29 January 2014

Carolina Snow Day

We got some snow last night. It's really pretty. Everything's closed, of course.

snow on the front lawn and road
On the way to bed last night

snow on the front lawn and road in the morning
This morning. You might be able to see the deer tracks in the driveway.

snow on the deck and back yard
Sunny out back.

Snow on the deck and back yard

27 January 2014

Applications are open for Viable Paradise 18

I had a wonderful time at Viable Paradise 17. I met a lot of new friends and made some new critique partners. I learned a lot about the craft of writing and got insights on how to be a more deliberate writer (I tend to get an idea and start writing to see what happens, which is OK for a short piece but has led to disaster in novels for me).

You should apply if:

  • You are a writer.
  • You've been hovering around the same level of writing for a while and you want to improve your craft.
  • You want to meet people who can become critique partners.
  • You want to learn from established pros in the SF/F genre.
  • The idea of six weeks at Clarion sounds terrifying.
  • You want to eat the best collard greens ever.
A week at VP

The writing part
  • Three days of group critiques (2 hours in the morning). You receive your peers' application pieces, read them, and discuss them in a group (two per day, except the day you receive your critique). Each session is moderated by two instructors.
  • Two one-on-one critiques from the instructors (45 minutes in the afternoon, two days)
  • Lectures and colloquia on topics like plot structure, how not to piss off your readers, and exposition (3-5 hours per day)
  • Wednesday afternoon is free of lecture, but you will have other things to do
The rest of it
  • Morning walks with Uncle Jim (100% optional)
  • Evening walks to see bioluminescent jellyfish
  • Beer with Billy, wherein you drink beer (or cider) (or soda/water) and read Shakespeare (and laugh at all the dick jokes)
  • Spending time with your classmates and the instructors, which may or may not involve alcohol. (Tip: try Teresa's scurvy cure.)
  • Delicious food made by Mac and her capable staff. If you have dietary restrictions (I'm vegetarian, and about half my class eats gluten free), they can be accommodated.
  • Amazing, wonderful, helpful staff composed largely of VP alums.
  • Staying up way too late but not really caring. Everyone else loaded up on coffee or tea, but I can't have caffeine, so I just was really tired.
  • Bonding with your classmates: your writing peers and the people you'll be proud (and maybe a little jealous) of when they publish work or get nominated for awards
  • Beautiful Martha's Vineyard in October. I wasn't quite a popsicle at any point, but it was pretty windy.
Instructions for applying are here, along with lots of information on the workshop and instructors (present and past).

Everyone says that Viable Paradise changed their lives, and it sounds like a cliche. But it's true. It's a transformative experience (usually in the positive sense).

Feel free to ask me any questions you have in comments.

20 January 2014

Book review: Wastelands

Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse, edited by John Joseph Adams

This anthology came out in 2008, so it isn't new. I can't remember how I got my copy (an e-book), but it was sitting there on my e-reader when I wanted to read something I could pick up in bits and pieces here and there. Almost every piece is a reprint, ranging from George RR Martin's 1973 "Dark, Dark Were the Tunnels" to a 2007 piece from John Langan. The sole new piece is Jerry Oltion's "Judgment Passed."

It opens with a Stephen King piece, "The End of the Whole Mess," which I liked. It's about a pair of brothers, one of whom is an evil genius who invents a serum that changes people. The Orson Scott Card piece that followed less so. I could have lived without reading Bacigalupi's "People of Sand and Slag," with the whole dog-killing thing.

M. Rickert's "Bread and Bombs" is fucking terrifying and brilliant, a look at a society so overwhelmed with hate that the children do something unthinkable.

"How We Got in Town and Out Again" by Jonathan Lethem had an interesting premise, but it didn't really do anything for me. A sleazy troupe brings a rigged endurance contest (for essentially VR video) to town, and a couple teenagers use it to sneak into a town.

Martin's piece is about a post-nuclear survivor, many generations hence, exploring the tunnels he lives in with his psychic rat companion. His people are growing ill and dying out. Explorers/archeologists from the moon come back to Earth to look for anything that can help prevent them from dying out. (Small populations, bottleneck.)

In "Waiting for the Zephyr" by Tobias Buckell, Mara lives in a future Kansas(?), where everything is barren and desolate, and people live in shelters and have ample wind energy. She wants to escape her current situation and board the Zephyr, a landship, when it comes. Her family is opposed.

"Never Despair" by Jack McDevitt is about a woman who's searching for the Roadmakers, and she ends up in a derelict history museum, conversing with an AI named Winston. I love stories about futures where modern technology is a lost ancient secret, and that's what this is.

Cory Doctorow's "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth" is exactly the kind of story I dislike. I know enough about Unix and sysadmins to have gotten some of the jokes, but a story built around in-jokes ... meh.

"The Last of the O-Forms" by James Van Pelt is about the world after a series of mutation plagues hit. Creepy and satisfying. I don't remember much about "Still Life With Apocalypse" by Richard Kadrey.

"Artie's Angels" by Catherine Wells is about survival in a slum and cooperation, and whether the person or the idea of the person is more important.

"Judgment Passed" by Jerry Oltion asks the question "What if there were a Rapture and we missed it?" A small band of people were on a spaceship when the Rapture happened, and they all deal with it a little differently.

Gene Wolfe's "Mute" is about two kids who find all the TVs on mute, and everyone watching them dead. Creepy.

