Suddenly, It’s February 2018, And I’m Not Dead Yet

No, I didn’t sleep through the holidays—-quite the opposite. In the spirit of ‘I can’t die—-I’m booked!’ I took on a project that unexpectedly doubled in size.

For a while, I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone that I was writing the novelisation for the upcoming movie Alita Battle Angel for Titan Books. But then Titan listed the books on Amazon for pre-order, so the cyborg cat is out of the cyborg bag. Originally, the movie was scheduled for release in July of this year. Fox has since pushed it back to December. So you have plenty of time to pre-order copies for Christmas presents. 😉

Since October, I’ve been living in a reimagined version of the Battle Angel Alita manga. When I got the assignment, I was thrilled because, wonder of wonders, I was already familiar with the material. My fabulous son read the manga when he was a kid, which meant I had read the manga—-I read everything he read, so I would know what my fabulous son was feeding into his fabulous brain. (When he was growing up, his father and I took him to a bookstore every weekend and we told him he could have any book he wanted. I think that worked out well.)

So I already knew Alita and I was even happier to discover that Amazon had a lot of the manga in electronic form. Yes, I know many people object to electronic versions of books and graphic novels. But these are people who, unlike me, are not cursed with the power to make things disappear. The big attraction of ebooks for me is, not only do I never lose them, I never lose my place in them, either. Plus, I can look up words by touching them and highlight significant passages without having the highlighter leak through to the next page.

Anyway, I had a great time with Alita Battle Angel and shortly after I finished the submission draft of the novelisation, my editor Ella contacted me to say the original author writing the prequel, Yvonne Navarro, had had to bow out, and would I be interested in taking it on, despite the shorter deadline? I most certainly was interested. Fortunately, Yvonne had written a detailed outline already approved by the studio. Thanks, Yvonne!

The prequel is called Iron City, and you have lots of time to pre-order copies along with Alita Battle Angel for Christmas presents.

And that’s where I’ve been—about six hundred years in the future, give or take. Pretty good, considering I’ve just begun my second year of borrowed time. In between, I’ve also made a lot of progress on the next draft of the sushi novel—-working title: See You When You Get There.)

Last day to buy green bananas was 6 February; my oncology appointment is next week. I have to get a blood test today or tomorrow. I’ve begun feeling the usual mild anxiety—-but this time, the anxiety has come much later than usual. I’ve actually been too busy to remember I have terminal cancer.

But then, I’ve always been a bit absentminded anyway…;-)

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It’s Christmas Eve—You Know What That Means

It’s time for my favourite Christmas story. No, this is not your standard Christmas story. It’s not even a Christmas story at all. But I heard it for the first time years ago, and when the holiday season rolled around, it was the first thing I thought of. So I’ve been posting it every year, and I’ll be posting it every year until further notice.

One night, Confucius had a dream about chopsticks.

In the dream, he was transported to Hell, where he saw multitudes of people sitting at enormous tables set out with wonderful foods of all kinds. There was so much food that the tables groaned under the weight and the various aromas were mouth-watering, promising incredibly delectable flavours. But the people sitting at the tables had not touched any of it—they had been told they could eat as much as they liked but only if they ate with chopsticks that were five feet long. None of them could figure out how to eat with five-foot-long chopsticks so all they could do was stare hopelessly at this amazing feast and cry in hunger and misery.

Then Confucius was taken to heaven where he again saw multitudes of people sitting around enormous tables laden with glorious foods. They had also been told they were allowed to eat only if they used the five-foot-long chopsticks. But these people were not crying with hunger and frustration—they were eating their fill, talking, laughing, and enjoying themselves.

Because in heaven, they were feeding each other.

My friends, whatever holiday you celebrate, however you celebrate it, I hope it’s heavenly.

You Never Know Until You Know

I was really expecting to hear I was going back into chemo today. The last exam showed that the level of cancer in my body had neither fallen nor risen. The oncologist had told me that if there was even a slight rise, I’d go back into treatment.

