Archive for June, 2017

FF: Hot Weather Reads

June 23, 2017

This week has been so unbearably hot that lows of over thirty degrees still leave nighttime temperatures above 70.  I feel like an old-fashioned computer, my processing ability slowed by heat.

Cool Cat Ogapoge

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 magazines.

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 Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore.  A gloriously footnoted look at the people and events who shaped the development the iconic comic book character

Black Coffee by Agatha Christie, audiobook.  This audio is an adaptation by Charles Osborne of her first stage play.  Mr. Osbourne is so faithful to the text that one can almost hear the stage directions in his descriptions.

In Progress:

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie.  Audiobook.  Introducing Hercule Poroit and Captain Hastings.

The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge.  No.  The conspiracy isn’t lost, the Lost are conspiring.

Also:

I’m setting up a new adventure for my RPG so have been immersed in all sorts of resources on everything from fiber arts to desert denizens: real, exaggerated, and imaginary.

TT: The Debate Heats Up!

June 22, 2017

JANE: So, here we go, tangenting off our Tangent, which was discussing whether or not Robert Heinlein put himself into his books.

Had Spacesuit, Did Travel?

Before we get back to that (because you still haven’t convinced me), I promised you a story about how careful writers – and those of SF and Fantasy in particular – need to be.  Why?  Because we have some of the brightest, most inquisitive readers there are.

ALAN: Indeed we do. Did one of them happen to catch you out in some way?

JANE:  “Catch out” may be too strong a term.  Here’s what happened.

When I wrote The Buried Pyramid, I carefully wrote out the bits in hieroglyphs.  I missed an error –the equivalent of a typo – though…  And, yep, a fan wrote to tell me about it.  Happily, she was a great person and, because of my error, I made friend who now sends me beautiful, handmade cards, but I blushed about that error for weeks.

ALAN: Good for you for admitting the mistake. I don’t think Heinlein would have been able to do that. The Heinlein Individual always knows how and why things work, without the possibility of error. Here Heinlein’s own personality comes out very clearly in the stories. In his autobiography I. Asimov the eponymous Isaac records:

“Heinlein was not the easygoing fellow that other science fiction personalities I knew and loved were. He did not believe in doing his own thing and letting you do your thing. He had a definite feeling that he knew better and to lecture you into agreeing with him. Campbell did this too, but Campbell always remained serenely indifferent if you ended up disagreeing with him, whereas Heinlein would, under those circumstances, grow hostile.”

The parallels with the Heinlein Individual are marked. Both Colonel Dubois in Starship Troopers and Jubal Harshaw in Stranger in a Strange Land (for example) exhibit this trait. They lecture at the drop of a hat (to be fair, it is Colonel Dubois’ job to lecture since he is supposed to be a teacher) and they do not allow disagreement. They are always right by fiat.

JANE: I have been on panels with numerous people who will lecture at the drop of a hat.  And, let me assure you, so many of them are convinced they are absolutely right.  Does that make them Heinlein?

ALAN: It depends on whether or not they are willing to listen to opposing points of view. I lecture at the drop of a hat as well (too many years as a teacher!) but I would never claim that I am always right. I have often been questioned and corrected by my students, and I just take it in my stride. Being a teacher is a wonderful opportunity for learning.

JANE: Indeed it is.  However, we only have Asimov’s word here for how Heinlein reacted and, from what I’ve read, Asimov wasn’t exactly the least opinionated writer out there.  Do we have an unbiased comment, or a clash of strong personalities who had to share the same stage?

ALAN: Oh it’s not just Asimov’s opinion. Heinlein had a very public and very hostile disagreement with Arthur C. Clarke when Clarke criticised some aspects of Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative. Heinlein was strongly in favour of it and refused to allow any dissent at all.

Interestingly, Heinlein’s insistence that his opinions were the only correct ones does not mean that he never changed his mind about how and why the world worked. Asimov also records, somewhat cattily, that:

“Furthermore, although a flaming liberal during the war, Heinlein became a rock-ribbed far-right conservative immediately afterward. This happened at just the time he changed wives from a liberal woman, Leslyn, to a rock-ribbed far-right conservative woman, Virginia.”

