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Thursday, February 28, 2013

"I do not feel as if my day had substance in it, if I have read nothing."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson 

from First We Read, Then We Write 
Emerson on the Creative Process 
Robert D. Richardson 
University Of Iowa Press

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

"There is then creative reading as well as creative writing.  First we eat, then we beget; first we read, then we write."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson 

from First We Read, Then We Write 
Emerson on the Creative Process 
Robert D. Richardson 
University Of Iowa Press

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Emerson on motivation

"[Writers] must do the work with the faculty that he has now.  But that faculty is the accumulation of past days. No rival can rival backwards.  What you have learned and done is safe and fruitful.  Work and learn in evil days, in insulted days, in days of debt and depression and calamity.  Fight best in the shade of the cloud of arrows."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson 

from First We Read, Then We Write 
Emerson on the Creative Process 
Robert D. Richardson 
University Of Iowa Press

Monday, February 25, 2013

"[L]ife is wasted in the necessary preparation of finding what is the true way, and we die just as we enter it."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson 

from First We Read, Then We Write 
Emerson on the Creative Process 
Robert D. Richardson 
University Of Iowa Press

Review: "The Language of Moths" from Before and Afterlives Christopher Barzak

"The Language of Moths"from Before and Afterlives 
Christopher Barzak 
Paperback: 320 pages  
Publisher: Lethe Press (March 18, 2013)  
ISBN-10: 1590213696 ISBN-13: 978-1590213698
Like "Birthday" from Christopher Barzak's other collection, Birds and Birthdays, "The Language of Moths" grows in power in the rereading--in part because many details stand out in retrospect.

Over summer vacation, Eliot is trapped in the wilderness, cooped up with family in a tiny cabin, certain he'll be saddled with the responsibility of taking care of his autistic sister all the time while his dad chases after a possibly fictitious moth and his mom works on a feminist revision of Thoreau's Walden.  But he isn't.  His mother often frees him of the responsibility to go play and make friends, which he does and encounters his first love... and first rejection.

His sister, meanwhile, talks to insects, off in her own little world and has to be chased down often.  However, her insights into the family are considerable, calling Eliot a "little old man" due to his grouchiness for having to watch over her.  Eliot's opinion of her changes as he sees the insects respond to her and do her communication for her.

Barzak treats communication where the moths' language and insight is a little boring mirroring Eliot's and his parents'.  The sister, on the other hand, probably closer resembles the fireflies who like to have fun and who are helpful as Eliot's sister is to her dad and Eliot.  I'm adding this to my list of Barzak's greatest hits.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

"Meek young men grow up in libraries believing it their duty to accept the views which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon have given; forgetful that Cicero, Locke and Bacon were only young men in libraries when they wrote those books."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson 

from First We Read, Then We Write 
Emerson on the Creative Process 
Robert D. Richardson 
University Of Iowa Press

The Arts (links)

Tarkovsky Films Now Free Online says, "Sorry, the short story boom is bogus."
Response:  Laura Miller makes great points, but she doesn't produce proof that there isn't a boom.  Rather, she disagrees that the evidence is evidence for boom, but disagreeing with evidence does not negate the existence of a thing.  Perhaps there is a boom compared to story sales prior to e-reading.  Perhaps not.
Make art to accompany Neil Gaiman's stories.

Nebula nominees announced

On Building  a Book Blog

Boskone 50 "The Paper Menagerie:" Anatomy of a Winning Story

Top 10 SF movies of 21st Century?

10 Novels That Are Scarier Than Most Horror Movies

Walter Jon Williams on the suspension of disbelief

China Mieville's Top 50 books

Top Ten Innovative Alien Stories

Importance of Theodore Sturgeon's "Maturity" [Michael Swanwick & Jason Sanford; also of interest History of SF Flame Wars]

Donate to writing scholarship and receive ebook [Octavia E. Butler Scholarship]

Essay:  An Exercise in Doubt:
"Argumentation is a good skill to have, but the real argument should be with oneself. Especially when it comes to the development of young writers, it is crucial to nudge them past that self-righteous inveighing, that shrill, defensive one-track that is deadly for personal essays or memoirs, and encourage a more polyphonic, playful approach. That may be why a classic essay technique is to stage an inner debate by thinking against oneself."

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Sciences (links)

 A tatoo that makes you telepathic and telekinetic?

