Stalking the Dead

After 28,000 miles of traveling we’re back in NYC, jet-lagged and getting ready for BEA. Lucky for 24-hour dry-cleaning, or we would be sartorially doomed for the next few days.

Of course, my posting is so far behind that there are still tales of Paris to tell . . .

Around the corner from our hotel was this graveyard. It was old and pictaresque, so I took the new camera over to shoot moody graveyard shots. Like this one:

Blah, blah, blah. Very artsy-fartsy.

But suddenly, I started finding famous dead people!

That’s the Baudelaire, the dude who translated Poe into French. And he was not alone; I was in the midst of a host of defunkt French celebs!

Without hesitation, I threw aside all pretensions of art, and became a paparazzo of the dead. This turned out to be much more fun than artsy photographs.

There were even honorary French people buried there, like American Man Ray, the guy who made the world safe for Dadaism.

Another yank there was Jean Seberg, aka the cute chick from Breathless.

Check out her birth and death dates. Drugs are bad for you.

But on the positive side, beautiful actresses get more flowers than philosophers. Even philosophers in pairs . . .

Hey, here’s one of my favorite playwrites:

I directed his play The Lesson in my senior year in high school. It was all about an etymology lesson, but I changed it to a tennis lesson. (Dude, I was so Dada, it still hurts.)

Okay, I think that’s all the good Paris photos. Singapore comes next.

And by the way, I just finished the copy edits for Extras. Yay!

Tired. But. Can’t. Sleep. Or. Jet-lag. Will eat me.

Extras Cover

The Extras cover has gone in a new direction, which I think is pretty cool. I never was quite down with the first version.

Let me know what you think!

Update: This comment thread is full of massive Specials spoilers. Be warned!

Update 2: Extras is available now for pre order!

Update 3: This cover is an April Fool’s joke, people. The art is from a quick sketch by Katerate, more of whose fan art can be found here.

Halloween Plans?

Hey, we’re headed out of town in an hour, and blogging may be sketchy, but to keep you guys entertained . . .

Is anyone planning any Westerfeldian Halloween costumes? Specials? Pretties? Midnighters? Peeps? Or just plain old zombies?

Let me know, and maybe we can put together a photo gallery in early November.

And to fill your swag bags with more than teeth-ruining candy, Penguin is running a bookclub sweepstakes! Enter to win up to ten copies of six books, including my latest, The Last Days. Basically, that’s one copy of each book for all of your bookclub members!

Spread the word.

Ciao till next week!

Zombie Cockroach!

In the spirit of Last Days Month, I’ve decided to dust off a few old parasite posts I’ve been meaning to do. So . . .

Meet the exoparasitoids!

Um, what? Well, do you remember toxoplasma, the beastie that lives in peoples’ brains and makes them act like cats? (See chapter 5 of Peeps for details.) Toxoplasma lives its entire life inside other animals; it’s a pure parasite, in other words.

But exoparasitoids spend most of their lives as free-living animals, flying or walking or swimming around like the rest of us. But at certain stages of life, they transform into parasites, sort of like werewolves turning from human into beast. An example of this in Peeps is the screwflies of chapter 10. They are normal flies as adults, but they grow up as parasites.

A few days ago, I was checking out Carl Zimmer’s blog and came across a post about a wasp called Ampulex compressa. Ampulex lives its life like a normal wasp, until it gets ready to lay eggs, at which point it becomes a full-fledged, zombie-cockroach-driving parasite!

Warning to the squeamish: Stop reading! Flee to Kitten War right now!

So what happens is this: when Ampulex is ready to lay an egg, it stings a cockroach on its belly, temporarily paralyzing it. Then it sticks its stinger into the roach’s brain, performing a little bit of neurosurgery. When Ampulex is done, the cockroach’s willpower has been destroyed!

It’s a zombie cockroach, a slave.

Ampulex takes it by the antenna and leads it home. The roach meekly follows, allowing itself to be sealed up inside the wasp-lair.

Do you think what happens next is pleasant? Then you would be wrong. (But Kittenwar is still available.)

Ampulex lays its egg, and when the larva hatches it eats its way into the enslaved roach, feasting on its organs. After growing into a fully formed wasp, it pops out in Alien fashion, as shown in the photo above.

Was that fun? Then tune in next week for parasitic cancer!

