18 December 2012

Substitution Cipher is now available!


You can buy it at any of these fine e-retailers.

Candlemark and Gleam (The print version comes with a free ebook version, but only from the publisher :) )
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Kobo
Amazon.CA
Book Depository
and the Apple iBookstore

17 December 2012

Book review: Five Germanys I Have Known

Five Germanys I Have Known, by Fritz Stern, 2006

Fritz Stern was born in Breslau, Silesia, in 1926. His father, grandfathers, and numerous other relatives were doctors, which was one of the few professions allowed for Jews at that time in Germany. His parents escaped in 1934 or so, but not all of his family or friends were so lucky.

This book is a combination memoir and history of Germany since about 1900 in 520 pages. As such, it is a fairly high-level overview which expects a certain basic familiarity with German history.

I had trouble getting interested in the text initially; the opening chapter, Ancestral Germany, focuses on the activities of his immediate ancestors during the late Bismarckian/early Wilhelmine eras and the Great War. The brief chapter on the (brief) Weimar Republic starts to be more interesting, partly because it's an era I'm not familiar with.

Stern intertwines his personal life--fleeing the Nazis, adjusting to life in New York City, becoming a historian and professor at Columbia--with historical events. His perspective as a German Jew, naturalized as an American citizen, is complicated. Germany was his home, German his native tongue, and he was expelled from his home. Yet he dedicated his life to the study of German history and to the development of modern Germany through that understanding of history.

The list of people Stern met in the course of his career is astonishing: Konrad Adenauer, Helmut Kohl, Willy Brandt, Henry Kissinger, Richard Holbrooke.

Once I got into the book, I enjoyed reading it. I would recommend it to other people who want a good, high-level overview of recent German history from a personal perspective. If you don't already have a modicum of familiarity with German history (ie, if you don't know who Adenauer, Kohl, or Brandt are), I would suggest reading this book with wikipedia open on your computer or phone.

Stern is very good at explaining the greater significance of events and linking them to each other, but this is not an introductory German history text.

10 December 2012

The story behind the story: Something There Is

Two and a half years ago, I was sitting on an overnight train from Berlin to Vienna, watching the city I love pass by and fade into the distance.

I'd just finished a four-week intensive course at the Goethe-Institut, and I was off to Austria to meet my husband, who was flying out for a two-week trip around the Habsburg capitals for our tenth anniversary.

When I visit Berlin, I'm always overwhelmed with the sense of history there. As I'm walking past brick walls that surround cemeteries or past any of the hundred or two-year-old buildings, I feel like I could reach out and touch the stone and get some sense of that building's past.

Like Sergey Larenkov, I can imagine the ghosts of the city, the old and new overlaid. (Check out more of Sergey's work. He's got some really amazing pieces about the siege of Leningrad/St Petersburg.)

I'm a child of the 80s, and a lot of the media and entertainment during my formative years were about the impending nuclear holocaust. The ones that weren't about misfit high school students, anyway. The Cold War is still interesting to me, even more so as I get older and read more about the history I never got in school (partly because there wasn't time (we got as far as Vietnam in US History 2), and partly because it was current events).

Abandoned, lost, and forgotten places have a certain appeal to me. There's a bit of sadness, of melancholy, of the decline of something once majestic ("Ozymandias" is one of my favorite poems). You can almost see the ghosts.

Places like this are scattered throughout former East Germany, as the massive state-support structure collapsed and these firms were unable to compete with the vast capitalist world. Unemployment is higher in the east (the euphemistically named "new states") than the west.


I have, scattered in various notebooks, beginnings of stories about a girl (always a girl) who can commune with the city of Berlin. This one sprang from an opening line (which doesn't actually appear in the story): "The city tells me things. That's why they find me useful." Then I saw the call for submissions for Substitution Cipher, and I had to write it.

I thought it should be a Cold War story, but Cold War spy stories are a dime a dozen. So I took that concept back to the 1880s, kept Kaiser Friedrich III alive, and tried to make it about a minor functionary (alternately the mayor) spying on some anti-reform faction or other, but a) the research was making my head spin, and b) the story just wasn't coming.

So I went back to the Cold War and the initial construction of the Berlin Wall. That's what this story had to be. It's not your usual le Carre or James Bond-style Cold War spy story. It's not even a Black Widow story. It's a cross between magical realism and historical fantasy, about a high school girl coerced into working for the Stasi.

I hope you like reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

06 December 2012

The history behind the story: Something There Is


5 July 1961
Mielke sat behind his desk, and a pair of officers stood on either side of it. They couldn’t consider me a threat to the minister, not after leaving me alone with him so far. Could they? I’m not much of an athlete. I get decent marks in sport, but I’ll never make it onto an Olympics team. Surely they’d know that. They knew everything else.

“Have a seat,” he said.

There was only one chair, so I sat in it.

“How long have you been having these feelings?”

I knew what he meant without asking him to explain further. “I can’t remember not having them.”

I swear he looked like a cat who’d stolen a fish as big as himself before he settled his impassive face back on. “Interesting.” He made notes in a pad on his desk. “What was the first time?”

I told him about how I got separated from Mama and Papa in the park when I was three or four, and when I got scared, I felt something like a hand on my back, guiding me toward them. He wanted to know how often it happened, and I told him it didn’t happen all the time, only when something was important. I didn’t mention that it’s been happening more often recently...

The German Democratic Republic was founded in 1949 in response to Allied recognition of the Federal Republic of Germany. It took shape in the Soviet Occupation Zone as designated by the Yalta Treaty. Berlin, the once and future capital, was itself divided into occupation zones, Soviet, French, British, and US. The Soviet zone comprised about half the city and included many landmarks, like the Museum Island and the Brandenburg Gate.

When the Western Powers worked with Chancellor Adenauer and his government, relocated to Bonn, to create the Deutsche Mark (which sparked the West German economic miracle), the Soviets and the SED (Socialist Unity Party, the East German politburo) disagreed and blockaded West Berlin. The Western Powers responded by airlifting supplies into the city for nearly a year until Stalin ended the blockade.

West Berlin served as a convenient exit point for residents of the Soviet sector, as they could go into the other side of the city by showing simple documentation, and they could defect to the west from there. Alarmed by this exodus, the SED decided to put a stop to it. In 1952, they built a barbed-wire fence along the inner-German border, and throughout the 50s, they made it increasingly difficult for GDR citizens to travel into the west.

Berlin remained a loophole, however, and it wasn't until 1961 that the SED closed it. The Party began stockpiling bricks and other construction materials, and, when asked about it, First Secretary Walter Ulbricht said, "No one has the intention of building a wall," and that they were using the materials for normal construction. The city was still largely devastated from the bombings, after all. This was June 15, 1961.

August 13, 1961, the border between West Berlin and East Germany was officially closed, and the first foundations of the Wall were laid. This sparked international outrage, and fear among the citizens--including some who were separated from their families. The original cinderblock and barbed wire wall grew into this, which they called the Anti-Fascist Protection Wall:


A two-cobblestone-wide line runs through Berlin today, a reminder of where the Schandmauer (shame-wall) once stood. A vibrant business district stands in the former wasteland of Potsdamer Platz.


The Ministry for State Security, the Stasi, kept GDR citizens in line through both spying and a formalized informer state. After 1989, it was thought that the Stasi had 175,000 unofficial informants, but more recent studies suggest it was closer to 189,000, not including the official employees. They rooted through the garbage, steamed open letters, installed hidden cameras and microphones in people's walls. (They also operated an outward-facing spy agency.) People who opposed the SED were jailed. People who tried to escape were killed.

The GDR was a real-life dystopia.

How does this relate to the story? you ask. What would happen if a teenaged girl who can hear the voice of the city were coerced into becoming an informer for the Stasi? Find out on December 18, when Substitution Cipher is released!

Come back on Monday to find out more about the story behind the story.

(This post was inspired by fellow Substitution Cipher author M. Fenn's post about the real history behind "So the Taino Call It.")

12 November 2012

Book notes: Tolkien and the Great War

Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle Earth by John Garth

I had this book out from the library, and I have since returned it, so this is from memory.

Tolkien denied that the Lord of the Rings was any sort of allegory for real-world events (at the time he was asked, the event in question was World War Two). Yet it's difficult to deny that his experiences in the Great War influenced the book at all: the desolate wasteland of Mordor as the no-man's-land between the trenches, shell-scarred, muddy and barren; Frodo's return to the Shire, unable to regain the happiness he'd had there once.

Garth begins with a brief summary of Tolkien's childhood, picking up in greater detail around the time he was about twelve and met his best friends, whose small in-group would inspire him to create Middle Earth, and which was cut in half by the war.

He interweaves history, via letters and battle movements, literary criticism, and the development of Middle Earth, from its conception as the House of Lost Dreaming to its eventual final form.

