Archive for the ‘Random Wanderings’ Category

Tiny But Amazing (Toad)

August 16, 2017

Life lately has definitely been a celebration of the microcosm.  The little guy in the picture is a New Mexico Spade Foot Toad.  He’s taken up residence in the alyssum bordering our patio; his entire realm measures about four inches wide by eight feet long.

Tiny Toad

Some of the bricks in the wall against which the alyssum grows are beginning to crumble.  One has a hollow in it.  When he’s startled (as when we start to water the alyssum), the tiny toad jumps up and takes residence in the hollow.  When he does this, he looks rather like an amphibian variant on a Mesa Verde or Puye cliff dweller.

In addition to tiny toad, we have numerous first-year lizards (both blue tails and fence) racing around the yard.  They don’t hold still long enough for pictures.  Speed versus stillness as defense mechanisms.

The baby birds are now mostly fledged out and are learning how to be birds.  It’s a good thing that the monsoon rains have started, because we have plenty of grass seed and bugs for them.

Tiny Toad in Cliff Dwelling

After an unusually hot early summer, we’ve settled into high nineties, with the high temperatures remaining at their peak for a much shorter duration.  That’s a relief both for me and for the garden.  This year I discovered that when the temperatures go about about 106, thinking becomes a real challenge.

And I have been thinking, researching, and even writing.  I made significant progress on a few reprint projects over the last few weeks, including reaching a new stage in the production of Asphodel, the novel that is in line to be my first self-published original novel.

After a couple of very stressful weeks – including the phone company accidentally disconnecting our phone and internet for four days (which, when you run your own business out of your home, is not trivial) – I’m hoping to settle in and get more writing done.

In fact, much as I enjoy chatting with all of you, that’s what I’m going to do now.

Later!

TT: Brain Snakes

July 27, 2017

ALAN: Last time you promised to share some of the brain snakes that occur when you start to conlang. The image of something wriggling around inside your skull is gruesomely attractive. I can hardly wait!

Brain Snakes

JANE: Right…  Most of my brain snakes hatch from an element of conlangs we discussed last time.  If you create a language – even to the extent of implying that your characters are not speaking English – then you’re opening the door to a whole raft of issues.

ALAN: Wait!  How can you imply your characters are not speaking English?  Surely it should be quite clear?

JANE: Actually, a lot of would-be SF/F writers don’t seem to realize that even giving characters or places weird names implies a different language is at play.  By weird names, I don’t mean simple phonetic spelling, like “Soo-san” instead of “Susan” but calling a character Gyriitink or M’ff’mn.

Names don’t come from nowhere.  I’ve discussed this some in a past Wandering, but let me repeat the basics.  Names start out meaning something.  They may indicate that you’re the third male child (Number Three Son).  Or they may refer to some characteristic that your parents hope you will have (Faith, Hope, Charity).  Or they may indicate where or when you were born or where your ancestors came from.  Eventually, however, even names with meaning become ciphers.

ALAN: You mean like my name being “Alan”?  According to what I’ve read, “Alan” comes from the Breton and it means “handsome” (or possibly “little rock”, but I prefer handsome because clearly that describes me more accurately). Apparently there was also an Iranian tribe known as the Alans who migrated into Europe in the 4th century. The name might derive from them as well.

JANE: You can be a handsome little rock from Iran, if you like…

When numerous cultures come into contact, the cipher problem increases because people don’t just chose names from within their own culture.  They name to commemorate famous people, or relatives, or a good friend – any of which might have a root in another culture.  Or they just like the sound of a name and borrow it.

I’m curious.  Your wife is named “Robin.”  Was she named for the bird or for some other reason?

ALAN: She’s named after a friend of her mother’s who was called Robyn. No one is quite sure how or why the spelling changed on its way to Robin’s birth certificate… Except that it seems to be a family tradition to spell names “wrongly”. Robin’s mum is called Phyllis rather than “Phylis” and Robin’s grandmother was Ilean, as opposed to the more common Eileen…

JANE: That’s fascinating.  Just to complicate the brew, I’ll note that I’m more familiar with the spelling “Phyllis.”  I don’t think I’ve ever seen the name spelled “Phylis.”

