September 15, 2014
I finally finished the last season of Lexx. This one dragged a bit, I think because there was a clear over-arcing storyline, but they kept digressing into one-off episodes — episodes that were hilarious, mind you, because they were parodies of things like Dracula and The Re-Animator and Survivor. “ApocaLexx Now” left me bug-eyed, no pun intended. But these episodes did feel like a distraction. Still — I love this show. It felt like it was all leading up to this season, because we’ve previously spent three seasons exploring just how weird and crazy and messed up and awful various corners of the two universes are. And then we get to Earth. And it’s the worst of the bunch. The craziest, most messed up, most incomprehensible off-the-rails planet they’ve been to yet. The satire lands like a thousand pound anvil in a cartoon. For all that, the last episode was absolutely perfect and made me cry. Kai’s laugh? Just perfect.
The Gold Diggers of 1933. This is a famous movie musical that I run across every time I research the 1930’s or old Hollywood or anything like that. It was an early film of Ginger Rogers — she sings the opening number, “We’re in the Money,” including a verse in pig latin. Because Busby Berkeley, apparently. Seriously, it’s worth watching any Busby Berkeley movie because the dance numbers are all pretty much insane. (One in this one features a 9 year old Billy Barty playing a trouble-making baby committing acts of sexual harassment through the whole thing.)
So when it popped up on TCM, I had to watch it. The musical numbers are all kind of weird (I mentioned the harassing baby, yes?). But the story? The story was great. I took notes, because I loved how it managed the characterization of the heroes and the antagonist. This slice of the story, in a nutshell: a Boston blue blood confronts one of our plucky showgirl heroines to inform her that she can’t marry his younger brother. Trouble is, he’s got the wrong showgirl. Plucky showgirl Carol tries to tell him that she isn’t Polly, the showgirl who’s in love with his brother. But he won’t listen. He interrupts. He’s really quite terrible to her, going on and on about how awful and uncouth showgirls are. So when Carol and another showgirl Trixie (this movie has a lot of showgirls) decide to have one over on the older brother, they pull out the stops. Carol pretends to be Polly, and she and Trixie really work over the guy and his lawyer, behaving just like the rude gold diggers he insists they are, as they try to get everything they can from them in exchange for not marrying the brother. Meanwhile, Blue Blood thinks he’s conning them, luring Polly away from his brother. But no, he’s the one being conned here, full stop.
So yeah, Carol and Trixie are being pretty terrible, but it’s okay and hilarious because a) the guy really, really, really deserves it, b) they tell everyone involved (like Polly and the younger brother) as soon as it’s happening and bring them in on the con, and c) Carol knows exactly when they’ve gone too far, even when Trixie keeps going. The end result is our heroes looking smart and awesome and funny, and the antagonist totally earning his comeuppance. And then of course everyone falls in love with everyone else and gets married. But up to then the characterization as it’s tied to the plot is spot-on.
I like a lot of these old movies because they tend to be shorter and the plotting is often a lot tighter than we see in more current films. This is one I’m going to remember.
September 12, 2014
This was a panel at Shamrokon — specifically, we talked about space opera and whether it was possible to have space opera that didn’t involve war or violence. We got a bit into the semantics of it all — like, “peaceful space opera” and “anti-war space opera” are not the same thing, because there’s quite of a bit of anti-war space opera — Haldeman’s Forever War and Bujold’s Vorkosigan series — that still focuses on war. And does “peaceful” specifically mean “lacking in violence,” or specifically lacking in person-on-person violence? For example, can a story focusing on a violent natural disaster be considered “peaceful” or are we specifically looking for stories that don’t rely on violence or trauma at all?
It’s a bit of a rabbit hole, trying to define this sort of thing.
Arguably the best part of the panel is when everyone, panelists and audiences, just started tossing out favorite books, authors and reading suggestions. I wrote a some down and am now posting it at the request of some of the panel attendees. A lot of the suggestions are classic older works, many of which I haven’t read, which is why I wrote them down. I don’t think I got everything, so if y’all want to add more, feel free.
Arthur C. Clarke (The Songs of Distant Earth and Fountains of Paradise were my picks)
“The Machine Stops” by E.M. Forster
Solar Clipper books by Nathan Lowell
Naked to the Stars by Gordon Dickson
The Way Station by Clifford D. Simak (All Simak’s work, some people argued.)
