Friday, January 31, 2014

What I'm talking about when I talk about Science Fiction

Science Fiction is a continually compelling genre. For me, anyway. Judging from the number of space and clone and and and things coming out, it is for a lot of people.

So, what's my first mental impression when I think "Oh, SciFi"?

Space. Really and primarily, space. Space travel, space ships, worlds that are not Earth. Worlds that may once have been Earth. I sometimes think about things like my brain in a robot body (or a cloned body! Thanks Richard K. Morgan, for Altered Carbon and the subsequent two books. I'd love for there to be more).

If there's a science for it, there's a fiction for it, so Science Fiction possibilities, in my mind, are fairly infinite. But when it comes down to it, when I write (or make gestures at writing) what I think of as "Science Fiction", I'm reaching back to that Golden Age of Space Travel and Possibilities, where Man willingly travels at the behest of his (or her; I'm using "Man" as the gender neutral noun here) government to Explore and Discover and what have you. I want that mood of the indomitable spirit, the inquisitive attitude, the endless question of "What will we find and how will we survive it?"

I've already got an idea somewhat laid out for a near-future Moon novel. I now, I think, have the most nascent dream of a novel somewhere along that timeline, after the events of Untitled Moon Novel are said and done, and we (meaning Earth People) have moved even further.

What do you think of when you think of SciFi, be it books or movies? 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

A thing I run into quite frequently (read: daily) at the library is a fear of genre. It's okay to have your reading preferences; I certainly do. Myself, I don't read a whole lot of mysteries. It doesn't mean I won't, but rather they aren't the books getting my attention. We all are more than allowed to make those choices. But what really gets me is people making those decisions without having ever even put a toe outside their comfort zone, or people making those decisions even when it's an author they're familiar with.

For example, Dean Koontz has his Odd Thomas books, right? One of them came out at a graphic novel and only as a graphic novel. Patrons who reserved it by merit of it being Dean Koontz and Odd Thomas, like you do. An unmeasured percentage of them, once they saw it was a "comic book", said "Oh, I don't want that" with a particular wrinkling of the nose and returned it unopened. Didn't even leave the building with it.

John Grisham has a series based around Theodore Boone, a 13 year old lawyer. Across the libraries in my system, that might be shelved in Young Adult or might be shelved in Juvenile (what we call MG). People come in asking for the new Grisham, or for that Grisham in particular, and when they find out it's "for kids", there's that nose wrinkle again. By the way, J is where we shelve our Harry Potter and Y is where our Hunger Games are, and people will check those out, typically after they've seen the movie. Seeing that currently with the Veronica Roth Divergent books.

We actually have a display right now, of subgenres, inspired by a conversation I had with a patron who was taking out Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest, and had never heard of Steampunk. She didn't end up liking it, but I thought it was cool she was interested and willing to give it a try. There are people who come in looking for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and when they discover it's a mystery, some don't take it. There are people who come in looking for Ray Bradbury, or Ursula LeGuin, and are put off when those are in the Fantasy and Science Fiction section.

There are the people who think Fantasy and Science Fiction should be shelved separately, because they aren't the same thing. There are people who are confused (I'm in this camp) by the fact that we shelve vampires, zombies, and Neil Gaiman in the regular fiction.

We have limited space at my library, and the catalogers aren't all familiar with genre. But it genre an all or nothing prospect? I don't think so. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, say, doesn't necessarily belong in the Fantasy/SciFi section, but he could fit there. Ray Bradbury could be comfortably shelved with the "regular" (literary and commercial) fiction. The time travel romances (with or without highlanders, but really, why are there so many Scottish Highland time travel romances? When did that become a Thing?) aren't in the SciFi, nor is H.G. Wells, but we have one Lovecraft there and the other in regular fiction.

