Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Restaurant Adventures with Sonny and Kayliss (an excerpt from One Sunny Night)

[At Baycon I caught myself describing this scene to another writer in the midst of a conversation about culture clash. There is a brief respite from danger, and all the grownups use it to dash to the nearest saloon and party their brains out, except for Blocker, who is feeling poorly. Sonny and Kayliss, being too young to party, go out for a bite instead.   -cd]

“I’d best go back to bed,” Blocker said faintly.
“Need any help?” Sonny looked at Kayliss, who was already releasing the wheelchair brake.
“No. I mean. Weren’t we going to have lunch?” She wheeled Blocker carefully toward the elevator and he collected his pile of books and followed, Hina rising from her nap spot to tag along. “Do they deliver it, like breakfast? Or does a milkshake count as lunch?”
“I was just going to eat in the restaurant,” Sonny said. “Risha said to room charge it.”
Kayliss pondered this all the way to the third floor. Sonny stood back as she helped Blocker transfer out of the chair into her bed, which had several extra pillows. The other bed had books piled all over it.
“I’ll be fine,” Blocker murmured as Kayliss adjusted the pillows around her. “You can go out and look at the town if you want. You have my permission as long as you don’t get into any trouble. If you do, you’re a renegade desperado and I was in fear for my life.”
Kayliss laughed. She bent over and kissed Blocker on the forehead. Sonny blinked, not really having thought of her as having emotional connections like a regular human before. He backed away into his room, leaving the door open. He put his railroad ticket safely away in his suitcase. The hotel maid had tidied up the room and left fresh dogfood for Hina, who squeezed past him to devour it.
Kayliss appeared in his doorway. “So. How exactly does this restaurant thing work? Is it like last night, with the big crowd of people? Can I have a second milkshake after lunch? Are those your books? Where did you get them all?”
“They’re awesome, aren’t they?”
“I can’t stop reading them.”
“It wouldn’t be a crowd of people,” he said. “Just the two of us.”
“I don’t like crowds.”
Fortunately the restaurant wasn’t crowded. In fact, they were the only two people there. The grayhaired waitress giggled at them, and Sonny realized she thought they were on a date, and this annoyed him. He had always assumed that his first actual date would happen with someone he actually wanted to go on a date with, and Kayliss was not in that category. She had her very own category all to herself, as he had no other enemies that he was pretending to like. All of her clones fell into another category, of crazy scary dangerous people that he hated with furious intensity, and the minute his family was safely away from them he intended to proclaim it as loud as possible. Therefore, if he wanted that day to happen, he’d better do a good job at faking friendliness.
Sonny smiled charmingly and lowered his menu. “Everything looks so delicious.”
“I can’t eat all of this,” Kayliss said, putting her own menu down and rubbing at her temples.
“You don’t have to eat them all.” He gave her a kind, warm expression instead of the mocking laughter that he stifled. “Pick the ones that you want the most. An appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert. I’m feeling a little hungry, so maybe we should get three desserts. And share them.”
“Are milkshakes desserts?  I don’t see them listed. What’s apple pandowdy?”
“You know what we should get? Chili and cornbread.” According to the books, these were two foods outriders always seemed to be cooking in cauldrons and skillets, over open flames and underneath stars.
Her face lit up. “Yes! Chili and cornbread!”
Sonny ordered for both of them. The waitress seemed pleased by his order, mentioning that their particular recipe went back almost two thousand years, adding more than he really wanted to know about the heritage herb garden out back where they grew all the spices. Kayliss seemed interested.
“I was reading in one of those books about a pollen curtain they have in the central region, where they have all kinds of heritage plants grown from the seed bank,” she said after the waitress left.
Who cares, Sonny thought. You probably just want to find a way to turn them into weapons. It figures that you’d waste all your time reading the science parts instead of skipping ahead to the exciting parts like a normal person.“Wow, that sounds fascinating.”
“I’ve never read books like these before. They’re not like textbooks.”
“No fiction?” Sonny raised an eyebrow. “No novels? Comics? Stories? No movies?”
“Lots of movies.”
“Movies with actors?”
“Movies that teach you how to do things, like calculus.” 
Sonny groaned. “You’re missing out on a lot. These books aren’t even good stories. The kind where the plot kind of makes sense, and the characters seem like people who might actually exist, sort of, and they’re all about deeper themes, not just people running around avoiding danger, and boobs.”
She gave him a blank look. “Boobs.”
His cheeks flamed red, just as their heritage-spice-flavored chili and authentic prairie cornbread served in a miniature cast iron skillet arrived. He dug in. Kayliss carefully watched his silverware method, and cornbread buttering technique, and copied him. The chili was as delicious as promised, and just spicy enough. Conversation gave way to chewing sounds, all the way to the three desserts, but they could only finish two, and the apple pandowdy sat forlorn and neglected as they patted their rounded bellies.
“So basically you would come in here knowing what all the desserts are, and then you would just pick the one you wanted.” Kayliss looked at him as though expecting a passing grade.
“Yup. And then you have to pay for it.” He awkwardly printed “Sonny” on the room charge slip, using the sharpened quill and pot of dark green ink provided. The waitress uttered a tsking sound at his penmanship. “In some restaurants you have to pay before they’ll bring you the food.”
“How can you tell the difference?”
“You ask.” He stood up and stretched.
“That’s what I’m doing, dumbass.” She stood up, staggering a little as she adjusted to her new center of gravity.
“Is that how you talk to each other back home? Dumbass and all that? Exotic foreign cultural tradition or something?”
She snickered. “Risha and Blocker have been trying to get me to stop. I would have just lost ten points if they had heard me. That’s how we talk to our friends. Apparently it’s a threat display to you people, and a sign of disrespect.”
“Go sniff a fart, shitlicker.” He smiled angelically.
Kayliss let out a loud whoop of laughter. She fell back down in her chair, cackling hysterically until tears ran from her eyes. Sonny stood by idly pleased, having never reduced a human being to this stage of amusement before. The waitress shot him a dirty look. Kayliss dried her eyes on her napkin and rose a second time, wobbling only slightly. She was slightly taller than he was. “Ten points,” she announced.
“Bring them on, assface.” He beckoned her toward the door. “Let’s go look at the town.”

