Monthly Archives: March 2014

Son Of A Secret Smuggler Digs Up The Truth About His Dad


The Last Pirate

If you smoked Colombian weed in the ’70s and ’80s, Tony Dokoupil would like to thank you: He says you paid for his swim lessons and kept him in the best private school in south Florida — at least for a little while.

Dokoupil’s father started selling marijuana during the Nixon era, and expanded his operation until he became a partner in what his son describes as the biggest East Coast dope ring of the Reagan years, smuggling marijuana into the U.S.

But Dokoupil didn’t know this until many years later, because his parents didn’t tell him. His mother continued to keep the secret after his father disappeared from their lives, when Dokoupil was 10. When he did find out, he wanted to know the whole story. He combed through court documents and newspaper files and interviewed Drug Enforcement Administration agents who investigated the case, as well as more than a dozen smugglers and dealers, including his own father. He shares what he found in a new book called The Last Pirate: A Father, His Son and the Golden Age of Marijuana.

Dokoupil is a senior writer for NBC News. He has reported on the recent changes in marijuana laws, and the new entrepreneurs who are growing and selling marijuana. He tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross about his father’s addiction to smuggling and how he ended up retiring.

Interview Highlights

On how he learned about his father’s secret drug operation

I was pushing 30 by the time I found out. I had heard rumors that my family was involved in the business, but I thought it was typical hippie stuff. As far as I knew, my father sold real estate in Vermont and had an antique business. … My mother told me that. That was the narrative. That’s what I told other people’s parents; that’s what I told friends. And then I decided to do a background check on my father. …

I called the National Archives, which is the keeper of 1 percent of all the paperwork that the federal government produces for all time — the most important things, the things they think historians will care about in the future. I said, “Do you happen to have a criminal record for this individual?” thinking I’d get nothing. Then I get an email with a faxed document inside it a couple weeks later. I click it open, and it’s my father’s indictment, 1986, for a single job in that year. He was busted for importing and distributing 35,000 pounds of marijuana, which is 17 tons. … It was enough to roll a joint for every college-age person in America at that time. … That was a single operation.

On the value of dealers during Richard Nixon’s war on drugs

It creates the opportunity to be a hero. Use among his friends and among college kids is going through the roof. The government is trying to take it away; the kids want it; he can provide it.

Related NPR Stories

Timothy Leary in 1969, in an article that was reprinted over and over again, called the drug dealer, the marijuana dealer, one of the three most significant figures of the era — as big as rock stars, as big as underground artists. And then ultimately, he concluded, bigger than both.

On his father’s addiction to the thrill of smuggling

In the late 1970s, 90 percent of the marijuana was coming into Florida. It was primarily Colombian; some of it was Jamaican. My father’s weed would be delivered to an old fishing shack in the [Florida] Keys. … It’s only one road that connects that necklace of islands and everyone knew that that was the road on which marijuana was smuggled into the country. So to smuggle on that road took an incredible amount of tolerance for risk.

So my father, despite being a partner in the operation, volunteered, for $25,000 a shot, to drive Winnebagos of weed out of the Keys and into America, just for the sheer thrill of it. He had no financial reason to do it. He had no operational reason to do it. … But by then he was addicted to the sensation of it, to the risk.

On how his father left his family

My father retires. He has, at that point, $500,000 buried in a hillside in New Mexico; he’s got a couple of coolers of money on Long Island. He has a safe deposit box with cash in it, plus he has the proceeds from his final job. He’s essentially set for life. All he has to do is nothing and it proves to be the only thing he can’t do.

He goes to St. Thomas [in the U.S. Virgin Islands] where they rent [a] long sailboat built for 49 people and party with just 12 on it: me and two other kids — smugglers’ kids — my mother, one of his partner’s girlfriends, an old partner. They have catered meals and tour the island and it’s a retirement party. It’s a celebration. …

My father felt uncomfortable in those situations. He felt like he needed more. He needed to be different. So I have a memory of him leaving. We docked the boat, there are days still to come in the celebration, and he walks away. Memory is like surveillance footage: Everything gets picked up but you don’t really review it unless there’s an incident. So at the time it didn’t occur to me that this was the last time I was going to see him in any kind of healthy condition. But in retrospect, that’s the last time I saw him whole.

Tony Dokoupil is a former senior reporter for Newsweek.i i

hide captionTony Dokoupil is a former senior reporter for Newsweek.


Seth Wenig/Courtesy of Doubleday

Tony Dokoupil is a former senior reporter for Newsweek.

Tony Dokoupil is a former senior reporter for Newsweek.

Seth Wenig/Courtesy of Doubleday

On how his father’s downfall influenced his own sense of identity

Reporting this book and learning what I have about my father was confirming of my own sense of self. So, as someone raised primarily by my mother, I never recognized myself in her. She’s wonderful. She’s natively wise and accepting in these interesting ways, but she didn’t have the same energy I had, she didn’t really look like me, our interests didn’t always align and I clearly came from some other stock.

My father was not the stock that I wanted to accept for a long time because my only impressions of him were negative. But once I saw what his career was like and how it aligned with the times and the excitement, and how good he was at it, I said, “Oh, OK. That is a nervous system I recognize, in fact.”

I don’t want to underplay the degree to which it was crushing to go through high school and college without clarity on where you came from and with a sense that your father was an empty vessel. … The message that society pushes is “like father, like son.” … I felt that there was an inevitability that I would end up like him. … I had to come to the realization that my father’s destiny was one that he selected. … Therefore, if he can make his life, I can make mine.

Sandwich Monday: The Waffle Taco From Taco Bell


Nine out of 10 customers prefer the Waffle Taco to the Offal Taco.i i

hide captionNine out of 10 customers prefer the Waffle Taco to the Offal Taco.


NPR

Nine out of 10 customers prefer the Waffle Taco to the Offal Taco.

Nine out of 10 customers prefer the Waffle Taco to the Offal Taco.

NPR

For most people, the morning goes like this: Wake up, take a shower and wait six hours in painful agony until it’s an appropriate time to eat Taco Bell.

But, finally, times have changed: Taco Bell has introduced a breakfast menu. The centerpiece is unquestionably The Waffle Taco.

Peter: I was driving in after picking them up, and I was terrified of getting in a fatal car crash. “Local radio host found dead next to bag of four Taco Bell Waffle Tacos.”

