Geek Speaks… Fiction! With Fran Wilde

geekspeaks

Image: Melanie R. Meadors

Hi! It’s so strange to be in the hot seat instead of asking the interview questions… but here I am. Your intrepid GeekMom correspondent is ready to dish on what I geeked out about most when writing my first novel, Updraft, which comes out (::checks watch::) today (!) from Tor/Macmillan.

A little bit about me: I’ve been blogging for GeekMom for almost two years. I’m a book geek, a travel geek, a tech and nautical geek, a technology consultant, and my geek co-star venn diagram merge point is somewhere on the Spike-10th Doctor-Stacker Pentecost-Lucy Liu-Mal Reynolds axis.

I’m first and foremost an author, with short fiction in Asimov’s, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Tor.com, and Nature Magazine.

Updraft is the first of three novels I’m writing for Tor. Here’s the short pitch:

A city of living bone rises high above the clouds, its past lost to legend. Danger hides in the wind. Laws have been broken. A great secret must be exposed.

Welcome to a world of wind and bone, songs and silence, betrayal and courage.

Essentially, Updraft is the story of Kirit Densira, her friend Nat, her mother Ezarit, and how the consequences of a broken law change their world. There are monsters too, free of charge, and plenty of action. But there’s a deeper layer, about society and environment, economics, politics, and freedom. About being heard, and listening. And about what society values and what it throws away.

Also, there a lot of man-made wings.

So what did I geek out about when writing Updraft?

image courtesy Tor Books

Image courtesy Tor Books | Buy at Amazon

Wind: I consulted with cloud and weather experts, read everything I could about the way winds behave at high altitude, and threw myself into the research—literally. I went indoor skydiving to get a sense of how it felt to fly. I also spoke with friends who hang-glide, and pulled on my own experiences as a sailor. One friend pointed out that the taller a natural feature is, the stronger the updraft winds can be—and that was when so many things slid home.
Wings: The wings I wanted for Updraft had to be made from the supplies at hand: bone, silk, and tendon. I looked through plans for various wing designs over the centuries. I researched the history of solo flight attempts. And I grabbed several engineers to whom I’m related and made them check things over too. I also developed a small obsession with wingsuit flyers like Jeb Corliss.
Bridges: I love them, and have since long car trips as a kid. From a distance, they look like creatures rising out of the hills, or over the ocean, all metal spine and cables. I love the story of the Roebling family, who built the Brooklyn Bridge. And just about any rope bridge over a river is an irresistible force. So when it came time to talk about the city’s bridges, which are built of sinew and fiber, I wanted to make sure they really felt as if they could bear weight, as well as be obvious control paths throughout the city. I wrote about the process over at GeekDad yesterday.
Singing & Memory: Those who live in the towers above the clouds have constructed ways to avoid carrying too much with them as they rise higher. They pass on many important details, like laws and cultural history, through singing. While some members of their culture do keep bone tablets (mostly small and light) with information on them that’s too complicated to pass on in a song, most of the citizens sing what they need to know—and display that knowledge at various points in their lives during tests and rituals at Allsuns and Allmoons. Singing and memory are twined for me—when I hear something, I can remember it, almost word for word, especially if it’s set to music. I geeked out over pre-printing press cultures and singing histories, as well as the way information is passed through history.
[redacted]: There are other things I geeked out about for the book—one that left my shins bruised while I researched it—but they’re spoilers. You’ll have to read Updraft to find out.

Philly Geek Awards – Best. Party. Ever.

The Annual Philadelphia Geek Awards were this weekend, and they lived up to their reputation as one of the best parties in Philadelphia.

The Philly Geek Awards Team. Photo by Nathaniel Dobson, permission courtesy of Geekadelphia & Eric Smith.

The Philly Geek Awards Team. Photo by Nathaniel Dobson, permission courtesy of Geekadelphia & Eric Smith.

