Archive for May, 2011

Didn’t Happen

May 25, 2011

The world didn’t end last Saturday. I wasn’t really surprised. Just within my

Entertaining Endings

lifetime, the end of the world has been predicted a bunch of times.

The end of the millennium caused a wide variety of predictions as to how the world was going to end. As I recall, the return of Haley’s Comet made many people nervous, too, for reasons I can’t recall at this late date.

There are also the less absolute “end of the world” predictions. I grew up during the Cold War. Back then, the threat of nuclear war made us school kids all wonder just how hard we should try to get good grades. After all, it seemed fairly likely that we weren’t going to get to grow up anyhow.

One of my favorites non-theological end of the world predictions was the Y2K fuss. That’s the one that said all the computers were going to crash all at once because of a flaw in the underlying calendar. At the very least, we were told, the banks were going to crash. If things got really bad, all the nuclear weapons would go off.

I heard about Y2K long before it became a trendy media pseudo-event when Gordon Garb made it the subject of  a presentation at Bubonicon, New Mexico’s Science Fiction convention. Gordon’s both a computer guru and a great speaker so he was the perfect person to make the threat seem very real. However, even as he unfurled all the reasons why Y2K could happen, I found myself thinking, “But the computer industry already knows the problem is there. Surely someone will work out a fix before all the banks crash and computer guidance systems go awry and everything goes to hell.”

Maybe that’s why end of the world predictions based on biblical or astrological or astronomical materials are so fascinating. The circumstances are beyond not only your control, but anyone’s control.

What fascinates me is that end of the world scenarios have entered what must be called “entertainment culture.” Print Science Fiction has frequently speculated on how the world might end, ranging through death by war, disease, asteroid, alien invasion, and a bunch of even less likely scenarios.

Even more popular are those books and movies that look at the end of the world as a neat challenge – neat, that is, if you’re one of those who get to survive and wear cool fur bikinis (as in the “Mad Max” movies) or rebuild the world from scratch (and presumably in your own image).

There have even been pop songs based on the premise. One of my favorites is David Bowie’s haunting “Five Years.” There’s also R.E.M.’s scarily perky “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine).” I believe the Carpenters sang about aliens warning us not to do anything dumb in “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Crafts.” I’m sure there are many other examples.

Oh… Let’s not forget the businesses that have developed to cater to apocalyptic interests – especially those where the world ends only for a small, select group. There are bumper stickers voicing various opinions on what a vehicle might do in case of “rapture.” Last week’s Wall Street Journal mentioned that one company offers to forward e-mails to your chosen list if you’re “raptured.” Another, staffed by atheists, promises to care for your pets if you’re taken bodily to heaven.

What is it that fascinates us so about not only the concept of the end of the world, but about these predictions? What keeps drawing people back, even when numerous expectations have been disappointed?

I guess the next big End of the World prediction is the one based on the ending cycle of the Mayan calendar in 2012. Anyone want to place a bet?

Whether Weather

May 18, 2011

A while back I read a squib that argued that your average modern American is less in touch with the weather than at any other time in human history.

The case was supported with various examples. Some were quite obvious: the wide availability of artificial heating and cooling; transportation via heated and cooled motor vehicles that seal us from our environment; enclosed shopping malls where a person can not only shop, but also see a movie and eat dinner, without ever stepping outside.

Other examples were more interesting because they were less apparent. Standard attire has changed toward lighter and more streamlined fashions, in part because of new fabrics, but in part – or so this author argued – because no one worries about being too hot or too cold. Equally, seasonal shifts reflect fashion trends rather than a real need to dress for the weather.

(Strangely, temperature control actually leads me to keep a long-sleeved shirt in my car during the summer, because so many businesses cool their interiors beyond my tolerance level. I never have this problem in the winter).

Another example given was enclosed sports stadiums: no more weather delays or discomfort for the fans in the stands. I’m sure there are many others.

Although my house has central heating and a form of artificial cooling (the evaporative or “swamp” cooler), I can’t say I’m out of touch with the weather. For one, I’m a gardener. No matter the time of year, the weather is a matter of acute interest. At this time of year, when I’m setting out young annuals and planting seeds, I’m concerned whether temperatures will be too high or too cool.

Peppers, for example, will sulk if nighttime temperatures are regularly below fifty degrees. Tomatoes set fruit in a relatively narrow temperature range. If it’s either too hot or too cool, no new tomatoes. Also, stressed plants are much more vulnerable to disease and ailments like blossom-end rot.

I also worry about the wind, a phenomenon that those of you who’ve been joining me on Wednesdays this past year or so must have already gathered can be incredibly violent here in New Mexico. Not only can the wind shred my plants and make it unpleasant to be outsides, but high winds also get in the way of my favorite form of exercise – pedaling my bike around the neighborhood.

And then there is rain… Or rather lack of rain. Not only have we had an unusually cool spring, we’ve had a very dry one. A few weeks ago, I mentioned we’d had .06 inches of rain in the last several months. Guess what? The situation hasn’t improved, although there’s hope for the end of this week.

