Thursday, March 12, 2015

Turtles, all the way down...

"No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away."
-Terry Pratchett

I did meet Sir Terry Pratchett--a very long time ago, in 1990 at a science fiction convention in Toronto. I was doing arts journalism at the time, and had hooked in with the publicist at H.B. Fenn,  who was happy to oblige my fan-boy interest in his distribution company's list of science fiction and fantasy authors. Over a short but fruitful relationship, he sat me down with Orson Scott Card, Gene Wolfe, Robert Jordan... some others who've receded into the fog of memory.

And he also sat me down with Terry Pratchett.

At the time, I wasn't sure what to make of him. The interview opportunity came up quickly, and I had only a little time to prepare, and in those dark, early days I hadn't read much of him and knew nothing of the Discworld. So I did my best to get up to speed. That is not to say that I got up to speed. By the time we sat down, I'd just made it a few chapters into The Colour of Magic and was, I have to admit, just mildly amused. I recognized and appreciated the Fritz Leiber shout-out with Bravd and The Weasel. The wizarding business that followed was good fun and damn, but the dude could write.
But really, I had no idea who I was talking to.

I had not yet met Death, and had no idea about his daughter. I couldn't name the Night Watch. It was some time before he joined forces with Neil Gaiman so I had little sympathy for the Devil and no idea about his son.

I hadn't had a sense, yet, just what a master Terry Pratchett was.

At the time, I think he was just coming to understand what he might do himself. When I admitted that I was getting started with The Colour of Magic,  he told me that wasn't the best place to start, if I wanted a sense of what he was up to. He was still pulling gags in that book, he said, setting up in-jokes for genre nerds (Bravd and Weasel, standing in for Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser being one notable example).

At the time we spoke, he was in the process of leaving all that behind.

Of course, he didn't completely leave it behind. Pratchett's novels are nearly all comic, even when they are heart-breakingly sad and honest, and true: in the way that the best comedy always is.
But Pratchett then and through his life, was doing art. Popular art, whimsical art, sometimes surprisingly dark art--but Art. The A, capitalized, deliberately.

I don't think I did a good interview, but Pratchett didn't make me feel it the way that some subjects can. He spoke generously about his work, his aspirations--the difficulty at the time (a difficulty that soon passed) of building an audience in the United States and Canada to equal the one he had in the U.K.

I never ran into Terry Pratchett again--not in person, at any rate. Over the years since, I've delved into his novels and collaborations, watched his work in adaptation--and also watched his struggle with early-onset Alzheimers.

I got word of his death today in a very Pratchett-esque circumstance: sitting in my tax accountant's office, looking away from the screen she was using to type in my T4 information, at my own screen where I was desperately emailing my financial advisor for a document that I had left on the sofa at home. An email from my friend, fellow writer and lifelong Terry Pratchett fan Michael Skeet was headlined "Terry Pratchett, RIP."

And then, as my accountant worked away, I checked Twitter, and read the last three tweets from the account he shared with his assistant:
Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night. 
The End."
I managed not to cry. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Everything Erik Mohr touches turns to excitement...

We are still waiting on stories. But in the meantime, we have a cover for LICENCE EXPIRED: THE UNAUTHORIZED JAMES BOND. As is the case with all the very best covers, it is by ChiZine wunderkind Erik Mohr.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Licence Expired: The Unauthorized James Bond

 "The bitch is dead now."
-From Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

So here's a funny story: in 2015, and only in Canada and a few other countries, James Bond entered the public domain.

Not the constantly morphing fellow from the movies, now.  That's firmly in the possession of Eon for the forseeable future. But the literary character, created by former spy and bon vivant Ian Fleming, is now inhabiting the same legal space as Sherlock Holmes, Captain Nemo and Count Dracula. It is, as I mentioned, effectively only in Canada and a few other places, because Canada is one of the few countries that have held with the minimum 50-year time-span within which a copyright might be held following the creator's death.

And as of January 2015, that time-span has been deemed to have expired, following Ian Fleming's death in 1964.

Absorb that a moment--perhaps perusing io9's excellent piece on the subject as you do so.