Anyhow, before I tempt myself into tangenting off into why I always check the spelling before signing a book for someone…

When I’m writing a book in an imaginary world setting for which I’m going conlang, one of the first questions I need to ask myself is what are the naming conventions, because names will be one of the major ways the reader will encounter the conlang.  Does the culture name for qualities?  Job?  Social position?  Or is it a cipher thing?  If a cipher thing, and the words are “made up,” that implies a complete language to go with the names, and so the names should at least sound as if they come from the same language.

 And, of course, in most cultures, a mixture exists, so, Gyriitink’s best friend might be named Trumpetvine.

ALAN: It seems to me that different naming conventions can be a good way to imply different languages being spoken.  Michael Moorcock’s anti-hero Elric had a best friend named “Moonglum.”  The difference in their names provided a quick and constant reminder that they came from different cultures in a multi-lingual world. Am I correct in that assumption?

JANE: I agree.  That’s what I always felt.

ALAN: Do you have any other snakes squirming around in there? What colour are they? Do they bite?

JANE: Many.  One that really “bites” (in the slang sense) is the question of titles or honorifics.  Do you make up new ones to go with the new language, or do you stick with familiar ones like “king” and “queen.”

For me, there’s a constant balancing act between risking alienating readers by providing too much information that has to be learned before they can settle in and enjoy the story, and falling into a cookie cutter universe.

For the Firekeeper Saga, I opted to stick with the familiar titles for the first encountered cultures, then slowly segue into different titles for new cultures, hoping that, by then, the reader would have a foundation and be willing to tackle a little more variation.

ALAN: But familiar titles carry a lot of cultural and linguistic baggage with them. We all think we know what we mean by the word “king,” but our meaning would not necessarily correspond to that of another culture. Therefore, using the word might give the reader a false impression of the society you are describing based on the reader’s own preconceptions. I suspect this might be slightly more true of American readers than it would be for readers from other countries because Americans have never lived with kings and queens or with aristocracy in general (except very briefly a few hundred years ago) so they might lack the necessary historical perspective.

So perhaps you might try and avoid that trap by using less familiar, but nevertheless very real, titles. Caesar – or “Kaiser” as I was (Germanically) taught to pronounce it in Latin class, for example. Or Vizier perhaps. But as soon as you do that you are back with the problem you were trying to avoid of potentially alienating your readers by using too many unfamiliar words. Where does the happy medium lie?

JANE: Oh… And that’s only part of it.  Remember, “Caesar” didn’t start as a title.  It started a one part of a Roman personal name, that of Gaius Julius Caesar.  So, if you use “Caesar” as a title, a reader would have every right to assume a tie to ancient Rome – and many would expect it and be disappointed when it didn’t develop.

Just to toss more into the soup kettle of complexities, “Tsar” is “Caesar” slightly mispronounced (that is, adapted for another language), so if you use “Tsar…”

Well, you see how complex it gets and why sometimes a writer just settles for “king.”

ALAN: I certainly agree that it’s a knotty problem of Gordian proportions. As with the original Gordian Knot I suspect that simple solutions are probably the best. So “king” it is.

JANE: But the brain snakes of conlanging get even more complicated.  I’d love to talk a little more about them, and toss out a question that’s bugging me as I write my current book.  How about next time?

Self-Promotion

July 12, 2017

So, folks, tell me…  How do you feel about authors doing self-promotion?

I have mixed feelings, I’ll admit.

The Underdesk Crowd

When I write these Wanderings, I enjoy feeling as if I’m at a convention or something, chatting with people either on a panel or maybe in the hallway between events.

I like telling you guys about new projects.  I don’t mind announcing when something new is bought, sold, or re-released.  After all, in most cases, the reason you’re reading these words is because you “met” me through one or more of my writing projects.

My discomfort level comes when I need to say things like, “Hey.  I’m glad you’re excited about this new project.  I hope you’ll actually buy it, not just take it from the library or borrow it from your best friend.  You see, to make a living, I need sales.  I’m not independently wealthy.  Yes.  I’m married, but it may shock you how little an archeologist makes.  I need, not just for my ego, but so the cats and guinea pigs can keep living in the style to which they’ve become accustomed, to be able to earn a living from my work.”