I often wonder how such people reconcile their later beliefs with their earlier ones. Both sets of beliefs cannot possibly be correct because they are mutually contradictory and yet they must both be correct because the person holding them is never wrong…

JANE: Uh…  This example just violated your basic premise.  If Heinlein really was supremely confident, if he needed to always be right, there is no way a mere wife could change his mind.  In fact, given how little respect the opinions of women are given in many Heinlein novels, I’d argue that if Heinlein really was the Heinlein Individual, then a wife never could change his mind.

ALAN: Asimov found it puzzling as well:

“…I cannot believe he would follow his wives’ opinions blindly. I used to brood about it in puzzlement (of course, I never would have dreamed of asking Heinlein—I’m sure he would have refused to answer, and would have done so with the utmost hostility)…”

Asimov’s observation about Heinlein’s changing opinions does go a long way towards explaining why the Heinlein Individual in some novels views the rules of the world in a different way to the Heinlein Individual in other novels. Heinlein’s own ideas had changed in the meantime.

JANE: True.  So, is there any better proof that Heinlein “was” his characters than these thin psychological arguments?  Please don’t say that he used his stories to put forward his ideas and beliefs because, to a certain extent, whether deliberately or not, every writer does this.

Here’s an example from my own stuff.

After reading Child of a Rainless Year, my good friend Yvonne called to tell me how much she’d enjoyed it.  But (chuckling even as she spoke) she said, “The ending was so Jane.  You do all these things to the humans involved, but you make sure the reader knows the horse was okay and had a good home.”

ALAN: I can answer this to a certain extent – when Heinlein was at the Annapolis Naval Academy, his sport of choice was fencing and by all accounts he was very good at it. The hero of Glory Road is a fencer and the novel contains much fencing lore.

JANE: Roger Zelazny was a fencer in college, and was very proud of the fact that he’d been on the college team.  Based on that evidence, one could as easily say that Heinlein modeled the character in Glory Road on Roger Zelazny – or any of an infinity of people who have fenced.

ALAN:  Indeed so – I agree that it’s a very weak argument. But it’s about as far as I can go without introducing the kind of speculations that you’ve ruled out of bounds. Certainly there’s nothing quite like that about Colonel Dubois and Jubal Harshaw, the two characters who are most generally assumed to be representations of Heinlein the man.

But let me leave you with this little speculation. In Stranger in a Strange Land, Jubal Harshaw is described as:  “Jubal E. Harshaw, LL.B, M.D., Sc.D., bon vivant, gourmet, sybarite, popular author extraordinary, and neo-pessimist philosopher.”  Heinlein didn’t have the formal paper qualifications that Harshaw boasted of, but he demonstrably had every single characteristic in the list that defines Harshaw’s personality.

JANE: So, we take the parts we want and leave out what we don’t?  I’m not convinced.  If the text had read: Jubal E. Harshaw, graduate of the University of Missouri and the US Naval Academy, student of physics at UCLA, then all the rest… then maybe, just maybe, I’d be convinced.  However, given how general the rest is – most of that would apply nicely to my friend Walter Jon Williams, for example – I’ll take Heinlein’s side and say, no, he never put himself in his books as a character.

ALAN: And there I think we have to leave this fascinating topic. I wonder what opinions our readers have of it?

Default World-Building

June 21, 2017

My brother, Graydon, attended college in Tucson, Arizona.  My dad went to visit him one time, and was fascinated by how lizards were everywhere, much as squirrels were in D.C.  Dad did a great “lizard on a wall” imitation, popping his eyes and rhythmically puffing out his cheeks.  This would make my brother (who had become jaded regarding lizards, orange trees, cacti, and the other exotic elements of his environment) cringe and roll his eyes.

Treasured Visitors

My brother was still living “out west” when I finished graduate school and moved to Lynchburg, a small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.  One time, when he was visiting me, our route took us over one of the myriad creeks that sliced through the town’s seven major and many minor hills.

“What’s that called?” Gray asked.

“I don’t think it has a name,” I said, “except that it’s part of the Blackwater Creek system.”

“Where I live,” he said, “that would have a name.  At every bridge, there would be a large sign announcing the name.  And, much of the year, the creek or river or whatever they called it probably wouldn’t have any water in it.”

It’s all in what you’re used to, right?

I was thinking about that this past week as June in Albuquerque, New Mexico, did its usual thing.  Temperatures shot up over 100 degrees every day.  A couple of times we were treated to a 50-degree temperature shift: 50 to 100 on day; 55 to 106 another.  (Yes, I know the latter is actually a 51-degree shift.)  Albuquerque is a mile high, which means we tend toward lower nighttime temperatures.  You bake during the day and pull up the blankets at night.

