Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Not so funny

I've been working on a couple of silly posts, but yesterday's news has temporarily buried my sense of humor. The case of Charlie Gard is settled; apparently even the doctor who was willing to treat him concurs that by now the baby has suffered irreversible damage. His parents have withdrawn their suit.

Might the damage have been reversible if they had been allowed to take Charlie to the States for treatment six months ago, when this dispute started? We'll never know, but it's a question that must haunt his parents. Congratulations, Great Ormond Street Hospital; you have succeeded in drawing this out long enough that there's no danger a different doctor might make you look bad.

Be glad we still live in a free country.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

This is the State above the Law

I have - reluctantly - been following the case of Charlie Gard in the UK.

I am unable to evaluate the experimental treatment that Charlie's parents want to try. That's ok; it's not up to me to decide whether it's worthwhile. It is - or should be - up to the parents, who aren't even asking the NHS to fund the treatment; they've raised enough money to pay for it privately.

Instead, due to some unconscionable law, the decision is to be made by the courts that have already tortured the parents far too long - granting last-minute stays of a few days at a time, demanding new evidence on short notice. I understand that now, in his great wisdom and generosity, the judge who will decide the case is going to allow one of Charlie's parents to attend the meeting at which the doctor who might administer the treatment will attempt to persuade the doctors of Great Ormond Street Hospital and the judge that it may in fact improve the quality of the baby's life.

At present the parents are not only forbidden to take their baby to America for treatment; they will not even be allowed to take him home to die in their arms. The courts have spoken: they must watch him die in the hospital.

Of course, they're now suggesting that all this might change in a couple of days, if the American doctor is sufficiently persuasive. You see what I mean about torturing the parents? I suspect the judge has already made his decision and that this is a bit of theatre aimed at defusing popular indignation. I just don't know whether the decision is going to be, "See, we gave the parents every chance to prove their case and they couldn't do it, so let's kill the baby," or "OMG! New evidence! Had we but known!" But in any case I believe this is a face-saving exercise for the doctors and the judge, and who cares if it prolongs the parents' suspense? The important thing is to take the heat off the hospital doctors, right?

For the last few days, some fragments of Kipling's 'A Deathbed' have been running through my head, even though the poem is not directly relevant:

'This is the State above the Law,

The State exists for the State alone.'

(This is a gland at the back of the jaw,

And an answering lump by the collar-bone.)

'There is neither Evil nor Good in life,

Except as the needs of the State ordain.'

(Since it is rather too late for the knife,

All we can do is mask the pain.)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Counting Stars

One Star - The typo’s and misteaks in this book drove me crazy. I simply cann0t reed anything so fool of errors.

Five Stars – A sensitive and sensuous tale exploring the life and loves of a transgender dragon. May be too spicy for some tastes.

One Star - I hated this book. It was full of words. I’m returning it and waiting until the graphic novel edition comes out.

Five Stars - A thrilling fantasy adventure with an unusual plot. Aeirine is raised by a poor peasant family but discovers when she comes of age that she has undefined but totally cool magical powers. Her foster parents confess that she is actually the daughter of the noble elf Shimmerdwell, changed at birth with the stillborn babe of the peasant. Now she must embark on a quest to find her true family who can teach her how to wield her powers without screwing up by, like, setting the atmosphere on fire, which would make the book way short.

One Star - Why did they put a Messerschmidt FU-69 on the cover when the book clearly states that the hero flies a Focke-Wulf? Lousy research. I’m returning it for the refund.

Five Stars – A gripping alternative history exploring how WWII would have been different if Focke-Wulf had bought out Messerschmidt and dominated fighter manufacturing in the Reich. Leveraged buyouts, bond issues, stock options… I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.

Five Stars – X’gh!ul is threatened with expulsion from the Zv’aieee clan for being terminally boring. His boring nature is examined at length before we get an answer to the question: Can X’gh!ul ever utter a single sentence that doesn’t put the listeners to sleep? Thoughtful and stimulating depiction of a truly alien culture.

One Star - – X’gh!ul is threatened with expulsion from the Zv’aieee clan for being terminally boring. His boring nature is examined at length before Zzzzzzzz

One Star – I hate books full of stuff like spaceships and people exploring outer space. I thought this would be different but it’s just as bad as the cover, which has a picture of a spaceship and a person in a spacesuit.

Five Stars – A fast-paced and suspenseful coming of age story. Mary Sue Monaghan thought she was a tough spaceship jockey, but she had to summon all her courage and enlist the help of unlikely allies when she was attacked by the Martians in Chapter 1, the Galactic Federation in Chapter 2, the alien Star Lords in Chapter 3, the Mafia in Chapter 4, the Dallas Cowboys in Chapter 5 and ok, I stopped reading for a while because I was exhausted but I’m sure the rest of the book will be equally thrilling.