Ian: If that had happened, I would have thought fondly of you as I ate the extra waffle taco you were sadly too dead to eat.

Taco and waffle go together even better than Terry Gross and Gene Simmons.i i

hide captionTaco and waffle go together even better than Terry Gross and Gene Simmons.


NPR

Taco and waffle go together even better than Terry Gross and Gene Simmons.

Taco and waffle go together even better than Terry Gross and Gene Simmons.

NPR

Ian: A lot of people don’t realize this, but the waffle taco actually started years ago at that other chain Taco Belgium.

Robert: I just want to know how they bent a waffle iron into that shape.

In case it's not clear, that waffle taco is going in.i i

hide captionIn case it’s not clear, that waffle taco is going in.


NPR

In case it's not clear, that waffle taco is going in.

In case it’s not clear, that waffle taco is going in.

NPR

Peter: If Mexicans are horrified by Taco Bell’s appropriation of their cuisine, there are going to be a lot of pissed off Belgians now.

Robert: Do you think Taco Bell is honoring Belgian cuisine because they speak Phlegmish?

Ian: The cuisines of these two countries go together so perfectly. I want there to be a country called Belgexico and I want to move there.

Peter realizes he's found a favorite food and a best friend all in one.i i

hide captionPeter realizes he’s found a favorite food and a best friend all in one.


NPR

Peter realizes he's found a favorite food and a best friend all in one.

Peter realizes he’s found a favorite food and a best friend all in one.

NPR

Robert: I’m glad they wrapped this in a waffle. Anything with a smoother texture would slide right out of my fingers.

Ian: Seriously. It’s so gryeasjhy, my finghskjers are slipsoiing arnound my keybloard.

The non-bemeated space at either end of the taco is an inexcusable oversight.i i

hide captionThe non-bemeated space at either end of the taco is an inexcusable oversight.


NPR

The non-bemeated space at either end of the taco is an inexcusable oversight.

The non-bemeated space at either end of the taco is an inexcusable oversight.

NPR

Ian: I love this. It’s like a little meat canoe!

Peter: It is tasty. I’m going to wrap a waffle around everything now. I’m going to make a big one and use it as a sleeping bag.

Robert: OK, OK. But taste aside, it looks like I used a waffle to pick up something my dog left behind.

[The verdict: pretty tasty, and we definitely prefer the bacon variety to the sausage. There are the structural issues — the stickiness of the waffle does necessitate post-taco hand-washing — but all in all, it’s a welcome addition to the fast-food breakfast landscape.]

Sandwich Monday is a satirical feature from the humorists at Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me!

We Read The Year’s Best New Sci-Fi — So You Don’t Have To


The 2014 Campbellian Anthology is a free download. i i

hide captionThe 2014 Campbellian Anthology is a free download.

The 2014 Campbellian Anthology is a free download.

The 2014 Campbellian Anthology is a free download.

The World Science Fiction Convention is a gathering of fans ranging from sci-fi movie buffs to gamers to comics aficionados — but at its heart, WorldCon is for lovers of literature, and it hosts the Hugo Awards, the Oscars of sci-fi and fantasy.

During the ceremony, one award is given that’s not a Hugo: the John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer. The Campbell celebrates potential: Nominees are often young, just starting out in the field (though not always), and it serves as a kind of signpost for fans, pointing the way to the next great read.

It used to be difficult to find all of the fiction by eligible writers; now it’s (almost) all in one place. Author M. David Blake took on the arduous task of compiling the 2014 Campbellian Anthology, a free collection of short stories and novel excerpts by 111 authors eligible for the Campbell Award. The e-book is over 860,000 words long — longer than George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords and A Dance With Dragons put together, according to the introduction. That’s a ton of fiction to read.

And I did it.

The Campbellian Anthology offers a glimpse into the collective id of speculative fiction. It shows us what editors are buying when they’re not responding to a name, a reputation or prior feelings about an author’s work. It also reveals what new writers are bringing to the genre, whether they’re just reflecting current trends or offering something genuinely new.

So, what did I learn from reading ALL those stories?

Authors are still writing — and editors are still buying — stories that have been done a thousand times before. They’ll be done thousands of times again, since there will always be young writers. The stories that stand out are the ones that bring new perspectives — and I saw a good number of those, as well as a ton of boring, predictable clunkers.

Themes that dominate the science fiction, fantasy and horror store shelves are evident here as well: The current taste for apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic settings (with and without zombies) has infiltrated every market and psyche and won’t likely go away soon, even though there are few new ideas (though I’m glad that the rage for cheap twist endings seems to be fading).

Another disturbing trend was the number of good stories I read that were utterly ruined when harmful stereotypes and casual bigotry reared their ugly heads. I didn’t see malicious intent, just cluelessness and lazy writing.

None of this is surprising, given that these are writers at the beginning of a career. Even so, there are a couple of dozen who really stand out, with stories built from the elements of great SF: Prose that isn’t just competent, but engaging, surprising and alive. Ideas that delve deep into the themes the authors are exploring. Characters that crawl right up off the page and yank you into their worlds.

Nominations for the Campbell Award are due today, so based on the anthology, here’s my ballot:

Carmen Maria Machado‘s stories build and build until they surround and ensnare, and at the end you’re always glad to be all tangled up. My favorite, “Especially Heinous: 272 Views of Law & Order SVU,” defies explanation. Call it postmodern, or fan fiction, or Lovecraft meets Dick Wolf — all labels fall short of capturing the essence of this story.

The excerpt from Sofia Samatar‘s compelling novel A Stranger in Olondria should be enough to make you run out and buy the book. Just don’t overlook her short “Selkie Stories Are for Losers,” the best story about loss and love and selkies I’ve read in years.

I’m as weary of zombies as I am of apocalypses, so Stant Litore‘s No Lasting Burial (#4 in the Zombie Bible series) should not have engaged me as deeply as it did. The atmospheric setting is what did it — and I’m intrigued by the idea of reinterpreting the Gospel of Luke as a zombie tale.

I adored Brooke Bolander‘s “Her Words Like Hunting Vixens Spring,” a revenge story that’s both visceral and tender. The image of a pack of vixens crawling their way up out of the protagonist’s throat won’t soon leave you. Bolander’s other stories are similarly striking, but I’ll never forget that first one.

