October Ends, Forerunner Begins

October 31, 2014

The Friday Fragments feature lists of what I’ve read over the past week.  They are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive list, you can look on my website.

This is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a few opinions tossed in.

Usagi Contemplates the End of October

Usagi Contemplates the End of October

I’d love to hear what you’re reading!  It’s fun to book chat…

Recently Completed:

A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny. Finished/will finish today – depending on when you check this list!  I’m sorry not to need to hold myself back…  I want more pages!

A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix.  Audiobook. I liked this.  It’s very different from the “Old Kingdom” novels, but shows a similar enthusiasm for vivid characters in a well delineated universe – in this case SF, rather than Fantasy.

Coming Home by Jack McDevitt.  The latest Alex Benedict and Chase Kolpath.  McDevitt does a good job juggling two separate but equal plotlines.  Many authors would feel a need to force one of the two to provide a solution to the other, but McDevitt doesn’t and, consequently, makes each seem that much more real.  McDevitt is also a master of the sequel that doesn’t require a new reader to read a long list of novels before getting to the most current one.  But I bet more than one reader will be going back to read the earlier works, either for the first time or over again.

In Progress:

Forerunner by Andre Norton.  Future archeology and cool characters.  This one would make a great anime.

Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet by Darynda Jones.  Charley Davidson is the Grim Reaper…  While these books share a lot of similarities with other paranormal romances, I find that the author’s attention to consequences keeps me interested in these.

Also:

I’ve now re-read several more of my short stories and written afterpieces for them: “Jeff’s Best Joke,” “Keep the Dog Hence,” “Beneath the Eye of the Hawk,” and others…

TT: Personalized Ride

October 30, 2014

Breaking News!  As of yesterday, Wanderings on Writing is now available as an e-book.  POD will follow soon.  More details next Wednesday!

Now, back to our regularly scheduled Tangent…

JANE: Over the last few weeks, we’ve been talking about cars…  This time, I have some SF thoughts, but first…

I’m not denying that American culture – if not all Americans – has a love affair with vehicles.  Many of our cities – including Albuquerque – have poor mass transit so, if you want to get anywhere in anything like a timely fashion, you need a vehicle.

Wolfmobile

Wolfmobile

Some families spend so much time in their vehicles that they start personalizing them as if they’re mobile houses.  Stickers with outlines representing the number of members in the family have become common.  At a glance you can see Mother, Father, two boys, one girl, dog, and two cats.

An outgrowth of this has been stickers that also include some idea of the family’s interests.  The characters might wear mouse ears (Disney fans) or Star Wars outfits, carry sports equipment, or even, in one memorable occasion, be zombies.  (Presumably, these were horror fans, not actual zombies.)

Do you have anything like this?

ALAN: Yes – we have exactly the same phenomenon. Indeed, it’s become so much of a cliche now that people are starting to sneer at it and it’s falling out of fashion again.

JANE: Darn!   Jim and I had been considering getting some, but if they’re out of fashion…

Another way to customize a vehicle is by using bumper stickers.  You can learn about political preferences, sports teams, and club memberships.  Parking permit stickers give a hint where  people work and go to school.   You can even figure out other, less mainstream interests.  I’ve seen “My other car is a broom.” And, “Save the Earth.  It’s the only planet with chocolate.”

ALAN: We seldom have those – they do exist, but I don’t recall seeing any interesting ones, though the “My other car is a (something)” formula does ring bells. We’ve also had a trend for people to hang a sign saying “Baby on Board” in the back window, presumably to try and force drivers around them to take more care than normal. However, so many people who obviously don’t have a baby with them have taken to using the sign that it too is starting to disappear.

JANE:  Oh, wow…  The “baby on board” sign came and went here a long while back…  1990’s, maybe?  It morphed into “Dog on Board,” “Fill-in-the-blank Sports Team Fan on Board,” and other variations before, gratefully, slipping into oblivion.

We also have personalized license plates, where letters and numbers are used to spell out messages.  Now that texting has become common, lots of license plates read like texts.

ALAN: Ah! We are really big on personalised number plates. A science fiction fan friend of mine has the number plate SF. It cost her $300 to buy when personalised plates first became legal (I think she was at the head of the queue) and she was once offered $10,000 for it from an avid collector. She refused the offer. She claims, with some justification, that the plate is her retirement investment.

JANE: Uh, Alan.  Why do you call them “number plates” if they have letters?  Shouldn’t they be “number and letter plates”?

ALAN: I suppose they should, though until you mentioned it, that had never occurred to me. I’ve done a bit of digging and I’ve discovered that the first plates in the UK were issued in 1903. They consisted of an aphabetic prefix that identified the local council that issued them and an incrementing numeric suffix that identified the vehicle. So I presume they were “number” plates because the number was the only bit that varied – all the vehicles in the same geographic area would have the same prefix.

JANE: Now that’s cool…  I love hearing the history behind a term.  But I interrupted you.  Did you have any other customized plates you wanted to mention?