Doomsday Scenario #5,791:  Another Universe collides with ours

Advanced alien quantum tech can heal your pets (humor)

The Future of Space Colonies

Dark matter found? (no news, really; just a teaser)

Mexican island of the dolls

Hindenburg (75 years later) [also "lost map of route"]

James Van Pelt on motivating students (part II)

Midway film (Importance of trash although some looks rather large for eating)

Emerson on Work

"Always that work is more pleasant to the imagination which is not now required."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson 

from First We Read, Then We Write 
Emerson on the Creative Process 
Robert D. Richardson 
University Of Iowa Press

Friday, February 22, 2013

Review of 4 stories from The Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination

The Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination 
John Joseph Adams, editor 
Tor Books

In Austin Grossman’s “Professor Incognito Apologizes, An Itemized List”  Prof. Incognito speaks to his fiancé through a letter.  He describes how she must have broken into his secret lab to learn his secret identity.  On purpose--his purpose.  A few more surprises await.  A humorous and poignant story about the selves people hide from others. It may have been more powerfully told through a more narrative letter.  Still, worth reading.

Harry Turtledove’s “Father of the Groom” is a mad scientist who reifies the irked bridesmaid’s comment that his daughter-in-law-to-be is Bridezilla.

Seanan McGuire (Mira Grant) looks at the source of mad scientists in “Laughter at the Academy” for a clever twist of the trope.  A detective unravels Clarissa Garrity’s role in the number of mad-scientist incidents occurring, but she’s widening the scope of her operations.

David D. Levine’s “Letter to the Editor” recasts light on the mad-scientist-as-arch-superhero-nemesis.  Levine turns our sympathy toward the presumed sociopath as he scientifically reasons why the superhero is a threat to society.   He then enlists the aid of the entire planet with one clever step.  Impressive as is.  It would have been fun, however, to puzzle more over whether he’s to be trusted, perhaps through readers poring over detailed, previous exploits or “crimes.”

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Review: Figuring Out Fossils

Figuring Out Fossils Sally M. Walker
Lerner Publishing Group

Figuring out Fossils targets older elementary or lower middle school youth since the definitions, while simple, approach a basic understanding of the topic.  The book covers what fossils are, how they form, what they are composed of, where they are found, and why we study them.

The book discusses what kinds of things become fossils, including tracks and hard parts of organisms while the softer parts decay or are consumed.  Creatures that become fossils are buried under sediment, sunken into tar pits, or more perfectly sealed in ice where even soft parts remain.  The book covers how sediment becomes rock, making them difficult to find.

Ground water flows through holes in bones and plants and deposits mineral.  Even if the original bones dissolve, the minerals remain.  Molds and casts are explained as well.  To transport fragile fossils paleontologists wrap them in wet cloth and plaster.  Fossils suggest an organism’s size, diet, movement, and their climate.  The book closes with an index, glossary, and further reading (websites and books).

While most explanations were perfectly adequate, most impressive were how fossils formed, with four-step illustrations demonstrating.  Although I have taught the subject before, I had not seen it done so clearly.  Captions and photos help reinforce what the reader learns.  This book comes highly recommended.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Review: The Long, Long Journey: The Godwit's Amazing Migration

The Long, Long Journey
The Godwit's Amazing Migration 
Sandra Markle, Author
Mia Posada, Illustrator
Lerner Publishing Group

The Long, Long Journey trails the godwit bird’s nonstop, 7,270-mile migration from its birth in Alaska to its arrival in New Zealand.  When the birds are hatched, the chicks hunt insects and parents keep them warm.  To fool predators, chicks blend in with surroundings and the adults swoop in to attack.  In a month the chick tests her new feathers and wings until she flies. 

The young stay with the father as the mother moves on, waiting for the young to strengthen.  Godwits migrate to mud flats to sup on worms and clams.  When they fatten and the weather changes, the long journey begins.  Falcons attack, but some live on, thinning and weakening.  At last they arrive at New Zealand mudflats.  The young godwits stay in New Zealand two years until they can make the journey back.

The appendix contains further reading (websites and books) and more specific facts.  A pleasant book, well-illustrated with simple paintings about an uncommon bird.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Review: How Do Hang Gliders Work?

How Do Hang Gliders Work? Jennifer Boothroyd Lerner Publishing Group
Who hasn’t dreamed of flying?  Jennifer Boothroyd’s How Do Hang Gliders Work? fulfills that dream vicariously and answers its title's question. I suspect the target age is K-3 with its simple sentences and large font, pointing out “The hang glider is high in the sky!”  Equipment vocabulary is listed without complication.  This pays off later when the text puts them into action.