But today, the oncologist told me the level of cancer had fallen. Not by a miraculous amount but enough to be significant, and to allow us to continue to be cautiously optimistic about the future.

I was okay with the idea of going back into chemo. It wasn’t exactly how I’d have chosen to spend the holidays but it could be worse. Besides, I have Ultra Hats for all occasions. Anyway, Chris and I were prepared; our upper lips were stiff, Blitz spirit, all that.

And instead, we get good news. We’re a bit stunned but hey, we’ll take it!

Now we’re back home. I’ve told Chris he can collapse for the rest of the day. Me, I’m going to get back to work-work-work-work-work-work—I’ve got a lot of work—although I think I’ll have a generous shot of Monkey Shoulder whisky to go with it.

So that’s today’s life lesson, friends and neighbours: you never know until you know and it ain’t over till it’s over. Every victory, even a small one, is a gain and if you pile up a whole lot of small victories, you just might end up with a big one. But don’t wait—celebrate each small victory as you go. You can still have a big party later.

Don’t mind me. I’m dizzy with relief. Did I mention it was good news? I did, didn’t I?

Yes, We Have No Green Bananas

It’s been such a busy year, I’ve barely had time to think about terminal cancer, so the fact that 10 October was my last day to buy green bananas before my oncologist appointment on the 24th went right by me. And now here I am in Milan, at Stranimondi, which is my last out-of-town event for 2017. I’ve already accepted two invitations for next year—a convention in Poland in April and OctoCon in Dublin in October. Anyone would get the idea I think I’m going to live forever.

But the suspense for this appointment is killing me even more than usual, seeing as how last time, the level of cancer had neither fallen nor increased. If there’s an increase, it’s back to chemo.

The prospect of chemo doesn’t worry me. It’s the waiting to find out—the suspense—that has me hopping from one foot to the other. I can still work on chemo, although there are times when I’m slower. But I told my oncologist back in the beginning that I don’t care if my cancer is terminal, I want to fight it aggressively. I’m not going to go quietly or gently into that so-called good night. I’m not going to ‘die with dignity.’ 

I’m going to live as hard and as long as I can, and when I go, I’m going to skid into my grave sideways with a piece of chocolate fudge cake in one hand and a double martini with three huge olives in the other, yelling, ‘Woohoo, what a ride!’

Standoff With Cancer

Well, blood tests show the level of cancer hasn’t fallen this time. But it hasn’t risen, so it’s good news. In the last year, the decreases have been very tiny anyway. I met a new member of my consultant’s team today and she really liked my lucky shirt––i.e., ‘I’m Making Cancer My Bitch.’

Anyway, it’s green bananas all round until mid-October and as I noted in my previous update, I’ll be keeping very busy until then. If there’s even just a slight rise in the level of cancer at my next appointment, we get out the big guns and go all medieval on that carcinoma’s ass. 

And cancer is still my bitch.

Almost Seven Months Into Borrowed Time & It’s Been A Busy Summer

I’ve just come back from two weeks at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, where I had the privilege of talking to writing workshop students and attending the Campbell Conference, which this year celebrated my mentor and role model, James Gunn. I haven’t said half enough about James Gunn, who was the first to take my science fiction writing seriously and offered encouragement along with rigorous criticism. 

James Gunn is quiet in demeanour––well, much quieter than I am, certainly––but his effect on me was powerful. And it wasn’t just my writing. Later on, when I started teaching workshops like Clarion West, I followed his example: treat people with respect, talk to them so that they will listen even to the strongest criticism. 

Then there’s his devotion to science fiction itself. Not only did he found the first program for the teaching of science fiction, he also has a book out this year, the third book in his Transcendental Machine trilogy, called Transformation. And just FYI, he’ll be 94.