ALAN: Once, parked in a supermarket car park, I saw a most magnificent Rolls Royce (that aristocrat of cars) with the equally magnificent number plate STOLEN.

JANE: Oh!  That’s a good one!

Reminds me of another good bumper sticker, often seen on older cars.  It reads “Paid For.”  I like it, since so many of those people out there driving fancy cars are also driving piles of debt.

Do you folks have license – excuse me, “number” plates – on both the front and back of your vehicles or just in the back?

ALAN: We are required to have them on both the front and the back. Until you mentioned it, I’d never realised that any other convention was possible.

JANE: The reason I ask is that here it seems to vary from state to state.  In New Mexico, license plates are only required on the back, so ornamental plates on the front of the car have become another means of personalizing.

My godmother gave me a plate ornamented with the head and shoulders of a black wolf.  I’d never done anything to personalize a car before, but I put this on my sedan.  Now, to my amusement, friends will often pick my car out when we’re meeting somewhere because of that plate.  It’s a wolf.  It must be Jane.

ALAN: Well of course it must. I’d make the same assumption.

JANE: The American love affair with vehicles even has a skiffy tie-in.

ALAN: What’s that?

JANE: Roger Zelazny wrote at least two different “takes” on the futuristic car.  One appears in his novel The Dream Master (also published in a shorter form as the novella “He Who Shapes.”)

In this story, cars can be driven by autopilot.  Now, Roger was hardly the first SF novelist to come up with this idea.  Being Roger, however, he came up with a unique take: blindspinning.  In this, coordinates are randomly punched in and while the car does the driving, often the riders do… Uh, well…  Y’know… Um… Other sort of riding…

ALAN: (puzzled…) But wouldn’t that make the windows steam up so you couldn’t enjoy the scenery?

JANE: Oh…  I’m going to be good and go back to SF!

Roger also combined the American tendency to romanticize the wild horse and with the romance of the automobile in two short stories: “Last of the Wild Ones” and “Devil Car.”

ALAN: When I was a little boy, there was a TV series called Supercar! It was one of Gerry Anderson’s early puppet series (what did he call it? Supermarionation?). Anyway, I was enthralled by it and I watched it every week. The supercar itself was a combination car and aeroplane that was driven (perhaps flown would be a better word) by Mike Mercury who had lots of exciting adventures in it.

JANE: I never watched it, but I think there was an update of that idea in a television program called Knight Rider or something like that.

ALAN: And of course if there is any SF symbol that epitomises the future, it’s the symbol of the flying car even though I suspect it’s quite impractical. You can date it all the way back to Hugo Gernsback himself. In his novel Ralph 124C 41+  people commute in aeroflyers that can reach speeds of more than 600mph!

JANE: Ah, yes, flying cars.  I actually know a man who is working on one.  Seriously.  He’s a retired engineer and this is his dream project.

Clifford Simak extrapolated how flying cars would change settlement patterns in his novel City.  Sometimes the implications are as or more interesting than the vehicle would be.

In Gordon Dickson’s Necromancer, the private car is combined with mass transit, so that rather than taking a seat on a train, you go to the equivalent of a train station and pick up a vehicle that will take you to your individual destination.

I bet there are other good SF stories out there built around vehicles.  I wonder if our readers have any suggestions?

Remember the Cascade Effect

October 29, 2014

The other day, a friend sent me a link to a video about the impact of the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone Park and its surroundings.  The video does a really good job of condensing a complicated process into a few minutes.  I have a few quibbles – for example, most of the time the animals the narrator refers to as “deer” are actually elk, and the role coyotes played was oversimplified – but I think it’s worth watching, so here’s a link.

Part of a Wolf Junkie's Stash

Part of a Wolf Junkie’s Stash

Because I’m a serious wolf junkie, I was already familiar with the impact of wolves on Yellowstone.  The cascade effect works on a smaller ecological scale, too.  When I moved into my house, the back yard was pretty much sand and weeds, prone to erosion when the winds blew, and supporting very little in the way of wildlife.

Over the last decade and a half, Jim and I have made a lot of changes, including encouraging native plants that provide food for birds, lizards, and insects.  We have two small water features (a tiny pond and a bird bath) and these have put us on the migration route for various birds.  The result is pretty cool.

As usual, this has gotten me thinking about writing, most particularly about the world-building that’s so important to SF and Fantasy.

As the piece about the wolves and Yellowstone demonstrates so superbly, make one change and you need to think about what other things might change.  This doesn’t only apply to what you take away – it applies to what you add in as well.

I’ve talked about dragons back in “So You Want Dragons” (WW 2-29-14), so I won’t repeat myself, but remember that many other typical fantasy “monsters” also fall into the peak predator category.

Here’s one example.  Traditionally, the favorite food of griffins is horses.   Don’t you think griffins might choose to live where horses are easy to get?  How would a society change when horses can’t simply be turned out to pasture because the griffins will fly in for an easy lunch?  Griffins are a lot more dangerous than wolves, so would the equivalent of shepherds be enough?  Would griffin patrol be a way to train young warriors?

