Sunday, December 31, 2017

Baby's First Blurb

"One Sunny Night is a well-written tale of adventure ... very creative..."  -- The Book Review Directory.

New and Improved Blurb for One Sunny Night

A grownup helped me with my Amazon/backcover blurb copy, and I'm going to post it right here while I meditate on it:

March 20, 3748, was supposed to be the day when fifteen-year-old Sonny Knight would enjoy the clashball championship game with his family and two best friends. Instead, it set off a chain of catastrophes and adventures when terrorist clones invaded the stadium, capturing all the players and spectators and transporting them off to a secret island base in submarines crafted from bioengineered jellyfish.

Except for Sonny, who managed to escape thanks to sheer bad luck. Now he just wants to get back home and let the grownups sort everything out.

But the day wasn’t a total loss. Sonny got to meet one of his favorite sports heroes, he got a new dog, and he ran into an extremely tattooed man who has a really fast ship. Which might’ve been able to get Sonny safely home in a couple of days if they hadn’t run into the tsunamis, and the pliosaurs, and the cattle stampede, and  more clones, and all those other complications.

Complications multiply in this adventure tale set in a way-past-dystopian future where humans face violent weather, cutthroat politics and bioengineered monsters, all of which make travel very inconvenient.

Writers, Authors and Novelists

The other day I saw this rant by Adam-Troy Castro on Facebook, about authors and writers.

It made me wonder where I fit on his Venn diagram.

I’ve been a professional writer, although it’s been years since I’ve sold any words to professional publishers, and I’m well over the six-figure-lifetime-earnings mark with regard to writerly income even though it was all pre-internet periodicals, newsweeklies and zines that bypassed becoming part of my permanent record. My business card states that I am a “novelist” – which is true, I’ve written two novels and a novella so far.  I have my name on self-published books, but not corporate-published books, so I’m not sure whether Mr. Castro would consider me an “author.” 

I am pleased to report I am finally a “reviewed” novelist – I found someone whose judgment I trust that was willing to write some thoughtful honest reviews. My first one clocked in at three-stars and I’m strangely far happier than I figured I’d be. I really despise those insincere 5-star reviews that don’t tell you anything besides the author’s down with the popular kids. I’m more like – “oh yes, I probably was being too obscure there, I should correct that in the future.” I’m trying to approach it as more like learning how to get through a level of Cuphead than responding to having my novelbaby disrespected.  Anyway, I’ll post more about reviews in the future, but I am stepping forward into “reviewed novelist.”

I think once I get my novel-writing muscles built up with my artsy experimental self-indulgent trilogy I’ll be able to write something more commercial, assuming corporate publishers still exist then. Mr. Castro also wrote a fairly recent piece about not being able to buy a book by a substantially known – yet midlist – author at B&N, specifically because the author didn’t sell enough. So it’s very possible that the entire corrupt and creepy-harasser infested industry is about to get restructured enough to permit midlist trash like myself to operate. In fact, I predict that’ll happen.

But it might not. It’s quite possible that I’ll keep on being self-pubbed forever, and never actually graduate to “author” per Mr. Castro’s standards. I’m okay with that. I can still be a novelist, as well as a “writer” (see Exhibit A, this blog). I will also cheerfully cop to being a scribbler, a wordslinger, a hack and a typist.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017 – Not As Terrible As It Could Have Been

It’s sort of traditional for bloggers to evaluate the prior year as the new one approaches, and I'm just as conformist as everyone else. Plus I had a lot more fun in 2017 than I probably deserve. Retrograde Horizon and Sieging Manganela both came out, and I went to Hawaiicon, and I met a lot of new people.


The only movie I saw in a theater was The Last Jedi. I recently had an argument about it that went sort of like this:

Arguing guy: It was full of man bashing!

Me: There was one man who got bashed (Poe Dameron), and it was deserved because he disobeyed orders and got a bunch of people killed.

So yeah, this is a movie about whether people like me need to GTFO of science fiction and leave it for the capable hands of the white guys who invented it, or whether we are also participants in this conversation. Best movie of the year. Should win awards.

An example of the matronizing domination that has befallen the Star Wars universe


My favorite books this year were:
               Arabella of Mars
               Arabella and the Battle of Venus
                              both by David Levine
I’m enjoying this regency steampunk adventure series far more than the source material.

                              Lyra Bellacqua is more interesting as an infant than most people are as adults.

               Among Others by Jo Walton
Won awards several years ago, and I can see why. A cool YA ghost story and love letter to bookworms (especially science fictiony ones).

               Spiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky
A spider is transformed into a ripped barbarian in this exciting and funny D&D adventure.

               Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
Yeah, Cthulhu’s pretty scary all right, but you know what’s really scary? Jim Crow era America, if your skin happens to be an unpopular color. I loved this perspective rearranger and am glad it has a movie deal.

               Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer
Kind of a Clockwork Orange style tale, in which Little Alex’s great great grandson tours a futuristic world full of intellectual paradoxes and stylish humanist boots.

               Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
                              An unusual book that kept me turning pages for a while, then bounced me away.

               Binti:Home by Nnedi Okorafor
Afrofuturism is red hot right now, and Ms. Okorafor is leading the charge. I’m enjoying this series about cultural conflict very much.

               Warcross by Marie Lu
Does the word “Chinafuturism” work? China is having a science fiction renaissance right now, and Ms. Lu’s story is a nice bridge between here and there in this Ready Player One style tale.

Meanwhile, boring baby boomers like Stephen King annoyed the crap out of me, so I’m going to stop writing about their stuff for a while.
               The only pop song that managed to earworm me this year was Despacito, so it wins my Unavoidable Musical Anthem That Henceforth Will Immediately Summon 2017 trophy.

I did get a Fallout Boy song stuck in my head briefly (Uma Thurman) but it’s a couple years old, so doesn’t really qualify as second place.

Video Games
               I fell in love with Cuphead while under the influence of Nyquil. It’s a love letter to ‘30s style animation, as this video explains. It’s also seriously difficult! Hooray!

               I’m also liking Hearthstone’s Kobolds and Catacombs expansion. I’m working on the associated card back, having finished two out of my nine dungeon runs. Seriously difficult! Hooray!

               Old standbys WoW and Sims 4 bored me for different reasons, meanwhile, so I’m having more fun playing games that are seriously difficult as opposed to seriously annoying.

               I changed my diet around again. Now I’m into avoiding fruits, vegetables, dairy and whole grains. I feel a million percent better, and my digestive system is functioning just like a normal one for a change. Multivitamins and french fries are taking up the slack. Counterintuitive eating for the win! 