Jim would probably wince at my mentioning his age, not because he’s got a problem with it but because he’s the sort of person for whom age is nothing to make a big deal out of. He’s one of those people who is dignified without being stuffy, who wears his vocation and his years in a way I’d like to emulate. When I won my Hugo in 2013 at the San Antonio worldcon, I was so flustered and gobsmacked that I forgot to thank him from the stage, and he was one of the special guests. This will bother me for the rest of my life. No, seriously, it will. Jim has been good-natured about it, teasing me whenever I mention it. He’s a all-round great guy and I urge everyone to look into his work, both fiction and nonfiction. The Road To Science Fiction is a multi-volume history of science fiction.

Someone––it may have been Dena Brown, but don’t quote me––once said, ‘Let’s take science fiction out of the classroom and put it back in the gutter where it belongs.’ That’s okay if you’re around a lot of science fiction writers like Dena was, while she was co-editing Locus with her former husband, the late Charles N. Brown. But for someone like me, who grew up reading in the genre voraciously but without any knowledge of the writers or how the genre developed, Jim Gunn’s course in science fiction at the University of Kansas was an eye-opener. At last I had context for my favourite books and stories, and I could see how sf/fantasy/horror was unfolding and progressing. I was in the first class of the Institute for the Teaching of Science Fiction, not so much because I thought I was going to teach sf (although I might have), but because I wanted to learn even more from Jim Gunn about science fiction.

So it meant a lot when I was invited to talk to this year’s writing workshops and to attend the Campbell Conference. I was always going to be a science fiction writer but when I walked into Jim Gunn’s course in science fiction––with grad student teaching assistant John Kessel, no less!––I finally had the focus and direction I needed.

Also attending were a group of writers and editors from China: The Future Affairs Administration. It was a joy to meet them and with any luck, I might live long enough to visit them in Beijing. Science fiction has speculated on the human race making contact with aliens––we ought to try harder to make contact with other humans on our own planet, particularly those who don’t come out of the same Western (and white) tradition. I have some stories that have been translated but I’m going to be brushing up on my Mandarin (when I was at the University of Kansas, I was actually fluent for a while; unfortunately, after the course was over, I had no one to talk Mandarin with and I lapsed).

So that was most of the month of June.

Today I’ll be dropping by the Macmillan Cancer Centre for a blood test before I see my oncologist on Thursday. After that, I’ll know if I can resume buying green bananas.

In late July, I’ll be teaching the last week of Clarion West in Seattle, Washington. I do love Seattle and it’s been fifteen years since the last time I taught there. Clarion West go out of their way to give their students a diverse group of teachers. Yeah, that’s right, I mean they’re not predominately white males.

Some people may think this is too ‘politically correct.’ So call me politically correct––I’ve been called worse things. The science fiction writers who dream up the most outrageous futures and/or alien civilisations aren’t all white males and it’s about time aspiring writers can meet them and see that there’s a place for them. 

After all, if you don’t see anyone remotely like yourself in any given profession, you could get the idea that people like yourself aren’t welcome. Science fiction, more than any other field, should be all about diversity.

And if you want to argue with me about diversity, don’t even bother. Walk away now. If you have a problem with diversity, I hope you never visit London because you’d come face-to-face with diversity like you never have before. It’s a diverse world, sunshine; get used to it.

Okay, that’s July. Onward to August.

In August, I’ll be making my first appearance at Nine Worlds, which has invited me as a guest. I’ll be there with Jan Siegel, also a guest, on Friday and Saturday, 4 and 5 August. If you’re going to be there, come and say hello. My schedule should eventually show up on the Nine Worlds website. Right after Nine Worlds, I’ll be leaving for Helsinki, where they’re holding the first ever Finnish world science fiction convention. If you’ll be there, come say hello.

Which takes us to September and TitanCon! If you haven’t been to TitanCon, you’re missing out. Jan Siegel and I will be raising hell there, too. After which, there’s FantasyCon in Peterborough 29 September-1 October in Peterborough. As far as I know, Jan Siegel and I will be there as well.