Hugo Reviews: The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson

This story is a Lovecraftian travelogue, as a mature female math professor treks through gloomy Lovecraftian woods and swamps and cities.  On the trail of another woman, the descendant of a god. We get glimpses of Sarnath (before the doom came) and the plains of Leng and the creepy creatures and people who live there.

I was asking myself if we were there yet around 65%, and when we finally get to the end, we find a little twist but not a whole lot of there. Plus there’s a Chekov’s cat which is never fired.  

This story is not scary at all, which is a plus in most books but a deficit in a Lovecraftian tale. I’ll allow that it’s atmospheric, a bittersweet meditation on aging as Velitt undergoes one last quest, one that may very well kill her. It’s headed in the same direction as Lovecraft Country, the book that should’ve won Best Novel, but it lands with a flutter rather than a thunderclap. I didn’t enjoy it as much as Black Tom, another Lovecraftian pastiche on this year’s ballot.

As old Nyarlathotep once taught me, when choosing between two shoggoth, try to pick the one that seems like it’ll linger in your nightmares the longest. If this book wasn’t up against Black Tom it would be easier to like it more.  I’m voting it above No Award but below the other two selections. 

Review Portal

From a Certain Point of View (Star Wars) by Various Artists

Stay Crazy by Erika Satifka

Our Dark Duet (Monsters of Verity) by Victoria Schwab

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

The Last Jedi

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

A Court of Wings and Ruin (A Court of Thorns and Roses) by Sarah J. Maas

Warcross by Marie Lu

Doing Harm by Kelly Parsons

Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor

Trolls by J.J.M. Czep

The Book of Dust - La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King

Arabella and the Battle of Venus by David D. Levine

You’re Never Weird on the Internet by Felicia Day

The Violinist's Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code by Sam Kean

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Among Others by Jo Walton

Hugo Reviews: Penric and the Shaman: A Novella in the World of the Five Gods by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Hunger Games movies

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Kinder Surprise Egg for Kahuna

Kinder Surprise eggs are finally available in the US, and Kahuna had to have one.
 Inside, packaged in a capsule too large for even an American to swallow, was a three piece model of a Triceratops Horridus.  (And a small flier instructing you not to put any of this into your mouth and choke on it, repeated in every conceivable language.) Adorbs!  Kawai!
I'm glad they finally decided to trust Americans to use this technology safely!
(Don't worry, Kahuna won't be eating the chocolate. I fully expect him to bat the triceratops into a location where I will step on it in the middle of the night.)

Monday, May 29, 2017

Back from Baycon

In the spirit of making lemonade out of lemons, I took some of my page-numberless books to Baycon and abandoned them in a couple of rooms, trying to tempt people into taking them. While doing this, I serendipitously found Relle, a freelance editor! She didn’t seem nearly as venomous as the last editor I encountered so I gave her some … uh, collectible first editions to look at, to see if she thinks she has the moxie for the task. She is also fond of Disneyland and coincidentally, my stories are full of e-ticket rides.

I went to some panels, and interacted with some amazingly smart folks. I hung around the bioengineering talks, waiting with baited breath to see whether any of my realm-of-plausibility plot points would be shot down in flames, and I was pleased to learn I'm still vaguely within the boundaries of possibility. In fact, the “Ethics in Bioengineering” panel was a fairly accurate summary of most of my plot points.

Baycon felt downright elderly. Although there were plenty of people younger than me, the core of the speakers and organizers and participants had gray hair. It felt rich in a certain sense, one where balding dudes barge into line in front of you because that’s how they roll, or where people clog up hallways chatting while you’re trying to wheel your suitcase through.  The restaurant had specials – chicken fingers and reduced-size burgers – available to con goers. A relic from the times when less flush attendees shared hotel rooms with dozens of bodies, where they spent minimal time sleeping and maximal time partying with other nerds and doing volunteer labor in exchange for their badges. There aren’t any broke people in the Bay Area any more. They’ve morphed into people who have figured out some angle that allows them to live here and still have hobbies, and people who work too hard to have leisure time.