               I haven’t made hardly any money writing yet, although sales occasionally happen -- a nice welcome surprise. I haven’t done the accounting for 2017 so I’m not sure if I even qualify for Science Fiction Writers of America – I doubt it. I’m also not going to sweat it. I’m new, I’m good according to my own standards, and eventually things will happen. In the meantime, I have learned a lot about being an author from all my conventions, so I’m going to keep attending them.  I’m going to keep plugging away at book three (A Dark and Stormy Day) while continuing to write this blog, and that’s a nice manageable focus for now.

               Also, if you’re not following my Facebook page, check it out -- that’s where I post links to articles and art. For instance, this awesome National Geo shark picture which reminded me of something that happens in one of my books.

               Conventions for 2018: BayCon in May in San Mateo; Worldcon in August in San Jose; SanFrancisco Comic Con in September in San Francisco; and (tentatively) Hawaiiconin September in Hawai'i. 

               I believe A Dark and Stormy Day will be done in 2018. I’m 25% there. Kind of behind schedule due to lots of time spent focusing on promotion and self-publishing, so I need to pull my focus back to writing actual content.

But What About You?

               My blog traffic – aside from the occasional international invasion – has picked up significantly, and that’s all thanks to you! I’m still in the two-digit range for most posts but occasionally I leap up into over-a-hundred territory, which makes me feel momentary flashes of digital stage fright. OMG! What if I say something clueless and get hate mail from the entire planet! But I haven’t done that yet and probably won’t, so thanks for being here! Even the pirates from Russia and South Korea! I’m going to make sure to include Russian and South Korean pirates in my future book, because inclusion is important – let me know if any of you want to be beta readers. 

Friday, December 29, 2017

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Happy Christmas ... uh, Merry Holidays!


I'm not a big holiday celebrating type person myself; I tend to hide in the house with my gift reciprocation anxieties and food sensitivities, liking things on Facebook and playing video games (this year I'm getting brutalized by Cuphead) and enjoying the ability to sleep late until the madness passes.

But hey, I do enjoy the odd carol and peppermint bark and holiday-related silliness, so here's a little Santa Vader action.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Foley Folly: Audio Deficiencies in the New Star Wars Films

Compared to the original trilogy, and even the prequels, the new Star Wars movies have extremely boring sound. No hummable songs equivalent to the A New Hope fanfare, or the Imperial march from Empire, or Duel of the Fates from Phantom Menace. No wookiee roars lovingly stitched together from the calls of wild animals, or instantly distinguishable (and scientifically inaccurate) spaceship noises.

I’ve always been fascinated by the texture of sounds – something distinct from being pleased by melodic structure. I’m more interested in industrial clamor and the calls of wild beasts than civilized noises like symphonies and operas as a general rule. The original Star War movies were a feast for my ears, replete with fun-to-replicate noises. The “vvvvm” of an ignited lightsaber. The “mwaaaaaaa” of an angry TIE fighter. The “pew pew” of blasters, which ended up becoming the very definition of blaster fire

TFA and TLJ? Massive fail. No catchy songs. No memorable noises. They seem to think the only thing people want to hear in their movies is dialogue. Pfft. 

When I was far more heavily involved with popular music, I used to occasionally work myself into a lather about how certain rock critics – I eventually learned to spot them – seemed like they were reviewing the lyric sheet instead of the music. Maybe they were. They’d turn in reviews of the lyrical complexity and the themes addressed, and I’d run out and buy the album on the strength of their praise, and then I’d bring it home and discover a bunch of two chord dirges with sloppy drums and lackluster solos. Meanwhile, when something stupid on the surface yet infused with skill and subtext (e.g. the first Ramones album) would appear, it would fly right past them.

Something similar happened when video games first became popular – some of the people writing about them were more interested in the story presented in the cut scenes than considerations like strategy or skill testing, a situation which persists

Different brains perceive different art in different ways. The people now making Star Wars films don’t get the importance of Foley, something integral to the original concept. I’m wondering if that splashes over into the “divisiveness”people are discussing with regard to the reception of TLJ.  I’ve heard other discussions about whether this is merely crybabies whining about women (especially – gasp – old ones) and minorities encroaching into their boys’ club, or on the other hand, whether this installment of Star Wars takes gleeful and disrespectful joy in deconstructing its predecessors. 

All I can say is (a) I did enjoy it, BUT (b) it’s more of a movie for visual and verbal people than audio people. No quotable lines, no memorable noises. You can analyze it all day but you certainly can’t dance to it.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor (another Goodreads finalist)

YA is an archipelago, of thousands of islands, each representing a particular flavor of fanbase. My little island is small at the moment, but it's got an active volcano of a writer resident, cranking out words, trying to increase the real estate.  Trying not to be discouraged by massive landmasses like Sarah J. Maas, and Marie Lu, and Stephanie Garber, which have enough square footage to build airports and stadiums. 

The stories are similar: young people have adventures, undergo training, and fall in love. The voices are what make each story unique. Laini Taylor's is an unusual one, veering over into litfic, with a moody lyrical story called Strange the Dreamer.

The book it reminds me of most, actually, is one called Godstalk by P.C. Hodgell, which is a cult favorite on File 770. Godstalk is on an island I can't reach. I bought it, I read it, but it's one of those books that makes my eyes glaze over as all the words melt into characters from some otherworldly alphabet. Please don't take offense if you like it.

In fact, maybe it's time to get into one of Charon's grand theories -- you will like a quarter of the things, dislike another 25% and have no opinion whatsoever regarding the remaining half. Movies, music, restaurants, novels, whatever. When you meet someone that approximately matches, you tend to become friends, or lovers -- it's not necessary, but people need to bond over something, and why waste time hanging out with friends that don't like any of the same things as you?  Sometimes people try to bolster the strength of their interpersonal bond by competing with other interpersonal bonds, kind of like the Hugo awards schism, but most of the time it's like blue competing with turquoise.  Some colors complement you, some don't, and other people occupy other relative positions on the color wheel. That's how I look at it anyway.

From my side of the wheel, the first half of Strange the Dreamer is stunning, as we follow a humble librarian about to seize control of his life, along with some strange blue youths living in the ruins of what was once a great city -- the godspawn. On the librarian's side there is tension with the local noble, and some fine and evocative writing that dragged me right into the story. 

Then at some point, after the librarian's decision to go and find the ruins of that once-great city, I bounced away, and my eyeballs started refusing to engage with the text, sliding over paragraphs multiple times. Maybe it's the distraction of Star Wars, maybe it's the cold meds and/or the dental meds and/or the wintertime and/or a million other distractions.

It's really odd for me to be so two-minded about a book, and I don't think I've ever experienced anything similar to this before. There was a famous fantasy series in the '80s that I recall being pretty good right up until the narrator raped someone, which made me reluctant to continue along in his vicarious point of view. Same goes for some of Piers Anthony's stuff that edges into pedo territory, or Marion Zimmer Bradley's creepy pagan rites, or Lovecraft when he gets racist, but those are all grounded in moral outrage, and there is absolutely nothing to be outraged about in Strange the Dreamer that I noticed.

