chord. He started reading voraciously after that, applied himself, focused, improved his grades, got himself on track. I don’t by any means take credit for that. To hold yourself responsible for positive influences means you’re just as accountable for negative influences as well – people who shoot cops after hearing rap songs, etc. But the thought that the product of your imagination has made some concrete difference for the better is hugely rewarding. That’s been equally true for my Podrunner and Groovelectric podcasts as well. It’s unexpected, not something you think about when you set out to do these kinds of things, and very humbling.

Q14: What drove you to write ELEGY BEACH, even after you swore you’d never write a sequel to ARIELl?

SB: Well, the afterword to ELEGY BEACH, “Note to Self,” is almost entirely about that question, and it’s not easy to answer it briefly. The somewhat snarky version is that I felt the story in ARIEL was finished, and I had nothing more to say about those characters and no urge to squeeze money from it for the sake of keeping the conversation alive. Thirty years later it turned out the writer in me had some things it wanted to say in that milieu and with those characters. The rest of me absolutely didn’t want to do it. In a certain strange sense the rest of me still doesn’t. I had to compartmentalize myself to write the book. It was kind of odd.

The shorter answer is that I simply didn’t have anything to say in that regard until now.

Q15: ARIEL represented your growing up as much as it did for Pete Garey. Does ELEGY BEACH hold the same level of meaning for you that ARIEL did?

SB: I don’t believe ARIEL “represented” my growing up at all. I utilized my growing up for it, I mined my heart in the ruthless way artists dig into themselves to unearth and convey true feelings that will resonate with their readers. Similarly I mined my own life for ELEGY BEACH, and in some strange sense also unearthed my current feelings toward ARIEL; on one level you can read ELEGY BEACH as a commentary on ARIEL. But ELEGY BEACH is a much more laminated, mature, inferential work than ARIEL. It had better be, else what have I learned in three decades? A readership approaching it as ARIEL 2: MORE OF THE SAME is going to be disappointed.

I’ve joked that as ARIEL is my coming-of-age novel, ELEGY BEACH is my midlife-crisis novel. But it’s a mistake to read that as meaning that ARIEL is about my coming of age (though I mined it for that) or that ELEGY BEACH is about my middle age (though I’ve mined it for that; the midlife crisis either hasn’t happened or has been around since I was about eleven, I’m not sure which).

Q16: Will we see any more stories based around the spellware concept you developed in ELEGY BEACH?

SB: Spellware itself seems to want to be elucidated and explored, but right now all I have are ideas. I don’t write books about ideas; my main problem with science fiction is that it tends to be primarily about its ideas, and the characters are little meat puppets dropped into the scene to act as tourists to explore them. In my view the ideas are simply a stage on which the important parts are presented. I need more than ideas and events to make me write. I need emotional resonance, thematic cohesion.

The shorter answer is that I’ll write them if I have something to say.

Q16: Before spellware, did you have any experience with writing computer software?

SB: Nope. I used to write macros as a word-processing operator, and I’m relatively computer-literate and do my own websites and yadda yadda, but I’m no hacker.

Q17: The world of ELEGY BEACH seems much more complex and filled out than the world of Ariel. What do you attribute that to?

SB: Not being nineteen anymore.

Q18: Though in ARIEL, Pete met mostly white, mostly male characters, in ELEGY BEACH it comes to light that his wife and Fred’s mom was black. This gives Fred a duality beyond pre-Change adults and post-Change children, but it’s not expressed in the book. Do you think, in a post-apocalyptic society, things like race and religion will take a far back seat to survival? Why or why not?

SB: Well, I don’t agree with your second sentence. The reason it isn’t addressed in the book is because Fred has no duality at all, and isn’t treated (by the narrative or by the other characters) as if he does. That’s the entire point. In fact no one’s ethnicity is ever described in ELEGY BEACH; it’s all adumbrated. In Fred’s world, culturally very different from our own, no one gives a shit.