Even in the winter, when most people think gardening is “over,” I watch the weather. Extreme cold can kill perennials. In this dry climate, it’s necessary to water bi-weekly or monthly.

At one point, a staple of futuristic Science Fiction was weather control. A sign of progress was that, if rain had to fall, it could be set to do so at night or during the weekday. No more ruined weekend picnics or frost-killed crops.

The weather-control motif seems to have fallen out of favor, perhaps because the nightly weather reports with their reports on the “Jet Stream” or “El Nino” or “La Nina”  (for those of you who know Spanish, I had tildes over the “n’s” there, but the program didn’t recognize them) currents have made us all more aware how weather events thousands of miles away affect our local weather conditions. Weather for a perfect picnic in Michigan might mean a drought in Oregon.

Are we less aware of the weather because of these technological improvements and information? Or, conversely, because of these things are we more aware of the weather? Is weather no longer something we accept, but something we have been conditioned to believe should be under our control?

Running On Three Legs

May 11, 2011

Many years ago, at a time when I desperately needed to believe in heroes, I

Nuada and His Book

wrote a book that was published in 1997 entitled When the Gods Are Silent.

Being me, however, I couldn’t write a straight heroic fantasy. For those of you who haven’t met her, here’s an introduction to the main character and a couple of her friends.

“Rabble rode up to her camp on a steel-dust grey stallion with scarred knees. Other scars, thin and puckered, threaded the horse’s rippling coat. Loping along at the horse’s left side came a mottled brown and tan cur, its ear shredded from fighting, the eyelid limp over its right eye.

“Rabble herself was clad in a leather jerkin and trousers, her copper sword sheathed at her back. A knife peeped from each boot-top and she held a bow lightly in one hand…

“Hulhc studied her… The first thing he noticed, other than the flame-red hair she wore in an elaborate braid down her back, were her enormous brown eyes, so dark as to be almost black and flecked incongruously with gold. Her features were sharp – almost angular – an impression intensified by her hairline’s widow’s peak. Her skin was fair, though weathered, with a dusting of freckles, like laughter, across her nose.” (When the Gods Are Silent, Chapter 2, pages 6-7).

The horse, by the way, is named Dog Meat. The dog is Scrapper.

Rabble’s third companion is a three-legged cat named Gimp: “…a very lean grey-striped tabby cat.” Gimp is also less than perfect: “Opening baleful yellow-green eyes, the cat blinked insults at Hulhc for disturbing its nap. Then it rose and stretched languorously. Slightly shocked, Hulhc realized that the cat lacked its right leg, clean to the shoulder.” (page 6)

Unlike Scrapper and Dog Meat, Gimp was very firmly based on someone I knew quite well – my cat, Nuada. The opportunity to adopt Nuada had been a birthday present. We’d gone to a pound in Westchester County in New York. There, among a nice assortment of kittens romping in a lovely, open cattery, I narrowed down my choices to two, both about eight weeks old.

One of these was mostly white with brown spots. He was lively and cute, everything a kitten should be. The other was a slim grey tabby with narrow dark tiger stripes against a pussy willow grey background.

There was one problem with the grey tabby. Something was wrong with the “wrist” joint of his right front leg. This didn’t slow him down much. He ran a bit awkwardly, dipping down onto the wrist rather than using the paw. He climbed just as well as any other kitten, using the damaged paw like a hook.

I debated back and forth. I knew where my heart was, but was I in any position to adopt a crippled cat? I was in graduate school with only a stipend for income. I lived in a relatively small apartment in the Bronx. As I weighed practical against emotion, the shelter employee who had been helping us was called away to an emergency.

During the interval, the grey tabby decided to make up my mind for me. While the other kitten was happy to play with his fellows, this one focused in on our little group. We were standing next to a tall, pillar-like cat tree and he climbed up, hand over hand, to get to eye level and join the conversation.

That did it. Practical or not, he was coming home with me. The shelter had him listed as “Tripod” or something else not very kind. I named him Nuada, after the mythic Celtic war leader who lost an arm in battle, then had it replaced with one all of silver. I debated about naming the kitten “Tir,” for the Norse deity who gave his hand so the Fenris Wolf could be bound, but since my other cat was named “Gwydion,” I decided to stick with British Isles myth and legend.

Nuada proved to be a remarkable cat. However, the problems I had anticipated did come up. The cattery had kept him moderately confined, but romping with Gwydion in my apartment put too much strain on the wrist joint. It swelled up, developing something like “water on the knee.”

I consulted my friend Kathy Curran, who was currently working as a vet tech. She consulted her boss, explaining my lack of anything vaguely resembling extra income. Dr. Raitri kindly agreed to see Nuada. His diagnosis was that it was best if the limb came off entirely because, although we could drain the liquid off, it would recur and eventually infection would set in.

So we agreed. Dr. Raiti did the surgery for a nominal fee. He even matched up the stripes. Nuada healed very well and spent the next twelve years active and lively.