Hosted by the venerable Geekadelphia, the Philadelphia Geek Awards honor projects in thirteen categories, including: comics, film, artists, games, science, social media, startups, web, events, and more. They culminate with the Geek of the Year award, which this year went to Ather Sharif, founder of the accessibility research lab EvoX.

Read more about the Philly Geek Awards 2015 winners and nominees.

“Planning for the Philly Geek Awards kicks off in the beginning of the year,” says Eric Smith, co-founder of the event, who also announced a $2,000 grant for geeky activities in conjunction with the City of Philadelphia that night. “There’s a lot to plot out. Who will we talk to about sponsors? How many presenters? When do we want to announce nominees? Media partners? Design for the awards? Theme? The list goes on. A lot of time goes into a 4 hour event, but we love it.”

This year’s theme was Back to the Future, and the awards featured a countdown timer, an internal light show, and a hoverboard logo.

Fran Wilde and William Stallwell present the Games Award. Photo Credit Fran Wilde

Fran Wilde and William Stallwell present the Games Award. Photo Credit Fran Wilde

I was honored to be asked to co-present the Games Award with William Stallwood, founder of Cipher Prime. We weren’t as cool as Joel Hodgson (squeeee MST3K4EVA) and his lovely assistant Jason from the Black Tribbles, and we didn’t sing the nominees like the operatic Karina Kacala (seriously, following her was HARD), but we made it through and got to celebrate three great games developed in Philadelphia, including the winner: social meta-card game, Pretense, the mass-transit LARP, Soulfill, and the really-hard-to-say-on-stage-in-public without cursing (and also really fun) ClusterPuck99.

Here are some more photos from the event, brilliantly hosted by the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia! (If you’re in town next year, be sure to get a ticket to next year’s party.)

Geek Speaks… Fiction! by Aliette de Bodard

geekspeaks

Today’s guest on Geek Speaks… Fiction is author Aliette de Bodard.

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Order on Amazon image courtesy Ace/Roc

Aliette de Bodard lives and works in Paris, where she works as a System Engineer and herds a toddler nicknamed “Snakelet”. In her spare time, she writes speculative fiction: She has won two Nebula Awards, a Locus Award, and a British Science Fiction Association Award. Her novel The House of Shattered Wings is out from Roc/Gollancz this month. 

Manga, anime, and my writing

My writerly influences tend to the eclectic: I have a tendency to read everything (including the back of the toothpaste package if I get bored), and my childhood was filled with a mix of books in all genres, bandes dessineés, movies—and manga, which I sneak-read because my parents weren’t overly keen on it (they’d caught a bit of the Ken the Survivor anime on TV and decided they didn’t want me exposed to that kind of graphical violence, so I couldn’t have any manga or watch any anime). Needless to say, I felt like trying both anyway!

Below are my five influential manga/anime and how they impacted my writing and my most recent novel The House of Shattered Wings (out August 18th from Roc in the US, August 20th from Gollancz in the UK).

