Saturday, June 24, 2017

On passing for normal

I've been reading an old post on Sarah Hoyt's blog in which she opines that if you're a writer, your friends and family will think you're insane, and if you write science fiction and fantasy, that just adds another layer of weirdness. Had to laugh because this is almost the exact opposite of my experiences!

If you want people to think you're insane and/or terminally weird (not that I can imagine why anybody would want that, unless you're Odysseus avoiding the draft), just try taking your writer's mind through graduate school, university faculty, and a couple of software development companies and trying to pass as normal. Try as I might to be careful, I kept having these conversations in which the other party would eventually stop and say, "You have a really interesting fantasy life, don't you?"

And it wasn't a compliment.

In the last such job I made an all-out effort to pass. No more obscure rock band T-shirts. Gray suit, check. Good shoes, check. Makeup, check. Toothpicks to prop my eyes open during meetings. Refrain from screaming when the tech writer rearranges your sentences to make them euphonious rather than true. All that and I still blew it.

I'd been taking the Visiting Professor to give his talks at two universities in the area. I had to drive him because he didn't like the car the company had rented for him. I forget what make it was, but he claimed that in his country only pimps drove that make of car. He kept making heavy-handed, unfunny jokes about this and calling it "The Pimpmobile." This got old quickly.

All I said, on the way back to Austin that night, was, "If you like, I can drop you off somewhere on East 11th and you can get an up-close look at some American pimpmobiles while you're trying to persuade a taxi to come down there for you."

Couple of days later I heard that one of my colleagues had asked him, "What did you think of Dr. Ball?" And he'd answered, "She's very intelligent, but kind of weird."

By contrast, once I came out of the closet as a science fiction & fantasy writer, the normal people around me relaxed considerably. Because now "weird" was just what they expected of me. I fit into a group they thought they understood and everybody was a lot happier.

Sometimes the road to "normal" is very, very crooked indeed.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Ransomware out of thin air

Twice in the past six months I've had my browser (Chrome) seized by ransomware. (The second time was ten minutes ago.) In both cases I was able to recover by shutting down immediately, waiting a few minutes, and restarting. But it makes me nervous.

I try to practice safe browsing: never click on unverified email links, avoid sites I suspect to be dodgy, etc. Again, both times it happened I was doing nothing unusual; this time, reading another writer's blog which I visit frequently.

Anybody else have this experience? Any ideas what I should do to avert the ransomware demons?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

They can smell fear

I've been doing some minor surgery on Awakening - cutting some irrelevant scenes, moving others around, and so on - and now I need to read the whole MS and reassure myself that it still makes sense. And being a 20th century troglodyte, I cannot evaluate my own book just by looking at it on a screen: I need that stack of printed pages so I can read the MS the way I've always read MSS.

My Epson spent day before yesterday coming up with new and creative ways to make printing the MS a major PITA:

"My heads are clogged, you have to waste ink cleaning them."

"I'm out of yellow ink. This has absolutely nothing to do with printing black, but I'm going to sit here with my arms folded until you get me a new yellow cartridge."

"Paper jam!"

"I did 10 pages. Now I'm out of black ink."

"Ooh, you touched my plug. Don't you remember you have to insert it just so to actually get electricity from this wall outlet?"

"Say, how about I print everything after page 82 in red?"

Actually, I think the red ink was caused by a mistake I made in Word, and I think it's fixed now, but I coulden't risk testing that hypothesis until I recovered from the urge to pick up the printer and hurl it out the window. Now it's time to find out. Wish me luck.

Update:

After another 45 pages it has now decided that it cannot continue printing black text unless I give it a new blue ink cartridge. Pfui. Blue and magenta cartridges now on order.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Cut it out already!

I’m tired.

Last Wednesday was a tipping point for me: the shootings in Alexandria, the Left’s vile reactions, the tragedy of Grenfell Tower.

Not that I have anything useful to say about Grenfell Tower. But the rest of it?

Nobody who’s been paying attention to the escalating violence on the Left was surprised by the Alexandria shootings. Shocked, yes. But surprised? In the last year we’ve seen riots and attempts to shut down Trump campaign events, individual Trump supporters being beaten and harassed, a speech at Berkeley canceled after protestors broke windows and started fires, a professor at Middlebury College assaulted for the crime of standing next to Charles Murray, a parade in Portland canceled due to threats of violence toward Republicans who dared march in the parade, a college in Washington terrorized by bullies who march around the campus swinging baseball bats, repeated death threats towards Republicans in Congress and their families.

