October 5th, 2011


[links] Link salad asks earnest questions

Analyzing the Leaves and Missing the Forest — Richard Parks on what I would call the difference between being a writer’s writer and a reader’s writer. He, of course, takes a different and rather illuminating tack.

Fantasy: High, Low and…? Part One: Fate, Prophecy and Destiny — Writer A.J. Luxton with some analysis of fantasy.

Interview with my bully: The courage to remember — Author Janni Lee Simner in Salon‘s series. I was mercilessly victimized through about 7th grade myself, and have some very bitter memories of childhood. It was the late 1970′s, and even in middle school the budding jocks were privileged and protected from the reality of their actions because “boys will be boys”, and the culture of geek cred wasn’t even smoke on the horizon in those days. The most common response I got from adults, both in school and at home, was “Well, what did you do to antagonize him.” I existed, that was enough for me to have my bike stolen, to be stuffed in a trash barrel, to be forced to drink urine. So this hits a hard spot for me. (Again via [info]shsilver.)

Niagara Mills: 1908 — I love this photo of the mills above the gorge.

The Physics Nobel: Why Einstein Was Wrong About Being Wrong

Can Answers to Evolution Be Found in Slime? — A pretty cool article on slime molds. (Thanks to my Dad.)

NASA asks students to name moon gravity probes

New York Times Shifts Its Framing of the Arrests at Occupy Wall Street — Your Liberal Media, supporting the conservative narrative as usual.

Third of US vets say wars not ‘worth it’ — I had a difficult conversation on a plane a few years ago with an active duty soldier flying on leave who was convinced we couldn’t leave til we’d won, because otherwise his buddies would have died for nothing, but he couldn’t tell me what winning was.

When Politics Trumps Theology — Conservative commentator Daniel Larison speaks. If only this could possibly be true. American politics could only be vastly improved by an ebbing of religious fervor on the Right. When you define compromise as sin, you break the system.

Talking Texan — The linguistics of Rick Perry.

Mitt Romney: The Jury’s Still Out On Why Those Guys Were Booing After The Gay Soldier Spoke — Another Republican profile in courage. Nice to see the Right standing up for what’s right. Or maybe not so much.

Cooperation in Evil — Maureen Dowd on Justice Scalia.

GOP senior officials quietly trying to restore science to their agenda — A step in the right direction, though note this is an effort by Republicans who are no longer running for office. Convenient, that. Good luck cleaning up the horrible mess you’ve made, boys.

?otD: How long could it last, how bad could it be?

Writing time yesterday: 1.75 hours (2,000 words on a short story, plus some WRPA)
Body movement: 30 minute stationary bike ride
Hours slept: 7.5 hours (interrupted)
Weight: 219.2
Currently reading: The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson

Originally published at jlake.com. You can comment here or there.


[books] The Years of Rice and Salt

Last night I finished Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt Powell's | Barnes and Noble ]. Interesting book for a number of reasons, but also one of the most misleading matches of jacket copy and internal narrative I’ve seen in a while.

The online squibs and jacket copy market Robinson’s book as alternate history, which it certainly is. But that misses the overarching theme and content of the book completely. This is, for want of a better phrasing, Buddhist science fiction. That it’s playing out over an alternate history story arc is close to incidental to what I perceive the book to be doing. There’s a lot of philosophy embedded here, a lot of lengthy infodumping, even some metafiction, all presented wrapped in very deliberative storytelling about transmigration of souls and spiritual ascendancy that falls well outside the usual action-militaria focus of alternate history.

That isn’t a criticism. I enjoyed the book a lot. But it made for strange reading, because my expectations as set by the marketing were so mismatched to the internal reality of the book. I realize that “Alternate History” is a much better marketing tag than “Buddhist SF”, and why Spectra ran with it, but still, it seemed odd.

How important is that external marketing to you? We do, after all, judge books by their covers.

Originally published at jlake.com. You can comment here or there.


[writing|process] Sometimes you just can’t tell

Yesterday I wrote two thousand words on a new short story. Go, me! Sometimes these things take me to funny places. I kept feeling like I was suffering from ‘white room’ syndrome, yet this story really doesn’t want a lot of physical detail. I finally realized that’s because it’s very internal to the protagonist’s mind state, and he honestly doesn’t pay much attention to his surroundings beyond the subjects of his fixation.

In short, this: Someone who doesn’t watch where their steps fall as they walk is never going to notice the arabesques of silver-white dust curving across the worn bamboo floors beneath their feet.

That’s hardly writing advice for the ages. Still, something inside me felt illuminated.

I believe in the five senses rule, at least as a guideline, but in the real world some people just don’t pay attention. If you’re writing in first or tight third, it’s awfully hard to pay that attention on behalf of a character who’s like that.

I was thinking about from the other direction this as I recently finished reading Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels. He often writes in such a distant third person that he’s practically dollied his way all the way back to fourth person. Those books are written on a scale so epic it would be ridiculous if Banks weren’t so damned good at what he does. And he can (literally) take a passage of setting from molecular structure to astronomical scale in the course of a paragraph or two. What is that, a god’s eye view of the universe?

So when I’m writing about an obsessively focused character who is indifferent to what goes on around him, I can hardly go scraping under the fingernails of every corpse in the plot for additional local color. Still, it feels strange to see myself doing something, disagreeing with it, then realizing I was right all along.

Sometimes you just can’t tell.

Originally published at jlake.com. You can comment here or there.