From the perspective of someone who read LOTR in elementary school and had copies of the Book of Lost Tales and the Silmarillion in high school, this book was very interesting. I learned a lot about the beginnings of Middle Earth, and I thought it interesting to see hints of the things I knew.

It is also, in parts, a good look at life in the trenches during the Great War, with the senseless death and general futility. More general histories of wars tend to overlook the personal details, listing casualties as numbers; this makes no few of those statistics into real human tragedies.

If you are a Tolkien fan, I would recommend this book.

11 October 2012

The story you want to write vs the story you can write

I like space opera. I don't care if it isn't fashionable to do so, because it's not "rigorous" or because it's all tropey or whatever other reasons people say space opera sucks. (That was the first google hit for that phrase.)

I love Bujold's Vorkosigan series. I love Cherryh's Alliance-Union and atevi series. I want to write stories in universes as big as those, with characters people remember and care about.

But I don't have the skill yet. I have 160,000 or so words in two related space-opera-with-mercenaries novels (one's a completed first draft, the other is around 68k on the 0.5th draft). I intend to finish making book two into a completed first draft, then going over book one for continuity changes and "oh hey I should mention...", but I don't know if I want to keep poking at them.

What I can write, apparently, because I can sell it, is historical fantasy that borders on magical realism. U8: Alexanderplatz (1989) is a story about the end of the Cold War with ghost trains in the ghost stations of Berlin. "Something There Is," coming out in the anthology Substitution Cipher in December, is about the early days of the Cold War, with a teenaged girl who can hear the voice of Berlin.

(I have a vague idea about making "Something" into a novel, going on after the end of it, but I don't know. It needs to cook more, I think.)

It's a hard realization to have, that the thing you really want to do isn't something you're very good at. Though, to be honest, writing historical fantasy set in Germany is something I also really like, and it lets me use half my college degree.

This isn't the first time I've had this realization. I dropped out of chemistry grad school, because I a) wasn't very good at it, and b) discovered that lab chemistry wasn't what I actually wanted to do with my life. So I went to pharmacy school, which I liked better. Apparently what I want to do is write, but that's not making me any income, so I'm back on the hunt for a job in my field. (20 applications in a week, and not a single bite. This economy, I tell you...)

So, for now, I'll write the stories I can, which happen to also be ones I want to write, or I wouldn't be inspired by them, and let the universe-spanning space opera wait. Hopefully not forever.

08 October 2012

Movie review: Offside

Offside, 2006. Directed by Jafar Panahi.

Iranian director Panahi is rather controversial at home, where he is currently serving a six-year jail sentence for “assembly and colluding with the intention to commit crimes against the country’s national security and propaganda against the Islamic Republic,” and is banned for making movies for twenty years.

Offside is a movie about women living in Tehran who want to watch the Iranian national team play Bahrain in the final match of the 2006 World Cup qualifiers in mid-2005. Women aren't allowed to go to stadiums, because there are men there, and these men may swear or curse in manners that will harm women's delicate sensibilities.

It starts with one girl, wearing a ball cap, loose fitting clothing, and an Iranian flag around her shoulders like a scarf, riding a bus to Azadi Stadium. She buys a ticket from a scalper and joins the queue to get in, where she is pulled aside and taken to a holding area above the outer rings of the stands, to wait for the Vice Squad to pick them up.

There are other girls and young women there, all of whom just want to watch their national team qualify for the World Cup. The film focuses on them and how they relate to each other and the Army guys guarding them. Several times, they get one of the guards to narrate the action on the pitch.

The tone is comedic, the dark humor you use when the situation you're in is so ludicrous but you can't do anything about it, because, as he says in the interview that's one of the extras on the DVD, all you can do is laugh at the absurdity.

The movie isn't much about soccer (you only see a few moments of the game, and that on a TV screen in the background), but more a social commentary on restrictions in the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is why the official censors aren't very keen on it.

I recommend this movie, even if you're not a soccer fan. If you are a soccer fan, I highly recommend it.

04 October 2012

Tech stuff

A couple years ago, I got a Samsung Captivate, and I wrote about it approvingly at the time. But it didn't age gracefully, and after 2 warranty replacements for the "randomly shuts itself down" bug, I had a friend help me root and mod it. That fixed some of the problems, but it was still laggy and slow.

So when my contract was ready to renew and I was eligible for an upgrade, I got an HTC One X. This was back in June, so I've had it 4 months now. I had to return the first one for a warranty replacement because it developed an inch-wide dead zone on the touch screen after a month, but the second one has been doing fine since mid-July.

I like the shape and texture of the screen; it's very responsive. The two biggest downsides are the camera that sticks out of the back and its overall size, which is much larger than the Captivate was. It's not as ungodly huge as the Galaxy Note, though. When I type on it, I use two thumbs like it's got a regular keyboard. It gets decent battery life, especially if it remembers to go to sleep (ie not sync and turn off the wifi) overnight.

The camera works nicely, and I've taken a couple videos with it. The one thing I wish it had was a way to use the HTC sync on my Mac. Helpfully, if you search HTC for how to install Sync on your Mac, it takes you to instructions about downloading the .dmg and installing it, but nowhere on the site is there a .dmg to download. I'm tempted to see if it'll work under WINE, but that's effort.

I also got a refurbished MacBook Air to replace my 2007 white-case MacBook, which was getting frustrating to use, in part because OSX 10.5 is no longer being supported. Also the keyboard was flaking out, and the screen was getting dim spots, and the USB ports were flaking out. As it turns out, the USB ports are on their way to complete failure soon, as I discovered on Tuesday, the day before my new Air arrived, when I tried to copy a file onto a thumb drive and it didn't pop up in the devices list. So it's just in time.

It has no CD or DVD drive, which is how it's to thin and light. Seriously, it's tiny. (It's also only an 11.6" screen vs the 13" one on the old MacBook, but I can survive. I'm getting used to Lion (10.7), though I have the code for a free update to Mountain Lion (10.8). I'm not sure there's a substantive difference between the two.

I'm liking the trackpad gestures, though I find it difficult to scroll with two fingers, because I have fingerNAILS, and I end up with weird finger cramps. So I've started using one finger from each hand to scroll, and that seems to work. I haven't worked out exactly the timing of using gestures to go back a page in Firefox, though if I try enough, it works.

So, newish phone, new-to-me computer. Yay.

27 September 2012

Forgive me, readers, I've been busy.

I know, all dozen of you on Google FriendConnect, and however many people follow the links from twitter or facebook...

The weekend after WorldCon, my cousin got married, so after I'd managed to catch up from that, I spent 12 hours in a car over 2 days and had to catch up again. Planning for ConTemporal has gone into full swing, so I've been spending a lot of time on that--inviting guests, making budgets, all that sort of thing.

I'm also taking an evening class at Durham Tech and a taiji sword class.

AND I'm applying for jobs, jobs, and more jobs, and hoping something works.

I read a book that I'd like to review, but I want to read it again first, probably, so I won't have a Monday book review for you all. Maybe next Thursday; we'll see.

10 September 2012

On WorldCon bids

I mentioned in my WorldCon wrap-up that I am supporting the bid for Spokane in 2015 over Orlando, despite one of these places being really close and the other on the opposite side of the country. Helsinki just announced their bid during WorldCon, and all they have right now is a twitter page and maybe facebook, so I can't really comment on their bid at this time.

Spokane's materials really impressed me. The people running the bid have a lot of experience running conventions, and it shows. The convention will (probably) be well run should they win.

I like their location, in the Spokane convention center, with four hotels close by. (Though I wonder if they have any way to give people with disabilities preferential booking for the closest hotel. Interesting question. Fandom isn't getting any younger...more on that later.)

Spokane has a ton of restaurants in close walking distance from the convention center, apparently, which can't really be said about Disney's Coronado Springs resort, where Orlando is proposing theirs.

A factor that weighs, well, not MOST heavily, but it's up there is that CJ Cherryh is supporting the Spokane bid. She'll be at the convention. (She lives out there.) She doesn't fly, so she doesn't do east-coast cons, or much she can't drive to readily. If they win, I'm going. The hard part will be deciding which of my 60 Cherryh novels to take with me to get signed. Without checked bags.

The Orlando bid appeals to my revolutionary Marxist nature. But I can't tell if anyone on the committee has any experience running a con. This comment says they do. Not knowing Florida fandom, I can't say I recognized any of the names on their list, and unlike Spokane, there aren't brief bios anywhere.

Disney's Coronado Springs Resort has a lot of restrictions, like not being able to bring your own food in, and rather limited vegetarian food options (at least when my fellow-vegetarian friend went to a work-related conference there a few years ago). Also, it's kind of in the middle of nowhere, with no way to get off the property without a car. Which, well, is kind of bad.

