Friday, February 26, 2016

Do I Need Beta Readers?

I’m out-of-touch enough to think that beta readers are a strange concept. People who read stuff before publication or submission, and give feedback, with the implication you’ll actually change the manuscript in response, the way game developers do with beta tester feedback, or movie studios with advance previews.  In fact, Return of the Jedi is a shining example of a committee-made movie that was carefully adjusted to audience feedback.

Today I saw a blog put out by someone who matches writers and beta readers, and she stated that beta readers are a necessity. And my immediate reaction was, yeah, right, tell it to [insert literary figure here].  Although for all I know, my favorite writers may have been secretly beta testing their stories on their immediate families for years, with no one the wiser.

I’m kind of an antisocial writer, and that was deliberate while I was gearing up to write. I didn’t want to copy anyone, or write something that reacted to something else. I even spent a year without reading books, just to clear my mind. Today I know that I am a person who is going to write goofy fast-paced sci fi adventures, but I wasn’t quite sure where I was headed until I finished the first draft.

I’ve never been in a bookclub.  I had a bad experience where a bunch of book liking friends were in a forum discussing The Help, which is a book about a heroic white lady who fights for black equality by swiping a bunch of stories from the maids who clean up after her rich family and their friends, and typing them up into a best seller while hoarding all the fame and most of the money.  It’s a skillfully written page-turner of a book that contains a little history, and a lot of caricaturing, and it presses hard on all the buttons that are supposed to light up our liberal sanctimony circuits.  A schism developed between those of us who thought this book was condescending and manipulative and those who were deeply moved by the protagonist’s sanctimoniousness, and the whole forum kind of fell apart.

There was a day when people had a social vocabulary that would account for disagreements about art. This isn’t that day. And I’ve avoided book clubs ever since, as well as people who are using the word “empathy” while unexpectedly going aggro on people who are not expecting player combat.

Maybe someday I’ll find compatible souls who want to trade beta duty. I’m not sure what the future will hold, aside from the pending 2.5 sequels and 9 remaining short stories in my current universe, before I bust out into either space or dragons.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Novels by Moore! Schoen! Tchaikovsky! Beaumont! Jemison! Kingfisher! (and ... Sawyer)

I am having a frustrating time finding a novel I like enough to nominate. And I'm not even talking about the ones that made me go "Why am I devoting precious moments of my life reading this? Isn't print dead? I really hate novels. Nobody even reads them any more, and novels like this are exactly the reason why. To hell with books. I'm going to go play World of Warcraft and try to get that stupid Big Love Rocket to drop." We won't even discuss those novels.

Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore was making the list mostly out of Golden Gate Bias – and then one of his characters dissed a San Franciscan thing I like. Which made me go, “hey, that’s mean!” and put the book down while I re-thought my Golden Gate Bias.  Nope, don’t feel like nominating Moore now, especially since this book depends heavily on the prior installment.

Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard by Lawrence M. Schoen is a cool story about animal-people in a far future with space travel. The elephant people are central, and there’s also an otter girl (formerly a hard-partying club kid, coerced into working for the Secret Conspiracy). I can’t nominate it because there’s way too much telepathy (one of my personal science fiction dislikes).

I’m halfway through Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time (and haven’t put it down) (no telepathy, woohoo!) and I’m not sure if it’s brilliant and award-worthy, but I’m really liking it. It’s a lost planet adventure with some humans dealing with the usual evil conspiracies – and some awesome sentient spiders that have all kinds of adventures, such as infiltrating a nest of ants. The entomology is tight, and spider lovers will enjoy the heck out of this book.

There was recently a science fiction kerfuffle about a guy being subjected to a lot of rudeness at a convention, and a writer named E.A.Beaumont spoke up in his favor, and also mentioned the offender had been kind of awful at a panel.  I was inspired to buy several of E.A. Beaumont’s books, and I’m working on the short stories, which are very nice. I’m not sure if any of Beaumont’s works are eligible but I like their spirit. 

