Friday, April 29, 2011

Oh For the Love of Steampunk

So I signed up for some ARCs (Advance Review Copies) in an online class a few weeks ago and silly people, they let me have them.

Two of them.

Both Steampunk in genre.

Steampunk, if any of you are new to the term, is a specific type of alternate history Fantasy limited to a certain (Victorian) time period -- when technology was gaining ground. My opinion is that right now we live in a technology based world and most of us would be against REALLY going back to simpler times. So we bring traditional fantasy forward.

Sci-fi has always been tech based, but now we also have Urban Fantasy and Steampunk to mix technology with our fantasy in different ways.

I love them both.

Sort of. My main love is Urban Fantasy, but there are parts of Steampunk... some wonderful parts.

I met Steampunk when it was more of an art movement adding the decoration of the Victorian era to the modern world; reminding us there was a time objects were created for beauty as well as functionality.

Compare early Singers
to the modern version.

If I could have all today's functionality in that beautiful case, I know which I'd rather have.

The Art of Steampunk: Extraordinary Devices and Ingenious Contraptions from the Leading Artists of the Steampunk MovementWhich brings me to my first ARC book.

The Art of Steampunk.

Which is beautiful.

Soooooo beautiful.

The art, that is.

The book came to me early and in electronic form where the plates were not quite matched to the pictures they described. I think we can all be pretty sure that won't be the case when it really comes out.

I've seen most of these images before, online.

The artists in the Steampunk movement don't typically hide their art away so I fell in love with Datamancer's laptop YEARS ago. (So much drooling.) I recently found Tom Banwell when I decided I needed to build my own top hat (not done yet, I'll share photos when it happens).

But I still want this book. In real paper copy form that I can keep and hold and run my fingers over the edges of everything.

But that's me.

If you're happy seeing pictures on the computer screen, there's plenty out there, but if you want a permanent copy you can hold, you'll want to consider it too. This collection was put together for the first time in person at The Museum of the History of Science at Oxford University in England and it is appropriately stark and beautiful.

Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences NovelThe other book they let me read was a novel, which was supposed to come out May 1st, but seems to be available on Amazon a little early. You can get it now.

This is the one that forces me to admit that my tastes aren't as open as I like to think. It's not bad, in the same way multiple award-winning novel Boneshaker by Cherie Priest is not bad. It just doesn't draw me in. Others LOVE it.

And when I put "love" in all-caps, I meant it. At least about Cherie Priest's books -- this one hasn't been out long enough to have made its own mark yet.

Let's talk about chapter names from, oh, let's say three randomly chosen chapters.

Chapter Three: Where Our Dashing Hero of History and Cataloguing Is Finally Granted a Proper Introduction to Miss Eliza D. Braun.
Chapter Seventeen: Wherein Mr. Books Reveals His Device and Our Daring Duo Engage in a Spot of Proper Eavesdropping for Queen and Country.
Chapter Thirty: Wherein Our Heroes Endure Perdition's Flames.

These are excellent. Wonderful. Amazing even. So it is terribly sad I did not love the book so much -- partially, I think, because the text is written in the same tone.

Let me grab a random paragraph from chapter thirty (where my Nook waited after I looked up some titles):
"Light struck his face; and by the time his eyes adjusted, he understood what was behind the screams and shouts assailing him. The manor above ground was also gripped by pandemonium. Servants appeared like rats on a sinking ship, running for the nearest exit, but not before helping themselves to anything that was not bolted or nailed down...."

I quote this because, reading it, I have to admit that it carries an unmistakable Victorian vibe which may be where I fall away from the Steampunk movement. I did not come to this place because I loved that moment in time, or the literature of the time so filled with adjectives and my own vice, commas.

I love the art.

I love making functional things beautiful.

So, to feel like I'm giving the book a fair chance, I needed you to see the way it is written; the reason I believe I didn't fall into the story and keep going. That cadence does not come naturally to me.

But you...