The cascade effect applies to much more than predator/prey relationships.  In our modern world, people tend to forget that energy doesn’t come from flipping a switch.  That’s just the final stage of a complex delivery system, one that involves a power plant on the other end.  Electricity and gas are both often referred to as “clean” sources of heat and that’s certainly true when compared to burning wood in your fireplace – at least until you take a look at the process needed to produce and deliver this energy to your house.

What about solar energy?  Passive solar is certainly clean heat.  Because I live in a very sunny climate, my sunporch actually heats much of my small house, even during the coldest parts of winter – at least during daylight.  However, passive solar won’t run my computer.  From talking to a friend who relies on solar power, I’ve learned how complicated gathering and converting solar energy can be – especially if the person lives off the grid and needs to rely on batteries.

If you’re writing SF, a little technological hand-waving can get you past the difficulties of providing energy for even the biggest city or starship.  A breakthrough that makes safe fusion power practical is one of the most popular gimmicks.  Another is a quick sentence along the lines of “ever since Alice Seagull came up with the voo-voo panel that let solar power be more efficiently gathered and stored, most archaic forms of energy have fallen out of use.”

In a Fantasy setting, how to provide enough fuel for a large population can have a tremendous cascade effect.  The New England region of the United States was originally heavily forested.  However, twin demands for farmland and fuel led to a tremendous amount of clear- cutting.   If advances in technology had not created both easier ways to acquire food (grow it somewhere else, ship it in) and to deliver the means for providing heat, it’s likely that the area would have become unable to support its population, triggering a migration to unused (“unspoiled”?) wilderness, until that, too, became spoiled.

Today, New England is becoming reforested but what would happen if a true “locovore” movement became established?  Would it be able to sustain itself for longer than a couple of decades without providing a serious environmental impact?

What about these static Fantasy worlds where warriors clank around in steel armor (making steel takes a lot of fuel) and use steel weapons and have done so for centuries?  Where do the resources come from?  Why are there any forests left?

Well, historically, socially-enforced poverty for the majority of the population was one way to keep from exhausting all the resources.  The folks who mined the iron ore didn’t necessarily have iron tools and weapons.  The woodcutter didn’t have a blazing fire on his hearth.  The logs went to the gentry.  He felt lucky to have the scraps and twigs…  Most of his neighbors were burning cow patties.  (And that’s not hamburger, for you urban dwellers.  It’s cow shit and it stinks.)

I’ve quite enjoyed S.M. Stirling’s “Change” novels.  Salvage from the pre-Change world solves a lot of Stirling’s immediate supply problems, but for that economic/ecological system to persist, the humans had better keep having massive wars to provide population control.

But what about magic?  Can’t it solve all these problems in a Fantasy setting?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  After all, even magic needs to come from somewhere and be channeled into useful forms.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a gamer.  The adventure I’m currently running takes place in a world where magic is common and the dominant race is very ecologically sensitive.  What’s the major type of employment for these magically skilled people?  Creating the basic magical infrastructure that enables them to have magical light, heat, hot water, and all the rest.

My gamers assumed that finding the “cool” magical items would be as easy as walking into the magical equivalent of Walmart.  They figured they just needed to find a city larger than the small village in which they live.  They’re now learning that the cool stuff is, in fact, quite rare, because the magical resources are diverted into sustaining a fairly high standard of living for the majority of the population.

I find that, far from restricting my storytelling, the cascade effect stimulates it.  Whether you build a story around it or use little elements to provide a richer environment, it’s worth considering.

FF: Clariel, Hades, Utena, October

October 24, 2014

The Friday Fragments feature lists of what I’ve read over the past week.  They are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive list, you can look on my website.

This is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a few opinions tossed in.

Silver Wonders About Snakes

Silver Wonders About Snakes

This week has been an interesting one…

Tell me what you’re reading!

Recently Completed:

Clariel by Garth Nix.  As I hoped, this novel stood well on its own.  I was particularly delighted with the world building.  Unlike far too many fantasy worlds, this one does not have a stagnant culure.  However, it does prove to have some interesting connections to the later books.  WARNING: The author’s note contains a spoiler.  Do not read first.

The House of Hades by Rick Riordan.  Audiobook.  Stronger than the previous book.  I particularly liked Nico’s encounter with Cupid, and the tension over Bob the Titan.

Land of Cinnamon Sun by John NizalowskiA collection of essays.  I particularly liked “Medea in America.”

Revolutionary Girl Utena the manga, by Chiho Saito and Be-Papas (the latter is a studio).  Jim gave me the updated anime DVD set for my birthday. This made me decide to re-read the manga for comparison/contrast purposes.  The DVD set included several essays and interviews that finally clarified how and why the two works were produced in parallel.  Fascinating, at least to me.

In Progress:

A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny.  Still trying to hold to one chapter a day for the Twitter book club at #LonesomeOctober.  The chapters are getting longer, the story more complex.