One person who approached the Spokane table while I was there said she didn't think the Orlando group "knows what a WorldCon is about." I can't say I agree. I think they do, but their idea is different than traditional fandom. See Thursday's post on the Hugos, where I talk about that some. Cheryl Morgan has an interesting post on the historical natures of fandom and those who want to keep it the Old Way.

Where I definitely agree with the Orlando group, and Chris Galvin Nguyen in this Mind Meld, is that WorldCon is too expensive for many, if not most, fans to attend.

Between airfare, a $200+ membership, and hotel, plus restaurant food for 5 days, young fans and international fans are being priced out of attending WorldCon. Even a non-attending supporting membership, which entitles you to vote on the Hugos and in site selection, is $60+. If you wonder why WorldCon-attending fandom is a mostly older and US-based crowd, well, there's one answer.

Though, of course, we can't forget that there are fans who are retired and living on a fixed income, so they're being priced out, too. (And the Hyatt Regency had some very interesting interpretations of the ADA as far as bathroom accessibility was concerned. Power chairs couldn't fit into the stalls, and the panel rooms were often tight.)

I think the World Science Fiction Convention should be out in the rest of the world more often than it is, and Nguyen's got data in the Mind Meld I linked above. Kind of depressing, really. So in theory I support Helsinki's bid, because, hey, a non-US bid. I'm skeptical they'll win, because 2014's going to be in London, and, let's be honest, US-based fandom's not going to want to go abroad two years in a row. Helsinki's a nice city, I hear, and I've never been to Finland. I'm still unemployed, though, so I can't really afford the airfare.

06 September 2012

Thoughts on the 2012 Hugos

I ranked a lot of the winners first in my voting, which I thought was pretty cool. And some of them I had second. (Instant runoff voting is fun.)

The novellas were the hardest for me to rank, because the four I ranked were all really good, really well-written pieces, and I would have been happy with any of them winning. (The two I didn't just didn't do anything for me.)

I was fairly pleased with the winners' list. I agree with Carrie's thoughts to an extent--of the people on the list for several of the categories, the obvious winners won: Neil Gaiman. George RR Martin. Sheila Williams. Locus. That isn't to say none of these people deserve their wins, just that they're very popular. To an extent, the Hugos are a popularity contest, kind of like being nerd prom king/queen.

And there's nothing wrong with that. (Also, best anything is always a very subjective matter.)

What I thought was good about the Hugo winners' list was that many of the winning pieces had a sort of newness to them. It wasn't the same old 1950s SF story told with less-flat characters and more-current story techniques. It was still a mostly-white list, but there was a majority of women.

(Also, it's about damn time Betsy Wollheim won. DAW has published a lot of good, popular books since the 70s. In her acceptance speech she said, "Dad, FINALLY there's a Hugo with the name Wollheim on it." He'd be chuffed.)

The place I was most pleased to see the winners were the fan writer and fan zine categories. I read Jim Hines' blog, and I enjoy it. I kind of agree with Carrie, in that he's a big name, people have heard of him, so maybe he had an unfair advantage, but I also disagree. He has a different type of fannish writing than the other people on the list.

I think there's a change in what people want to read about in fan writing. Personally, I like the meta stuff, the sociology of fandom, the picking apart of sexist or racist tropes in novels or comics, and lampooning the anatomically improbable drawings of women in comics or on book covers. I like book reviews, movie reviews, that sort of thing. I'm not really interested in reading stories about how one time someone I don't know hung out with some other people I don't know, which apparently is what fan writing has been about for the last 50 or whatever years.

If Jim had declined the nomination, I would have voted "no award." With the demise of metafandom, I don't know who's writing the type of fannish writing I like to read, so point me there, if you have anyone, so I can read and rec them when the time comes.

Look also at SF Signal and compare it to the other fanzine nominees, like File 770 or Banana Wings. SF Signal has book reviews, book discussions, and mind melds, where a bunch of people talk about the same subject--like this recent post on whether a non-Anglo presence is possible in the Hugo awards. File 770 has some interesting stats geekery about the Hugos, and their November 2011 issue had a good bit of "get off my lawn, you whippersnappers media and anime fans!"

Which, I gotta say, as an anime fan, that's a pretty huge turn-off.

I wasn't at the business meeting where the graphic story category was permanently ratified and the YA category once again denied, but apparently there's a contingent that fears change, that thought graphic novels were a fad, who thinks that YA is a fad. This says a lot about traditional fandom, really.

So, I wonder: are we looking at a sea-change as far as fan writing/zines are concerned, where we new fans who aren't interested in traditional fan writing and fan zines are starting to be heard more? Or is this an anomaly? How long will it take to get a YA category for the Hugos? Discuss.

04 September 2012

Back from WorldCon

This was my first WorldCon. It was about what I expected, based on what I've read about WorldCons in the past and other cons I've attended that are more literature focused.

The Hyatt Regency Chicago is downtown, which has some pluses and minuses. Like it's relatively convenient to a lot of places to eat, if you don't mind walking 15 minutes or so, but the really close food joints are closed evenings and weekends, since they're business-focused. One thing Dragon*Con has over this is that it's in the same place every year, so the restaurants in the attached office building food court know that 40000 hungry nerds are descending for the weekend, so if they're open, they'll make money, even if they pay their staff overtime.

I talked to a lot of people, picked up some cards, saw people I haven't seen in years, like Christie Yant, met internet friends-of-friends, and I even got to talk about stuff on panels.

I didn't buy many things. I bought a pin of the Grand Seal of Barrayar and a chapbook of "Movement," by Nancy Fulda (who I chatted with while she signed it). I gave London 2014 my $20 pre-support and voted in the site selection (unsurprisingly, London won). I bought a supporting membership in next year's WorldCon in San Antonio (which makes me eligible to vote for Hugos and 2015's site selection). I gave the bid for Spokane in 2015 $20 and left my card with a note on the back which reads "interested in helping with the bid," because they don't have much presence in the southeast. God help me, I volunteered for a thing.

I gave my card to a British man who said he really liked the bit of "Something There Is" I read on Friday at the Broad Universe reading. (Note to self: link that more prominently once you've recovered.)

There was a panel on the next H1N1 I was interested in Saturday afternoon, but it turns out it was a really popular subject, so by the time I got there, the room was packed. So I had a little sit in the chair outside the room, and I saw a couple people I know, who I didn't even know would be there. So we talked, and they abducted me for dinner then playing Apples to Apples in the hotel bar with Mur Lafferty, Ursula Vernon, Paul Cornell, Chuck Wendig, and some people whose names I didn't catch.

Sunday was awesome. I had 2 panels, one at 9 am on medical myths (which I didn't get much to talk about, because no one asked about nasty wound infections and this one brain trauma doc took all the questions himself, basically) and the anime fandom panel at 3. They were fun in different ways and for different reasons.

I bolted right after the 3 pm panel to go to Fado Irish Pub to wait for the fan/drunk bus to Toyota Park Stadium. I took a taxi, because I didn't trust that I could make it in time. My feet were pretty sore, and I was starting to get tired. The cab driver was weird and awesome.

The game, though! The Fire scored a minute into it, then again a bit later in the first half. Houston scored once, and right at the end, just before the final whistle, the Fire made it 3-1, and some dude standing a few rows back flung beer into the air when he threw his arms up in the "YEAH!!!" So I got beer in my hair and on my clothes. AND I WAS YARDS AWAY FROM ARNE FRIEDRICH YOU ALL OMG. I stood in the singing section. We sang and chanted and clapped the full 90+5 minutes. It was fun, even if I didn't get to actually WATCH much of the game.

Then I got back to the bus and obsessively checked twitter to find out who was winning the Hugos. I made it back to the hotel and into the Grand Ballroom during the Dramatic Presentation Short section, so I made it for all the "big" awards. I cheered and shouted "Ursula!" when she won for Best Graphic Story. (I ran into her and Kevin Monday morning on my way in from breakfast, and they were both so happy.)

I have thoughts on the Hugos (and I voted for a lot of the winners, which makes me happy), but they'll have to wait a bit. I have a lot of post-travel things to catch up on. I should also write up my thoughts on Spokane vs Orlando in 2015 (and Helsinki just threw in, so there are three bids for that year now). Those will be separate posts, most likely on my usual Monday/Thursday schedule.

27 August 2012

What Amazon recommends to me

I get emails every now and then from Amazon, telling me what they think I should buy. Here's the latest, because it amused me. This is the order they're in in the email, too.

1. Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football, by David Winner
2. Frederica, by Georgette Heyer
3. Inverting the Pyramid: A History of Football Tactics, by Jonathan Wilson
4. Cotillion, by Georgette Heyer
5. The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer, by David Goldblatt
6. Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal
7. Intruder (Foreigner #13), by CJ Cherryh
8. The Nonesuch, by Georgette Heyer

This, apparently, is what happens when you order Glamour in Glass at the same time as a football book, and have some Heyer in your purchase history, too.

