31 March 2009

Novellas I love: The Mountains of Mourning

Lois McMaster Bujold is one of my favorite currently-working writers. My buddy Phil introduced me to her books while we were stuck in an airport on weather delays. Now I have an entire shelf devoted to her books (though since the Sharing Knife books are hardcover, they're on a different shelf for oversize books.)

The Mountains of Mourning is set shortly after Miles' graduation from the Imperial Service Academy, and his plans for a relaxing two-week home leave between graduation and finding out his assignment are shattered when a woman from the back country shows up at his doorstep to speak to Admiral Count Aral Vorkosigan about the murder of her infant. Aral decides to send Miles to Silvy Vale as his Voice (and Lord Vorkosigan): both the messenger and the message.

Messenger and message, in one man: times are changing.

The hill woman sat on a hassock, a half-eaten oil cake clutched in her hands, staring open-mouthed at Miles in all his power and polish. As he caught and returned her gaze her lips pressed closed and her eyes lit. Her expression was strange — anger? Exhilaration? Embarrassment? Glee? Some bizarre mixture of all? And what did you think I was, woman?

Being in uniform (showing off his uniform?), Miles came to attention before his father. "Sir?"

Count Vorkosigan spoke to the woman. "That is my son. If I send him as my Voice, would that satisfy you?"

"Oh," she breathed, her wide mouth drawing back in a weird, fierce grin, the most expression Miles had yet seen on her face, "yes, my lord."

"Very well. It will be done."

Harra's daughter was born with harelip and cleft palate, you see, and Barrayar has an aversion to mutations, especially in the Vorkosigans' district, which got a hefty dose of radiation after the Cetagandan invasion 100 or so years before, when the Cetas nuked Vorkosigan Vashnoi. When Cordelia was pregnant with Miles, they were the targets of a teratogenic gas attack, which left Miles crippled.

His whole life, Miles has struggled to be worthy. He's got some big shoes to fill, when he becomes Count Vorkosigan:

And how much is he haunted by Grandfather? Miles wondered. He doesn't show it much. But then, he doesn't have to. Admiral Aral Vorkosigan, space master strategist, conqueror of Komarr, hero of Escobar, for sixteen years Imperial Regent, supreme power on Barrayar in all but name. And then he'd capped it, confounded history and all self-sure witnesses and heaped up honor and glory beyond all that had gone before by voluntarily stepping down and transferring command smoothly to Emperor Gregor upon his majority. Not that the Prime Ministership hadn't made a dandy retirement from the Regency, and he was showing no signs yet of stepping down from that.

And so Admiral Aral's life took General Piotr's like an overpowering hand of cards, and where did that leave Ensign Miles? Holding two deuces and the joker. He must surely either concede or start bluffing like crazy....

I love this story, because it encapsulates Barrayar in under 100 pages: the history; the Time of Isolation; the Cetagandan invasion and the resistance led by one General Count Piotr Pierre Vorkosigan; the peculiarities of social norms. And Miles' growing realizations that Barrayar needs to change, that he loves this backward, barbaric ball of rock that eats its young. It's beautiful and sad.

We are all here by accident. Like the roses.

My only complaint is that there's no Ivan in this one, though young Ivan was a bit of an annoying cad. I'm rather glad the author got a better idea on that one ;) I adore Ivan.

You can read it at Baen's Webscriptions.

(Aside: Has anyone else noticed that General Count Piotr Pierre Vorkosigan has the same name twice? Since Piotr and Pierre are both equivalent to Peter? That's what the Vor naming conventions will get you.)

30 March 2009

NBC's KINGS: a few first thoughts

A little background: I grew up in a protestant household, but I'm an atheist. So I'm familiar with the Old Testament stories, though it's been a Long Time.

I started seeing ads for this new show on NBC called KINGS during Heroes a month or so ago. It looked kind of interesting, with a semi-post-apocalyptic cum alternate history setting: In a place that looks like New York City, there are Kings. I can go with that. A bit of internet poking, and it turns out that the principals are (loosely?) based on the Old Testament Kings of Israel. Wikipedia has a spoilerish(?) list of the mains and their counterparts.

