Richard Anderson – Best Professional Artist

Richard Anderson – Best Professional Artist

 

When reviewing covers and other works for best pro artist, a couple jumped right to the top of my list (Empire Ascendant cover and Dinosaur Lords – especially interior art) and I quickly realized, they were by the same artist. Richard Anderson has a very distinctive, sketchy kind of style to his art that is actually extremely difficult to pull off. Making something look rough, loose, and active can very easily wind up looking rough, unfinished, and confusing. Anderson’s work does not do that.

His use of color with Kameron Hurley’s Worldbreaker series has drawn my attention even stronger than the reviews and blurbs I have read for the books (not discounting those, just the covers are SO striking!). Plus his work with Dinosaur Lords from the cover to the interior illustrations (just a few sampled below) capture the “knights riding dinosaurs” vibe so well when it could have gone so very, very wrong.

Looking over his work to see what works of his are eligible this year, I also noticed that he did the cover for Wesley Chu (Is Not Ken Liu 2016!!)’s Time Salvager. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but, as with all of Anderson’s covers, it uses light and dark as well as the color scheme to force your eye to go where he wants it to go, and conveys the kinetic action and rough settings these stories occur in. I’m now a definite fan.

On his site, Anderson has a gallery of a wide range of professional and non-professional work, but (as with many artists) not organized by year for easy award consideration. (Also, remember for Best Pro Artist – only work included in a professional work are to be considered.) At the very least, I know these 3 books have his work and are all 2015 published.

 

Empire Ascendant
(links to article about the cover reveal with comments by Hurley and Anderson)

spread

Dinosaur Lords 
(links to article about Anderson’s artwork for the book)

dinosaurlords-full

dinosaurlords_richardanderson_1

dinosaur-lords-interior-image-8-armadon

 

Time Salvager

2462824_orig

 

Advertisements

Unlikely Story – Best Semiprozine Recommendation

I have been trying to read through some of the magazines in preparation for this week, and one stood for me that I hadn’t heard of before. Unlikely Story is the sort publication that hits my sweet spot – sci fi and fantasy mixed in with quirky pseudo-academics. They publish online 3 issues a year, plus often a bonus April Fools issue of shorter flash fiction. Each issue is based around a theme of an academic journal.

So far this year they have published:

The Journal of Unlikely Cryptography (a regular annual theme) that focuses on short stories related to technology. To quote from the opening editorial:

“In these digital pages, you’ll find stories exploring the limits and possibilities of technology and the various ways it defines, enhances, and intersects with humanity. An unorthodox application of a 3D printer; the creation of private worlds; hacking the human brain with extreme video sequences; parents customizing ideal children through knitted code; a self-aware AI taking up the pirating life; and a cult seeking transcendence through transformation — all of these stories explore coding, hacking, cracking, and our relationship with technology in most unlikely ways.”

Journal of Unlikely Coulrophobia – Their flash fiction issue, this time with a focus on clowns – and all the terrible and wonderful things that implies. Apparently, it was a popular enough topic, they are publishing an anthology for it as well.

“In the exaggerated greasepaint features of the clown we find reflected none other than ourselves, the internal made external, both our internal beauty and our hidden evils.”

The most recent issue is The Journal of Unlikely Academia – Which the opening editorial explains as thus:

“This time around, rather than offering you a specialized subject, we are exploring the pursuit of knowledge itself. From the hallowed halls of venerable supernatural institutions, to fieldwork on an alien space station, and the shelves of your university library and beyond, the authors in this issue are celebrating learning in all its forms.”

This issue is the one that most caught my eye since it includes a story by Eric Schwitzgebel, a leading philosopher of mind. He often discusses the connections between science fiction and philosophy and how they can inform each other. In my spare time, I am pursuing a Ph.D. in philosophy with a focus on mind as well as medical ethics, and have taught a class in Metaphysics and Science Fiction. So our interests overlap quite a bit. His story “The Dauphin’s Metaphysics” fits well into that. It takes a classic philosophical thought experiment and posits it in a reality that may or may not be fantasy, exploring questions of identity and memory, with an interesting question of whether we can make a better, happier version of ourselves.

Another aspect of Unlikely Story that I enjoy is that they also include interviews with all of their authors on their blog. It offers an interesting look at the thoughts behind the stories as well as at the authors themselves and their other interests.

Overall, I am really impressed with Unlikely Story and it’s quirky focus issues and ideas that set it apart from many other publications out there. I am looking forward to the last issue of the year, which should be The Journal of Unlikely Entomology – their other annual topic (this time insect related), and the one odd idea that started the whole publication.