Personally I think that in most postapocalyptic scenarios race and religion would play an enormous role. If people banned together they would also ban against, and identifying with tribal units is pretty fundamental stuff that takes an evolved framework of culture to strive against. In many ways civilization itself is a striving against baser instincts for the greater good. But I didn’t want that to be the case in ELEGY BEACH because I didn’t see the point in writing a book about that. I wanted to deal with the clash between generations who seemed alien to one another, to discuss the dissonance between the outgoing Baby Boomers and the displacing generation, which my friend Ken Mitchroney has brilliantly dubbed Generation Eloi. The truth is that the young generation in ELEGY BEACH would be far more alien than it is depicted, but this was a case where the natural consequence of such speculation would have led to narrative difficulties that would have alienated the reader, and it would have increased the signal-to-noise ratio to pursue that too fully. Their strangeness is more suggested than detailed.

Q19: What do you think Pete’s reaction would have been had he known that Fred and Yan were lovers?

SB: What makes you think he doesn’t? In any case, Pete wouldn’t give a shit.

Q19.2: What made you write the boys that way, instead of simply portraying them as close best friends?

SB: Who says I did? Who says they aren’t? Nothing about anyone’s sexuality in ELEGY BEACH (and with some characters in ARIEL) is stated directly. The degree of Yan & Fred’s involvement in a sexual sense is up to the reader. The fact that you noticed it is great, because I think many readers didn’t pick up on the possibility, but to me whether or not they were lovers is irrelevant. As with Fred’s (or anyone’s) ethnicity, no one among Fred’s generation gives a damn. The important fact is that Fred loves Yan. Where people put their genitals doesn’t have a thing to do with that beyond confusing the issue, in my experience.

Q20: Do you think, twenty-five or thirty years from now, you’ll become compelled to write a sequel to ELEGY BEACH?

SB: When I’ve got something to say, I might. I don’t want to crank something out just to keep a product out there. I think part of the reason ARIEL has been remembered is because (to be tautological) it’s memorable. Take the fantasy elements out and it still deals with important issues and inevitable consequences of adulthood. I hope that’s the case with ELEGY BEACH. I’m sure I could tell some whizbang story with a third book, but so what. Plenty of people and companies across all media produce either carnival rides or soporifics. I don’t want to be one of them.

Q21: Where do you think the future of speculative fiction is going? More inclusive of diverse characters, or more exclusive?

SB: I’m not really qualified to answer that, because I haven’t read much current speculative fiction in the last twenty years or so. Or much fiction generally. Aphoristically, though, I think speculative fiction has a great future behind it.

Q22: What are you working on right now, music-wise and writing-wise? Any other series or stories in the works?

SB: With a full-time life involving two DJ podcasts and a full-time life as a writer, I haven’t had the time to compose music in years. I miss it, but it’s not as if I’m missing out (or as if the world is, either).

It’s odd to be asked if I have any other series in the works. I’ve never had a series in the works. I can’t imagine writing a series. I’ve never approached a thing I’ve written that way.

I’m about to begin what I hope is final revision on a novel that I’ve worked on for a long time, but I’ve learned to be leery of discussing anything I’ve written before it’s scheduled to appear. There’s writing, and there’s publishing. They ain’t the same thing.

I’d like to get back to short stories because they’re my first love and I miss them terribly (I never wanted to write anything but short stories, hard to believe now), but it’s a time and admittedly a motivation issue. The money for short stories is exactly what it was twenty five years ago – and you didn’t exactly write short stories for the money then, either.

Q22: Finally, do you have anything else you’d like to add?

SB: I’d like to plug the book websites, if I may. ARIEL (http://www.arielbook.com) and ELEGY BEACH (http://www.elegybeach.com) have dedicated websites featuring online & PDF chapters, audiobook chapters, and even Google Earth route maps that let you follow the novels in real-time with satellite imagery – one of the unexpected benefits of my obsessive need to be as real-world accurate as I can manage in my work.