Five Stars - I loved this book! I hadn’t read a romance novel before and I didn’t realize they had so many good bits. Going to buy everything else by this author.

One Star - I hated this book! I was willing to overlook the cover featuring a half naked man and a woman draped over him, but it was a total surprise to me when it turned out to be full of dirty bits like those on pages 19,20, 35, 36, 51,52, and many more.. Also the binding is no good, it’s already cracked and falling open at pages 19-20, 35-36, 51-52 and many more.

Five Stars - My Marvelous Mystical Gadget arrived yesterday and I love it! The box is so neat and rectangular and cardboardy that I can’t bear to open it, but I’m sure the Gadget will be wonderful. As a bonus, the box makes a pretty tinkling sound when I shake it.

Three Stars - This radio was a gift for my son who likes to listen to music all the time. He was very disappointed that it comes with a cord too short to reach from the wall outlet to the edge of his bathtub. Eventually (after many calls to customer support) we bought an extension cord, but it’s just not the same, is it? He set it up yesterday and he hasn’t told me yet how he likes the arrangement. In fact, he hasn’t answered his phone all day today.

Five Stars - I’m giving this five stars because it came in time for me to wrap it and it looks like it cost about what my daughter in law would expect me to spend for a present. I don’t care whether she found it satisfactory because I don’t really like her very much.

One Star - This gadget is no good. I didn’t have a chance to check it out right away, so I left it in the basement for six months. After the flood receded I discovered the box was falling apart – lousy packaging! And when my wife went to turn it on, it electrocuted her. So I guess it was some use after all, but I’m returning it because I don’t have any more wives to kill.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Lost in a time warp

Lately all my writing time has been going to, well, actual writing. And editing. And back cover matter, which I don't count as writing exactly; more like, um, torture.

I will say there's nothing quite like discussing the cover and formatting for the first book in a series, while proofreading the second book in a series, while actually writing the third book. No wonder I'm having trouble figuring out what century it is! (The Fashionista and the Organizer would claim I still haven't got it right, that they need to drag me into the 21st century kicking and screaming. Pfui. I'm prepping books for Kindle, what's more 21st century than that?)

All this stuff going on simultaneously isn't because I have delusions of being able to multi-task. The cover designer I hired wants me to approve the final cover and write back matter for Insurgents. The cover designer wants the manuscript of Awakening. And the third book, Survivors, won't leave me alone. I am the innocent victim of a hireling and my subconscious. Mostly the latter.

Anyway, in lieu of interesting thoughts about the world or writing, here's the cover for Insurgents. I'm hoping to release it some time in early September, but that depends on getting my act together on practical matters like DBA, bank account, ISBN's, etc., etc.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

It's always fun when a novelist describes something and you suddenly recognize a place you know. Well, ok, if they're describing Trafalgar Square that's not so exciting. But if they talk about the street of shops selling strange fabrics for the theatrical costumers, or mention the fish and chips shop where the girl doused your chips with vinegar even while asking if you wanted it, there's a little thrill of recognition and the book becomes suddenly more real.

I've just discovered that Lynne Reid Banks wrote two more Cupboard books after the three I knew about (starting with The Indian in the Cupboard) and I'm making up for lost time, currently almost through the 4th book, The Mystery of the Cupboard. (Yes, they're children's books. So? The back cover says "Ages 9 up" and I qualify.) This one is mainly set in the Dorset countryside, with occasional visits to an unnamed small town. And I just read,

Omri and his dad walked out into the village square. There was a sort of little house - just a roof on four stone pillars - where you could sit. This was nicknamed Georgina after the woman whose memorial it was.
Now, we spent a couple of weeks in Dorset in, oh, must have been around 1990, because the girls weren't in school yet. We rented a place in Beaminster and cruised around the area: I have vague memories of long walks in the country, watching enough of a cricket match to send me into a mild coma (cricket can do that to me really fast), taking the girls and my father to a pebbly beach, and experiencing the Great English Traffic Jam of (approximately) 1990, when a truck bashing into the corner of a village store tied up traffic in all of southeast England for several hours. Not much else.

But when I read that paragraph, I said, "Steve!" (He'd hogged the book and read it first.) Did you realize this book is set in Beaminster?" Because all of a sudden I remembered that little shelter.

The internet is a wonderful thing. It took less than five minutes to find pictures of the shelter and the information that it's nicknamed "Julia" after the woman whose memorial it is.

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.