I have started The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth) by N.K. Jemison. A lot of other people are recommending this book but I’m not deep into it enough yet to feel one way or the other. So far there’s an evil childkilling husband, plus it’s a dystopian tale, so I’m hoping it won’t be too grim.

Letters to Tiptree – a writer named Alice wrote several acclaimed books as James Tiptree, and these are letters to her by contemporary female writers. I’m enjoying some of the pieces but I don’t feel comfortable nominating this because it’s one of those books that makes me feel like I need to put it down and read fifty other books in order to really understand it.

Lita Ford’s biography is coming out … must be strong … must read science fiction novels and not rock star bios or other non-SFnal things … stay on target. 

The Raven and the Reindeer by T. Kingfisher was written by someone who posts on a forum where I hang out, so e-nepotism was involved in my purchasing decision. And it’s another fairy tale retelling, but … I’m really liking it. I don’t usually enjoy those kinds of tales this much. There’s a talking raven named Mousebones, and some interesting characters, and lots of snow.  I think it’s more nomination worthy than many of these other books I’ve mentioned.

Here’s one I won’t be nominating, even though there’s no telepathy: Quantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer. -- I’ll drop the link, even though I want to give it a Very Bad Review based on the courtroom scene, which Sawyer will no doubt never encounter, as he luxuriates on his cross-Canada tour savoring artisanal poutine. Yeah, yeah, I know I said I wouldn’t say anything that isn’t nice, but this book actually crosses over into something I’ve occasionally encountered in real life.

So here’s the courtroom scene. In a death penalty case, Marchuk is acting as an rebuttal expert witness for the defendant (who is rich enough to afford rebuttal experts).  The case has to do with whether the defendant is a psychopath – if he is, he escapes the death penalty because:
you can’t execute someone for being what they are.

The sole diagnostic criteria used by both plaintiff and defense experts is the Hare Checklist – they specifically mention they got it past Daubert  (a legal standard for excluding junk science by insisting upon peer review). So far, the experts are offering wildly contrasting scores and our heroic rebuttal witness is here to assert that his Hare Checklist score is more accurate, because the defendant’s life hangs on this question.

He’s on the stand being cross-examined re his qualifications when suddenly the questioning shifts to Marchuk’s Ukrainian/Polish roots, and his grandparents, while defense counsel forgets what objections are. The DA builds up plenty of tension and then whips out a newspaper from 2001 which reveals – witness’ grandfather was an evil Nazi who worked at Sobibor!  Witness did not know this.  The DA then asks “is it not true that every aspect of your testimony here today is colored by your desire to see your grandfather as a blameless victim of circumstances?”

During a recess, Marchuk calls his sis – yup, it’s true, grandpa was a Nazi. “Seriously.”  She thought he already knew.

The afternoon session dissolves into philosophical discourse, as Marchuk is revealed to be a wicked pro-life pro-choice anti-death penalty utilitarian and the setting is revealed to be a conservative dystopia where Roe v. Wade was overturned, and there’s some political soapboxing which conservatives will probably find offensive.

The part that offended me had to do with getting Hare past Daubert, and having all three experts relying on it. And then there was that surprise Nazi-grandpa reveal too. That was way over the top. 

EDIT: Actually he's pro-choice, not pro-life. I'm watching the PR campaign unfold for this book. It is most impressive. 


Saturday, February 20, 2016

Fractionally Black

I didn’t find out about my black great-grandmother until I was halfway through writing this novel. In fact, I still don’t know her name -- circumstances were kind of misty back in the 1800s.

I know my cousin’s name though, and we have remarkably similar faces, even though she’s black and I’m a green-eyed Irish-looking blonde. She’s more involved in geneology than I am, and she shares articles sometimes, and I’ve learned a lot about black history from her.