If your love of Steampunk is partially due to the language and the flowery expressions of the time, this book could be just the one you've been waiting for. Go give it a chance.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Body swapping and infidelity

In case you're not into Stargate Universe, the plot point I'll be discussing goes something like this: there are human beings stuck on a starship who can't get home and are too far away from Earth to communicate via radio. Instead, they use an alien device that can swap the minds of people on the ship with people on Earth, one at a time. So, you can use the device, occupy another person's body and go home for some shore leave.

They've made no bones about the fact that those on shore leave are using these borrowed bodies to have sex with the partners they left behind when they went on the ship. They don't give it a moment's thought. I'm guessing the volunteers who switch places with them know this going in. It kinda gives me the creeps, though. Is this infidelity or not? And on whose part?

On the ship, it becomes more complicated. When your partner visits you on the ship (in the borrowed body of one of your crewmates), all of a sudden there are rules. Several people on the ship have love interests present, and they don't take it at all kindly when someone wants to use their love interests' bodies for a little close-and-personal time. There's jealousy, even though the mind of the body in question is a different person.

It raises a big question for me about whether infidelity is mind or body. On the ship, they're putting it squarely in the category of body. On Earth though, it's more about the mind. As long as the mind is the one of your sweetie, it's all good, no infidelity here.

Another thing that gave me the shivers: Up on the ship, a male crewmate receives a visit from a scientist on earth that he has the hots for. They try to keep the genders the same, so the volunteer to host this scientist is another woman (an HR director), who also happens to be a lesbian. She doesn't know the person she's hosting also has the hots for her male crewmate. The scientist and the male crewmate come close to sex, and I was up in arms. They didn't go far enough in the past to find out if the HR director had ever had a male lover. How in the hell would that feel to get back to your body and discover it's had sex with a man when not only have you never done that, but it isn't even the gender you're attracted to? Ick, ick, ick.

I would want some pretty clear rules laid out before anyone borrowed my body. How about you? And how would you feel if your partner wanted to volunteer for this sort of duty? Where does infidelity lie?

Monday, April 25, 2011

How's That Going to Work?

Being broken as I am, conducting about 90% of my life now via the net, I'm doing more thinking about the wired life.

Not that I haven't ever before, mind you. In the world I built for my Revolutionaries, everyone is wired -- even the oppressed have handheld computers, all but the very poorest of them, and everyone has access to the future-equivalent of the internet; but very few people are educated, so not many of them can wield much influence on this net.

In that world, one group starts a free university, which anyone can access; but, of course, it's not all that useful, except to a small minority. Who can use a university, without the years and years of background schooling that allows access to the knowledge a university provides? This is the problem we run into at my university, which serves the working class -- people who have been laid off from factories, people who have raised children for 20 years, people who have been medical techs or LPNs and now have come back to school, because their jobs don't pay enough to live on, or been usurped. Many of these people are smart enough; nearly all of them are desperate enough to work hard at whatever assignments they are given; but few of them have the background in academics necessary to do well in the academic world. Some of them have spent the past 20 years reading in their spare time -- those people do okay. But that's a tiny percentage. The rest are crashing on the shoals of our demands.

What, you may ask, is the response of the academic world to the problems this new sort of student is having with the demands of university life?

Well, they're administrators. What do you think their response is?

On the world I built, the only way my field workers and kitchen girls can succeed in the free university classes -- the classes they access through the internet -- is if they have tutors who can help them out. Someone who knows math, someone who understands what this linguistics stuff is suppose to be about, who can sit down with them and explain the lectures and the problem sets, show them where they're going wrong. Teachers, in other words.

That's why we exist. Teachers. If education could be done with a book and a student, well, who would need a university? You could send students to libraries -- or to Wikipedia -- and be done with it.

So -- of course -- that's essentially what more and more universities are inclined to do. Online classes! Online universities! It's the new big thing. A great deal for administration, since it lets them hire more & more adjuncts; an apparently great deal for students, since they can "study" from wherever they are, whenever they want to. The only downside is the bit where less learning actually gets done. (A feature, not a bug, I am tempted to speculate, from the POV of administrators. I mean, there are obvious benefits to an ignorant population. Obvious detriments, too, but those high enough in the pyramid, I suppose, are insulated from these.)

So -- as much as I love the internet, as great as the wired world is: here's my point: some things really can only be done face to face.