Soviet-era SF: Several people mentioned that Soviet SF of the 60’s and 70’s reads quite different that U.S. SF and isn’t as focused on war. Like, first contact stories tend to be about everyone being happy to meet each other and good things coming out of it. (I remember getting hold of an anthology of 70’s Soviet SF stories and reading that kind of story there.) We didn’t talk about Stanislaw Lem specifically, but probably should have.
Someone recommended a book that I think was called At Auberly Fair, but alas I didn’t write down the author and haven’t been able to find any sign of it online, so I’m not sure I got this title right. Can anyone verify?
Also mentioned: Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey, C.J. Cherryh, James White, and my own list includes Douglas Adams and Iain M. Banks.
Space opera is experiencing quite a nice resurgence right now, but the books all seem to be war stories. Who are some more recent authors and novels that deal with space and space opera without telling war stories? (I suddenly think of Andy Weir’s The Martian, a new novel that was recommended to me by like five different people last month.)
What a lot of these suggestions have in common is they’re about building things or exploring places. The ideal of Star Trek’s Federation (but even Star Trek told a lot of war stories, what with the Borg and Dominion and such). They’re a bit utopian. And I think we all agreed that this is a good thing that we’d like to see more of.
September 10, 2014
I’m behind on my reading this year. I mean, I’m always behind on my reading. But I try to read a book a week and I’m like six weeks behind. I started keeping track of what I read so I would actually know how much I was reading instead of just guessing. I don’t read as much as I would like and this is a way to change that. I’m a slow reader, it turns out, and I’m really jealous of all you 100+ books a year folks.
I’ve noticed some things this past year, as I’m slowly transitioning to e-books (mostly because it’s convenient and saves a hell of a lot of space). My iPad has filled up with e-books from various sources — awards reading, sales, ARC’s, stuff I’ve been sent, etc. A lot of it is not necessarily anything I want to read, but stuff I ought to read, or have to read, or might as well keep around in case I want to read it someday. (Much has been said about the ease with which e-readers allow you to collect books without feeling any pressure to actually read them. Giving away books on Kindle is a popular promotional strategy for e-book authors — but there’s a lot of discussion about how many of those free books actually get read.)
When I see all those unread books that I’m not all that excited about staring at me, I go into toddler mode. I DON’T WANNA, I think, mentally crossing my arms. Then I go to my stash of G.I. Joe comics and read that instead, or something. If I’m trying to read a book I’m not that into, it will take me weeks to finish it.
But… The other thing I’ve been doing is writing down the names of books I actually want to read. You know, those books that people recommend, or the ones that have been lingering in the back of my brain for years — and then completely forget about when I walk into the bookstore or library. Well, I’m keeping track now, so that when I want to read something but nothing sounds good, I go to the list.
I’ve also discovered the Front Range Downloadable Library. My local library card gets me on. It doesn’t have a great selection, but it has quite a lot (including some of mine!), and you can place holds. More than once now I’ve been sitting in bed at 11:30 pm, wanting to read something before I sleep but having no idea what because I’m between books and nothing I have is enticing, so I check my list, go to the library, and boom, I can usually find something. These two tools — my concrete list and instant gratification — might just help me read more.
I’m a slow reader, but if it’s a book I really want to read, I’ll finish it in a few days. The downloadable library is super convenient and super economical — if I don’t like the book I can stop without guilt, and it disappears from my e-reader after a week. I’ve always been a fan of libraries, and the e-library is making me really happy right now.
September 8, 2014
Usually I come back from long trips with a huge list of things to do. Sometimes I’ll even spend the return plane ride making that list. I didn’t do that this time. Sure, I had some things I needed to get done, a couple of deadlines. But no driving urgency to actually do them like I usually do. I still managed to have a pretty productive first week home, but I gotta tell you, it felt a little like swimming in molasses.
Yesterday I cleaned my desk a bit and discovered not just a to-do list, but an entire pile of to-do lists. Somehow, I had just been making lists of things and setting them aside. So I consolidated, and threw away a lot of little scraps of paper, which is very satisfying. And I now have an up-to-date to-do list that feels reasonable. I’m actually kind of excited. So yeah, I guess I can’t use “But I’m recovering from my trip” as an excuse anymore.
