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John Ottinger III

Pastoral Metafictional Action: Down the Mysterly River by Bill Willingham

Combining the pastoral relationships of Winnie the Pooh, the quest fantasy of The Wizard of Oz, the action of The Hobbit, and the self-conscious awareness of its fictional elements of Stranger than Fiction, Bill Willingham’s first young adult novel is a fantasy tour-de-force.

Down the Mysterly River features Max the Wolf, a Boy Scout that awakens to find himself lost in an analogue of the Pacific Northwest full of talking animals, fearsome Blue Cutters, and strange creation magics. Max, an amateur detective, is determined to root out the source of the strange world in which he finds himself. Accompanied by the warrior badger Banderbrock, the monstrous (in looks and charm) cat McTavish, and the happy-go-lucky ex-sheriff black bear Walden, Max embarks on a quest to find the Wizard Swift’s sanctuary. Along the way, he must fight to survive the pursuit of the evil Blue Cutters, who remake heroes into a prosaic image, the odd deliverer of worlds The Eggman, a raging river, and Max’s own desire to solve the mystery. 

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A Chat with Vernor Vinge

Vernor Vinge is a retired San Diego State University Professor of Mathematics, computer scientist, and science fiction author. He is best known for his Hugo Award-winning novels and novellas A Fire Upon the Deep (1992), A Deepness in the Sky (1999), Rainbows End (2006), Fast Times at Fairmont High (2002) and The Cookie Monster (2004), as well as for his 1984 novel The Peace War and his 1993 essay “The Coming Technological Singularity,” in which he argues that the creation of superhuman artificial intelligence will mark the point at which “the human era will be ended,” such that no current models of reality are sufficient to predict beyond it.

Children of the Sky, the long-awaited sequel to A Fire Upon the Deep comes out from Tor Books on October 11th. I recently sat down with Vinge for an interview where we discussed Children, the Singularity, and more.

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For Family and Friends: A Review of Sleight of Hand by Peter S. Beagle

Themes of family and friendship predominate in master fantasist Peter S. Beagle’s newest collection of short stories, Sleight of Hand. Including three originals, the text of a podcast story from The Green Man Review, and other narratives that have come from the pen of Beagle over the last three years, Sleight of Hand is a strong collection by an author whose skill has only improved with time.

The collection opens with an all new, previously unpublished Schmendrick tale. “The Woman Who Married the Man in the Moon” uses the tale within a tale construction to explore the nature of marriage in the world of The Last Unicorn. Set before the events of Beagle’s seminal work, Schmendrick is wandering the world, aimlessly and haplessly. A chance encounter with two children leads to a dinner and tale trading between Schmendrick and the children’s single mother. Though this tale features favorite Beagle characters, it is probably the least exceptional of the collection. It feels as aimless as its main character is. However, though its direction is unclear, it certainly possesses an emotive force in its portrayal of loss, loneliness, and the uplifting effect of a momentary acquaintance.

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An Interview with E. E. Knight on Vampires, Writing, and Sword and Sorcery

E. E. Knight was born in LaCrosse, Wisconsin and grew up near the Twin Cities in Minnesota. He graduated from Northern Illinois University with a double major in History and Political Science, had a number of jobs that had nothing to do with history or political science, and now resides in Chicago. He is the author of the post-apocalyptic Vampire Earth series, the epic fantasy Age of Fire series, and is currently at work on a story that is a “combination of an old Cecil B. DeMille bible epic and Flash Gordon.”

I had a chance recently to sit down with Knight and talk about his work, his road to publication, and much more.

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Brian Jacques and the Boy Who Wouldn’t Read

This is a true story, the names have been changed to protect the innocent, and I’ve taken a little poetic license with the dialogue, but the tale is accurate.

Scene 1 (a sixth grade classroom)

MR. OTTINGER: Chris, why don’t you have a book to read with you? You know today is silent reading day.

CHRIS: I hate reading.

MR. OTTINGER: Really? What kinds of books have you read?

CHRIS: I read Narnia, I read some Avi and Louis Sachar and my mom and dad tried to get me to read Harry Potter but I just didn’t like them.

MR. OTTINGER: Okay. Well, what kinds of stories do you like?

CHRIS: Ones with lots of action but that don’t treat me like I’m stupid. I like fantasy, but not fairies or girly stuff. I read really slow Mr. O, so I have to like a book a lot to read all of it.

MR. OTTINGER: Hmmm. Let me think about it. (Promptly forgets.)