  1. Black Jack (manga): It’s probably a good thing that my parents never actually opened the Black Jack mangas I was so fond of, since they might have had quite a few surprises about graphically explicit… Featuring the adventures of a blackmarket surgeon and his precocious adopted daughter, and hovering between body horror, black humour, and serious ethical dilemmas, this has had a lot of influence on me—notably teaching me a lot about creepiness and unease and how effective they are when deployed against the background of everyday life; and there’s plenty of dark and creepy in The House of Shattered Wings, from people drinking the blood of angels to shadows that slither just out of sight, just out of reach…
  1. Sailor Moon (manga): Another manga I found when young—one of the few carried by my (small) local bookshop. I actually had a period of feeling ashamed about having read it because it felt so girly to me, but I came back to it years later, when Takeuchi Naoko released the new editions, and was genuinely surprised to still find it excellent. It’s about magical girls, reincarnation, and time travel, and I loved the mythic undertones to the whole saga (also, Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus are the best). It’s taught me quite a few things about merging science fiction and fantasy in my own fiction—The House of Shattered Wings mixes a post-apocalyptic setting (a devastated Paris with nuked monuments where people struggle to survive) with the presence of Fallen angels and magic, and I think the merge of genres makes it a much stronger one than the pure urban fantasy it started out as.
  1. Cowboy Bebop (anime/movie): To the best of my recollection, I actually watched the movie of this first, and was so struck with the aesthetic that we decided to watch the rest of the series. And I wasn’t disappointed: I love the run-down atmosphere of the series, and most of all the soundtrack, which is unusual for an SF series but just brilliant. It made for great listening when I’m writing!
  1. Revolutionary Girl Utena (manga/anime/movie): I watched this one on the recommendation of Yoon Ha Lee, and it blew my mind away. It’s a freaking effective deconstruction of tropes, rpm fairy tales to gender roles to power dynamics. And the ending still makes me weep every time I get to it. The quality isn’t great (lots of recycled animations for scenes); the plot meanders a bit and can get repetitive, and there are a few triggery bits, and yet… and yet for all its flaws it’s got a freshness and an energy that drags me along every single time. It’s an object lesson that a thing doesn’t have to be technically perfect to grab the imagination of the audience (though of course as a writer I still angst over reaching perfection every single time—guess I can’t help it!)

(And in case you’re wondering: Yes, I own the movie and the manga too :) )

  1. Full Metal Alchemist (anime/manga/anime): It’s hard to encompass the impact Full Metal Alchemist had on my life. I watched the first anime, which I found a bit disappointing; checked out the manga and then the second anime—and now own all volumes of the manga (a pretty hefty space investment for my small house). It’s a meld of wonderful worldbuilding with an original magic system (alchemy and the principle of equivalence), a wonderful cast of memorable characters from naive Al to ambivalent Greed (and badass general Olivia Armstrong will always have a special place in my heart :) ), and an ending that delivers both on an epic scale and on a personal one (Ed’s final choice is inevitable but wonderfully done). I learnt a lot from it about entwining plot lines, and doing badass characters: My Fallen angels and my heads of magical factions in The House Of Shattered Wings owe more than a passing debt to Arakawa Hiromu.
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Aliette de Bodard | Image courtesy of the author.

And I was very struck with the redefinition of alchemy into a non-potion-based magical system, and re-used the word in my book as a homage to the series: In my world, alchemists are specialized in re-using the breath and body parts of Fallen angels to provide magical energy to practitioners so they can cast spells—so not FMA‘s alchemists, but definitely at the centre of things.

Those are my top five, but it was hard to limit myself to just these. (I wanted to mention Le Chevalier d’Eon, Ergo Proxy, Black Butler, Haibane Renmei, and so many others that I vividly remember!)

Visit http://www.aliettedebodard.com for book geekery, fiction, and Franco-Vietnamese recipes. Follow Aliette on Twitter.

10 Questions with Mehgan Heaney-Grier of ‘Treasure Quest: Snake Island’

Are you ready to meet the mother of all Indiana Joneses?

Image courtesy Discovery Channel

Image courtesy of Discovery Channel.

Mehgan Heaney-Grier holds a degree in ecology and evolutionary biology, as well as anthropology. She established the first U.S. freedive record for both men and women in 1996, with a dive to an astonishing 165 feet on a single breath of air. She carries a dive belt instead of a bullwhip. She’s a mom, not a professor-in-disguise with Sean Connery for a dad. No word on whether she hates snakes as much as Indy did, but we’re getting the idea that she doesn’t love them in quantity.

And she’s the sole woman on Discovery Channel’s Treasure Quest: Snake Island, which premiers tonight at 10:00 p.m. ET/9:00 p.m. CT. When Discovery offered GeekMom the opportunity to talk with her, plus exclusive sneak peeks? We jumped at the chance. So grab your snake-spray and your treasure map and come meet Mehgan!

GeekMom: You’re dive-master for the expedition on Snake Island. What does that involve? How long are the dives? 