Shifting focus

I haven’t updated this in almost 3 years, but I am looking to start posting some new stuff. I have been following the Hugo Awards for best science fiction and fantasy the past couple years and whatever people’s opinions of this past year’s Hugo Awards, it’s clear that the nomination phase is pretty important. I’m someone who has been perennially behind in reading and consequently never really nominated anything, but I have been doing better about reading current stuff. Therefore I want to talk about some works I recommend as part of the Hugo Recommendation Season.

The old blog posts are mostly updates to my family especially as we went through a period of part-time employment and unemployment (and all ugly that entails), as well as a weight loss program we did (speaking about it publicly helped keep me accountable). Those blog posts still exist, but for now I just turned them all to Private to make a clear shift in focus. Might turn them back to Public sometime, and they are all still available at archive.org, I think.

So to my family that is still email subscribed to these from years ago – I’m going to start talking about sci fi stuff I’ve read and watched. If I actually complete some stuff, might even post some writing. Don’t feel obligated to read or stay following, but up to you. Thankfully, things aren’t as topsy-turvy for us as they were 3-5 years ago, so not a lot to update with the family. Besides,  I try to call and see you all more often than I did back then. 🙂

Case closed

The case Bank of America (or whatever their long formal name is) vs Kenneth Marable is dismissed. Foreclosure is officially stopped! The i’s have been crossed and t’s dotted. Took a while, but *whew!*

As was clear from past posts, this has been expected for a while. However, since I have chronicled the path up until now, I figured I should formally announce it over, as well. Now I can go back to posting about other topics (or not posting as is more typical). 🙂

Mortgage Update, Final Chapter

Well, at least the beginning of the final chapter. It was so wonderful seeing everyone during the holidays, that I forgot to update everyone on the house situation getting all resolved. (Not to mention work, teaching, and classes all piled up at the same time to get real insane for most of December.)

But we were approved for a permanent mortgage modification. (As usual, I rambled on a long time. So you can just read that bold sentence and skip the rest if you want.) 🙂 All past due amounts are gone, escrow is up to date, etc. Also, they are modifying the principle to lower our monthly payments and actually get the mortgage less than the value of the house. We were just concerned with the past due amounts, but if they are modifying it, they want to make sure the mortgage isn’t “under water” since it’s a far safer loan for them.

And for the record, this was part of the settlement with the Federal government in the “we foreclosed on people without proper paperwork” lawsuit that hit the major banks for billions. So, I suppose it’s a win-win, since we get our mortgage cleared up, and Bank of America gets to pay the fine to themselves. 🙂

Taxes

There is one issue however – taxes. Loan reduction is considered taxable income (even though it’s the bank changing numbers on their spreadsheet and no actual income passing through us, but it makes some abstract sense). Back in 2007, they passed the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act that exempted mortgage modification and short sales on primary residences. It expired yesterday.

Our mortgage was officially modified as of… today. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time to get everything processed during last year. It was even faster than they said ti would be, but just couldn’t be rushed fast enough.

So, if nothing changes, our taxes in early 2014 will include a sizable amount of additional “income” we will owe taxes on. I will have to watch numbers closely, and with luck it will cancel out any return we would have had since we still earn low enough with 3 kids and other deductions that we get almost full refunds. But I gotta run the numbers, of course, and plan for the worst since right now who knows what the tax situation will look like in 12 months.

Before the whole fiscal cliff nonsense, there were several bills from both parties extending the tax exemption and most of the fighting was over who could claim credit for it. Most all the state governments have been lobbying Congress to extend it, and the Realtor lobbyists are working hard pushing for its extension (since it would allow more short sales and keep the housing market moving).

Although, I’m certainly biased, even in general I think it is a great idea and hope it gets extended. The sort of situations it helps most is when people like us were doing bad and then start recovering and getting back on our feet. Being hit with a major tax bill right when you are recovering can certainly hurt. Short of a lottery win, recovery is a slow process.

But we will see. As of right now, the current fiscal cliff deal from the Senate does not include an extension, and if the House can pass anything, I don’t see this even on their radar (and since this Congress is most unproductive Congress since at least the 1940’s, I’m not holding my breath).

Technically, we have another 12 months for them to decide to renew it since it will affect our 2013 taxes. So after this fiscal cliff whatnot (and maybe after the Debt Ceiling/Fiscal Cliff Part 2 ballyhoo that will hit in late February), it will be good to watch and write to Congress asking for the extension. But, until something is passed, I’ll definitely be running the numbers and if need be, saving up for tax time in April 2014.