The main thing I’ve learned about black history is that it’s a lot like white history, or any other kind of history, in that inventors, artists, entrepreneurs, scientists, pretty much every kind of accomplisher you can imagine is represented. People tend to collapse history, reducing it to its most memorable sound bites, and we tend to remember the bites relevant to our own lives. Kind of like how I focused on that one female one-line-speaking extra in The Empire Strikes Back. Without ever saying to myself “oh yeah, they’re all white too.” Or the way I spent most of my life going, “yeah, black history, that’s for black people.” I had read the basics, Roots and Autobiography of Malcolm X and innumerable YA bios of Harriet Tubman that conveniently left out the part where she led union troops into plantations to liberate slaves (as well as the part where the government avoided paying her for a ridiculously long time).

I’ve read a book by Octavia Butler called Kindred, the story of a black woman who is called back through time to assist her slave-owning ancestor and is grudgingly forced to admit their personal similarities – in fact, they understand each other better than anyone else, even though they also despise each other for being what they are. 

Remember my Hugo-nomination test, about whether I’m still thinking about a story the next day? I am still thinking about Kindred decades after reading it. Octavia Butler could write pretty damn hard. 

One of the articles my cousin shared had to do with people who were light-skinned enough to pass. And did, resulting in lots of records falsification and plenty of lies being told about Sicilian or Moorish or Native American Princess ancestry to explain away any children with especially dark suntans. Until generations later, some nerdy descendants armed with computers and DNA testing appear to unravel the mystery.  One of great-grandmama’s children apparently was light enough to do a race fade.
 New databases are enabling historians and descendants of slaves to piece together family trees and identify patterns in the lives of runaways. These searchable listings indicate how often slaves managed to leave with their children, how some were able to pass for white and how many recaptured slaves kept trying to escape.

My first thought upon learning of my African ancestry came straight from white guilt – “I hope the connection wasn’t too traumatic.”  Because given the times, I assumed it probably was. I’m pretty sure my ancestor was a she, given the way the DNA results work.

Later, my optimistic side filled in a few more romantic explanations – a liberated slave who fell in love with some irish yankee doodle dandy and lit out for the territories with him after the war. Or maybe a yankee abolitionist, standing beside his dark-skinned bride as she is welcomed into the family. 

According to the DNA test, I’ve only got this one trace of African in the midst of ancestral Vikings and Celts – but she’s the one who shaped the bones beneath my face. She’s embedded in my core, hard-wired into my code. The historical details have been scattered like sand and may someday be reconstructed, but the biological evidence is clear.

I’m not telling you this to claim some kind of liberal version of the one-drop rule and demand the world salute roots I didn’t know I had until recently. I’m generally confused about race on the mainland US due to spending my early years in Hawai’i, where racism works in different ways. it’s easier for me to think about race from an anticolonialist standpoint, or a situation involving multiple groups crawling over each other like crabs in a bucket.

On the mainland, race is a long-standing two-sided war, with loads of casualties. Some people think wars are won, and they descend from an old-fashioned belief system in which maternal DNA contributes nothing. In reality, after a battle is fought, the survivors make babies with whoever’s left alive and raise them on the ashes, creating a new generation that can’t easily be classified as belonging to either side.

In my particular case, I descend from the side with the falsified records, so it makes sense that I wouldn’t learn about it until technology was sufficiently advanced. Also, technology happened to advance at the same time I decided to write fiction.

Having grown up reading books full of New Yorkers doing the high five, and baby boomers doing the high five, and other categories of people that I don’t belong to doing the high five, I recognize that omissions can feel deliberate, and intended, even when they’re not, and “yay us!” congratulatory sentiments can feel like a big insult to people specifically not included in “us.”

Sometimes white writers get conflicting messages about black characters: make them good people – not stereotypical, not evil or immoral, role models and paragons of virtue in every way. Except don’t make them too wonderful, because then they turn into magical beings, dispensing wisdom and miracles and losing all credibility.

When I sat down to write my story, I knew it should have a black character among the “us” group. The character I had in mind was one who sets limits for the hero, as opposed to the characters who encouraged him to be irresponsible. A female character, to contrast with a couple of bossy males.

