Archive for December, 2014

FF: Older Space Opera, New YA Fantasy

December 5, 2014

Again, a really busy time, so I’ve been “reading” more via audio, but I can’t give up stories!

For those of you new to this…  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.

Kel and Ruby Stole My Book!

Kel and Ruby Stole My Book!

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

Recently Completed:

The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison. Audiobook.  The reader is excellent, capturing the main character’s twisted but essentially good-hearted personality well.

The Stainless Steel Rat’s Revenge by Harry Harrison.  Audiobook.  Also fun, but time for a break before I start finding the idea a life of crime appealing.

In Progress:

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater.  Third in the excellent “Raven Boys” series.  So far, living up to the previous two…

The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Audiobook.  My friend Rowan mentioned recently that our library had most of his series as audio.  I’d always meant to read more, so I’m giving this a try.

Also:

A variety of shorter Chinese material.  The trick is knowing when to stop!

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TT: Folkie into Glam — David Bowie

December 4, 2014

JANE:  We’ve been talking about the close connection between folk and rock.

It would probably shock those who are familiar with David Bowie as the wildly-costumed, makeup-wearing  glam rocker to realize that many of his earlier songs were solidly folk.

ALAN: I didn’t know that. Tell me more!

Changes...

Changes…

JANE: Once it’s pointed out, the relationship is obvious.  “Changes,” which appeared on the album Hunky Dory, sounds very much like something Bob Dylan might have written.  In case anyone might miss the influence, the “B” side of the album includes the ironical “Song for Bob Dylan” which begins with a salutation to “Robert Zimmerman” – which was Bob Dylan’s actual name.

ALAN:  I know the song “Changes” but I’ve never heard of the album. But from what you say, the influences are clearly there.

JANE: It’s a good album.  You might want to try it.

A good place to find Bowie the Folkie is the compilation album Starting Point.  It includes songs like the chart topping “The Laughing Gnome,” the creepy “Please Mister Grave Digger,” and the plaintive and eerie “We Are the Hungry Men” and “London Boys.”

Are you familiar with these?

ALAN: I certainly know “The Laughing Gnome.”  There was a time when it was never off the radio. But I haven’t heard of the others. In the extras on my DVD of the movie Labyrinth Bowie says, somewhat ironically, that he probably got the part of Jareth the Goblin King on the strength of “The Laughing Gnome.”

JANE: “The Laughing Gnome”’ is quite silly, perhaps showing the influence of the British music hall tradition more than folk.  It reached number three on the UK charts in 1973.  Bowie, however, tried to play the song down for many years.  If it got him the role of Jareth, well and good.  I love Labyrinth.  (But really, the two characters are nothing alike.)

As I mentioned, the songs on Starting Point show both the influence of folk and the British music hall tradition.  Bowie’s next piece to get widespread recognition, “Space Oddity,” begins with a very folkie strummed guitar.   Interestingly, despite the song’s folk roots, Major Tom would begin Bowie’s journey away from folk and into rock – though it would not be a clear break.  The album Space Oddity is very folk-influenced, and the album I mentioned above, Hunky Dory, post-dates this transition.

ALAN: I never liked “Space Oddity,” though I seem to be in a minority of one in that opinion. I find the lyrics almost embarrassingly naive. However, I absolutely love “Ashes to Ashes” in which we meet Major Tom again and find out a bit more about his motivation (…we know Major Tom’s a junkie…)

JANE: “Space Oddity” is not one of my favorites either, though I don’t dislike it.  “Ashes to Ashes” – or so I have read, although I can’t remember where – grew out of the urban legend that in the opening countdown, Bowie was not referencing a space ship launch but a junkie counting down until the drug hits.  (According to what I read, they do this.  I have no personal experience.)

However, Bowie is the ultimate trickster.  If he says something directly in a song, then I’m going to look at it sideways and wonder…

ALAN: Trickster is a very good word. I think it sums him up well – you never really know what he’s thinking. He looks at the world in an odd way. But whatever is on his mind will generally turn out to be clever, and often quite funny as well.

JANE: Agreed!  One of the things I love about Bowie’s work is the same transitions and changes that seem to (at least based on my reading) annoy both many of his fans and music critics alike, all of whom want him to stay in one place, one time.

