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Tuesday 1 April 2003

Jeff VanderMeer Hoax Revealed!

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA, April 1, 2003: Jeff VanderMeer, putative author of the acclaimed City of Saints & Madmen and founder of the Ministry of Whimsy Press, died of a freak accident in a squid tank Friday night at the Tallahassee Florida Aquarium — but subsequent investigation has revealed a massive hoax perpetrated upon the SF/F community.

Tallahassee Police are still investigating how the victim wound up in the squids' water tank. One thing is certain: the deceased was not "Jeff VanderMeer" at all — but rather an otherwise unemployed actor named Duncan Shriek.

"Jeff VanderMeer" was a hoax. A weekend investigation conducted by Locus Online correspondent Frederick Madnock has revealed that the fiction published under the VanderMeer byline actually consisted of unpublished texts by Jorge Luis Borges, loosely translated, adapted, and expanded by Alasdair Gray and edited by a consortium of conspirators including Michael Moorcock, Zoran Zivkovic, Gabe Chouinard, M. John Harrison, and Jeffrey Ford. The same collaborators were also responsible for the various articles, essays, reviews, and online postings and correspondence attributed to VanderMeer, according to records found in VanderMeer's — rather, the actor Shriek's — Tallahassee home.

The alleged conspirators, when contacted by Locus Online, refused to comment. Ann Kennedy, who married "Jeff VanderMeer" in 2002, claims to have not been privy to this conspiracy, nor to the true identity of the actor who posed for Jeff VanderMeer in real life and who shared her bed. She is considering legal action.

Canadian writer and Locus Online contributor Claude Lalumière, who, in his March 2002 review of "VanderMeer"'s City of Saints & Madmen presciently asked "is 'VanderMeer' no more than another conceit in the elaborate fictional charade that is Ambergris?", declared having no prior knowledge of the VanderMeer conspiracy.

By Monday afternoon, however, Lalumière had initiated proceedings to change his legal name to "Jeff VanderMeer". Contacted again by Locus Online, the critic admitted: "I'm tired of having Americans mangle my name. No matter how often I tell them that 'Claude' rhymes with 'ode', they still mispronounce it 'clod'. And that's nothing compared to what they do to my surname, what with the accent and vowel sounds that don't exist in English. I cringe in fear every time Gordon Van Gelder tries to pronounce my name. Well, no more. Plus, I hear City of Saints & Madmen is earning good royalties. I've got a mortgage to pay."

— special report by Frederick Madnok

Clarion Recalls Classes of '96 and '98

MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY, April 1, 2003: Dr. Lister Matheson, director of the Clarion Writers Workshop at Michigan State University, has announced a recall of the classes of 1996 and 1998. "We have only recently discovered a minor defect in the pedagogy from each of these years. We have decided that it is in the best interests of the genre and Clarion that we act promptly to rectify this problem. However we want to reassure the public that no readers have been placed in danger as a result of this defect."

Matheson announced that a remedial workshop will take place July 18-20 at Owen Hall on the MSU campus immediately after this year's Clarion. Fees for the weekend will be a nominal $100, including room and board. He urges all affected students to attend. Clarion alumni Margaret Atwood and Thomas Pynchon have agreed to teach this special session.

Although Matheson declined to identify the defect that prompted the recall, there have been widespread reports that writers from these years were never taught to foreshadow. This can result in pointless subplots and abrupt denouements. Locus critic Rich Horton was not surprised at the announcement. "It's a shame really, since these are some of the most interesting new writers working today. But their endings come straight out of left field."

— special report by Jacky Telemark Lisp

Michael Swanwick to Write 200 Short-Shorts Based on Lord of the Rings Characters

HOLLYWOOD, April 1, 2003: New Line Cinema today announced that they had reached agreement with Michael Swanwick to write "approximately" 200 "short-short" stories of 250 words or less based on characters from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. The stories would be part of New Line's ongoing promotions for their trilogy of LOTR films. The stories will appear one a day on the official Lord of the Rings website ( from April 1 through the end of the year.

The stories would also be used on the cardboard backs of LOTR action figure blister packaging. "Today a lot of the money in action figures is selling to the collector's market," said New Line spokeswoman Cassie Gelddieb, "and collectors like to keep their action figures sealed in the original packaging to maintain 'Mint' condition. Putting a new story on the back of each figure's package creates a collectable variant. Normally, an action figure collector who already had an action figure of, say, Frodo, wouldn't need to buy another one. But this way we call sell the same figure to collectors twice, which means another five to ten thousand copies of each action figure. It's like money in the bank."

Swanwick will be paid $1 a word for the stories, a rate considerably higher than the prevailing 7¢ a word paid by leading SF magazines like Asimov's and Analog. In exchange, New Line gets unlimited reprint rights to the stories through 2010. While generous by fiction standards, the money is just a drop in the bucket for New Line's multimillion-dollar marketing campaign for the three movies. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring has already grossed over $860 million worldwide, while The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers has already grossed over $500 million, and is still in release. The final movie of the trilogy, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, is scheduled for release on December 17, when it is expected to debut in more than 10,000 movie theaters worldwide.

Gelddieb indicated that there was a strong possibility that the stories would also be included as an "extra" on the Lord of the Rings Golden Collector's Edition DVD set. The set, featuring all three films and a host of deleted and extended scenes not included in either the theatrical films or any previous DVD, is tentatively projected to be released in November of 2005. A book deal to reprint the stories is also in the works, but no agreement has been reached yet.

