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by Rick Klaw

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Quotes from LoneStarCon 2 (source of the Sterling quote)
Bruce Sterling
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New Worlds
China Mieville
Jeff VanderMeer
Zoran Zivkovic
Steve Aylett
Cory Doctorow
Lewis Shiner
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Turkey City Lexicon
Lisa Tuttle
Howard Waldrop
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John Shirley
Ellen Datlow
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ArmadilloCon
Slug Tribe
Wendy Wheeler
Neal Barrett, Jr.
Jayme Lynn Blaschke
Jonathan Lyons
Lawrence Person
Matt Sturges
Bill Willingham
Clockwork Storybook
"Diary of a Dinopunk" by Mark Finn
"Another Girl" by Chris Roberson
"A Brief History of Negative Space" by Chris Nakashima-Brown
"The Girl Who Ate Garbage" by Jessica Reisman and A. M Dellamonica
"The Segar Caper or What Goes Around Comes Around" by Arthur Carr with notes from Paul O. Miles
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Silver Lining

"I want to see these guys ear-tagged and branded before I believe there are that many on the hoof."
-- Bruce Sterling on the statistic published in National Geographic that Austin has the most writers per capita of any city in the world.
Austin photo As I write this 2002 is ending much as it began with U.S. troops mobilizing to confront a phantom menace and Americans losing basic rights as though they never mattered. I have not worried like this since the days of Ronald Reagan. Our current administration's totalitarian policies are so abhorrent to most of the rest of the world that even the Canadians are pissed off. Not a good sign.

There is a silver lining to all of this. During this repressive and scary time, science fiction seems to be emerging from its long comatose state. (This situation is not unique. The 50s and 80s were both boom times for science fiction creativity and originality, while also being horrible times for American civil liberties.) This is easily the most exciting time to be an SF writer and fan since the heady days of the 80s when a group of writers changed our concepts of science fiction and of the nature of pop culture itself. The Cyberpunks pioneered the first real change in science fiction since the 60s when the New Wave emerged from Michael Moorcock's New Worlds. The current crop (who could use a name) including China Miéville, Jeff VanderMeer, Zoran Zivkovic, Steve Aylett and Cory Doctorow, blur genre boundaries with stories full of social and political convictions and sparkling prose.

Austin photo Bruce Sterling As in the 80s, Austin, Texas is an exciting place to be. During the beginning and through the height of the Cyberpunk Movement, two influential cyberpunks -- Bruce Sterling and Lewis Shiner -- lived here along with many other talented writers. The current excitement can be traced to two key events.

Michael Moorcock In 1995, Michael Moorcock moved into the Austin area. He immediately lent his aide and support to several local writers (myself included). His appearances at local bookstores and conventions infused the local SF writing community with a much needed jolt. Most of us found Moorcock's natural enthusiasm contagious.

Perhaps even more important was Bruce Sterling's ambitious plan to revitalize the ailing Turkey City writers' workshop. Turkey City has existed since the 70s. Bruce Sterling, Lewis Shiner, Lisa Tuttle, Howard Waldrop, Don Webb and many others developed and honed their talents there. By the mid-90s, the workshop had become a shadow of its former self. Until 2000 when Sterling decided it was time to kick-start the workshop. He turned it into an event. Sterling began to host guest workshop with attendees from all over the place. John Shirley, Ellen Datlow, Paul DiFillipo, and Cory Doctorow are just a few of the recent ones. The evening of the workshop, which is always held at his house, is completed, Sterling opens up his doors to the entire Austin SF and media community for a big party. These get-togethers are not to be missed. Turkey City happens 3-4 times a year depending upon Sterling's schedule. For the first time since the late 80s, Austin science fiction writers have a sense of community.

Austin photo Austin photo It took more than two SF writers to make this happen. There are other contributing factors. Austin is home to two other professional writers' workshops (with published authors attending as teachers and/or students): Tryptophan and the ArmadilloCon Workshop. The first is actually an adjunct of Turkey City. Several writers (chiefly Allen Varney and David Bradford) felt that the Turkey Citys were too far apart so they started a new workshop. This one is smaller and less of an "event" than its more established cousin, but it maintains a similar quality while meeting six times a year. The ArmadilloCon Workshop is the brainchild of Slug Tribers1 Wendy Wheeler and Jennifer Evans. Held on the first day of the annual ArmadilloCon convention (hence the clever name), this workshop is the largest of the three with ten teachers and over sixty students. Wheeler and Evans bring in writers and editors to teach. I'm not sure how it is in other areas, but three pro science fiction writers workshops seems to be a lot for a medium-sized city.