Plus, go buy The Last Days. Or the new paperback of Peeps!

Don’t they look pretty together?

And if you want to check out where all my parasitology is stolen from, go buy Zimmer’s book, Parasite Rex.

Blackout Survival

Well, it’s about 1,000 degrees here, so the mayor has called a “heat emergency.” This means that city agencies will try to conserve energy, and ordinary New Yorkers run their air conditioners at maximum, continuing the unending competition to see who has the coldest apartment when the power grid fails.

But don’t you worry about Justine and me. We have a terrorism/blackout/zombie invasion survival kit in the pantry.

It contains the following:

8 liters of water
1 tiny plastic flashlight
1 AA battery of dubious charge

Okay, it’s a pretty crappy survival kit. Especially seeing as how that flashlight needs two AA batteries to work. (Where did the other one go?)

Still, I figure that any American home is full of batteries if you really need them. We must have 36 AAs in strategic reserve (that is, remote controls), and I happen to know that the VCR remote hasn’t been used for four years. If those two batteries aren’t covered with green mange, they’re bound to be full of juice!

The only problem is, I can’t even find the remotes when the lights are on.

Luckily, I know exactly where the refrigerator is, and it’s stocked with all sorts of bonus survival gear, namely:

12 liters of seltzer
1 young coconut
fuego mega-hot sauce from our favorite brunch place
1 bottle of prosecco
1 bottle of champagne

That’s how we roll. A whole lotta survival going on there. But not to worry: I just moved the pantry water bottles into the fridge, so they’ll get cold and keep the fridge cold for much longer when the inevitable blackout comes. That way, it’ll take ages for the mustard to spoil. Genius!

Feel free to panic.

This charming image adapted from Global Warming Art.


So zombies won the Eurovision Song Contest last night.

Finnish zombies!


I have proof:

Okay, so many readers of this blog are Americans, and mostly have no clue what the Eurovision Song Contest is. But you have to admit, it has created possibly the Best Television Screen Capture in HISTORY!

To comprehend the contest go here. For an account of the Finns’ reactions go here, and for the profane ravings of Lordi fans, try here.

I have to get on a twenty-four-hour plane ride that starts in one hour, and I’ll be chuckling all the way.

Zombies are good. Zombies who win song contests are priceless.

That is all.

Last Days Cover Redux

Okay, so the previous cover designs for The Last Days didn’t get such a great reception. Knives were drawn, tears were shed. But as promised, the drawing board was gone back to. And this time with vamp-tastic results!

Just to remind you, The Last Days is my not-really-a-sequel to Peeps. It’s set in the same parasite-afflicted New York City, but instead of the Night Watch, it follows a bunch of kids trying to start a band and get famous. Of course, making it in the music biz is a tough thing to do under the best of circumstances, but right in the middle of a Zombie/Vampire Apocalypse, it’s really a total pain in the neck. (Get it? NECK!)

Now, this is not a complete design. There’s no text yet, these aren’t the right color levels, and it’s probably not going to be cropped this way. You are seeing a raw image even before the marketing department does! But I just couldn’t keep it from you for another moment.

So here is the new and highly improved cover rough for The Last Days:


I think that it is. And the fact that the only musical prop is a guitar neck (neck, get it? NECK!) is really great.

The oversized photophobic cat-like eyes are very much the way I imagined peeps’ to be. And the gaze is just the right combination of hungry, horny, and inhuman.

The book comes out in August 2006 in the USA. No, it’s not quite finished yet.

Also: Peeps has been awarded a BCCB Blue Ribbon Award, meaning that it made their top ten list of kids’ fiction books of the year. (Buy it here!)

And in other Peeps news, it seems like toxoplasma gondii, the cat-to-rat parasite that stars in Chapter 4, is all over the web. There’s been some new research about how it affects its human host. (Just typing the words “human host” gives me the chills, yo.)

Here’s a reference on BoingBoing, proving again that I am the sf-parasite-guy, and another at science writer Carl Zimmer’s site. Zimmer rocks, and without his book Parasite Rex, Peeps would not have been written.

I Love the Tribe

We just got back from Worldcon 2005 at Glasgow, and I’ve been reading through the blogs of various friends checking for mentions of me, like a senior counting pictures in a school yearbook. Having come home to three lovely houseguests, I don’t have time for my own detailed con report, so sorry if you’re combing this blog for a mention of yourself. But I will proclaim these words:

I love the tribe. I went to parties where almost every conversation was fascinating. I can meet at least ten cool new people in a matter of four days. The future is in good hands.