I buzzed through a few parties but I couldn’t seem to get into party mode. At more than one I found bored teenagers, who were also clogging up the pool and jacuzzi with moanings and whinings. I wasn’t feeling up to partying; my body was being a douchebag and I hate socializing when I’m in physical discomfort, so I spent a lot of time hiding in my room watching cartoons, wondering if the neckache would dissolve before the sleepiness set in.  Maybe that means I’m elderly too!  The horror! 

EDIT: Woohoo, I got linked!  I did do a more expansive con report, which is right here.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Robot Pirates Gave Me Four Stars

Remember when I had that swarm of bot visitors from Eastern Europe a little while ago?  They were pirating me, apparently!  And in order to help fool their unwary victims into installing whatever unwholesome things the clicky button delivers (I cropped it out of the screenshot below), they're claiming I have a 4.4/5 rating from 8635 votes.

I'm not altogether certain I object to this form of piracy.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Page Numbers … How Quaint

I was visiting my old pal [Name Redacted To Protect Privacy aka Nrp] tonight, and she happened to have copies of One Sunny Night and Retrograde Horizon, imagine that. She brought up a curious fact – my books lack page numbers.

Frankly, this whole business of numbering pages hadn’t occurred to me because I’ve been reading books at percentages for the last few years.

So if you have a paper copy of any of my books, you can tell it’s a first edition by the lack of page numbering. I’ll put out a second edition in June or July sometime and fix that.

It reminded me that the original draft was going to be exactly 360 pages. Twelve thirty-page chapters. It has since expanded to approximately twice that size.

Given the absolute lack of page numbering, I hereby decree that readers may highlight, annotate and turn over corners to their heart's content. They may use any found object as an impromptu bookmark. If they find any pages objectionable, they may rip them right out of the book and write better ones and staple them in.  As the author, I have authority to authorize this.  

It was cool hanging out with Nrp by the way. I think she is the awesomest singer in San Francisco. Yes, I know there are a lot of singers in San Francisco. I once played bass in a band with Nrp and her then-bf Mike (rest in peace), and while it never achieved epic status, it was lots of fun.  

One of the things we were talking about was reading books that formerly belonged to dead friends. Sometimes you'll find a little note, or an underlining, or a cartoon ripped out of a magazine, or an old boarding pass, or some other little touch that makes you think about the book's former owner reading those same exact words that are now passing through your own brain. So yeah, leave little clues in your books to let everyone know you passed through. Pristine is probably an unachievable ideal anyway.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

I'm not finished with regard to the subject of wandering stars

Hugo Reviews: A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

This is a love story between two men, set in a Mediterranean fantasy kingdom, where men fight wars and women stay out of the way. One is a soldier, the other is a beast tamer. There’s a bit of social intrigue and a twisty ending, and not much violence. The fantasy elements are incidental to the relationships.

This story sits right at neutral on my dial. I liked it immediately after I finished it but now it’s a day later and most of it has drained right out of my brain. The characters were well drawn and seemed realistic, but I probably wouldn’t get along with them. They lived in a fascinating city, but I wouldn’t want to live there. There was plenty of sex, but I found none of it erotic. I would recommend this, but only to people that I think would enjoy a gay Persian-style romance. My voting feelings for it are relational at this point, totally depending on whether I love/hate the other novellae.

I have wishlisted the two expensive novellae by writers whose corporate publishers think they're more awesome than Stephen King.  If these works drop to a reasonable rate before voting closes, I'll buy and review and vote on them. If not ... the idea is to jack up the price after you win the award for excellence. Not while you're still bumbling around in a pre-excellent state. 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Packing for BayCon

I don’t think I’ve ever been to BayCon, but I might have attended one or more back in the eighties. At that time I lived in San Jose, and I spent my time with the RPG-fannish, nascent computer nerd population. There was some overlap with the science fiction fannish East Bay including the SCA and the neopagans and hippies and so on. I stayed around the fringes until the early part of this century, at which point I sort of gave up on the subculture(s).

Ironically, over issues they’re furiously trying to rectify now – sexual harassment. I’ve hopefully aged out of getting harassed myself. My last straw happened while comforting people who had been subjected to sexual predation, and yeah, at one time the community was full of it. Maybe I’ll write about that some day.

It left me with a residual sense of social distrust. These days I am a confirmed loner, aside from my cat and a handful of friends I’ve known for a long time. While I love socializing with the other nerds, and filking, and discovering mutual obsessions, and dissolving into a froth of bad puns, obscure references and congenial laughter, I’m not too inclined to enter into any social bonding that’s likely to earn me subpoenas in the future.