My favorite John Chu story isn’t in this anthology (you can find it here) though I like the one that is included — called “Incomplete Proofs” — almost as much. Chu is a master at painting deep and complex relationships with very few strokes. He applies that same talent to spooling out his elaborate science fictional ideas, condensing them into stories that never feel too long.

Any of these authors are worth downloading the 2014 Campbellian Anthology to read. In fact, the whole thing is worth reading, even with the ups and downs and general unevenness. You don’t have to read it all or even read it straight through. Skip around, make random choices. You’re guaranteed to find more new authors you’ll love and want to follow.

K. Tempest Bradford is a speculative short-story writer by night, a technology journalist by day, and an activist blogger in the interstices.

Essie Davis: On Playing A Sexually Liberated ‘Superhero’ Without Apology


A new hat can cheer even an experienced actress, says Essie Davis.

hide captionA new hat can cheer even an experienced actress, says Essie Davis.


Acorn.TV

In the first-ever episode of the Australian series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, the central figure, Phryne Fisher, has to explain to her young, extremely Catholic new maid Dot what exactly is in the round, plastic case that Dot is holding in her hands. “Family planning,” she says casually.

Phryne (pronounced FRY-nee) is an impeccably bobbed amateur detective in Melbourne during a time when a lady could still reasonably wear a feather boa but could already respectably wear pants. Acorn.tv, a subscription streaming site that carries primarily British and Australian television, has been rolling out the second series of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries one episode per week, and for now, that’s the only place you can get the entire run of the show if you’re a scruffy American. (The first series is available on Netflix and has been airing on some PBS stations; the second will likely follow eventually.) On Monday, Acorn releases the second-series finale.

Being sexually independent is not Phryne’s only distinguishing characteristic: she’s also clever, sometimes inscrutable, funny and fiercely loyal. She speaks several languages. She carries a literal golden gun. But the series does extravagantly reintroduce the overt sexuality that was regularly part of the films of the 1920s and 1930s, but vanishes mysteriously from most contemporary films about the 1920s and 1930s, as if it’s too much to imagine that sex for pleasure existed in parents’ and grandparents’ lives.

Phryne has a bubbling, ambiguous romantic attachment to the breathtakingly dashing but emotionally reserved Detective Inspector Jack Robinson, played by Nathan Page. But in stark contrast to most will-they-or-won’t-they television pairings, her attachment to Jack is not treated as ethically superior to the casual sex she’s having. Her feelings for Jack don’t motivate Phryne to wait around, staring at the ceiling until they manage to get together. While carrying on this flirtation that has clear and significant emotional weight, she’s happily had any number of lovers over the course of the series, some of whom have turned out to be very bad indeed, and one of whom she sent off with her true best wishes, directly from her bed into a promising marriage.

Essie Davis plays Phryne Fisher, a beautifully attired detective in 1920s Melbourne.i i

hide captionEssie Davis plays Phryne Fisher, a beautifully attired detective in 1920s Melbourne.


Ben King/Acorn.TV

Essie Davis plays Phryne Fisher, a beautifully attired detective in 1920s Melbourne.

Essie Davis plays Phryne Fisher, a beautifully attired detective in 1920s Melbourne.

Ben King/Acorn.TV

This doesn’t sit right with everyone, which a writer for Jezebel noticed while browsing the Netflix comments. What resulted was a post by Rebecca Rose called, “Netflix Reviewers Think Your Lady Detectives Are Slutty Sluts.” The post provoked a gleeful celebration of Phryne’s great and sexy life by her fans in the comments, and quite a few people who hadn’t watched the show before took the position that these reviewers – the ones who called her a tramp – were making it sound like a pretty good show.

And who observed these discussions with no small amount of amusement? Essie Davis, the actress who’s been playing Phryne for two years, and who may not share Phryne’s personal or professional habits, but shared her wicked cackle with me on the phone earlier this year.

“I was sent the link to Jezebel,” she says of the discussion about Phryne being, as she puts it, a “hussy.” “And I just thought it was fantastic that the reactions towards the outrage were so powerful and outspoken. And that so many people who, on the Jezebel site, were like, ‘Right, well, if that’s what everyone’s saying about it, I’m watching it.'”

Other than Samantha on Sex And The City, Davis couldn’t think of a woman on American television quite like Phryne in terms of her genuinely happily asserted sexual agency any more than I could, and we couldn’t think of many women like Phryne anywhere. “Phryne’s a superhero, really,” she says. “She’s the woman that many women would like to be. Because she is so independent and has no dependency upon men, just loves them. And as long as they don’t try and rule her, she’ll enjoy every bit of them.”

That lack of dependency is a part of Phryne’s makeup: Davis days she was born into poverty but later inherited wealth, meaning that now, she knows the significance of having her own house, her own car, her own money. “As well as being able to speak a million languages and shoot a gun and drive a fast car and throw a dagger and climb a building.”

But don’t imagine a detached party girl sipping booze with her pals until all hours: Phryne is very much a family lady, despite being unmarried. She adopts a daughter and surrounds herself with a house full of people who are officially part of her staff but make up quite a happy and devoted clan: her assistant, Dot (who’s in chaste, shy love with Jack’s deputy); her domestic chief of staff, whose name is actually Mr. Butler; and her two handymen/drivers/assistant sleuths, Cec and Bert.

Of course, this is a period piece, and it’s only right that in addition to being transgressive and, as Davis says, “highly intelligent,” Phryne is also gorgeously decked out at all times. She swans about in her boas and robes and gowns and softly cut pants, with a sense of style that’s luscious and sometimes witty. (In fact, Phryne, more than perhaps any woman on American television, calls to mind the moment in Singin’ In the Rain in which a despairing young woman says of silent film star Lina Lamont, “She’s so refined, I think I’ll kill myself.”) The show’s costume designer, Marion Boyce, recently took home an AACTA Award for television costume design, Australia’s highest, and Davis isn’t surprised.

“I’m very, very, very lucky to have Marion Boyce designing for me, and you know, Phryne’s obviously wealthy and loves clothes, and all of the clothing budget is spent on Phryne.” She laughs, and I do, too. “I think Jack’s got two suits, and poor Cec and Bert have got the same suit on every week.” Davis says the collaboration with Boyce is fundamental, and comes from a variety of sources.