This morning, as I was walking into my office, I heard quail peeping out front.  A male and female Gambel quail were chatting as they foraged around the seed block we have in the shade of our ash tree.  A lizard raced across the driveway, off to hunt bugs in the sage.

A typical June…

Other things I’ve grown accustomed to in my twenty-some years living in New Mexico: June is not the gentle lead-in into summer.  June is the brutally hot, horribly dry month.  June is the month during which plants are trying to leaf out and flower before they cook.  June isn’t as windy as March or April, but it can be windy: a hot, desiccating wind that sucks the moisture out of anything, including humans.

June.  This is reality.

Except I’ve noticed that most Fantasy (and some SF) world-building defaults to a typical East Coast to Midwest seasonal pattern.  Spring is pale green unfolding to the music of gentle rains.  Summer temperatures gradually grow warmer, building to the “dog days” of August.  Both seasons are wet, humid, clinging.

Where I live, June is almost always the hottest month.  The plants that survive welcome the monsoon rains that – if we’re lucky – start in mid-July and taper off in August, returning in mid-September.  The indigenous peoples learned to plant in zones that would accommodate these cycles.  They crafted pots that were meant to preserve the moisture in the seeds they saved to plant the next year.

June is our Fire Season, when wildfires take out hundreds, often thousands, of acres.  That’s part of “normal,” too.

Normal includes lizards, quail, long-eared jack rabbits, coyotes, hawks, and vultures.  And, of course, rattlesnakes, tarantulas, and black widow spiders.  Native plants have a lot of stickers.  Or they poison the ground around them so that nothing else can steal their water.  Or both.

Here’s the problem with world-building based on my normal, rather than the normal that “everyone” knows.  You need to explain it.  The other is the default template, reinforced by hundreds, if not thousands of stories that use the same template.  The climate had better be crucial to the story (think Dune) or you’re just slowing down the story.

A pity, I think…

FF: Read Me a Story

June 16, 2017

I’m writing more than ever, but now that the garden is in, I’m finding little more time to read, or at least to listen to audiobooks.

Wonder Kel!

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 magazines.

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:

Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie.  Audiobook.  Re-read.

The Return of the Twelves by Pauline Clarke.  A middle grade story about some magical wooden soldiers twisted up with the juvenilia of the famous Brontes.

The Big Four by Agatha Christie.  Audiobook.  Re-read.

Fleetwood Mac: The Ultimate Guide to Their Music and Legend.  Rollingstone special issue.  For all their money and fame, I ended up feeling this was a sad story.

In Progress:

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore.  A gloriously footnoted look at the people and events who shaped the development the iconic comic book character.  No.  I haven’t seen the movie yet!  This book was actually a Christmas present I’m finally getting to read.

Black Coffee by Agatha Christie, audiobook.  This audio is an adaptation by Charles Osborne of her first stage play.  Mr. Osbourne is so faithful to the text that one can almost hear the stage directions in his descriptions.

Also:

Finished the current Smithsonian and am now reading the one before.  Interesting article on the placebo effect.

TT: Is He In There?

June 15, 2017

JANE: Okay, Alan.  We’ve expanded our agreeing to disagree about whether readers should “see” a character as “being” the author.  I can’t say I’m persuaded to your point of view, but I will agree that sometimes authors deliberately put themselves in their books.

Did He Sell the Moon?

You said you had a Famous SF Author in mind who regularly put himself into his stories.  Who would that be?

ALAN: That would be Robert Heinlein, without whom there would be no such thing as science fiction as we know it today. He put a lot of his own personality, experience and beliefs into his fiction.  I’m quite sure that time after time you can catch glimpses of Heinlein himself peering out at you from the pages of his stories.

JANE: Ah…  But is this the readers’ opinion or the author’s opinion?

ALAN: It’s certainly not the author’s opinion. Heinlein was a very private individual who refused to engage in that kind of public speculation. I think he preferred to let the story speak for itself – and I certainly can’t criticise him for that. As far as I can tell, the most he ever said about his own work was in an introduction he wrote to Revolt in 2100: “They are just stories, meant to amuse, and written to buy groceries.”

JANE: Well, if he said that, then why do you feel so strongly otherwise?

Are there obvious clues?  A name and description, like Roger Zelazny provided in The Hand of Oberon or an “in-joke” such as Kingsley Amis’s provided with One Fat Englishman?