All this backed by a steady drumbeat of vile invective. Trump is not a legitimate president. Trump should be assassinated. Rublicans should be lined up and shot. Trump should be impeached and then executed. (Huffington Post). Hey, look at my neat model of Trump’s decapitated head! (Kathi Griffin.) I want a rhino to fuck Paul Ryan to death. (Joss Whedon.)

I’m tired of this prolonged temper tantrum.

The very people who screamed that Trump was a direct threat to democracy because he said he might not recognize the results of an election… have been, ever since November 8, refusing to recognize the results of this election. “Not my President!” they cried. And they have had ever so many great ideas. Who can forget, “Let’s dress up like giant vaginas and march on Washington to protest Trump’s vulgarity?”

Did I mention that I’m tired of this?

And I’m just as tired of the limp-wristed Republican response. We deplore the mobs and the violence. We write articles about Democrats saying outrageous things and point out that if a Republican had said the same things, the media would crucify him.

This has absolutely no effect on the ranting, raving, insanely screeching mob.

I am beginning to wonder if anything less than reciprocal violence will make a dent in their righteous anger.

I'm not rooting for reciprocal violence. I want to see this country return to a place where we judge ideas by debating them, not by trying to kill our opponents. But you know what? The people on the Left who are raising this ruckus should hope even more that this country goes no farther down the path of political violence. While screaming about fascism and accusing everybody and his brother of being a Nazi, they are themselves creating the conditions that lead to a totalitarian state.

And that will be much, much worse than the imaginary fascism they’re yelling about now.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Bangity-bang-bang

The first time I heard this joke it featured military training exercises in the Soviet Union. There are two groups of soldiers. The first group is told that they're infantry, but the army doesn't have rifles or ammunition for them to practice with. They are handed sticks and told "Just point these and say bangity-bang-bang."

Off they go, marching against the other group and chanting "Bangity-bang-bang" with all their might.

Guy in the back notices that as the two groups meet, the other groups' soldiers are literally walking over his group.

As the opposing group gets closer, he hears: "Tankity-tank-tank...."

What brought this to mind? I just saw a Wall Street Journal article (paywall, sorry) from last week discussing the sorry state of European armies.

"Soldiers in Germany’s Light Infantry Battalion 413 near the Baltic Sea coast complained last year that they didn’t have enough sniper rifles or antitank weapons or the right kind of vehicles. During exercises, they told a parliamentary ombudsman, their unit didn’t have the munitions to simulate battle. Instead, they were told to imagine the bangs." (Emphasis mine)

Tankity-tank-tank. Bomba romba bomba. Who put the bomp in the bomp ba bomp ba bomp...

Excuse me. I'm just going to go off and giggle quietly for a while.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Review: Dorothy Grant's Scaling the Rim

I have just two gripes with this book: (1) it's short and (2) there isn't a sequel (yet: I still have hopes.)

And I probably shouldn't complain about its being short, because the length is about right for the story. I didn't feel anything had been truncated or left out: I just wanted to keep reading!

This book is a delightful science fiction adventure story with an interwoven romance. Grant has an admirably light touch; the romance is interwoven with the adventure without slowing the pace, the world and the relevant politics are made clear without infodumps, the writing evokes the sense of a frozen world without stopping for lengthy descriptions. A sequel would be welcome, but I'll buy anything I can get by this author.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Strange attractors and snakebots and Madame Defarge, oh my!

Niraja Lorenz is just one of the talented and innovative fiber artists whose work will be exhibited at Highfield House June 25-September 6.If you're in New England, or plan to be there this summer, don't miss this exhibit on Cape Cod. (Hmmm. Cape Cod. Ocean. Coolth. Wonder if I can convince the First Reader that we should vacation in New England this summer for a break from Austin's hundred-degree heat marathon.)

Next up is a video of a snake robot, no kidding! Watch this little guy tackle the stairs at the Spectrum office. And if that's not enough for you, try this extremely cool video of an amphibious snakebot from Japan. I am so having one of these in the next book. Well, maybe not in Survivors; it would have to be forcibly injected into the synopsis. But there is a definite place for a snakebot in the urban fantasy that's coming up after I finish the Harmony trilogy.

Remember Madame Defarge knitting at the guillotine? I never realized that she was emulated during the two world wars by knitting spies who encoded train schedules, troop movements and other secret information into innocent-looking scarves, hats, and sweaters.That might be trickier to pull off today, since you rarely see women knitting or doing any other handwork in public...but I'm already thinking about a quilt. Hand quilted. In Morse Code. Now, how to use this?