Essie Davis has read about how Phryne is a "hussy." She doesn't mind.i i

hide captionEssie Davis has read about how Phryne is a “hussy.” She doesn’t mind.


Ben King/Acorn.TV

Essie Davis has read about how Phryne is a "hussy." She doesn't mind.

Essie Davis has read about how Phryne is a “hussy.” She doesn’t mind.

Ben King/Acorn.TV

“Marion’s eye for detail is immaculate, and she has … she has pieces, buttons, buckles, furs from the period. People are now donating items to the show because they want to see them on the screen. She’s cut some cloths that she’s had for 20 or 30 years, she’s cut on my behalf, and let me wear her own personal jewelry that she’s gathered from around the world, and Venice, and … gifts from her own family to her. And she has an incredible collection of beautiful things, and has found Phryne some amazing things. And I am so lucky that every new block, I get one or two fabulous new coats and an amazing hat, and oh my God, pair of shoes. And each world that we go into, they’re very strikingly different outfits.”

It’s not just the clothing itself, either. Sometimes, it takes creative work just to wear it right. “We work really well together,” Davis says. “Marion will come up with some amazing design and bring it in, and I’ll be like, ‘How do you wear this?’ And she’ll go, ‘Well, try it out.’ And I’ll pick up the tail of some ridiculously long coat and throw it around my arm, and she’ll go, ‘Terrific!'”

And with all the gowns and feathers and hats that have crossed her path, what’s Essie Davis’ favorite item of clothing Phryne has ever worn? “I do have a favorite,” she acknowledges. “Because I love the simplicity and the extraordinary detail of this beautiful black satin dressing gown that is in chinois embroidery, and on the back of it, are these two embroidered fighting cocks. And I think it is the most perfectly tongue-in-cheek piece of costume, and I love putting it on, ’cause I love the idea that there are fighting cocks.” And then she cackles.

It’s ‘Mother’ Time: A Show With One Last Chance To Get It Right


Cristin Milioti joined the cast of How I Met Your Mother to play the mother herself in the final season. Josh Radnor has played Ted for nine years. Tonight, they meet.i i

hide captionCristin Milioti joined the cast of How I Met Your Mother to play the mother herself in the final season. Josh Radnor has played Ted for nine years. Tonight, they meet.


Ron P. Jaffe/CBS

Cristin Milioti joined the cast of How I Met Your Mother to play the mother herself in the final season. Josh Radnor has played Ted for nine years. Tonight, they meet.

Cristin Milioti joined the cast of How I Met Your Mother to play the mother herself in the final season. Josh Radnor has played Ted for nine years. Tonight, they meet.

Ron P. Jaffe/CBS

Kids, after nine long years, How I Met Your Mother is finally coming to an end.

That the show has been on this long is still strange to me. I remember when it was consistently almost cancelled in the first few years, and I passed around the early seasons on DVD (remember those?) trying to get my friends as hooked as I was. But here we are, nine years in, and a whole mess of fans are eagerly awaiting the show’s conclusion.

There’s a lot I could say about the series as it enters its hour-long finale tonight. HIMYM has meant a lot to me over the years. I literally (no Ted, I don’t mean figuratively) grew up with the show — its big moments mirrored my own, its jokes eased into my everyday speech, its characters became old friends. The best episodes are always on Netflix, waiting to cheer me up after a bad day.

But How I Met Your Mother hasn’t always been good to me. It’s no secret that the show took a creative downturn after the fourth season, and although there were moments in seasons six and seven that were promising, it was never really able to capture the same spirit of the early years. Certainly, this final season has been a frustrating experience. It might have been easier to jump ship and fondly remember the early successes, but as I’ve written before, I just can’t do that. I need to see that moment promised in the show’s title and by Future Ted’s first words nine years ago. I need to see him meet the Mother.

It’s arguable that the actual meeting of Ted and the future Mrs. Mosby isn’t really all that important in the grand scheme of the series. A frequent theme of the show has been the idea that the ride can often be the best part of the journey, and that the little moments in life are worth cherishing. And to be honest, the ride is what made HIMYM what it is. Every slap and intervention and failed relationship is an integral piece of the greater story.

But an equally integral part of the show has always been the promised destination. It has allowed a hint of optimism to permeate even the show’s darkest moments. Marshall and Lily break up, but they’re going to get back together. Robin is infertile, but she’s fine in the long run. Marshall’s father dies, but life goes on. Ted’s relationships fail one after the other, but the One is waiting for him on a train platform in Farhampton.

So now that we’re here, now that we’re going to see what happens on that train platform, How I Met Your Mother has one last chance to be the show I fell in love with all those years ago, but also one last chance to disappoint me. And after spending a whole season with the Mother, who is just as charming and lovely as we always hoped she would be, the character herself has become more important than the circumstances on the train platform. No matter how she and Ted go about saying “hello” to one another, what’s more pressing is that they get to have the happily ever after the show has been promising. In other words, How I Met Your Mother can either have a live and healthy Mother in 2030 or it can betray the very thing that made it great.

The theory that the Mother is dead in 2030 has been floating around the internet for a while, but it got a whole lot more juice a few weeks ago. In an episode ominously titled “Vesuvius,” there was a strong hint that the future Mother is dying in a flash-forward to 2024, and is perhaps dead by the time future Ted starts telling the story in 2030. It’s not just a fan theory anymore; it’s a dangling question that must be answered in the finale.

If the Mother is dead in the future — if that’s the reason Ted has decided to spin this exceedingly long yarn for his kids — it would work within the context of the show. You could argue that the series is about the fact that life goes on no matter what, and that you make the best with what you have. Ted must learn to live his life without the Mother. That is what happens sometimes in life. Our real lives will inevitably deal us heavy blows, and there is no guarantee that anything will work out for the best.

But How I Met Your Mother has never been about real life. Not even a little bit. In real life you can’t make it rain, goats don’t beat people up, everybody doesn’t have a perfect doppelganger, and no one designs skyscrapers that look like dinosaurs.

In the midst of all the real life we all have to deal with everyday, it’s nice for a show like HIMYM to create a world where everything works out in the end. That’s the kind of show where one of the characters was once a Canadian teen pop star and where “eating a sandwich” is the accepted euphemism for smoking marijuana. That is the show that has been airing for the past nine years. Killing the Mother would change that in an instant.