I kind of wish my library would actually just Dewey Decimilize the whole damn thing. Just assign each book its number and let people look for it by merit of that, not by the fast-and-loose genre categorizing we're currently doing. You want fiction? It's in the 800's, then look for the author's last name. Done.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Book Review: Winter Soon, by David Michael Martin

I guess I should preface this by mentioning the author of Winter Soon is my maternal grandfather. That little fact had an interesting effect on my reading, to say in the least.

It's always interesting to read something written by somebody you know. For everything you know about a person, or have talked about with a person, there's a lot going on behind the scenes. Maybe some of that is pulled back, with all of our microinstantblogging social network extravaggrandizement (I might trademark that phrase, be warned), maybe not. We have our public face and our private face, and our family face.

 (cover art by Marina Ermakova-Martin, linked from Amazon)

Monday, January 20, 2014

Bird Espionage

In September, a stork was captured and put in jail under suspicion of being a spy. The bird had a wildlife tracker on it, and given our present-day situation with drones and shit, I can understand not wanting to deal with the treat of being surveiled by storks. The stork was released eventually, and then found "dead on an island in the Nile River, osuth of the ancient city of Aswan." Which in a way makes it sound more legitimately like espionage, not less. Admittedly, Egypt has been having a pretty rough time of late, what with the revolution and all. And then the disappointing new leader and then.....well, that's where I lost the trail of breadcrumbs. I'm ashamed to admit I don't know what subsequently happened in Egypt (other than the former president telling the court he did not acknowledge its authority to try him), but in the interest of honesty with y'all, I did not Google it so I could pretend.

I do understand that nobody in Egypt thought the stork itself was a spy, but rather just a vehicle for spying technology (and has a list of animals accused of espionage, and this is a list of the top 10 Animals spies). Animals, especially birds, are used for things like message carrying all the time. Something drone-like would perhaps have been the logical next step (and still might who knows), and in 2011 a vulture was arrested in Saudi Arabia for the same thing (that story and others discussed a bit here on this Huffington Post article. Smithsonian had an article back in October about the CIA's animal spies.

 According to this article, 250,000 pigeons were used to carry messages between Europe and Britain in WWII, with messages sometimes (often? always) in cipher. That article is in fact about a cipher whose key is no longer in anybody's possession, and somebody claiming to have cracked it anyway. The Germans also used carrier/"spy" pigeons, and the British had peregrine falcons for counter espionage. Apparently in 2008, Iran thought that it found a pair of spy pigeons, and this Wired article discusses the logistics of making such a thing happen, and this Mental Floss article talks about homing pigeons. In the interest of protecting against spy pigeons,  And really, that's just talking about pigeons doing what they do, which is going home. B.F. Skinner, also in World War II, worked on "Project Pigeon", which was intended to be a pigeon guided missile system. The project was actually successful (operant conditioning for the win!) but due to a lack of respect and thus subsequent funding, it ended up being tabled.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Dead Languages

Wikipedia has a "List of Languages by time of extinction".

I think, for the most part, the term "dead language" evokes Latin. But Latin, while not the official language of a country, say, is still used. Ish. Students still learn it. You can still hear a Mass in it. I think perhaps exorcisms tend to be performed in it. I mean, I'd want my exorcism to be in Latin, should I ever occasion to require one. Take this as official record of my wishes.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

I don't mean to alarm you, but....

So apparently, Soviet Russia dumped a crapload of nuclear waste, 16 reactors, and "several" nuclear submarines in the Kara sea. Several is a sticky word; you've gotta figure, "a couple" is two (see: a pair), a few is three or more, and several is the next step, tending to be between 5 and 7, say. After that, you're working with "a lot" or "a bunch", or perhaps even "a metric fuckton". Most probably, the article writer didn't know the exact number, and/or wanted to break up the sentence with a different word. But I'm left wondering if "several" is more than or less than 16. Unfortunately, with global warming, apparently that sludge can (and likely will) reach other continents. One wonders how this will interact with/piggy back on/exacerbate the issues with the Fukushima Daiichi runoff.

(picture from