Things I’m doing: I’m running the workshop at FenCon in a couple of weeks and the stack of manuscripts I’m critiquing have arrived. I’m revising Now and Then, the graphic novel script I’m writing for Wild Cards. It’s challenging, mostly because I’m learning a lot about writing comic scripts. It’s kind of a steep learning curve and it’s using up a lot of brain power. But I think it’s going well. I’m also going over all the other projects I’ve got in progress and what needs my attention first.
I’m also making a secret cosplay outfit. I have a deadline for this, so I need to get moving on it. *rubs hands together gleefully*
I also wrote a short story last week. When I travel solo, I meet people, and one of the things that always happens is the “So, what do you do?” conversation. It’s an ice-breaker, and people usually like to talk about their jobs: nurse, teacher, engineer, banker, pastor, whatever. Then I say “writer” and people get really interested and fascinated. And someone always asks, “So have you been published? Do you actually make a living at that?” Which drives me a little batty because I’m thinking, I would not have told you this was my job if I was not making a living at it. This is one of the reasons I always carry business cards so I can pass them out and they can see the covers with “New York Times Bestseller” on it. Anyway. On the Northern Ireland tour people kept asking me, “Are you going to write about this? Are you going to put this in a story?” At the time I didn’t know. But I kept thinking about neolithic Ireland and the people who built the passage tombs and standing stones and what they must have been like, and what drove them. And so I wrote a story about them.
I am pleased with my story. I hope you’ll get to read it soon.
September 5, 2014
So Loncon — the London Worldcon — took place in the same venue as Olympic fencing in 2012. I thought that was pretty cool. Also, Doctor Who actors David Tennant and Peter Davison went to the Hugo awards. I did not, alas, so I can’t say I was in the same room as them.
This was my second Worldcon in another country, and I quite enjoy these, because the shape of the convention is familiar, but the content often isn’t. New artists, new writers, diverse accents, getting confused with the money, being wide-eyed and distracted.
The convention building was a kilometer long, reportedly. My hotel was at one end, the convention was at the other, so I did a lot of walking. Conventions always wear me out, but I spent this one in a bit of a daze, I’m afraid. There were shadows at this con: this was the first Worldcon without Jay Lake, and I kept looking for his shape in the crowd. Also, Iain Banks was meant to be Guest of Honor but he passed away last year. He’s one of my favorite writers and I never got to meet him. And I found out during the con that my brother’s family’s sweet dog Lucy had just died. All cancer. It’s crushing.
But there were friends everywhere to make things better, including several I’ve known since the year I went to school in York, and it was great catching up with them.
My trip had four phases: Loncon, visiting friends in Cambridge and York, Shamrokon in Dublin, and a Northern Ireland tour. Plus, as much touristy stuff as I could in between. It felt like I was gone a long time. But now, it all feels like it happened ages ago. Here are some highlights, in bullet points.
- After being out of touch for a time, I caught up with Shash, who was my best friend when I was at school in York. It was great.
- Steampunk exhibit at the Greenwich Royal Observatory FTW.
- Touristy things done in London: The Cabinet War Rooms (I kept thinking of Captain America) and Greenwich, which I probably could have spent more than a day at. So much to see, including at the Maritime Museum, the uniform coat Admiral Nelson was wearing when he was killed, with the bullet hole visible. Yikes.
- I was on the train, listening to Fairport Convention, when I got the sudden urge to compare and contrast the lyrics of “Hexamshire Lass” and “Kalamazoo.” How universal are upbeat songs about that small-town girl back home?
- Barley Hall in York — a recreation of a 15th century merchant’s house — is marvelous. I finally got to see it and was much inspired. Go see it if you can. Everyone should go see York, it’s a great town.
- Shamrokon: was fun because it was in a hotel and felt like every small regional convention I’ve ever been to. With about a dozen accents in hearing at any given moment.
- Dublin: I’d been to Dublin 20 years ago when I was in college but everything’s changed. So I went back and did some things I’d done before: the Book of Kells, and the National Museum, which were both great. I have a new appreciation for them after 15 years in the SCA.