So How I Met Your Mother, I make this plea to you: please don’t do this. Don’t kill your title character after letting us fall in love with her. Don’t give us death and cold reality when all we want is slap bets and Sparkles. Don’t do this to me and the other fans that have been watching for nine years. Give Ted his happily ever after. Give us a happily ever after, too.

We Read The Year’s Best New Sci-Fi — So You Don’t Have To


The 2014 Campbellian Anthology is a free download. i i

hide captionThe 2014 Campbellian Anthology is a free download.

The 2014 Campbellian Anthology is a free download.

The 2014 Campbellian Anthology is a free download.

The World Science Fiction Convention is a gathering of fans ranging from sci-fi movie buffs to gamers to comics aficionados – but at its heart, WorldCon is for lovers of literature, and it hosts the Hugo Awards, the Oscars of sci-fi and fantasy.

During the ceremony one award is given that’s not a Hugo: the John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer. The Campbell celebrates potential: nominees are often young, just starting out in the field (though not always). And it serves as a kind of signpost for fans, pointing the way to the next great read.

It used to be difficult to find all of the fiction by eligible writers; now it’s (almost) all in one place. Author M. David Blake took on the arduous task of compiling the 2014 Campbellian Anthology, a free collection of short stories and novel excerpts by 111 authors eligible for the Campbell Award. The ebook is over 860,000 words long — longer than George R. R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords and A Dance With Dragons put together, according to the introduction. That’s a ton of fiction to read.

And I did it.

The Campbellian Anthology offers a glimpse into the collective id of speculative fiction. It shows us what editors are buying when they’re not responding to a name, a reputation, or prior feelings about an author’s work. It also reveals what new writers are bringing to the genre, whether they’re just reflecting current trends or offering something genuinely new.

So, what did I learn from reading ALL those stories?

Authors are still writing — and editors are still buying — stories that have been done a thousand times before. They’ll be done thousands of times again, since there will always be young writers. The stories that stand out are the ones that bring new perspectives — and I saw a good number of those, as well as a ton of boring, predictable clunkers.

Themes that dominate the science fiction, fantasy, and horror store shelves are evident here as well: The current taste for apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic settings (with and without zombies) has infiltrated every market and psyche and won’t likely go away soon, even though there are few new ideas (though I’m glad that the rage for cheap twist endings seems to be fading).

Another disturbing trend was the number of good stories I read that were utterly ruined when harmful stereotypes and casual bigotry reared their ugly heads. I didn’t see malicious intent, just cluelessness and lazy writing.

None of this is surprising, given that these are writers at the beginning of a career. Even so, there are a couple dozen who really stand out, with stories built from the elements of great SF: Prose that isn’t just competent, but engaging, surprising, and alive. Ideas that delve deep into the themes the authors are exploring. Characters that crawl right up off the page and yank you into their worlds.

Nominations for the Campbell Award are due today, so based on the anthology, here’s my ballot:

Carmen Maria Machado‘s stories build and build until they surround and ensnare and at the end you’re always glad to be all tangled up. My favorite, “Especially Heinous: 272 Views of Law & Order SVU,” defies explanation. Call it post-modern, or fanfiction, or Lovecraft meets Dick Wolf—all labels fall short of capturing the essence of this story.

The excerpt from Sofia Samatar‘s compelling novel A Stranger in Olondria should be enough to make you run out and buy the book. Just don’t overlook her short “Selkie Stories Are for Losers,” the best story about loss and love and selkies I’ve read in years.

I’m as weary of zombies as I am of apocalypses, so Stant Litore‘s No Lasting Burial (#4 in the Zombie Bible series) should not have engaged me as deeply as it did. The atmospheric setting is what did it — and I’m intrigued by the idea of reinterpreting the Gospel of Luke as a zombie tale.

I adored Brooke Bolander‘s “Her Words Like Hunting Vixens Spring,” a revenge story that’s both visceral and tender. The image of a pack of vixens crawling their way up out of the protagonist’s throat won’t soon leave you. Bolander’s other stories are similarly striking, but I’ll never forget that first one.

My favorite John Chu story isn’t in this anthology (you can find it here) though I like the one that is included — called “Incomplete Proofs” — almost as much. Chu is a master at painting deep and complex relationships with very few strokes. He applies that same talent to spooling out his elaborate science fictional ideas, condensing them into stories that never feel too long.

Any of these authors are worth downloading the 2014 Campbellian Anthology to read. In fact, the whole thing is worth reading, even with the ups and downs and general unevenness. You don’t have to read it all or even read it straight through. Skip around, make random choices. You’re guaranteed to find more new authors you’ll love and want to follow.

K. Tempest Bradford is a speculative short story writer by night, a technology journalist by day, and an activist blogger in the interstices.

Essie Davis: On Playing A Sexually Liberated ‘Superhero’ Without Apology


A new hat can cheer even an experienced actress, says Essie Davis.

hide captionA new hat can cheer even an experienced actress, says Essie Davis.


Acorn.TV

In the first-ever episode of the Australian series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, the central figure, Phryne Fisher, has to explain to her young, extremely Catholic new maid Dot what exactly is in the round, plastic case that Dot is holding in her hands. “Family planning,” she says casually.

Phryne (pronounced FRY-nee) is an impeccably bobbed amateur detective in Melbourne during a time when a lady could still reasonably wear a feather boa but could already respectably wear pants. Acorn.tv, a subscription streaming site that carries primarily British and Australian television, has been rolling out the second series of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries one episode per week, and for now, that’s the only place you can get the entire run of the show if you’re a scruffy American. (The first series is available on Netflix and has been airing on some PBS stations; the second will likely follow eventually.) On Monday, Acorn releases the second-series finale.

Being sexually independent is not Phryne’s only distinguishing characteristic: she’s also clever, sometimes inscrutable, funny and fiercely loyal. She speaks several languages. She carries a literal golden gun. But the series does extravagantly reintroduce the overt sexuality that was regularly part of the films of the 1920s and 1930s, but vanishes mysteriously from most contemporary films about the 1920s and 1930s, as if it’s too much to imagine that sex for pleasure existed in parents’ and grandparents’ lives.