And finally,the stupidest thing I've seen this week: intersectionality meets quantum physics. Oh, good grief. I've been waiting for somebody to tell me this is a hoax. Apparently, though, it's for real.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Finished!

I typed the last scene of Insurgents a few days ago, proofread the draft and sent it off to my one beta reader. Now trying not to breathe down her neck just because I'm in the process of scheduling it with a cover artist and formatter. If she persuades me that major surgery is needed, I'll have to put my preferred dates back; but I'm pretty sure that won't be necessary.

Pro tip: never try to proof an entire book, on the computer, in one day. It's bad for the eyes and worse for the temper.

And, of course, it's not like I'm twiddling my thumbs while waiting. I'm proofreading the follow-on, Awakening, and plotting the third and probably final book in this series (working title Survivors), which I hope to start writing at the beginning of July. This is going to be a tricky one. I need to show a collapsing society (Venezuela is giving me plenty of inspiration here) but I don't want to write a grim, depressing dystopia. Actually, I don't think I can; the funny keeps breaking out. I'm working on a sort of comedy of manners against the background of collapse and failure. There will be some grim bits - it's never fun when a society starts consuming itself - but I hope to balance the sadder parts of the story with scenes of my characters coping with whatever I throw at them.

Jury's still out on whether I can pull this off.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Isis Condemns Kathy Griffin for Cultural Appropriation

Via Duffelblog:

RAQQA, Syria — The self-proclaimed Islamic State has issued a statement condemning self-proclaimed comedian Kathy Griffin, accusing her of “cultural appropriation” after she posed for a photograph with a mock severed head of President Donald Trump. The group, which has been protective of its brand ever since taking over vast swaths of Iraq and Syria and establishing itself as the premier beheading agency in the Middle East, said it was deeply disturbed by Griffin’s “ignorant and offensive” use of a “sacred Islamic State tradition.”

There's more. Read it all. It's the only remotely appropriate response to That Picture that I've seen. And no, I'm not going to post a copy of That Picture. You've seen it. We don't need to keep gawping at it. (Unless we are the Secret Service, which is supposed to take such things seriously, God help them.)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The book I’m not going to review

Looking for new writers invariably means kissing a lot of toads. Usually I just sigh and give up somewhere between 10 and 20 percent, saying, “It may be somebody else’s cup of tea, but not for me.” Occasionally, though, I come across a book that is so annoying that it really tests my vow not to throw my Kindle at the wall. The book I’m not going to review today was one of those.

I’m not going to review it because for all I know, the writer is a perfectly nice person who just didn’t have a beta reader to tell him, “Sorry, this is not ready for publication.” And I don’t like holding people up for public obloquy.

But the writing, dear God, I wanted brain bleach long before I’d passed my eyes over even 10 percent of the text. It is so full of things Nobody Should Ever Do to a Reader. It would take too long to describe all the offenses against the English language, so I’m just going to mention the most annoying one: Pushy adjectives.

That’s what I call adjectives that the writer throws in to tell you how to feel about something without going to the trouble of actually describing it. Within the first few pages our heroine had melted metal sheets with “incredible temperatures,” had taken an “incredible leap.” A little later something “had done some incredible work on her health.” Someone else’s trigger finger “released a volley of countless slugs.” And there was a “merciless army” at the door. Oh, and somebody was guilty of “hateful preaching.” The expectation of sudden death was “heartbreaking,” and so was somebody’s rage.

The relentless bombardment of push adjectives was even more annoying than somebody writing in ALL CAPS. I felt that the author was shouting at me, “This is amazing and you’d better believe it! These characters feel deeply and so should you!”

That is… a very poor substitute for actually amazing me.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The predictable demons

It usually happens when I'm about 3/4 through with a book. I wake up one morning knowing that this particular book doesn't even deserve to go on a slushpile, it's a farrago of nonsense, it's boring, nobody will ever want to read it.

This time it's happening when I have only a chapter and a half to go on INSURGENTS. Possibly because this book is shorter than my usual, the internal demons were goofing off and thinking, "Oh, we don't need to attack until she reaches 75,000 words." Unfortunately, it seems that somebody blew the alarm whistle: "She's not going to get to 75,000 words on this book! Fire when ready!"

So here we are again, and the only way forward is through the Insecurity Demons. Arguing with them does no good; I simply have to get my head down and adopt the attitude that I don't care what they say about quality, I'm going to finish this thing. Today I've done 1600 words in that mode. It's not fun. But sometimes it's necessary.

The demons usually STFU after it becomes clear that they're not able to stop me writing. But this time I'm so close to the end that they may be able to keep it up for the rest of the book.

