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.
July 21, 2014
I cry a lot while watching movies and reading books and looking at art and. . .well, I cry a lot. It doesn’t even have to be sad, it just has to be beautiful. If something is beautiful, emotional, and hits me right in that vague spot where my sense of wonder and heart live, I’m going to cry. The opening credits of Lilo and Stitch, for example, make me cry. I’ve been thinking a lot about how that works this week, because of a couple of things.
During my trip, my connecting flight out of Chicago Midway was delayed, and I was kind of miserable. The airport was super crowded, loud, uncomfortable, and for whatever reason I just didn’t have the reserves of willpower to deal with it. So I thought, “I’ll hide in a corner and read my favorite comic books.” (I have like 50+ comics on my iPad at this point.) So I picked a random issue of Planetary, which I suspect is going to be my favorite comic for the rest of my life unless something really amazing comes along. I only got about four pages in before I had to stop because I was crying. Part of it was I was already kind of emotional and upset. And part of it was I just love this book so much, and being with these characters made me so happy, I couldn’t contain myself. It was this specific scene that tipped me over:
Elijah: We keep angels here.
Jakita: I don’t like that I didn’t know about this, Elijah.
Elijah: I know.
– Planetary, #19, Warren Ellis.
There’s a ton of characterization in these lines. When Elijah says, “I know,” he isn’t being snippy or confrontational. He’s sad. He’s made mistakes and he’s trying to amend them — he didn’t tell her about the angels before, but he’s telling her now. Because of how much he cares about her. They’re a team. And I started crying because I love these characters so much. (That thing I talked about last week, about how tired I am of stories where people in dire circumstances are constantly being horrible to each other? Planetary is the exact opposite of that. It’s about unironically saving the world.)
Objectively there was no reason that scene should have tipped me over. I’ve probably read it a half a dozen times before without crying. But this time — yeah, it got me.
Then I went to see Jersey Boys, because sometimes I do go see movies that aren’t science fiction, and I grew up listening to The Four Seasons because that’s the kind of music my parents listened to, and I just adore their music. So this one? It starts, the screen is dark, and an instrumental version of “Oh What a Night” plays as the opening credits starts. And not two bars in I started crying.
(Aside: I really enjoyed Jersey Boys, both because of the music and because I was sitting next to my full-blooded Italian friend who completely and utterly lost it from laughing during one scene that he said happened pretty much exactly like that during his own childhood. Indeed, I was impressed at how many people in the movie talk just like the people in his stories about growing up.)
So, for me, this emotional jugular, this thing that makes me instantly cry after just two bars of music or two lines of dialog, is as much about memory as about story or mood or wonder or greatness. It’s something that makes me happy, something that I remember making me happy. It’s a cozy blanket for the brain, and I love that.
May 14, 2014
Reminder for those attending RT Convention: Secret Mission is go! Find me (either at the Book Fair on Saturday, or after a panel, or some other time when I’m not otherwise occupied), recite for me some bit of poetry or lines from a play that the Master of London would have known and appreciated when he was alive, and be rewarded. (While supplies last, I’m afraid!)
In other reading news, I’ve just finished The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker, and I loved loved loved it. It’s a turn of the century (last century) immigrant story, with fantasy — in fact, this is exactly the sort of thing I mean when I talk about wanting to expand the definition of urban fantasy as far as possible, because this is great urban fantasy: modern setting, a familiar (though historical) New York City, with amazingly well-drawn fantastical elements. This is the kind of book that makes me as a writer insanely jealous, because it’s so well done and I’m just staring at it, thinking, “How?!” Catnip, people. Word catnip.
And that immigrant story: there’s a movie called The Legend of 1900 which is fair to middling (the ending stank), that I saw mostly because Tim Roth is in it, and it’s also an immigrant story. There’s this absolutely gorgeous, heart-wrenching opening scene taking place on the deck of a passenger steamer: there’s fog, and all the passengers are looking over the railing, waiting for their first glimpse — and the fog parts and there she is, the Statue of Liberty, and the sense of joy and hope at that view is fierce. The Golem and the Jinni has a similar scene, just as powerful, and for anyone who had ancestors come over from Europe on one of those ships, with everything they own in the world in a suitcase, (my great-grandfather Linder arrived from Sweden on the Mauretania), it’s like peeking over their shoulder for a little while. It’s like time travel.
April 21, 2014
Just a reminder: This weekend I’ll be in Nebraska for CONstellation. It should be a good, low key time of it!
Yesterday was the day I realized I have three conventions over the next month — busy! I’ll be at local Denver con StarFest, but for Saturday only. And two weeks after that is the RT Booklovers Convention, which promises to be the exact opposite of low key. This’ll be my first time at this one, and everything I’ve heard about it says it’s huge and has a million things going on — and it’s in New Orleans. It’ll definitely be a party!