Mehgan Heaney-Grier: It entails a little of everything, from rallying up gear and tanks, to planning the dives and working the sites. I was brought onto the team in large part for my dive expertise and water experience working on marine crews for various projects, productions, and field work—as well as my degree in anthropology and studies in archeology. I really enjoy working with a team and this expedition was no exception! Captain Keith, who is also on the team, and I worked closely together on planing the dives and dive safety throughout the expedition. He also has a background in marine archeology, so we did most of the site dives and documentation together as well… it was really amazing in the waters off of Brazil, a perfect opportunity to totally dork out on all of the historical components that were involved! Dive length would vary depending on the site and depth of course, but it is always a good day when spent underwater.

Image courtesy Discovery Channel

Image courtesy of Discovery Channel.

GM: Did you watch/read adventure stories as a kid? What kinds? 

MHG: I did! I was a big fan of adventure books when I was a kid. My all time favorite was Island of the Blue Dolphins. I also loved adventure movies and shows too, like reruns of Sea Hunt and all nature shows—I couldn’t get enough!

GM: You use a lot of math and science in your planning for the expeditions. Can you elaborate?

MHG:  That is true, but I will be the first to admit that math is really not my department. I am more of the science and water buff! We did use a lot of new technology while on our expedition, which was a true advantage, as well as science and mathematics. There was a code to be cracked and we all worked very hard… I can’t disclose much more than that though! 

[GeekMom Sidebar: We are intrigued.]

GM: When did you first realize that pushing extreme envelopes was your “geekpoint”—if it is? Do you have other things you love to do? 

MHG: I have always loved the personal challenge, so it is safe to say it is what I “geek out on.” I love to get out there, in nature, on the road, on the water… wherever! I love to explore new places, paddle board, backpack, camp, road trip, breathe in salty air, and most things that have to do with water… and sharks. Lastly, I will say that little brings me more joy than sharing adventure and the ocean environment with my kids!

GM: You’re a mom as well as an adventurer. What advice would you give your kids about following in your footsteps, or not?

MHG: I would say go for it—all of it! Not to say that I haven’t really, really stressed my poor mom out with all of my adventures. However, my husband, Silas, and I really value following your dreams and living life to the fullest—and we figure that the best way to instill that in our kids is to lead by example.

Image courtesy Discovery Channel

Image courtesy of Discovery Channel.

GM: What advice would they give you?

MHG: My kids would probably tell me to slow down a bit—and to play and laugh more!  Life can get awfully busy, and who better to remind you to play than kids!

GM: What’s been your scariest moment on Snake Island?

MHGWhew! There were a lot of hair-raising moments out there… but the days when the sun wasn’t out the snakes were literally everywhere! On sunny days, you could anticipate where they were based on the time of day and whether they would be in direct sun warming up when it is cooler out, or in the shadows cooling off during the heat of the day. When the clouds came, it was incredibly snake-y!

GM: What life experiences prepared you for this adventure?

MHGI would say that the sum of my adventures leading up to this one helped me keep my cool and work effectively with the team under extremely difficult conditions. Especially my competitive freediving though, where it is just you and the never-ending ocean. The ocean is so grand and powerful, it is humbling and demands respect—it has a way of reminding you how small you are. I think that all of these things are good reminders and can come in really handy when dealing with dangerous natural places and deadly snakes.

GM: Do you consider yourself a geek or a nerd?

MHGAbsolutely a geek. Once I get going on the topic of sharks or the ocean environment… or anything I am passionate about, I enter geek-land!

GM:  Your plan is to use the adventure, and possibly your share of the treasure, to support environmental awareness and marine conservation? How so? 

MHG: Education and understanding are key to protecting anything on this planet. If I can shine some light on and raise awareness about the issues I am passionate about—like the health of the ocean—it’s what I can do to try to be part of the solution.

Many thanks to Mehgan for sharing her time with GeekMom, and to Discovery Channel for providing the sneak peeks below for Treasure Quest: Snake Island.