A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix.  Audiobook.  Just started.

Coming Home by Jack McDevitt.  The latest Alex Benedict and Chase Kolpath.  Just started.

Also:

I’ve now re-read my first five short stories and written afterpieces for them.  Am about to start skipping around a bit more.

TT: Big Car, Little Car

October 23, 2014

ALAN: Having grown up with the British mini which really is very tiny indeed, I find it hilarious that Americans refer to what I consider to be stonking great big people movers as “minivans. “

Big Car, Little Car

Big Car, Little Car

JANE: You described the mini last Tangent, but I fear that your statement that you find “it hilarious that Americans refer to their stonking great big people movers as ‘minivans’” doesn’t make much sense.  Minivans aren’t really that big.  They are certainly not “great big people movers” – most don’t hold more than six or seven people, and those people had better like each other a lot and not have much in the way of luggage.

ALAN: Here, anything that holds “six or seven” people is absolutely huge. It’s the largest vehicle a person is allowed to drive on an ordinary license. Most cars hold four people. Perhaps five if the journey is short and you are all intimate friends…

JANE:  I still insist that minivans aren’t really huge.  They’ve just replaced the station wagon of my childhood and, honestly, seem to hold a lot less in the way of luggage.

ALAN: We have station wagons as well, but they are just cars with two seats in the back, and a larger than usual luggage area. So they still hold four people, but they let you carry a lot more junk than you could cram into a proper car.

JANE:  The station wagons of my childhood held six or seven people, three in front, three or four in back.  Sometimes, in those wild and woolly days before mandatory seat belts, kids would sprawl in the back cargo area.  I have fond memories of the summer we drove from D.C. to Omaha, Nebraska.  I was small enough that I could lie down in the back and read or color.  These days I can’t read in a moving vehicle – I get motion sick.

Returning to terminology, we never refer to “minivans” as “minis.”  It’s always a compound where minivan is a sub-class of van.

ALAN: We have minivans, but they are just a standard mini (the car) which has a van body and therefore only seats two people in the front. Everything else is empty space. They don’t really exist anymore – I haven’t seen one in decades. I suspect that my minivan would fit comfortably on the back seat of your minivan and still leave room for a passenger or two. It’s that incongruity which makes me laugh at the word.

JANE: I see…  Same word, different meaning entirely.  I might as well fill you in on the rest…

“Vans” hold more people and indeed might be called “people movers.”  Vans can hold between twelve and fifteen people.  Jim commuted in such a van for years. He requests that I clarify that if you squeeze fifteen people in, they’d better really like each other.

We call “stonking great people movers” “buses.”

ALAN: Here, anything that holds a dozen people or more is a bus, and it is never owned or driven by ordinary people – you need a special kind of license to drive anything that big.

JANE: I checked with Jim.  He regularly drove his commuter van and didn’t need any special license.

Now, to go the opposite direction, not all Americans drive huge vehicles.  My car is a sedan – a Mazda Protégé.  I think it’s about the same size as your car – comfortable for four, but with the option of squishing in a fifth.   There are many smaller models on the road, as well, two door sedans, hatchbacks…

One of the most peculiar small cars is the Smart Car.  These are so small that I, personally, wouldn’t take one onto a highway – especially out here in the wild West where there are a lot of big pickup trucks on the roads.  In many ways, they sound like a modern variation on your mini.

ALAN: Are the Smart Cars those things sponsored by Google that drive themselves? I’ve seen photos of those and they do indeed look very small.

JANE: I don’t think so…  They’re just really small cars with room for only two passengers, very little cargo space, and a very low profile.  They’re touted as “smart” because they have very low gas mileage.  I’ve only seen them, never driven one, but maybe our readers could tell you more.

ALAN: Ah, I see! That does sound really, really small.

JANE: I have a question for you…  Earlier you mentioned that “Most cars hold four people. Perhaps five if the journey is short and you are all intimate friends…”

What do families do?  When I was a kid, my family numbered two adults and four children.   No way we could all fit in a sedan.  These days, especially given that bulky car seats are now required for small children, many families drive minivans, SUVs (compact versions are common), or other larger vehicles.  They need to in order to fit!

ALAN: The problem seldom arises. Most families have only two children – larger families are the exception rather than the rule. Two adults in the front and two children’s car seats in the back and Robert is your avuncular relative. Of course, the rare families larger than this may well have a larger vehicle that holds half a dozen or so people. Actually, it’s the only real justification I can think of for driving one of these. They really do look quite out of place on our rather narrow roads.

JANE: Seriously, Jim and I have the Forester because there some of our hobbies – including our garden, landscaping, and such – benefit from the ability to haul material.  There have been times I’ve seriously missed our pickup truck.