I remembered yesterday that it airs on Sundays, so I watched the first episode on the computer, then ran downstairs to catch last night's, which was actually episode 3. Fortunately, I didn't miss too much, though a few things were cleared up when I watched episode 2 online.

I'll wager that it's not exactly spoilers to say that King Silas (Saul) is abandoned by God, and David is chosen instead. But the rest of the post might contain spoilers, so be forewarned.

The first episode opens up with the inauguration of the city of Shiloh, a sleek, modern city of skyscrapers. King Silas is giving a big speech, in which we learn that he saw the city in a dream, built up from the rubble and ash left from a terrible war, and that he had a vision of being crowned by God. Meanwhile, David Shepherd fixes Reverend Samuels' car.
Flash forward to two years later, and David is on the front lines of the war with neighboring Gath, which is a military dictatorship of some sort. The tanks (Goliaths) are lined up, and they hear of an ambush and hostage-taking. The king's son is one of the hostages. David decides to violate his orders and rescue the hostages, though he doesn't know Jack is one of them.

Rather than a court-martial, David receives accolades and is promoted to the military press liaison. He doesn't want it, but he does as he's told. Meanwhile, Jack is pissed, because he's going up on charges, based on the lack of air support that led to the ambush. Turns out the kid was framed/set up. We also learn that Jack is gay, and that Silas knows: Jack's playboy antics are really a cover for his true preference. Silas tells him, of course, that if he wants to be king, Jack's got to stick to women. (The whole getting an heir thing.) There's an interesting discussion of the issues of homosexuality in KINGS on After Elton.

The rest of the 2-hour pilot revolves around David getting used to Shiloh (and falling for Princess Michelle), setting up backstory, and a peace treaty. Silas wants a peace treaty, but his brother-in-law, head of CrossGen, a military contractor, does not, for his own murky reasons.

Silas will not end the war, because he's beholden to CrossGen, and Samuels tells him that God no longer favors him, etc. The episode ends with David getting swarmed with butterflies, and the crown of butterflies that Silas had years before. Silas sees this.

The second episode revolves around the signing of a peace treaty with Gath. We learn a bit more backstory, or get hints of it. In the resolution of the terms of the peace treaty, we learn that the people of Gath live very poorly, probably as a result of the long war in the past, and that they want to live like Shiloh. So Silas' terms are to give Gath their port city in six months' time, IFF Gath stops fighting.

David's mom comes to Shiloh to fill out forms for David's brother Eli's deathgild. Eli's death prompted David to walk out across the front line and shout an overly long speech about sacrifice and peace and blah. (I got bored partway through it.)

I missed the first 10 minutes of episode 3, but it was mostly about politics and Silas' mistress and illegitimate son. The Queen is trying to get Michelle to stop liking David, so she sends him out with playboy son Jack. It sort of fails, maybe. The fallout of the gossip pictures will probably show up next week.

Overall, I'd say the writing can be a bit ham-handed at times, over the top with the Bible stuff. Also, the party scenes look like they've been taken from any number of recent vampire films, and the gay kids in the show are kind of stereotypically poncy, which is kind of annoying. But one interesting thing is that the God in KINGS is the vindictive, petty, jealous God of the Old Testament, who demands sacrifices.

Silas has a line, when he's driving back from a meeting in the woods with Samuels and hits a deer, to the effect of, "Is that what you need? Something beautiful has to die to satisfy you?" which I thought was a fascinating line, because it paints a clear picture of the OT God. Then I immediately wondered what the Baptists would think about it.

I'm curious to see where it goes, though. There seems to be talk about it being really expensive (they've got some big name actors, and the sets and filming are very sleek) and not getting many viewers, so perhaps it's heading to cancellation. I hope not; it could be interesting.

29 March 2009

It's cherry blossom time!

Maybe not up north, but it is down here. My Yoshino cherry started out 8 years ago in a 5-gallon tub from Lowe's, I think. Now it's about 20 feet tall. The first couple years, it was kinda straggly and had sparse blossoms, but in the last year or two, it's had a ton of healthy pink blooms. They come out so slowly, though, and later than most of the other Yoshinos in the area. But they're about 90% out now, and it's looking pretty. I think if we had a couple more big trees, it would be prettier, but there's not really any good places to put them.

