Archive for January, 2017

FF: Birds, Fonts, and Mass Murder

January 27, 2017

Shifting the balance for a bit over to more non-fiction than fiction, and feeling stimulated by the change.

For those of you just discovering this feature, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazine).

Never Turn Your Back

Never Turn Your Back

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

Welcome Chaos by Kate Wilhelm.  Part spy thriller, part philosophical meditation.

Extreme Birds by Dominic Couzens.   I really enjoyed these short essays.

Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield.  Fascinating mixture of history and art.  Well-written, with a cool use of fonts throughout.

In Progress:

Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson by Jeff Guin.  Audiobook.

And Carry a Big Stick by S.M. Stirling.  Manuscript of the first book in a new series.

Naruto.  Various revelations show that truth can be more complex than any web of lies.  Issues 62-65.

Also:

Parts of several books on illustration and other elements of book design.  Very colorful reading!

TT: Here They Come…

January 26, 2017

JANE: So, after discussing post-humanity, how about we take a look at a classic SF trope that bridges “out of this world” and, well, “into our world”?

ALAN: Hmm… Let’s see, would you perhaps be thinking about “Alien Invasions”?

JANE: That’s it! We discussed aliens for several weeks back in 2015, but while Alien Invasions involves some of the same material, it is also supremely different in that much of the focus is on the impact of such invasions on us, rather than the aliens themselves.

What d'ya mean, cooters?

What d’ya mean, cooters?

ALAN: You know, I think almost every time we’ve started talking about a science fiction trope, I’ve begun by pointing out that H. G. Wells wrote the first story about it in 18UmptyUmp. Not surprisingly, I’m going to do it again. He pretty much invented the whole alien invasion theme with his 1898 novel The War of the Worlds.

JANE: Wells’ imagination definitely had what today would be termed a “speculative fiction” bent.

ALAN: I think you could make a good case that SF writers have spent the last century or so exploring the concepts that Wells opened up for us. I have a collection of his complete short stories which I got as a school prize when I was fourteen. I have no idea how many times I’ve read it, but I’ve read it lots. I think the stories are just as fresh and alive today as they were when they were first published. Wells really was a genius.

JANE:  And not afraid to go where no man had gone before…

One thing that interests me about the Alien Invasions trope is how, perhaps more than most of the SF tropes we’ve discussed, it is influenced by the cultural currents of the time that it was being written.

ALAN: Indeed so. Invasion scares have always been close to the surface of real life. In the UK we’ve suffered through some very real invasions by Romans, Vikings and Normans and we’ve had several hundred years of paranoid panic about waves of Spanish, Dutch, French and German invaders coming after us. So, of course, it’s very easy to think of science fiction aliens as allegories for whoever the enemy of the day might be.

JANE: Absolutely!  Although the U.S. hasn’t suffered the same waves of invasions, I think the colonial heritage in which “we” are both the invaders and – once the desire to overthrow the colonial powers arose – the invaded has left its mark.

So was Wells reacting only to England’s long history of invasions, or was there something more?

ALAN: Wells’ original novel, and many that came after it, assume that the superior technology of the aliens will always give them the edge over us.  I think that perhaps this could be taken as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution and the massive changes on all levels of society created by it. Centuries of relative stability gave way to an era of rapid change and innovation – we’re still living with this every day and it’s quite natural for us to assume technological superiority will always win the day.

JANE: I agree wholeheartedly.  I think it’s important to remember that in The War of the Worlds humans survive by accident, not design.  I won’t say more in case some of our younger readers aren’t familiar with this classic.

I will mention that Howard Waldrop wrote a brilliant story, “Night of the Cooters,” that provides a view of what happened in Texas when the Wells’ aliens invaded.

Also, while not precisely a “sequel” to The War of the Worlds, John Christopher’s “The Tripods” series (first book The White Mountains) is a dystopian tale which reads much as if Wells’ alien invasion was not stopped, and what happened thereafter.

ALAN: An important question that I think we need to ask ourselves is just why have the aliens invaded in the first place? Wells’ Martians wanted to live here because their own planet was becoming uninhabitable. From their point of view, humanity is just getting in their way and stopping them from enjoying some prime real estate. This idea has been explored in more depth by other writers.