Whoosh!  I have palpitations just from writing that!  Why?  Because I’ve been poor.  I mean really poor, as in nearly hitting the poverty level.  There have been times in my life where the library or used book store was my only option.  I’ll always be grateful that when, at our very first meeting,  I asked Roger Zelazny to sign an obviously used copy of Creatures of Light and Darkness for a college friend, he didn’t shove it away and refuse.

I’m also really, really bad about hinting I’d like to be involved in a project – an anthology, say, or a theme issue of a magazine.  Why?  Because it seems to be bad form.  Won’t people ask me if they want my work?  I’ve learned to my surprise that they won’t always, that if they’re talking about something in my vicinity they may be indirectly sounding me out, trying to see if I’ll express an interest.  If I don’t, they think, “Oh, she’s not interested.”

In reality, I’m like the girl at the dance who’s there cleaned up, dressed nice, and hoping, hoping, hoping…  But I’m afraid that I’ll be rude if I ask someone if it’s possible for me to dance.

I’ve been told I should encourage people to sign up for my mailing list.

Deep breath: “Hi folks, please sign up for my mailing list.  Especially now that I’m experimenting with self-publishing, this is the best way to learn of promotions, contests, and new releases.  The new releases might not matter to you, but the other two will always be of limited duration.  I’d hate for you to miss, just because you were on vacation or having a bad week at work.”

Whew…  Heavy, heavy sigh…

(Time Travel Moment.  In the Comments, John C. encouraged me to include link to my website, where you can sign up for my mailing list. Here it is.  Thank you, John, for the coaching!)

If I ever do a Kickstarter or related program, I’ll really have a lot of trouble because that means asking people to give me money for nothing but trust.  Wow!  That’s terrifying.

Roger Zelazny was a lovely person to learn about the business of writing from, but his advice in these areas was non-existent because these options didn’t exist.  He began writing in a time and place when self-promotion – up to and including anything more than gently hinting that you had a new book out – was considered very bad form.  We talked a lot about the (then, early 1990s) trend of self-promotion for awards.  He thought it was a bad idea.  I’m afraid that his restraint in such matters rubbed off.

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on when you find self-promotion helpful, when you find it off-putting.

And, now, having asked that, I think I’ll join Kel the cat under my desk…

Tell Me Why…

June 28, 2017

Now that the weather has shifted to warm (sometimes too warm), I’m back to riding my bike on the road instead of spinning inside.  Even though I ride the same route, just about every day I see something that gets me thinking.

Truck With Socks

Can anyone tell me why the truck in the picture has its wheels wrapped?  They’ve been like this for weeks now.  The truck isn’t new, nor is it elaborately customized.  I never see anyone outside at this house, so I haven’t been able to ask.  I keep coming up with possible explanations, and they’re getting more fantastical each day.

At the start, I thought the tires were new and hadn’t been unwrapped.  That didn’t make sense, because they’d need to be unwrapped to be mounted.  Then I thought the truck might have been shipped, and the wheels wrapped to keep it from rolling.  However, if that was the case, wouldn’t the tires need to be unwrapped so it could be unloaded?  Then I began to imagine what the tires might actually be: giant donuts, extra-wide hula hoops, dormant pythons, swimming float rings, metal washers, wedding rings.

Can someone solve this mystery for me?

Another fun thing I’ve been watching as I bike is the creation of a possible puzzle for future archeologists.  Someone dropped a box of paperclips on the asphalt of the road.  These were spread out by passing vehicles.  Then the temperatures began to rise into the high nineties, then the hundreds, then all the way to one hundred and eleven degrees.  The asphalt softened.  The traffic continued to roll over the paperclips.

We now have a neat “fossilized” layer that looks deliberate.  I wonder what future archeologists might make of this.  My favorite is a sacrifice to a deity of office productivity and organization.  The runner-up is a sort of “outsider art” that involves imbedding materials into roadways as a sort of technological roadkill.

Less outré entertainments have been watching the urban wildlife.  My current favorite are the Gambel’s quail.  The chicks are hatched now.  Every so often I come across little flocks scurrying across the road, diving into cover beneath ornamental shrubs.  Last week they were hardly big enough to see.  This week, they’re distinctly striped.