Seriously. I saw nothing controversial or bad or mean-spirited or divisive in there at all. Just art.  I skimmed ahead to the ending, and its force was diminished a bit by my failure to engage with the second half, but it still left me gasping for air, even with the promise of many more sequels yet to come, which is how all YA books seem to end. 

Maybe you're a person that can engage with both halves of this book, in which case you're in for a splendid time. Or maybe you're not all down with the boring bookworm guy but the angel-ish spirits and their mystic moths totally float your boat. Either way, it's worth an exploration. 

So far I'm personally rating this one above all the other Goodreads finalists, and I might have to pause reading and think about it for another week or two before continuing. 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Porgs: Better Than Ewoks

I will always hate Ewoks.  Ewoks symbolize all the promises extended, then yanked away, by the Baby Boomer generation.  

We were supposed to have a big wookiee battle, on the planet Kashyyk. Same one that appears in the Star Wars Christmas Special. With tall people in fursuits. 

However, this turned out to be "unfeasable" for some lazy reason so they decided to make ewoks instead. With short people in fursuits. Short, calculatedly cute teddy bear people, that smell strongly of marketing. Let's market this to girls, they love plushies! And babies, they love teddy bears! And grandmas, they love bipedal Shih Tzus!  

We would have bought the plushie wookiees too!  Wookiees are a strong mighty pilot race. They have dignity, and depth, and backstory. Ewoks are toys that exist only to sell things, and have no real culture or skills. 

Now we have porgs, which are (in my opinion) even cuter than ewoks. They look sort of like minilop rabbits crossed with puffins. 
Porgs, like ewoks, seem calculated to sell toys ... but that's pretty much all they do. They provide a little atmosphere, looking baleful and disappointed with our heroes. They don't defeat stormtroopers with sticks and logs. They don't represent a downsizing of the wookiee battle scene that will now only exist in our feverish dreams. They don't have a Yub Nub song. 


Recalibrated Star Wars Movie Rankings

The Empire Strikes Back
               Made me want to write science fiction.

Star Wars
               I finally saw it after the hype died down; it was good.

Rogue One
               I am one with the Force the Force is with me.

Attack of the Clones
               Jango, my main Mandalorian! Seismic charges and Coruscant! Best of the prequels.

The Last Jedi

The Force Awakens

Revenge of the Sith
               Second best prequel.

The Star Wars Christmas Special

Having dental work done while you’re recovering from the flu and it sets off a massive headache centered in your congested right sinus. That happened to me earlier this evening. Not recommended.

Return of the Jedi
               I don’t like Ewoks.

The Phantom Menace
               I don’t like Gungans either.

EDIT: I have changed this post more times than I care to admit. I am going to try to keep my hands off it henceforth. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Further Meditations on The Last Jedi (with Spoilers)

I’ve read lots of reviews, I’ve talked to my buddies, I’ve snickered at the return of Emo Kylo Ren and I have Even Further Thoughts. Here they are. WARNING, there’s a SPOILERFEST beneath the porgs. 

Luke was perfect. He had that similar kind of half-insane, crazy-monkey quality that Yoda had in Empire back when they first met. I liked the saber toss. The idea of Luke going stark raving mad and winding down his life being the galaxy’s most remote hermit makes sense.

I also really enjoyed the climactic fight, and the way Luke finished it. I understand a large portion of the fanbase, reportedly even including Mark Hamill, were not down with the way things transpired, but I’ve always been fond of existential madmen, and having Luke morph into his own solo performance of Waiting for Godot really did seem fitting. I understand others might prefer their operas to have a little more formality and decorum, but cryptic crazy Luke is just fine with me.

Kylo fecking Ren. I hate him more and more with each movie.

Not even Anakin could continue to pull off “sexy” after committing a massacre, so you can just keep your shirt on, young man.

Ever hear of a “hair stylist” before? Your grandmother may have been familiar with the concept.  

Make up your mind.

Luke thinks he destroyed the sacred Jedi texts, but someone thought they were worth keeping. Will this result in a new fundamentalist Jedi order arising from the ashes?

Leia was also perfect. I’m going to continue missing Carrie Fisher for a very long time. What a great celebrity. Smart. Pleasant. Approachable. Flawed and lovable. Never molested anybody.

Why is the music so non-memorable in TFA and TLJ? I only vaguely recall the reggae from Maz Kanata’s place, and I can’t even remember if the casino had any music or not. The Star Wars franchise completely discarded a golden opportunity to give us SW Elvis, or SW Sinatra, or SW Britney Spears, in a way that would make us all forget about Sy Snootles forever. Seriously boring music in these SW movies lately. Lackluster sound in general compared to the originals AND the prequels.

I chafed along with Poe, even though the older ladies were correct – there seemed to be so many of them! As an older lady myself, I’m overwhelmed by all the representation in a series I’ve loved for years despite the severe lack of femininity. And yeah, nobody likes to be stifled by mom, or by a big crowd of moms. That’s for babies. It’s infuriating in a way distinct from being mansplained to.

The thing is, Poe doesn’t seem to mind a casualty-heavy strategy when he’s orchestrating it, getting all his bombers killed for the glory of sinking a dreadnaught. Once someone else pulls similar tactics on him, he goes full mutineer, at least until common sense regains control, which we know it will, because these are women, and we’re relying on them to be pragmatic.

Even though they’re just as ruthless in their pawn-for-a-pawn trading as Poe was.

I hated all those bossy meddling bitches, and at the same time, there are tears of joy in my eyes, thankful that Star Wars could find places for not just one token mature wise lady but a whole starship full of them. Escapism is for everyone, doggonit.  I love those bossy meddling bitches too.

BB8 is a Mary Sue through and through. R2 was a droid you could root for. Massive powers, but he had struggles, too. BB8 just wins all the time. You can even blow his head off and it won’t hurt him for very long.

There is lots of human diversity in the cast, but there aren’t a lot of aliens, aside from Chewie. Is it even possible to do aliens without superimposing racial allegories on them at this particular point? Kids these days are going to have a boring box of action figures, with no Hammerhead or Walrus Man.

The more I think about the whole casino scene, the less I like it. Lame music. Boring set design. They could have been way more original. Preachy class consciousness, and a horse race that was calculatedly aiming for Disney magic and missing by a mile. The only good thing in the casino sequence was Gary Fisher, Carrie Fisher’s dog, in a cameo as an alien. Next time I watch this I’m going to fast forward right through the casino.