This isn’t to say I like each stage equally, but I respect Bowie as an artist who will not let himself get stuck.

And, one element remains a constant…  Want to guess what?

ALAN: Bowie reinvented himself so many times that I’m not really sure what you mean by this. Surrealism, perhaps?

JANE: Close, but not quite…  The unifying element is science fiction…  Early on there was the futuristic dystopia of “London Boys” – a theme that would be picked up in the later Orwellian album Diamond Dogs and in many of the songs in his three Berlin albums.

The title of one of Bowie’s albums, The Man Who Sold the World, seems a clear allusion to Heinlein’s story, “The Man Who Sold the Moon.”  Bowie was considered to play the part of Valentine Michael Smith in Heinlein’s novel Stranger in a Strange Land, so I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume he was familiar with Heinlein’s work.

Major Tom from “Space Oddity” resurfaces in “Ashes to Ashes.”  Ziggy Stardust – the persona even non-Bowie fans have heard of – is a space alien and the albums from those years are full of SF references.

ALAN: Oh! Of course. Silly me. There’s a lovely scene in the movie of Ziggy Stardust’s last performance where Bowie is in the dressing room putting on his Ziggy persona, ready to go on stage. His (then) wife Angie is fussing around helping him. Eventually Bowie sends her away and turns back to his mirror. “What do women know about makeup?” he mutters to himself.

I love many of his songs, but it’s his personality that really appeals to me. All his interviews (except the early, incoherent ones where he’d ingested so many drugs that he wasn’t really there) show a delightful sense of humour and a charming ability to laugh at himself. The makeup comment is absolutely typical. I saw him in concert a decade or so ago and, while I enjoyed the songs a lot, I also found the informality and humour of his performance irresistible.

JANE: You’ve seen him in concert?  I envy you…  I was always either too poor or too far away, so I’ve missed that pleasure.  My sister, Susan, did give me her program from the “Glass Spiders” tour.  It’s one of my treasures.

ALAN: I don’t normally go to concerts because I hate crowds – I get claustrophobic and I have anxiety attacks. But hey! This was David Bowie. It was an open air show and, of course, it was pouring down with rain. The backing band was huddled under an awning, but Bowie was prancing about on a proscenium that stretched out into the crowd, and despite the weather, he was obviously enjoying himself hugely, laughing and joking between songs.

“Come on in,” he said to the band, “the water’s lovely!”

They shook their heads and stayed under their awning. At the end of one song, someone brought him a large towel. He stretched it out and pretended to strum it like a guitar. “Oh, look,” he said. “It’s an air towel.” Then he rubbed it over his soaking wet hair. “Now it’s a hair towel!” He laughed hugely.

It was a wonderful concert.

JANE: Sigh…

“Glass Spiders” starts like a story, “Up until one century ago…”  The concert (I do have the video) was full of SF images blended into surrealism.

Even later albums include SF material and themes.  Heathen – which is my favorite among Bowie’s later albums – contains “Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship.”  His most recent album (not counting re-releases), The Next Day, has the bouncy “Dancing Out in Space.”

It’s rather nice to think that if I ever met David Bowie, we could find a common ground in books…

ALAN: And of course he isn’t the only musician with an SF interest. Perhaps we can explore that next time?

Speak Now

December 3, 2014

NEWS FLASH: Wanderings on Writing is now available as both a paperback  (from Amazon Create Space) and e-book.   Now to our regularly schedule Wandering…

“Can I help you find something?”  That was my opening line as I took part in the Indies First promotion this past Saturday at Page One books.  Most of the time the response was something along the lines of “No, thanks.  I’m just browsing.”   I did have a few “hits,” though.

On lady said hesitantly, “I’m looking for Things Fall Apart by Ch…”  She stopped, obviously uncertain.  I finished for her, “Chinue Achebe.”  She brightened.  “That’s it!”  I snagged one of the regular booksellers, who knew where to find a book, and handed her off.

Missed and Opportunity

Missed and Opportunity

I had a few other good chats.  One young woman said she was “Just browsing,” but seemed to invite further conversation.  I said, “What do you usually read?”  She said, “I used to read a lot of things, but now I’m an engineering student and I don’t have much time.  I did just read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and now I’m reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.