The Hugo Awards happened here, yo.

What I’ve realized is that a science fiction convention has the same emotional arc as a really excellent five-day wedding. The pre-travel wondering if you can get out of it. The reunions with con-friends, whom you see as infrequently and love as much (and can tease as hard) as family. The cool new people you bond with over the parties, ritual gatherings, not enough sleep and too much drinking. The central event you get dressed up for—Hugo Awards Ceremony, World Fantasy or Nebula Awards Banquet, the Tiptree Auction—that you’ve all supposedly come long distances for. And those parties after the Big Event, your last chance to drink a lot and proclaim that the marriage is doomed, or that the Hugo went to the wrong short dramatic presentation.

And like a really fabulous extended wedding, I am always a bit mushy at the end. Leaving all those new and old friends is painful, and coming back into the real world can be a bit harsh. Especially dealing with all those outsiders who are so indifferent to the special rules of the place where you’ve just been.

Take, for example, coming home to the New York Times’ review of Kelly Link’s new book, which was generally positive but contains this astonishingly mundane line about her story “Zombie Contingency Plans”: “The premise is fresh and the characters are likable . . . but . . . those zombies–are they supposed to be a metaphor?”

Argh. Are those not of the Tribe really so dim-witted? Are our skiffy reading protocols really so hard to understand?

Allow me too explain, Mr. Non-sf-Reading Reviewer Man. Sure, zombies can “be a metaphor.” They can represent the oppressed, as in Land of the Dead, or humanity’s feral nature, as in 28 Days Later. Or racial politics or fear of contagion or even the consumer unconscious (Night of the Living Dead, Resident Evil, Dawn of the Dead). We could play this game all night.

But really, zombies are not “supposed to be metaphors.” They’re supposed to be friggin’ zombies. They follow the Zombie Rules: they rise from death to eat the flesh of the living, they shuffle in slow pursuit (or should, anyway), and most important, they multiply exponentially. They bring civilization down, taking all but the most resourceful, lucky and well-armed among us, whom they save for last. They make us the hunted; all of us.

That’s the stuff zombies are supposed to do. Yes, they make excellent symbols, and metaphors, and have kick-ass mythopoeic resonance to boot. But their main job is to follow genre conventions, to play with and expand the Zombie Rules, to make us begin to see the world as a place colored by our own zombie contingency plans.

That’s why I spent last weekend drinking Scottish ale and discussing in great detail the seven different kinds of elasticity in time travel, the four major flavors of alternate technological history, the author’s duty of care in making military far-future hierarchies believable, and which nationalities of vampires can go out in the sun (Japanese, Swedish, discuss). And yes, I did spend some time talking about how I’d get out of the Glasgow Hilton hotel bar in case of zombie attack.

Don’t you see why this is more vitally important than your poxy metaphors, Mr. Times-Reviewer-Man?

Stories are the original virtual reality device; their internal rules spread out into reality around us like a bite-transmitted virus, slowly but inexorably consuming its flesh. They don’t just stand around “being metaphors” whose sole purpose is to represent things in the real world; they eat the real world.

Which made it rather painful to finally lift up our heavy luggage and come home, to live again among all these people who see the operations of language and storytelling in, quite frankly, a sophomoric English-class sort of way. All these people with their appalling lack of zombie contigencies. (Or maybe their dim-wittedness is, like, supposed to be a metaphor. What the hell do I know? I’m just a science fiction writer.)

Anyway, I really had a good time. Thanks to Glasgow, and all the organizers and volunteers, for lifting me out of the real world for a while. You rule.

Plus . . . Orbit, the UK publisher of Risen Empire, bought Midnighters for their young adult line.

W00t! Midnighters with slightly different spelling and punctuation! And with many more readers!

Glasgow was my first time meeting the Orbit crew, and they were all extremely cool. I look forward to publishing many more books with them in the future. (And the sale makes that whole pound-sterling-eating mother of a trip totally tax-deductible. Righteous!)

Zombie Zeitgeist

On the unkillable, shuffling comment thread of my Frank Lloyd Wright vs. Zombies post, Jim Coughlin announces a shocking discovery: the new George Romero zombie flick, Land of the Dead, has an obscure reference to Frank Lloyd Wright.