I’m kind of socially warped myself. My dad had this weird thing about constantly moving to new houses, and never having social friends. I’m not sure if there was a deep dark story behind that, or if he was just trying to encourage familial closeness inside his delusional bubble, but I was the kind of kid who could cheerfully spend a weekend alone in my room so I took the isolation a step further. Then when I left home in my teens I spent a few years being very social – in nerdish circles, where many awkward tendencies were forgiven, especially for young blondes, because we had our own way of interacting that was very different from how the "mundanes" (or whatever fond nickname you gave them) did it, with nerdish references rather than discussions of TV and sports. 

Socializing with non-nerds is something I try to avoid whenever possible, because I don't speak their language at all. Even socializing with nerds can sometimes set off anxiety attacks, so I always make sure I have an escape route. Right now I’m trying to figure out how to accommodate my tendencies and still do PR, so it’s kind of a learning phase.

Maybe I’ll spend most of Baycon lurking in my hotel room reading books on my kindle. Maybe I’ll get my extroversion mojo working in time. Maybe the french toast will be delicious.  Crossing my fingers.

Arabella of Mars Wins Nebula Award!

Major congrats to my favorite YA novel this year, Arabella of Mars, for winning the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.

What Does The Title "Retrograde Horizon" Mean?

The title-drop happens in the middle of Chapter Six. Sonny is looking at video filmed from underwater (by a sea cow) and asks about the horizon indicator.

One kind of horizon indicator is the artificial horizon used in airplanes
Sonny wouldn’t know about these because airplanes no longer exist in his world; the decrease of oceanic oxygen has led to massive turbulence, for one thing, and materials degrade a lot faster in the changed atmosphere.  Sonny does know a thing or two about maritime navigation, but he has always used an interface with a top-down view and no need for a horizon. 

Kai explains it’s a horizon indicator. Mention is made of Venus, visible above the horizon. Kai remarks Venus is retrograde, and Kayliss explains “retrograde” means the planet appears to be going backwards from the earth’s perspective.

Sonny then jokes his horizon is retrograde, by which he means he keeps going forward without ever getting anywhere. Contrast with Kayliss’ quote from Alice in Wonderland toward the end of the story, which has a very similar meaning. 

In classical astrology, retrograde would scramble effects supposedly attributed to planets. A Venus retrograde might be accompanied by bitter wine, disagreeable women and discordant songs.  A Mercury retrograde might be associated with miscommunications and delays. Many moderns have reinterpreted retrogrades as being similar to some kind of universal bad transit or curse, attributing an even wider range of ill effects to them. Some people, in fact, state they are sensitive enough to feel a retrograde happening. 

Let’s get even deeper, because I enjoy that sort of thing. Here’s Wikipedia on the apparent retrograde motion of planets – what Kai means when he says Venus is retrograde (further note: Kai is a wayfinder, or a Polynesian style navigator, and he’s also an expert on general sailing and navigation from a variety of perspectives including European and Asian, so I would take his word for whether Venus is retrograde):

This apparent retrogradation puzzled ancient astronomers, and was one reason they named these bodies 'planets' in the first place: 'Planet' comes from the Greek word for 'wanderer'. In the geocentric model of the Solar System proposed by Apollonius in the third century BCE, retrograde motion was explained by having the planets travel in deferents and epicycles.[cite omitted] It was not understood to be an illusion until the time of Copernicus, although the Greek astronomer Aristarchus in 240 BCE proposed a heliocentric model for the Solar System.

As I mentioned briefly in passing before, my characters are all symbolic planets, and they bond over a common tendency to wander, and Sonny’s coming of age is associated with learning that he’s a wanderer too.  Sonny, however, is not a symbolic planet per se, he’s a solar symbol, because it all revolves around him, in heliocentric fashion. And he has just gained an understanding that apparent retrogradation is an illusion.

Moreover, the term “horizon” is astrological jargon for the ascendant/descendant.  Relative to this story, the ascendant is chapter one, and the descendant is chapter seven. Sonny is making his whining complaint about twenty pages from chapter seven.  He’s asking “are we there yet?” just shy of the halfway mark.

There’s also a boatload of foreshadowing in that particular passage, but I can’t really talk about that yet.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Hugo Complications: No Freebies For Me

I am a member of Worldcons 74 and 76 but not 75, and therefore I don’t get a free Hugo voters packet of eligible books, even though I nominated and can vote. Yet another caltrops in my quest for free stuff.

Free stuff was 50% of the reason I got into this Hugo voting thing to begin with. The other 50% was to save the world from what I was told were wicked fascists, although most of them turned out to be plain old libertarians wearing scary masks, just like in Scooby Doo. The idea of getting a predigested pile of certified Good Science Fiction for the paltry cost of a $40 membership seemed like a good idea.

Alas, my free stuff packet my first year included all the Puppies’ greatest hits, including all the JCW I ever intend to read in this lifetime -- more, in fact. My second year wasn’t much better, since I had already read half the novels, although I did get a few worthies. I have now registered for 2018 in San Jose, which means I’m getting a speculative assortment of whatever we end up nomming next year, and if it sucks, maybe it’s time to get involved in some other award – like maybe a YA-centric one rather than one focused on sci fi.