I guess you can tell that my rides aren’t just exercise for the body; they’re exercise for the imagination as well.  I’ve been writing quite a bit, and although trucks with coiled pythons for wheels haven’t yet entered any particular tale, you never know…

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!

Dreams, Meet Reality

March 8, 2017

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

That’s a question we ask kids pretty routinely.  As they grow up, the phrasing changes, but it’s still that same basic question.  Have you thought about where you want to go to college?  What do you want to major in?  What do you want to be?

What Do You Want To Be?

Society thinks that the first question and the last question are the same, but there’s a big difference between “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  And “What do you want to be?”  In fact, only after basic education is taken care of does the question begin to seriously morph.  Only then does it become “What sort of job do you want to do?”

Even then, it gets prettied up.  One of the most popular job search guides is called What Color is Your Parachute?  Another book promises to be a “Pathfinder” guide, as if the book is Hawkeye (James Fennimore Cooper’s wilderness guide, best known from Last of the Mohicans) and the would-be-jobholder is a tenderfoot facing the wilderness.  In both of these choices of words, what’s implicit is that you will arrive at your destination safe and sound, content because you’ve found the job that lets you – to borrow an old Army recruiting slogan – “Be all that you can be.”

I don’t know about you, but what I wanted to be when I grew up, and what sort of job I wanted to do, had absolutely nothing in common with each other.  At one point, I spent a lot of daydream time in being a starship captain along the lines of classic Star Trek.  I was absolutely not interested in being an astronaut or even a pilot.  I didn’t even want the Star Trek universe.  What I wanted was strange new worlds, great challenges, new civilizations.

Even those people – like my husband, Jim – who know what they want to be when they grow up (in his case, be an archeologist) find that the reality of the job and the dreams aren’t at all the same.  Jim spends a lot more time in an office writing reports than his nine-year-old self ever would have imaged.  Mind you, this is something he’s very good at.  It’s something which he’s learned to enjoy because it enables him to share his discoveries with others, as well as add to the larger body of information about his field.  But writing reports was not what attracted his nine-year-old self to want to “be” an archeologist.

And me?  Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why I’ve always wanted to tell stories, why I wanted this so much so that I learned how to write fiction, and have spent a lot of time doing so.  Maybe it’s because it’s the closest I can get to “being” all those things I dreamed about when I was a kid.  (And, believe me, starship captain was only part of the mix!)

How about you?  Where have your dreams taken you?  Where might they still take you?  I’m a firm believer that dreams aren’t just for kids.  If we’re lucky, they continue to fuel the best parts of adult reality as well.

Unexpected Impediment

February 8, 2017

This past Thursday, I had an emergency root canal.  This pretty much undermined any plans I had for the week.

Elegant Impediment

Elegant Impediment

Well, not the root canal itself.  That was easily and efficiently handled by an endodontist and his assistant.  In fact, I left the endodontist’s office feeling better than I had since Monday, when what had been an occasional twinge turned into intermittent waves of burning pain that eventually spread from the vicinity of the tooth to flow along my left upper and lower jaw, then to below my ear and up the side of my face.

“Intermittent” is the reason I didn’t call the dentist sooner.  When the pain would quit – often without warning, certainly not in response to anything in particular – I’d think “Oh, it’s over.”

But it wasn’t.  As the week went on, and the surges became more common and the ebbs less so, I accepted that I needed help.

I learned that these waves of pain are not at all uncommon when a tooth nerve is “flaring.”  I also learned that most upper molars have three roots, but I only had two.  This caused both the endodontist and my friend Melissa (who is a dentist) a great deal of delight.  Apparently, two roots is an upper molar is rather rare.  It’s nice to make specialists happy.

What else did I learn from this experience?

Well, I learned that the actual root canal procedure is not much worse than having a difficult cavity filled.  However, I also learned that the aftermath can be – especially in the case of a situation like mine where there was a lot of pain – far worse than any cavity.

Because of the intensity of the pain I’d been in, the endodontist sent me home with prescriptions for both 800 mg of ibuprofen and a narcotic concoction.   While I was grateful to know the pain would be kept at bay, the treatment left me loopy and tired.   I ended up sleeping most of Friday afternoon.  When I was awake, I couldn’t read anything that demanded analytical thinking.  So much for the research I’d planned to immerse myself in.