Friday, April 22, 2011

First Lines

How important are first lines?

I feel like I should be offering up opinions and then letting you agree or shout me down, but I haven't decided what I think quite yet. I read one of the worst first lines ever -- and from one of my favorite writers too. I mean, it was long and convoluted and sounded like it should have been a contestant on the Bulwer-Lytton page. I know this book will be good when I push past, but I had to reread this sentence three times to be sure I had all the people placed correctly with their correct descriptives and actions.

And I can't pick too much. I know I have a habit of really long sentences that do so much more than they should -- that I try really hard to catch and split apart in editing. But do you stop at a first sentence if it is sufficiently convoluted? Will you read five paragraphs, five pages, or fifty?

What I really wanted to do today was to list a dozen or two first lines from random books on my shelves and get opinions -- would you want to go on? -- but I couldn't find a survey software (to save answers) that didn't require me to make a new account somewhere. I'll keep looking and maybe get to it later.

But pushing on with the survey idea in a much shorter format, something I can do with blogger's easily created sidebars annnnddd... Look to the right.

How do you choose your books?

I'm pickier at the bookstore, paying full price. I'll only bring it home if I get intrigued by the front cover, stay intrigued by the blurb, and then the first chapter. (Or when I've been waiting for So-and-So's next release I run right in and pick it up -- when I haven't pre-ordered on Amazon.)

I'm quicker to spend full-price money when I've seen the book recommended on multiple blogs and the last one has a link to the Amazon sale page (as long as it's paperback).

At garage sales and used book stores, I'm omnivorous. Any hint of coolness, genre, or anything, and I'll bring it home to try. --Most used book stores near me burn incense and I'm allergic so I can't stay inside long, and garage sales usually let books go for a quarter. I can almost always spend a quarter for the chance of something cool and this is my favorite way to discover new authors.

--And my answer on the other topic: I almost never notice the first sentence unless it confuses me, but when that notable sentence confused me and I picked up a series of books, reading only the first sentence, I did find it fascinating.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Beating the @#*#$ out of culture

I'm researching Native American religion/magic for my latest project, as well as the religious and mystical practices of several other cultures.

And then I'm taking terrible liberties with them. It can't be helped. In order to make mysticism take on the level of realism I need, I have to take legends and lore and beat them into submission.

My question to you is, do I need to put something in front of my project (if it gets published, fingers crossed) that says, "I've made a complete tangled knot of several cultures and their legends and the mysticism contained therein. Please research them for yourselves. Thank you."

After all, I remember being a psychology major back in the day and rolling my eyes every time fiction labeled all mental illness as schizophrenia.

How upset do you get when fiction does this, especially to something you or your ancestors actually believes in or believed in at one time? Do you feel the need to write an angry letter? Or do you look at it like I am, that fiction needs to stretch reality so that it fits a fiction mold? Or on the third hand (because why stop at two), do you take it in stride and try to educate people on actual cultural practices? Would you feel better if the person stretching those cultural practices offered a disclaimer, like I'm thinking I'll do?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Thinking About Worlds

Late Post, because when we were up in Fayetteville, shopping for the Seder, I stepped off a curb into a storm drain and twisted the front half of my foot right under the other half, creating a spherical break in the long shaft of my fifth metatarsal bone.  I am moderately broken, and amazingly whiny.  This is the first bone I have ever broken.  Who knew it hurt so much?  While I was at the bone clinic this afternoon, waiting for Dr. Skull to come pick me up after my appointment, sulking on my crutches, my enormous plastic and Velcro boot-cast propped ahead of me, an elderly gentleman with only one leg wheeled up beside me in his stripped down racing wheelchair. 

“Hot, idn’t,” he said. 

“Yeah,” I agreed.  “Big storm coming in, I hear.  Pushing all this heat ahead of it.”  

We watched a kid with a broken leg get out of a van.  

“Watcher do your leg?” he asked me.  

“Stepped in a hole,” I said.  “It’s no deal.”

 Meanwhile!  We had Seder last night, though we could not find any KFP matzo, which made Dr. Skull sad.  We did find KFP wine.  We also had chicken, potato kugel, asparagus, matzo ball soup, and gefilte fish.  Elijah did not show up.