I’d like to thank you for your questions and for interviewing me!

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For more information about Steven R. Boyett and his writing visit the sites he listed above or head over to his writing blog, Write Now.

You can purchase Ariel and Elegy Beach through Amazon, Borders, and Powell’s Books.

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Delilah and the Space-Rigger by Robert A. Heinlein
Part of the The Green Hills of Earth anthology
Mass Market Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Baen Books; Reprint edition (February 1, 2000)
ISBN-13: 978-0671578534

It’s a well known fact that women are a serious and often dangerous distraction on high risk jobs, such as constructing a space station. At least, that’s the attitude held by Tiny Larsen, the crew chief in charge of building Space Station One. He works with an all-male crew, trying to get this monumental task accomplished while maintaining order among the men. That all seems to be in jeopardy when G. Brooks McNye is sent up to the station to replace a man who was fired.

Gloria Brooks McNye is the first and currently only woman on a space station crewed entirely by men. Larsen fears for her safety and the respectfulness of his men, as loudly and obnoxiously as he possibly can. He goes completely out of his way to try and keep her sequestered from the rest of the crew while he hustles to get a male replacement sent up.

This is a humorous story poking fun at the sheer ridiculousness of judging competence and character based on gender. McNye sets out to prove from the beginning that she can do anything boys can do, and in some cases, better. It’s up to her and rest of the crew to convince Larsen that women have as much right to help build this huge undertaking for as men do. It’s a funny story, and I recommend it and the rest of The Green Hills of Earth for any Heinlein lovers and any newbies alike.

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The Girl Who Was Plugged In by James Tiptree, Jr.
Part of The Hugo Winners: Volume 3 anthology
Hardcover: 603 pages
Publisher: Doubleday (January 1, 1977)

P. Burke is a social pariah, deformed in body and in possession of not much mind. The near-future society in which she lives is utterly devoted to the worship of beautiful people. They are seen as gods, striding above the rest of the population on a wave of adoration. Every holocam is pointed in their direction. Burke cannot even hope to be noticed by such people and in the end, her existence becomes too much to bear. She tries to kill herself. And is miraculously offered the chance of a lifetime while recovering in the hospital.

Become a Remote for a new god. No one will ever know that P. Burke is really the brain running the beautiful doll body of lovely little Delphi, the newest splash on the celebrity scene. Burke sits five hundred feet below ground, hooked up to wires and controls and circuits, her own body nearly lifeless, and lives the life of Delphi. But why would she be offered such a chance? What’s the catch?

A set of stringent laws called the Huckster Laws have banned nearly all forms of advertising. The only way you are allowed to advertise is either on or in your product, or during an in-store demonstration. No more billboards, no more TV commercials, no more painted buses. And that just doesn’t work for the corporate men. So they’ve found a way around it. Create celebrities beloved by all, and have them showcase select products in their “everyday” lives. The millions of people who watch their broadcasts won’t fail to notice what brand of toothpaste or what kind of shoes their living gods are wearing.

P. Burke and her alter-ego, Delphi, will be a living advertisement. But when Burke/Delphi falls in love and grows a conscience about breaking the ad laws, her life is irreparably changed.

Tiptree’s deft hand in this story is wonderful to read. The narrative style is great, and the descriptions of corporate life, evil machinations, and the desire to simply be loved for who and what you are, are absolutely captivating. This is a fantastic peek at where are own world could be headed, with our reality TV shows and the incessant consumer culture we live in. Read this story, and weep for Delphi. Then break your TV.

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Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Tor Science Fiction

Ender Wiggin is just your average six-year old boy, the youngest of three siblings. Average, other than the fact that he’s a budding military genius, taken from his home on Earth and shipped off to be trained in Battle School in space. The human race has been fighting a war against an alien species that attacked the Earth a hundred years ago. They’re called Buggers, for the obvious reason that they look like giant insects. After a fluke victory during the first war, the military has been desperately searching for the next great leader. They hope they’ve found him in Ender. Ender will suffer through five years of grueling training as the men in charge manipulate him and the children he trains with in order to turn him into the best strategist the world has ever seen.