ALAN: I think my view of American cars might have been much influenced by Eartha Kitt’s song An Old Fashioned Girl where she claimed to want “…a cerise Cadillac, big enough to put a bowling alley in the back…”

JANE:  Yes.  I can see that.  There’s also the blues hit, “Riding with the King,” as well as songs about low riders and other models where customization, not just size, are important.  But one must be careful.  Sometimes a car is not just a car…  It’s a metaphor.  Go look up Bruce Springsteen’s “Pink Cadillac” or Prince’s “Little Red Corvette,” if you want to figure that one out.

ALAN: Strange how we keep coming back to music. I think the Tangent Gods are dropping a very large hint here…

Do you think the fascination with cars is purely American?

JANE: Hey, the Beatles were the ones who sang, “Baby, You Can Drive My Car.”  And Lord Peter was devoted to his Daimlers.  I’m really not certain that it’s just an American thing to see a car—especially one that’s large and elaborate – as a status symbol.

ALAN:  You’re quite right. Nothing proclaims your status like a Rolls Royce and that’s about as British as it gets. And, if we are sticking to the music theme, Gary Numan (ex Tubeway Army) had a massive hit in the UK with a song called simply Cars.

JANE: And here in the U.S., we had a band called, the Cars.  You’re right.  One of these days, we’re going to need to discuss music…

A Scattering of Stuff

October 22, 2014

Last week was a busy swirl.  I can hardly sort day from day.  Still, if you join me in imagining these as sort of like Muppet News Flashes, I think I can get through.

Tomato Plants: This Will Make Sense by the End

Tomato Plants: This Will Make Sense by the End

News Flash: I’ve been invited to be Guest of Honor at the 2015 Conduit in Salt Lake City.  It’s over Memorial Day weekend, May 22 to 24.  We’re already planning some special events, so it should be a great time.  I hope some of you will be able to join us.

News Flash: The release date for Artemis Invaded has been finalized.  Look for it June 30, 2015.

News Flash: Wanderings on Writing is nearly done.  We’re messing around with fonts for page headers and looking for potential printer errors.  The cover looks great and I’m pleased with the contents, too.

News Flash: I’ve started constructing the manuscript for the book of short stories you folks requested several months back.   In addition to an introduction, each story will have its own afterpiece, talking a bit about what went into each story.  Writing these has been a real trip down Memory Lane for me since, in many cases, over twenty years have passed since the story was published.

I’m starting with some very early pieces, then will do some skipping around.  What’s been really fascinating is how many people have said, “Are you going to include such and such story?”  It’s interesting to find out which stories have remained vivid in reader’s minds.  So far “Jeff’s Best Joke,” “Keep the Dog Hence,” “The Travails of Princess Stephen,” and “Hunting the Unicorn” have been requested.  Any others?

I’ve been debating on whether to include previously published original stories set in the universes of my Firekeeper novels, The Buried Pyramid, and Changer.  Many fans of these novels never saw these stories.  What do you think?

In case you wondered, I’m not including any of the stories I wrote for someone else’s universe.  I’m debating including these in another collection.  I’m also not going to include any of my short stories with continuing characters (such as the “Albuquerque Adepts” or Andrasta).

News Flash: Remember you can download my most recent short story, “Born from Memory” for free from the Science and Fantasy Fiction website.

Since we recently acquired a bunch of new readers, let me mention a few projects related to my work that you can download for little or nothing.  Here’s a short list:

Thursday Tangents free ebook, with original introductions by me and Alan Robson.  Alan supplies a table of contents here or you can go to “My Books” for a free download.

What would you be if you lived on Artemis?” quiz.

“My Love is Like a Panther Swift,” an original song by Chad Merkley, based on and expanded from lyrics that appear in Artemis Awakening.

Various interviews, both audio only and film are available via my website.  Links here.

For less than a dollar you can download several original short stories, including “Hamlet Revisited” and “Servant of Death” from Snackreads.

And the Captain Allie stories, individually, or in the collection Star Messenger, available via my website bookstore, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon.com.

If you feel like spending a little more, my novels Changer and Changer’s Daughter (originally published as Legends Walking) are now available both as e-books and print on demand.  Want your book signed?  Go to my website bookstore and order from there.

News Flash: I’ve recently started Twittering @JaneLindskold.

Also, my author page on Facebook is a great place to go for reminders about contests or on-going projects like the A Night in the Lonesome October book club that’s still on-going (and getting really intense now) on Twitter.  #LonesomeOctober

Wow!  I believe I’m “newsed out”!  It’s a lovely autumn day here and, although the frosts at night have been nibbling at the leaves of my squash and basil, I still have a pretty nice garden.  I think I’ll step outside and pick tomatoes.

I forgot to buy bacon this week.  I really need to do so while we can still make BCR’s – bacon, Swiss chard, and Roma tomato sandwiches!

FF: Seriously Fragmented

October 17, 2014

The Friday Fragments feature lists of what I’ve read over the past week.  They are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive list, you can look on my website.

This is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a few opinions tossed in.

Snowdrop contemplates October

Snowdrop contemplates October

This week has been an interesting one…

What are you reading?