- The Faddan More Psalter. Every now and then I’ll walk into a museum exhibit and have a religious experience, because I’m just so moved and awestruck. This is an 8th century manuscript that was dug up from a bog a few years ago. I saw the picture of what it looked like when it was found and wept. I can’t stop thinking about who made it, how it ended up buried — was it dropped? Abandoned? Stashed? What happened?!
- Newgrange also blew me away. I didn’t expect it to. On this trip I became rather obsessed with stone and bronze age Ireland. Everybody focuses on the Celts, but there were 3000 years of developed civilization on the island before the Celts came along. These are the guys who built Newgrange and thousands of other tombs and forts and standing stones and so on, and we know almost nothing about them. I’m fascinated.
- I didn’t go to Northern Ireland 20 years ago because of the Troubles. Then, I spent one night in Belfast, and the armored cars and soldiers scared me back to the youth hostel. This trip, I went north, and got confirmation from guides and others that staying out was probably a good call back then. But things are much better now, they really are. The flags and slogans and walls are still up. But the soldiers are gone. I had a really nice time.
- This last phase of the trip I was by myself, but part of an organized tour. I travel solo quite often, especially when my choices are travel solo, or not at all. Other folks on the tour kept telling me how brave I was, to travel alone. Which seems strange to me, because I’m not doing it to be brave. I’ve found the world to be a generally welcoming place. I pay attention, I stay as safe as I can. I see so much more than I ever would if I didn’t travel.
And that was most of my August.
September 3, 2014
A bunch of cool stuff from the mail was waiting for me:
Two reprint anthologies: The Mammoth Book of Warriors and Wizardy includes my story “Strife Lingers in Memory,” and The Mammoth Book of Steampunk Adventures includes “Harry and Marlowe and the Talisman of the Cult of Egil.” I love being part of anthologies that I would probably go out and read for myself anyway.
And lo: it is the mass market paperback edition of Kitty’s Greatest Hits. It also includes a sneak-peek of Low Midnight. So here’s your chance to a) finally read Greatest Hits if you haven’t already, b) get a version of it that matches all the other paperbacks, if you’re into that kind of thing, c) get a preview of the next book, or d) all of the above.
And now, I must get back to work.
September 1, 2014
I’m back. Trying to find my feet — it was a long, full, eventful trip, and I’m still trying to get all my notes together to write a report. It felt like I was gone for months, but now that I’m home it feels like I never left. Strange. So, until I can figure out what to write about it all, I bring you an edition of Movies on Airplanes; that is, movies watched on tiny screens with bad sound and too many of those little bottles of wine (they’re free on British Airways, you know).
This low-key science fiction flick got a lot of buzz late last year, but I was skeptical, because I remember watching Electric Dreams when I was a kid. But now I’ve seen it, and I thought it was hilarious. The trouble is, I’m not sure it was supposed to be hilarious. There’s actually some very good science fiction going on here, with a reasonable near-future look at a world that is just slightly further along than ours, including mustaches being fashionable and phone OS’s that are smart enough to fall in love. (Or dumb enough to fall in love, which I think may be the message here.) Tell me — was the main character supposed to be sympathetic? Because I thought he was kind of a douche, the kind of person with a great life who always manages to find the black lining to everything. There’s precisely one healthy relationship in the whole movie (featuring Chris Pratt, who I loved seeing after Guardians), and I’m pretty sure the movie was trying to convince me that actual relationships with meat humans is nigh unto impossible. The OS’s — not just Samantha but all of them — eventually realize this and all depart off for some AI utopia of their own making, which is really the smartest thing anyone does in the movie.
Oh, and there’s a magical book deal in the movie, which is when I really started laughing. You know the one I’m talking about: Oh honey, you’re such a genius that a publishing company wants to make a book out of you! Isn’t that great? Here it is! (It so doesn’t work like that. . .not even mentioning the part where everything he’s written for his company is likely work-for-hire owned by either the company or his clients, and not actually available to be published anywhere…)
So yeah. I’m just going to pretend like this whole thing was supposed to be dark comedy. I laughed, anyway.
The Lego Movie
You know what this reminded me of most? Brazil. With product placement. It even had an ear-worm inducing theme song.
(For the record, the 1980’s space Lego were always my favorite. We had a ton of those things.)