As Ender struggles to survive and thrive in Battle School, his older brother and sister back on Earth are going through their own crucible. Peter Wiggin, the eldest, is a cruel and sadistic boy with grandiose but entirely plausible ideas of ruling the world. Valentine Wiggin is the middle child, protector and defender of Ender and buffer to Peter, trying to keep him from taking out his frustrations and manipulations on the innocents around him. All three kids are scarily smart and intensely calculating; each move they make, each word they utter is analyzed unto the nth degree. Between the three Wiggin children, the world is in for a hell of a ride. But they just might manage to save the human race in the course of all their machinations.

The title Ender’s Game refers to so much more than the mock battles he learns to fight in the Battle School. He is both pawn and player, manipulated by the military men around him, but also trying his best to fight back any way he can. He is very much aware that they are playing with his life, even at the beginning of the story when he is still a child. Although Ender is still very young when the story ends, he stops being a child very early on.

The story asks many questions of us: How far will we go to turn a child into a killer? How much manipulation and isolation can one boy handle for the sake of humankind? Is the price of survival too high? Is the complete and utter destruction of another race really what it takes to ensure our continuation? Is the only true path to power through the means of manipulation and deception?

There are few easy answers in this book. What Ender, Valentine, and Peter endure and engender because of who they are and what they can would be too much for most normal children. But it is very clear that they are in no way normal children. This book is not about childhood. It is about the loss of one, two, or three childhoods for the good of many. Ender is the butt of the worst of the training, but every boy and girl he fights beside and against is a victim of necessity.

Ender, in himself, is not a killer. He has been forced into situations that cause him to defend himself, but on his own, he is a sweet and caring boy. Forces outside of his control cause the literal weight of the world to descend on his small shoulders. Card manages to portray him as very human and very real, even as Ender is pushed above and beyond the edge of human endurance. The people in charge of his life are all bad; many of them care deeply for Ender. But because of the threat of the Buggers, they can stop at nothing to create the ultimate defender. Valentine is also seen as a good sister and a kind person, as she is coldly manipulated both by the military and Peter. Peter is the real bad guy, but he’s bad in such a way that can’t be stopped or proven, but must be endured. He is a megalomaniac in the truest sense, convinced he is the only one that can prevent war between the countries of Earth after the Buggers are defeated. It’s very unfortunate that he might be proven right. In the end, even the Buggers are proved not to be all bad, but merely guilty of misunderstanding the structure of the human race.

The characters and settings within Ender’s Game are compelling. This is a true classic of science fiction. You have space battles, weightless fights, an alien species, and truly genius characters. You also have examples of the best and worst of humanity. There are strong and weak male and female characters, although the boys vastly outnumber the girls in Battle School. Valentine manages to stand out even against her two brothers, though, and she is a genuinely interesting character in her own right.

There are some mixed feelings in the Speculative Fiction community about Orson Scott Card’s works because of some of opinions he has expressed in regards to the gay and lesbian community. Because of those opinions, I can’t honestly endorse buying Ender’s Game, because I feel that the author does not deserve to be supported by the very people he admits to loathing. But sometimes a story reaches beyond petty feelings, and in this case, Ender’s Game is one of those stories. So go to your nearest library or used bookstore and get this book. It’s absolutely worth reading, regardless of the author.

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xombies_apoc_coverXombies: Apocalypse Blues by Walter Greatshell
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Ace (September 29, 2009)
ISBN-13: 978-0441018352

Louise Pangloss, called Lulu, is a seventeen year old girl with chromosomal primary amenorrhea. This means that although she has secondary sex characteristics, i.e. breasts and pubic hair, she has never had a period and may never do so. The reason that her rare condition is important to the story is because the Maenad Cytosis infection, the outbreak of which has caused the Xombie Apocalypse, is carried by menstruating women, or women who have reached puberty and are now capable of having children. The infection is also referred to as Agent X, because it is linked to the double X chromosomes that women carry. A man can be infected by any type of Xombie, male or female, but a woman can pick it up from the very air she breathes. Pre-pubescent girls and post-menopausal women cannot get it from the air, therefore, Lulu can’t get it.