Writing in the San Diego Union-Tribune, David Elliot describes the film thusly (mild spoilage):

Pittsburgh has become the last fortress for the humans, surrounded by hordes of zombies who just keep slogging around on a random meat diet. A primal class structure still preens, with yuppies living in a protected high-rise compound where the rivers converge, ruled by suits led by [Dennis Hopper as] Kaufman (a jokey nod to the Kauffmans, the Pittsburgh department store family that built and lived in Frank Lloyd Wright’s great Fallingwater home near Bear Run).

Zombies at Fallingwater could have been a real classic, but instead . . .

Hang on, did I just read that? The phrase “Zombies at Fallingwater” in a real newspaper? Has the Zombies/Wright connection shambled from my mad rantings and into the actual world? Has Dennis Hopper finally discovered his dramatic destiny as a post-apacolyptic Wright-client heir?

Clearly, this is a sign of the end times, and we should all be headed toward the nearest architectural masterpiece with bottled water and phosphorous rounds. Me, I’m repairing to the Guggenheim with all the bowling balls I can carry.

Well, I would be, except that Land of the Dead opens today. For showtimes, click here.

Frank Lloyd Wright vs. Zombies

So on our first day in Wisconsin, we took a field trip out to Taliesin, the estate where Frank Lloyd Wright lived for the last 40-odd years of his life. I’ve been meaning to for the five years I’ve gone to Wiscon. We went with Janine and Doselle Young, another sf power couple, braving the cows and silos to reach this modern masterpiece of design.

photo by Doselle Young

Historically speaking, there is no “true Taliesin” to preserve. The main house was constantly rebuilt by Wright and his acolytes, becoming sort of a sort of living laboratory of architecture. But you can feel his ego everywhere, the low ceilings pushing you to sit down when he wants you to, the views perfectly callibrated when you’re in the right chair, facing the right way. The house lets you know who’s still in charge: the dead architect.

Speaking of death . . . like all great architecture, Taliesin has great stories. The house was leveled twice during Wright’s lifetime, once by lightning and once by arson, his third wife burnt alive–along with kids and houseguests–by an enraged gardener. Whoa.

And it just gets weirder. In 1985, more than 25 years after his death, Wright’s body was snatched from the nearby cemetary. You see, his fourth and final wife wanted him exhumed and cremated upon her death, their ashes scattered together. But his family was a bit more old-school than that, and were like, “Uh, no.” But shortly after the wife’s death her supporters went on a midnight raid and dug Wright up. And the ashes got scattered together.

Which brings me to zombies. I wish I could say it was all the tour guide’s talk of murder and grave-robbing, but actually, I’m kind of immature about world heritage sights. Whenever I visit them, I think about where I want to live if there’s a world-depopulating plague. In a Wright house? The Battersea Power Station? Or maybe the Taj Mahal . . . because I’m not really into canned food or solitude, so the only really cool thing about global depopulation is all the freed-up architectural masterpieces.

But then my mind turns to other Last Man Alive issues, like, say, zombie apocalypse. So Doselle and I were standing there in Wright’s incredible house, cogitating on defensive issues. Of course, it does make the architecture come alive, worrying about hordes of zombies attacking.

So here’s our quick analysis, entitled, “Taliesin in Zombie Apocalypse: Fortress or Deathtrap?”

1. Views in all directions to spot approaching zombie hordes, especially from the Romeo and Juliet Windmill Tower located on the estate.
2. Solid sandstone construction, not likely to be torn to pieces by undead hands.
3. Frank Lloyd Wright chairs never let you get “too comfortable.”
4. No major population centers nearby, just farmland. See map.
5. Organic melding of architecture and landscape allows for interlocking fields of fire.
6. Shop in vistors’ center can be looted for tasteful gifts.

1. Lots of windows to be boarded up.
2. Rough exterior walls can be easily climbed by zombie horde.
3. No last-stand “suicide” basement.
4. Surrounding open spaces allow 28 Days-style “fast” zombies to get a big head of steam up.
5. Bring your own guns a must.

So, yes, a masterpiece, and highly recommended for a day trip if you like cool design. But in case of zombie apocalypse, I would stick to the mall until those 28 days (or whatever) are over.