This year, I bought two of the novels: Too Like The Lightning and Ninefox Gambit, both of which I reviewed. Of the rest, three of them are sections of series that I’ve already read parts of. I voted for Cixin Liu and N.K. Jemisen my two previous times, and I don’t find myself wanting to return to either fictional universe. As far as Charlie Jane Anders, nope.

So I think I’m going to vote for Lightning and then Ninefox and be done with novel.

I’m weird about spending money. This comes out when I go shopping at Amazon. Ooh, Stephen King, click instant-buy!  Hmm, this noob writer is charging seventeen bucks for their e-book, they can go stand in fire.  Membership for con over a year away, no problem! Membership for con I’m not going to, just so I can get something like $100 worth of media for $40?  But I’m not going to that con …

I’ve already burned through novelette and short story for free on the interwebs, so I went novella shopping on Amazon.  I purchased three novellae:

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson
This was $3.99, and so far I’m enjoying it; a romance between two dudes, a soldier and some kind of beastmaster with a pet cheetah, in some fantasy kingdom.

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson 
               Also $3.99. Write-up says Lovecraft.  Love me some Lovecraft.

Penric and the Shaman (Penric & Desdemona Book 2) by Lois McMaster Bujold
I’ve never been able to get into the Vorkosigans, probably because I have the attention span of a toddler with a sugar high. I did like the Penric story from last years noms, so I’m looking forward to this – and it was also $3.99, even though the author has awards and acclaim and fame and could charge $6.99 like Stephen King if she wanted.

I already own Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle ($3.99).  This leaves only two novellae:

This Census-Taker, by China Miéville
Eleven dollars and ninety-nine cents. (More than a calzone!)
NPR’s blessing, many reputable awards. A story about a terrified kid. Nope.

Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire
               Nine dollars and ninety-nine cents. (More than a couple slices depending where you get them!)
               NPR’s blessing, many reputable awards. A story about a terrified kid. Nope.
               Oh, and it’s also some kind of parasitic … I mean, a postmodern deconstruction of books like Narnia, including Narnia, without really saying “yo, this here is some Narnia fanfic by a very negative angry fan” kind of like The Magician, and in fact this book is reminding me of The Magician, which is a book I can’t stand … nope.

Also, I could probably explore the terrified kid on a journey archetype a little further, but I’m giving that subject a broad and general nope because I’m working along similar themes, and don’t want to catch myself either stealing (lol, as if) or even worse, spinning my own story toward some kind of reactionary reply (definitely a likely scenario). The nopelist means ain’t gonna read/review/comment on/bother with until possibly later when I’m writing different stuff.

I reserve the right to cave and read items from my nopelist before it’s time to vote, but first I want to read all my shiny new $3.99 novellae and rank them accordingly. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Russians Are Clicking! The Russians Are Clicking!

I'm getting tons of hits from Russian bots right now so might as well throw them a party.

Gwendy’s Button Box (a novella by Stephen King collaborating with Richard Chizmar) – Not King’s Worst (That Would Be Rage)

I had a book date scheduled for this evening, but I got stood up. A book date is where I go to a restaurant with a book, preferably a cozy one like the-pub-down-the-block or my-beloved-tandoori-place. Since Gwendy went by in a premature flash that I finished during my meager lunch of soup (so I would have an appetite for a restaurant later), I wound up having a burger with my old pal The Forever War by Joe Haldeman instead (we had a great time).  

I am now determined to read more by Richard Chizmar, because I’m not blaming the fail on him. From all appearances he did his level best to pull King out of an ending that was speeding towards “very lame ending even for Stephen King” territory. I jest, I kid, I worship the man’s characterizations but his endings are kinda …                                            

Gwendy is a story about a gorgeous Mary Sue (the fact that she is one is part of the plot). Early on, she meets a weird guy that gives her custody of a box full of buttons she could press to destroy the world, if she felt like it, plus a couple buttons that dispense diet candy, and money. She proceeds to have a swell Mary Sue existence until The Ill-Contrived Day, during which many dramatic things happen.  And then there’s an ending which isn’t King’s worst – thanks, Mr. Chizmar. No doubt it’ll be a movie soon, starring a gorgeous teenage actress playing the Mary Sue.

There was one part that twanged a couple of nerves.  The Stand came out in September 1978. Yours truly was fifteen years old in 1978 and a King fan ever since I bought the first edition paperback of Carrie from Walgreen’s when I was eleven or twelve and hauled it around in my purse re-reading it for months because there was something about the prose that just sang.  Also, because I was convinced that was exactly what high school was going to be like.

I wasn’t yet in the habit of pre-ordering King stories and slurping them down moments after release, so I was reading The Stand a couple months after publication, on November 18, 1978, when the Peoples’ Temple mass suicide in Guyana happened. I was ping ponging between the horror of King’s apocalypse and the one playing on the TV news.