ALAN: Yes, there are a lot of clues. In 1968 Alexei Panshin published Heinlein in Dimension, a very detailed critical analysis of all Heinlein’s stories. In it he identifies someone he calls “the Heinlein Individual” who he defines as: “…a single personality that appears in three different stages and is repeated in every Heinlein book in one form or another.”

Here is how Panshin describes the Heinlein Individual:

The earliest stage is that of the competent  but naïve youngster. The hero of almost any Heinlein juvenile will serve as an example … The second stage is the competent man in full glory, the man who knows how things work. Examples of this are Zeb Jones of If This Goes On–, the secret agent narrator of The Puppet Masters, and Sergei Greenberg of The Star Beast. The last stage is the wise old man who not only know how things work, but why they work too. Jubal Harshaw of Stranger in a Strange Land is an example, and Baslim of Citizen of the Galaxy and Colonel Dubois of Starship Troopers. However these three stages as I have given them are simply the equivalents of frames cut from a movie film to serve as illustrations – the Heinlein Individual forms a continuum covering all points between youngster and wise old man.

Panshin goes on to defend this thesis in great and convincing detail.

JANE: So?  Actually, these are pretty classic tropes.  Even boring ones, to be honest.  Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys fit the first just as easily as any Heinlein youngster.  Just about every spy thriller, Western – heck, just about any action adventure tale – has the second. And the Wise Old Man has been around since the first myth where the hero seeks guidance.

By the way, before readers think I don’t like Heinlein’s work, I do.  We’ve discussed it in detail here and here.   I’d certainly consider myself a fan, rather than otherwise.

ALAN: Leaving aside, for the moment, the question of whether or not the Heinlein Individual is actually Robert Heinlein himself, we can at least be certain that the characteristics of the Heinlein Individual are very important to Heinlein the writer. Why else would he use the character in story after story after story? It’s also worth saying that the Heinlein Individual is often the only character who is completely defined and well-rounded in the story. Other characters tend to be thinly drawn, barely (if at all) described and sometimes little more than set piece caricatures.

JANE: How his using them because these sort of standard characters do exactly what Heinlein claimed he was doing: Buy the groceries. They don’t challenge expectations.  They provide comfort reads.  Someone is In Charge and will Save the Day, no matter how complicated the problem.

I’m going to need more convincing to see these as Heinlein.  In fact, right now, what I’m seeing are readers who need to identify Heinlein with his characters as a sort of security blanket that carries the fictional “comfort food” into reality.

ALAN: If that’s all there was to it, I’d be inclined to agree with you. But let’s swim out into deeper waters…

The Heinlein Individual is always very competent. Heinlein himself was supremely competent and egotistically convinced of his own competence. When he first sold a story to John Campbell at Astounding he told Campell that he would continue to submit stories to him but that, if Campbell ever rejected one of them, that would be the end of the relationship. Clearly Heinlein was firmly convinced that he was more than capable of writing stories that Campbell would want to publish.

JANE: This sounds cocky, not competent.

ALAN: It worked though…

When Heinlein decided that he wanted a rockery and water feature for his garden, he designed and built it himself with no outside help – and he claimed that carrying rocks around was a great way to lose weight!

JANE: Uh…  I’ve done that, up to and including carrying rocks.  Does that make me Heinlein?

ALAN: No – but it shows that you share some degree of competence with him in at least one area.

In his novel Space Cadet, the hero is given a problem in orbital mechanics to solve. One day, just for fun, I decided to tackle that problem. It turned out to be a lot harder than I’d anticipated (if I’d known how hard it would be, I probably wouldn’t have started it in the first place) but I got there in the end and discovered to my delight that the solution Heinlein presented in the book was correct. Clearly he had done the same calculation himself.

There’s no question about it – Heinlein was very competent in a lot of fields.

JANE: Or he had a friend who was…  You’d be amazed at the number of hard SF writers who use outside resources.  There’s no shame in that.  In fact, it’s good science – and great science fiction.  Honestly, any writer who doesn’t make sure something like that orbital mechanics problem is correct would be an idiot.

ALAN: It honestly hadn’t occurred to me that he might use a friend. Maybe that makes me naïve, but I just assumed that Heinlein did everything himself because his self-reliance seemed such a fundamental part of his personality.

JANE: I actually have personal experience of having an error in one of my published works – but let’s talk about that next time…

The Revenge of Mega Radish!