Basic scientific terms like gravity and lift (including ridge and thermal) are introduced.  Concepts such as weight shifting the glider like a tire swing are brilliantly brought to the kid’s level, using objects kids are likely to have used or seen.

The appendix contains a diagrammed illustration, a glossary, an index, further reading (websites and books), and fun facts like hang gliders have flown for 400 miles.  Of course, I would have liked a little more explanation of lift (I suspect the higher end of the target grade levels could have handled it), but this book takes a technical subject and allows readers to feel they can go hang-glide immediately after.  Well done.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Review: The World in 2099

The World in 2099 
Dr. C.S. Mahrok
Smith Publicity

Who is Dr. C. S. Mahrok and why should I care?  Mahrok is a mechanical engineer with a PhD in therodynamics and whose writing bases its conclusions on UN and government documents, which in theory should decrease bias, so that, encouragingly, the author may not have an ax to grind.  This surmise is supported not only by the author’s cautious and judicious phrasing of his statements but also by his frequent use of mentioning ideas of both proponents and opponents in any controversial topic--an increasingly rare trait in today’s rampant hyperbolic politics.  Speaking of the author’s style, this reader also commends the author’s accessible, non-academic style.  While he remains factual, the wording does not dip into the convoluted.

Mahrok opens his book with the state of the world at present and a quick review of the Industrial Revolution, which presumably impacts his predictions.  Although Mahrok predicts that mineral supplies should carry us through fifty years, he proposes that deeper and wider exploration is required.  He states and supports his idea that, while exploration needs to be environmentally based, under-educated opponents have exaggerated its detrimental impact.

Recycling has been around since Plato.  While some products may be economically and energy difficult to recycle (i.e. lumber), Mahrok lists several minerals and plastics that can be usefully recycled--both as increasing usable minerals and as decreasing environmental impact.  But cost estimates are dependent on who’s counting and how.  For instance, some are not environmentalists because more forests are maintained due to logging, but environmentalists say that these forests are often not as biologically diverse.  Recycling proponents say that it produces jobs, but opponents say that such jobs pay little for poor conditions.

Oil, coal and gas are the cheapest sources of energy; they are also limited and coal can produce much pollution.  Hydrogen, wind, sun, geothermal, and other alternative energies will need to be tapped.  Biomass is renewable but releases carbon dioxide.  Hydrogen as a source of energy needs infrastructure.  Mechanical and thermal energy from the ocean needs more research.  Wind's drawback is consistency and birds.  Nuclear energy has newer models of reactors are more efficient and produce less radioactive waste, but each has drawbacks, such as molten sodium which is reactive, but new methods can prevent meltdowns.

Agriculture has changed from subsistence to greater and greater crop yields.  Sustainability has become an important aspect.  Forty percent of the world's farm soils face degradation.  Many insects have resistance to insecticides.  Water resources are stretched by agriculture practices.  Livestock consume 70% of crops and produce most of the global warming gasses.  Organic farming may require more labor, forcing a shift from urban to rural areas.

Fresh water resources grow increasingly more scarce.  Agriculture uses much of fresh water resources.  Much of the water used comes from seepage which distorts our view of how much water is available. Many golf courses, often accused of using too much water, use treated effluent water, which doesn't impact fresh water resources.  Widespread water pollution through sewage and agriculture run-off.  While some high profile people claim water will be source of future wars, so far most countries sharing water do so peacefully.  Access to clean water has gone from 30% in 1970 to 79% in 2004.

Also covered are forests, climate, World Trade Organization (including controversy), overpopulation (largely positive projections), the adequate availability of nutrients, the crisis of fisheries (extensive background provided, discussing coral reefs, littoral areas, and thermohaline currents).

While informative and refreshingly low in bias, the title suggests more spotting future trends rather than showing the strengths and weaknesses of the world's resources.  Mahrok does discuss future possibilities  but these are rare.  The book resources include not only an extensive index, maps and pictures but also many hyperlinks to information online to broaden the reader's understanding.  The World in 2099 is your one-stop information fount about our current and future ecological concerns.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Auspicious Eggs by James Morrow

From Brave New Worlds, 2nd edition (originally from Fantasy and Science Fiction)
edited by John Joseph Adams
(Note:  This anthology originally appeared a few years ago but has been re-released with new stories as the first edition didn't get publicized well enough.)  
Father Cornelius Dennis Monaghan witnesses an odd baptism:  The priest baptizes a twin who is to be killed because she is not fertile.  The mother runs away with her the remaining twin.