 “What if he does?” the kid asked, after having gone to open the door for him.

 “Apocalypse now,” I told her.

 Passover is one of my favorite celebrations; I like telling the story, I like inviting all our friends to the meal; I even like the food of affliction. I like the kid’s face when she has to eat the matzo with horseradish, to remind her she was a slave in Egypt. 

But anyway, sitting around the table, it made me think (as everything does make me think) about writing science fiction, and about how this is the hardest thing to get right, celebrations and holidays in our invented worlds.

Every culture has holidays and celebrations.  They grow up naturally.  So they have to be a natural part of the culture you have invented.  The inclination is to just make them copies of the holidays we know  -- something like Christmas, only it’s not Christmas, something like a Thanksgiving, only we’ll call it Harvest Festival.   But if you look at what the Romans, for instance, celebrated -- The Lupercalia, for instance, a goat-sacrifice, in celebration of women’s fertility, which involved ritual whippings; or the Robigalia, a celebration of the fertility of fields, which involved puppy sacrifice and lots of foot-racing; or Vinalia, the day of celebrating the wine harvest, by (of course!) getting really, really drunk -- and these are only a few of the dozens of Roman holidays.  (Romans didn’t need weekends: every third day was a feast day.)  Anyway: you see my point.  Different cultures can vary quite a bit in how they celebrate.  Although, yes, Rome also had Saturnalia, near midwinter, in which people went around visiting friends, eating nice meals, and giving one another gifts: which does sound familiar!

My point, for this post!  When we are building worlds to set our tales and, and being creating the holidays and celebrations, how will we do it?  Will the rise out of the cultures our characters rise from?  Or do we make it all new?  Some combination of these?

 How do you work?


Friday, April 15, 2011

Talking About Private Spaces

Wait, no, Barbara talked about privatizing space travel. Oops. Can't wait for that either.


Why do I love this office so much?

Because I do. SO much.

I could have it too.

Husband has allowed me my own room (and don't go all woman-power "Allowed???" on me, he gets a corner of a room, my wonderful Husband) I get a whole room of my own. So to get this, all I'd have to do is drop the sewing hobby and focus on having a giant library. Sewing stuff takes up so much room though. My room is 90 percent sewing, 10 percent office because office doesn't require half the space.

But I COULD put bookshelves on all four walls with a little desk tucked into one corner, maybe a recliner and a reading light in the other corner. Would I ever leave such a room? Other than to get more books?

You don't know how tempting this is.

But I also love making costumes. At least I love wearing costumes -- but not of that icky feeling stuff (what is it, polyester?) that store costumes are made of. Also, I've rather enjoyed making the little monster purse things I started putting on Etsy. I'm even trying to figure out whether I could install a big storage cabinet on my back porch, move all the tools and yard chemicals there, then seeing how much sewing room stuff I could fit in our laundry/storage room. (We don't have a garage, but we do have a 1/2 acre yard.) I'm not sure how nice it would be to claim a room and a half -- as well as most decisions for the rest of the house. Husband is still unhappy about when I decided that his room needed to be green -- and had it mostly painted before he got home.

Bill (local friend) is right. Why DOES Husband ever go away to conferences? He should know better by now.

I was going to tell you all of my love for Netflix Instant and the many, many shows they have available --though I REALLY dislike the new tivo we felt required to buy after our last one died so instead, I'd recommend any of the little special purpose boxes that do Hulu or Netflix -- I think there are some that do both. I think I'm going to watch X-Files again next -- GeekMom gave an interesting review.

But I saw this simple office and am suddenly fully focused on figuring out how to make that happen.

Why is such a simple office/library so fascinating to me? Especially since I have bookshelves scattered through out the house. Oh, wait. I may have figured it out. New bookshelves do not mean that old bookshelves go anywhere. Oh, the books I could keep.

Yep, that's probably it.

What is your dream office/library? Do you have it already?

I'd love to see.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Privatizing Space

How much more quickly would space exploration be if it were privatized? Of course, it's difficult to think of a private company wanting to explore space unless that company could get something out of it, like minerals or materials. They wouldn't go out of the goodness of their hearts. And I don't think the scientific community or NASA wants to let private companies loose to strip mine space.

In Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars novels, private companies are calling the shots on Earth, and so they begin to decide the fate of Mars as well. In the end, they're the only ones with enough money to explore space at all. Naturally, when they get to Mars, the thing they're most interested in is mining first and then terraforming it so that the rich of Earth have somewhere to "retire" to.

This contrasts with what I've seen of military science fiction, where governments are in direct control of space exploration and ships are filled with space marines. Now, sometimes this is just a plot device so people can kill aliens with large weapons on other planets, but other times the military butts heads with scientists or colonists fighting for their homes or for space itself.

What novels or movies or shows have a happy medium? Or would such a medium leave the story without a central conflict? Do you think governments should decide what's done with space, or should we turn it over to private companies? Why just those two? They're the ones with the cash. ^_^

Monday, April 11, 2011

Gateway Drugs

My kid is already a reader, though these days she spends much of her time reading manga and fan fic, and less of it than I would like reading actual books between covers. (Kids today!)

My dream, as you can imagine, was that she would be as enamored of the SF world as I was and am.  It's been difficult for me to hold back noodging her toward the books I love.  (As those of you with kids might know, the surest way to be certain a kid will not read a book is to bring it home and hand it to her with the words of doom, "Here, you might like this; I did when I was your age.")

The best way, I have found (I'm revealing trade secrets here, since the kid reads this blog) is to simply bring the book home and leave it around.  Nearly as good is to let her see me reading it myself.  "Hey, what's that about?" she asks.

"Oh, this kid who's a witch and has to save her all her people.  It's pretty good."

"Can I read it?"

"Maybe when I'm done..."

Anyway: my question, my problem, my deep thought for the week: what's the best "gateway drug" book into SF or F?  I know the book that got me started, Have Space Suit, Will Travel; and certainly when we listened to that one on CD during a roadtrip a few years ago the kid liked it.  OTOH, it did not make a SF geek out of her (as I had, obviously, been hoping).

Nor has repeated exposure to Dr. Who.  Though she does love Dr. Who.

What books might work?  What books did work for all y'all?  How can I lure her more deeply into our world, from which there is no escape?

Gimme a list!

Friday, April 8, 2011

New To Me

You guys know I like Fantasy, right? Scifi, Steampunk, Paranormal, everything that isn't plain old modern day anything, really -- except Horror, because of that over-active imagination thing. <shudder>

So how did I not know about this!

Yes, probably because I haven't watched music videos since I was a teenager (which was forever ago) but really.... I want more.

Are there other videos/songs with FanSci themes?

Come on, People, give. I NEED TO KNOW!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Hands up, everyone who likes anime? (Is that comma right, hmmm?)

I used to watch it endlessly. When we had cable, I would record every bit of it I could get my hands on. Now that we have Netflix, I'm getting into it again. They have so many titles to offer. Only problem is, to get the original Japanese voices, you have to get the DVDs in the mail. Nothing wrong with many American dubs, you understand, but oftentimes the Japanese voices just fit so much better.


Anime has been delving into fantasy/sci-fi for so long. Nearly every anime I've ever seen has a fantastical element, thought I do understand there are many that don't. It just seems so much more easily embraced over there than over here. I think we may be catching up. I know a lot of adults are into anime, where we Americans used to see anything animated as for children. (Excepting older Western offerings like Heavy Metal, which is Canadian.) Adults who watch anime are probably pretty open-minded to fantasy/sci-fi anyway, but anything that leads more people to the genre is fine by me.

Maybe the kids who watch age-appropriate anime and see adults doing the same will continue to embrace fantasy/sci-fi as they grow up and not cast it aside as childish. I see the fact that so many primetime networks are embracing fantasy/sci-fi as a sign that this is already happening.

I've very excited to see HBO's new Game of Thrones series. I don't have high hopes for the new Wonder Woman, however. I'm glad the network decided to change her costume after fan complaint. Good on them. The original is on the right and looks like it came from a costume shop out of a bag labeled, Wonder Woman Stripper. (Vinyl pants? Really?) The new costume on the left traded in the vinyl for fabric and went for muted colors. Love the different boots, too. The original blue boots (ugh) had heels and the new red boots are flat, thank heavens. If they'll listen to fan outrage, maybe the show has a hope in hell.