Full speed ahead. And damn the torpedos.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Book Review: Megan Whalen Turner's Thick as Thieves

Yes, I know I was going to post this review last week. I had forgotten that I always read Megan Whalen Turner’s books twice through, once to enjoy the story and again to appreciate the tricky structure. Thick as Thieves was no exception.

How much can you say about a book that is the perfect vehicle for its story? As always, Megan Whalen Turner’s prose is clear, luminous, limpid. If you think of a novelist’s prose style as a window through which you see the story, hers is a windowpane so clean that you hardly know it is there. Like Mary Renault, she gives voice to an archaic period (she keeps saying on the basis of technology it’s a fifteenth-century world, but it feels much more like classical Greece to me) not by dragging in archaic words and phrases, but by stripping modern English of whatever shows modernity. She’s a master at avoiding contractions, slang, neologisms – anything that might yank the reader back into present time.

In all this, Thick as Thieves is like her previous four books in this world. As always, she presents us with engrossing characters, a story that keeps reeling us forward, and – dammit – a surprise at the end. I know Megan Whalen Turner’s tricks by now and yet she still surprised me.

To hell with the style, you say: what’s it about? On the surface, it’s an escape-and-pursuit story: the slave Kamet, on learning that his master has been poisoned, and knowing that slaves are routinely tortured in an investigation, flees the city but finds his path to freedom blocked by determined pursuers, “accidents,” and suspicion. On another level, it’s a story of a slave becoming a free man in a much deeper way than simply striking off his chains. And it’s a story of an unlikely friendship growing between two very different men.

And as in her previous books, Megan Whalen Turner adds depth and resonance to her story with her invented mythology and literature. Thick as Thieves differs from previous books in drawing from the culture of her Medes rather than from her Greek-ish city-states. The prose story is punctuated by brilliant pastiches of something very like the epic of Gilgamesh, highlighting a friendship between two mythic beings that is very like that between Gilgamesh and Enkidu. She’s pulled it off once again: Thick as Thieves is at once an adventure story, a story of change and growth, and a reflection on the relationship between gods and men.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Spelt Czech is not You're Fiend

For instance? That blog post title made it through Word's spell checker without raising any red flags.

Back when the First Reader was publishing regularly, he used to run his papers through a spell checker because he knew he couldn't spell. Initially he trusted this step to clean everything up. After a certain amount of mostly civil discussion about how using "they're is" for "there is" affected the credibility of his work, he started getting me to skim everything as a second check.

I've been reading a lot of indie sf/fantasy lately - books that the authors have released directly to Kindle without going through a traditional publisher - and I am becoming grouchy about the plethora of minor errors that are probably due to an over-reliance on spell checkers. A number of indie authors brush off criticisms of this sort of thing by saying, "Oh, everybody is down on indies for having too many typos when actually we're no worse than trad publishers!"

Uh, no.

That is: I don't care whether Indie Book X has more typos than Trad Book Y. What I care about is that Indie Book X had enough careless errors sprinkled through it to yank me out of the story on a regular basis. And the type of error was almost always a case of a legitimate word used incorrectly to replace the "right" word. And it's not just discreet/discrete or deserts/desserts, which three-quarters of the English-speaking world predictably gets wrong. It's happening with common words that I can't believe any marginally literate person would mix up.

"Her eyes shown with delight."

"Never mind the passed, let's talk about the future!"

"I have a grate idea."

"There's a general disquiet among the populous."

"I'm go to practice more next time."

I just don't believe that anybody who writes a pretty decent 80,000 word book is really confused about how to spell shone, past, great, populace, or, for heaven's sake, going. Okay, I might give them a pass on populace, but even if they're shaky on the correct spelling they should realize that populous isn't the word they're fumbling for. It isn't even the same part of speech!

What this looks like to me is that somebody ran a manuscript through a spell checker and didn't bother to read it afterwards. Because they believed all their problems had been solved? Or because they believe some of the cockamamie advice I've seen handed out, like,

"Don't worry about grammar, spelling, or typos. That's mere craft; you need to concentrate on inspiration."

Or the much-repeated assertion that "If a manuscript is perfect, you probably edited it sixteen times and squeezed all the life out of it."

Kicking the reader out of a story trance and into musings about what you probably meant to write is just not a good idea. I don't care if you got "just one little letter" wrong. (There's only one letter's difference between shone and shown) Relying on spell check to fix all your problems is lazy, and it turns nice, calm, easygoing readers like me into crabby ranting maniacs. DON'T DO IT.

(Here endeth the rant.)