Snakes! Treasure! And Adventure! Treasure Quest: Snake Island premieres July 17, on Discovery Channel! 

Behind the Scenes at ‘Geek Knits’ – Plus a Book Giveaway!

Geek Knits image courtesy of Kyle Cassidy.

Geek Knits image courtesy of Kyle Cassidy.

Two weeks ago, GeekMom premiered the gloriously geektastic knitting book, Geek Knits: Over 30 Projects for Fantasy Fanatics, Science Fiction Fiends, and Knitting Nerds by Joan of Dark, with photographs by Kyle Cassidy.

Currently hanging out around the top 50 most popular knitting books on Amazon, Geek Knits features actors, authors, and celebrities from across the geek pantheon. (Yes, I went there. Hush.)

We love behind-the-scenes exclusives at GeekMom, and Kyle and Joan were happy to oblige with the following stories.

Plus, know what makes exclusives even better? The wonderful folks at St. Martins’ Press do: a giveaway. You’ll find your own chance to win a copy of Geek Knits: Over 30 Projects for Fantasy Fanatics, Science Fiction Fiends, and Knitting Nerds at the bottom of this post.

Read on, crafty friends:

Geek Knits Behind the Scenes 1: George R.R. Martin – From Kyle Cassidy
“Fun fact: I spent nearly a week in George R. R. Martin’s guest house, waiting to take the photo for Geek Knits of George and the knitted Dire Wolf. George would stick his head in and ask if anybody wanted to go out for tacos (and of course, I’d say yes). Then he’d say he felt like writing and I wasn’t about to be the guy on the internet who told George R. R. Martin to not write, so I read books and took photos of rollergirls out in the desert and went running and I’d check back periodically and he’d invite me to dinner and I’d go and then it would be late and everybody would go to bed. One day, he suggested we go to a movie at his theater. It was a South Korean western called The Good, the Bad, and the Weird—a bunch of the authors from Wild Cards were there. Finally, one evening his assistant called and said, ‘Can you do it now before the football game?’ and I raced over and did the photos in his office in about 15 minutes. He was loads of fun to be around and I had a great time hanging out there.”

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Kyle says, “The good news is I’m finally photographing GRRM. The bad news is I’m about to be attacked by a giant robot.” Photo courtesy Kyle Cassidy.

Geek Knits Behind the Scenes 2: Adam Savage – From Kyle Cassidy
(Or how Kyle ran a marathon, set up the perfect shot, and hung out with stormtroopers and a shark.)

“The shot of Adam Savage with the dragon is probably my favorite one in the book. It wasn’t difficult to set up, but it was still the most difficult.

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Photo courtesy Kyle Cassidy.

I’d been planning on taking a weekend of vacation, meaning that I’d fly from Philadelphia to Chicago, run a half marathon with Peter Sagal, do his photo for Geek Knits, then jump on a plane and come back to Philly the next day. That’s ‘vacation’ in my mind. Joan called and said that Adam Savage from Mythbusters was available for a photo shoot, but only in the middle of my vacation (after I ran the race, but before I came home) and could I go from Chicago to California and then back to Philly instead of sleeping after the race?

I had my photo gear, but no props and nothing in mind for Adam’s shoot. I didn’t even know where it was going to be. It turned out to be backstage at a concert hall—Adam was doing a performance and I had the run of the backstage area to figure something out and when Adam came off stage, we could do the photo.

I wanted to do something in the Mythbusters tradition, meaning some sort of construction and Adam was modeling a dragon. What would Adam do with a dragon? Melt something? Fire, there should probably be fire. Joan’s husband, (Dill Hero) was totally on board with the idea of setting something on fire in the theater. Somehow cooler heads prevailed and the fire idea was nixed. Maybe Adam would set a trap for a dragon and catch it. So Dill and I started scouring the backstage looking for things to make a Rube Goldberg trap out of and a place to set it up.

This is our proof of concept.