William Tenn is remembered as a superb short story writer. He only wrote one novel, Of Men and Monsters (1968), but it’s a brilliant one. Giant, technologically superior aliens have conquered the Earth. The few people who remain live like vermin in holes they have excavated in the insulation material that lines the walls of the monsters’ homes. In order to keep themselves alive, the people sneak out to steal food and other items from the aliens.

 A complex social, political and religious order has evolved within the walls. Women preserve knowledge and work as healers. Men are the warriors and thieves. As far as the aliens are concerned, human beings are just a nuisance, neither civilized nor intelligent. They are generally regarded as vermin to be exterminated, in much the same way as we regard cockroaches.

JANE: Or mice…  I think the title is alluding to Of Mice and Men.

ALAN: I think you may well be right – though I must admit I hadn’t spotted that reference until you pointed it out.

Robert Silverberg took a similar idea even further in his 1998 novel The Alien Years. The novel tells the story of an alien invasion over a period of about fifty years.

The aliens themselves remain quite enigmatic – nobody really knows why they have invaded. They largely ignore the people who are living here. They just want to be left alone to do whatever it is they are doing, though they do make use of humans as slave labour in their mysterious projects.

Any attempt to kill these inscrutable invaders results in extremely harsh reprisals. After one such attempt, the aliens introduced a virus that killed more than half of earth’s population!

Despite this, some people have collaborated with the invaders. Not unnaturally, these quislings are hated and despised by the rest of humanity…

JANE: Ah!  Shades of nations invaded by the Nazis during World War II.  Even your use of the word “quisling” comes from that time, via Norway.  As I mentioned earlier, Alien Invasion is a trope that strongly lends itself to examination of human nature.

ALAN: True – though the Nazis were much less enigmatic than Silverberg’s aliens. However the parallels do tell us a lot about how people might well react under these circumstances.

JANE: I think we both have more to say about this particular trope – including how it expanded in response to different historical events.   How about next time?

Jim’s Influence

January 25, 2017

Today, January 25th, is Jim and my twentieth wedding anniversary.

Jim and I have known each other since sometime probably in early autumn of 1994, having met a few months after I moved to New Mexico to live with Roger Zelazny.    After Roger and I settled in, I told him that the only part of my past life I really missed was gaming.

Solid Support

Solid Support

Roger said, “I think George has a group.  I’ll see if he knows of anyone who is looking for players.”  Apparently, George spoke with his group because, when I attended my first Bubonicon, Melinda Snodgrass came flowing up (she was all dressed up, having come directly from having lunch out with her then-in-laws) and said, “I’m Melinda.  George says you’re looking for a gaming group.  Would you like to join ours?”

The group Roger and I joined was mostly writers – George R.R. Martin, Melinda Snodgrass, and Walter Jon Williams were all in that initial game.  But there were non-writers as well: Chip Wideman, Carl Keim, and…  Jim Moore.

Except that for a long time, to me, Jim was just “Jim.”  I don’t think I learned his surname until a year later.  He was just the good-looking archeologist with the quirky sense of humor who held his own very well with the quick-witted and verbally agile writers.  I gathered that, like most of the others, he was in his forties.  (Carl Keim and I, both in our early thirties, were the babies of the group.)

If you want to see what Jim looked like then, there’s a snapshot on my website under “About.”  It was taken by my dad, a year or so into our marriage, during a summer when the cosmos we’d planted did the best they ever have…

As a writer, I’m very lucky to have Jim as a partner.  Many writers’ families – even their immediate families—are not interested at all in what they do.  Many are not even interested in SF and F.  If they attend conventions or book events, they’re often out of their depth or just along for the free vacation.

Jim, however, was a long-time SF/F reader even before I met him.  He’d attended conventions and, since so many of his friends were professional writers, he already knew a great deal about what a writer did and does.  In the twenty years we’ve been married, he’s built on that foundation, so that he has knowledge as extensive as any member of the profession.

Unlike many author spouses – even those who are interested in SF/F – at book events Jim’s always available to help out.  At a book fair, he’ll stand for hours at my side, flapping books (that is, opening them to the correct page to be signed).  He listens with endless patience to me giving variations of the same reading or talk, then dissects the event with me after.