June 14, 2017

Yep.  That’s a radish.  And the thing Jim put in the photo for scale is about the size of a standard baseball – that is, about nine inches in circumference.  It doesn’t look real, does it?   We should have used a ruler.

Mega Radish!

That’s not the only radish that size we’ve gotten, although it is the most pleasingly symmetrical.  For those of you who take interest in such things, no, these weren’t seeds intended to grow giant radishes.  They were standard Easter Egg radishes.

So, what else (besides giant radishes) is going on here?

There’s the mystery of the missing cucumber and chard seedlings.  (Solution: probably snails.)

Or maybe not…   We haven’t seen any snails lately.  I wonder why?

Join me now and we shall delve more deeply into the mystery.

Darkness has fallen.  One by one, the lights in the surrounding houses go out.  In the tiny ornamental pond, toads gather among the stems of the blue pickerel weed and aquatic plantain, soaking up moisture before going on the prowl.  They are the great night hunters of this urban garden, confident in their supremacy.

But, as the toads are about to heave themselves from their refreshing bath, a peculiar vibration ripples through the sandy soil.  The toads sink below the water so only their tiny eyes protrude above the surface.  Doubtless this saves them.  For, at that moment, from the garden bed west of the pond it comes, moving with astonishing lightness on tiny rootlets, leafy greenery towering above, sensing the least motion in its surroundings: Mega-Radish has arisen…

Forth it stalks, seeking what?  The toads do not know.  They only bubble sighs of relief as the gargantuan vegetable passes by the pond, and vanishes from sight.  But the hawk moths, large as hummingbirds, deep drinkers of the nectar of the sacred datura, are awake, dreaming on the wing, believing at first that what they see is a result of imbibing too much potent pollen.

Moving on many minute rippling rootlets Mega Radish races around the shed, down the path, to a small plot where infant seedlings of Swiss Chard and Armenian cucumbers tremble, rooted in fear, unable to move as the slime trailing terrors, the horrid garden snails, emerge from their daytime sanctuary within the tangle of Virginia Creeper, prepared to engulf the tender leaves of the infant plants.

Night after night this horrid slaughter has been repeated.  Night after night the seedlings have been helpless, but tonight the cry for help has been heard.  Mega Radish, hero of the garden, has ripped itself from its vegetative torpor and come to save the day.

Red and round, it launches!  It rolls!  Beneath its incarnadined rind it smashes the snails.  They are demolished so completely that their shells become naught but flakes of calcium to feed the soil, their slimy bodies return moisture to the ground.  The seedling cucumbers and chard wave their thanks.  The arugula – too spicy for the snails, but nonetheless terrified – joins the chorus.

Mega Radish takes a bow and then, on twinkling rootlets, vanishes into the darkness…

Well, maybe not.  But it’s a fun idea.

Have a lovely day.  May Mega Radish watch over you!

FF: Secret Histories

June 9, 2017

Secrets, especially those long-hidden, are perennially fascinating.  They play a major role in all the books I’m reading this week.

Not So Secret Hideout

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 magazines.

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:

Gardens of New Spain: How Mediterranean Plants and Foods Changed America by William W. Dunmire.  This is really excellent because in addition to the subject in the title, it talks about how plants spread, why, and their cultural impact.  Additional bonus: histories – going back to earliest cultivation – of various key plants.  I seriously loved this book.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.  Audiobook.  Re-listen.  Enjoyed again.

In Progress:

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore.  A gloriously footnoted look at the people and events who shaped the development the iconic comic book character.  No.  I haven’t seen the movie yet!  This book was actually a Christmas present I’m finally getting to read.

Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie.  Audiobook.  Re-read.

The Return of the Twelves by Pauline Clarke.  A middle grade story about some magical wooden soldiers twisted up with the juvenilia of the famous Brontes.

Also:

Still working on Smithsonian.  Actually reading the current, hi-tech issue while waiting for Jim to finish the one before.

TT: A Question of Identity

June 8, 2017

JANE: Last time you said you had an obvious question for me.

ALAN: Yes – I have three, actually.

JANE: Three?  I begin to feel as if we’re entering a fairytale – or at least a Monty Python sketch.

A Character in Amber

Prithee, sir knight, what is your first question?

ALAN:  The first concerns Roger Zelazny. I hope I’m not betraying a confidence, but you told me once that Roger had put himself into one of the Amber books. Can you tell me about that?