23 August 2012

Book review: Worlds of Exile and Illusion

Worlds of Exile and Illusion by Ursula K. LeGuin

This is a collection of three short novels that are linked together.

First, Rocannon's World, which includes part the short story "Semley's Necklace." Rocannon is a representative of the Hainish League, and he's gone to a world as yet unnamed by the Hain to talk to the people there and recruit them into the League, because the Enemy will attack them. His ship is destroyed, along with his teammates and all the records of their research, and he sets off to find the enemy's base on the world.

Second, Planet of Exile. Rolery is a native of Alterra, and Agat is a human born there, a descendant of League explorers. On Alterra, each season lasts fifteen years, and a person is lucky to remember two winters. At the end of every fall, the people from the north migrate south, usually in individual bands that pillage as they go. The people of Tevar, Rolery's people, build a winter city underground.

Except this time, the migrating people are all travelling together, and they've united their forces better to attack the wintering cities. Agat and the other humans warn them, but they go unheeded. When the raiders invade Tevar, the humans help evacuate the survivors and bring them to their city, where they jointly fight off the raiders.

Third, City of Illusions. A man who knows neither speech nor name appears in a clearing in the woods. The people who live there take him in, teach him speech and the Canons. After several years, he feels a need to go to Es Toch to learn about the Shing, and, if possible, regain his memory. He travels across the country, which millennia before was known as the United States, until he reaches Es Toch and learns who he really is.

These are all excellent stories, with LeGuin's typical skill at anthropological worldbuilding.

20 August 2012

Book review: These Old Shades

These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer

This is a rather fun story. Justin Alastair, Duke of Avon, buys a young boy named Léon to be his page when he literally runs into him on the street. Except Léon is actually Léonie, which he suspects from the start.

She falls rather in love with Monseigneur, and Justin, much to everyone's surprise, including his own, falls in love with her. There's a somewhat convoluted revenge scheme, wherein Justin uses Léonie against his mortal enemy. He plays the Hamlet gambit, and it works.

Léonie is a wonderful, mischievous character. She spent many years pretending to be a boy (in her brother's inn, to protect her from lascivious guests), and she doesn't take well to being made into a girl, with girl clothes, etc. She does admit they make her look pretty, but she'd still rather wear breeches.

Justin and Léonie are Vidal's parents in Devil's Cub.

I enjoyed this book. Fans of Heyer or historical romance should enjoy it, too.

16 August 2012

Book review: 1633

1633 by David Weber and Eric Flint

I admit, as much as I enjoyed 1632, I picked up this book with trepidation, because I've heard rumors of Weber's penchant for excessive description of how weapons etc work. But I was in the dealers room at LibertyCon while Flint was signing things, so I bought the book to get signed.

This picks up 6 months or so after the end of 1632. Mike Stearns is president of the US, Gustav II Adolfus is rebuilding Magdeburg, Rebecca Stearns has led a diplomatic mission to Holland to try to convince them that Richelieu is a lying double crosser, and Rita Stearns Simpson is in London trying to convince King Charles (or his advisors) that Richelieu is a lying double-crosser.

The history books from the Grantville High School library have made their way around Europe. Charles kills Oliver Cromwell's family and throws him in the Tower of London, where the Grantville delegation is staying (in the nice part). Richelieu uses them to his advantage, too, convincing Charles to sell/swap him the entirety of their colonies in the New World.

There are a lot of plot threads woven together here, far too many to discuss in any detail. It becomes obvious why 1634 has 4 books, and 1635 4 as well (or something like that).

There were mercifully few passages wherein the details of how something works were discussed in minuscule detail. There are people who enjoy that sort of thing, and I can appreciate the effort it takes to figure out how to build an airplane with technology and materials available in the 1630s plus whatever got zapped along with Grantville, but my eyes glaze over while I'm reading about how cannons are being made and whether they're smooth bore or rifled, breech- or muzzle-loaders and why. I skim those sections and hope it isn't important later.

There's still a bit of "America! Fuck yeah!" jingoism, but less than in the first book, probably because there's so much shit hitting the fan.

Some people might find the idea of spreading democracy problematic, in light of current American foreign policy. I can agree and disagree there. By the end of this book, the Americans are stepping rather sideways from the leadership position and letting the Germans (and Swedes) start their own party. The radical change from 17th century monarchy to 21st century American democracy will come at its own pace. Also, in the mid-17th century, anti-monarchist sentiments were already extant, so the peasantry and non-nobility now have a model that works (to some extent).

Fans of well-researched alternate histories with political intrigue and grand battle scenes should enjoy this series.

13 August 2012

My WorldCon schedule

I'm on two panels, but I'd like to do more. They can't add me to any until the con starts & I go to the programming room and find out which panels need people still.

Fri Aug 31 3:00:pm Broad Universe Rapid-Fire Reading

Grand Suite 3

I'll be reading about 4 minutes' worth of "Something There Is."

Sun Sep 2 3:00:pm Anime Then and Now

Addams

The evolution of anime fandom (and its relation to SF fandom) from the 1980's to the present

Maybe see some of you there! If I get added to other panels while I'm at the con, I'll tweet them (@exaggerated).

09 August 2012

I've got a story coming out!

My novelette "Something There Is" will be published in Substitution Cipher by Candlemark and Gleam on December 18, 2012.


07 August 2012

Geekdom and me, part 2

So, yesterday I talked about my history of geekiness. Today, I'm going to talk a little about fandom and my experience with it.

I attended my first convention in March 2000. It was ... actually, that's not true. My first convention was in 1999, a gaming con at RPI. I'm not much of a gamer, but a lot of my friends went, and it was fun.

March 2000 was my first Animazement. I can't remember if I wore a costume, but I don't think I did. I had fun, I volunteered, I saw a lot of great costumes, and I took a lot of pictures, back when cameras still needed film.

I fell deeply into anime fandom. I wrote fanfic. I made cosplay. I flew across the country to go to cons. I joined Yahoo!groups for my favorite 'ships. I joined livejournal communities for fanfic. (I've since left both; the former because the particular fandoms didn't interest me anymore and the latter because it got too big and there was too much drama.)

As I said, though, I still read print science fiction and fantasy. I don't see a good reason why liking anime and manga should exclude me from liking a good science fiction novel, or vice versa. (Let me tell you about some really good SF anime sometime.)

I went to my first Dragon*Con in 2006. I'd wanted to go for years--the friend who hooked me on Bujold goes every year--but I was in pharmacy school until 2005, then on residency, and I couldn't skip classes. It was chaos, but it was awesome. I spent a few hours down in the basement of the Hyatt at the lit track, wandered around gawking at amazing costumes, and being awed by TV/movie stars, even if I'm not a big media fan.

Apparently, there's some controversy about whether being a fan of Firefly is "real" fandom, or whether a costumer is a "real" fan.

Let me tell you, as someone who has done costuming, spending in excess of 50 hours sewing or otherwise crafting a replica of a piece of clothing someone wears in a TV show, comic book, movie, or whatever, and spending large sums of money on materials and patterns, is a pretty damned geeky thing to do.

I favor inclusive fandom. I share Scalzi's opinion that the core of being a geek is saying, "You love this thing I love? Let's love it together!"

I don't agree at all with Taral Wayne in his essay in File 770 [p 40] (which I only read because it's in my Hugo packet). I don't believe the purpose of being a fan is to be a big fish in a small pond, or, to use his metaphor, Andy Griffith in Mayberry, as opposed to some faceless person in a big city.

If you wonder at the greying of fandom, at the greying of the long-running cons like Boskone, or BayCon's (San Francisco) likely impending demise, wonder no further. Gatekeepers who want to keep fandom tiny and exclusive are driving away the new fans. They're driving away people who love science fiction/fantasy TV shows or movies and read books on the side. They're driving away anime fans.

Look at Dragon*Con. It's huge. The first year I went, they were in three hotels. Last year, they were in FIVE (and need to go to more; it's so crowded). The WorldCon Orlando 2015 bid chair said that there's no reason to compete with D*C, and he's bidding for the same Labor Day Weekend because he doesn't see it as a zero sum game (see File 770, op cit) and "there's enough fandom to go around." He'd prefer to work with them, not against.

I want to be excited about the things I love, whether that's the newest Macross series or the latest CJ Cherryh novel, with other people who love them. That's what fandom is about. Not self-aggrandizement.

06 August 2012

Geekdom and me, part 1

I've been thinking about writing a post about fandom and what it means and how it's changing (or isn't changing) for a while, and then there was apparently a spat about who's a real geek or not, and then the ReaderCon harassment thing happened, and the whole conversation of who's a geek, who cons are for, and whether women are welcome blew up a bit.

If I'd written the post when I first thought of it, I may have seemed prescient. (Or not; as if my readership is that big...) So now, I'm taking advantage of the Zeitgeist serendipitously.

