Friday, June 26, 2009


A joke:

Q: How many verses of Kumbaya do you have to sing in order to send a toddler to sleep?

A: "Daaaaad! Can I have a glass of milk?"

Books Read 2008

The following are books I completed in 2008. I'm putting them here in order to keep the Reading List from growing so large that I can't get useful, at-a-glance information from it.

081226-Nation, Pratchett[5]
081219-Last Lecture, Pausch[4]
081212-Agent to the Stars, Scalzi[3]
081207-Digging Leviathan, Blaylock[2]
081107-The Write Track, Wylie[2]
081030-Slipt, Foster[3]
081022-Sad Cypress, Christie[3]
081019-Ice Station Zebra, MacLean(3)
081002-Doomsday Book, Willis(3)
080812-The Last Colony, Scalzi(4)
080719-Incompetence, Grant(3)
080703-Making Money, Pratchett(5)
080622-The Return of Santiago, Resnick(3)
080620-Fat, Grant(4)
080616-The Ghost Brigades, Scalzi(4)
080614-Old Man's War, Scalzi(4)
080608-Chindi, mcDevitt(3)
080519-The Android's Dream, Scalzi(4)
080510-Archaeology Magazine May/Jun08(4)
080505-Winter Tides, Blaylock(2)
080425-Coyote Frontier, Steele(4)
080228-Mind Over Mood, Greenberger(4)
080220-Whitechapel Gods, Stirling(3)
080208-F&SF Dec07(3)
080126-Recovery Man, Rusch(3)
080123-On Writing, King(5)
080122-The Aeneid, Virgil(2)
080110-Fullmetal Alchemist #9, Arakawa(3)

Book Report: Zoe's Tale, by John Scalzi

I've enjoyed John Scalzi's books in the past primarily for the voice he brings to each story, and Zoe's Tale is no exception. Although it's told from the point of view of a teenaged girl, it contains the same humor and witty banter that permeate all the other Scalzi books. Zoe's Tale is the fourth book set in the Old Man's War universe, but unique because it covers a time period already explored in The Last Colony. It covers that time period from a different point of view, and fills in a lot of "behind the scenes" depth.

Ordinarily, I'm against going over ground I've already covered. I never read Ender's Shadow for that reason. I'm sure it was a good book, but I didn't personally have any interest in reading Ender's Game again, even if it were told from someone else's POV. (I'm aware this is a fault). However, it's been long enough since The Last Colony, and I've come to trust Scalzi's ability to entertain me sufficiently that I thought I'd see what Zoe's Tale had to offer. I wasn't disappointed, since this was an enjoyable read, but I found the first two sections of the novel just went over story ground I knew. The third section branched off into action that had occurred off stage in The Last Colony, weaving itself into events that formed TLC's conclusion.

This was important, because I remember reading TLC's conclusion and thinking, "Well, that was a blatant asspull" (deus ex machina, for those of you who are more literate than vulgar).

The second point about Zoe's Tale is its emotional detachment. It's not an intense or flowery book. It has a breezy style even when dealing with serious or deep topics. The characters show their emotions without reservation, but those demonstrations are reported with such narrative distance that I found it difficult to feel empathy. The climax of the book, though, where Zoe faces the species that has adopted her as mother goddess, still affected me. In retrospect, I suspect it bordered on melodrama... but it's GOOD, and it works.

Ulysses Rating: 3 - I enjoyed this.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Book Report: Duplicate Effort, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

This was the latest book in the Retrieval Artist series, which is being marketed as a Sci-Fi CSI. I disagree with that. What I don't disagree with is that it's a very good book. It's a mystery in a sci-fi setting, and a true sci-fi book according to the strictest definition: if you removed the future tech, the story would collapse. The characters are well drawn, most of them familiar from earlier books in the series, and the story is really the impact of a murder investigation on those characters.

The ending tone of the book makes me think it may be the last in the series. If so, I won't be disappointed. Mrs. Rusch has told some great stories in this milieu and if she feels she has no more good ones she can tell here, then I'm satisfied.

Beyond that, I don't know what more to say.

Except this little personal anecdote: back in the early 90's when I was flogging a lot of short stories, I sent one to the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. KKR was editor. After some time had passed (less than the stated, "we'll reply by" guideline), I received a phone call from her husband. They had read my work and decided it wasn't quite right for F&SF.