You know you're in a strange alternate theocratic universe.  Not only is infertility worthy of death, but also prayer staves off a global-warming flood.  Nothing is more important than procreation and only procreation.  If you can't procreate, you will be baptized until dead.  Father Cornelius  regrets his actions and tries to escape the theocracy.  Fate has a surprise.

This isn't an extrapolated society if unchecked, but 

David Halberstam on how to tackle a controversial nonfiction subject

"Think about three or four moments that you believe to be the most important during your time frame. Then think about what the leadership did about it. It doesn't have to be complicated. What happened, and what did the leaders do about it? That's your book."
(from Wikipedia

Friday, February 15, 2013

Review: The Fifties by David Halberstam

The FiftiesDavid Halberstam
Open Road

I tend to nibble nonfiction.  Too many articles repeat themselves, become beef jerky and lose their juiciness.  Reading them is as satisfying as gnawing on a chew-toy.  Book-length non-fiction risks converting into a coffee-table centerpiece or weigh down a bookcase.  When a book holds its interest throughout, I am stunned.  My brain absorbed David Halberstam's The Fifties like a dry sponge.  It was a decade that captured America's greatness and that also bore the seeds of what many would come to dislike about America--no matter what your political persuasion.

As the title suggests, it covers a wide swath of political and cultural territory, hitting the key figures of the time.  It opens with the political legacy left by Franklin D. Roosevelt.  The Republicans in disarray, and the Democrats in control although a too-confident Dewey might have fared better if he’d been willing to sully his image.

Truman’s life is covered and his difficulty with measuring up to Roosevelt’s fireside chats.  Gradually Americans accustomed themselves to Truman’s blunter yet responsible manner (“The buck stops here.”).  He had also deployed the atomic bomb.

Halberstam treats Los Alamos and the development of nuclear weapons extensively:  the elevation of physicists, the unique personalities, the infighting, the controversy of building bigger bombs, and the ultimate betrayal of Oppenheimer.

Not often treated in general discussions of Senator Joseph McCarthy is his person-ability with journalists, which perhaps won over many to his cause against Communism, naming names and bringing up charges of Communist sympathies.  Popular writers, too, like Mickey Spillaine had characters battling Communist foes.

Battling Communism led to the Korean and Vietnamese wars.  The first, led by the confident General MacArthur, encountered too many over- and under-estimations, where the Americans did not recognize that 300,000 Chinese troops had marched over the border.  A victory by Matt Ridgway allowed the creation of North and South Korea,

Truman’s conflicts with General MacArthur carried over into the political realm as he testified before Congress, perhaps paving the way.  Instead, though, the Republican party largely courted Eisenhower to enter the political ring.

Halberstam covers Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, feminism, civil rights (for which coverage Halberstam earned a Pultizer), Lucille Ball, Ricky Nelson, McDonald’s, Holiday Inn, General Motors, Bill Levitt’s affordable homes, television, Kinsey’s candid report on sexual practices, advertising, Marlon Brando, James Dean, Mrs. Sanger and birth control, Allan Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac.  David Halberstam did a fine job capturing the decade.  Halberstam, no doubt, bent over backwards to capture an array of the era’s sentiments.  Nonetheless, one suspects gaps remain.  Having talked to men of that era, their perspective of Roosevelt wasn’t always rosy, and they had what they felt were legitimate complaints.  Halberstam also mentioned a chance encounter between Mrs. Nixon and Gloria Steinem, who asked Mrs. Nixon about her dreams.  Mrs. Nixon lost her cool and Halberstam goes to some length to discuss Mrs. Nixon’s motivations instead of asking what was probably in Mrs. Nixon’s mind:  Why was Ms. Steinem asking this question?  Still, while no one history book can be definitive, this one comes close.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Perfect Match by Ken Liu (from Brave New Worlds, 2nd edition)

From Brave New Worlds, 2nd edition,  
edited by John Joseph Adams
(Note:  This anthology originally appeared a few years ago but has been re-released with new stories as the first edition didn't get publicized well enough.)  
Sai relies on Tilly, an electronic aid that keeps track of his interests in order to help and recommend various products.  Jenny, his neighbor, sows seeds of doubt that allowing corporations access to his interests may be detrimental.  Sai starts to notice that with Tilly comes a lack of surprise and challenging thought.  Jenny has a plot to destroy Tilly.

