“Legion: Skin Deep” by Brandon Sanderson (Subterranean Press, 2015)

Legion Skin Deep

As bestselling author Brandon Sanderson takes a break from writing his epic fantasy novels, he turns to his ongoing novellas. Readers first learned of Stephen Leeds in Legion, a man who has the unique ability to create hallucinatory manifestations that only he can see who aid him in life and answer the questions he has. When he is done with them, they do not disappear but remain to aid him in his freelance work in solving mysteries and the occasional police case.
In Legion: Skin Deep Leeds is hired by Innovative Information Incorporated to recover a stolen corpse whose very DNA contains new technology and information that will change the world; whether for better or worse depends on how quickly he finds that body. In return he will be made far richer than he already is and will no longer have to worry financially.

The second installment into Legion brings a great story and more insight into this enigmatic character, as well as laying some important groundwork for where Sanderson wants to go next with his character, and revealing there is plenty more story to tell.

Originally written on November 14, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

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Guest Post with M. E. Parker: “Secondhand Steam”

At odds with my environmentalist leanings, I admit that I have a soft spot for road trips and driving cars, preferably a five-speed junker from another era, a car with stories to tell. My favorite of these was a Volkswagen camper van I purchased in 1990 from its ninth owner that had already clocked over three hundred thousand miles and chewed up two engines, all under one coat of paint. By the time I got the van, the factory sunflower yellow had baked into Melba Toast umber, and the “Volkswagen smell” (anyone who has ever owned an old Beetle will know this right away) had ripened into a new odor, a mashup of a Rif Valley hashish lab masking a whiff of pine needles and vodka.  The van also came with a spectrum of stains on the carpet, rips in the seat, and, of course, a collage of stickers so thick on the back windows that I was positive people followed me just to finish reading them. They were a patchwork life story of the van in countless languages: stickers from camping sites, cities, beaches, almost everywhere it had been in twenty-plus years. I had some memorable times camping in orange groves, creek beds and beaches, cruising through Madrid, Lisbon, and St. Tropez, but I have always been drawn to the stories of the van before I got it, the ones I don’t know, yet the van produced them in my mind.

Books are the same for me, where the story takes me once my eyes trail off the edge of the page. What world has the composition and the color conjured in my imagination? What stories spin out from its orbit. How the town down the road that is never mentioned celebrates the onset of spring, or what sort of treasures I could find in the basement of the house next door to where the main character lives.

Jonesbridge was written under a layer of existing dust, within the relics of memories from childhood and dreams. I invite you to remove the cushions from that twenty-year-old sofa in the basement. See the crumbs and detritus, three generations of ink pens and fast food toys, wrappers, the unidentifiable snack remains, dried and petrified, some still moist, and coins of all denominations. Throw the cushions aside and curl up in the debris with a copy of Jonesbridge.

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Guest Post with Carolyn Ives Gilman: “Writing the Book That Wants to be Written”

How many times can a book be given up for dead, and still survive? If my book Dark Orbit were a person, it would be interviewed on TV for having survived so many near-death experiences. I first started it over 20 years ago. When it didn’t gel, I cannibalized it, and used the viewpoint character in a different book. In the late 1990s I started over, writing an entire new first draft, then threw it all out. The feeling that there was something worth saving kept nagging at me. Then, a few years ago, my thoughts started coalescing around a new set of ideas related to cognition and the brain, and I realized that Dark Orbit would be the perfect story for exploring them. At a writers’ retreat in Madison, after attending Wiscon, I spread out all my notes in a bed and breakfast, and re-plotted the entire novel. I had to take my main character and lop her apart into two different people, and invent a civilization of the blind—not because I wanted to, but because that was the logic of the story. I have always felt that, however hard it is, an author is obliged to take the story where it wants to go, not where it is convenient or easy to go.

Maybe the hardest thing I had to do was to reject the conventional wisdom that you can’t fit too many ideas into one story. This book has always been dense with ideas. Editors and agents over the years have told me that the proportion of sex and violence to ideas has to be pretty high to succeed. I always suspected they were underestimating the science fiction audience, but I tried to follow their advice. It killed the story. In the end, the only thing that made it possible for me to finish was deciding to forget commercial motives, and simply follow the story in the most interesting directions. Strangely, once I let myself write the book that wanted to be written, it turned out to have quite a high proportion of adventure to idea. It even had some sex and violence.

Because Dark Orbit has survived so many resurrections, it is impossible for me to answer the question everyone asks—what inspired it. It is partly an exploration adventure inspired by all the classic science fiction of my childhood. It is also inspired by cutting-edge science on the nature of space and dimensionality, by research into how sight works, and by the intersection between quantum physics and mysticism. Even my colleagues at work inspired it with their quirky personalities and obsessions. It never wanted to be quite like any other book, and I am happy that I let it be itself.

CAROLYN IVES GILMAN is a Nebula and Hugo Award–nominated writer of science fiction and fantasy. Her novels include Halfway Human and the two-volume novel Isles of the Forsaken and Ison of the Isles. Her short fiction appears in many Best of the Year collections and has been translated into seven languages. She lives in Washington, D.C., and works for the National Museum of the American Indian.

Stephen King’s Scariest Monster

Stephen King needs no introduction. To date, the internationally bestselling author and writer most well-known synonymously with the horror genre and the ability to terrify readers the world over, has published 54 novels. Some of them have been more fantasy-based, some thrillers, others perhaps more mainstream fiction, yet almost all of them have featured a monster, some strange fantastical creature or a seemingly ordinary human of extreme evil and hate. These are the people and “things” that terrify his many readers, be they Randall Flagg, Pennywise the Clown, “Big” Jim Rennie, Annie Wilkes, The Crimson King or Norman Daniels.

Over the last couple of years I’ve had the chance to listen to a lot of audiobooks and reread a large number of Stephen King books. I’ve gone through King’s bibliography before, so it’s been a lot of fun revisiting a number of these stories and enjoying the thrill of fear and excitement. The many monsters and creatures and spooks in the night were a delight, reminding me why I enjoy reading this author so much.

I’ve had in my mind since I first read Stephen King, the freakiest of the freaks, the monsters that really stayed with me long after I’d finished the book, taking up residence in the part of the my mind that thrills at the dark and twisted. Randall Flagg from The Stand showed new ways you could do things to people other than just killing them. Pennywise from It showed that no child will be ever safe again. The various nightmares and horrors of The Dark Tower series stretched across various genres in a way only Stephen King can. And Annie Wilkes showed what it means to be a true fan.

And then I got to Rose Madder, which I first read probably about 15 years ago.  The basic story stuck with me as most Stephen King stories do, and boiled down, it’s a relatively simple one. Rose Daniels flees from the husband because he is a horrible, abusing bastard and she simply can’t take it anymore. Eventually Norman, because he’s a good cop, is able to find and come after Rose.

Norman Daniels is the most terrifying monster Stephen King has ever invented, and the man is completely human. Obviously, upstairs in the brain attic he has a lot of things wrong with him, but he has not supernatural powers or abilities, just his strength and cunning . . . and his teeth, which he likes to use on just about anyone and cares little about the consequences. And of course King provides plenty of twisted details and scenes of Norman doing what he does best, and with how calculating and obsessed the character is, it makes him the scariest thing Stephen King has ever created.