I didn't know what to say, except thank-you (I'm Canadian. It's a reflex). I was receiving an actual telephone call from an actual magazine editor (well, her husband). For a rejection. More than a decade later, I'm still trying to figure out why they bothered (if he told me, I don't remember it). I'm pretty sure I included an SASE with IRC, since I'm pretty anal about those things. And I could see calling me to let me know they were interested, but calling for a rejection? Wow.

Since irony is the most abundant metal in most of my posts, let me state categorically that I was impressed and flattered, and look back fondly on their kindness (which I took as encouragement).

Ulysses Rating: 4 - I loved this.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Whiling Away an Idle Moment

Current Reading: Duplicate Effort, by Kristine Katharine Rusch

Inspirational Quote: "Writing a novel is like making love, but it's also like having a tooth pulled. Pleasure and pain. Sometimes it's like making love while having a tooth pulled." -- Dean Koontz

Here's an interesting exercise:

Take a recent draft of your work in progress. These things are usually subdivided. Chapters. "Books." Something.

For each chapter, write down which POV(s) it's told in, how many words it occupies and a brief summary of what happens (plot points, events that impact character, etc.)

When you're all done, take a look. I don't know what your results will be. Mine are pretty weird. I've got 700 word chapters and 5700 word chapters. I think it's important that chapters have varying lengths, but I suspect I may have taken that a LITTLE TOO FAR. I've got chapters that consist of a character thinking about stuff and taking no action (I don't think that's good), and I've got chapters where nobody seems to have time to think anything (probably not good either). I also have chapters written in the POV of a character who dies later on. I'm trying to figure out if that's a good idea, and I'm beginning to suspect not (who wants to invest time and attachment in someone who kacks 20k words in?).

Incidentally, writing down the plot points in a sentence or two is great raw material for an eventual synopsis or outline. It also makes you think, "If I've told the story of this 2500 word chapter in 50 words, what the devil are the other 2450 words doing?" It had better be something good...

Regardless of your mileage, this caused me to take a look at the Magnus Somnium from a perspective that had never occurred to me before. Obviously, my work needs work.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Book Report: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King.

There are lots of books out there about craft. There are lots about technique and story. There are lots that focus on getting the story onto the page, but there are very few about what to do with it once it's there. This book aims to fill that gap at least partially, and I believe it does an admirable job.

The layout is simple: each chapter tackles some fixable weakness the authors frequently see in manuscripts from both novice and experienced writers. They describe how to recognize it, discuss methods of addressing it and provide how-to/before-and-after examples. Each chapter finishes with a checklist and a series of exercises (which, I admit, I didn't do).

Reading through this while reading over the Magnus Somnium has made me aware of several weaknesses in my work that need to be addressed. As I revise, I'm going to refer to the checklists frequently because I believe that practicing the principles outlined there will help me fix many of the flaws in my manuscript. I think that's probably the highest praise one can heap on a book about editing.

That, and this'll be sitting on my shelf right beside Strunk and White.

Ulysses Rating: 5 - I will read this again and again.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

An Ithaka State of Mind

Current Reading: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Browne and King

Inspirational Quote: "Sometimes I suspect that life was designed as a means of destruct testing the human spirit." - Me

That is all.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Book Report: Marching As To War, by Pierre Burton

It's a big book. 600+ 6"x9" pages of small print. It covers close to fifty years, the formative part of the 20th century, in terms of the wars in which Canada participated.

As a child of the last half of the 20th century, I had no idea what had gone on before my advent. Anything before about 1980, when I suddenly became aware that the larger world existed, was prehistory and VERY BORING. This book remedied that, although I can't say I'm grateful. The nice thing about ignorance of history is how easy it is not to notice the same mistakes being made. I'm now denied that. Much of what Berton says about the Boer, World I, World II and Korean wars, about the bureaucratic bungling and political games that cost so many lives, can be said about the current situations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

However I have discovered that although historically we are a passive and pacifist people, we have proven to be remarkably good at war when we are well trained and supplied. Canadians have served with distinction on the front lines of all the major conflicts, proving to be more resilient and effective than troops from many other parts of the world.

