Steaming to the future: It's a good week for Triangle SF/fantasy fans | Reading | Indy Week
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Steaming to the future: It's a good week for Triangle SF/fantasy fans 

Reading Tuesday

Starting this Saturday, three local events will feature a variety of acclaimed genre creators. Let's start with the homegrown one, which is also the biggest of the three gigs.

Bull Spec's Cabinet of Curiosities Extravaganza, which takes place at Durham's Fullsteam brewery this Saturday, July 30, will have the creators of local SF magazine Bull Spec joined by authors Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, along with Durham writer Mur Lafferty, musical guests The Clockwork Cabaret and others for a night of raffles and readings. Jeff VanderMeer has already won a World Fantasy Award and been nominated for a Nebula for his fiction work, but as an editor, he's pulled off the even more impressive feat of getting many of the most award-winning creators in SF and fantasy in the same room, figuratively. VanderMeer currently boasts two new books in stores: The Steampunk Bible (Abrams Image, $24.95) and The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities (Harper Voyager, $22.99), the anthology he co-edited with his wife and frequent collaborator, Ann, who will also appear at the event.

Cabinet contains a who's who of major writers and illustrators, including Watchmen and V for Vendetta creator Alan Moore, SF legend Michael Moorcock, Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and such contemporary SF/ fantasy royalty as China Mieville, Cherie Priest and Naomi Novik. "It's a bit overwhelming to have them all in one place," says VanderMeer, who calls both books "personal projects."

Both volumes are heavily designed, featuring a wide variety of photos, illustration and deliberately aged pages designed to help the books stand out on shelves.

"I've definitely embraced new media and ebooks, but there's still something to me about a physical book that I find more compelling," says VanderMeer, an avid art collector who owns most of the paintings used for his book covers. "So it's kind of a push back against the digital age, doing something you really have to hold to appreciate it."

One of the Regulator highlights is the appearance of an actual object that appears in Cabinet, a "Harmonization Device" by Jake von Slatt, who will also appear at the event.

"It's actually in the book and in the cabinet book, as we put a picture of it in progress in the bible and then a finished version in the cabinet book," VanderMeer says. "This was the first time (von Slatt) created an original machine—he had to sit down in his workshop and instead of making something functional, he had to make something that looks like it could work that no one had ever made before."

Both The Steampunk Bible and Cabinet of Curiosities deal with fantastic and/or futuristic technologies created in the past using tools available at the time. VanderMeer feels this type of material is popular because it combines "progressive and nostalgic elements."

"It's fascinating to people because of the look and feel of it, because it's so different from the seamless technology we have today," VanderMeer says.

Ransom Riggs, who might have the best fantasy author name ever, found the inspiration for his first novel, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Quirk Books), at a flea market. "I've been sort of a photo buff for years, and a couple of years ago I rediscovered an interest in old snapshots and vintage photography," says Riggs, a regular contributor to Mental Floss magazine. "I started to gravitate to the photos and went, 'There's some really cool stuff here! Some of these are found folk art masterpieces!'

"I found myself asking, 'Who are these people? What are their stories?' And of course, it's impossible to know, when they're so divorced from their original owners, so you have to make something up." These photos eventually formed the narrative for Peregrine, a young adult tale of a teenager seeking out his grandfather's secret past, which prominently features found photos of some deeply creepy-looking kids.

"The more I collected, the more photos I found of kids—though to be fair, most old photos of kids are kind of creepy anyway," Riggs says. "They're not smiling, they have strange hair, they're holding dolls that are larger than themselves ... and sometimes they're wearing sailor suits."

Riggs, a filmmaker and screenwriter whose work has been featured on "The Black List" compilation of the best unproduced screenplays in Hollywood, earned advance buzz for the book by producing a movie-style trailer that was linked across the Internet. As a result, the film rights to the book were sold to Twentieth Century Fox a week before it even hit shelves. "A couple months ago, I was hoping someone, anyone, would read this, so what's happened has exceeded my wildest expectations," Riggs says.

Though the plot of the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy (a teen girl falls for a boy who's forced to turn into a wolf for part of the year!) might indicate that the author is a member of Twilight's school of vampire-werewolf teen romances, Maggie Stiefvater isn't what you'd call the "Team Jacob" type.

"Here's my true confession: I am actually not a fan of werewolves at all," says Stiefvater, who's heroically promoting the conclusion to the trilogy's conclusion, Forever (Scholastic), by driving herself around the country in her '73 Camaro. "I am not much of a fan of romances, for that matter, but I am a fan of love stories where there's no guarantee of a happy ending.

"I wanted to do a story about losing your identity, and what it means to do that either voluntarily or involuntarily. That really resonates with teens, that feeling you have, and I've been contacted by a number of readers in their early 20s who've said they've felt that way as well."

Forever debuted at No. 4 on The New York Times' series best-seller list, and the trilogy has been reprinted in different languages around the world. Part of its popularity might have something to do with the amount of research Stiefvater put into the story line. "I watched so many (wolf) documentaries that my dog learned to howl in his sleep," she says. "It was terrifying."

She went even further than that, tracking down the roots of the original werewolf myths. "I'm all about going back as far as I can in my storytelling, so I went all the way back to the original German storytelling, where becoming a werewolf was a voluntary thing—you'd lose yourself as a wolf. And there was no in-between; you'd either be a wolf or human."

In her research, Stiefvater traveled to Europe, where "the wolf is ingrained even more deeply into the culture than in America." In Hungary, she met with a man who trained wolves for Hollywood films. "It really told me I was writing about the right creature when, at one point, the owner of these wolves asked me if I'd ever heard a wolf howl up close, and then prompted them by howling up close," Stiefvater says.

"And then every single wolf around him, I mean dozens of them sitting near me, all threw their heads back and howled at once. And the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, because it was just a deep, primeval response to these wolves. It's so familiar to us, and yet so alien."

While in the Triangle, Stiefvater will continue to indulge her fascination with wolves with a private tour of the Conservators' Center in Mebane. Animals already play a role in her next book, The Scorpio Races, about "a malevolent horse race with evil horses, and if you don't make it to the end, the horses eat you and you die. Also, there's no kissing."

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