While I’m signing or chatting with readers, Jim stays near enough to help, but also chats with people.  We’ve noticed that people too shy to “take up Jane’s time” will often bring their questions to Jim.  Since he’s always up-to-date on what I’m doing, he’s good person to talk to… And he’s interesting in his own right, being as passionate about archeology as I am about writing.

People often ask me – especially since archeology crops up from time to time in my writing – whether the fact that Jim is an archeologist is an influence on my choice of topic.  The answer is “no” and “yes.”  I was interested in archeology long before I met Jim.  I wrote the first version of The Buried Pyramid before we got together.  However, Jim has definitely contributed his knowledge to subsequent works.

My short story “Out of Hot Water” (from the anthology Earth, Air, Fire, Water edited by Margaret Weis) had its genesis in a visits to Ojo Caliente, where Jim was directing a dig.  When I was writing “Like the Rain,” for the anthology Golden Reflections (edited by Joan Spicci Saberhagen and Robert E. Vardeman), Jim’s extensive research library came to my assistance numerous times.  And he agreed to be a character in my short story “Jeff’s Best Joke” (originally in Past Imperfect, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Larry Segriff; reprinted in my collection Curiosities).   There are other examples, less direct, but in definitely places where Jim’s input mattered.

Jim has a role even in those stories that aren’t obviously archeological.  He helped me narrow options when I was asked to come up with a series concept, and therefore is definitely the godfather of Firekeeper and all her friends.  He is extremely patient with my tendency to become obsessive about whatever it is I’m researching at a given time.  Even better, he’ll get involved with my research, going on trips, taking photos, suggesting possible areas I might want to further delve into.

When a work is done, Jim will put aside whatever he’s reading, pull out his pencil, and go through the manuscript.  He’s learned I really mean it when I say I don’t want praise, I want an honest opinion.  In turn, I promise that even if I don’t agree with a given comment, I’ll make a note of what he has said.  If someone else says the same thing, I’ll admit that obviously I’m not communicating what I thought I was communicating and that revision is necessary.

Jim even has the tenacity to take the occasional photo of camera-shy me, which is far more of an ordeal than you may realize, especially if the photo isn’t a candid one.  And, for many years now, he’s made time to take photos for the Wednesday Wanderings, Thursday Tangents, and Friday Fragments.

So, Jim’s definitely an influence on many levels, almost certainly in ways of which I am unaware, because sometimes the author is the last to figure these things out.  Best of all, twenty years in, I can definitely say I’m hoping for at least twenty more.  That’s got to be good, right?

FF: Omens and Chaos

January 20, 2017

Lots and lots of research reading is not reflected in this Fragment.  Let’s leave it said that right now I’m a major contributor to increasing my library’s circulation figures.

Silver Welcomes Chaos

Silver Welcomes Chaos

For those of you just discovering this feature, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazine).

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.  Audiobook.  Enjoyed.

In Progress:

Welcome Chaos by Kate Wilhelm.  This was recommended to me back when Alan and I were Tangenting about books wherein Immortality is the governing trope.  Interesting.

Extreme Birds by Dominic Couzens.   This last week, the defense mechanisms of the newly hatched hoopoe won.  They will definitely find their way into a story, somehow!

Naruto.  Keeps getting darker as old lies and older rivalries surface.  Issues 57-61.

Also:

Guns edited by Gerald Hausman.  Anthology that contains my short story “Choice of Weapons.”  Still browsing through various pieces.

TT: Downside and Downright Funny

January 19, 2017

JANE: Last week, when you mentioned the “downside” of psionic powers, I immediately thought of the use of a telepathic link between dragons and humans in Anne McCaffery’s Pern novels.  On one level, it’s both dramatic and mysterious.  However, the sexual component verges on the creepy, since the dragons’ sex drive dominates any choice on the part of the human partners.psionic

This didn’t really come home to me in the first couple of novels, but when in the Menolly books her fire-lizards go into heat and she ends up having sex with the man who is bonded to the queen fire-lizard…  Well, for her sake, it was a good thing she already liked this guy a lot.  Even so, the situation gets a bit “rapey” for me.

ALAN: I gave up on the Pern stories before I got to the ones you mention here. Perhaps it’s just as well…

Clearly having psionic powers is a bit of a mixed blessing and can sometimes be actively dangerous. Zenna Henderson made very good use of this idea in her stories of “The People” who are humanoid beings from another planet. They were forced to leave their home world when it was destroyed in a natural disaster, and many of them ended up living on Earth, mainly in the American Southwest.