My fifth favorite Star Wars film. (ANH, Empire, Rogue One, Attack of the Clones, this one.) 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Review: The Last Jedi

This week finds me sapped by a combination of seasonal flu and dental anguish. I am heavily medicated, feverish and far less vocal than normal, but fortunately the corner store has plenty of guava soda and ginger beer, and my cat is checking on me periodically to make sure I’m taking enough naps, so I should pull through. Yesterday I woke up with a high fever, a throbbing mouth and absolutely no voice, so I called in sick and slept most of the day, emerging near sundown, high as a kite on pain/flu meds and cozily bundled up in my Darth Vader hoodie, for some movie magic. I was not disappointed.


TLJ starts with a big ass space battle, with Poe Dameron doing the arrogant pilot thing, disobeying General Leia’s directions to not shoot down that awesomely huge space dreadnaught just because he can. Many rebel pilots die in this reckless feat, including a bomber pilot who goes kamikaze after finding herself in an unwinnable situation.

Next, we rejoin Rey and Luke on the island of endless stairs, for a nice surreal sequence full of porgs and Jedi training, and stairs. Rey wants Luke to come back and pull off a Jedi miracle. Luke insists that he has retired and changed his career to hermit, declaring the Force exists independently from the Jedi religion.  Rey, meanwhile, has an unwanted psychic bond with Kylo Ren, bouncing between flirtations with him and arguments with hermit Luke.

Finn, meanwhile, teams up with the kamikaze bomber pilot’s sister to grab a codebreaker. Instead, they get Benecio del Toro, in a lame vanity-appeasing cameo appearance as a mushmouthed, unkempt, incoherent, postmodern, backstabbing slacker, summing up everything that’s wrong with my generation. Yeah, you probably can tell I didn’t think much of Pan’s Labyrinth.

Everyone’s arcs alternate and progress. Rey’s lovely square face fills the screen with determined Jedi grimaces as she grinds levels of experience. Finn gets schooled in class-consciousness by Rose as they tour a fabulous alien casino, and Poe chafes as powerful older women order him to sit still and quit fidgeting.

I’m not even going to talk about the ending in this spoilerless section, other than to say that it’s just as operatic and grand as you’d expect.

I’d rank TLJ somewhere in the middle. Beneath Empire and Rogue One and A New Hope, definitely above Jar Jar Binks and The Force Awakens. Nice space fights, cool locations – especially the battle on Crait, which takes place on a field of red soil covered by a white layer of salt, so that every disturbance churns up a plume of red dust, almost as though the very ground is bleeding. This movie has the kind of visual genius I expect from Star Wars movies.


Don't say I didn't warn you

Welcome to spoilerland, where we’ll just assume you already know Luke was remoting in for that last big fight.  We’ll be skipping right ahead to the grand themes – such as down with the old, in with the new. 

Although Luke attempts to singlehandledly tear down the Jedi religon and destroy its books, there’s a subtle Easter Egg towards the end, where the sacred texts appear in the Millenium Falcon, saved by – Rey? Chewie? I suppose we’ll find out.  I’ve encountered  a couple of other popular works that have a similar theme of “let the old order destroy itself” while woke folks wait patiently, ready to rebuild in their wake.

The baddies and the rebels in the climactic battle seem determined to attrition each other to death, and at one point Poe goes mutineer to stop his side from sacrificing itself under orders from Laura Dern, as Admiral Holdo, a purple-haired mature lady with razor-sharp collarbones. In fact, toward the end the rebels seem mostly led by older women, locked into a pacifistic self-sacrificing strategy, to the consternation of the hot-blooded pilots in their midst. Holdo, as well as Rose’s sister, both use suicide-bomber tactics to great effect.

At the end, all the surviving rebels fit inside the Millenium Falcon, leaving the bad guys severely diminished as far as their space fleet, although they still seem to have plenty of AT-ATs lying around.  The rebels have put out a call across the galaxy for help, and I suppose next episode we’ll get a stirring vision of all kinds of aliens rallying to their side.

The bad guys, meanwhile, are in a leadership crisis. Snoke gets smoked in a bizarre red room full of Imperial guards with martial arts expertise, who are defeated by Kylo and Rey fighting back to-back in a weird truce which doesn’t last very long. Moments later, Kylo is duking it out with Luke.

I don’t like Kylo Ren. I don’t like his whiny entitled attitude. I don’t like his lack of physical resemblance to Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford and Natalie Portman and both Anakins. He looks more like the love child of Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson. I think the audience around me disliked Kylo Ren too, because when he appeared for his shirtless scene, we all laughed. San Francisco audiences are pretty good at distinguishing between hot shirtless men and icky ones.

Aside from aesthetics, I don’t understand why Kylo Ren bounces back and forth from being Rey’s buddy to enemy of everything Rey cherishes. Possibly it this has to do with Rey’s mighty Aura of MarySue, which allows her to dance through this movie in invincible mode, although that might have something to do with BB8, most overpowered droid in the galaxy.

I was glad to see Phasma return for an exchange with Finn. Phasma in her rainbow-dazzle stormtrooper uniform makes me very happy, for a secret reason. As a young person, I once wrote a letter to Darth Vader directly inquiring about female stormtroopers and put it in the US Mail. I got back a postcard from David Prowse, the actor who played Vader, with “no girl stormtroopers!” scribbled in Sharpie next to his autograph. So every time I see Phasma being a canon female stormtrooper, it’s like a little voice whispering “suck it, David Prowse,” inside my head.

Another thing this movie tries to do is wrestle back Force sensitivity from the midichlorians. A lot of people objected to midichlorians as representing some kind of a jedi birthright, making jedihood  a hereditary thing as opposed to being a spiritual discipline that any humble peasant could pick up.

So along those lines, Rey’s parents are revealed to be neglectful nobodies, and special-lineage Kylo turned out to be an asshole despite plenty of nurturing and guidance, and one of the poor kids who labors in the stables of the rich casino planet seems to be the next great force sensitive hope.

I’ve got a few other little quibbles with this episode. There were lots of elements that seemed to be only present because they looked cool, and not because it made sense for them to be there, such as the crystal foxes, and all those hundreds of troopers lined up formally inside a star destroyer for no apparent reason. Also, if you can just hyperspace stuff into other stuff, why even bother with other kinds of weapons such as death stars? 

On the other hand, sometimes you’re floating around inside a mist of pain meds and cold meds, and from that perspective, crystal foxes look super awesome cool. And so do porgs. I want a toy porg now. One that screams.

I don’t think I’ll be re-watching this one until just before the next installment premieres, but when I do, I’m wondering if it’ll be as much fun in a less psychedelic and medicated state.  Visually it’s at least a ten, as to whether that compensates for a lot of the intellectual laziness has a lot to do with your own unique individual demands as far as science fiction.    

Porgs. Hell yeah.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber (Goodreads awards)

I wanted to dismiss this book as yet another girly YA title where some action girl does occasional sparring practice in between mooning over some rich boy. However, that wouldn't be accurate. The girl here is not all that action-y, and the love interest is a cute pirate boy who keeps bedeviling her with his boyish sense of humor while they chase clues doled out by the Willie Wonka meets Goblin King mastermind of the Caraval game.