Because that is what Madeline Ashby and I were both doing, independent of one another, a couple of weeks ago when we read the story. I was just about to leave work at city hall for the day. Madeline was at work at home.

By the time I'd gotten home, we had both done something else independently: decided to co-edit an anthology--maybe the first anthology--of perfectly legal, unauthorized stories about Secret Agent 007.

This kind of thing goes on all the time with other public-domain characters, often in kooky genre mashups. But James Bond has generally been left out of that party. New James Bond novels are nothing new--various authors starting with Kingsley Amis and John Gardner have been churning those out for years. But those have by necessity been authorized by the Fleming estate. And while some of them are very good, and even take interesting liberties with the character (William Boyd's 2013 novel Solo had 007 very creepily stalking a horror film actress based loosely on Hammer star Ingrid Pitt, as a particularly psychotic birthday present to himself), there has always been a sense that the 007 sandbox is a supervised one. James Bond is a character, but he is also a property. And there are rules...

Wouldn't it be something to sneak into that sandbox after dark, gather up all the toys and just invent our own game? Write stories about Bond that transgress a little further, and maybe offer some outside-the-sandbox critique of this at-root pretty awful character that has become such a central part of our pop-culture mythology?

When I got home, and we realized what we'd both been thinking, we called up Sandra Kasturi at ChiZine Publications and told her what we had in mind.

It was not a tough sell.

So here it is: in mid-November, Canadian readers will be able to pick up a copy of LICENCE EXPIRED: THE UNAUTHORIZED JAMES BOND, from ChiZine Publications. The anthology will feature original, transformative stories about James Bond as he appeared (and lived and killed and drank and pill-popped and travelled and yes, fucked) in Ian Fleming's original stories. These stories will categorically not reference anything from the films or the subsequent novels because the copyright still stands on those. As mentioned above, ChiZine will be taking great care to ensure that the book respects all the existing copyright protections on the licence at the same time as we take the liberties copyright law affords us.

The stories will be told by some interesting and talented writers, some of whom you will have heard of: Tony Burgess, Laird Barron, Nathan Ballingrud,  Claude Lalumiere, Robert Wiersema, A.M. Delamonica, Ian Rogers, Corey Rekekop and Kelly Robson are firm commitments now. Some of them may well be new to you, as we expect that we will be opening the book up for submissions in the coming weeks.

There will likely be a Kickstarter to make sure that this is the biggest Bond ever, and so that we can launch the book someplace with a nice shark tank. Again, stay tuned to this frequency.

It is going to be an all-time high (well not precisely, because that is from the movies).

Read Madeline Ashby's thoughts on this whole business here.

Here is the official news release:


ChiZine Publications to Publish Unauthorized James Bond Anthology

TORONTO, Ontario (January 19, 2015) — Independent Toronto publisher ChiZine Publications announces they will be publishing a new anthology of short stories featuring James Bond now that Ian Fleming’s work has entered the public domain in Canada. The anthology, titled Licence Expired: The Unauthorized James Bond, will be edited by Toronto authors Madeline Ashby (vN, iD; Company Town) and David Nickle (Knife Fight and Other Struggles,The ’Geisters, Eutopia).

“We want to feature original, transformative stories set in the world of Secret Agent 007,” says Nickle. “We're hoping our contributors will combine the guilty-pleasure excitement of the vintage Fleming experience with a modern critique of it.”

“This is an opportunity to comment on the Bond universe from within it,” adds Ashby. “We're specifically looking for writers and stories that would make Fleming roll in his grave.”

Since only Fleming’s Bond novels have entered the public domain, the stories won't reference the films, subsequent novels written by others, or any media tie-ins. However, within Fleming’s works are well-known villains Rosa Klebb, Oddjob, Dr. No, SMERSH, Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE. Familiar allies include Moneypenny, Honey Rider, Pussy Galore, Felix Leiter and Quarrel. The story authors will be able to call on any of these characters and organizations along with the many others that have appeared in Fleming’s stories.

Authors who have confirmed their appearance in Licence Expired include:
  • Tony Burgess
  • Corey Redekop
  • Robert J. Wiersema
  • Laird Barron
  • Nathan Ballingrud
  • Kelly Robson
  • A.M. Dellamonica
  • Ian Rogers

Licence Expired is scheduled to be published in November 2015.