Although the Tolkien estate has been adamant about not allowing sequels or prequels to his work, Swanwick's "parallel" stories are allowed under a loophole for "promotional material" in the original film rights contract. Gelddieb also indicated that New Line was determined to make sure that the new works didn't violate the "spirit" of Tolkien's masterpiece.

"We were very, very careful when we started looking for a writer to tackle this project," said Gelddieb. "Of course, it had to be someone capable of writing numerous short works in a timely manner, and we knew that Michael's track record there (i.e., the "Periodical Table of Science Fiction," "Puck Aleshire's Abecedary," etc.) was second to none. However, we were just as concerned about finding someone capable of doing justice to Tolkien's own style of High Fantasy, which is why "The Changeling’s Tale" finally convinced us that Michael was the right man for the job." It was LOTR director Peter Jackson himself who first brought Swanwick to New Line's attention, having been impressed with "The Changeling’s Tale" when he first read it in Gardner Dozois's Modern Classics of Fantasy.

Swanwick himself stated that it was "an honor and a privilege" to be working in Tolkien's universe. He also indicated that the money would be very welcome, and he was looking forward to taking a long-needed vacation with his wife. "Since 9/11, Marianne's being working insanely long hours as part of Pennsylvania's Bioterrorism Response Team," he said. "This will finally give us a chance to unwind."

The first story, "Orc #3," will be posted to the LOTR website later today.

— special report by L. Ron Creepweans

Baen Books Announces Product Placement Deals with Microsoft, Coca-Cola

RIVERDALE, NEW YORK, April 1, 2003: Baen Books is proud to announced that it has reached "product placement " deals with both the Microsoft Corporation (NSDQ: MSFT) and Coca-Cola Inc. (NYSE: KO). The two deals, reached separately, call for Baen Books to receive an undisclosed "seven figure" fee from each corporation for including mentions of their products within the pages of Baen novels. For example, after a space battle, David Weber's Honor Harrington might comment on the superior qualities of her Microsoft®-brand navigation and fire control software, or Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan might unwind after a hard day with a refreshing bulb of Coca-Cola®.

"This is a great day not only for Baen Books, but for our authors," said company founder and President Jim Baen. "Not only will this allow us to publish more books more profitably, but a significant percentage of this money will be passed on directly to the writers."

Baen said some existing contracts allow them to retroactively and unilaterally add product placements to current books. However, future contracts will include "pass-through" incentive clauses allowing authors to earn addition product placement money according to a formula based on which product is mentioned, how many times, and in what context. "For example, the protagonist passing underneath a single Coke sign may only be worth $100," said Baen, "but having a party at which lots of different Coca-Cola brand products are exclusively featured could be worth several thousand dollars."

In addition, authors could earn even larger sums through actual naming rights to the novels themselves. "For example," said Baen, "a canny author could literally double their advance if they were willing to rename their novel Exile at the Well of Sprite, or Neuromancer XP." Baen indicated that while neither of these were currently Baen books, he would not rule out sublicensing agreements from other publishers for particularly product-placement-friendly works.

Baen said that the readers and writers would be the ultimate beneficiaries from the deal. "Finally, the salvation of the midlist is at hand."

— another special report by L. Ron Creepweans

James Cameron to Make $100 Million Film From Barry Malzberg's Galaxies

HOLLYWOOD, April 1, 2003: James Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment announced today that it had acquired the rights to Barry Malzberg's New Wave science fiction classic Galaxies. Pre-production work has already begun on the movie, which has been budgeted at $100 million and is tentatively set for release in the summer of 2005.

"The initial image of a female starship captain trapped in a black hole really grabbed me," said Cameron, the Oscar-winning director of such smash hits as Titanic, Aliens, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. "I think this has the potential to be the big summer science fiction blockbuster."

However, Cameron indicated that the story would require a number of changes before it was suitable for a major motion picture. "First of all, we're getting rid of all that existentialist, metafictional crap. It's impossible to film that garbage anyway, and no one gives a rat's ass about some whining sci-fi hack from New Jersey." In the revised version, Lena Thomas, starship captain of the Skipstone, is chased past the event horizon of an enormous black hole by an alien armada which is rapidly on its way to enslaving mankind. Once there, she discovers the abandoned space station of a long extinct god-like race. The heart of the station contains a superweapon that will allow her to escape the black hole and defeat the alien marauders, but first she has to get past the station's army of indestructible killing machines. Though no casting decisions have been made, both Nicole Kidman and Angelina Jolie are reportedly in the running for the lead role.

Lightstorm Entertainment bought the rights to Galaxies outright for an undisclosed seven figure sum. However, due to the terms of Malzberg's contract with original publisher Pyramid Books, he will receive none of the money from the movie sale. Also, given how markedly Cameron's film will diverge from original novel, there are no plans to reprint Malzberg's book for the film's release. Instead a separate Galaxies novelization will be contracted out to another writer, as was done with Bram Stoker's Dracula. Alan Dean Foster and Terry Brooks are reportedly among the finalists for the assignment.

When asked to comment on the story, Malzberg's only reply was "Typical."

— yet another special report by L. Ron Creepweans

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