Scarlett, player of said game, lived until recently on a remote island with her sister, who is now missing, and her mean dad. Mom ran off years ago. Scarlett has been obsessing over playing Goblin Wonka's awesome game, which is basically a bunch of clues to solve. Accompanied by the cute pirate, for the most part.

I wanted to like this book a lot more than I do, and in fact I definitely prefer it to the Sarah J. Maas book, although not nearly as much as Warcross. I like games, I like girls who play them, I think the sister-rescuing is a nifty change of pace, and I'm enjoying the lack of opulence porn. There are some imaginative sets instead, and curious people populating them. I think part of my problem had to do with the vision being very cluttered -- the moment I'd work up a good inner visualization of some surreal scene we were moving on to the next one. It's like a great big graphics heavy puzzle game that takes a while to load, but once it's on the screen, it's dazzling. Alas, I'm more about the swift strategy games (like Warcross).

One thing I thought I'd mention -- the author gets a little religious in her acknowledgments, which made me think for a moment as to whether she'd telegraphed that anywhere in the story. And I noticed nothing in this book that made me think she was either pro or anti religion, and in fact there is a remarkable lack of soapboxing, moralizing and preaching in this book. At the same time, there's plenty of wisdom, in that the characters' real puzzle is learning to understand their own hearts, and communicate honestly with each other. That the author can convey all that without resorting to ideology speaks of real talent.  I haven't conducted any formal experiments, but I'm pretty sure the warmth is apparent to theists and atheists alike.

Friday, December 1, 2017

You Can Totally Judge A Book By Its Cover, I Do It All The Time And So Do You

Camestros Felapton has assembled a longlist of 2017 book covers. I couldn't resist self-nominating (autonomming?) Sieging Manganela because all the other entries lacked penguin-shaped death drones. It's kinda nice seeing all that gorgeous cover art in one place.

Review: A Court of Wings and Ruin (A Court of Thorns and Roses) by Sarah J. Maas (Goodreads awards)

EDIT: Whoa, it won! No doubt a bunch of people who have been reading this series from the beginning put it there. Well, congrats to Ms. Maas from an out-of-touch old, and I think I'm going to keep reading nominees. 

“For a woman who had been tortured and tormented for months, I looked remarkably well.”

I’ve read a couple of other Sara J. Maas books, can’t recall the titles. She’s a straightforward writer with a flair for plot complications but she lacks a couple of things I tend to seek in novels that I can’t put my finger on, so I’ll chalk it up to parallel tastes.

This one starts on a corpse-strewn battlefield, with flies crawling on eyes, just to let us know this world is a dark and serious place. It’s a fantasy story involving high elves and/or people with wings and/or pretty folks who fight with swords and pout a lot. Our hero Feyre, still attractive after whatever torture she met with in the preceding volumes, heads right into all kinds of convoluted disagreements with people that have stylish names and no senses of humor.  In fact, many of them, like Cassian and Azriel, have names I associate with different sections of fandom, making it a little difficult to keep everyone’s personality straight given the huge cast. This would be a great book for someone trying to think of a good name for a pet or baby.  

“My goal was bigger than revenge. My purpose greater than personal retribution.”

I made it to the 20% mark before my eyes started to glaze over. Lots of scowling and domination and submission by lovely pouty people, with some anti-Twilight type focus on consent. Not my cup of tea, but maybe it’s yours.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Review: Warcross by Marie Lu (a Goodreads award finalist)

Warcross is an interesting story about being Asian.

Oh yeah, right, it’s also kind of a YA spin on Ready Player One with a sprinkling of Snow Crash. There’s a game, Warcross, which is a really big deal, and part of it involves augmented reality that requires special glasses or contacts; our hero is a rainbow-haired and tattooed bounty hunter of those who scam this game. She’s a master hacker, she has a flying skateboard, and her name is Emika Chen.

Later on, she meets a Chinese-from-China boy, who condescendingly asks if she speaks Mandarin. Her heart is set on the rich and powerful, and Japanese, Hideo Tanaka, who has hired her to wreck some haxxor who’s meddling with his game, and to do that, she needs to get in there and play it. 

And in order to do that, she has to fly to Japan and party with an international crew of cut-throat gamers, in a glistening throbbing visualizable high-tech world.

Why am I calling it an interesting story about being Asian?  That occurred to me during a nightclub scene, where the singer is belting out a tune that goes “Hey Ninja / Gangsta / Dragon Lady / Hey, where you from, no, where you really from, baby / Hey how ‘bout / you cut all that shit out / Yeah!

That “where you really from?” is a question that American-born Asians get asked all the time by mainland white people, and it’s sometimes aggressive and sometimes just curious, and it’s also always racist and awkward. You’re telling them they can’t be real Americans, not with those Asian features. I grew up hanging around with lots of Asian people and I’ve definitely heard it – not as much in Hawai’i and California but elsewhere, in those heartland type places. Reading it was a jolt, reminding me I was reading about Asian characters in contact with Asian-American characters, reflecting Asian-influenced American tropes like Bladerunner and Snow Crash right back, in the midst of telling a regular YA story about an action girl who heads off to fight school while loving a handsome yet unattainable boy that's as familiar and comforting as chicken jook washed down with Mountain Dew.  

Just personally, I’m not really a weeaboo or anything, and I’m not that conversant with anime and J-Pop and Japanese videogames and Harajuku fashions, although I realize it all exists. But I do prefer to live in places with lots of Asians, because I’m fond of Asian food and culture and people, and while I was thrilling to Ms. Lu’s marvelous world that evokes so many gorgeous science fictional graphics, I kept wondering, “omg, she’s a Chinese girl and she’s falling for a Japanese boy, how’s that going to work out?  She’s an orphan that grew up in a foster home, so no parental stuff at least on her side, but they’re celebrities now so people are probably going to get into arguments about them.”  And that aspect, not the videogame chase stuff, not the obligatory opulence porn, not the multicultural teamwork scenes, was what kept me turning pages. 

This book is also a perfect example of why I go for teenager sci fi. The author, whose gamer credentials are solid (she even sneaks in a Leeroy Jenkins joke), describes a bunch of gamers sitting around talking, and they’re from all different countries but they have realtime translation. And I felt a sudden sharp wave of nostalgia for some of my old gamer guilds, and being on Vent with people from all different countries, using the game as a conduit to converse and learn about each other.

I remember this one time I went to Disneyland with a bunch of guildies, and it was sheer optimized heaven. With our trusty intercom-phones we juggled fast pass cooldowns and evaded crowd control, maxing out our ride achievement score while smiling happy smiles of efficiency.  I miss being a gamer sometimes, but now I’m a novelist. Just like Marie Lu, whom I suspect would pwn me in Mario Kart, but maybe I could take her in Warsong Gulch.