Now as far as race in my story, I’m writing in a far future, over a thousand years from now. All the countries in North and South America reorganized, and everyone speaks a creole based on Spanish, English, French and Portuguese. Most people have changed their surnames to something catchy and contemporary. Medical technology can do wonders as far as reconfiguring bodies and recoloring skin.

Based on my experience growing up where I did, I thought that a lot of people might end up sliding toward the neutral zone, with lots of medium brown skin. They’d probably have the same uniformity-through-plastic-surgery faces that make identifying 21st century actors very difficult for a slightly faceblind person like me. 

Other people would take pride in their distinctive natural features. There would probably be a few black people that would opt to go lighter but there would also be some people who would want to go darker. There might be families of black people – and probably other kinds of people too – who make a point of only marrying people who already look like they belong in the family. We have families like that in our current world. So I figured my fictional black character came from one of these close-knit families.

I decided she had started out as a privileged idealistic kid with a sense of adventure, who ends up as a battle-scarred and jaded secret agent in a war-thrashed city, working as the harbormaster under a cover identity, spending her days telling burly sailors where they can park it while meanwhile keeping an eyeball peeled for evidence of federal crimes. Yeah, I’m providing spoilers, and the character starts out very weak but that’s another one of my intentional misdirections; wait until you see what she does in the subsequent books. Oops, spoilers.

And coincidentally, I gave my character a personal detail that my cousin shares, although I didn’t know my cousin at the time.

Now possibly that came from great-grandmama in heaven, scattering coincidences to make sure I’ve got a blood relative running around in my own fictional future. Or possibly what I just said is a gigantic load of Irishesque verbosity donated by one of my other ancestors. No matter.

Regardless of whether great-grandmama’s ghost exists under objective scientific conditions, I’m going to assume that it does, based on the coincidence, if only for the limited purpose of inspiring my writing. And I’m going to try and honor her by including black characters in the “us,” and by making them strong honorable people that would make great-grandmama proud, and not fools or simpletons or stereotypes. I should probably continue reading more about black history to inspire that.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Time to Think About Hugo Nominations

I have my official numbers and I’m licensed to nominate! I've got a lot of bookmarks leading to eligible works and I'm going to be reading as many of them as possible before the deadline. Here are my thoughts so far. 

Editor:             I still have no idea what these editors actually do, or whether they do it well, and I haven’t read nearly enough books to develop a feel for any particular editor’s style. I remember being guilted by the puppies, along with the other no-awarders, for shooting down Toni Weisskopf of Baen last year. Since I’ve heard some good arguments (from both sides), I will nominate her this year.

                        Beyond that, editors are for fancy shmancy authors with corporate publishers, and I’m staying out of this trade-oriented category. 

Fanzine:         File 770 is now appearing on my “frequently clicked pages” homescreen, so it wins.

Novel:             Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore  
My summary/review: The adorably juvenile incarnation of death has two mommies. San Francisco-style urban fantasy. Christopher Moore writes sort of like how Terry Pratchett would’ve written if he’d lived in San Francisco. My Golden Gate Bias strikes again.  

I’m about to start Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky and expect good things.

                        And since there is confusion whether
                        Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Bear
                        Is a novel or a novella, I shall nominate it for both.

Novel-like things:      Wylding Hall.

Short Stories:             Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Novik
                                   Children of Dagon by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Related Works:          NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity
by Steve Silberman
Because (1) It has a big section on Hugo Gernsback as well as the intersection of the autistic spectrum and the science fiction establishment; and (2) possibly science fiction could use a reminder that acceptance of diversity is built into its core from time to time.

Campbell Award:       Andy Weir

Long-Form Drama:    The Martian. Finally saw it.  It’s like the book.  I liked the book better, but the movie was good too.
                                    Oh, all right, The Force Awakens. I don’t have to watch it again, do I? 
                                    Inside Out (hi Golden Gate Bias, haven’t seen you in several paragraphs, missed you, mwah). 
                                    If I manage to watch The Good Dinosaur before the deadline I’m going to nominate it too.  Pixar (GGBias activated) and dinosaurs – I don’t see anything non-likeable about that. 