They have many psionic abilities (“Gifts”) including telepathy, telekinesis, prophecy, and healing. Nevertheless, they do not find life easy – the stories concentrate very much on the fact that The People are very different from the people among whom they live. The phrase “Different is dead” is used.

JANE: That’s super creepy…

ALAN: Of course, nothing is so serious that you can’t laugh at it. Henry Kuttner’s “Hogben” stories have been mentioned several times in the comments on our earlier tangents. We discussed them briefly in 2013.

But there are some stories that I absolutely love which you may not be familiar with because they were only published in England in two collections – Temps and EuroTemps

JANE: I did miss those.  Could you tell me more?

ALAN: They were part of a project by a British writer’s collective known as Midnight Rose. The core members were Neil Gaiman, Mary Gentle, Roz Kaveney, and Alex Stewart, but others came and went as well.

The Temps books assume that the United Kingdom and the European Union require all people who have psionic powers to register themselves with the government and place themselves permanently on call to solve crises as and when they occur. In return for their service they are paid a derisorily small stipend.

This being Europe, of course, the utterly inept governmental bureaucracy flounders from crisis to crisis, as do the psionically talented themselves, many of whom have powers that, at first glance, might seem to be less than useful…

JANE: All right, you have me hooked.  Tell me more!

ALAN: To give you the flavour of it, one story concerns a man whose talent can only be used in pubs. All he is able to do is telekinetically transport beer from other people’s glasses into his own. It makes for a cheap evening’s drinking, but that’s about as far as it goes. However, his bosses feel that he is the ideal person to visit a research establishment and investigate rumours of an Entorpy Ray… His boss’s secretary can’t spell Entropy and has accidentally added the misspelling “Entorpy” to her spelling checker’s dictionary. Now she is convinced that “Entorpy” is the proper way to spell the word because “…the computer says it is!” Nobody can convince her otherwise.

Strangely, the hero’s telekinetic ability does indeed prove useful in tracking down the Entorpy Ray. In a manner of speaking.

JANE: The group and even the theme sounds somewhat like a terribly British version of George R. R. Martin’s Wild Cards anthologies, although a lot less grim.

ALAN: That’s a good way of putting it – I think that’s exactly what these books are. You can find secondhand copies of the collections quite easily on sites such as Abe Books. They are well worth tracking down. Trust me, you won’t regret it!

JANE: Although overall the Wild Cards stories aren’t very funny, the stories that Roger Zelazny contributed do have their lighter moments. Roger often introduced humorous asides into even his darkest pieces and his Wild Card stories about Croyd Crenson, known as The Sleeper, demonstrate this aspect of his writing very well.

Croyd doesn’t sleep very often, but when he does he sleeps for weeks or sometimes months at a time. When he wakes up he has undergone a complete physical transformation and has a brand new set of superpowers which he has to identify through a process of elimination.

In “Ashes to Ashes”, he wakes up and tries to levitate, to become invisible, to melt a waste-paper basket with the power of thought and to make sparks arc between his fingertips. Disappointingly, none of these work. It finally turns out that this time round Croyd has the power to make people do anything he tells them to do, without question. This sometimes gets him into trouble when his orders are taken too literally:

“Just what the hell is going on here?”
Croyd turned and beheld a uniformed officer who had just crossed to their island.
“Go fuck yourself!” he snarled.

Anyone who wants to know what happens next really ought to read the story…

ALAN: It’s been years since I read the Wild Card books and most of the stories have faded from my memory. But Roger’s stories about Croyd Crenson have stuck with me.

According to a Wiki maintained by fans of the books, Roger only wrote four Crenson stories, but the Wiki mentions that he had plans for at least two more.

JANE: “Plans” probably is stretching it.  It would be more accurate to say he had ideas for at least a couple others, but time and inclination didn’t make it possible for him to coordinate with the Wild Cards consortium.  Those anthologies – and especially the “mosaic novels” – are more tightly choreographed than most ballets.

As our readers’ comments make clear, although we’ve been chatting about “post humanity” for weeks now, we’ve barely scratched the surface.  Nonetheless, I have a desire to move on to another SF trope…  But unless you’re clairvoyant, you’re going to have to wait until next week to find out which one!