Phryne has a bubbling, ambiguous romantic attachment to the breathtakingly dashing but emotionally reserved Detective Inspector Jack Robinson, played by Nathan Page. But in stark contrast to most will-they-or-won’t-they television pairings, her attachment to Jack is not treated as ethically superior to the casual sex she’s having. Her feelings for Jack don’t motivate Phryne to wait around, staring at the ceiling until they manage to get together. While carrying on this flirtation that has clear and significant emotional weight, she’s happily had any number of lovers over the course of the series, some of whom have turned out to be very bad indeed, and one of whom she sent off with her true best wishes, directly from her bed into a promising marriage.

Essie Davis plays Phryne Fisher, a beautifully attired detective in 1920s Melbourne.i i

hide captionEssie Davis plays Phryne Fisher, a beautifully attired detective in 1920s Melbourne.


Ben King/Acorn.TV

Essie Davis plays Phryne Fisher, a beautifully attired detective in 1920s Melbourne.

Essie Davis plays Phryne Fisher, a beautifully attired detective in 1920s Melbourne.

Ben King/Acorn.TV

This doesn’t sit right with everyone, which a writer for Jezebel noticed while browsing the Netflix comments. What resulted was a post by Rebecca Rose called, “Netflix Reviewers Think Your Lady Detectives Are Slutty Sluts.” The post provoked a gleeful celebration of Phryne’s great and sexy life by her fans in the comments, and quite a few people who hadn’t watched the show before took the position that these reviewers – the ones who called her a tramp – were making it sound like a pretty good show.

And who observed these discussions with no small amount of amusement? Essie Davis, the actress who’s been playing Phryne for two years, and who may not share Phryne’s personal or professional habits, but shared her wicked cackle with me on the phone earlier this year.

“I was sent the link to Jezebel,” she says of the discussion about Phryne being, as she puts it, a “hussy.” “And I just thought it was fantastic that the reactions towards the outrage were so powerful and outspoken. And that so many people who, on the Jezebel site, were like, ‘Right, well, if that’s what everyone’s saying about it, I’m watching it.'”

Other than Samantha on Sex And The City, Davis couldn’t think of a woman on American television quite like Phryne in terms of her genuinely happily asserted sexual agency any more than I could, and we couldn’t think of many women like Phryne anywhere. “Phryne’s a superhero, really,” she says. “She’s the woman that many women would like to be. Because she is so independent and has no dependency upon men, just loves them. And as long as they don’t try and rule her, she’ll enjoy every bit of them.”

That lack of dependency is a part of Phryne’s makeup: Davis days she was born into poverty but later inherited wealth, meaning that now, she knows the significance of having her own house, her own car, her own money. “As well as being able to speak a million languages and shoot a gun and drive a fast car and throw a dagger and climb a building.”

But don’t imagine a detached party girl sipping booze with her pals until all hours: Phryne is very much a family lady, despite being unmarried. She adopts a daughter and surrounds herself with a house full of people who are officially part of her staff but make up quite a happy and devoted clan: her assistant, Dot (who’s in chaste, shy love with Jack’s deputy); her domestic chief of staff, whose name is actually Mr. Butler; and her two handymen/drivers/assistant sleuths, Cec and Bert.

Of course, this is a period piece, and it’s only right that in addition to being transgressive and, as Davis says, “highly intelligent,” Phryne is also gorgeously decked out at all times. She swans about in her boas and robes and gowns and softly cut pants, with a sense of style that’s luscious and sometimes witty. (In fact, Phryne, more than perhaps any woman on American television, calls to mind the moment in Singin’ In the Rain in which a despairing young woman says of silent film star Lina Lamont, “She’s so refined, I think I’ll kill myself.”) The show’s costume designer, Marion Boyce, recently took home an AACTA Award for television costume design, Australia’s highest, and Davis isn’t surprised.

“I’m very, very, very lucky to have Marion Boyce designing for me, and you know, Phryne’s obviously wealthy and loves clothes, and all of the clothing budget is spent on Phryne.” She laughs, and I do, too. “I think Jack’s got two suits, and poor Cec and Bert have got the same suit on every week.” Davis says the collaboration with Boyce is fundamental, and comes from a variety of sources.

Essie Davis has read about how Phryne is a "hussy." She doesn't mind.i i

hide captionEssie Davis has read about how Phryne is a “hussy.” She doesn’t mind.


Ben King/Acorn.TV

Essie Davis has read about how Phryne is a "hussy." She doesn't mind.

Essie Davis has read about how Phryne is a “hussy.” She doesn’t mind.

Ben King/Acorn.TV

“Marion’s eye for detail is immaculate, and she has … she has pieces, buttons, buckles, furs from the period. People are now donating items to the show because they want to see them on the screen. She’s cut some cloths that she’s had for 20 or 30 years, she’s cut on my behalf, and let me wear her own personal jewelry that she’s gathered from around the world, and Venice, and … gifts from her own family to her. And she has an incredible collection of beautiful things, and has found Phryne some amazing things. And I am so lucky that every new block, I get one or two fabulous new coats and an amazing hat, and oh my God, pair of shoes. And each world that we go into, they’re very strikingly different outfits.”

It’s not just the clothing itself, either. Sometimes, it takes creative work just to wear it right. “We work really well together,” Davis says. “Marion will come up with some amazing design and bring it in, and I’ll be like, ‘How do you wear this?’ And she’ll go, ‘Well, try it out.’ And I’ll pick up the tail of some ridiculously long coat and throw it around my arm, and she’ll go, ‘Terrific!'”

And with all the gowns and feathers and hats that have crossed her path, what’s Essie Davis’ favorite item of clothing Phryne has ever worn? “I do have a favorite,” she acknowledges. “Because I love the simplicity and the extraordinary detail of this beautiful black satin dressing gown that is in chinois embroidery, and on the back of it, are these two embroidered fighting cocks. And I think it is the most perfectly tongue-in-cheek piece of costume, and I love putting it on, ’cause I love the idea that there are fighting cocks.” And then she cackles.

It’s ‘Mother’ Time: A Show With One Last Chance To Get It Right


Cristin Milioti joined the cast of How I Met Your Mother to play the mother herself in the final season. Josh Radnor has played Ted for nine years. Tonight, they meet.i i

hide captionCristin Milioti joined the cast of How I Met Your Mother to play the mother herself in the final season. Josh Radnor has played Ted for nine years. Tonight, they meet.


Ron P. Jaffe/CBS

Cristin Milioti joined the cast of How I Met Your Mother to play the mother herself in the final season. Josh Radnor has played Ted for nine years. Tonight, they meet.