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Photo courtesy Kyle Cassidy.

What remains is how to light it. Here’s one light behind an umbrella. It lights everything up. Nice maybe, but not dramatic enough for a dragon.

savage3

Photo courtesy Kyle Cassidy.

I went with two lights, a soft box above the dragon , and a second light straight on the trapper. The dragon is being lured into the trap with a little pile of gold coins. Because that’s how you catch a dragon. Photo geekery: Because I was ostensibly ‘on vacation’ and thought I was only taking one photo of Peter Sagal, I packed a small camera kit consisting of a Panasonic Lumix GX7 and a 20mm f 1.7 lens. The Lumix is very small and very capable and it’s become a go-to for a lot of my work that involves traveling. I had two flashes triggered by Pocket Wizard radio flash triggers. I also brought one light stand and the umbrella was a Photek Softlighter II, which converts into a soft box, a shoot through, or a reflective umbrella. It’s very useful. The umbrella and the light stand both fit in my suitcase; everything else in a small camera bag.

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Photo courtesy Kyle Cassidy.

That looks appropriately dramatic! So we waited for Adam, he came off stage, I did like four photos, which was kind of pointless because we nailed it on the first one. I love how the dragon looks happily and innocently inquisitive and Adam looks delightedly triumphant—his trap is working! Click! And now with my job done, I could go lay down in a hotel and sleep for five hours before my red-eye back to philly! Glorious sleep!

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Photo courtesy Kyle Cassidy.

Then Adam said: ‘Do you want to come back to my place and hang out for a while?’

Wot wot?! Anyone who says ‘no’ to that does not deserve to be working on a book called Geek Knits.

So we went. You can see in this selfie, I’m still wearing my running shirt from the half marathon.

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Photo courtesy Kyle Cassidy.

Adam has a shark. He found it in a dumpster and brought it home and hung it up by himself. Because when he’s not building things on Mythbusters, he’s building things. He’s the least lazy person I’ve ever met in my life. So I figured, ‘suck it up and sleep some other time.’ And we went on into the evening. Adam showed us the most powerful flashlight ever invented, the prop gun from The Bourne Identity, we had tacos. I got on an airplane at midnight and flew back to Philadelphia. The plane landed and I went off to the next thing, still in two-day-old clothes without unpacking my bags. Tired didn’t mean anything, so much had happened. We made great stuff, we had an adventure; that’s all I really remember.”

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Photo courtesy Kyle Cassidy.

Joan adds: “The dragon was designed by Noel Margaret (www.noelmargaret.com). I asked several designers about making a plush dragon and Noel nailed it, hands down. I love how the texture makes it look like the dragon has scales! Instead of doing the obvious green, she wanted to do a bright red, which I was absolutely on board with. It came out so cute and cuddly instead of creepy or scary!

Also Adam not only had The Bourne Identity gun, he had the red bag and trash can! (Bourne Identity is one of those movies that I can watch once a week and never get tired of it. I was having a major geek out!)

It’s really, really hard for me to pick a favorite photo from Geek Knits, but this one is up there! I was so paranoid about it getting in since it’s um, sideways. (Kyle what’s the fancy photo term for sideways???) Most photos in knitting books are vertical. As soon as I turned these photos in to the publisher I was like, ‘This photo. This photo has to be in the book!’

As it turned out, I didn’t need to worry. The publisher and art department saw that photo and were instantly in love with it!”

Thanks so much to Joan of Dark and Kyle Cassidy for providing behind-the-scenes stories from Geek Knits, as well as great tips on how best to light a dinosaur trap for posterity!

Even better, the fabulous folks from St. Martin’s Press have authorized GeekMom to do a giveaway. Sign up on our rafflecopter for your chance to win your very own copy of Geek Knits: Over 30 Projects for Fantasy Fanatics, Science Fiction Fiends, and Knitting Nerds.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Terms: US/Canada only. Contest runs Tuesday, June 30, through Monday, July 6.