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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

"The Pushbike Legion" by Timothy Jordan

Appeared in Writers of the Future 30.  

Although Aleck is excited to join the wooden pushbike ranks, he arrives late. Fossey, one member, drives himself into the desert that surrounds the town.  The old man explodes into dust.  "Waste of a good bike," says Praetor Jones.

Aleck is given a new house and wife-to-be, Martha.  He's not comfortable about their being thrust together although he finally comes to terms with this.

Wisps and sand figures step off the desert and spook the cows.  The villagers steer clear of the creatures.  The old sage--Charlie Potato, a potato farmer--turns out to know what caused the desert:  People were chock-full of nanites but an update, which contained a computer virus, turned everything to dust

What begins as fantasy becomes SF.  Fun.

A cool story with images that stick to your ribs.  Although it deals with nanotechnology, ecological damage haunts this tale as it does many in the volume, and it does so subtly.  However, if all that's left is a little strip of land, deep in the interior of a country, the land is doomed and should be fighting against the encroaching desert--nano or not.  The tale's beginning and ending meander ("driving to the story" as it's sometimes called) instead of socking it to the reader.  While it all could use a little paring, the tale's solid and likely to please most readers.

New Shirley Jackson online + new and reduced ebook lunches

Shirley Jackson's "The Man in the Woods" at New Yorker

Octoberland (The Dominions of Irth) by A. A. Attanasio $0.99

Comrades in Arms by Kevin J. Anderson $0.99
Description sounded cool:
"A damaged cyborg soldier and an enemy alien fighter turn their backs on the war and try to escape. But the human and alien governments can't tolerate the two deserters working together, so they join forces to hunt them down."

The Dragon and the George (The Dragon Knight Series) by Gordon R. Dickson  $1.99

The Seeing Stone (The Spiderwick Chronicles) by Holly Black , Tony DiTerlizzi $1.99

Afterparty by Daryl Gregory $11.04

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"The Shaadi Exile" by Amanda Forrest

Appeared in Writers of the Future 30.  Author website.  

Daliya, a content mail-order bride across the universe who has lost her husband, prepares wedding gifts for the new brides that arrive on their planet.  The latest one puzzles her.  The family of the originating planet is supposed to send happy messages from her home planet, even though the family might have passed away.  Daliya has been receiving messages from home even though she's certain that her mother has gone, a fact which disturbs her.

But this latest bride is receiving awful pictures from home.  Why?  The groom reveals that the pictures represent threats to the bride, who is malformed.  Nanite technology is forbidden on her home planet.  If she gets repaired, they will harm her family.  Daliya and the groom plot how to give the bride a happy home with the threats hanging over her head.  Meanwhile, planet representatives watch, and escape is an admission of guilt....

Forrest executes well planned motives, cause and consequence.  The ending is not easy and not completely happy, but satisfactory.  Two tiny flaws in an otherwise well-wrought story (I am loathe to bring them up as mentioning the flaws may distort my admiration) are 1) the opening paragraphs which simply introduce a sensory moment of the world and 2) not enough motivation to shore up Daliya's choice.  This needs to be hard --Forrest excels at this--but I'd like a little more justification.  But these are nitpicks in a solid four-star tale--the voice of the critic who complains that space lasers make noise during Star Wars.

James Patterson on reading and writing

  • How to get your kid to be a fanatic reader By James Patterson
    • "Sorry, moms and dads, but it's your job -- not the schools' -- to find books to get your kids reading and to make sure they read them."
    • "The more kids read, the better readers they become."
    • "Drop Everything and Read schools devote one period a day to kids -- and their teachers -- doing nothing but reading, and mostly reading what they want to. The results can be dramatic."
    • "The best role models are in the home: brothers, fathers, grandfathers; mothers, sisters, grandmothers. Moms and dads, it's important that your kids see you reading. Not just books -- reading the newspaper is good too."
  • How James Patterson Sells More Books Than J.K. Rowling Or Stephen King
    •  "He will publish 15 books this year alone."
    • "It's story, story, story. I'm a storyteller."
    • "It's a combination of pace and then trying to make sure that the characters I'm writing about hold people's interest and they want to be involved with them."
    • "[Y]ou're only going to hear about the architecture if it really is relevant to the story I'm telling."
    • "[W]riting and rewriting is a matter of "getting better.... "I'll put "Be there" on a top of a chapter sometimes. I need to be in the scene. I need to have put enough detail in there where I'm seeing it, I'm certainly feeling it. The dialogue needs to be somewhat true. It needs to be moving the thing forward instead of marching in place."
    • "[C]ollaboration workflow: The outline will be 60 to 80 pages.... I want their ideas. I want them invested.... They are into it emotionally. I insist on seeing stuff every two or three weeks....This is going well, remember this. Hold it, we're off the tracks. We got to stop it and figure out where this went."

    • "I try to be there... to put the kind of detail in stories that will make people experience what the characters are experiencing, within reason."

                Monday, April 21, 2014

                "Robots Don't Cry" by Mike Resnick

                First appeared in Asimov's.  Reprinted by Jack Dann, Gardner Dozois, Steve Eley.  Up for the Hugo and Asimovs readers' awards. Audio.