Inner Space

January 18, 2017

Last week, after I explained why there will be a change in the nature of the Wednesday Wanderings, one of the “ghosts” expressed puzzlement as to why writing a relatively short essay each week should be an issue for a professional writer.

Food For Thought

Food For Thought

Here’s what I explained to her.  The biggest difficulty is the “brain space” that gets occupied coming up with topics for the posts.  As soon as I finish one, a corner of my mind is taken up with searching for the next topic.  Seven years ago, this was relatively easy, because there was a whole sheaf of things about me, my writing, my habits (which often spill back into writing) that were unknowns.  These days, someone could probably construct a moderately interesting biography of me from the over 360 Wednesday Wanderings posts alone – not to mention what’s in the Thursday Tangents and Friday Fragments.

Consequently, ninety percent of the topics I come up with are dismissed as “that’s too close to what I did back a few months ago…” and so get discarded.

But this time I’ll allow myself a repeat.  Most writers learn that they have only so much “writing” in them on a given day.  That amount can be built up over time, with practice, but whatever that amount may be is finite.  When the well is dry, the well is dry.

Over time, I’ve come to feel that what the well holds is not so much word count as inspiration.  If I exhaust my inspiration coming up with blogs, then it’s not there for writing fiction or even for proofing and editing fiction.   And unlike some of the other things I spend time on – reading, craftwork, gardening, even working on the role-playing game I run – writing blogs dries out the well and doesn’t do anything to fill it again.

That’s why possible topics from you are welcome.   If you’re shy (like last week’s ghost) or feel what you’re interested in asking is too long for a Comment, you can e-mail me at jane2@janelindskold.com.

A secondary consideration in why I’m backing off a bit on the Wanderings is that I have always tried to provide a quality discussion of whatever my topic is.  Maybe it’s the latent English professor in me but, whatever the cause, that’s how I am.

I realize my approach may not be in keeping of the nature of the “blog,” as opposed to older forms of communication media.  The other day on a prominent SF/F website (which I shall forebear to name), there was a featured post by a novelist regarding her work and research habits.  It was so filled with cutesy slang and so lacking in any real substance that I had to force myself to finish it.

(I forced myself to finish because I couldn’t believe a prominent site would publish such a vacuous piece, so surely this must develop into something.  It didn’t.)

When I finished reading the blog in question, I felt as if I’d eaten a stack of puffed rice cakes.  I was “full,” but I didn’t feel at all satisfied.  And then I started feeling annoyed that puffed rice had been offered as if it was good quality food.

This week’s photo is of Guns, the anthology edited by Gerald Hausman, to which I contributed the short story “Choice of Weapons.”  In the course of coming up with that story, I had some interesting ideas for another one…  Reading the stories and poems in the anthology has given me more food for thought.

So, what fills your creative well?  What drains it?

FF: Back!

January 13, 2017

With the holidays over and Jim in the field, I have more time to read.

For those of you just discovering this feature, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazine).

Look!  Walter's New Book!

Look! Walter’s New Book!

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

Kim by Rudyard Kipling.  Re-re-re-listen, in part because I had the tape in the house and in part because I love it.

Impersonations by Walter Jon Williams.  A short novel in his Praxis sequence.  Deals with Sula on Earth, meetings with lost “relatives,” intrigue, and assassination attempts.

In Progress:

Extreme Birds by Dominic Couzens.   Great photos and short descriptions, focusing on oddities.  Still very interesting.  I need to restrain myself and only read a half-dozen or so entries a day so I absorb the material.

Naruto.  Keeps getting darker as old lies and older rivalries surface.  Issues 56-57.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.  Audiobook.  I found this on CD at the library, because I’m still having trouble with MP3 downloads.  I haven’t read in a long time, maybe since it was released and Roger gave me a copy.

Also:

Guns edited by Gerald Hausman.  Anthology that contains my short story “Choice of Weapons.”

TT: Now You See Me, Now You Don’t!

January 12, 2017

JANE: Last time you promised to tell me about a story in which teleportation was  used as a last-ditch mechanism to escape from great peril.  I’ve been speculating all week and I think I’ve guessed what it is.

ALAN: Yes, I’m sure you have, for the story I have in mind is a very famous one. The idea was used by Alfred Bester in his 1956 novel Tiger! Tiger! (aka The Stars My Destination).