Greatly cheered, I asked her if she knew that the translator of those books lived right here in Albuquerque.  When she said she didn’t, I went on, “I can give you a great piece of trivia I learned from him.  Do you know what the original title of that book was?”  She shook her head.  I grinned, “Men Who Hate Women.  For some reason, they didn’t think that would sell here.”  The young woman laughed, “Having just finished the book, I can understand that title, but I never would have read the book if it had been called that.”

We chatted a little more, then she drifted off to continue browsing.   I got a break from inflicting myself on perfect strangers when two people I’d met at my signing for Artemis Awakening came in.  We recognized each other, and fell to catching up.  Both are avid readers.  Later, one of the booksellers – Craig Chrissenger, who is also one of the con chairs for Bubonicon – joined us.  He convinced the couple that they needed copies of my Changer and Changer’s Daughter (aka Legends Walking).

While I was signing their books, the woman said, “I can’t believe you’re here, just talking to people.  I have an urge to jump up and down and say ‘This is Jane Lindskold!  Come and talk to her.’”  Later, as they were leaving, she actually snagged a woman I’d seen, but hadn’t spoken to because she seemed a little shy, and said, “This is Jane Lindskold!”  The woman smiled broadly, the shyness leaving her face.  “I know.  I have some of her books and we talked once.”  I grinned back.  “I though you looked familiar!”

On the way home, I found myself thinking about shyness and how being shy created a couple of missed opportunities for me.  I grew up reading Andre Norton’s novels.  However, the one time I could have spoken with her, I was too shy.  It was at a World Fantasy convention.  I’d sold some short stories and had a novel in the pipeline, but I wasn’t really used to the whole convention environment.

Andre Norton was sitting somewhere – it’s been a long time, but I have a vague impression she might have been waiting to go be on a panel or had just finished one.  Anyhow, Roger Zelazny, with whom I was hanging out, went over to speak with her.  In addition to being long-time writers, they had the connection of both being from Ohio.  I hung back, feeling as if I’d be intruding.  In the back of my thoughts, I also figured there would be another place, another time.  There wasn’t, though.

I did have later contact with Andre Norton, when I made a cold submission to one of her “Cat Fantastic” anthologies and sold her a story.  I still have the letter she sent, but I never did have the chance to tell her how much her works meant to me.

The second opportunity missed was also at a World Fantasy.  Diana Wynne Jones was attending.  I went to one of the panels she was on and so, when she came into a later panel, and sat down right in front of me, I was tempted to tap her on the shoulder and thank her for her wonderful books.  Cursed shyness reared its head again…  I didn’t, thinking “She’s ‘off-duty,’  just here to see this panel.  I shouldn’t bother her.”

Again, I never had another chance.  When Ms. Wynne Jones died a few years ago, my regret that there would be no more wonderful books from her was made stronger because I’d been handed an opportunity to tell her how much I loved her work and missed it.

I learned my lesson, though.  The last time I attended a World Fantasy, I noticed that several of the older “regulars” weren’t in attendance.  As the mass signing was winding down, I saw that Patricia McKillip, whose works I hugely admire, currently didn’t have a line.  Now, Ms. McKillip isn’t elderly or anything, but I wasn’t going to let chance pass by again.

Asking Jim to cover my spot and tell anyone who might happen by that I’d be back in a moment, I marched over to where Ms. McKillip sat.  I introduced myself, reminded her that we’d been on a panel back in 1995 (the fact that I remember the date shows what  big deal it was for me), then launched into a short speech about how much I admired her work.  I ended by saying, “I’ve always meant to tell you and now I have.”  She smiled with warmth and humor and replied, “And you’ve done a very good job, too.”

Sure, I felt a little silly, but I was glad I did it.  Now that I think about it, I’ve rarely regretted telling someone I admire what they do and sharing my enthusiasm.   I’ve even made a friend or two that way. What I’ve regretted is holding back.

And, you know, this doesn’t just go for authors or artists or the like.  As we wander into the darkness of winter, consider sharing the light of your joy with the people close to you.  You won’t regret it.