Short-Form Drama:  Five episodes of Outlander are going here as soon as I figure out which ones.
Puppy Considerations:

At times I wondered if the puppies and their detractors had planned this to stir up interest, like the Wiggins kids in Ender’s Game. If so, it was a great plan, and it worked on me, and here I am to throw some Outlander votes on top of all the votes for Dr. Who – possibly an unforeseen repercussion. I can’t really get behind the puppies on much else, though. And I think they should be ashamed of themselves for hosing poor Mr. Weir out of his rightfully deserved awards for writing the kind of rip-roaring science fiction that turns all those colorful amoebae into an actual Venn Diagram. Let’s all fix that together.

Goldilocks and the Hugo Nominations

Just as Goldilocks was experiencing the abrupt falling sensation she sometimes experienced right before falling asleep, she woke up. She lay there, completely awake, staring at the dark ceiling. Insomnia. Even though the bed she had found was just right, her troubled mind refused to relax.

Goldi had been troubled by insomnia before. Reading usually helped. She had memorized all the books in the humble cottage where she lived, but she re-read them anyway, just in case she noticed something new, which she frequently did.

Fortunately, these bears seemed to be literate. They had three bookcases: a towering solid one made of dark wood, a slender and decorative one that only had room for a few books, and one from Ikea that had a couple of the shelf fasteners installed backwards. 

Goldi went to the first bookcase and grabbed a random tome. The cover showed a robot wrestling with a big spider, and that sounded promising, so Goldi opened it to the middle and began reading. 

“You see, Doctor Chaoticus, women are innately delicate and reticent, and this idea of yours that a woman would enter a strange dwelling and sort through a bookcase is laughable! No woman would do that! Their womanly brains would immediately implode inwards!”

After carefully feeling her skull to verify it hadn’t imploded, Goldi put this lying book back on its shelf and went to the decorative shelf, which held a couple of potted plants and a jar of potpourri in addition to a handful of books. Goldi selected one, opened it in the middle, and began reading.

M’ia’o’u adjusted the diamond-patterned red and fuchsia silk bandaggle fastened around her gold and white taffeta fanfaroony and sat up slightly straighter, reminding the counsel in a soft but emphatic voice that they had been discussing the matter of the princessling closing doors too loudly for the past six hours, and that clearly an Elven tutor was needed to instruct the princessling on matters of subtle courtly etiquette via poetic recitations.

Goldi replaced this book on its shelf, loudly. She turned to the Ikea bookcase, which was jammed with an eclectic mix of genres done up in cheap and sleazy bindings, their colorful covers hinting at the wonders lying therein. She plopped down on the floor and began sorting through them.

And that was where the bears found her hours later, surrounded by seventeen partially-read books and clutching the eighteenth in her sweaty grasp, blinking her reddened eyes as her brain adjusted to the fact she was in a roomful of bears.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Fanfic, and the Story of the Sound Engineer's Curse

I’ve been reading some posts by authors arguing for and against fanfic.

I’ve read a little fanfic; it’s not normally my thing but I don’t begrudge it. I don’t care if anyone writes fanfic of my stuff. In fact, to a certain extent, I design my stories to be fanfic playgrounds, with shippable characters and glimpses of interesting places. Also, I’m a little bit intrigued myself by whatever’s going on in the places I didn’t write about, and maybe someday a fanfic writer can fill me in on what’s happening in Nairobi and Osakabyoto (they kind of merged) and Geelong, Australia.

I don’t really like to write fanfic. When I was a kid I enjoyed thinking about Scooby Doo people hanging out with Jonny Quest people on H.R. Puffenstuf’s island, but it’s rare these days that I encounter characters I can visualize running around detatched from their author. 