In Gwendy, the Jonestown event occurs after Gwendy does something magical, and she feels deep guilt as she wonders whether the two events were related. It made me wonder if King feels guilty about unleashing all that fictitious negativity into the world a scant couple months before the Reverend Jim Jones went nuts.

The Stand was a damn good book.  (Yeah, I didn’t really care for the ending, but getting there was epic.) (M-O-O-N, that spells epic.)  So was the one before it, The Shining.  The one before The Shining was a real stinker, and I recently re-read it.  It’s probably the worst novel under my roof.  Gwendy has only a mere fraction of the badness that is Rage.

Rage is so bad, in fact, that King has unpublished it, with the excuse that he doesn’t want to inspire any copycat crimes.  It’s out of print and exists only in collections like mine. I distinctly remember purchasing it from the Tower Records on El Camino Real in Mountain View and subsequently catching the flu and holing up with The Bachman Books (four novels including Rage), a bottle of Nyquil and a box of jelly donuts.

Recently there was a blackout in San Francisco and my entire office had a California snow day and I was searching for some print to read while waiting for the screens to come back to life and I grabbed Rage.  I got halfway through before giving up in disgust. If this had been the first King story I had ever read, I never would have read a second one ... maybe.  It was readable enough, as long as you feel like inhabiting the point of view of a creep.

Rage is the story of a school shooter. First he torches his locker, then he goes to his homeroom and shoots the teacher, then he hangs out with his classmates playing truth or dare until they venerate him as a wise and sagely hero, leading them from mundane conformity on a path of true adventure (and shooting more people) (until finally SWAT sorts him out).

Our teenage killer has gross, creepy sexuality oozing from his pores. Every female character is objectified. He refers to his violence as “getting it on." He's basically the villain in Gwendy. Or maybe he's Harold Emory Lauder from The Stand. He's also at least two of the bullies in It. Except at the time, King was fiddling around with making characters like that serve as protagonist. To his sociopathic classmates that don’t object to the presence of a dead teacher lying beside them, the teenage killer is a hero who forces them to wake up from their sheeply stupor. 

Why am I even mentioning Rage?  Because publishing badness like Rage today would be a career-ending move. People would automatically assume King was a thought criminal with deeply wrong values who should be silenced. This was King’s fourth or fifth novel and plainly it was written during his substance abuse period. He has gone on to write novels of exquisite feminist sensitivities, such as Rose Madder. Even Gwendy leans firmly on the side of women and against creepy losers like the dude in Rage who terrify and objectify them. Rage, however, identifies firmly with a violent shitlord protagonist, turning him into a Puckish counterculture hero striking a blow against the man. 

I presumably read Rage for the first time while delirious with fever. I didn’t remember anything about it, unlike two other Bachman books in the collection: The Running Man and The Long Walk, which I loved, and still recall. I first encountered it before Columbine, and the rest. Back in an innocent world where we thought school shootings were so unthinkable that a novel addressing the subject treats it as surreal comedy (see also Heathers).  We know better now, and so does King.

And even at his rock bottom worst, Mister King can still write the kind of words that keep you turning pages and longing for more.  I’m very jealous.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Science Fiction for Ladies

Jane Jetson drawing credited to Awearytraveler on DeviantArt
The idea that there were women who not only dislike science fiction, but also assume it’s all for boys, is not a phenomenon I encountered until considerably late in life.

I spent my teens reading science fiction from authors like Le Guin, and Butler, and Norton, and L’Engle, and McCaffrey, and the despicable Bradley, and some guy writers as well.  Later on I encountered plenty of grown women that live in houses where bookshelves overflow, and they usually have plenty of science fiction too. The idea that I was living in some bucolic enclave of sheltered privilege never occurred to me. As far as I knew, science fiction was a multi-gendered thing. 

Imagine my surprise when later on I discovered there were women who avoided the genre entirely, or assumed all of its fans were male, because that’s how it worked in their house, with the husband apologizing for his immaturity as he headed out to enjoy some starships or superheroes. 

Perhaps there are wide-sweeping social theories that explain this in condescending and heavily jargonized terms. I’m not too sure about social theories. I do know (now) that a lot of women prefer their fiction to be not too fictitious.

Possibly this has to do with male science fiction getting more mainstream PR. Dudebros like Heinlein and Asimov and Captain Kirk and the boys from Marvel are known beyond their subculture, but you kind of have to be down with the nerds to know who Ada Palmer is, even if she's up for a major award.

I’m bringing this up because (a) I encountered yet another “oh wow, I thought all sci fi fans were male” reaction, within the last month, from an intelligent liberal San Franciscan who was entirely benign about her misconception; and (b) the majority of Hugo novelists this year are female (and the winner last year was a woman) (and the year before that it was that space opera, written by a woman, where everyone was female). 

A lot of the time science fiction is like this Schroedinger’s subculture – both oppressively patriarchal and smotheringly matriarchal at the same time.  If it’s not encouraging desensitized violence it’s preaching about social justice. If it’s not dumbed-down and cartoonish it’s too dense and scientific. It’s got just a little too much everything to offend someone.