Let's Go for a Jaunte

Let’s Go for a Jaunt

JANE: That’s the one I was thinking about!  However, it’s an older work, so many of our readers may have missed it.  Why don’t you explain the role of teleportation in the story?

ALAN: The novel is a science fictional re-telling of The Count of Monte Cristo which takes place in a society where everyone has the ability to teleport – Bester calls it “jaunting”. In a prologue, Bester tells us how the ability to jaunt was first discovered. A researcher called Charles Fort Jaunte accidentally sets himself on fire. He yells for a fire extinguisher and suddenly finds himself standing by the extinguisher even though it was more than seventy feet away from his bench. His fellow scientists, intrigued by this incident, put him in perilous situations in order to investigate the effect.

They seal Jaunte into an unbreakable tank. They open a valve that feeds water into the tank and then smash the valve so that the flow of water can’t be stopped. As he is about to drown, Jaunte suddenly appears outside the tank. After many further experiments on volunteers, most of whom die, the ability to jaunte is finally fully understood and society adopts the practice whole-heartedly.

JANE: I’d forgotten the prologue.  What I remember is the gripping way Bester uses jaunting in his novel.  It’s what elevates The Stars My Destination above a mere “retelling” of The Count of Monte Cristo into a powerful novel in its own right.

There’s no “burning man” in Dumas’ tale – nor the powerful implications behind his appearance.  I’ll stop there, lest I provide a spoiler.  But now there are two Bester novels these discussions have made me want to re-read.

ALAN: He has a lot of short stories which are well worth searching out as well. I think you have quite a lot of reading in your future…

JANE: It’s worth noting that, by giving his researcher the name Charles Fort Jaunte, Bester was deliberately recalling another researcher who – like Rhine, who we mentioned a couple of weeks ago – set out to collect information about phenomenon outside of areas admitted to by the scientific establishment.

Did you know that Charles Fort is generally credited with inventing the term “teleportation”?

ALAN: No – I didn’t know that.

JANE: So in his naming of his researcher, Bester was showing his own knowledge of teleportation lore.

Talking about Bester reminded me of one of the explanations for psionic abilities that I don’t think we’ve touched on yet.  I’m not sure where I first encountered it, but it’s basically that psionic abilities evolved in humans as a survival mechanism for a creature that was very poorly equipped to survive in a world where just about everyone else had fur, fangs, claws, and the like.

The theory is that abilities like telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, and all the rest would have helped humans to survive but, once humans became tool users, these abilities were both less necessary and – in some cases – actually a problem.  Telepathy is great if it lets scattered hunter-gatherers communicate over long distances, but it’s a problem in a settled community.

In this view, then, psionics abilities are there, lurking in our DNA, waiting – as in the case of Charles Fort Jaunte – for extreme danger or a similar stimulus to activate them.  I find this a very appealing theory, more so than the idea of posthuman psionics suddenly evolving, which is highly unlikely without either a major genetic mutation or scientific tinkering.

ALAN: And even if that idea doesn’t work out in real life, it still makes an intriguing and powerful literary device.

But the appeal of having psionic powers also has its downside as Robert Silverberg makes abundantly clear in his superb novel Dying Inside (1972). David Selig has been a telepath all his life but now, in middle age, his powers are starting to fade away and he has to come to grips with this and try to live his life just like other people. But how do people do that? Selig has a real struggle to maintain his grip on reality as he loses the ability on which he has always been completely dependent for everything.

You can argue that the novel is an allegory – after all, we are all dying inside as our own very human abilities fade with age. But Silverberg does it so skillfully that the whole of the book is much greater than the sum of its parts. The poignancy of loss contrasts beautifully with episodes from early in Selig’s life when he was at the height of his powers. It’s a brilliant answer to the question of what it means to be human. The novel is Silverberg’s masterpiece.

JANE: It sounds pretty grim…

ALAN: Oh it has its lighter-hearted moments as well. At one point in his life David Selig makes a living writing reports and essays for college students to present to their professors. He guarantees the grade the reports will earn by lifting ideas from the minds of other students whose essays have already been written and graded. The higher the grade you want, the more expensive the paper…

JANE: Oh!  That’s cute.  As a former college prof, I firmly disapprove of course, but I love it!