I’m going to blame it on what I call the Sound Engineer’s Curse. During much of my life, I was absolutely addicted to music. It was the main thing that consumed my time and money: concerts, guitars, buying the same album over and over in eleventy versions.

Then one day I decided to learn how to record audio for real. I had a little bit of an aptitude for it from playing with bands, and applying equalizers to old Beach Boys and Rolling Stones songs to take them apart and see how they worked. But once I started getting into the serious business of dissecting and looping soundwaves, something popped. I couldn’t just hear a song without invoking all this sound engineering lore, mentally dissecting each little part of the song until it occurs to me that I forgot to tap my foot. 

Before, I’d hear a song and think “I like/hate that song!” and maybe sing along. Now, it’s more like “What kind of reverb is that? Are those drums looped? Why is that guitar so bright? What effects have they got on that bass? Why do so many lame singers leave the autotune on, it’s like micing the click track? How many tracks are they devoting to those horns, and are they real horns? Listen to that guitar, they’re trying to steal Johnny Ramone’s sound but he did it better.”

Before, I’d come home and put on a playlist, or maybe a new album. Now, it’s more like I get a song stuck in my head, so then I go find it on iTunes/YouTube/somewhere. And I listen to it eight or nine times consecutively, including the times where I stop in the middle and run it back to hear those last couple bars again. It gets thoroughly embedded in my head. I live and breathe the song for several days, repeatedly listening to it – or parts of it -- and then finally it releases me from its chokehold. Either that or I find isolated vocals (or vocal-less tracks) put together by other people and groove to them while imagining the kind of arrangement I’d do assuming I felt like reinstalling ProTools.  And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I refuse to have any future roommates, except possibly deaf ones who wouldn’t be driven mad by the Sound Engineer’s Curse.  And you know, I’ve saved a fortune on music ever since, so it’s actually more of a blessing.

Something similar tends to happen to me while reading, and writing, possibly because I spend so much time looking under the hood. I weigh up the protagonists like I’m judging prize sheep, admiring the shape of their personality. It’s rare that I find myself able to dive in like a gleeful fan and pretend they’re people. 

Sometimes I actually fanfic my own characters. If I’m having doubts about the plot I’ll call them in for a board meeting and go around the table, letting each one explain their state of mind at that particular moment. This is probably a mental exercise fairly similar to repeatedly skipping back to the bass riff at 2:13, but I do it anyway.  I’ve also got deleted scenes, where something went wrong and just turned the whole thing ludicrous but I kept typing just to see how it all came out.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Characters on the Cover

I thought you might like to know who they are. From left to right:

Rufus “Rufe” Marshall:  Championship clashball player. In fact, he was about to win the championship game when all of a sudden these jellyfish showed up to attack the city. That’s why he’s mad.

Rufe lost an eye in the War. Well, actually he lost a lot more than that, including his father and all his brothers. He has a cyborg implant to replace the eye, and during the post-War years he focused on his athletic talent, taking his devastated nation all the way to the top. In fact, he was pretty sure he won the actual War, single-handed, but sometimes people hold grudges.

Sonny Knight: The hero of our tale. His name is really Leroy, but after suffering a horrific accident he temporarily forgets, and before long everyone starts calling him Sonny, so he runs with it.

Captain Kai: He does have a surname, seventy-nine letters long and adopted by an ancestor as a form of protest against filling out forms. Everyone just calls him Kai. He’s easy to spot in a crowd, given the tattoos all over his skin, most of which are traditional-style Maori and Samoan blackwork, with classic sailor style decorating his arms. He got those when he tried staying at home, being a homebody, with his wife. It didn’t work out. He’s much happier sailing around the world.

Risha Petrichor: Sonny is madly in love with the beautiful Risha, a trust fund beneficiary who has an excellent reason for being in that room while that political assassination was happening. Sonny is sure of it. In fact, he trusts her so much he doesn’t even care what it is, and he hopes that in a few more years, she’ll notice that his romantic obsession is truer than all other romantic obsessions.