JANE: Oh…  Roger’s cameo is hardly a secret.  It happens in The Hand of Oberon, the fourth Amber novel.  In it, Corwin, one of the Nine Princes of Amber whose tale is told in these novels, ventures into the dungeons and has a short chat with one of the guards.

Is this ringing a bell for you?

ALAN: No, not at all. It’s many years since I last read the book and my memories of it are very hazy.

JANE: The scene is short, so let me quote it in full:

“Good evening, Lord Corwin,” said the lean, cadaverous figure who rested against a storage rack, smoking his pipe, grinning around it.

“Good evening, Roger. How are things in the nether world?”

“A rat, a bat, a spider. Nothing much else astir. Peaceful.”

“You enjoy this duty?”

He nodded.

“I am writing a philosophical romance shot through with elements of horror and morbidity. I work on those parts down here.”

“Fitting, fitting,” I said. “I’ll be needing a lantern.”

He took one from the rack, brought it to flame from his candle.

“Will it have a happy ending?” I inquired.

He shrugged.

“I’ll be happy.”

“I mean, does good triumph and hero bed heroine? Or do you kill everybody off?”

“That’s hardly fair,” he said.

“Never mind. Maybe I’ll read it one day.”

“Maybe,” he said.

 ALAN: Oh, that’s nice. As you know, I’ve met Roger and I had several conversations with him. The dialogue in that piece is pure Roger. I can so easily imagine him saying those things. He captured his own wry, sardonic humour perfectly.

Alfred Hitchcock and Peter Jackson always have a cameo in their own films. How good to see a writer following that tradition in prose.

JANE: Yes.  But it really doesn’t capture Roger…  He wasn’t only wry and sardonic.  He could also be ridiculously silly.  When we lived together, he used to sing nonsense songs to the cats.  He could be sweetly sentimental.  When our guinea pig had babies, he was the one who wanted to keep all of them.  (We did.)

You don’t need to take my word for these aspects of his personality.  The forthcoming anthology Shadows and Reflections includes a final, non-fiction piece by his daughter, Shannon, who was a high school student when she lost her dad.  It’s very moving and, of the many tributes to Roger that I’ve read, it comes closest to capturing the man I knew and loved.

ALAN: I’ll definitely have to buy that when it comes out. I only saw Roger’s public face, of course, but I can easily imagine him being all those things.

JANE: What gets me is how many people want Roger not to be Roger but to be one of his characters.  The most common are Sam (from Lord of Light) or Corwin (from the Amber novels); a runner-up seems to be Conrad from This Immortal.  These people support the contention that these characters “were” him by showing similarities in skills or life experiences, creating the false syllogism that “if this is true, then so must the rest be.”

It’s a long-standing issue, going back to some of the earliest literary criticism written about Roger’s works (interestingly enough, his childhood friend, and literary biographer Carl Yoke is the least likely to make the equation), but one that persists to the diminishment of the multi-dimensional human he was.  I’ll stop there lest I begin to rant…

ALAN: That’s actually a very good rant. It generally makes no sense to go that far. You might just as well say that David Copperfield (the hero of the novel, not the stage magician) is Charles Dickens – after all, they are both novelists!

Have any other writers of your acquaintance put themselves into their books?

JANE: Well, yes and no.  I can’t think of examples off the cuff, but I certainly know writers who perpetually return to the same themes because they are working out their personal issues.  I don’t want to go further than that.

ALAN: Perhaps that’s wise.

I know you quite well, and I’ve read most of your published fiction, but there is nobody in any of your novels that I could point to and say “That’s Jane.” How much of that is deliberate?

JANE: Probably quite a lot.  I was very influenced as a Lit student by how some of my professors seemed to want to dwell less on the literary work of an author and more on his or her life.  Yeats’s obsession with Maud Gonne.  T.S. Eliot’s nervous breakdown.  D.H. Lawrence’s various entanglements.  On and on…  Sure, some of that was in the work, but there was always more, a whole lot more, but much of that was treated as if it had only been created as a disguise for the author “really” writing autobiography.

At the same time, I read T.S. Eliot’s essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” and was very hit by his discussion of how the artist transmutes life experiences into art.   It’s in the second section, if you want to read all of it, but the final sentence captures some of his argument.

“…but the more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates; the more perfectly will the mind digest and transmute the passions which are its material.”