Recently Completed:

The Sphinx of the Ice Realm by Jules Verne, translated by Fredrick Paul Walter.  Looking for a stirring sea saga with bits of mystery, secret identities, and a neat twist at the end?  This Verne is for you.  I strongly suggest this translation for the notes and introduction.

Smoking Seventeen by Janet Evanovich.  Audiobook.

Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich.  Audiobook.

In Progress:

Clariel by Garth Nix.  A prequel of sorts to the “Abhorsen” books.  I’m enjoying, although the “action” at the start is mostly internal.

The House of Hades by Rick Riordan.  Audiobook.  Yet another reader!  I miss Leo’s accent.

A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny.  Still trying to hold to one chapter a day for the Twitter book club at #LonesomeOctober.  This is getting much, much harder as the plot gets more complex.

Land of Cinnamon Sun by John NizalowskiA collection of essays.  I’ve been reading an essay or so before bed.  Enjoying.

Also:

I’m starting to re-read my own short stories as part of putting together a collection.  Just read my first, published in 1990.

Baby, You Can Drive My Car (Or Maybe Not)

October 16, 2014

JANE: So, Alan, last time we were discussing the psychological oddities involved in the fact that you and I each drive on the wrong side of the road, at least from each other’s point of view. I bet that if we looked, we’d find a lot of other interesting oddities regarding our attitudes toward driving and cars.

All Backwards -- To Me

All Backwards — To Me

ALAN: Because the Japanese drive on the left just like we do, we have a huge number of imported second-hand Japanese cars on our roads. I own one myself. It has a switch on the dashboard whose function is utterly mysterious to me. And since the owner’s manual is in Japanese, I’ll probably never find out what it does.

JANE: If you want to scan the page and e-mail it to me, I’ll see if my friend, Cale, can translate it for you.  It would be a pity if you didn’t realize that you had missile launchers or laser beams…  Or even the hover vents that would let you rise about traffic.

ALAN: Gosh!  That would be impressive…

My car has all the original factory fixtures and fittings. That includes a radio, of course, which also leads to problems since Japanese radio stations broadcast on a different range of frequencies than the ones we use. So the unmodified Japanese radios can’t actually pick up stations that I like to listen to. There is a gadget which can be fitted to address this problem, but it isn’t very satisfactory…

JANE: If you don’t want to fix it, you can simply listen to recorded music.  I gave up on radio a while back.  Now I have a selection of CDs I keep in the car.  My current favorite is a David Bowie compilation.

Jim’s vehicle is new enough that it came with a jack for a data stick.  I encouraged him to record a bunch of “his” music, so I can learn more about bands he likes.  It’s been a lot of fun.  I have a lot more appreciation for Jimi Hendricks, Cream, The Who, and Led Zeppelin than I did.  I mean, I’d heard the hits, but now I’ve listened to entire albums.

But I am straying from cars…

ALAN: We have a CD player as well and so we keep a lot of music in the car for long journeys. Robin and I have eclectic tastes (we like everything except country and western), but our major tastes were formed in the sixties and seventies and most of our music dates from that time. We’d both agree happily with Jim’s selections.

JANE: One of these days we should discuss music.  I just realized that most of the bands I listed were British and we certainly don’t only listen to Brits!  But back to cars…

ALAN: Yes, but let’s resist the lures of that tangent for the moment. The Japanese cars have an undeserved reputation for being of poor quality. The phrase “jap crap” is sometimes used. There was a huge scandal a few years back when it emerged that the majority of the used imports had had their odometers spun back so that the cars appeared to have done very low mileage. We have much stricter laws now and that scandal appears to have gone away.

JANE: That’s interesting.  In the United States, Japanese cars, overall, have a very high reputation.  I don’t think we’re part of their used car market, though, which may account for the difference.

ALAN: Actually, I’ve always found Japanese cars to be manufactured to a very high standard as well. Of course, we don’t have an indigenous car manufacturing industry so all our cars are imports, both new and used. There was a time when we assembled cars under license from overseas manufacturers, but we don’t even do that anymore.

However I’m not in the least bit surprised that you don’t have Japanese imports. After all, you’d have to swap the steering wheel round before you could drive them.

JANE: Funny man…

I am not an expert on cars by any means, but I do know that many “foreign” cars sold in the U.S. are actually manufactured here.  And many “American” cars are wholly or partly manufactured elsewhere.

At one point in his life, Jim made a great effort to “buy American.”  He bought a Ford truck, only to find out it had been built in Japan.  His next vehicle was a Ford Festiva, which had been built in Korea.  His next vehicle was a Nissan truck, which he learned had been built in Tennessee.  The truck lasted him for something like nineteen years.  It was still running when he traded it in, but he decided he’d really like to have air conditioning.

This time he didn’t bother to check who made what where and bought based on the reputation of the vehicle.  So we now have a Subaru Forester and he likes it very much, especially the air conditioning and the ability to play his entire music collection.

ALAN: We have a Subaru as well. It’s a Subaru Legacy – just a car though. Not a truck.