(I can't help but wish I could own at least part of a Tilly.  This may function as a Valentine's story.)  

From Brave New Worlds, 2nd edition,  
edited by John Joseph Adams
(Note:  This anthology originally appeared a few years ago but has been re-released with new stories as the first edition didn't get publicized well enough.)  

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Cull by Robert Reed (from Brave New Worlds, 2nd edition)

From Brave New Worlds, 2nd edition,  
edited by John Joseph Adams
(Note:  This anthology originally appeared a few years ago but has been re-released with new stories as the first edition didn't get publicized well enough.)  
On a spaceship  erratic behavior--no matter how small--cannot be tolerated.  Orlando, a boy genius, has hit his sister, just one in a series of crimes.  The father makes excuses, the mother asks for drugs, but drugs dampen performance on a spaceship.  A robot doctor has to decide the boy's fate.  The boy is ready to be culled.  The robot gives the genius boy hope that he has a different destination, a new living world with secret homes on asteroids.

This feels like Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" made logical and necessary if not attempting Jackson's verisimilitude.

Personal Jesus by Jennifer Pelland (from Brave New Worlds, 2nd edition)

From Brave New Worlds, 2nd edition,  
edited by John Joseph Adams
(Note:  This anthology originally appeared a few years ago but has been re-released with new stories as the first edition didn't get publicized well enough.)  
"Personal Jesus" is an electronic watchdog that everyone must wear, advising proper religious behavior and applying electrical shocks when wearers misbehave.  A vignette written as a promotional pamphlet.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Red Card by S. L. Gilbow (from Brave New Worlds, 2nd edition)

From Brave New Worlds, 2nd edition,  
edited by John Joseph Adams
(Note:  This anthology originally appeared a few years ago but has been re-released with new stories as the first edition didn't get publicized well enough.)  
"Red Card" originally appeared in Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Anyone can shoot one person in Gilbow's society, so Linda Jackson shoots Larry, her husband.  The town approves.  She reports her act, turns in the Red Card that allowed her to carry out the act.  Now that she's turned in her card, though, people don't have to like her.

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson (from Brave New Worlds, 2nd edition)

From Brave New Worlds, 2nd edition,  
edited by John Joseph Adams
(Note:  This anthology originally appeared a few years ago but has been re-released with new stories as the first edition didn't get publicized well enough.) 
"The Lottery" originally appeared in the New Yorker

Shirley Jackson paints a small town's seemingly charming habits with well-worn customs and mannerisms toward one another, and then she turns the town on its head--at least for the reader.  Undoubtedly, this captured the seemingly random hate of a small town in Jackson's time--the town's willingness to destroy its citizens, no matter how well the citizens knew one another.  While the story may seem more quaint as small towns disappeared, the internet has become its own map of small towns, some of whose citizens sometimes go around stoning.  However unfortunate, this story may never date as long humans exist.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Interview with Loralee Leavitt, author of Candy Experiments

APB's review of Loralee Leavitt's Candy Experiments was one of the largest draws of January.  Leavitt (website) ingeniously used candy to pull students into science, so I contacted her for an interview and she graciously consented.