So far my first Goodreads YA Science Fiction nominee is also my favorite, and the others are going to have to work hard to knock it off its perch. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Hi South Korea

[Numbers redacted due to humility.]

So yeah, I'm getting lots of South Korea hits lately. Maybe this is due to my love of meat jun, or my respect for the formidable gamer skills of the South Korean people. Maybe this has to do with the Korean characters in One Sunny Night (they're from the United States of Korea, which exists in 3748, not quite sure how it happened, I'll defer to the fanfic, if any ever happens). 

Maybe it has to do with that piece I wrote about being nervous re nuclear war, since the press keeps harping on it. And I am, but it has faded into the background of anxieties. First of all, I think everyone realizes a nuke exchange would be tactically stupid. The latest news claims North Korea can send a nuke as far as Washington DC, while at the same time claiming the people of NK are weak and infested with stomach parasites from human-generated fertilizer. Hawai'i is resuming their nuke siren program. San Francisco never discontinued ours, by the way, it goes off at noon every Tuesday.

So either we'll get nuked or we won't, no use worrying about it. If it happens, and Ground Zero turns out to be the land of sourdough bread and Twitter, then I'll die. If it happens, and I don't die, then I'll probably throw nuclear disarmament onto my list of political priorities. If it doesn't happen, then I didn't waste any time worrying about it. 

I get waves of these visit spikes, and they seem to alternate between South Korea and Russia. Interesting times we live in.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Proper Role of Violence in Fiction

Just thought I’d clarify, in case anybody took my enthusiastic review of that medical thriller as an ominous warning. I’m about as pacifistic as one can get. I live in a gun-hating city full of hippies, where I cheerfully avoid professional sports, superhero movies and other manifestations of extreme testosterone. Although he wasn't my cat at the time it happened, I'm glad my cat is declawed. I don't do physical aggression.  

While I occasionally engage in videogame combat, it doesn’t happen very often, and that’s about the closest I’ll get to actually exchanging aggression with other people – I’ve got this weird belief that humanity can save ourselves by learning how to harness our aggression and siphon the excess into harmless venues like videogames, and writing adventure stories. Eventually. Once we learn how. Until we can control and direct our aggression toward mutually beneficial goals, we’re just a bunch of random sphincters.

Do I write about violence?  Hell, yeah.  Read my books, see for yourself. My heroes are subjected to all kinds of violence, and occasionally they’re even cornered enough to dish it out themselves …
… but only after exhausting all legal remedies …
… and making certain that violence is the only reasonable solution …
… and even then, aiming to incapacitate+escape rather than kill …
… in fact, my heroes have a remarkable propensity for standing there innocently when their antagonist’s uncontrolled aggression gets him/her killed, kind of similar to Disney villains …
… because controlled aggression is kind of my thing, you know, my gimmick, you could in fact consider all my work to be meditations on controlled aggression …
… because if this species doesn’t learn how to clinically detach from aggression and use it for something worthwhile, soon, we’ll never get to the spaceships.

No, we can’t make the aggression go away by agreeing to stop talking about it. We need to face it, to be honest with it and to figure out how to feed it with harmless substitutes like e-sports and violent stories.

So I’m in favor of violence in fiction. People occasionally endure violence in their real life, and some of how they model dealing with it comes from fiction. I think violence should be described realistically, to encourage people to refrain from inflicting it while satisfying their scientific curiosity about bodies and anatomy.
No headbonks that result in convenient, residual-free unconsciousness for as long as the plot demands.
No jogging with arrows protruding from your patellae.
No shaking off concussions and third degree burns and gunshots.
No broken bones that heal in a week without physical therapy.
No ludicrous tales of survival such as people falling out of planes and landing in backyard swimming pools, unless it’s a comedy and everything else in it is ludicrous.

Super-realistic violence in the form of descriptions of surgery, what can happen when teen pranks go awry, what actually occurs on a battlefield … bring it on!  When I was a teenager there was a notorious driver’s ed movie with gory crash footage that was supposed to scare you into driving safely, and the prohibition against exposing innocent schoolkids to violence was waived for this film, under the theory of reminding them that something as mundane as driving can be lethal if you aren’t careful. Yes, life can be bloody and terrifying and dangerous – and yes, lots of it can be fixed if you stop the bleeding and refrain from panicking.  Recovery sucks. Pain hurts. Being physically rearranged is scary. All of these are things that need to be in stories, with as much honesty and compassion as possible.

Besides unrealistic violence, there are a few other fictional types of violence I dislike heartily.  One is the idea of disposable people, as in stories where unnamed extras are gleefully massacred left and right, with nobody so much as raising an inquiry. Who are these people? Why isn’t anyone mourning them or trying to recover their bodies? Why is this storyteller so lazy?

Another one is sadistic violence, and I realize there’s a fine line between sadistic humor and actually taking delight in someone’s pain, and Monty Python’s Flying Circus basically owns that line.  Some of it is sweaty and furtive, lingering on the details of the mutilated girls/pets/kids with a sort of heavy-breathing sliminess. Some of it is cold as ice, with characters standing stoic as others suffer grim fates.

Being morally outraged by a book is a really slippery line, since we all have different thresholds. Nobody likes it when some prig throws a hissyfit over their favorite art, and yet we’ve probably all blundered into words and images and sounds that really need to have every existing copy destroyed by fire.  In these days of ferocious culture battling, outrage is frequently politicized, with some central troublemaker -- possibly sincere and possibly trolling -- yelling “I hate this art so much I want to wreck stuff, who’s with me?”  Meanwhile, we all chuckle approvingly over our own side's outrage porn, imagining our opponents' angry reaction with glee.

Calculating the harm done by a book is another extremely gray area. Hitler wrote an influential book, but his cronies were doing quite a bit more than engaging in book discussion. Lincoln facetiously blamed the Civil War on a book discussing the horrors of slavery. It’s hard to say whether the Civil War or World War II would have been fought without these corresponding books, but the books did provide a galvanizing focus, as books occasionally do. 

When books include violence and moral outrage, prodding people toward inflicting harm isn’t difficult at all.  Quite a lot of sharks have met with unjust and untimely deaths since Jaws was written. Other books have begged people to start revolutions yet were received in lukewarm fashion. Predicting what the mob will do is tricky.

It’s equally tricky to gauge the impact of intense storytelling on young minds. Will they experience a life lesson that will make them strong, or a trauma that hampers their development? Can a book make a kid sexually active, or gay, or liberal, or religious, or vegetarian?  Or does a book just enunciate truths that are more or less universal, some of which might be extra appealing at some particular moment in time? 

I can’t tell you. I think it’s an unsettled question. I don’t agree with the people who believe that writing about muggers or bigots or molesters causes them to spring into existence, or that writing should reflect the world which oughta be rather than the one that sadly is.  At the same time, I don’t like reading the gleefully angry rants of bigots or the fuzzy meanderings of junk scientists, because I think they can become battle flags for idiots without too much retrofitting. 