Berton does a remarkable job of putting the wars into perspective, humanizing them by balancing overviews of the action with first-person anecdotes of the events. However, as with the Arctic Grail, I found there to be a sufficient number of characters and events that they tended to become jumbled together in my mind. More than in the Arctic Grail, this book lacks a single through-line that would provide some perspective on the events and their impact. He discusses sovereignty and nationalism, but the book is not about that. He talks about Canada coming of age on the world stage, but the book is not about that either.

Still, although it was a difficult read, it was educational and enlightening and opened my eyes to a period of Canada's history, of my history, that I had never contemplated before.

Ulysses Rating: 3 - I enjoyed this.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Government Corruption and the Species Exchange Rate

Current Reading: Marching As To War, by Pierre Berton (I believe I've been spelling his last name wrong for months. How rude.)

Inspirational Quote: "You will see, in mixed confusion, snatches of cutpurses, wiles of cheats, enterprises of rogues; also delicious repulsiveness, bitter sweets, foolish decisions, mistaken faith and crippled hopes, niggard charities, judges noble and serious for other men's affairs with little truth in their own; virile women, effeminate men and voices of craft and not of mercy so that he who believes most is most fooled--and everywhere the love of gold." -- Giovanni Gentile

While driving in this morning, I heard an article on the radio news. It seems that the Chief Executive Officer for Ontario's eHealth program has been forced to resign after it was publicly revealed that her department had allowed $2 million in untendered contracts and paid consultants fees so high that reading the numbers made my nose bleed. Details are here.
She's still, apparently, going to receive $317,000 in compensation.

What struck me about the article was the quote from the government indicating that the dismissal of the eHealth CEO would somehow restore faith in the government and its programs.

The absurdity of this is beyond description, so I won't even try.

Perhaps, if it were an isolated incident, it would be possible to have some faith in government integrity worthy of being restored. However, the Brian Mulroney/Karlheinz Schreiber affair has yet to be resolved despite more than a decade of investigation. The Mayor of Ottawa is under investigation for influence peddling. Ontario's Chief Coroner was recently found to have faked results on a number of investigations, resulting in a disturbing number of innocent people being convicted. And I believe the Mayor of Vaughn (I may be wrong here) is being called to account for taking Council to dinner to the tune of over $1000.

A quick look at the books for Nortel or GM Canada are full of enough excesses to make one sick. My company recently gave out bonuses to the remaining employees (including executives) a week before cutting one third of the local workforce. Our CEO has a combination salary and bonuses well in excess of five million dollars, even though we've been under bankruptcy protection for months. Yet the government tables no legislation to prevent such looting of company coffers, and indeed they are willing to cover GM's losses by using taxpayer money to buy up company debt.

Sigh. Signore Gentile, above, was commenting on the text of a play written by Giordano Bruno, a Renaissance Italian scientist and philosopher. Bruno wrote the play as a scathing indictment of the Roman Catholic church. For his criticisms, and his insistence on the heliocentric model of the solar system, he was burned at the stake in 1600. Giovanni Gentile himself was an early twentieth century philosopher who proposed Fascism, and ghost wrote the Doctrine of Fascism for Benito Mussolini. We all know how well that worked out.

All of which indicates that a lack of faith in government has been with us, justifiably, forever. The "me first" attitude is contrary to the mores of our society, but is common among those who rise to peaks of what that society recognizes as success. How am I supposed to teach my children generosity, empathy and frugality when they are surrounded by examples showing those traits to be only for the downtrodden? Yes, "me first" thinking is leading us to a ghastly environmental extinction, but it is the rich and exploitative who will be the last to die out because they can continue to buy comfort until there's no one left to supply it to them.

Personally, I'm heartily sick of us and am looking forward to the fall of Western Civilization. Or I would be if I thought any other Civilization stood a chance of being better. Of course I suspect that the corrupt will find some way of making the innocent stand in for them when they're called to the wall during the revolution. Thus it was, thus it shall always be.

Clearly, although homo modernis has the intellect of a god, it has the wisdom of a coconut. I think I'd be willing to trade in the entire species for a reusable bag of chocolate covered almonds and a bio-degradable bottle of strawberry-orange juice.

Any takers?