Hina: Hina is a bio-reverse-engineered thylacine, with dog DNA filling in the missing bits. She’s got a chip in her head that floods her brain with oxytocin when she’s around her official handler, and due to a malfunction, Sonny becomes her official handler soon after they meet. Having worked as a sports mascot, she is very well trained, and accustomed to crowds.

The Mermaid: Is the figurehead of the Lono, a modern recreation of an old-fashioned ship, made of bioengineered wood hardy enough to withstand the rigors of a chemically readjusted ocean that rapidly corrodes metal. It was built by Kai’s shipwright family, because they love him and understand his need to wander all over the planet, even though it’s dangerous. The figurehead was chosen by Kai as a tribute to his navigator, Nepenthe, a sentient sea cow (“Siren”) who communicates using a mermaid avatar on protoplasm-blob powered technology which enables her to get 3D beneath-surface Google streetview as well as some interesting chatrooms and musical downloads.

The Jellyfish: Are full of clones of Adrian Qoro, the smartest evil genius of them all. At some point, their country became the very first country made up entirely of clones!  (Because they killed everyone else.)  Lately the international community has been frowning upon their unsustainable lack of genetic diversity as well as their mad science industry. Their response: kidnapping a stadium full of people and keeping them happy and comfortable in what amounts to a zoo while granting them limited citizenship, problem solved. Or is it?  We shall see how this plays out.


Lucas J. Quicksilver, M.D.:  A skinny white guy with fancy blond hair. Looks like he escaped from a boy band.  Currently passed out in the hold due to overexertion.

(Special Agent) Leah Dean Blocker: A black lady with short, salt-and-pepper hair and strong cheekbones, who walks with a limp, or at least she did until she recently broke her leg. She’s also passed out in the hold due to having a broken leg.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

One Sunny Night: Truth in Packaging

In California, there’s a law (Prop 65) that requires people selling things to label the contents and whether they’ll harm you. Sometimes this goes to silly extremes, like those little signs in bars warning you that there might be cigarette smoke outside, but I’d rather have too much information than a lack of it, personally. 

Since there are a lot of people who believe stories can work their way into peoples’ brains and turn them into unfeeling zombies who thirst for blood, I figured I’d do some content labeling on my story. Amazon wouldn’t let me upload it as YA, which it is, so I’m kind of bouncing between kids’ and regular sci fi, with an occasional YA association appearing. I’m not sure about this word-worming theory, since I’ve read everything I could get my hands on my whole life, and I turned out fine. But I do try to respect other peoples’ sentiments, so here’s a great big old warning label for One Sunny Night. Which is a sensitive YA story about a boy coming of age, and dealing with the challenges of adulthood (while surviving multiple disasters).  

Violence and
Guns:             The most lethal part of the book happens in the first twenty pages, as Sonny falls painfully into the story. He sees a man die, and is briefly face to face with the corpse – just before some villains shoot it and send it flying. His new dog attacks one of them. 

                        Most of the deaths happen to nameless, backstory-lacking clones but later on in the story, some of the clones are introduced, and we get to know their individual personalities. I’m keeping my mouth shut as far as the characters’ fates.

                        Adventure stories require violence. That said, I tried to de-emphasize the amount of fighting the hero directly experiences. He’s more of a diplomat than a fighter, plus he’s pretty good at surviving nature. 

There are some countries in my fictional universe where you can have guns. My hero comes from a country where you can’t.  He’s familiar with them from movies and videogames, but he has never fired one.

                        Guns have talismanic qualities in my fictional universe. When they come out, things get serious, and everyone’s life is about to take a sharp unanticipated swerve, typically for the worse. 