Or for getting end of the year paperwork together.

Still, even as I was feeling sorry for myself, I was also incredibly grateful.  I found myself thinking how glad I was not to live in the days of yore when not only weren’t there charming dental professionals to remove the source of the pain, there weren’t x-rays to let them see the problem or carefully constructed tools to do the work.

If you were lucky, someone yanked out the tooth and you didn’t get an infection.  They didn’t send you home with the means to control the pain.  You might get a swig of something or you might be told to stop whining and get back to work.

Yeah…  Pain control – especially in historical or fantasy fiction – is something that is given far too little attention.  Characters get wounded, wipe off the blood, then hurry back to the adventure at hand.   There are numerous justifications for this, including “who wants to read about someone actually dealing with pain and suffering,” but still…

Another thing this little diversion got me thinking about was how many writers I know who don’t plan for impediments in their schedule.  They say to themselves: “I can write a book in six months.  I’ll add on two weeks to read through and edit, then move on.”  Then, they get sick – or their kid, spouse, or pet has an emergency or something breaks – and they find themselves running behind.  This, in turn, leads to the stress of having missed a deadline, which can further slow a writer up and…

So here’s a bit of advice.  When setting up a schedule for yourself, factor in a week or two for things to go wrong.  The date you give to your editor or whoever you’re turning the project in to includes this extra time.  Don’t let having allowed for extra time make you lazy.  Work as if you didn’t factor it in.  At the very worst, you’ll finish early.  But, at the best, you have breathing room for those times when a little twinge turns into a big deal.

You’ll thank yourself and so will the people you work with.  Trust me on that!

Now, off to catch up on all the things I didn’t get done.  One of these will be reviewing the short story I’m reading Friday night at the meeting of the Albuquerque Science Fiction Society.  Details are available on my website.

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!

Quiet Hiatus

December 28, 2016

Since I was a kid, the quiet week between Christmas and New Year’s Day has been one of my favorites.  I’m following the tradition of quiet this week.

Kel's Christmas Greeting

Kel’s Christmas Greeting

Feels great…

Talk to you again in 2017!

TT: What to Do With Immortality

December 8, 2016

JANE: So, this time we’re going to discuss the third and final of your sub-categories of “immortals among us” stories, those in which the immortals use the experience garnered through their longer lives to deal with the challenges that come up in the course of the novel.

I’d love to pick the first example.

ALAN: Be my guest!

Immortal Tales

Immortal Tales

JANE: My choice is This Immortal by Roger Zelazny.  In it we meet Conrad, who, when he realized he was living a lot longer than he should without apparently aging beyond his thirties, decided to continually reinvent himself.  However, he’s far from a passive observer.  He’s been a revolutionary, and explorer, and many other things.

In addition to writing a compelling narrative focused on Conrad’s current problem (having to guide a problematic alien visitor to Earth), Zelazny also deals with the question of why an immortal would choose to hide his immortality, even if there is no overt fear of or prejudice against immortals.

ALAN: Yes, that’s always an issue. And of course it gets harder and harder to hide as our bureaucracies get more efficient and technology becomes more intrusive.

JANE: Hiding immortals is what natural disasters are for or wars…  Ooh, that would make for a dark, dark story.  Let’s get back to Conrad, before I think too much about that.

Although Conrad has tried to maintain relationships, in most cases friendship mutates into envy and fear as his friends age and he does not.  A good example of the reactions Conrad’s immortality triggers occurs early in the novel.  Conrad slips when idly chatting talking with his wife, Cassandra, mentioning things he couldn’t have known or done unless he is much older than he appears.  Cassandra is startled, then shocked, and, although they don’t have a fight over his hiding his age, they do become estranged.

This Immortal provides an excellent exploration of how, although a long life may give the immortal more experience and skills, these are gained at a very stiff price.

ALAN: This reminds me of a series of novels and short stories by Gene Doucette. The stories are published under the generic title Immortal. Not surprisingly, the books tell of the adventures of an immortal man.

The stories are set firmly in the twenty-first century. The immortal narrator is involved in a fairly routine bit of melodramatic blood and thunder over which, of course, he eventually triumphs. However because he’s been alive for such a long time, he can’t help but draw parallels between what he’s going through now and things that have happened to him in the past. This not only fills in his backstory to a certain extent, it also adds a degree of verisimilitude and a touch of humour that makes the stories quite appealing.