The British have always enjoyed eccentric motor cars. The Reliant Robin which had three wheels and a fibreglass body, and the Austin A30 which, as an economy measure, had only one windscreen wiper (a passenger side wiper was available as an optional extra).

But the most famous was the Mini which was designed by Alec Issigonis. He got a knighthood for it. It first appeared in 1959 and it was the best-selling British car in history – the production run exceeded 5 million, and a mini-derived design is still being manufactured today. It had a very small 800cc engine, front wheel drive, and 10 inch wheels. The car was so tiny, that there used to be a joke in England that a pedestrian once got hit by a mini as they were crossing the road and they had to be taken to hospital to have it removed…

JANE: <laughing>

ALAN: In another life, Robin was once a car mechanic in a garage. She specialised in minis because she was the only person in the garage whose hands were small enough to get into all those awkward places. There was so little space under the bonnet that other garages had to dismantle and then remantle the entire engine to do even the simplest maintenance jobs. But with Robin on the job, that wasn’t necessary.

JANE: I’ve seen minis here occasionally.  They look like toys and always seem to be driven by very large men…

I wonder what that means?

ALAN: Speaking as a man, I have to say that I think Freud was perfectly correct. Sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar.

Because minis are so small, it is natural to try and get as many people as possible into one. According to the Guinness Book Of Records, the world record for cramming people into a mini is 27. This amazing feat was achieved on 18th May 2014 during the annual London to Brighton Mini Run. The 27 people were all female and included a mother and daughter and a pair of twins. The Guinness Book Of Records remains silent on the question of whether or not the mini could actually move with all those people in it…

JANE: Bet it couldn’t!  Now, I need to go write, but I don’t think we’ve exhausted (get it, “exhausted”?) the topic of cars quite yet!

Suggestions for a Virgin (SF Reader)

October 15, 2014

Exciting news!  “Born from Memory,” the short story I wrote to go with the first-place winning piece in the Science Fiction and Fantasy website art competition is now available as a free download.  I really loved this story and I hope you will take the opportunity to read it.

And now, back to virgins.  I mean books for new SF readers…  Last week I raised the question of what books (or authors) you might suggest to someone who wanted to read SF, but didn’t know where to start.

A Few Suggestions

A Few Suggestions

Lots of interesting suggestions came in, both via the Comments and to me directly.  They kept coming in all week, so even if you looked last week, I hope you’ll go take another look.

One thing lots of people agreed upon was that any recommendation should be based on the reader’s interests.  One Commenter, who is a professional librarian, even suggested some strategies for eliciting a helpful response.   While I agree wholeheartedly that learning a bit about the potential reader is a good idea, I still think it’s helpful to have some ideas already prepared.

I don’t think I’m alone in that as soon as I’m asked to recommend a book, my mind goes blank.  That’s one reason I have a list on my website.   Even with that, I often finding myself recommending whatever I’ve read recently, even if that’s not the most appropriate choice, simply because it’s what I think of first.

However, lots of the books I list on my website wouldn’t necessarily be the best choices for a new reader.  I’ve been reading SF for a long time and have developed rather quirky tastes.

Moreover, last week for reasons I detailed in that piece, I asked people to restrict their suggestions to SF, rather than Fantasy or Horror.

(Yes, yes, I know the designations are sometimes arbitrary.  Alan Robson and I discussed this at some length on this site on starting 11/29/12, with additional entries on 12/06/12 and 12/13/12; we then spent weeks using  these designations as an excuse to discuss books.  Check these out!)

So, let’s take a closer look at books and authors we might suggest to someone who was interested in reading SF, but didn’t know where to start.

One of the “off-stage” commenters said that he would tend to recommend short fiction over novels.  Certainly, SF has its roots in short fiction, but I’m not sure I’d agree with this choice.  Many SF shorts are “idea” stories, clever enough in themselves but with a possibly off-putting element for a new reader, since idea stories often sacrifice character and setting to focus on a cute idea.

Readers, by contrast, at least modern readers – as supported by numerous comments on this site and elsewhere – are usually drawn to character over plot or setting.

That said, this doesn’t mean I wouldn’t recommend short fiction.  Especially when the stories have some sort of internal connection – perhaps a continuing character or serving as part of a future history – short fiction can provide a wide sampling of SF themes and tropes.

Isaac Asimov’s “Robot” stories strike me as a good choice.  They have a continuing theme to tie them together and a few recurring characters.  Since humanoid robots have never become part of mainstream reality, stories built around them don’t “date” as easily.

When I was in college, I found Heinlein’s future history stories fascinating.  Even though some of the concepts were already dated, the sense that the various pieces had a shared continuity provoked my interest.  I haven’t looked at these stories in years but, I suspect that if I did, I’d find myself slipping into that parallel universe with ease.  Other future histories – I’m very fond of those set in Larry Niven’s “Known Space” and of Poul Anderson’s Earthbook of Stormgate – also have potential.

We didn’t get much feedback from younger female readers, so I don’t know if these largely male-tenanted futures would present a problem or not.

