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? 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

In which I learned something new: Portal Fantasy

So, are we having a "genre" week? Let's have a genre week.

Something I enjoy reading on Twitter is #tenqueries, wherein literary agents go through their inboxes and whip through (do I need to say it?) ten queries. The format tends to go

Genre: what I think of the query. Pass/request #tenqueries

So what did I learn? Well, I googled "Ten Queries" to broaden my horizons a bit and see what people had blogged or articled or what have you on the topic, and I found this blog: The Blabbermouth Blog. It's a literary agent, Linda P. Epstein, who at one point blogged a "Ten Queries" (or more specifically "Ten Rejections") and two of the rejections were "portal fantasies", of which she is not a fan. I went "Uh?" and Googled that.

A "portal fantasy", if I'm getting it, is when a person starts in our "real world" and then goes to a magical fantasy one. I'd never ever heard the term before, though I wish I had, or I'd've been able to include it in the library's subgenre display this month. 

A "portal fantasy", to give examples rather than a definition, is The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Or Alice in Wonderland. Or Lev Grossman's The Magicians. Or Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. Or, apparently, my The Last Song (which I was categorizing as "Urban Fantasy", despite my "magical realism" meanderings). Scratch that agent, then, but it's good to know these things before sending a mismatched query to an agent and wasting time on both ends. Other things she does not want are werewolves and mermaids [why do so many agents have mad ons against mermaids? {According to Suzy Townsend, mermaids "creep [her] out"} Are there really that many mermaid books and I just never knew? I don't know if I can even think of one, other than, say, Hans Christian Anderson's "The Little Mermaid" and thus the Disneyfications that followed]), so again, it's good that I read further than "well, she accepts "some" fantasy, so Learn to Howl counts, right?"

Well, subbing a werewolf novel/series to an agent who doesn't want that is some kind of fantasy, anyway...

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 17, 2014

Veiled threats

Me: Look, crime scene pillows!
Fiancè: We can just make our own, honey.

Friend: Don't knock it until you've tried it. Well I guess you can knock it a little.
Me: I'll knock is as much as I want. You're not my real mom.
Friend:...I...I can't even handle this....

Fiancè: Portobello burger. Stop making that face, it's good. Keep making that face and I'll rub it all over you.
Me: If you rub that on me I'll throw up on you and that'll be worse than whatever face I'm making.
Fiancè: That's debatable.

Coworker: So I was watching this show on Netflix with two Dobermans in it named Zeus and Apollo...
Me: Was it Magnum, P.I.
Coworker: How did you know?!
Me: What do you  mean, how did I know? I have a Doberman. I've got a dog blog because nobody wanted to talk about dogs anymore. Of course I know a show with Dobermans in it.
Coworker: Okay, so really, I was maybe embarrassed to admit I was watching Magnum P.I.....

Me: So I read this neat article the other day about why creative people do not, in fact, make any sense.
Coworker: I'd believe that. I have no idea what you're talking about 90% of the time.

Me: Stop or I'm going to shake up the dog and throw her at you.
Fiancè: I don't think you can throw Elka.
Me: Well, I can, just not very far. I'd have to stand behind you and do it.
Fiancè: I don't think Elka would go along with this.
Me: She wouldn't know until she left my arms.
Fiancè: She'd never forgive you. Never forget.
Me: She'd forget. I'd give her bacon.
Fiancè: that's the reset button for you, not for Elka.

Monday, January 13, 2014

On Being a Writer

"Writing", and being a "Writer", is often a topic of discussion. How does it work? How do you do it? How do you know?

I'm fairly confident at this point that I'm a writer. I tell people "Yes, I write. Short stories, books. Speculative fiction mostly, nothing too literary. No, no vampires. No, nothing published." I actually met a member of a local writing group yesterday, and our very brief conversation was also very fun. Maybe I'll get to join one sometime, what with my spandy new 9-5 schedule?

But anyway. I can lay out a few simple steps to Being a Writer. In my opinion, anyway, as things posted in this space are.

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

Monday, January 6, 2014

Mental Intermission (sometimes a break is good?)

Every once in awhile, the well runs dry. Or...slows? I don't feel blocked. I won't tempt fate by saying I don't believe in writer's block (I do!) but I don't feel it often. Much like how I don't often feel bored. I'm quite good at occupying myself. I'm quite good at kickstarting my writing.

But, sometimes, when I write, it's all I can think about. Even when I'm not working on a story, I'm all