Cristin Milioti joined the cast of How I Met Your Mother to play the mother herself in the final season. Josh Radnor has played Ted for nine years. Tonight, they meet.

Ron P. Jaffe/CBS

Kids, after nine long years, How I Met Your Mother is finally coming to an end.

That the show has been on this long is still strange to me. I remember when it was consistently almost cancelled in the first few years, and I passed around the early seasons on DVD (remember those?) trying to get my friends as hooked as I was. But here we are, nine years in, and a whole mess of fans are eagerly awaiting the show’s conclusion.

There’s a lot I could say about the series as it enters its hour-long finale tonight. HIMYM has meant a lot to me over the years. I literally (no Ted, I don’t mean figuratively) grew up with the show — its big moments mirrored my own, its jokes eased into my everyday speech, its characters became old friends. The best episodes are always on Netflix, waiting to cheer me up after a bad day.

But How I Met Your Mother hasn’t always been good to me. It’s no secret that the show took a creative downturn after the fourth season, and although there were moments in seasons six and seven that were promising, it was never really able to capture the same spirit of the early years. Certainly, this final season has been a frustrating experience. It might have been easier to jump ship and fondly remember the early successes, but as I’ve written before, I just can’t do that. I need to see that moment promised in the show’s title and by Future Ted’s first words nine years ago. I need to see him meet the Mother.

It’s arguable that the actual meeting of Ted and the future Mrs. Mosby isn’t really all that important in the grand scheme of the series. A frequent theme of the show has been the idea that the ride can often be the best part of the journey, and that the little moments in life are worth cherishing. And to be honest, the ride is what made HIMYM what it is. Every slap and intervention and failed relationship is an integral piece of the greater story.

But an equally integral part of the show has always been the promised destination. It has allowed a hint of optimism to permeate even the show’s darkest moments. Marshall and Lily break up, but they’re going to get back together. Robin is infertile, but she’s fine in the long run. Marshall’s father dies, but life goes on. Ted’s relationships fail one after the other, but the One is waiting for him on a train platform in Farhampton.

So now that we’re here, now that we’re going to see what happens on that train platform, How I Met Your Mother has one last chance to be the show I fell in love with all those years ago, but also one last chance to disappoint me. And after spending a whole season with the Mother, who is just as charming and lovely as we always hoped she would be, the character herself has become more important than the circumstances on the train platform. No matter how she and Ted go about saying “hello” to one another, what’s more pressing is that they get to have the happily ever after the show has been promising. In other words, How I Met Your Mother can either have a live and healthy Mother in 2030 or it can betray the very thing that made it great.

The theory that the Mother is dead in 2030 has been floating around the internet for a while, but it got a whole lot more juice a few weeks ago. In an episode ominously titled “Vesuvius,” there was a strong hint that the future Mother is dying in a flash-forward to 2024, and is perhaps dead by the time future Ted starts telling the story in 2030. It’s not just a fan theory anymore; it’s a dangling question that must be answered in the finale.

If the Mother is dead in the future — if that’s the reason Ted has decided to spin this exceedingly long yarn for his kids — it would work within the context of the show. You could argue that the series is about the fact that life goes on no matter what, and that you make the best with what you have. Ted must learn to live his life without the Mother. That is what happens sometimes in life. Our real lives will inevitably deal us heavy blows, and there is no guarantee that anything will work out for the best.

But How I Met Your Mother has never been about real life. Not even a little bit. In real life you can’t make it rain, goats don’t beat people up, everybody doesn’t have a perfect doppelganger, and no one designs skyscrapers that look like dinosaurs.

In the midst of all the real life we all have to deal with everyday, it’s nice for a show like HIMYM to create a world where everything works out in the end. That’s the kind of show where one of the characters was once a Canadian teen pop star and where “eating a sandwich” is the accepted euphemism for smoking marijuana. That is the show that has been airing for the past nine years. Killing the Mother would change that in an instant.

So How I Met Your Mother, I make this plea to you: please don’t do this. Don’t kill your title character after letting us fall in love with her. Don’t give us death and cold reality when all we want is slap bets and Sparkles. Don’t do this to me and the other fans that have been watching for nine years. Give Ted his happily ever after. Give us a happily ever after, too.

Book News: Stock Market Is ‘Rigged,’ Author Michael Lewis Says


The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

Michael Lewis' latest book, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, was released Monday.i i

hide captionMichael Lewis’ latest book, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, was released Monday.


Tabitha Soren

Michael Lewis' latest book, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, was released Monday.

Michael Lewis’ latest book, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, was released Monday.

Tabitha Soren

  • A new book by Michael Lewis, the bestselling author of Liar’s Poker and Moneyball, says the stock market is “rigged” in favor of high-frequency traders. In Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, which came out Monday after being kept under wraps for months, Lewis says that computer-based high speed trading is set up to benefit these traders at the expense of investors by anticipating orders by a fraction of a millisecond. The new book follows Brad Katsuyama, former head trader at the Royal Bank of Canada, who says he realized that when he sent an order to exchanges, it would reach the closest exchange fractions of a second earlier than the others, and that high-frequency traders would be able to use the infinitesimal time difference to buy the stock at the other exchanges and sell it back to him at a higher price. In an excerpt featured Monday in the New York Times Magazine, Lewis writes, “Technology had collided with Wall Street in a peculiar way. It had been used to increase efficiency. But it had also been used to introduce a peculiar sort of market inefficiency. Taking advantage of loopholes in some well-meaning regulation introduced in the mid-2000s, some large amount of what Wall Street had been doing with technology was simply so someone inside the financial markets would know something that the outside world did not.” In an interview broadcast Sunday on CBS’ 60 Minutes, Lewis said, “Complexity disguises what is happening. If it’s so complicated you can’t understand it, then you can’t question it.”
  • In an essay in The New Yorker, HarperCollins editor Barry Harbaugh addresses the pervasive truism that editors don’t really edit anymore: “Editors edit. A lot … I probably mark up fifty to a hundred pages a week, most of it on the weekend. I ask questions and cut sentences and write chapter titles and all that stuff.”