I didn't grow up a geek. I was smart. I should have been in the gifted program but my mom wouldn't let me, so I was just in the advanced track in my elementary school. I finished first grade math before Christmas, and I had to change classrooms to a second grade class. I corrected my kindergarten teacher's spelling of "vulture." (She wanted to spell it with a g.)

I liked to read, but my mom isn't a big reader. She mostly had Harlequins and Barbara Cartlands, which I read a few of. I'd read from the two-volume dictionary, or the four-volume medical encyclopedia from my grandpa's time in pharmacology school, or, if I was really bored, the copy of Emily Post's Etiquette from 1917.

I don't have fond memories of going to the public library to check out books. The only times I ever went there were for English papers, when I needed to access the literary criticism books. I borrowed books from the school libraries, though, and I tore through the L'Engles in sixth grade, I think, and Earthsea, and, for some reason I'll never know, The Left Hand of Darkness. I have no idea why it was in a middle school library.

My grandma would buy me books whenever she went to the used book store. That's how I got my first copy of Lord of the Rings, which I read so many times the cover fell off. Then I got the Book of Lost Tales, which I found recently, with all the notes and bookmarks for cross-referencing.

My dad would take me to the bookstore when he visited, and that's how I got more books. He's an old school Trekkie, and when I visited him at his house, or in his truck (he drives a big rig), I'd read whatever books he had around. I read a lot of Stephen King one summer, and another summer it was Ben Bova's Mars.

So I had geeky interests as a teenager, but I never knew there was such a thing as fandom until much later. I didn't read a lot of the geek youth "canon" until I was 30!

At college, I fell in with the LARP crowd, didn't really get into tabletop, etc, but it was awesome to meet more people who liked nerdy things and be able to be open about it, because the popular kids wouldn't harass me over it. (As if being fat, smart, and poor weren't enough...)

When I moved to North Carolina, I joined the UNC anime club, through which I had my first fandom and con-going experiences. I still read books, often ones suggested by one of the older members of the club. (He told me I should buy Shards of Honor when we were stuck in an airport. Then I tracked down everything else Bujold had written up to that point, which was 2000 I think.)

That's my background in being a geek. Or not, whatever. I've fairly thoroughly embraced my geek nature, and if someone wants to label me a poser, that's not my problem. I'll go more into the what is fandom/who are fans in my next post.

02 August 2012

Book review: With the Lightnings

With the Lightnings by David Drake

This is the first installment in the Republic of Cinnabar Navy series, which are essentially Master and Commander in space, and with 98% less early 19th-century naval jargon.

Lt. Daniel Leary is sent to accompany a diplomatic mission to Kostroma, which is a sort-of-neutral player in the game between Cinnabar and the Alliance. He meets Adele Mundy, a librarian-spy with a traumatic past.

There are diplomatic double- and triple-crosses, and Lt. Leary and his misfit band, including Adele, save the day.

Parts of it were kind of frustrating, like Leary's attitude toward, well, everyone who wasn't from Cinnabar or the navy, and his casual sexism. At the same time, these attitudes are very much like the ones Jack Aubrey displays in O'Brien's work, and because the RCN series is based on those, it makes sense.

Overall, it was an enjoyable read, full of diplomatic intrigue and space battles, snarky humor, and great characters.

The first three books are available in the Baen free library. The first six are available free here, along with a few other works by Drake.

30 July 2012

Book review: Casket of Souls

Casket of Souls by Lynn Flewelling, 2012.

This is the sixth installment in Flewelling's Nightrunner series, starring a pair of young men who are thieves and spies for the Queen of Skala. As the book opens, Alec and Seregil have returned from their adventures in The White Road and are getting back into the swing of their usual mischief: stealing letters from nobles' houses, spying on people, and uncovering wide-ranging conspiracies to kill the Queen and her heir, and another to kill the Queen's very popular youngest sister.

Just another week in Alec and Seregil's life.

The Queen has unpopularly decided to continue fighting the war by rejecting the Overlord of Plenimar's treaty. Back in Rhiminee, Skala's capital, food and materials are scarce, and the people are growing restless. Their anger only increases when a new plague of completely unknown origin breaks out and a quarantine is declared.

Meanwhile, a theater troupe displaced from Mycena, where Skala and Plenimar tend to wage their wars, has arrived in the city and their chief actor is winning hearts and minds--and many little gifts from patrons.

This is the most complex book in the series yet. Flewelling interweaves multiple plot threads: Beka, Princess Klia, and Queen Phoria out at the front; Alec and Seregil in Skala; and Atre and his theater troupe. The Skala plot includes two rival cabals and the mysterious sleeping plague, and Beka and Klia have ties to one of the cabals.

Even so, this book is likely to be readable as a standalone story. A new reader won't know who Nysander is, or understand Seregil's complex relationship with his father back in Aurenen, but the new reader should be able to recognize those as references to past books, and, with any luck, want to go read the rest.

Flewelling is currently working on what she says will be the last Skala/nightrunners book. I look forward to reading it and seeing where she goes after it's finished.

16 July 2012

Book review: Deadline

Deadline, by Mira Grant

This book is nominated for best novel in the 2012 Hugo Awards, and this will be the final post in my Hugo nominees series.

Many people recommended this series to me, but I don't like horror, and I especially don't like zombies. But Countdown wasn't too bad, and people assured me that the book wasn't much scarier than the novella, so I gave it a shot.

Despite being the second novel in a series (Feed being first), I wasn't very lost. It stands alone nicely, though now I'm curious about what exactly happened in the first book, even if I've spoilered myself completely.

Shaun Mason had to shoot his sister, Georgia, because she was infected with the zombie virus when someone deliberately injected it into her. He and his intrepid team of bloggers are tracking down the person who ordered that injection. When a CDC researcher who's supposed to be dead turns up on his doorstep, the proverbial shit hits the fan.

In Grant's world, bloggers and independent journalists compete for ratings by having their Irwins (named for Steve, because they go out in the field and poke thing with sticks) go poke dead things with sticks and get footage of it, while their Newsies report on it.

The extreme security precautions, and the comment that people are afraid of not being afraid, struck me as commentary on today's airport security theater and "the terrorists will have won." Actually, I didn't have to look too slanted at it to find parallels between future zombie America and today.

The blood testing and fluid precautions remind me of modern infection control measures (whether from HIV or MRSA) taken to the extreme necessary to protect other people from the zombie virus, which lies dormant in everyone until amplification occurs (spontaneously or due to a traumatic event).

It's creepy, but it appeals to the infectious disease/epidemiology geek in me. Now I have to find the first and third books in the series.

12 July 2012

Book review: Leviathan Wakes

Leviathan Wakes, by James SA Corey

This is a nominee for best novel in the 2012 Hugo Awards.

The executive officer of an ice hauler ends up captain of the remainder of their crew after their ship is nuked by a stealth battleship. A detective ends up deep in an investigation he was supposed to ignore.

Holden, the sailor, wants to find out who nuked their ship and killed his friends, and when he investigates, he finds a piece of evidence linking the Mars fleet. This ignites the powder keg of conflict between the Belt and Mars.

Miller, a cop on Ceres, is told to find a girl and take her back to her parents. She'd run off and abandoned her family's wealth to help poor people in the Belt by joining the Outer Planets Alliance, a sort of IRA for the Kuiper Belt and beyond.

The conspiracy they uncover is far deeper than they expected.

This is a good old-fashioned space opera, albeit one in which they don't leave the solar system (because there's no FTL). If you like that sort of thing (and I do), this book should be right up your alley.

09 July 2012

Book review: Of Blood and Honey

Of Blood and Honey by Stina Leicht

Leicht is nominated for the Campbell award for best new writer.

Liam, a young Catholic man in Northern Ireland, lands in a prison camp for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He says he isn't political, but a second imprisonment for the same reason turns him to the IRA. Liam's father, unbeknownst to him, is one of the fae. The fae, meanwhile, are at war as well.

Leicht interweaves faery and the Troubles in a compelling narrative. If you don't like swearing or violence, leave this aside. Otherwise, you should definitely consider reading this.

This is an interesting review from the perspective of a Northern Irishman. He has some things to point out that Americans like me wouldn't pick up on.

05 July 2012

Book review: Redemption in Indigo

Redemption in Indigo, by Karen Lord.

This was in the Hugo packet, as Lord is up for a Campbell Award for best new writer. (The Campbell is not a Hugo, it's just on the same ballot.)

A young woman is married to a foolish glutton, and she returns home to escape him. He finds her and follows her, and she attracts the attention of the djombi, a sort of spirit. A trickster djombi decides she's the best person to give the Chaos Stick to, and the djombi he stole it from finds out and takes Paama on an interesting trip.

It's told in the manner of a folk tale, with the narrator occasionally poking through the fourth wall. Since the novel was inspired by a Senegalese folk tale, that's appropriate.