27 March 2009

Books I love; movie casting I don't

Wil Wheaton has been posting about books he loves on his blog, and I thought that sounded like a fun thing to do. So I'll start with mine in the next few days or weeks, because I want to read them again so they're fresh in my mind and I can explain better why I love them, rather than just gushing about how amazing they are. I think the first will be Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold, because, damn, I love that book. (Of course, picking it up will most likely result in the voracious consumption of every other Miles book, because they're sort of like that, to the detriment of my backlog of never-read books on my shelf.)

Back in December, I made a couple posts about the misguided, ill-conceived casting of the Avatar: the Last Airbender movie. ATLA is a damn good show, and I love it to pieces. However, I don't love the movie.

Filming has begun in Greenland, where I'm assuming they're doing Water Tribe scenes. This lovely photoessay depicts the Inuit culture, on which the Water Tribe was based. (See this photoessay for actual screenshots of the show and compare.) Take a good look at the kids they hired to play the people in those pictures. Tell me that there are no Asian or Pacific Islander or Native American/First Peoples actors in the entire United States & Canada who could fill these roles. Go ahead.

I think MANAA and East West Players would vigorously object. Reportedly, the casting calls read "Caucasian or any other ethnicity." If Hollywood were interested in casting Asian actors in this film, the call would have read "Asian or any other ethnicity." Once again, Hollywood defaults to "white."

By casting white actors in roles based on a variety of Asian cultures, Hollywood is saying once again that cultural appropriation and yellowface are OK.

MANAA has a blog, where they discuss portrayals of Asians in the media and popular culture.

26 March 2009


So I'm working on revising Moon Below, the story that was rejected on Monday. God, I can't believe I submitted something this ... bad. I guess the adage is true: put it away for a month or two, then come back to it with fresh eyes.

I don't think a single page is without some sort of mark, whether "reword," "cut this?" or "POV shift?" Lots of ink. (I used black, because that was the pen I had to hand. A PlanB pen, to be precise.)

The story as a whole isn't bad; there are sections that need to be written better. I'm glowering over a section that I need to figure out how to revise almost completely: it doesn't flow very well. The information is mostly necessary, but it needs to be wedged into the narrative better. How to do that? I'll need to take it apart and put it together more elegantly. The way is currently eluding me, however. Unfortunately, knowing what I need to fix doesn't mean I know how to fix it.

But I've got a couple ideas for making my novel work a little better (I'm revising in chapter 2 at the moment, though it's about to become chapter 3. Only 28 to go! -__- )

I read a blog post recently on genre hopping, which has given me some second thoughts and doubts. The novel I'm revising (that I wrote through pharmacy school and part of my residency, so it's kind of disjointed, and that's being generous) is fantasy, but I've got more science fiction ideas that I want to write. So I'm kind of torn. I suppose finishing the edits on this bastard will be good experience and good practice, and I am able to work on multiple things at once, so I could work both.

It would be interesting to see how a project that I actually outline the plot beforehand works out, as opposed to "hey, I got an idea; let's write this thing!"

23 March 2009

My first rejection!

I submitted a story about 6 weeks ago, and I got my rejection notice today. It was personalized, which was nice: they don't have to do that; they can just say, "Sorry, we're not interested at this time." And it's a fixable problem, anyway (assuming that the one the reader mentioned is the biggest problem, not, like, the plot being boring). I can tighten up the POV; that's manageable.

So I edit it, find a different market (right? You don't just resubmit to the same place), and send it there. I think I can try back at the same place after a while, but not right away. Stick a "I submitted this before, but it's been edited since" in the comments box.

Damn, I feel like a migraine's coming on. I've felt like this since yesterday, kinda, so it's not surprising.

16 March 2009

Another year older

My birthday was last week. It was nice. I threw a party Saturday night, with a dozen friends over. Made lots of food, ate lots of food, stayed up late (which for me is after midnight. I get up at 6 during the week.)