What made you write Candy Experiments?
When my four-year-old daughter decided to put her Nerds in water, we started on a crazy candy experiment adventure. Science lessons weren’t at all on my mind. But as we progressed, we started seeing crazy things happen, like the little white m’s that floated off off M&M’s candy, that made my kids want to keep experimenting. Then I realized I could develop science experiments with candy, like dissolving it in hot and cold water to see which happened faster, or to learn about ingredients like sour acid. Kids love playing with candy, and parents love that the kids are learning science and destroying their candy in the process.
Why candy? Why experiments?
Why use candy? Because when we did our experiments, we saw so many interesting things that we wanted to keep exploring candy science. We ended up with a whole collection of really fun things we can do with candy, as well as some fun new ways to teach standard science topics like density.
What made you want to explore more than just the primary experiment, such as why not just stop at finding acid in candy?
As we destroyed candy in different ways, we learned a lot of lessons specific to candy, such as the way you can melt or dissolve candy to separate out the oil, or the way you can make chocolate bloom by heating it, or the way gummi worms absorb so much water because they contain gelatin. Many of our experiments evolved from the ways we tested our candy, instead of being developed to teach specific lessons.
What is your background in the sciences?
In school, I took several college-level chemistry classes, including organic chemistry, and also minored in physics, which gave me a good foundation for this project. After I graduated I became a technical writer, where I spent my time speaking to technical experts and writing up the material in readable English. I continued to use that skill as I interviewed PhD chemists to check the science for some of the trickier candy experiments.
Where would you like to see science education to head?
I hope that our science teachers can find ways to interest all of their students. I love watching kids’ eyes light up when I demonstrate experiments about nutrition, chromatography, acid, and density. If we can kindle that interest in each child, our students will be more eager to learn about the world around them.
When did you first start writing?
I’ve been writing all my life. When I was in elementary school, I once won five dollars in a bookstore poetry contest. In high school and college, I split my time between science and writing, since I loved both.
What's your next book?
I just finished an ebook on car trips for, because every time I tell people we’ve taken our kids on another 3000-mile car trip,they ask how we could possibly manage it. I’m also gathering ideas for another collection of science experiments with candy and other sweets, and I’m going to finish my historical novel about a Depression-era girl whose love for math upsets her strict guardians.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Lake by Tananarive Due,

The Monster's Corner, 2011

Bostonian, Abbie LaFleur, moved to northern Florida to a lakeside house, having taken an English teacher position at Graceville Prep.  She invites a student from school to work on her house.  Meanwhile, she dreams of large fresh-water predators, attacking other creatures.  She wakes up grateful not to be that predator, but her webbed feet keep growing.

Patient Zero by Tananarive Due

Fantasy and Science Fiction, August 2000

Diary narrative about a boy whom we first suspect is sick and going to do because of the celebrities who give him their attention.  Instead it's the opposite.  Compelling.

Friday, February 8, 2013

On the Morality* of Fairy Tales

The fascinating aspect of fairy tales is that their morality may not agree with ours although it may follow reality more than most popular fiction.  For instance, good and bad alike weave webs of deceit.  While some bad people receive their comeuppance, many do not, and the reader is essentially told, "That's the way of life."

Although most parents likely teach their children that lying is wrong, deceit is everywhere in fairy tales, both for and against the protagonist.  Cinderella's step-sisters cut their feet to fit into the glass slipper.  The wolf dresses as grandmother to eat Little Red Riding Hood.  The Brave Little Tailor deceives evil giants and kings.  The animals Bremen town musicians deceive the thieves.  Hansel and Gretel deceive their parents and the witch.  In fact, it’s rare that someone isn’t deceiving someone else in fairy tales.

Evil isn’t necessarily rewarded with punishment.  In “Rumpelstiltskin,” the father lied to the king about his daughter’s abilities but nothing happens to him.  The cat who ate the fat not only deceives the hard-working mouse but also eats her (“Verily, that is the way of the world.”).  The miller aids and abets the wolf’s trickery to look like the goat kids’ mother (“Truly men are like that.”).   The king pretends to be a merchant and sails away with the queen to marry her.  The king, who planned to kill his twelve boys if he had a girl, is not repaid.

These instances of dubious morality surprise us because we assume we inherited morality from our ancestors.  In Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, Philip Pullman has harsh words for the father’s lack of ill fate in the "The Girl with No Hands."   Pullman is unlikely to be the first or the last, but the authors of fairy tales (see quotes) may prepare the young for the injustices of the adult world.

Pullman, Philip. Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm. New York: Viking Adult, 2012. Print. 
Grimm, Jacob; Grimm, Wilhelm. Household Tales by Brothers GrimmDuke Classics, 2013. Kindle edition.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Review: Biopunk

DIY Scientists Hack the Software of Life
Marcus Wohlsen
Penguin Group (USA)
Want to give yourself chlorophyll skin?  or to test your dad for dangerous diseases?  Do you want the poor to have access to higher quality medical care?  Are you a Do-It-Yourself [DIY] kinda guy?  This may be the book for you.

Author Marcus Wohlsen calls the science behind Biopunk: DIY Scientists Hack the Software of Life "not new science, but new ways of doing science."  Convincingly and compellingly told, this narrative introduces us to several bio-hackers, many who not only challenge the academic/corporate status quo but want to make positive change in the world.

Kay Aull, whose father had hemochromatosis, wanted to know if she had the same genetic disease and developed her own test, using materials she bought off Ebay.  Mackenzie Cowell, after inheriting a $20,000 trust fund, bought $12,500 biotech equipment on auction, worth much more.  He opened a wet lab to the community.  Other biopunks, like Bryan Bishop, are transhumanists who view the mind and body's DNA as software to hack and mold to their whims.