JANE: This does sound interesting.  Tell me more!

ALAN: So, for example, we learn that the first-person narrator was born some time during the early stone age when people were barely human and language consisted mostly of grunts. He thinks his name might have been Urrr, but he doesn’t really remember. For reasons that remain mysterious to him, he stopped growing older when he reached maturity and he has drifted through the ages ever since…

Urrr, who has recently taken to calling himself Adam because the joke appeals to him, is a complex character who reminds me a little bit of Conrad – he is cynical and witty, a keen observer of society as it changes around him, and he’s probably an alcoholic as well. He has spent most of the last umpty-ump thousand years drunk. This gives him an interesting perspective on life and the living of it.

JANE: We could go on listing titles and authors, but a few weeks ago, I mentioned a novel that effectively uses all three of the immortality tropes.  This is Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light (published in 1967).  In Lord of Light, immortality has been achieved for a select few by the use of a technology that permits the essential “soul” of a person to be moved to a new body.  This, in combination with the ability to create custom bodies, has created an elite caste who have assumed the identities of various deities of the Hindu pantheon.

Not everyone in the immortal community is happy with how the technology is being used.  Among the most active of these rebels is Sam.  Sam keeps rebelling and keeps losing.  The novel is designed around a series of flashbacks as he meditates on his past attempts and what he learned from them.

By designing the novel this way, Roger provided a tremendously detailed look at his fictional planet’s history without forcing the reader to plod through it.  He also avoids one of the major problems I have with this sort of novel.

ALAN: What problem is that?

JANE: Well, at the risk of being extraordinarily catty, my problem with many of the books I’ve read in which immortals are characters is that there is no real sense of how they experience time.

Would being immortal make a person feel differently about day to day events?  Certainly that’s the mindset that underlies those books in which the immortals are plagued with ennui and become increasingly decadent.  Sometimes the decadence takes the form of mind-numbing drugs.  Sometimes the decadence takes the form of more and more extreme experiences – especially those involving sex and intimate violence.

However, I’ve never really believed that’s how immortals would experience life.

ALAN: Michael Moorcock seems to be thinking along those lines in the novels that make up the Dancers at the End of Time sequence. Certainly, his immortals exhibit all these traits.

JANE: I think what the “decadent bored immortal” interpretation misses is that – unless they are hugely different than humans in some way (a category into which I’m going to toss both vampires and elves), they would still experience life day by day.

Neil Gaiman captures this very well in the section of Sandman where Dream confronts the man who has held him captive for many years.

When Dream’s captor tries to excuse his action by pointing out that Dream is immortal, and so it wasn’t as if he actually robbed him of anything significant, Dream retorts that immortal or not, he still had to live through each day.  It’s a very powerful scene.

ALAN: The more I hear about Sandman, the more I wish I could read it as a prose narrative…

JANE: It is a prose narrative, just that the prose is enhanced with pictures.  You watch television and movies, don’t you?  But going back to our topic…

One of the elements in my novel Changer is the Lustrum Review.  For those of you who don’t want to go look up the word, a lustrum is five years.  One of the book’s editors questioned whether immortals would hold a convention every five years, wasn’t that too often?

I held to my position, pointing out that the Lustrum Review is as much a social occasion as a business event, and I felt that every five years was hardly often enough to have a chance to meet up with like-minded friends or to keep up with what one’s community was doing.

I suspect that in the past, before travel was both easy and affordable, the athanor might have had more regional meetings, but…  Ah, but I get off track.  My point is, I think immortals – and especially immortals who must live among a larger, shorter-lived community – would be very aware of the passage of time, and very eager to make the most of what they have.

ALAN: I suspect you may well be right. Clearly, therefore, if we want to learn the secret of immortality, all we need to do is identify and attend meetings of like-minded people that are held at regular intervals at various places. World Science Fiction Conventions, for example…

I’m sure that both of us could keep listing titles of books in which an immortal has the edge because of experience gained in a longer than human lifespan.  But I wonder what our readers might suggest.  I’m sure that there must be some that we have missed out on.