One of the authors mentioned, James H. Schmitz, was ahead of the curve when presenting a future which included female characters who were presented simply as people – without in the least ignoring that when you put men and women in the same place they aren’t going to forget they’re men and women.  I particularly love his Witches of Karres, which, despite the title, is full of spaceships and strange planets and stranger people.

Many of the authors suggested (Clarke, Asimov, Zelazny, LeGuin, Dick, McCaffery, Brunner, Norton) were older or, as marketing is starting to term them, “classic.”  One of the off-site commenters noted that, in her opinion, a new reader was often looking for a newer book rather than a “classic.”  There’s something to be said for this.  Reading something “new,” when everyone else is, lets a new reader enter the discussion.  A drawback, of course, is that a new reader may be impressed out of proportion with something that is “old hat” to a long-time reader.

Back when I was still teaching at Lynchburg College, I gave a reading at a campus event.  One of my colleagues was impressed out of proportion by the fact that my characters paid for items with “credits.”  She saw in this a projection of the evolving monetary system that was already taking place around us, where the use of cash or checks was being replaced by credit cards.  (I’m not sure debit cards had entered widespread use.)

A new reader, unfamiliar with what is often termed the “furniture of the field,” might need to digest a whole bunch of new concepts – but, since this immersion in new ideas is the sort of exciting experience that often creates a lifetime reader of SF, I don’t see that as a bad idea.

So which “newer” writers might we suggest?  David Weber’s name came up several times.  I would strongly agree – with the caveat that if the potential reader didn’t like military settings, his “Honor Harrington” books might not be the best place to start.  I usually recommend his Path of the Fury.  (I’m not as familiar with the expanded reissue, In Fury Born.)  The three Stephanie Harrington novels (two of which I co-wrote with him) are less military in nature and are solidly rooted in SF coolness.

Elizabeth Moon was mentioned.  I’m not familiar with all of her work, but I was impressed by her Speed of the Dark.  Firmly rooted in our current culture and its concerns, Speed of the Dark, nonetheless has some fascinating SF speculation and shows how those who are often seen as our misfits might be our path to the stars.   I also really like her Remnant Population.

C.J. Cherryh’s “Chanur” novels have good aliens and lots of action without becoming overtly military.  I’m not as familiar with her more recent work, but I’ve heard many good things.

Another current author I’d solidly recommend for beginners is Jack McDevitt.  McDevitt often writes about continuing characters (star pilot and reluctant politician Priscilla “Hutch” Hutchinson in one series; art dealer Alex Benedict and pilot Chase Kolpath in another) but each novel stands on its own.  The “Hutch” novels frequently include little news squibs at the end of each chapter, creating a nifty “future history” in miniature.  The Alex and Chase novels have interstellar archeology, lost civilizations, and lots of intrigue.

Whether written ten years ago, twenty, or fifty, one of things that seems to give an SF novel longevity and make it interesting to a beginning reader is a “big” setting or concept.  Those novels tied to immediate social concerns or trends date quickly.  For this reason, “hard” SF, no matter how carefully thought through, often seems to go stale faster than the wildest space opera.

I’m sure there are lots of other books and authors that could be suggested…  Perhaps some of you would care to offer your own suggestions of “non-classic” but still gripping SF tales that would lure in a new reader.

FF: All Over the Place

October 10, 2014

The Friday Fragments feature lists of what I’ve read over the past week.  They are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive list, you can look on my website.

This is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a few opinions tossed in.

Sirenity Contemplates Bubo the Rat

Sirenity Contemplates Bubo the Rat

This week my reading is all over the place – even more than usual.

What are you reading?

Recently Completed:

The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan.  Audiobook.  Rambled a bit as Riordan tried to deal with the fact that he had seven really powerful protagonists and a limited framework for action.  Piper gets slighted.  Jason spends an amazing amount of time unconscious.  However, I did enjoy and plan to go onto the next book.

Dorsai by Gordon Dickson.  I really enjoyed this.  However, after having read three in a row, I’m troubled more now than I was originally by how little room there is for dynamic women in this future history.  Not enough to keep me from recommending, but it would be with a caveat.

In Progress:

A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny.  Trying to hold to one chapter a day for the Twitter book club at #LonesomeOctober.  Finding this very difficult.

Land of Cinnamon Sun by John NizalowskiA collection of essays.  I’ve been reading an essay or so before bed.  Enjoying.

The Sphinx of the Ice Realm by Jules Verne, translated by Fredrick Paul Walter.  The first chapter is slow.  After that, it’s lots of fun.  The intro is good, but I think I’d suggest waiting to read it until after reading the novel.  The translators notes are great.  I have them bookmarked, so I can check them as they come up.

Smoking Seventeen by Janet Evanovich.  Audiobook.  I needed a change from teenage demigods.  This is quite the change!

Also:

Some Chinese mythology, especially about the Eight Immortals.  Not sure if it’s going to go anywhere, but fun nonetheless.


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