ALAN: I think natural human curiosity makes a reader want to know more about a writer that they admire, if only to try and understand what makes the writer approach their art in the way that they do.

I think I told you that I used to live in Eastwood, the Nottinghamshire village where Lawrence was brought up. There were still people in the village who remembered him and I’m sure that if he’d ever come back to the village they’d have hanged, drawn and quartered him. Even forty years after Lawrence’s death, there was still a lot of residual anger about the way he’d portrayed them. I’m sure that says something about the literary choices he made, though I confess I’m not sure exactly what.

Cases as blatant as Kingsley Amis, who we discussed last time, are actually quite rare. But nevertheless there’s a very famous SF writer who some people think put a lot of himself into his books. Shall we talk about him next time?

JANE: Absolutely!

When the Gods Are Silent E-book Now Available!

June 7, 2017

Back in January, I promised you there would be lots going on in 2017.  The release of When the Gods Are Silent as an e-book – following on March’s e-book release of Smoke and Mirrors – is only part of my keeping that promise.  Let me start with When the Gods Are Silent.  Then I’ll drop a few hints about other projects I’m working on.

When the Gods Are Silent

When the Gods Are Silent is my 1997 mythic sword and sorcery novel.  It was my first attempt at writing what is often termed “imaginary world fiction” at novel length – that is, fiction where I created the entire world, as well as the characters and story.  My earlier novels: Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls; Marks of Our Brothers; The Pipes of Orpheus, and Smoke and Mirrors had all used some variation on our world or at least the mythic history of our world or a futuristic extrapolation.

So, in a way, When the Gods Are Silent is an older cousin of the Firekeeper novels which are set in a very complex imaginary world.

For those of you who already have When the Gods Are Silent, I will add that the e-book contains a bonus afterpiece talking about some of the things that influenced me when I was writing the book.

When the Gods Are Silent is available DRM free from Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iTunes, and Kobo.

Want to know more about When the Gods Are Silent?  Here’s the cover blurb.

Sharp-tempered, dangerous, yet fiercely loyal, Rabble is a skilled warrior who knows both too much and too little of her past.

Discovered unconscious at the side of the road by the Travelling Spectacular, Rabble willingly becomes a member of this eclectic band of wandering entertainers.  But her life and theirs are about to be disrupted by Hulhc, a prosperous farmer who is obsessed with finding the magic that vanished without warning over fifty years before.

Will any of them survive their search for the answer to a question about which the gods themselves are silent?

If you prefer print books, a limited number of the original mass market paperback are still available on my website bookstore.

 Prices include shipping and handling.  As always, signing and personalization are free!

Now…  How about what’s coming?

The other day, someone asked me if all I’m doing is working with getting my older material out.  The answer is “Absolutely not!”  I’m currently writing a new novel, which takes place in an entirely new setting.  The story will stand on its own but, already, the characters are hinting they have other stories to tell.

Moreover, I’m planning to bring out Asphodel, an extremely strange novel I wrote last year.  I’m reading the manuscript  of Asphodel to a group of friends.  When I’m done with that, I’ll give it a final polish and start getting it ready for the press.

Finally, I’m beginning to lay the groundwork for some projects that will take me back to some familiar settings and audience-favorite characters.  Since I want to finish a rough draft of my current novel first, you won’t see what I’m working on for a while.  So, let’s just leave it at “You asked and I’m listening.”

Consider going to my website and signing up for my mailing list, so you don’t miss any of the new releases, updates, contests, and promotions I have planned for the year to come!

FF: Gardens and Games

June 2, 2017

The long weekend didn’t give me quite as much reading time as I’d hoped, but I managed some.

Reading Among the Flowers

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 magazines.

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:

Quartered Safe Out Here by George MacDonald Fraser.  Audiobook.   A look at the campaign in Burma during WWII, from the infantry, non-officer level – very intimate.    I think it could be subtitled: George MacDonald Fraser is not Flashman and wants you to know it.

In Progress:

Gardens of New Spain: How Mediterranean Plants and Foods Changed America by William W. Dunmire.  This is really excellent because in addition to the subject in the title, it talks about how plants spread, why, and their cultural impact.  Additional bonus: histories – going back to earliest cultivation – of various key plants.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.  Audiobook.  Re-listen.

Also:

Reading back issues of Smithsonian.  I’d gotten amazingly behind.  Now reading about the Liberty Bell’s coast-to-coast tour.