                        Now I do have stunrods, which are about the size of a flashlight and can kill or incapacitate a person without a trace, and those are legal everywhere. Murders occasionally happen, and given the amount of casual everyday surveillance (everyone’s got a video camera in their hand, just like we do now), murderers are almost always caught and sent to prison (where they spend their time enduring empathy training in virtual reality). People who anticipate being attacked can acquire back-capacitors (“backcaps”) which will turn a stunrod blast around and kill the wielder. Electromagnetic anti-bullet shields can happen. People can get cybernetic microbot-deploying implants which will throw anyone trying to forcibly introduce their DNA into their blood/bodily fluids into a massive seizure, so there’s not a lot of rape. You can get cybernetic implants that detect other peoples’ add-ons, but they can get add-ons that deliberately broadcast wrong information to fool attackers, and so on.

Bottom line: it’s a really bad idea to just walk up and attack someone because, as the Beach Boys once sang, “You don’t know what I’ve got.”  

                        My side novel, Sieging Manganela, which I’ll release somewhere between books two and three in the Sonnyverse, is a war story. The war is an asymmetrical one between (a) some great big macho bioengineered supersoldiers who are all covered in muscle and have superhuman reflexes and etc.; and (b) some really smart nerds with drones. This results in spectacles like a squad of huge guys facing a fleet of drones (which can be fab printed to look like anything; in this particular scene they are toys – clown cars, dolls, cymbal clashing monkeys). The drones might emit any of a number of projectiles or poisons. The soldiers are each packing at least twenty different weapons, depending on whether they need chemical neutralizers or electrical disruption or good old fashioned ballistics, and most of their drill time has to do with identifying substances and drawing the corresponding weapon. 

                        I’m into riffing on violence and making it surreal, and separating it out from aggression, and thinking about it.  As opposed to encouraging it. And even so, I’ll allow that a few of my characters have very punchable faces. 

Sex:                Towards the end of the book, Sonny finds himself at a party, where everybody hooks up, except him. He is perturbed and vexed. At least he has a dog to keep him company, and a job to keep him focused.

                        I might let Sonny actually have sex in the next book, after he turns sixteen, but it definitely won’t be graphic.  Plus it will probably lead to trouble. Like everything else he does.

Boobs:          Sonny is a fifteen-year-old straight boy who likes to check out boobs. He actually faces a test involving boobs; they’re kind of like Scylla and Charybdis.  If he can manage to not stare creepishly at the boobs, he can learn a valuable skill.  I also want to point out that some of the boobs in this book are used for nature’s intended purpose, feeding babies. I instructed my cover artist to include plenty of boobs on the cover, to scare away people who don't want to read about them.  

 Animals:      I’m very much in favor of animals. All pets in my books are immortal. Animal abusers suffer the grisly fates they deserve. I’ll cop to being mean to fish, but that’s only because they’re delicious. Some of my countries are vegan and at least one grants animals provisional citizenship, although my characters tend to adapt to the local diet which sometimes includes dead cows, sheep, etc. Vatgrown meat/fish is popular.

Messages:    I don’t like stories with heavy messages. My stories are about people who all believe in different messages, setting them aside and cooperating.

Cussing:       Bodily only (shit, asshole, fartface), and sparingly, except for the clones, who regard it as friendly bonding, and then they wonder why nobody likes them. No sexual epithets, no racial namecalling, no blasphemy.

Religions:    They’re visible, embedded in the scenery, if you look closely enough. There are entire religious communities living peaceful honorable lives (as well as a few wicked cults), but my characters don’t run into them.

Message:      There is a secret, but that mainly has to do with a personal challenge to myself as to whether I could write an esoteric novel which is science fiction and contains no mysticism. It also helped me string the plot together. Props to you if you find it.

Mysticism:   Absolutely none whatsoever.

Science:        I take bioengineering to absurd levels – e.g., biological 3D printers that’ll let you make pliosaurs. Plus I’ve got some digitized people, and lots of genetic editing has been going on amongst the live people. The rest is feasible.

Models:        One of the themes in this story has to do with not having blind faith in your role models. I think it’s at least as important to learn about how to recognize and avoid shady people.

Diversity:     Inclusive. Let me know if I’ve left anybody out; I’ve got a few more roles to fill in the sequels.