Sandra Kasturi, Co-Publisher
ChiZine Publications

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A New Year, New Knife Fight (reviews)

The turning of the calendar turned out to be a good thing for Knife Fight and Other Struggles, at least in terms of reviews. In the days leading up to, and the days following, my second story collection released in November showed up in a lovely cluster of review outlets, with some very good reception.

On December 27, the Winnipeg Free Press ran a full review of the collection by Keith Cadieux (which you can view here), which read in part:
"Anyone even vaguely interested in horror or weird fiction owes it to themselves to give David Nickle a look, and Knife Fight and Other Struggles is a great place to start. Those already familiar won't be disappointed."
 Then on New Year's Day, Josef Hernandez at penned a full review (readable here) that among other things says this:
"When reading the collection, the reader never knows what comes around the next corner when one story turns to another. All the reader can be sure of is that it will be unexpected and entertaining."
On January 3, Alex Good at The Toronto Star led off his science fiction review column with Knife Fight and Other Struggles (here) starting off thusly:
"David Nickle, one of a number of Toronto writers making this month’s column, doesn’t believe in holding anything back. With this new collection he takes the reader on a series of wild rides at manic velocity, careening through a dozen explosive and surreal stories that dip into fantasy, science fiction and horror, exploring alternative worlds and crazy futures." 
That review had some legs: over the course of the next week, it was reprinted (at least online) at papers in Hamilton, Halton Region, Windsor and probably some others. I was feeling pretty good about the review situation until this weekend, when I had cause to feel goddamn good, at my first-ever appearance in the review pages of The Globe and Mail.  My book leads off a column of small press recommendations by Jade Colbert, who offers up the following eminently pull-able pull-quote:
"Genre, unfairly, can be a ghetto. Scan the cover blurbs on David Nickle’s new collection of horror and dark fantasy – he has an armful of awards to his credit – and you might well wonder how you’ve missed him. Don’t make the mistake of overlooking the talent based on preconceptions of what horror might be – read one of these stories and see if you aren’t hooked... Believe the hype: David Nickle is very good."
You can go read the whole thing here.

I honestly didn't know what to expect in terms of reviews and sales for this second story collection of mine; short stories are traditionally considered poor sellers in the book-buying marketplace, and often disappear entirely. A story collection released in the pre-Christmas marketplace, competing with publishers' all-star fall lineup is an even better candidate for invisibility.  This little explosion of attention is welcome, and met with a whole lot of gratitude here at the Yard.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Claus Effect is an E-Book

Big news: this week, my first novel (co-written with Karl Schroeder), The Claus Effect is available for the first time in e-book form. It's a new version from ChiZine Publications, with a fantastic new cover (see below), and a never-before-seen epilogue.  You can purchase and download it here.

The Claus Effect is an old book—to the extent, I guess, that Karl and I are old writers. The novel, about a terrible, awful Santa Claus, the end of the Cold War and the dawn of Wal-Mart, was published in the late-1990s, written in the mid-1990s, and based on a short story, “The Toy Mill,” that was published at the very beginning of our careers in the early '90s. At the time, we thought we were being very clever and arch, satirizing the old Rankin-Bass Christmas specials: Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty The Snow-Man, and of course the definitive Kris Kringle bio-pic Santa Claus is Comin' To Town.

As far as we were concerned, we were answering those shows with some necessary darkness: Santa Claus is villainous; Krampus is a good-guy; Christmas is a Wal-Mart.

Hey, we were punks: too old to have spent recent time with a Rankin-Bass special as kids, not old enough to have watched them again with kids--and thereby understand what a wonderfully dark ride those stories were. Rankin-Bass served up some proper nightmares: the Island of Misfit Toys and the Abominable Snow Monster that vex  Rudolph, the Winter Warlock and the Orphan Asylum that young Kringle must battle and escape from respectively...

What did we know from dark?