[Can Mr. Ottinger get the boy to read? Let’s see…]

An Interview with Michael Dougherty, Director of Browncoats: Redemption

Michael Dougherty is co-creator and producer of Browncoats: Redemption as well as the writer and director of the film. He spends most of his free time dedicated to this project. During the day, Michael currently is Application Support Specialist at National Wildlife Foundation, a non-profit focused on promoting the Chesapeake Bay. He has worked in supporting roles on many film and stage productions, and has background as an entrepreneur working in the interactive media and entertainment industry for the last 10 years. This is first feature film. (You can read a report on the movie here.)

John Ottinger: What is the story of Browncoats: Redemption and where in the Firefly timeline does the tale take place?

Michael Dougherty: The story takes place three months after Mal sends out the Signal at the end of Serenity (the Universal film). The movie follows Captain Laura Matthews and the crew of Redemption, a smaller transport ship than Serenity. The Alliance, looking for a scapegoat for the signal that Mal broadwaved, is cracking down on all of the Browncoats. Laura and her crew have always kept on the right side of the law, but with too few jobs they are forced to take their first “illegal” job and with secrets from Laura’s past coming to light the crew is facing some tough choices just trying to get the job done.

[Read more for more about the cast and a Star Wars related Easter Egg…]

Interview: David Lubar on Zombie Humor

David Lubar has spent many years designing and programming games for various companies. His games include Home Alone for the GameBoy, and Fantastic Voyage and River Raid II for the Atari 2600. He worked as a translator on one version of Carmen Sandiego, two versions of Shanghai, and two versions of Ultima. He designed Frogger 2 for the GameBoy and programmed the GameBoy versions of Frogger and Super Breakout.

He is also the author of two novels about Nathan Abercrombie: Accidental Zombie, an unsassuming fifth grader who becomes a zombie, an by extension, cool.

John Ottinger: How would you define zombie fiction?

David Lubar: Having barely squeezed into the category with a half-dead fifth-grade main character, I guess I’d better take a liberal approach and claim that zombie fiction involves anyone who isn’t breathing. I realize that’s far too broad a category and will send the purists out in search of torches, tar, and feathers. Generally, the current idea of zombies is mindless, flesh munching, walking corpses. But a mindless corpse makes a rotten narrator, so I had to take lots of liberties. I apologize to anyone who feels I’ve sullied an honorable monster.

[Zombies, Romero, and funny galore!]

Series: Zombie Week

Perception Altering Fiction: Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Some stories challenge the reader to their very core. They come from a place both strange and familiar, setting the reader back on their heels, causing them to reassess what they thought they knew. Sometimes these stories are true, like Anne Frank’s Diary, other times they are fiction like Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle or Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The new work of fiction from author Nnedi Okorafor, Who Fears Death, is member of the latter, a work that challenges notions and inspires change.

[Have your notions challenged…]

Interview: Carrie Ryan on Zombie Fiction

Born and raised in Greenville, South Carolina, Carrie Ryan is a graduate of Williams College and Duke University School of Law. A former litigator, she now writes full time and is the author of The Forest of Hands and Teeth and The Dead-Tossed Waves. Carrie lives with her writer/lawyer fiancé, two fat cats and one large puppy in Charlotte, North Carolina. They are not at all prepared for the zombie apocalypse.  Visit her online at

John Ottinger: How would you define zombie fiction?

Carrie Ryan: I think for me anything that has zombies in it falls under that category (and I’m inclusive on that note—so even something like 28 Days Later where they’re not technically zombies, I still call it a zombie movie).

JO: What is it that makes zombie fiction appealing to readers (and to younger readers in particular)?

CR: That’s a great question I feel like a lot of people are asking right now. Part of it’s that talking about zombies is an easy way to talk about fears without hitting too close to home. It’s much scarier to talk about something real like an H1N1 pandemic or nuclear war than it is to talk about something like zombies, but you can still address the same issues. At the same time, there’s not a terribly long tradition or set canon for zombies yet, so you can make them whatever you want.

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Steampunk goes viral: Riese the Webseries

Steampunk is getting its own professional webseries. Riese begins November 2 and it is the story of a woman and her dog Fenrir as they wander across the land of Elysia, helping those in need and piecing together her lost history even as she is pursed by the mysterious Sect.

 The cast is full of experienced science fiction actors that are readily recognizable to many fans of the genre, including Christine Chatelain (SyFy’s Sanctuary, Supernatural, The Collector, The L-Word), Ben Cotton (Harper’s Island, Stargate: Atlantis, Stan Helsing), Sharon Taylor (Stargate: Atlantis, Smallville), Patrick Gilmore (Stargate: Universe, Battlestar Galactica, Intelligence), and Ryan Robbins (Sanctuary, Battlestar Galactica, The Guard).