I’ll leave you with this: I very much enjoy stories of people surviving things. Accidents, fights, adventures, quests, amazing journeys. It reinforces my belief that life is worth clinging to, so that we can see what happens next. Sometimes these stories contain violence. Stories like this have existed for as long as humanity has, despite periods of suppression by religious or political authoritarians. I intend to keep reading them, and to keep writing them too. 

Hugos/Goodreads 2018 – Focusing on YA

This year I’m not going to be doing much nominating for the Hugo awards. Keeping track of adult science fiction is too much of a pain in the neck, so I’m going to focus on my competition instead.

These are this year’s Goodreads finalists for YA Science Fiction (sorted according to price).  I have purchased the cheapest and wishlisted the rest, so I can grab any that go on promo sale, and will work my way towards the ambitious Ms. Aveyard and Ms. Clare. Probably some of these will be on my Hugo nominee list, along with the latest Philip Pullman and the newest Arabella. 

By Marie Lu
$7.99 at Amazon
I like it already; it’s got a colorful cover with something more original than a dark brooding hooded figure, it's riffing on WoW and it’s the cheapest. Look at all these books about video gaming! You don’t see as much of that in adult spec fic. Probably because most adults are noobs.

Tower of Dawn (Throne of Glass)
By Sarah J. Maas
$8.53 at Amazon

A Court of Wings and Ruin (A Court of Thorns and Roses)
By Sarah J. Maas
$8.57 at Amazon

Our Dark Duet (Monsters of Verity)
By Victoria Schwab
$9.99 at Amazon

By Stephanie Garber
$9.99 at Amazon

Strange the Dreamer
By Laini Taylor
$10.99 at Amazon

Carve the Mark
By Veronica Roth
$10.99 at Amazon

Scythe (Arc of a Scythe)
By Neal Shusterman
$10.99 at Amazon

Lord of Shadows (The Dark Artifices)
By Cassandra Clare
$12.99 at Amazon

King’s Cage (Red Queen)
By Victoria Aveyard
$12.99 at Amazon

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Sandford and Merton Return

I am pleased to report that avoiding whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables was one of the best Thanksgiving decisions I’ve ever made, since I spent the rest of the weekend bellyache-free and churning out productive writing. I finished Chapter Nine, which was tricky. I got organized enough to make my Worldcon hotel reservations, and I even found a hotel that will accommodate my cat. 

I was so productive that I didn’t get a chance to finish all my unread books, but I couldn’t resist diving back into The History of Sandford and Merton (HS&M) for more righteousness.

After becoming addicted to Barlow’s heavily moralistic stories, little Tommy Merton begs for more of them, and when Barlow turns him down, he is forced to learn to read in order to satiate his craving. The first story he reads is about two dogs from the same litter. One lives a hearty vigorous country life, the other is a spoiled pampered pet. This incites the inevitable moral outrage toward the effete and lazy which the author is trying mightily to instill in us, and we cheer as the pets trade places, with the pampered dog forced to overcome his indolence and cowardice through healthy pastimes like staying outside in the rain and fighting wolves. 

Remember how I mentioned the specter of racism appearing in the last installment?  In this one, a retelling of the story of Androcles and the Lion is interrupted by a detailed discussion of the wrongs involved in slavery, resulting in little Tommy vowing to stop pinching and kicking his black slave. The theme of gentlemen doing right by their social inferiors is stressed, as when Tommy has some social awkwardness interacting with a poor child, who gets beat up to the tune of two black eyes for wearing the fine silk clothes donated by our well-meaning rich boy. Animal rights are brought up when little Harry refuses to divulge the location in which a hare hunted by the loathed neighbor Chase has fled, and is flogged for his trouble.

My own reaction to all this sanctimony varies. Sometimes I agree with it and nod approvingly about how such sentiments must be drummed into the heads of reluctant children. Other times I sit there rolling my eyes at the author’s insistent preachiness.  And at the same time, I take note of some of the cruelty contemporary to the times – the little boy who was flogged with a whip for not giving some rich dude directions, for instance – which would stand out if practiced today, and note that books like this probably contributed a little. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Decorating Mount Tsundoku For The Holidays

I am a Thanksgiving Hermit. I neither attend nor host feasts, due to my apparent difficulty saying, "No, seriously, if I eat that I'll be lying on the couch hating my own stomach for most of Friday." I do enjoy turkey, so I'm baking a small one sufficient to feed me and the cat over the next several days.

While I'm hiding in my lair eating it, I'm going to be working on my work-in-progress, and playing some videogames, and whittling away at Mount Tsundoku.  Tsundoku is a Japanese word meaning pile of books you've bought but haven't read yet, and mine are all stored on my Kindle in digital fashion, waiting for me to open and scroll through enough pages to make an informed decision whether to delete them or finish them.  

If they were paper books they might stand nearly as tall as my mountain of food, but they're digital, so it's a virtual mountain. At this point in time, these are most of the books on my owned-and-unread pile (except for the ones that I don't feel like divulging). No doubt I'll probably buy more without finishing these first.  
  • The History of Sandford and Merton by Thomas Day (in progress)
  • The Collectors by Philip Pullman
  • Commonwealth by Ann Pratchett
  • Until the Sun Falls by Cecelia Holland
  • Last Girl Standing by Trina Robbins
  • The Water-Babies by Charles Kingsley
  • The Shore of Women by Pamela Sargent
  • No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the Legendary City Gardens by Amy Yates Wuelfing (in progress)
  • Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams
  • Savages by Shirley Conran (reread)
  • The Humans: A Novel by Matt Haig
  • Jackalope Wives and Other Stories by T. Kingfisher
  • Black – The complete series by T.L. Smith
  • The E. Nesbit Megapack (in progress)
  • Poisoned Heart: I Married Dee Dee Ramone by Vera Ramone King
  • The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French
  • Dramocles: An Intergalactic Soap Opera by Robert Sheckley
  • Ella Cerulean: Book 1 of The Connective by Trimid Dew Lanns
  • Warriors (short story compiliation)
  • The Journeyer by Gary Jennings (reread)
  • The Wrath of Brotherhood by Ozgur Sahin
  • A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar
  • Bubba Ho-Tep by Joe Lansdale (I saw the movie)
  • A Bone Dead Sadness by Joe Lansdale
  • IQ84 by Haruki Murukami (been partially through for years)
  • Game Control by Lionel Shriver
  • Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie
  • Journey to the Center of the Cramps by Dick Porter
  • Johannes Cabal and the Blustery Day by Jonathan L. Howard
  • Linchpin by Pat Griffith
  • Stay Crazy by Erica L. Satifka
  • Nethereal by Brian Niemeier
  • The Wrong Unit by Rob Dircks
  • Experimental Film by Gemma Files
  • The High Ground: Imperials 1 by Melinda Snodgrass
  • Cretaceous Dawn by Lisa and Michael Graziano
  • Hollow by Martin Kee
  • The Hair of Harold Roux by Thomas Williams
  • The Island of Dr. Death and Other Stories by Gene Wolfe
  • Updraft by Fran Wilde
  • Gift of the Winter King and Other Stories by Naomi Kritzer
  • Comrade Grandmother and Other Stories by Naomi Kritzer
  • Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare by Philip Short
  • My Mother Was Nuts by Penny Marshall
  • A Few of the Girls: Stories by Maeve Binchy
  • Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb
  • The City Stained Red by Sam Sykes
  • The Bestseller by Olivia Goldsmith (reread)
  • Queen fo the Air: A True Story of Love and Tragedy … by Dean Jensen
  • The People Trap by Robert Sheckley
  • Crompton Divided by Robert Sheckley
  • Mindswap by Robert Sheckley
  • The Robot Who Looked Like Me by Robert Sheckley
  • Divine Intervention by Robert Sheckley
  • The Game of X: A Novel of Upmanship Espionage by Robert Sheckley
  • The Status Civilization by Robert Sheckley
  • The Drowning Girl by Caitlin Kiernan
  • Tales From The New Worlds by Tobias S. Buckell
  • The Drive-In by Joe R. Lansdale
  • The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove
  • The Darwath Series: The Time of the Dark … by Barbara Hambly