Margaret Patterson, jill-of-all-trades, came biology hacking through writing, linguistics, software engineering and SF (I critiqued a few of her works back in the day).  She is now a major activist for biology hacking and is cooking up cheaper ways of delivering simple genetic tests.  She came up with the Biopunk Manifesto:

"Scientific literacy empowers everyone who possesses it to be active contributors to their own health care, the quality of their food, water, and air, their very interactions with their own bodies and the complex world around them."
 Marcus Wohlsen constantly draws parallels between biopunk and internet 2.0, that the two are conflatable.

In Venezuela, Guido Nunez-Mujica labors to brings cheaper high-tech healthcare to his country, with lab kits to test Chagas disease, sleeping sickness.  DNA amplification became cheaper and easier with the LavaAmp.  Tito Jankowski has made his OpenPCR to build kits for anyone interested, using the open-source Linux software as inspiration.

While the debate of genetically modified crops rages, India prevented crop collapse using a [stolen from Monsanto?] GM crop resistant to an organism, which they then modified further.  Andrew Hessel argues to open up DNA and solve too-long mystery diseases like cancer because drug companies are too slow at developing new products.

Some like John Schloendorn want to cure death itself.  BioCurious labs, nonprofit, sprung up to allow  bio inventors to tinker and to claim their work as their own--a problem with large businesses, where inventions belong only to the businesses.  They suspect such ventures will expand invention and innovation.

Genetic technology has been used to solve long-unsolved crimes.  Direct-to-consumer companies have started up to give people knowledge of their genome and their susceptibility to diseases although some controversy arose regarding some companies' practices.  Even totally new organisms have been synthesized, albeit based on other organisms.

Wohlsen closes with the risks of genetic manipulation, such as the possibility of unleaashing a superbug.  He touches on nanotechnolgy, living organisms working as tiny machines.  His closing argument reiterates themes touched on earlier.

Biopunk?  I loved it.  Regular folks, endowed with a passion for genetic manipulation, try to make the world a better place.  They’re like ordinary superheroes.  I am well aware of potential risks and not  all of Wohlsen's analogies held water, but complaining about genetic tinkering like telling a wide-eyed boy walking out of Star Wars (1977) for the first time and complaining, “Lasers don’t make sounds in space.”  The boy might say, “Really?  That’s cool.  But... so what?”  It’s missing the forest for the trees.

Marcus Wohlsen points out predecessors.  Farmers cross-bred animals for better products.  Gregor Mendel, the first biopunk, who discovered genetics did so on his own, outside academia.  Nobel-Prize winner, Kary Mullis, lamented that chemistry high school labs are no longer open to unsupervised student experiments:  "No one got hurt and no law suits resulted."  Even "Watson and Crick's approach... was more akin to tinkering than the work of an engineer or architect."  In other words, Wohlsen suggests that anyone can do "biopunk."  The term itself harkens back to cyberpunk and the ease of hacking brought about the value of information security.  However, DNA does not code directly for certain actions but, rather, for proteins which do so sloppily.  Proteins flood and dampen as needed.  Splicing DNA does not always ensure specificity but sometimes plugs DNA where it's not wanted.  

Does Wohlsen downplay the risks?  Possibly, but all biology takes risks, and it's heartening to read of so many dedicated to doing good biology for the benefit of many.  Biopunk logs this progress up to now, thrilling science enthusiasts about the future.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Review: The Legacy of David Foster Wallace

The Legacy of David Foster WallaceSamuel Cohen and Lee Konstantinou, editors
University Of Iowa Press
Herein lie a scatter-shot of essays that try to limn the legacy of David Foster Wallace, from the personal to the academic.  The strongest pieces shoot between those lines.  Josh Roiland gives insight into not only what makes Wallace's journalism unique, but also where it fits in the canon*.  Ira B. Nadel traces Wallace's use of the footnote from his college essays** to Infinite Jest and later stories.  Both are fascinating and informative.***  

Interviews with Wallace and with Moody**** fill in details of Wallace's accomplishments.  Don Delillo, Jonathan Franzen, Rick Moody, and George Saunders offer personal anecdotes on Wallace.  Dave Eggers extols the virtues of IJ.