Still, by that standard, looking back on the book, I think we did okay: Santa Claus, or The Claus as we called him, was serious fiend material:
"His hair was whiter than his flesh. Thick whorls of ice embedded his beard in icicles like a January cataract. More separated the thick hairs of his eyebrows into individual daggers, pushed back by the yuletide winds of the stratosphere so that they swept down to meet at the bridge of his narrow, blue-tinged nose. Wisps of pale hair scattered from beneath his red cap, over his small pink ears. His eyes were tiny too, pink-rimmed and black at their iris; and looking, searching the eaves troughs, the darkened windows, the empty playground three streets down, questing hungrily and never blinking once in an endless quest for girls and boys."

Hard to say which one of us wrote that bit—it was a long time ago, and if there was a proper, orderly way to collaborate on Christmas-themed fantasy novels, nobody told us what it was. Since then, we've both gone on to write very different stuff: Karl, gravitating toward diamond-hard science fiction, and me, falling toward squishy-soft horror.

The Claus Effect is neither of those things, and looking over it now as its about to be released in e-book form, it's not even what we thought it was at the time: that oh-so-clever skewering and darkening of Rankin-Bass children's animations. It may be a little darker, a lot more violent, and quite a bit saucier...but whether we knew it at the time or not, The Claus Effect is a love letter to those stories that generations of us grew up on. 

The book has, of course, been around for a long time, and is still available in hard copy from Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy (the inheritor of Tesseract Books' list), right here. A few years back, I put together some promotional material (including sample chapters) to pitch the dead-tree version, right here.

Enjoy! It is if not a perfect, then at least a fairly obvious Christmas present for bloody-minded boys and girls everywhere. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Them's Knife-Fighting Words

In less than two weeks now, Knife Fight and Other Struggles is coming out, on October 28--a week later than the originally-planned October 21 drop date, and a day after I spend the evening writing non-fiction about the results of the 2014 Toronto mayoral race. One way or another, it will mark the end of the Rob Ford era at Toronto City Hall, so it is fitting that the title story of the collection, "Knife Fight," should appear immediately thereafter. Originally published in the anthology Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories by Claude LaLumiere and Camile Alexa, it is no secret that the story of a mayor who is "expert" with a knife is my ode to the municipal toxicity that infused the last four years at city hall, which I've spent a career covering.  The Ford era took me away from late-night council meetings and budget breakfasts, and into courtrooms and police investigations. Exciting times and more than a bit exhilarating for a journalist: dark times for a city.

"Knife Fight" is a bit of a cri-de-couer from the middle of that.

This is a preamble, to a little preview of the collection by way of two interpretations of that story--one from me, during a partial reading recorded by Geek Inked at Can Con earlier this month in Ottawa, with an awkward stumble at the beginning, right here.

Stumble-free and complete, is this performance of "Knife Fight" at the excellent podcast Pseudopod, which went live just this morning. Pseudopod has over the past few years produced two other audio performances of stories in Knife Fight, both of them fantastic: "Looker," and "The Radejastians."

And in the "burying-the-lede" department: also just in is a really glowing review of Knife Fight and Other Struggles over at Publishers Weekly. It is in fact more than glowing: it is a STARRED review, which is a big deal for me. PW has given me one of those besides this one, oddly enough for my other (and first) story collection Monstrous Affections.

Here's the nut of it:

"When it comes to this book, only two things are certain; the stories never travel where you expect, and David Nickle is a monumental talent."

And here's the link to the whole thing.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Drakeela Must Die

A week ago now, I was in Ottawa along with Madeline Ashby, to read at the ChiSeries Ottawa September reading. Silver Stag Entertainment was also there, and made a very good video recording of my reading of "Drakeela Must Die", one of the thirteen stories in the new collection, Knife Fight and Other Struggles. 
I would list all the trigger warnings that might apply to the story, but really, the opening paragraph lays it all out:
"The drakeela hid in the cloakroom during recess. It didn’t like fresh air, and of course the sun was poison to its kind: they all knew that, even Lucy who wasn’t allowed to watch the Sunday Monster Movie and had to be told what a drakeela was. At 10:30 a.m. the bell rang, and Mrs. Shelby said line up everyone. Mrs. Shelby looked up and down the line and wiggled her fingers as though she were counting. But she never counted the drakeela as it crab-crawled between the fluorescents over the art tables and twanged its thick dark fingernails on the sheet-metal ductwork that hung over the make-believe kitchen."