It's an interesting read. Lord has a wry sense of humor, and she makes even the djombi with indigo skin who thinks humanity is a plague sympathetic. If you like folk tales, you should pick this up.

02 July 2012

Book review: Glamour in Glass

Glamour in Glass, by Mary Robinette Kowal, 2012

This is the sequel to Shades of Milk and Honey. It follows Jane and Vincent on their honeymoon.

Vincent has an old friend who lives in the Flemish countryside. He and Jane want to consult him on a question of glamour, because they're trying to figure out how to make a glamour portable. So they take their honeymoon to France/Belgium, and they get entangled in local politics (and not-so-local: the Bonapartistes are still active).

This is a great read, and if you enjoyed Shades, you'll enjoy this.

29 June 2012

RIP Isis

One bit of sad news I must report. Last Thursday, we had to put my oldest cat, Isis, to sleep. She was 15. The vet said she had a brain tumor, after I took her in because her pupils weren't the same size.

I miss Her Royal Brattiness, but she hadn't really been her bratty self for a while. She hadn't even tried to run out the door for weeks, and she'd had problems getting onto her favorite sleeping spots.

It was a really hard decision, especially because of the suddenness, but it was the best thing to do for her.


ConTemporal

For the last year and a half or so, I've been working with a bunch of great people to make a con happen. It was last weekend, June 22-24.

This was my first time staffing a convention. I've volunteered during cons before, mostly running a video room at Animazement with the UNC anime club, which is a rather smaller time commitment, and it only takes a bit of time at the con.

I was (and hope to remain) the director of the literature track. I came up with panels and some of the guests, and during the con, I made sure everything went off properly. I also organized an order of 8 pizzas to con ops Saturday evening, because con staff needed food, and food that arrives at your door is better than food you have to go out and get.

The con was a success. The guests I talked to said they had a good time. Several of them said nice things in their blogs: JoSelle Vanderhooft and Phil Foglio. (There may be more, but these are the ones I've heard of so far.)

We're planning to have another con next year around this same time. Once it's official, I'll let you all know. You should come out and join us.

28 June 2012

Hugo nominees, part 3

This week, I'm reviewing the novellas on the 2012 Hugo ballot. A novella is 17500-40000 words, making it an awkward length, as it's too long to be a short story but too short to be a novel. The works are linked here. As always, these are in alphabetical order.

Countdown, by Mira Grant. This is a prequel to Grant's Newsflesh series. Newsflesh is a zombie series, but the zombie apocalypse was triggered by a virus. In Countdown, you learn all about the virus and how it was created and let loose in the world. It's very interesting from an infectious disease epidemiology standpoint, and Grant did her research on that, as well as from a writing standpoint. It's horror, so it's got lingering scary bits in it. I'm not a fan of horror, and I thought this was very good.

The Ice Owl, by Carolyn Ives Gilman. The teenaged daughter of a family of refugees from a holocaust befriends an art dealer who isn't what he seems. The namesake ice owl barely makes an appearance. It's got a rather moralising ending.

Kiss Me Twice, by Mary Robinette Kowal. Scott Huang and his AI partner Metta have to solve a murder. Except Metta's computer housing is stolen, so she's running on a backup. It's a very fun, noir-esque story with a satisfying resolution.

The Man who Bridged the Mist, by Kij Johnson. Kit, an architect, comes to the village of Nearside to build a bridge over the river of mist (a magical substance filled with monsters). He makes friends with the people who live there and on Farside, especially the Ferry family, who operate the boats that carry people across the river. It's very poignant, and the descriptions are vivid.

The Man who Ended History: A Documentary, by Ken Liu. Liu tells the horrors perpetrated by Unit 731, a Japanese military unit who performed experiments the Nazis would have salivated over on Chinese villagers, interweaving it with the lives of researchers who made it possible for people to literally directly observe history. Except the act of observing destroys the particle that makes it possible. This was very uncomfortable to read, but it was very well-written, like all of Liu's works.

Silently and Very Fast, by Catherynne M. Valente. This is the story of an AI, interwoven with stories of gods and goddesses (it opens with Inanna and Tammuz). In typical Valente style, it's vague and allusive and Clever. It's lovely, I guess, but I thought the vagueness, allusiveness, and Cleverness drew too much attention to themselves.

Your thoughts, readers? (If I have any.)

25 June 2012

Book review: Regenesis

Regenesis, by CJ Cherryh, 2009

This book picks up right where Cyteen left off, and it doesn't really give any refreshers. Ari II is coming into her own at Reseune, dealing with the politics and betrayals and interpersonal shenanigans left over.

Like Cyteen, this book considers the question "what would happen if we could engineer psychology along with genetics?" Like many other novels by Cherryh, there is also a lot of political intrigue, backstabbing, etc.

It wraps up many of the questions left in Cyteen, but I didn't find the ending as satisfying as I wanted it to be. There's very little denouement, but at nearly 600 pages, I'm not sure there's space for more.

If you enjoyed Cyteen and you want to know what happens to Ari II, you'll find out in Regenesis. I wouldn't recommend this to someone without any other familiarity with the Alliance-Union universe, however.

21 June 2012

Hugo nominees, part 2

Last week, I wrote about the Hugo-nominated short stories. This week, I'm writing about the novelettes.

A novelette ranges from 7500 to 17499 words, making it either a longish short story or a shortish novella. The nominated works are here for your reading pleasure. Once again, I'm going through these in alphabetical order.

"The Copenhagen Interpretation," by Paul Cornell. I confess, I was extremely lost trying to read this and gave up. It's a diplomatic spy something, with interdimensional travel I think? It seems to be part of a series, so people who are already familiar with the terminology and characters, or who are willing to expend the considerable effort to make sense of it without the requisite background, may not be as frustrated as I was.

"Fields of Gold," by Rachel Swirsky. Dennis, the protagonist, died and ends up in the afterlife, where he has to confront his past. He's a man-child, and he doesn't really grow up, just returns to the golden fields of his youth.

"Ray of Light," by Brad Torgersen. Humanity has retreated to the ocean floor because climate change brought glaciers and froze the oceans. They've been down there a while, and the adults, the generation who remembers living on the surface, have given up. The teens haven't. It has a very nostalgic feeling about it, like the everything's hopeful stories from the 50s.

"Six Months, Three Days," by Charlie Jane Anders. Two clairvoyants date each other. They know what's going to happen and that they're going to break up in six months and three days. Judy sees many possible futures; Doug only sees one. The central argument of their relationship is about free will. I liked this a lot.

"What We Found," by Geoff Ryman. A young Nigerian man watches his father suffer from a mental illness and fears that he will follow the same path. He goes to college and studies genetics in mice, and he learns that stress in the father leads to changes in the offspring. But his research changes with the observation: it wears out. It's also about family and rivalry and loyalty, about living in a small town, about free will vs predestination. I also liked this one a lot.

Have any of you read these? Agree or disagree? Just want to discuss?

18 June 2012

Book review: Among Others

Among Others, by Jo Walton, 2011

This book was nominated for the Hugos in 2012, and it won the Nebula for best novel. I got it from a friend for my birthday.

Morwenna Phelps comes from Wales. Her twin sister Morganna was killed in a magical battle with their mother, and Mori's leg or hip was broken. She's taken away to England to attend Arlinghurst, the boarding school her long-absent father's sisters attended.

Mori doesn't fit in. She can't participate in any of the school's vaunted athletics programs because of her injury. She's not English, not upper-class. She misses the valleys of Wales and the fairies who populate them. Her only refuge is books. When she finally meets her father, she finds that he, too, is an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy, and they bond over that. She reads all the books in the school library and goes to the town library during their free Saturdays.

She discovers a weekly book club at the town library and gets permission to attend. She meets people her age who like SF, and some people her dad's age, too. She gets a crush on a boy with a bad reputation.

She tries to talk to the fairies in England, but they aren't as friendly as the fairies back home. She finds out that her mother is trying to do something, but she doesn't know what, only that she needs to stop her. The last time her mother tried something, she'd tried to take over the world (or at least their corner of it).

Among Others is very much a geek's coming-of-age story. Even if I've never read most of the books Mori name-drops throughout her diary, or don't understand what she's referring to, I can identify with the young woman finding people who are Like Her, who like the things she likes. She has doubts and fears and worries that the magic she worked to find people who read SF is the only reason they like her.

It's an enjoyable read, and Walton's prose is clear. Mori's voice is very much a teenager's, albeit a smart, geeky teenager's.

14 June 2012

Hugo nominees, part 1

I'm going to WorldCon this year, which means I get to vote on the Hugos. This is pretty exciting. I've never had the chance to vote before. As a member, you can download all the nominated works so you can read them before deciding. It's great, because otherwise you'd be spending upwards of $300 to get all the materials.

So I'm going to review the nominees. Probably just the textual ones.