 Always On My Mind
(I’m never quite finished with these books so they tend to lurk at the bottom of Mount Tsundoku selling refreshments to the sherpas.)
  • Using Medicine in Science Fiction: The SF Writer’s Guide by H.G. Stratmann
  • Harry Potter series
  • Count of Monte Cristo
  • Outlander series
  • Game of Thrones series
  • Dark Tower series
  • Complete Wizard of Oz collection

A Mixed Review of Doing Harm by Kelly Parsons

This is an airplane-ride type thriller for grownups -- why am I reviewing it? Well, first of all, it's really good. The grownup elements are treated in a responsible fashion, the sex isn't too explicit and the family values are strong.  

As far as the violence ... this is some of the best, most medically accurate violence I've ever read about in my entire life. I learned several new ways to murder people fictional characters, and I was fascinated by the descriptions of surgery. This dude is a scalpel-swinging M.D. as a day job, and he really knows his violence. There's a gang-banger kid who gets shot through the willy, a fast-lane gay dude who contracts herpes in an unusual way, an operation that goes terribly, tragically wrong. The violence in this book rates a solid ten.  

I was trying to remember where I had heard of this book, and when the plot finally hatched -- there is a psycho killer doctor running around killing patients for the lulz, who can only be stopped by the mild-mannered protagonist doctor -- it clicked. This was on a list of Stephen King's favorites. I'll bet he was reminded of his psycho killer nurse character in Misery.

Mild spoilers are about to happen, just saying.  

The psycho killer doctor just so happens to be a hyper-competent woman. She knows her engineering, she's a bright medical student, she's got martial arts and computer skills, mad seduction skills and equally formidable sexual harassment entrapment skills. 

The author offsets this bad woman with a saintly Asian wife/mom, who is also contrasted with her control freak lawyer friend -- the protagonist doesn't care much for her, either. Seems like he likes his women to be at home, surrounded by sandwich fixings, although he does respect us enough to create one of the scariest literary villains I've encountered in a long time.  

Plus there's all that bona fide surgeon knowledge. Maybe this book is YA-appropriate after all, but only for those YAs who are considering a career in medicine. This book will either convince them to go for it or make them flee in terror from anything with biology prerequisites. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Allergic to Health Food

Approximately a year and eight months ago, I came down with a nasty bout of food poisoning that gave me an ultra-sensitive stomach. The problem was that I couldn’t figure out exactly what set me off, so I was avoiding things like processed wheat while trying to focus on grains and plants.

Turns out I react to fructans – which are present in some wholegrain foods (but not all), some fruit (but not all) and some veggies (but not all).  That’s right, I’m allergic to whole grains, fruits and vegetables.  No fructose sweeteners, honey and agave.  No asparagus, no apples, no black beans, no yogurt.  Garlic and onions set me off, and avoiding them is difficult given their prevalence in pretty much all the kinds of cuisine that taste good. 

Except there are exceptions, and usually I can tolerate small doses of objectionable food if they are accompanied by something neutral, like potatoes and other glutenless carbs. Herein lies the source of my recent weight gain. 

It’s a very mysterious condition to have. Sourdough bread is just fine but regular French bread makes me puff up like a pufferfish.  Portions and other alchemy count: a little bit of apple cut up in my salad is delicious, a whole apple eaten in one sitting is enough to put my intestinal bacteria into a military coup, a bottle of hard cider or a sprinkle of apple cider vinegar calms everything down.  I might be fine with the spaghetti at restaurant A and paralyzed with bellyache at restaurant B depending on how much garlic the chef likes to toss into the sauce, and whether I encounter ricotta (very bad) or brie (very good). 

Most of my new forbidden foods are things I didn’t really like anyway, like cauliflower and peas and asparagus. Avoiding them will be easy. With regard to the dairy, I’m fortunate enough to live in an area with plenty of lactose-free milk and ice cream and sour cream. We’ve also got some world-renowned sourdough bread, which has become my new sandwich default – keep that fancy cracked wheat junk far away from me. I will miss cashews and mangos very much.  As far as apples, I went through a several-year period where I ate an apple and a granola bar for lunch every day, and I could wax poetic on the subtle changes between apple seasons and varieties, and all the different notes one can find in a fine apple, because apples are far more subtle than grapes. I will still enjoy them from time to time, in their less toxic versions.

None of this stuff is likely to kill me. It’s more about lying around being uncomfortable than shock and seizures. It kills my appetite until my bellyache goes away, unless I re-irritate it by eating more fructans, which is the cycle that’s been messing with me.  It’s hard to focus on anything else when your belly is giving you grief. After looking at my food diary, and after making a concerted effort to avoid fructan, I’m noticing some improvement.

The difficult part is recalibrating my inner mental list of good, clean food. The one that lifts things like humble bowls of organic lentils to elevated levels of healthiness, while hating on perfectly innocent french fries that never did any harm to anyone. That tendency to order fruit desserts instead of chocolately ones, or whole-grain pancakes instead of bacon and eggs. Not a belief grounded in science, rather one that’s been shaped by thousands of conversations and magazines and Facebook posts and restaurants and all those fad diets that are supposed to make you healthy and gorgeous.  Political sensibilities too, the kind that insist on avoiding heavily processed corporate food while focusing on the organic.  All those agendas trying to get between me and my bellyache.