"Inertia" by Nancy Kress is one of the pieces I read elsewhere, but I can't remember where. It's a tale of people with a disfiguring but not deadly transmissible disease, who are forced into leper colonies and live on discarded and donated goods. They have no contact with the greater world or its politics. A doctor wants to sneak an infected girl with minimally visible disfigurement out of the camp to spread the placidity that's a side effect of the disease to the general public.

"And the Deep Blue Sea" by Elizabeth Bear is about a motorcycle courier in the nuclear remains of Nevada, who made a little deal with the devil, on what may be her final courier run.

Octavia Butler's "Speech Sounds" I've also read elsewhere. It's about some sort of agent that takes away people's ability to create and understand speech, and society's reaction to it. Excellent.

Carol Emswhiller's "Killers," like Rickert's piece, is about a society so steeped in hatred of the Other that people do unthinkable things. The intro to the piece says it "grew out of [her] objections to the war in Iraq," and that's very clear.

"Ginny Sweethips' Flying Circus" by Neal Barrett, Jr, was interesting but ultimately didn't work for me. Del and Ginny run a traveling show where Ginny advertises a variety of sexual personas, which are actually VR experiences. There are sapient animals (I think? I didn't quite get that part), and the peak conflict of the piece revolves around Ginny's Possum and the Dog of a mechanic they hired to tune up the van.

"The End of the World as We Know It" by Dale Bailey is about the sole survivor of the apocalypse, a middle-aged UPS driver, coming to grips with the end of everything. It's as much a meta-commentary on post-apocalyptic fiction as it is a story, which I thought was interesting.

"A Song Before Sunset" by David Grigg is about an older man who wants to play the piano one more time in a run-down world where culture is forgotten and Vandalmen smash things for fun.

"Episode Seven: Last Stand Against the Pack in the Kingdom of Purple Flowers" by John Langan is about what it says in the title. It was influenced by Bailey's piece above. Jackie and Wayne are on the run from a pack of wild dogs, which suddenly appeared one day. Wayne has a Plan to get rid of the pack, but Jackie notices something terrifying about him while he's enacting it.

There are a lot of stories in this anthology, and only a few of them were misses for me. To me, that's a success.

06 January 2014

Book review: The Future is Japanese

The Future is Japanese, edited by Nick Mamatas and Masumi Washington

I bought this anthology after Ken Liu's piece "Mono no Aware" was nominated for the Hugo. I put off reading it until recently.

Individual stories within an anthology are often hit or miss. That's the nature of an anthology. For me, more stories in this one were misses than hits.

I was especially disappointed with the translated pieces, because they tended more toward the style of writing that bores me to tears: some stuff's happening, it isn't very well explained but it's kind of interesting, then either the narrator or a character stops to exposit on a particular aspect of math or physics. At which point my interest is completely lost.

I thought Project Itoh's "The Indifference Engine" was interesting, premised around a piece of machinery that takes away the ability to distinguish between tribes (in a war-torn fictional African country). The premise isn't new, but this was a take I hadn't seen before.

Ekaterina Sedia's "Whale Meat" was haunting, about the disputed islands between Japan and Russia, and what was probably the last whale.

On the whole, though, the anthology didn't capture my interest. Several authors whose other work I've liked had pieces in here that didn't do much for me.

01 January 2014

Happy new year!

2013 was the year I realized I'd probably never get a job in pharmacy again, since I've been out of practice for a long time. But I was okay with that, because I also realized that I'd followed a mercenary tendency when I went into the field, rather than doing the thing I loved, which is German.

So I signed up for a distance learning course in teaching German as a foreign language.

I worked my last ConTemporal, but I apparently wasn't smart enough to swear off con-running forever, because I'm now co-chairing Shatterdome Atlanta, which is happening May 31.

I went to Viable Paradise, where I met a lot of awesome writers, whom I miss a lot. It's a difficult experience to talk about, because if I say "it was this awesome transformative experience" that isn't very satisfactory.

Writing: I revised my VP application piece and submitted it to a magazine. I submitted my Thursday story twice. I submitted another short story, which I may work on some more after I finish the short I'm working on (started Monday, so it counts for 2013).

I finished a very rough draft of a novel expanding the events of "Something There Is." It's more like a really detailed outline, and it's about 51000 words. By the end of revisions, I'd like it to be around 75000. At least.

For 2014, I intend to finish, revise, and submit the piece I'm working on currently; take the rough draft of the novel to a point where I won't be embarrassed to show it to people outside my writing group; and resubmit pieces that were rejected. That's what you do.

I have a fair amount of travel coming up this year, which will affect my writing time. In February, I'm going to Mannheim, Germany, for about 2 weeks to do a hospitation practicum (where I observe teachers teaching and get acquainted with course materials; I really hope it's not 100% me sitting around; I guarantee I'll fall asleep). When that's over, I'm going to visit a friend in Stuttgart and see Hertha BSC play VfB Stuttgart. It won't be quite the same experience as seeing Hertha play at home in the Olympic Stadium, but it should still be awesome. And I'll have a day to see Stuttgart, where I've never been before.

I'll be going to Atlanta for Shatterdome the last weekend in May.

Mid-June, I'll be in Berlin for a family vacation with the in-laws. We've been planning this for a while, and it's finally happening.

I might go to ConGregate in Winston-Salem for the day, and I'm already planning to go to IllogiCon for the day (oh hey that's next weekend...) so I can get Mary Robinette Kowal to sign my copy of Without a Summer.

I'll be in Atlanta over Labor Day weekend along with 60,000 other nerds.

Then there's the obligatory winter holiday travel, which is always interesting.

So, that's my year in review and year in planning. May 2014 be kind to everyone.