I took a break from the Great Paperwork Purge to make some new camp garb for SCA events. These are pieces made of light, easily washable fabric that I won’t mind getting dirty in the great outdoors. A couple of tunics and an underdress — I have this amazing underdress pattern that I pretty much just eyeballed many years ago, and it’s still amazing, because I finished the new one out of gray linen and it’s great. Super comfy and looks awesome. I haven’t had new camping garb in like 10 years. Now I just need to find time to go to a camping event.
(I’ve just read Nicola Griffith’s novel Hild, a historical about the childhood of St. Hilda of Whitby in seventh century England. Totally inspiring. All I want to do is wear my new garb and drink mead and make things.)
February 24, 2014
It’s a wonder I ever became an English major, what with the terrible time I had in AP English in high school. But I think part of the reason I had a terrible time was I loved the literature. This is the class where I discovered Sylvia Plath and Tom Stoppard. But the teacher… I argued with her. A lot.
So, in comments on the previous post I already told the story about this awful textbook we had that divided stories into “real” literature and popular literature, or “crap,” pretty much just like that (the book earned my eternal ire by placing Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game,” one of my favorite short stories at the time, in the “crap” category). So one day as part of a group presentation I did a fake commercial with a blender where I announced “This is your brain on popular literature,” blended an apple, and said, “Any questions?” The entire class cheered. The teacher did not. (I wonder, if I tried to bring a blender to high school now, would I be suspended because of zero tolerance policies?)
This was also the class where I pointed out that you can sing every Emily Dickinson song to the tune of “Yellow Rose of Texas.” (There are sing alongs on YouTube. Proceed at your own risk.) Now, first off, you can’t sing every poem to that tune, and second, that just means it’s a popular meter and there was no reason for Dickinson not to use a popular meter. In my defense, I would not have pointed this out to the class if I didn’t think everybody didn’t already know it. Turns out, nobody else knew it, and I was subsequently blamed for ruining Dickinson for everyone. (My response: “If that’s all it takes to ruin Dickinson for you, you don’t deserve her!”)
It would have ended there, except test day came along. The test, the big AP test that had kids puking in the bushes beforehand. As part of the AP English test, we were given a poem cold, that day, that we had to do a close reading on and write an essay about in the space of forty minutes or so. We cracked open our test books: Yes, it was an Emily Dickinson poem. And there were two dozen high school kids humming that song under their breaths. If looks could kill, I’d have been a steaming pile of goo that day.
I, however, thought it was the funniest damn thing that had happened all year. I could not stop laughing. And I got a 5 out of 5 on the test.
February 21, 2014
The first time I read Pride and Prejudice was in high school, for AP English, and I hated it. I think this was because it was Serious Literature. The teacher (who I never really got along with, long story there) was careful to tell us how Serious it is, and we talked about its Seriousness. The whole time I was thinking, this is a freaking soap opera about people getting married. Hell no.
Then I watched a bunch of Monty Python, as you do when you’re a nerd moving on to college.
When I read Pride and Prejudice the second time, in college, I realized it’s funny, in the same way Monty Python is funny. It’s all caricature and satire, some of it utterly scathing. Even Elizabeth is frequently mockable because she’s so sure she can read everyone else, but she knows herself so little. If someone had just told me the first time around that this was supposed to be funny and we’re allowed to laugh at it — in fact, we’re supposed to laugh at it — it wouldn’t have taken me another 15-20 years to become a fan of Jane Austen.
Then I was introduced to the BBC version with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, with all those beautiful clothes and settings, and I watched a bunch of the other films, and read the books, and I thought, What would this look like with werewolves? Because of course that’s what I would think.
So I’m working on that.
In the meantime, I’ve read a bunch of Austen and I’ve even started reading other authors’ takes on Regency romance, an entire genre invented by people trying to replicate Austen. There’s even a whole genre of sequels to Pride and Prejudice, about what happens to Lizzie and Darcy after they get married. I have to admit: I don’t like the sequels so far, and I stopped reading P.D. James Death Comes to Pemberley entirely. You know why? They’re not funny. They strip Elizabeth of all her wit. All the pointed social commentary and character studies are just gone, as if the world of P&P ought to suddenly be taken seriously. It’s all tedious dialog and description of manners and nothing of the satire and the pointed zingers of Austen — which is the whole point of Austen. (You want to know my idea for a Pride and Prejudice sequel? “Fitzwilliam Darcy Jr., Pioneering Naturalist, and His Adventures in India.” This must be why I’m a genre writer.)
I love the costumes when I’m watching the movies, and I’m finally making a Regency gown after years of wanting to do so. I know there’s a level at which it’s all about the clothes and manners. But dammit, my Regency stories are going to make people smile.