Riese is filmed using the cutting-edge technology of the RED One camera system and looks more like a made-for-TV movie than a webseries if the trailer is any indication.  More about the webseries can be found at

So far, all we have is the trailer to go by, but if it is any indication, this may be the most talked about webseries of 2009.


John writes for several SF/F/H publications and is an avid fan of steampunk. More of his writing can be found at Grasping for the Wind.

Series: Steampunk Month

Paranormal fantasy that isn’t: George R. R. Martin’s Fevre Dream

Though Anne Rice is perhaps the best known writer of vampires, around about the same time that Interview with the Vampire was published another notable author had written a piece of vampire fiction. It didn’t get as much press at the time, but his name is now synonymous with epic fantasy: George R. R. Martin. Often called “the American Tolkien” for his epic A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series, Martin wrote several novels in a wide variety of genres before settling in to write his masterpiece.

One of those novels was Fevre Dream, a novel of vampires on the Mississippi River. In Fevre Dream a down-on-his-luck steamboat operator and captain is given an offer by a strange man named Joshua York. York keeps strange hours, has ghostly pale skin, and drinks a rather strange-tasting liquor. But Captain Abner Marsh is in no position to argue when York offers to pay for the building of a steamboat the likes of which the Mississippi has never seen. Even when York requires strange terms and conditions. Abner’s decision to live with those conditions in order to rebuild his fortunes will change his life forever.

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Review: The View from the Bridge by Nicholas Meyer

Fans of the original Star Trek will know that Nicholas Meyer is the mind behind two of the most popular movies in the franchise, Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. For those who don’t, well, it says so right on the cover of Meyer’s new book The View from the Bridge: Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood.

Broken into three parts (Pre-Trek, Trek, and Post-Trek) the memoir follows Meyer’s path as the son of a New York psychoanalyst up until the present day. The bulk of his story is taken up with his work on Star Trek, but there are ancillary stories about how Meyer got into the movie business, some anecdotes about some of the actors and production people who made the movies great (or nearly ruined them), and theorizing on the nature of art and the movie business. His paragraph on the creation of science fiction is especially poignant:

If fiction is the lie that tells the greater truth, it is as well to remember that fiction is a lie, what some folks call a whopper or stretcher or bullshit. How do we make a lie convincing? By loading it with circumstantial elements that are true…Without this kind of help – speaking for myself – much of science fiction will fail to convince. We try to blur the point at which the truth blends into the lie. If done correctly, the audience fails to notice the moment when they slip the bonds of reality and embark on the fantastic voyage. If done well, they are so involved that they miss the moment when they willingly agree to suspend disbelief.

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Famous Last Lines of Speculative Fiction

It seems like the first lines of books always get the most press. From Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, “”It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains,” to The Lord of the Rings: “When Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton,” there is a special significance to the first lines of novels.

But what about the last lines? How come they don’t get much press?

[Read a few last lines after the break and contribute your own…]

What music reminds you of science fiction or fantasy?

I enjoy music. I like listening to it in the car, I like listening to it while writing or working. I’m sure that music affects you in some way and at some time. Music has an undeniable power over humans.  

Lately, I’ve gotten to thinking about the music of speculative fiction, or rather, popular music with science fiction/fantasy elements. Not the music that could be defined as classical or soundtrack (everyone who hears “Darth Vader’s Theme” equates it with science fiction, as in many ways it defines SF soundtracks), but the music of the mainstream that may not be speculative in intent, but in some way includes elements (theme, subject, terms) we generally define as science fiction or fantasy.

[Read on for a special musical challenge to all SF/F fans…]

Interview: Kevin J. Anderson

Kevin J. Anderson is the author of a multitude of spin-off novels for shared world universes, the co-author with Brian Herbert of the sequels to Frank Herbert’s original Dune novels, the author of the Nebula-award nominated Assemblers of Infinity, and more recently of a new epic fantasy series from Orbit entitled Terra Incognita.

John Ottinger III: What led you to begin writing traditional fantasy after so many years of writing SF?

Kevin J. Anderson: I have always been a fan of both genres, interchangeably in fact. I have a degree in physics and astronomy, with a minor in Russian History. I love big epic stories with lots of characters and lots of drama; whether it’s a fantasy setting or a science fiction setting is, to me, secondary to the big saga itself. Dune is an SF novel, but it feels structurally like a big epic fantasy, with Dukes and Barons and Counts and an Emperor, with politics and intrigue set on various planets rather than in separate fiefs or kingdoms. My Saga of Seven Suns is science fiction, but it is modeled on ambitious fantasy series. Terra Incognita looks more traditionally like a fantasy, with Kings and castles, sailing ships and sea monsters (it’s even got maps at the beginning!), but I don’t approach the story any differently. It’s about the plot and the characters, not the stage dressing.

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