First, the short stories. John Scalzi has a post with links to all the nominated short stories, so you can go read them yourself. These are my opinions.

"The Cartographer Wasps and Anarchist Bees" by E. Lily Yu: A village discovers that the wasp nests in their trees have maps on the inside, and they're better than the official maps. The wasps seek to expand their territory and invade a region previously occupied only by bees. They force the bees into subjugation, but some bees are born with anarchist leanings, and they attempt to retake the hive from the wasps. The language is evocative, and the metaphor for colonization doesn't come across too heavy-handed.

"The Homecoming" by Mike Resnick: A son returns home because he learns that his mother has an advanced dementia. His father rejected him years before, when he went into a program to live on another planet and study the native sapient beings. This involved extensive modifications to his body. This story is a fairly straightforward metaphor for learning to accept a son's homosexuality. The father narrates the story, and he's not (to me) terribly sympathetic. He's kind of an ass.

"Movement" by Nancy Fulda: This story is told from the point of view of a teenaged girl with autism. Her parents discuss a new technology that can cure her autism, but they're unsure about it. It's very well done.

"The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu: A man gets a mail-order bride from China. She makes little origami animals for her son, and, because she has magic, she breathes life into them. The son plays with them, but as he gets older, he begins to reject her and her foreignness, to reject his own foreignness. Deeply moving.

"Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue" by John Scalzi: This is a parody of epic fantasy, written as an April Fools joke. I admit I didn't read the whole thing, because I didn't think it was that interesting. A lot of people seem to enjoy it, however. Maybe I don't read enough epic fantasy to get the gags.

Three of the stories are stories of acceptance. In "The Homecoming," a father accepts that his son isn't what he wanted him to be, but his son is happy. In "Movement," a girl with autism decides that she wants to remain who she is. In "The Paper Menagerie," a young Chinese-American man learns to accept himself--his entire self.

If you've read them, what do you think? Agree, disagree?

11 June 2012

Book review: Tor!

Tor! The Story of German Football by Ulrich Hesse-Lichtenberger, revised 2002 edition

As I may have mentioned, I'm a fan of German football (soccer), so this book is right up my alley. It came recommended by many people, and what I've read of Hesse's writing (for places like ESPN Soccernet) I've enjoyed.

The books opens in Bern, on July 4, 1954, with a man named Fritz Walter. It is a fateful day for German football, the Miracle of Bern. The Germans have somehow made it to the finals of the World Cup and are facing a much stronger team.

He takes the reader from the birth of football in Germany (a slow process, stymied by the Prussian ideals of fitness and a preference for gymnastics) through both World Wars and their aftermaths, to the founding of the Bundesliga in 1963 (100 years after the English football association was founded, and a good 75 years after the first regional leagues were founded in Germany). He takes a brief side trip to the strange world of football in the GDR.

The book closes in Korea, in June 2002. Fritz Walter passed away four days prior. The Germans have somehow made it to the finals of the World Cup, where they will face Brazil (and lose 0:2, the only goals conceded by Olli Kahn in the tournament.) Miroslav Klose expresses his sadness at his friend and mentor's death and returns to training for the next match.

Hesse's writing is never dry, and occasionally self-deprecating. The chapters set during and after the Wars are poignant and highlight the pointlessness of the Great War. He doesn't gloss over the NSDAP years, where some clubs acted admirably; others less so.

If you're a fan of German football, this book belongs on your shelf. If you aren't, you may find it less interesting.

04 June 2012

Book review: The Devil's Cub

The Devil's Cub, by Georgette Heyer

I've enjoyed many of the Heyers I've read. This one I bought because it's about two characters I liked in An Infamous Army. Except Vidal was decidedly less likeable here. He's rather an ass.

Miss Mary Challoner has a younger sister, who is much prettier than she. Said sister begins a flirtation with Dominic Alastair, Marquis Vidal, who, of course, has no intention of marrying her. Mary intercepts a note for her sister from Vidal, which instructs her to meet him. She goes in her sister's place and ends up in France.

Vidal thinks she's as easy as her sister, but Mary isn't. Naturally, they start out hating each other, but they get over it eventually. There are also cousins and friends involved, and lots of lying and half-truths.

Vidal's mother may be the best character in the book. Leonie is from France, and she finds English customs rather silly.

I mainly wanted to shake sense into both characters. The Georgian period (this is pre-Regency, because Mary and Vidal are grandparents in Infamous Army) had some seriously fucked-up norms, where men spanked their wives as though they were children, for example. I have trouble sympathizing with a hero who wants to turn a grown woman over his knee and spank her as punishment for being "uppity." I know, 200 years ago things were different, but it's still very UGH.

I'm not sure how to rate this book. If you love Heyer, you'll probably enjoy it. If not, you probably won't.

30 May 2012

I need more consistency

I'm not very good at blogging regularly. That's probably because it takes effort to put a thoughtful post together, about a book or movie or a meta topic, and I'm just not very up for that lately. I seem to be more in the "say something random on twitter" mindset lately.

That, and there just isn't all that much going on right now. I still have a good-sized stack of books to review. I'm still making progress on writing. That's about it.

Oh, and I'm helping run a new convention, which eats part of my life (but not much, because I'm just a track director).

My gardenias are flowering, and they smell really good. If I can figure out how, I want to try rooting some cuttings so I can have more. It'd be a ton of effort, but we could replace the ugly bushes next to the front stairs with gardenias. A ton of effort; the bushes are 12 years old and have massive taproots. But the gardenias would smell much prettier when we open the window.

Oddly, I'm not much of a gardener. I like puttering around a bit and having fresh herbs, but I hate weeding and maintenance. Which is kind of a problem.

I went to Animazement on Saturday. I hadn't gone in 2 or 3 years, mainly because I didn't want to spend money to be allowed to go in and spend money. But they had Ichiro Itano, one of the animators and directors of Macross (who invented the Itano Circus), and I wanted to see him. So I went, paid my money, got DVD liner notes signed and heard a great panel with amusing stories (and one fanboy who posed his question in Japanese). I didn't spend much in the dealers room. I only got a tai chi sword (which I need for my class, and was cheaper than ordering one online) and a little figurine. Ben got a bunch of stuff, including some Macross art to get signed.

Last night, Ben and I went to see the Carolina Railhawks play the LA Galaxy in a cup tournament. It was pretty fun, and much nicer than the last Railhawks game we went to that got thunderstormed-out. The Railhawks won, surprisingly, though LAG didn't send most of their first string. It's such a fun atmosphere, though the lack of vegetarian food for dinner at their concession is disappointing. (We planned ahead and stopped at Taco Bell. They didn't put my bean burrito on the order at all. So I had a smoothie, a pretzel, and ice cream for dinner :/ Moral of the story: always check your drive-thru order before you leave.)

I don't promise that I'll get any better at blogging regularly, though I need to get reviews up. One a week will get me into July, anyway...

30 April 2012

Book review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

I love dystopic fiction. I've always found stories about societal breakdown and how people cope with it fascinating, not least because they reflect the failings of modern society, magnified to an extreme.

The former United States, years after an unspecified disaster, likely some combination of war and rising oceans, is known as Panem. The Capitol (in former Colorado) controls twelve districts, each with a specific product: technology, textiles, food, fish, etc. District Twelve, where the story begins, produces coal.

Seventy-four years before this story, the districts, then numbering thirteen, rose up against the Capitol to fight their oppressive hand. The Capitol won, obliterating District Thirteen, and continued to oppress the districts. They added a punishment in the Treaty of the Treason: every year, one boy and one girl, between the ages of 12 and 18 inclusive, from each district are selected in a Reaping as Tributes to fight in a battle to the death: the Hunger Games.

Katniss Everdeen (16), the narrator, lost her father in a mining disaster, and since then, she's been hunting (illegally) to help feed her mother and sister. She's hard and determined, and she's willing to sacrifice everything to protect her 12-year-old sister Primrose. Her best friend, Gale, an older boy who lost his father in the same mining accident, goes hunting with her.

The day of the Reaping, Prim's name is pulled from the fishbowl. Katniss volunteers to go in her place: that's legal in the Games' rules. Her co-Tribute, baker's son Peeta Mellark, joins her on stage, and she remembers him as the boy with the bread: he tossed her a loaf of bread when she was starving.

They go to the Capitol, where they're prepared for the Games, fed and bathed and cleaned and trained. They're interviewed on TV to try to get sponsors interested in them. Sponsors can send them gifts during the Games, like food or medicine or weapons, and the more sponsors a Tribute has, the greater chance they have of survival.

Katniss is determined to win the Games, because she'll be able to take care of Prim. (A Games Victor receives extra food and money for life.) Peeta, in a conversation the night before the Games, says he doesn't want the Capitol to change him in the Games, and if he's going to die, he'll do it on his own terms, as himself.