But bottom line, foreclosure process is over, it will take them 2-3 months to finish all of the processing on their end to cross the i’s and dot the t’s, but it approved, I have signed paperwork, and things are stable again. *whew*

Monthly update

Few updates on work and the house…

Still working

I’m still working at MSU. It was getting down to the wire with extending the grant, which would keep me working even to the point of my boss telling me “In the medium and short term, you are looking great. But in the immediate term, as in, if you show up tomorrow, will we pay you – that’s being sorted out.” It wasn’t the fact of having money or not, so much as, nearly all of their work is grant-based. The 5 year grant I was working on expired last Thursday, but there was money left in it that they got verbal approval to spend on having me work, but MSU bureaucracy needs official paperwork to handle the account, blah blah.

Also, they were told that a new 5 year was approved, but not the actual dollar amount, and again, until MSU accounting has an official document from the CDC, no money can move. There’s some wiggle room for the regular salaried employees since they are paid monthly, so it just needs to be sorted out by the end of June, but I’m biweekly hourly, so it got a little tight there. But I made sure to drop plentiful hints along the way, like in our big department meeting when I was showing off my work, I’d say things like, “Well, what I’m working on next if I am even here next week…” And finally even told my boss, I need to know or else I have to start getting my resume back out there…

So overall, they managed to wiggle around accounting budgets enough to keep me there for now, and today I had a meeting with my boss (which made me miss Ella’s eye appointment – oops!), about a proposal for another big project that would take up all of my time for several months, and about wanting to offer me a permanent position. The permanent position, of course, depends on getting final word on a series of grants, but it’s not so much of an IF but a WHEN the position would open up. Also, it’s a whole big political what not between my boss and the programming department (which he isn’t very fond of, and were the ones who didn’t want to hire me before). But if he focuses my job in a certain way, rather than another, I’d work for him rather than them, and since he hasn’t stopped praising the work I’ve done since I started showing him results, that would be a good thing. Hey, whatever gets me a paycheck. 🙂

Our Socialist Government Helping Us Again

As for the house, a while back the bank offered the possibility of an internal loan modification that was simply “Hey, pay your mortgage for 3 months, and then we’ll decide what we want to do… which might include anything between calling the loan up-to-date to foreclosing anyway, but at least we won’t do anything for 3 months.” Unfortunately, I was still thoroughly unemployed at the time, so we weren’t able to do that, and they wound up not doing anything for 3 months anyway.

Now that I am employed (and Diana is working at Meijer far more hours and reliably than she could get at Macy’s), I was contacting them about various loan modification options and was notified that we qualify to apply for the Big Settlement modification. Don’t know if you all heard in the news (I know Dad forwarded me an article about it), but several of the major banks did some… improper (some would say illegal) paperwork for foreclosures. Nothing too heinous, but still serious like electronically signing hundreds of documents at a time that are supposed to be individually checked for errors, etc. With a not insignificant number of people being foreclosed on through purely clerical/computer errors, many state attorney generals (and maybe even the US attorney general, I forget) started a class action lawsuit to fix it. In the settlement, the banks agreed to billions of dollars in restitution to homeowners. I think most did the usual class action settlements jokes of “each of the millions of our mortgagees get $30” or something. Bank of America (who manages our mortgage), decided that 200,000 homeowners would get major loan modifications (so fewer affected, but having a major impact).

We were notified that we qualify to apply for that. Not sure how many more qualify than will actually be able to get the modification, but considering I went from unemployed to employed (with Diana now working far more, and Alma teaching again in the Fall), we seem to be good candidates for “went through a bad patch but can afford their house now”. And even if not, there’s still internal modification at BoA’s discretion, modification through the legislation passed a couple years ago, modification through the state of Michigan, and so on. So it’s another layer of possible help, and we actually look much better on paper now than we did two months ago.

Tricky Transitions

So things are definitely looking up, but it’s also some tricky transitioning. So I am off unemployment, which is great, but the “you no longer qualify based on when you work rather than when you get your first paycheck” is a little tricky to handle, but I’ll just say we managed fine.

Other thing we have to keep a close eye on is that as we earn more, we qualify for less assistance. For example, if we earn $700 more a month, that might make us qualify for $500 less in food stamps (which is a debit card now and not stamps, but whatever). So, looking at purely the numbers, a $700 increase in income only gets us $200 better off. But those aren’t exact numbers, and it looks like it won’t be an issue of going backward and losing more benefits than our increase in income. They structured the system nicely to prevent that (after all, if people wind up getting less the more they work, there’s no financial incentive, just pride and paperwork).