                Like Card's story, Mike Resnick's tale represents what the contest judge says he's looking for in a story:

                1. SF'nal
                2. Futuristic setting
                3. A very human story
                Resnick's fits the bill nicely--if ironically for #3.  A pair of "grave robbers"--rather junk dealers--of abandoned planets run into an abandoned robot.  They get it back into commission.  He used to be nursemaid to a young girl who has a prosthetic leg and not loved by those around her.  There's a rather inconclusive argument about whether or not the robot cares for and misses his former mistress.  That is, logically, it's inconclusive, but it's pretty clear he does care.  While he can't cry, he doesn't want to serve another master as he'd promised never to leave her.  

                A moving tale.  There's a nice ironic contrast to the human protagonist who seems to be a little less than "human" but he changes his mind, a little. One might complain that the main characters are not especially affected by the outcome, but it works, as is, which leads us to ask how he was able to break the standard writing rule.  

                This reminds me, if memory serves, of Harry Bates' "Farewell to the Master", which I plan to reread.  Ray Aldridge reprised a similar canto in "Click" which was in the second Writers of the Future volume.  That's a story I've reread and found it effective each time.  I remember reading Aldridge's stuff in SF Age and flipping back to the first page, wondering, "Who wrote this?  This is cool."  

                Where is he anyway?  Here's an inconclusive thread on F&SF website.  Ah, here we go.  Someone harass him to put a collection together already.  He does have a trilogy available, but that does not forgive of the unconscionable crime of not giving readers a collection.  Paging Ray Aldridge, Ray Aldridge, please come to the principal's office and explain yourself.

                "These Walls of Despair" by Anaea Lay

                Appeared in Writers of the Future 30.  Author website.  

                This tale reminded me of other stories I've read on Strange Horizons (Lay regularly contributes to the website and has published a story there), the kind of thing that Carol Emshwiller might do.  The world takes an abstraction and makes it literal, yet it is never exactly played literally, either, giving the tale a funky ambiance that's weird but never quite real--half SF, half allegory, half surreal.  Generally, it's the level of description, which is that of a minimalist literary story even though it's strange enough to beg for more.  The author usually focuses on character over description.  This type of tale is common enough to deserve a moniker.  Let's call it Emshwiller-esque or Emshwillesque, which is easier on the tongue.  If you think of a better name, let me know.

                Here Georg is a sentimancer, he gives, takes, mixes emotions for people--whatever they need to get through the situation they're going through.  In this case, Georg is still new at his art and works at a prison.  The prisoner has tried to end the world by waking Dhalig Mora, a creator.  She gloms on to how Georg is new at this (or incompetent) and challenges him to learn despair before she will tell him what he wants to know.  His trainers, however, won't teach him.  Why?
                "There's no such thing as a bad emotion.  People feel, and need to feel.  It's our job to free them from the limitations or short circuits in their bodies that can miss one step or get stuck on another."
                In other words, they're there to help. Georg runs into the hollow people, one imitating a loved one who passed away.  Georg expects death but it doesn't come. Next, he retraces the antagonist's step to find out exactly what the prisoner did.  She had claimed to have had hollow people attack her vehicle but not her person, which seems unlikely.  Georg does learn what he needs but sees, too, the prisoner's plans are worse than he imagined.

                The world is so rich that towards the tale's end we are still learning new terms about it without explanation.  Likely this is part of a novel.  Nonetheless, the story works as is, although you'll have to keep on your toes.  On reflection, I would like to read more of this world.  It is so simple to destroy the world that I wonder how it keeps itself together, which could make for a rather fascinating ecology.

                Sunday, April 20, 2014

                Hugos announced (which are online) + Free & reduced ebook lunches (updated to add Farland, Powers, Day)

                Hugo award announced (and where to find them if online)


                The Last Witchking 
                by Vox Day
                Up for the current Hugo.  Controversial.  A number speculated, without reading, whether this should be on the ballot. He has enemies but also active loyal readers according to the reviews.  Time to ignore both camps and seek the truth for yourself.

                Spirit Walker 
                (Serpent Catch) 
                by David Farland 
                The opening book in a science fantasy series.  It appears to be redivided from the original.  One novel appears to have fallen short of a Nebula nomination.

                The Bible Repairman and Other Stories 
                by Tim Powers 
                Featured in best-of collections and up for a Locus.

                Beyond the Rift 
                by Peter Watts 
                Some of these stories won or were up for about every SF award.  Only a few hours left!

                Cosmic Kaleidoscope 
                by Bob Shaw 
                 A few classic stories

                by Bob Shaw 
                Won the British SF award

                The Star-Spangled Future 
                by Norman Spinrad 
                 A few classic stories

                by Leigh Kennedy 
                Stories up for Locus, Nebula and in Best SF

                The Journal of Nicholas the American 
                by Leigh Kennedy 
                Up for a Nebula 

                The Songbirds of Pain 
                by Garry Kilworth 
                collection up for World Fantasy

                In the Hollow of the Deep-Sea Wave 
                by Garry Kilworth 
                 A few classic stories

                Roma Eterna 
                by Robert Silverberg 
                Up for Locus awards, Best SF

                A Song Called Youth 
                by John Shirley 
                early cyberpunk -- three novels!