He was a funny cat. He knew perfectly well what a mirror was but, nonetheless, he would snarl at his reflection. I think he thought he looked tough and cool. Three legs never stopped him from leaping and jumping. He also decided that doors were never to be closed if he wanted through them. No piteous meowing for him… If Nuada wanted a door opened, he’d stand on his back legs and hammer on the door with his front paw.

In the final year of his life, Nuada began to lose weight for no reason the vets could figure out. Jim and I decided he was simply wearing out a bit faster than normal. Jim is a restless sleeper and Nuada quickly realized that if he wanted a snack, Jim was the one to wake up. He’d go to Jim’s side of the bed, stand on his back legs, and use that powerful front paw to punch Jim awake.

Remember how Nuada was a birthday present? Well, despite getting weaker, he persisted until my next birthday came around. When I woke up early that morning and checked on him, he was pretty low. I sat with him for a while. The next time I checked, he was gone. Persistent as ever, my birthday kitten insisted on staying for one last birthday.

Nuada has been on my mind quite a lot lately. You see, I just acquired another three-legged cat. My eleven year-old cat Pryderi developed cancer in his left hip. His long-time vet said the only treatment was complete amputation of the leg.

We decided to give Pryderi the chance. He’s doing well, though he’s still got a ways to go. Lab tests show that they got the cancer. When I sit with Pryderi, stroking him and encouraging him through this period of recovery, I tell him stories about Nuada, who chased through life, running on three legs.

By Its Cover

May 4, 2011
Hard Cover and Mass Market

I’m always interested to see what the publisher will do when they transform one of my books from hard cover to mass market format.

May 2011 sees the release Five Odd Honors in mass market paperback. Let’s see what the folks at Tor decided to do…

The original cover was a matte full page illustration featuring (top to bottom) a silvery-grey carp, a yellow-gold monkey sitting in what looks like a chrysanthemum blossom and holding a sword, and a young man of vaguely Eastern European appearance wearing nothing but interesting green trousers and a lot of ropes.

My name is in black at the top, over the fish. The title is enclosed in a blue banner on the middle of the page, with the series title in black beneath the banner. All of this is over a misty, sage-green background.

As in the previous two covers for the series, Sam Weber’s art is excellent. I’ll admit the young man puzzles me a bit. I guess he’s Flying Claw, since that’s the only young man of the right age, but Flying Claw is ethnic Chinese from a version of China where Europe never existed.

Oh, well. Puzzlement about such choices on the part of writers is long-standing.

The re-design of the cover is interesting. All but one trailing fin of the fish is gone. The top of the jacket is now the same blue as the original banner, ending in an inverted curve that frames the remaining art. My name and the title are rendered in brilliant goldenrod. Below this is an ivory banner noting: “Bestselling Author of Through Wolf’s Eyes.”

With the reduction of space, the art emphasis is now on that sword-wielding monkey and the mystery man… Neither of whom, as far as I can recall, are in the book.

<grin>

Let’s turn the book over. Here, against a khaki background, a variation on the jacket copy is reproduced. Following this is a quote from Kirkus Reviews: “Lindskold’s overall vision is unique, and fans of urban fantasy with a magical focus will be satisfied. A fine continuation of a complex, one-of-a kind urban fantasy series.”

Nice… The repeated use of the term “urban fantasy” is a bit of a problem, of course. Until a few years ago, the term “urban fantasy” did indicate this type of book – non-Tolkienesque fantasy set in our modern world, often heavily informed with myth and folklore. Think of almost anything by Charles DeLint, of Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks, and my own Changer and Legends Walking. It’s a type of fantasy I like both to write and to read.

However, in the last three or four years the term “urban fantasy” has expanded and now tends to mean what I think of as “Buffy-Fic” – tough chicks with tattoos battling and romancing both supernatural critters and their own insecurities. That’s not what will be found between these covers…

Still, so far, so good. Attention was paid in this re-design. The cover wasn’t just shrunk down.

Time to turn to the inside front matter. Will the editor have taken the easy way out and re-used a couple of standard “praise for the author” quotes?

Here’s evidence of a lot of care. First comes a great quote from Don D’Ammassa’s Fantasy Reviews. It starts: “There’s something for almost everyone here: urban fantasy, ancient legends, flawed characters and outstanding ones, treachery, redemption, hope, despair.” It goes on for another couple of sentences and ends, “Try it. You’ll like it.”

This is followed by glowing bits taken from reviews in Publishers Weekly, Baryon (“A superb thriller”), Library Journal, SFRevu, and others.

The selection of review material ends with a long extract from BookPage that ends: “…Five Odd Honors offers readers a wide cast of characters and a multilayered drama rich in magic, treachery, raw courage, and true friendship.”

That’s lovely… Unlike a lot of authors, I don’t go hunting for reviews of my books. Even when I do get sent one (several librarian friends are kind that way, and my editor, Melissa Singer, has shared her collection), I don’t spend a lot of time with them, so many of these are fresh to me.

So this is the book that will go out to compete with the masses in increasing shrinking bookstore space. Will it stand out among the sepia print covers of girls in low-rider jeans with cryptic “tramp stamps”? Can you judge a book by its cover, especially when that cover features elements not included in the book?