The Best Books Coming Out This Week:

  • Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams contains universes. Her series of linked essays about empathy are a medley of journalism, memoir, and criticism. Really, though, they’re a series of interrogations — of you, me, her, long-distance runners, poverty tourism, people who watch the reality show Intervention, people with Morgellons disease, whatever. Throughout the essays, Jamison keeps popping up from behind the curtain, as if to say, “Hello, I’ll be the orchestrator of your emotional and intellectual journey today. Here are my limitations.” At one point in her essay on people with Morgellons disease — a controversial condition that sufferers say can cause a crawling sensation, and fibers and crystals to grow out of the skin — she begins to make the disease into a metaphor. Then she stops herself: “It would be too easy to let all these faces dissolve into correlative possibility: Morgies as walking emblems for how hard it is to live in our own skin. I feel how conveniently these lives could be sculpted to fit the metaphoric structure — or strictures — of the essay itself.” It is this self-interrogation, this doubt, this resistance to easy narratives that makes The Empathy Exams so memorable.
  • Based on the real murder of 19th century frog-catcher Jenny Bonnet, Frog Music by Emma Donoghue is a pleasantly intricate crime novel. Narrated by Jenny’s friend Blanche Beunon, a “soiled dove” (burlesque dancer, prostitute), the novel describes Blanche’s search for the killer amidst San Francisco’s small-pox epidemic in the 1870s. The writing sometimes approaches camp: Her characters say things such as “A diamond in the rough, that’s me!” or, about a gun, “Won that off a California Infantryman in a poker game.” Come to think of it, her characters don’t say things when they can “wail,” “quip,” “croon,” “howl” or “bark” them, which can get grating. But overall, Frog Music is a rich and rewarding crime novel.

It’s ‘Mother’ Time: A Show With One Last Chance To Get It Right


Cristin Milioti joined the cast of How I Met Your Mother to play the mother herself in the final season. Josh Radnor has played Ted for nine years. Tonight, they meet.i i

hide captionCristin Milioti joined the cast of How I Met Your Mother to play the mother herself in the final season. Josh Radnor has played Ted for nine years. Tonight, they meet.


Ron P. Jaffe/CBS

Cristin Milioti joined the cast of How I Met Your Mother to play the mother herself in the final season. Josh Radnor has played Ted for nine years. Tonight, they meet.

Cristin Milioti joined the cast of How I Met Your Mother to play the mother herself in the final season. Josh Radnor has played Ted for nine years. Tonight, they meet.

Ron P. Jaffe/CBS

Kids, after nine long years, How I Met Your Mother is finally coming to an end.

That the show has been on this long is still strange to me. I remember when it was consistently almost cancelled in the first few years, and I passed around the early seasons on DVD (remember those?) trying to get my friends as hooked as I was. But here we are, nine years in, and a whole mess of fans are eagerly awaiting the show’s conclusion.

There’s a lot I could say about the series as it enters its hour-long finale tonight. HIMYM has meant a lot to me over the years. I literally (no Ted, I don’t mean figuratively) grew up with the show — its big moments mirrored my own, its jokes eased into my everyday speech, its characters became old friends. The best episodes are always on Netflix, waiting to cheer me up after a bad day.

But How I Met Your Mother hasn’t always been good to me. It’s no secret that the show took a creative downturn after the fourth season, and although there were moments in seasons six and seven that were promising, it was never really able to capture the same spirit of the early years. Certainly, this final season has been a frustrating experience. It might have been easier to jump ship and fondly remember the early successes, but as I’ve written before, I just can’t do that. I need to see that moment promised in the show’s title and by Future Ted’s first words nine years ago. I need to see him meet the Mother.

It’s arguable that the actual meeting of Ted and the future Mrs. Mosby isn’t really all that important in the grand scheme of the series. A frequent theme of the show has been the idea that the ride can often be the best part of the journey, and that the little moments in life are worth cherishing. And to be honest, the ride is what made HIMYM what it is. Every slap and intervention and failed relationship is an integral piece of the greater story.

But an equally integral part of the show has always been the promised destination. It has allowed a hint of optimism to permeate even the show’s darkest moments. Marshall and Lily break up, but they’re going to get back together. Robin is infertile, but she’s fine in the long run. Marshall’s father dies, but life goes on. Ted’s relationships fail one after the other, but the One is waiting for him on a train platform in Farhampton.

So now that we’re here, now that we’re going to see what happens on that train platform, How I Met Your Mother has one last chance to be the show I fell in love with all those years ago, but also one last chance to disappoint me. And after spending a whole season with the Mother, who is just as charming and lovely as we always hoped she would be, the character herself has become more important than the circumstances on the train platform. No matter how she and Ted go about saying “hello” to one another, what’s more pressing is that they get to have the happily ever after the show has been promising. In other words, How I Met Your Mother can either have a live and healthy Mother in 2030 or it can betray the very thing that made it great.

The theory that the Mother is dead in 2030 has been floating around the internet for a while, but it got a whole lot more juice a few weeks ago. In an episode ominously titled “Vesuvius,” there was a strong hint that the future Mother is dying in a flash-forward to 2024, and is perhaps dead by the time future Ted starts telling the story in 2030. It’s not just a fan theory anymore; it’s a dangling question that must be answered in the finale.

If the Mother is dead in the future — if that’s the reason Ted has decided to spin this exceedingly long yarn for his kids — it would work within the context of the show. You could argue that the series is about the fact that life goes on no matter what, and that you make the best with what you have. Ted must learn to live his life without the Mother. That is what happens sometimes in life. Our real lives will inevitably deal us heavy blows, and there is no guarantee that anything will work out for the best.

But How I Met Your Mother has never been about real life. Not even a little bit. In real life you can’t make it rain, goats don’t beat people up, everybody doesn’t have a perfect doppelganger, and no one designs skyscrapers that look like dinosaurs.

In the midst of all the real life we all have to deal with everyday, it’s nice for a show like HIMYM to create a world where everything works out in the end. That’s the kind of show where one of the characters was once a Canadian teen pop star and where “eating a sandwich” is the accepted euphemism for smoking marijuana. That is the show that has been airing for the past nine years. Killing the Mother would change that in an instant.

So How I Met Your Mother, I make this plea to you: please don’t do this. Don’t kill your title character after letting us fall in love with her. Don’t give us death and cold reality when all we want is slap bets and Sparkles. Don’t do this to me and the other fans that have been watching for nine years. Give Ted his happily ever after. Give us a happily ever after, too.