Two of my friends gave me books: LMB's new book in the Sharing Knife series, HORIZON, and Iain M Banks' CONSIDER PHLEBAS, now back in print in the US, apparently. I'm already halfway through Horizon. I'd forgotten some of what had happened, but there was a nice recap in an early chapter, and it wasn't even an infodump! It came out in a conversation with a new character, who they had to fill in on what Dag's crazy scheme is, and the folks who'd been around already gave reactions (you didn't tell us that part!) It's kind of like the Council of Elrond, except only a half dozen or so pages. I'll probably go back and read all 4 books at some point, once I get through my never-read list. It's marginally less dangerous than reading the Miles books, if only because there are fewer of them. (I can't read just one! Though if I had to, I'd probably pick MEMORY, though THE VOR GAME is a close second.)

Writing: I'm working on a flash story, about ghost stations in Cold War Berlin. With any luck, I should have it finished in the next few weeks (betas, editing, all that stuff).

Still waiting to hear back on the short story I submitted last month. I keep checking the status page, and they're up to mid January. So a few more weeks before I get my first rejection email ;) (Hey, I'm being realistic, here. From what I hear, you get 5 or 6 rejections for every acceptance. So.)

Tai chi: I took a class to learn half of one side of a 2-person matched set, which is based mostly in Yang style, but with elements of Chen style as well. It was pretty intense, spending 11 hours (minus breaks) Saturday and 9 hours (minus breaks) Sunday. But I learned it, and I'm practicing at home so I don't forget. I'm planning to take the 4-day course, to review the first half and learn the remainder, in May. That will be ... really damn intense.

I'm dropping my current Wednesday night class in Chen style and switching to a weapons class (which meets at an overlapping time in a different location.) I'll be starting with the short stick, which is similar to the dao broadsword (except with some different twists because of the weapon's shape). After that, I don't know yet. Whatever the teacher does in his class.

This means I'll have 3 routines to keep in practice. I think I'm going to need to set aside a bigger block of time. But what will I give up to do it? That's a hard question.

10 March 2009

Heroes (the TV show)

I used to look forward to a new episode of Heroes. I even bought the fancy edition of the first season DVDs. Second season was ... crap, basically. The writers' strike didn't help matters any, either. But somebody added badly-written romance to it! And it was awful! I was hoping this season would make things better, would return to the level of interest from S1, but ... it's not there.

I love stories about dystopic police states. I like the idea behind the X-Men, which is what S3 of Heroes seems to be going for: some people have superpowers, it's secret, and there's a faction trying to get them eliminated or at least rounded up in concentration camps. But there's so much plot split, so much retcon, so much taking people out of character... and I won't even start with Mohinder (ok, maybe just a little... he's presumably a PhD geneticist. This does not make him able to insert IVs or know jack shit about drugs. A PhD geneticist is not a "hey, he's a scientist, let's make him know [obscure item from field unrelated to genetics, like string theory.]")

And I hear it got renewed for a 4th season. What are they going to do next? I'm not sure I care enough to find out.

04 March 2009

Crazy March weather

It snowed Sunday night. I got Monday off work, which was pretty cool. This time we hardly needed it, but I guess they didn't want to repeat the idiocy of SnowBama day, when we went in at 10:30 and they told us we'd be closing early after we all showed up, braving unplowed roads. I welcomed the time spent lounging in my sweatpants. I got a first draft of another short story finished, the one about train stations in Berlin. It finally cooperated enough to get into words!

For those keeping track at home, this makes 2 short stories for 2009, though I've only submitted one so far. It's off at the feedback mill, so I'm waiting for commentary. I was fairly shocked that it stayed under 1000 words -- under 750, even! I suspect that revisions will add a bit to the word count, because I probably left out important details that make the setting make sense (which I'm bad at picking out myself, so I rely on other people to tell me. But I'm practicing to get better at doing it myself.)

This weekend I'm taking a 2-day intensive tai chi class. It's about 20 hours. We'll be learning a 2-person form, half of it anyway. I'll be completely wiped out when I go to work Monday, but I think I'll sleep well.

Speaking of sleep, last night I fell asleep with a cat curled up by my head. It's like a purring hat, with a random chance of inflicting damage. Kitties are cute.