The tricky one I still have to dig in to is health insurance. Diana is covered now through Meijer (which is good since she is our expensive one) ;), but the kids and I are state-covered. As our income goes up, the kids will stay qualified longer than I will, but hopefully when my income goes up higher it will be from a permanent MSU position which brings with it health insurance benefits, so that we can jump straight to that. Only tricky issue would be if we end up making more money without benefits, we could hit the gap of no longer qualifying for state insurance and having to pay for insurance out of pocket. We did that for a bit for Diana and I, but it was outrageously expensive and wound up not paying for a single thing due to pre-existing conditions and high deductibles. (To get political for a moment, there are some things that can be improved with “Obamacare”, but one thing it REALLY helps with is families in that situation – making too much to qualify for Medicaid but not having employer-paid insurance. In 2014, it fixes that problem very well, which saves money in the long run because people with insurance getting preventive care costs orders of magnitude less than uninsured people waiting until they need to be dragged to the emergency room. It really is MUCH cheaper to have people insured than not.)

So, as usual, it was waaay too long since the last update, and my “short” update, rambled on far longer than I wanted, so I hope people stuck with it. Otherwise, I’m sure we will be seeing you all soon and can chat in person.

Job – temporary, at least

Well, I temporarily have a job! Short version – I’m doing some programming full time (or as close to it as our schedules will allow) from Wednesday to the end of May. Hopefully it will continue beyond that or there is also another job that my chances are looking good for.

Longer version – in my wave of interviews recently (including having 4 interviews for 3 jobs in just over a week) – all of which were at MSU, the results are:

  • Programmer at Library – Interviewed – but after 2 weeks they decided no
  • Programmer at Vet School – 2 interviews so far, and looks pretty good, but we will see. Down to only a few candidates. They said the process can be slow, but hoping to update me by the end of this week or beginning of next after the finish their 2nd interviews.
  • Clinical Research Informatics Technician – This one needs some explaining (see below). 🙂 But summary – they cancelled the job posting.

The other jobs are “Information Technologist” or some such, but are basically computer web programmers much as I have done for years. The last one is more complicated. It was technically 2 jobs combined into 1 since they weren’t sure they had enough work for one person to do either full time. Well, after 3 rounds of interviews, they decided that it really was two jobs.

One job is somewhat computer programming, but more data management and report generating. But still, nothing that I haven’t handled before. The other job is more or less a sales position, selling their products to other universities and research groups. Basically, this group provides database and software work for clinical trials. When I was first hired at Radiology, I worked on that autism research project, and it was a joint effort between Radiology and this group.

In the end, they decided to make the “New business” portion of the job a 65% part time position and re-list it. As for the data management side (which I’m pretty sure I scored highly on), they are waiting to hear if a grant is approved to see if they can fund it.

In the interim, however, they have until the end of May to complete work on the latest round of that autism project, but they have a heck of a lot of work to get done before then. Since I showed up on their doorstep looking for work, they jumped at the chance and offered to pay me hourly at least until the end of May to help them wrap up everything that needs to be wrapped up before then. As long as my criminal background check came back ok (more worried about it getting done than coming back with my bank robbery charges showing) 😉 I should start Wednesday morning. Overall, it came together really fast.

No benefits, since it’s hourly, but the pay works out to be about what I made at Radiology before I left. Plus they want me up to 40 hours a week, so depending on how Diana’s and my schedules work out with getting Ella to and from school, I should get in plenty of work over the next several weeks.

Beyond that depends on the grant being approved and how much it is approved for. Hopefully, something full time works out – although they did hint that if they brought me on full time, it would be at a lower pay because of benefits which means I will be making less than I did at Radiology a year ago, but it still beats unemployment, and nothing is official yet anyway. Since it would be much cheaper to them, there is a greater chance of being able to stay on hourly, but that’s only an option if we get health insurance worked out.

Overall, however, I am hoping on the Vet School position. It’s is literally almost exactly what I did at Radiology, just with animals rather than people. They offer enough flexibility that if I want to finish up school,  I can. Plus, we haven’t talked numbers but they understand the interest in wanting to be paid more than what I made previously as reasonable (you know, that whole forward momentum in your career, not slipping backwards) and quite understandable. The interviews have gone well (including losing track of they questions with the Director when we started talking about our pets for 15 minutes). But we will see. There are other candidates who may be doing very well as well.

However, at least tomorrow, I have to get the kids off to school and then head off to my new office (actually shared offices since they are located in 2 buildings and I will have to do work at both). On top of Diana getting worked to the bone with 44 hours this week between Macy’s and setting up the new Meijer, at the absolute very least we will have a brief period of real income again. It will be nice if it lasts past that, but I’ll be sure to be happy with whatever we can get at this point.

And yet again, we see that it is impossible for me to write a short blog post. Gotta get info out more often. Sorry!