ALAN: Stories such as the ones we’ve been discussing suggest to me that psionics really is a perfect literary tool for examining the human condition – though the literary mainstream continues to ignore it, which I think is a pity, and their loss.

JANE: I’m not sure we’re done with it – or with SF tropes either.  But, for now, I need to go contemplate all the things I left until “after the holidays.”  It’s a pretty scary pile.  I wonder if I can teleport away from it?

Seventh Anniversary!

January 11, 2017

I had to count on my fingers – twice – and then ask Jim to confirm before I could believe that the Wednesday Wanderings are approaching their seventh anniversary.

My first post, on January 13, 2010, was very short and intended more as a placeholder than actual  post.  Nonetheless, it received several Comments, showing me that there were interested readers “out there.”  It read as follows:

Fortuitous Offspring

Fortuitous Offspring

Starting on January 20th, I’ll be making weekly posts to this site.

They’ll be about whatever has caught my fancy, especially the odd stuff I see as I go about my day.

Maybe they’ll provide some insight into how one writer thinks.  Hopefully, they’ll be amusing.

Join me on January 20, 2010, and we’ll all find out.

Seven years later, I haven’t missed a single week.  Moreover, I’ve added the Thursday Tangents with Alan Robson, as well as the Friday Fragments.  Lately, I realized that the Wednesday Wanderings has become more ambitious than I initially intended.  The Wanderings have generated enough essays on writing to spawn a book – Wanderings on Writing.  They’ve hosted interviews with writers as varied as Darynda Jones and Jack McDevitt.  And – honestly – they take a lot of my time and attention.

There’s a lot I want to accomplish in 2017.  I plan to make an additional two or more of my Avon backlist titles available as e-books.  I’d like to write more short stories.  Over the holidays, I had an idea for a novel that I’m considering writing, then releasing as a serial.  I’ve learned that if I don’t read or make time for art/crafts, my writing suffers, so it will be out with the beads, clay, and maybe a try at decoupage…

Therefore, 2017 will see a change to the Wednesday Wanderings.  I’ll still check in each Wednesday.  Sometimes there will be longer pieces or interviews.  (I’m already in contact with Walter Jon Williams about doing one on his two new series.)  However, other times, I may just say “hi” and offer a short snippet about what I’ve done the past week.

Pictures may also drop off or at least reduce in quality.  Jim has been my faithful photographer since we started including pictures, but right now he’s directing a field project in Santa Fe.  While he still comes home at night, we’re more pressed for time.  Although you may not believe it, getting those three  original photos takes time and imagination.

For the foreseeable future, Alan and I will continue to write the Thursday Tangents, because we keep finding things we want to talk about both with each other and with you folks.  And the Friday Fragments  will also continue, because I hope to be reading more, not less.

I welcome – even encourage – questions or suggestions of subject matter that you’d like to hear me natter on about.  In seven years, I’ve covered most of the general topics readers ask writers about and I could use tinder for my fire.   I can’t promise to answer all questions, because I don’t always have answers, but I always write better when I know that at least one person would like to hear what I have to say.

Here’s hoping you’ll continue to join me on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.  Here’s where there will be the first announcement of any public appearances.  (I’m reading at ASFS again in February, and I’m Guest of Honor at MiHiCon in October.)  Here’s where you’re most likely to hear about new releases, forthcoming works, and the like.

Now, I’m off to write an afterword for the forthcoming e-book release of Smoke and Mirrors.  Composing that has really had me reflecting on all that’s changed in the past 20-some years…  But for now, to write!

FF: Coming Together Slowly

January 6, 2017

Returning to routine has given me a little more reading time.

Kwahe'e Dreams of Birds

Kwahe’e Dreams of Birds

For those of you just discovering this feature, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazine).

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

The Commodore by Patrick O’Brian.  (Audiobook.)  I’ll be moving on to The Yellow Admiral as soon as I work out a downloading glitch with the library.

In Progress:

Extreme Birds by Dominic Couzens.   Great photos and short descriptions, focusing on oddities.  I had no idea there were birds with poisonous feathers, for example.

Continuing Naruto re-read and am up to issue 55.  Half-truths have been filled out in a lot of the recent volumes, creating a much more complex social and political picture.

Also:

Catching up on magazines.  Just finished Smithsonian’s December issue.