In October, Jan Siegel and I will be in Milan, Italy:

Looks like fun to me. If you’re there, come say Buongiorno.

After that, I’ll have just enough time to rest up before the 2017 Gollancz Festival in November.  

As of today, that’s my 2017. I’m feeling energetic, strong, and optimistic.

Four And A Half Months Into Borrowed Time––

––and so far, so good.

I’ve just finished partying hearty at this year’s EasterCon, Innominate, held in Birmingham, sharing the GOH spots with artist Judith Clute and fan Colin Harris, one of those indispensable fans who, had he not been a GOH, would have been working on the convention himself.

This was a very special GOH line-up for me. My first British GOH spot was at a lively little convention called MexiCon back in 1993, and it was Colin who invited me. When I told Ellen Datlow about it, she said, ‘Hey, that’s great! I think I’ll come with you! We can stay with John and Judith Clute and take a side-trip to Paris!’

I had never actually met John and Judith, and I arrived some hours before Ellen. So I had the pleasure of ringing the Clutes’ doorbell and saying, ‘Hi, I’m Ellen’s friend Pat. I’ll be staying with you for the next two weeks, except for the time when we’re in Scarborough at MexiCon and in Paris.’ John and Judith were spectacularly welcoming to me and by the time Ellen showed up, we were all old friends.

That trip was remarkable for two other things:

1) My astoundingly ridiculous idea to rent a car and *drive* from London to Scarborough, having absolutely no clue that this would be nothing like driving in the US. I was brazenly unfazed at driving on the other side of the car *and* on the other side of the road, which was a mistake of ineffable proportions. What would have been a two-hour train journey became an insane eight-hour comedy of errors, the first 45-minutes of which was just getting out of Heathrow Airport, where I’d rented the car. The last 45-minutes was trying to find the hotel in Scarborough. In between, there was a twenty-minute period in which I could not find reverse on the stick shift. I took a solemn vow after that never to drive in the UK again. It’s been an easy vow to keep. My US license expired shortly after I emigrated in 1996 and I don’t miss it.

2) Meeting the Original Chris Fowler at John and Judith’s when he came to do interviews with me and Ellen for a magazine. Chris had written me beforehand asking if I’d hold still for such a thing; I blithely mistook him for Christopher R. Fowler, the author of so many wonderful things, including most recently (I think most recently) the Bryant and May books. Anyway, we straightened out the confusion before I got there and we got on like a house afire, to phrase a coin. We kept in touch; he wrote me wonderful, friendly letters. Maybe when you were in school, they tried to teach you how to write proper letters? Well, Chris is one of those people who learned how to do that. We became friends. A year later my life had changed completely; it was difficult for all concerned. Fortunately, it turned out that my friend and penpal was, in fact, my soul-mate and all concerned lived happily ever after.

Twenty-four years ago, Colin Harris innocently set all this in motion with a GOH invitation, and it all started to take shape in John and Judith’s flat in Camden Town. Over the years, Colin has been a good and special friend. It was Colin who called me in 2013 to tell me I had been nominated for a Hugo. That’s a great phone call to get but it means even more when you get it from a friend like Colin. He has continued to give Chris and me encouragement and support even when he’s had to deal with his own life. Likewise John and Judith; their friendship, like his, has been…ineffable.

Well.

Now I’m slowly pulling myself together, getting ready to go home after a terrific weekend playing with my friends. Including Amanda, aka writer Jan Siegel, who makes it really easy to have a good time. Amanda/Jan was my co-host for the Hugo Awards last year. At the time, somebody identified her as ‘the bimbo in the red dress,’ a description she continues to use proudly because really, when you’re in your early 60s and someone calls you a bimbo, hooray, you’ve still got it! But I digress.

Anyway, we had a great time on many levels. In fact, I’m pretty sure it would have been impossible to have a bad time––at least, not without a lot of effort, and I’m ‘way too lazy for that.