After her mother succumbs to the Xombie plague, Lulu ends up running for safety with a man she thinks might be her dad. Mr. Crowper is ex-Navy and has been asked to help a select group of people and sensitive government materials escape to the Arctic via nuclear submarine. He decides, at the last minute, to take Lulu with him. This is how Lulu ends up on as the only woman on sub with about four hundred teenage boys and a hundred adult men, trying to escape the Xombie Apocalypse.

It’s an interesting premise executed badly. I very much wanted to like this book. It’s got some of my favorite things in it: a female protagonist, zombies, evil scientists, evil corporate men, and lots of bloody action. Unfortunately, Lulu is about as interesting as a goldfish. I don’t know if Walter Greatshell has ever met a teenage girl, but after reading this book, I seriously doubt it. She’s about as believable as the thought of me enjoying the next Twilight movie. Not to mention the use of women as a catalyst for society’s downfall. Like we haven’t heard that before?

Lulu comes across as a very shallow character. I understand that this the apocalypse, but she never takes time to mourn her mother, the only parental figure she’s ever known, and she talks like a college graduate. The language quirk would be much more believable if there were some kind of plausible explanation for it, such as a wide and varied reading interest. Instead, Lulu’s background consisted of her and her mother moving continually to escape creditors, and that’s about all the back story we ever get on her. The flowery inner conversations that she drags the reader through do nothing to make her more human. Many of them don’t even make sense.

Supposedly, Lulu is the hero of the book. But I honestly cannot get behind this girl. Where a real hero would take charge of events and try to steer the course of the story, Lulu merely rides along. She’s meant to come across as supremely intelligent and mature, but instead I get the feeling that she thinks of herself as superior to just about everyone else, without a whole lot of justification. There was one very memorable scene where Lulu is put in charge of being liaison between the Navy crew of the sub and the boys who were part of the labor force that refitted it. As a means to boost morale for the group of young men stuck in a sub on very little food and severely lacking accommodations, she decides to host a poetry slam, with an entry from herself in the style of Emily Dickinson. Really? That seemed like a good way to burn off steam and turn a bunch of hormonal, edgy, fearful boys to something useful?

The heroine aside, Greatshell also has a tendency to tell the story instead of show it. He very carefully lists the names and characteristics of the boys who become Lulu’s friends, one after the other, in an inner monologue of Lulu’s. Yes, we understand that so-and-so is full of bravado and really just a scared kid, but don’t tell us that, show it to us! That is the point of a good story. We learn about the characters through their actions and their interactions with each other. You’re missing something if you feel the need to explain to the reader directly about your characters’ personalities.

There’s a very unsettling scene at the end of the book that involves the Bad Guys and their final reveal party, where their evil plan comes to light. In a world where women are basically plague carriers, where do evil rich men turn to for companionship? Why, young men of course, forced dressed as women. But you must understand most of these men are definitely Not Gay. Cross dressing is portrayed as shameful and embarrassing, the thought of being gay is seen as something to avoid, and the most powerful man in the room is the one who has access to “real” women. Shall I even go into the scene where the evil scientists rip Lulu’s clothes off in front of the entire party crowd and strap her down naked to a table in order to…give her a shot? I think I shall not. And how about the very memorable scene where Lulu finally gets her first period? Again, no.

Avoid this book. This is an attempt to cash in on the zombie craze going on right now, with a book originally published five years ago. Greatshell’s sequel to Xombies: Apocalypse Blues is apparently coming out next year, and I advise you to avoid that book, too.

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