Two essays were laced with twice the recommended daily allowance of academic fiber*****.  No doubt, I will return to these on rereading Wallace.  A few pieces are too heavily polemical in their demands that readers read in one way, but they did point me to this website which reads through IJ in a summer, Infinite Summer

While not as strong as the David Foster Wallace interview volume (reviewed here), this volume has essays sure to intrigue writers, academics, and fans of Wallace.

* Finding contradiction is always a pleasure as it shows our humanity.  Roiland points out that Wallace's journalism, contrary to other essayists, did sprout from Zeus's head.  See also note****.
** noting how the style is similar to Infinite Jest
*** Buried in an essay on collecting DFW's literary remains, the writer briefly discusses DFW's marginalia habits.
**** In Rick Moody's interview on editing IJ, in which we learn that certain anecdotes about editing IJ were myths.  See also note*.
***** Being incontinent, some readers may want this.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Workshop review: From Idea to Story

Dean Wesley Smith's Online Workshops

Do you struggle getting ideas?  Has it been awhile since you've written and want to get back in the groove?  Dean Wesley Smith's "Idea to Story" may be to workshop for you.  It's low-key, supportive (even when you submit something messed up and you were so tired you were barely conscious) and demands two 300-word openings/week, focusing on different ways of coming up with a story.  The critique element is absent, which may be good for newer writers and also for writers who need to turn off the editor.  You do not actually write full stories.  That part is up to you, but it is full of encouragement so you'll feel like a frog in a swarm of flies.

Retrieval Artist (A Retrieval Artist short novel) by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Analog, June 2000

Miles Flint, hard-boiled detective on the Moon, likes the seedy look of his part of a moon colony.  He seeks The Disappeared, those who may not want to be found, only if their disappearance is no longer necessary.  The Disappeared often do so in order to avoid the extreme penalties of the alien race, The Disty.

Anetka Sobol, cloned daughter of the man who ran the Third Dynasty, wants to find her original in order to run her dying father’s business.  Since clones cannot inherit family money, she claims to only want to ensure her place in the business.  Her motives, though, are shrouded in layers of deceit.

For reasons I cannot finger, Rusch’s detective reminds me of Sue Grafton’s detective Kinsey Millhone.  Flint is one reason I reread the story.  Flint is so complex to be vindictively cruel (most readers will side with Flint’s decision).  I hoped further novels explored this psychological complexity of motive, but according to this reviewer,apparently not.  (Aside: The reviewer’s comment--“in the end, we don’t know her motivations or feelings.”--is only true in that we do not hear it from her mouth, but we suspect we can trust Flint’s assessment because her responses appear to back up his conclusions.)

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Black History Month

It's Black History Month.  Open Road Integrated Media is celebrating with the following titles:
Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times 
American to the Backbone: The Life of James W. C. Pennington, the Fugitive Slave Who Became One of the First Black Abolitionists 
Alice Walker's The Color Purple 
Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo 
The House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton 
Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Friday, February 1, 2013

Review: The Bird King

The Bird KingAn Artist's NotebookShaun TanScholastic

When I was a lad, I visited my mother's classroom and, if she hadn't anything for me to do, I'd pull down picture books and read.  Book selection was almost entirely based on the illustrator.  Did she show imagination and stylistic flair?

Shaun Tan's illustrations would have sold me on a number of such books.  Bird samurai carrying a club?  I'm there.  Giant bunnies roaming city streets, searching rooftops.  An artist paints inside his robot.  A sun inside his space suit shares its reading experience with a young lady. A light-bulb fish, standing in the bathtub, looks longingly outside the bathroom window.  A creature drawing face parts for itself as parts of himself fly away in the wind.  Not to mention giant frolicking beasts who'll give you a ride about town. What an imagination.

Tan's unique style flashes a splash of color among pencil sketches.  The characters tend to have paradoxically elongated yet round appearances, like Silly Putty characters pulled and squashed again.  Something about this style is disarming through its charm.  You immediately want to be their friends and hike on an adventure with them and their wan smiles.

For artists Tan provides notes on his process, the non-inspired inspiration of simply "following the line" among other advice.  Also, he shows his art in their early stages, giving insight into how he moved from one imagistic aspect to another, assuming the reader is aware of the final products.  Finally, Tan displays artist exercises to expand his way of seeing.  For writers, you'd have to have a systolic pressure equal to your diastolic not to come up with some funky ideas.

Artists and writers of all ages should find inspiration here.