Austin has always been home to many talented and diverse science fiction writers. Beyond the ones already mentioned, Neal Barrett, Jr., Bradley Denton, Chad Oliver, Steve Utley, William Browning Spencer, Jayme Lynn Blaschke, Jonathan Lyons, Lawrence Person, Matt Sturges and Bill Willingham have all called Austin home.

Of the current crop of fresh faces, there are five writers who I think we'll be hearing about for some time. Odds are that most of you reading this have never heard of these people. With time and some more stories, that will all change.

Mark Finn and Chris Roberson. These two will be always be linked in my mind thanks to their relationship as part of the now defunct writers consortium Clockwork Storybook. Clockwork was a shared-world project that four writers (Finn, Roberson, Matt Sturges, and Bill Willingham) created to get their works read and hopefully to make a little money at the same time. It met with limited success, with Finn and Roberson being the most noticed by SF community.

Mark Finn is an amazing storyteller. He's one of those individuals who can sit and dazzle you with a tale and will, given half the chance. A Finn reading is NOT to be missed! This side of Joe R. Lansdale and Howard Waldrop, he is the most enjoyable reader I've encountered. His writing is often comforting and exciting all at the same time. In some ways, Mark Finn is a bit unrefined, but with a little spit and polish, you'll be seeing a writer of amazing talent.

Chris Roberson lovingly crafts each tale with details and spice. Not quite the storyteller of Finn, Roberson's skills lie in the minutiae which never feel forced. His tales, like many of those of the current generation of writers, are heavily influenced by the works of Michael Moorcock and Philip José Farmer.

Roberson wields a double-edged sword. He showcases his talents as a publisher as well. He recently started up Monkey Brains, Inc. which promises to publish the finest in genre non-fiction. The reprinting alone of Moorcock's long out-of-print, important work on fantastic literature, Wizardry and Wild Romance, makes the new publishing line significant.

Chris Nakashima-Brown. Easily the most creative and challenging of this group, Nakashima-Brown is J.G. Ballard with a Texas twang. While sometimes reminiscent of Steve Aylett, he has a voice all his own and an amazing control of words and plot. Someday, someone will take a chance on Nakashima-Brown's unpublished nihilistic business thriller and the world will be, if not a better place, certainly a more entertaining one.

Jessica Reisman. Delicate and lyrical, Jessica Reisman's words resonate with a power that is deceptively simple. Her vivid stories flow off the page and often stay with me for days, certain phrases or scenes replaying in my head. Very intelligent, Reisman's tales will always leave you thinking, and wanting more.

Paul O. Miles. According to The Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, a pastiche is a literary, musical, or artistic piece consisting wholly or chiefly of motifs or techniques borrowed from one or more sources. What it doesn't mention is that a good pastiche is extremely difficult to pull off successfully. Skillfully "borrowing" others' techniques is Paul O. Miles' forté. So much so that people often confuse his work for the actual source material. Miles is more than a master forger. He enhances and adds to the original. How else could you explain the pulp adventures of The Red Poppy, the American Communist Action Hero?

I guess they are right and it is always darkest before the dawn. After a scary 2002 and with war imminent in the early days of 2003, no matter what happens I know that I'll have some good reading to do. I just wish the political future was so bright.


1 For over fifteen years on every second and fourth Tuesday of the month, the Slug Tribe has met to help Austin SF, fantasy, and horror writers.

Copyright © 2003 Rick Klaw

Not content with just being a regular columnist for SF Site, Rick Klaw decided to collect his columns, essays, reviews, and other things Klaw in Geek Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century (available September 2003 from Monkey Brains, Inc). As a freelance editor, former book buyer, managing editor, and bookstore manager, Rick has experience with most aspects of the book business. Ironically, with all these great new writers, Rick decided to bring in the New Year by re-reading the classic Philip K. Dick novel Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Ya know what they say: Once a Dickhead, always a Dickhead.


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