And we fans and writers and consumers of it argue with the zeal of medieval theologians as to what constitutes “real” science fiction or “good” science fiction or “classic” science fiction.

Even people who love science fiction have a hard time keeping up with all the subclassifications. Dystopian, steampunk, cyberpunk, new wave, feminist, libertarian, religious, grimdark, space opera, space trader, first contact, postapocalyptic.  There are people passionately devoted to science fiction that have never seen Star Trek, or Star Wars, or a superhero film.  It’s a very big tent.  One that probably contains quite a few people very similar to you, no matter who you are.

Hugo Reviews: Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

Ninefox Gambit is a space opera with swashy buckles but the main plot concerns a May-December non-romantic friendship between a long-dead bad boy and a lesbian starship captain. While there’s no [wrinkles nose with distaste] telepathy, his digitized self lives in her brain, always ready for a conversation, always happy to lend a tactical suggestion. That’s why I’m not voting this book at the top of my list. Daydreaming about having some dude implanted in my brain so he can offer live commentary 24/7 is not one of my escapism priorities. This one is currently trailing Too Like The Lightning, another story about an assertive rule-breaking badboy, on my personal scoreboard.

I did like the characters, and watching them ponder the concept of how much friendly fire you can generate before crossing the evil line. Plus there’s an experience involved in reading a foreign novel where the idiom is slightly shifted, and the pool-of-assumed-knowledge morphs, which can give everything an exciting alien feel. The story isn’t easy to follow, but fortunately for me, I got over the whole notion of following stories years ago.

The space battles take place in a culture that is very interested in classifying people, much like Too Like The Lightning with its endless castes. In this story people (who apparently spend their entire lives in space, with machines) are fond of animal totems and they have zodiac signs for the month and day. I’ve noticed the trend toward classification in YA for a while now, in books like the Divergent series, and initially I blamed it on Harry Potter and his sorting hat, but now I’m seeing a lot of it happening with adult fiction too. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Long Hawaiian Names

One of my characters in the Sonny Knight series is Kai. I never actually type his last name but I mention it is very long. At one point he reveals an ancestor disgruntled with bureaucracy changed his name to an extremely long one specifically to meddle with official government forms.

My inspiration for this detail was Janice "Lokelani" Keihanaikukauakahihulihe'ekahaunaele, who won an epic legal battle to have her entire name printed on her driver's license.

I can read her name just fine, although my pronunciation may be considerably imperfect.

Just don't ask me to read anything in Welsh.

I'm not finished talking about Mr. Kamakawiwo'ole yet

I’m getting lots of hits on my Israel Kamakawiwo’ole page lately

It made me wonder if the post was offensive out of the context of the original discussion. I hope not, but if you find any offense in there, it was accidental. I feel protective about Iz and I don’t like it when people judge him on a physical level without taking his amazing voice into account. The recordings are all equalized and balanced so that you don’t realize how much sheer power that voice had, and how resonant it still is. 

I’m headed to the Big Island in September to check out Hawaiicon, and I imagine I’ll hear Iz’s voice playing in the airport when I arrive. Maybe he’ll even be on the in-flight music before we touch down. I might hear his music in the car rental place, or in the hotel lobby, or when I’m channel surfing the local TV, or in restaurants, or on the car radio. I’ll definitely hear it, that much is a guarantee. They might stop playing Iz’s music in the islands someday, but not for a while.

In case you’re also starting to develop a taste for that voice, here are a couple more favorites: 'Opae E and Coney Island Washboard Rondelay (cuts off a little early but it was the only version I saw on YouTube, so if you like it you'll just have to get the album).

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Princess Leia's Stolen Death Star Plans

If you travel in the same internet circles as me you've probably already seen this fifty million times.  I'm gonna go ahead and link it anyway, just in case there are any hermits out there.

Politically Neutering Novels

I read a review of the new William Gibson book, where he believed HC was going to win and then had to retool his novel to take place in an alternate universe where she had.

And I can sort of relate. As I mentioned, I toned down the archvillain in Retrograde Horizon considerably after the election. He’s still quite evil (he was part of a plot to kill everyone in his country – some 300k people – except for his clones, thus taking fascism to a political-is-personal level). He doesn’t speechify about his evil opinions anymore though, and he doesn’t deliver any “now I’m going to kill you, Mr. Bond” lectures.

Then I excised the exciting gunfight scene that takes place in their equivalent of the Oval Office. It was a little bit like a YA version of the climax of Reservoir Dogs, and it seemed silly and over-the-top when I wrote the first draft in 2015, but then in 2017 it didn’t. I hope you like the replacement scene. I agonized over it for months.   

I thought that a sinister and silent villain who doesn’t talk much would be less scary than a ranting crazyman. I was wrong. It is my personal opinion that the villain is even more scary now that he’s not posturing about his divine right to rule over the mongrels. You can sort of extrapolate that from his actions, and if you’re not from his clan, he doesn’t deem you capable of understanding his concepts anyway; you’re just another subhuman that needs to get out of his way.