Katniss' slow rebellion of the mind begins there, and it continues throughout the Games, as she plays the role she thinks will draw more Sponsors then, over time, comes to understand what Peeta meant. I wish I could go into further detail, but that would be too many spoilers.

The Hunger Games trilogy is dark, brutal, heart-rending, and, ultimately, hopeful. It's a compelling read, as Katniss, a survivor, does her best to survive in the Games, then cope with her PTSD in the second and third books as the world she's known her whole life changes around her.

On top of Katniss' story, Collins paints a target on reality-show culture and the massive divide between haves and have-nots. The movie version does a brilliant job of the reality-show aspect and questioning our own complicity in the Games.

I highly recommend both.

23 April 2012

Book review: Leviathan trilogy

Leviathan, Behemoth, and Goliath, by Scott Westerfeld.

Leviathan opens in an alternate late-July 1914, with Prince Aleksandr, son of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary, being spirited away by his fencing tutor and the master of mechaniks late at night. They climb into their Stormwalker and head for Switzerland. Anyone passingly familiar with real-world history may recall that Franz Ferdinand's assassination in late July 1914 was the spark in the tinderbox that led to the First World War, and if you made that connection, you would be correct.

Up in England, a girl named Deryn Sharp is taking the midshipman's exam for the British Navy (Air Navy? I forget what he called it, exactly.) The thing is, only boys are allowed to be middies, because it's 1914 and the military is a bit sexist like that. So Deryn calls herself Dylan, cuts her hair short, and dresses like a boy. Because of a storm during the first test flight using a Huxley (a jellyfish-hot air balloon), she ends up on the great airbeast Leviathan, a zeppelin-whale.)

The alternate part of Westerfeld's 1914 is that the world is divided between Darwinists and Clankers. The Darwinists have figured out how to take the "life strands" of creatures and fiddle with them in the lab, thus creating living airships and beast weapons, like strafing hawks and bats who eat razor blades stuck inside fruit then poop them onto their target. The living airships are an ecosystem, and it requires a delicate balance.

Clankers use mechaniks, or diesel-powered robots of a sort. The Stormwalker moves on legs, and the land ships are sort of like tanks on legs. Pretty straightforward.

Except, because the world in 1914 was pretty complicated, Alek's escape isn't so easy. They have enemies not just in the Darwinists, but among their own theoretical allies, the fellow Clankers in Germany. Deryn is always in danger of being discovered as a girl and kicked out of the service.

Through a series of events, Alek ends up on Leviathan with Deryn, and they become friends and have adventures while saving the world. (This book is targeted to a teenaged/young adult audience.) It's a great, fun read, and the story ends up taking them literally around the world, to Turkey (the Ottoman Empire), Russia, Japan, the US, and Mexico.

One thing I enjoyed were Westerfeld's endnotes on each book, explaining briefly what the real history was and how he changed it. I'm more than passingly familiar with the beginning of the Great War, and I enjoyed noticing things that I knew were the same (or close) and finding things he'd changed.

I purchased this for my kobo e-reader, and the only complaint I have is that it's hard to see the illustrations on the e-ink screen.

If you like adventures with mostly-happy endings, you'll enjoy this series.

20 April 2012

I need to update more often.

I have a stack of books I've read and need to review here, a smaller stack I need to review for money, and a very-slowly-shrinking stack of books I'm reading. I also have a few ideas for posts that aren't book reviews (shocker) and an announcement that I'm waiting on until I can link you to it. (I sold a story!)

To review here:
- Scott Westerfeld, Leviathan trilogy
- Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games trilogy
- Jo Walton, Among Others
- CJ Cherryh, Regenesis
- Georgette Heyer, Devil's Cub

To review elsewhere:
- Natania Barron, Pilgrim of the Sky
- TC McCarthy, Exogene

Currently reading:
- Elif Shafak, The Flea Palace
- Uli Hesse, TOR! The Story of German Football
- Walter Moers, Die Stadt der Träumenden Bücher

TBR:
- Kürshat Bashar, Music by my Bedside
- Bilge Karasu, The Garden of Departed Cats
- Oliver Plaschka, Die Magier von Montparnasse
- Frank Schätzing, Limit
- Jack Turner, Spice: the History of a Temptation
- Mary Robinette Kowal, Glamour in Glass
- Jonathan Wilson, Behind the Curtain: Travels in Eastern European Football

05 March 2012

Book review: the Gil Trilogy

Lady in Gil, Scion's Lady, and Lady Pain by Rebecca Bradley.

I'm not sure how these books ended up in my collection. They have used book store price markings inside the covers, so they came used. Possibly as a gift, I don't know.

The first two books follow Tigrallef, Scion of Oballef, who is supposed to go back to the island his people were driven out of by the Sherank, a vulgar people who mainly enjoy killing other people and being slovenly. Tig is a librarian and scholar, not the Trained Hero (tm) who has the Heroic Image, etc. But his older brother (the Hero) was injured, so he can't make it.

Tig gets back to Gil and gets taken under the wing of a rebel movement, who help him break into Gilgard (the castle) and steal the Lady (the MacGuffin). The Lady is a powerful magical object that is said to have built the nation of Gil from nothing, and the Sherank want it so they can continue to dominate the rest of the world.

One of the rebels is a young woman named Calla, with whom Tig falls in love.

The third book follows Tig and his family as they try to figure out the secret of where the Lady came from and how to send her back to the void. The Lady has taken residence inside Tig's head, see, and he wants her gone. She's quite vicious and shows no qualms about destroying an entire nation of people.

According to her bio, Bradley is an archaeologist. When Tig's family searches the ruins of ancient civilizations for hints of where the Lady came from, it's done with a careful attention to detail, reflected from her experience.

I'm of two minds on these books. They're well-written, and the story compels you to turn page after page. I loved the subversion of the usual Hero tropes and how Tig really just wanted to hole up in his archive and read his precious books. At the same time, Tig was a dumbass and I wanted to kick him quite frequently. I didn't like him much as a person, while as a character he was well-drawn. The third book, narrated by a character who wasn't Tig, was my favorite.

There were a lot of things I enjoyed about these books, and if you can get over an annoying first-person lead character, you might enjoy them, too. Or you might not find Tig particularly annoying.

16 February 2012

Book list

Because I'm building up quite a backlog, I'll make a list.

Books to review:
- Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan trilogy
- Rebecca Bradley's Gil trilogy
- Natania Barron's Pilgrim of the Sky (for Bull Spec?)

Books to read and review:
- TC McCarthy's Exogene (SO EXCITED) (for Bull Spec?)
- Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games trilogy

Is that all? Doesn't seem like that much... though I'm in the middle of re-reading CJ Cherryh's Foreigner series. I'm on book 7 right now. (Book 12 comes out in paperback next month, and I haven't read any of the 4th trilogy at all yet. Waiting for cliffhanger resolution isn't my strong point.)

01 February 2012

Free fiction!

It's really hard to place a reprint of flash fiction. Not many markets want pieces that short, and not many want reprints, anyway. So I've put U8: Alexanderplatz (1989) up on my website. It's got a little paypal button at the bottom, if you want to drop some money my way.

(I tried to figure out the Amazon Payments system, but I couldn't get past the business information part.)

09 January 2012

Book review: Fly Into Fire

Fly Into Fire, by Susan Jane Bigelow. 2012, Candlemark and Gleam

Fly Into Fire picks up three years after Broken left off. Be forewarned that this review contains a few spoilers for the ending of Broken.

Sky Ranger has spent the last three years hiding from and fighting the Confederation government, which he had helped to uphold. He believed them to be honorable. He was wrong. He's bought passage on a refugee ship bound for Räton space.

When the ship crash lands on a desert planet which the Rätons had given to the Confederation, Sky Ranger and the handful of survivors build a small tent city while they figure out a way off of the planet before the Confederation finds them.

He befriends Renna, and he tries to take care of Dee, a young girl who was orphaned in the crash. Dee runs off one afternoon, and when he goes looking for her, he finds a massive sandstorm coming in. The survivors take refuge in an abandoned Räton house, except Sky Ranger, who searches futilely for the last two members of the search party for Dee. They're captured separately.

Sky Ranger finds unexpected friends and allies in his captivity: remnants of the Extrahuman Union. He also finds unspeakably cruel captors in his former employers, the Confederation.

Fly Into Fire is just as compelling as Broken. It's a fast-paced adventure story, where well-drawn characters have to figure out how to survive the government that oppresses them long enough to escape.

Another aspect of this book that may appeal to some readers is that Renna is a trans woman. It's not a book about transitioning or being trans*; Renna's just this woman who's a refugee, who falls in love, who makes friends, who fights for her friends...and she's trans. Granted, being trans is the reason she's a refugee, but that's still not the main point of the story.

Fly Into Fire comes out January 24. If you want to whet your appetite and you haven't read it yet, you can pick up Broken here.