Anyway, anime would have probably served Wonder Woman better. She certainly kicks ass in all the American cartoons she's starred in.

Like anime? Think it gives us hope for more American fantasy/sci-fi shows? Which ones are you looking forward to?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Alone, What Am I?

A solitary, wandering cloud, I guess.

But gathered together, in two or three?  I am a writing group!  

Five or six or even seven is better.  Much more than that I have found is too many.

This post here over at Strange Horizons, about a SF/F writing camp for young teens, started me thinking about it.  It was accepted wisdom when I was a young writer that writers didn't need writing workshops, or to go to school to learn to write, or things like writing groups.  After all, you couldn't "learn" writing.  One "was" a writer or one was not.  In order to write, one had to "live," and then write about "life," whatever that meant.

I had a professor tell me that very thing, in fact.  "You don't need to go to school," he said.  "You need to go have a life.  Get a job in a bar, or a restaurant.  Go to New York.  Do something.  Then you'll have something to write about."

And knowledge gained from other writers, knowledge gained in universities, obviously, that's not actual knowledge.

I think about this when I sit down each Thursday night with my writers in my Fiction Workshop at the university; and when I gather with the Boston Mountain Writers every Sunday afternoon in my living room, or up the mountain in Zelda's living room.  I remember how I felt when I was a young writer, 20 years old, sitting down at the long table in my first Fiction Workshop, how exhilarating it felt, even though I wasn't very good yet, even though I didn't know what I was doing and didn't really have anything to write about yet -- to be with other people who took writing seriously.  That was what I needed.  Other writers.  

If we were living in Paris in 1920, maybe we could have found them by hanging about the coffee shops.  Since we're not, we're getting it from writing groups, and writing workshops, and from the blogosphere.

So long as we do get it.

Gathering experience isn't enough. We've got to gather writers around us as well.

That's how we learn to write.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Where's My Sense of Humor?

It is April 1st, after all.

I should be telling you that Science Fiction is over.

Or that Fantasy is, like, so 5 minutes ago. Particularly of the Urban variety. And vampires, pshaw, no one likes vampires any more.

Or that I built a rocket in my backyard and my children should be grown and ready to explore by the time they get to Jupiter. Good luck, kids! (picture happy bye-bye wave and serene expression here.)

Instead I'm beating my head against my keyboard trying to think of a topic for today.

Usually -- OK, often -- I am better than that. Even last week when I didn't prepare for the lateness of the night, I knew what was going up. This week.... Nothing. And I even have the prompt of the trickster holiday. Loki's day. How can I not have an idea?

Still, nothing.

So, I will share this amazing book I bought at an estate sale today. Thank you estate sale for being there and saving us in several ways. (If I didn't get the children out of the house this last day of Spring Break they would have killed each other. I'm already worried about Summer Vacation.) But now....

Without further ado....
Taaa daaaaa! This will be my new bible. I will read it cover to cover and follow its every suggestion.

What, you didn't believe it? All right. It's true. I will never make the cover of Good Housekeeping. (Oh! Wow. That still exists.) But still, it's sort of funny, right?

There are chapters called "Accepting Your Husband As He Is", "Helping Your Husband Love Himself" and "Follow the Leader".  And in the chapter called "Not Second Best" there's a drawing like a spoked wheel, where "Husband" occupies that vaunted center position with spokes labeled "children", "in-laws", "appearance", "home-making", "outside activities", and "money & security". Because apparently darling Husband should be more important than the children!

My poor deprived husband is busy cleaning for tonight's company while I write this. I will now go help because I will also take part in tonight's geekly company (so it's not fair to make him do it all by himself) as we play a Heroes adaptation of the Magnamund world.

Should you want Husband's home-grown rules for this, write in below. I've been trying to talk him into writing them up and putting them out there in cloud city for years. Maybe a few more voices would help. (And this part is not April fools :)

Have a great weekend everyone!