Then I’ve got another politician character who is a little more complex, being a personification of Pluto bringing Persephone to Hades, but he’s nuanced, and has both liberal and Trumpian characteristics. I can’t really talk about him in passing; he’s deep. 

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a liberal, albeit the pragmatic kind that is primarily interested in universal healthcare for US citizens. I’m less likely to protest lack of diversity than to go write diverse novels and then commission covers depicting the characters in all their diverse glory, just to give you an idea of how my mind works.  I’m currently disgruntled about Trumpcare passing and hoping for a backlash in the opposite direction, as even Trump is admitting that Australia does it better. On bad days I’m convinced we’re about to start trading nukes with North Korea (where they were celebrating Fearless Leader’s birthday with movies about mushroom clouds over San Francisco, a city Trump would probably sacrifice in a red hot minute if it would justify a nice expensive war), and on good days I’m more about hiding out in my comfortable turtle shell thinking positive thoughts about the long range future while waiting for the crazy politicians to go away. 

Because when I’m in my creative zone, Trump has been dead for centuries, and we all have health care, and the continental US is now three-and-a-fraction different countries ever since the meteor reconfigured it. The people who like ATVs and guns live in a different region from those who like artisan IPA and dulcimers, or those that like synth pop and fashion, and travel is very difficult. None of today’s worries translate, and everyone looking for some escapism is welcome. 

If I Had An Inner Greek Chorus of Condescending Know-It-Alls Discussing the Astrology Reference in the Retrograde Horizon Post, They’d Probably Sound Like This

Condescending Know-It-All 1: Dudes … did she say astrology?

Condescending Know-It-All 2: I read it, dudes, and there’s no astrology in it. There’s no magic, no superstition, no ghosts, no psychic powers, no prophecies. She specifically mentions churches a few times in passing, but we never visit them. There are universal human rights, although different countries have different ways of providing for their citizens. It’s … pragmatic AF. The science stuff could really happen, from the cleanbeams to the deoxygenated ocean creating extreme air turbulence making flight impossible to the injectable tiny robot doctors … okay, the bioengineered dinos are pushing it a bit, but for the most part it’s hard science fiction about a future in which we have survived all the forecasted diasters. And it never even mentions astrology – nobody checks their horoscope or asks “what’s your sign, baby?” There’s no chosen one, and the only reference to destiny is a joke, and people succeed by using their brains and skills.

Condescending Know-It-All 3: What you totally missed, dude, is that the characters all represent the planets and their archetypes, and they interact with the Sun (Sonny) as he spends a year transiting through the twelve houses/chapters, beginning with the first house on the Spring Equinox, in which the Sun is exalted, Saturn (Ms. Blocker) falls and Mars (Rufus Marshall) rules. Then they move into the second house, which is ruled by Venus/Risha, where they find cows and real estate; the third house/chapter is where Dr. Quicksilver/Mercury has hospital privileges. And so on.

Condescending Know-It-All 1: But but but …

Condescending Know-It-All 3: It’s astrology from before it got coopted into a celebration of shallow narcissism (to evade fortune telling laws) in the early 20th century. Doesn’t exactly work with complete accuracy, but there’s enough grains of truth and poetic symbolism in there that have warranted keeping it alive since antiquity. The general outline of it was taught to the educated as a sort of mental filing cabinet, like the Dewey Decimal System, to help with bulk memorization tasks in an era we internet-friendly folks can scarcely imagine.

Condescending Know-It-All 4: [strokes hipster beard] Well, it’s also the metaphysical experiment of writing a completely secular, grounded, scientific, rational futuristic story on top of what amounts to an esoteric spiritual journey which adheres steadfastly to centuries-old symbolism. The author might even be making a point about how both can exist in the same space (without even really interacting with each other, in fact, yet moving in harmony). Possibly in a convoluted attempt to have the last word in a decades-old argument before she can drop it and write about something else.

AUTHOR: I’m gonna do even weirder stuff in Chapter 11, just foreshadowing. Also, quit talking about all this meta stuff, I’m trying to write some crappy pulp fiction here.

Condescending Know-It-All Chorus: We’re all gonna need some refreshments.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Physical Tangible Books

Food from the round kitty dish is more delicious than food from the square kitty dish
I ordered some physical copies of the books and they look really nice, much sharper than the old version. The covers feel nice and silky, and each tome is about 1/3 to 1/4 Kahuna in width.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Retrograde Horizon Press

I got some press, in both Speculative Fiction Showcase AND File 770. Woohoo!

It's weird, not having a novel going. When I've got a novel cooking, it's always at the top of my to-do list. Wash the dishes? That can wait, I need to rearrange some commas. Arrange the laundry in neat stacks? Not important right now, I'm busy scowling at the word "tenderly" and pondering whether to delete it. Mop the floor, go outside in the sunshine, finish college? Not a chance, I'm busy.

I guess I'm going to have to get everything I procrastinated about done now.

Or I could just start a new novel.