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Sunday, March 31, 2013

This Is the Sound of Science (& fiction)

This Is the Sound of Science


Robotic ants or antic robots (another webpage)

Prison Recidivism:  Will prisoners commit crimes again? Brain scans reveal.

Can cells be used as computers?  Researchers are trying to find out.

  • Greg Bear said yes in "Blood Music" although I doubted it because of their simple drive to survive.  Bear may be right, after all!

"French kids are better behaved"

  • not very meaty, but her books may be of interest
  • however, I should add that my kids are better than yours

This Is the Sound of Science Fiction (and poetry and other fictions)

David Farland on

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Classics Revisited: Alastair Reynolds' Galactic North: "Nightingale" and "Galactic North"

Dexia Scarrow and a group of former professional soldiers are hunting down a war criminal, Colonel Jax.  His last known whereabouts was an artificially intelligent, hospital ship that had served to heal  both sides of the war.  She heals soldiers who are sent back to fight.   When the hunting party learns where Colonel Jax is at, they worry:  Can the ship be sane without something to do with its time?  Why had people told stories that it had been destroyed?  The ship, though, is "alive and kicking," still producing organs and parts.  They sneak in to avoid detection, but they are detected anyway.

A complex tale on war, no matter what your perspective.  While it clearly shows the connectivity or ecology of people yet it remains beautifully complicated by a ship that may not be sane.  The reread of this, which should have been similarly powerful as the first read as it gave plenty of food for thought, but this may have been its dramatic--not thematic--construction.

The closing tale, "Galactic North"--ambitious ride through millennia of time and across the galaxy--involves pirates again but who successfully take over the transporter's ship, a ship transporting human cargo toward which the captain has been made to have a motherly instinct.  The head pirate may be from "Grafenwalder's Bestiary" (verifying the moral complexity of that tale).  The pirates tortures Captain Irravel and Markarian.  Each stands up admirably until a dire end is brought before them.  Being made motherly toward these humans, Irravel (she who will not "unravel" despite her incarnations) cannot forgive Markarian, even though he did it to protect her.  The reader may vacillate sympathies between the pair initially toward Captain Irravel but later toward Markarian when her actions endanger more than seems necessary.

One powerful aspect of this tale is how it mirrors the long-view of our own lives:  how we begin with this strong, primary drive that gradually gains complexity over time.  This one's scope is tremendous and the most ambitious of the collection.  My first impression was that it fails to close, which is only somewhat true as this could be read as an attempt to reconcile two different male/female perspectives--a reading that pays off in the reread.  Yet the final note focuses on the children, sort of.

The stories of Galactic North were originally published reprinted in the following (from Wikipedia)

Friday, March 29, 2013

Classics Revisited: Alastair Reynolds' Galactic North: "A Spy in Europa" and "Weather"

Just as the first two stories of the collection, Galactic North, have sweep, scope and grand sense of wonder, "A Spy in Europa" and "Weather" continue the trend--a fantastic idea to stack your best stuff up front:  It persuades the reader to read everything the guy wrote.  

As  a short story, "A Spy in Europa," which originally appeared in Interzone, is emblematic of Alastair Reynolds' abilities and possibly the toe with which the tepid reader tests the waters.  Marius Vargovic, agent of Gilgamesh Isis, has been living on Mars and penetrates Europa to receive surgery to enable him to swim Europa's ocean and retrieve new technology.  While Marius has little choice, he appears to take to the job, swimmingly.  When he has what he wants from Dr. Cholok, he kills her.  Her murder is discovered and three agents pursue him through the ocean.  Somehow his extraction point is learned, so Marius goes to another extraction point, not before he has to confront the agents behind him and the mysterious if hideous creatures of myth ahead.  

This is a grand exploration of what makes life possible, particularly at its extremes--not to mention what makes life worth living.

In "Weather" (a misnomer of sorts*), Inigo, the shipmaster of the Petronel, tries to elude pirates pursuing his ship, but adjusting the C-engine controls and ejecting mass only puts off the inevitable.  Whoever the pirates have as shipmaster is better.  When the pirates catch them, their shield has been exposed and a fluke event renders them disabled.  Despite the captain's protests Inigo brings aboard a Conjoined, whom Inigo hopes to return to her people for a reward.  She, however, not only doesn't want to leave the destroyed pirate ship, but she also doesn't want to join her people.  Inigo calls her "Weather."  When their ship cannot elude new pirates, as one of the Conjoiners with knowledge of the mysterious engines, she might be able to help in fixing the engine.  

* It is a misnomer for the character's name, but not for the story which begins as one type, slides to another, then saddles between the two.

On Writers, Writing, Genre, Assorted Ideas about Writing, & Stories

On Writing:

12 habits of the creative
On Writers:
Cordwainer Smith remembered

Famous writers':

On Genre:

Future of SF according to:

Stories (present and future)

Amazing Stories (now a blog, proposed future magazine--revival of first SF magazine)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Classics Revisited: The Folk of the Fringe: Summary + "Pageant Wagon" and "America"

The Folk of the Fringe is just that:  in praise of those on the outside.  "The Fringe" describes an actual territory that used to be infertile that in hard times begins to bloom, but this is to be taken thematically as well.  SF has always been the literature of outsiders.  Likely, Orson Scott Card sees Mormons on the outside, but he doesn't single them out for praise.  More often, the Mormons are aided by an outsider, who learns something of the people yet is also a catalyst for change within those people.

In "Pageant Wagon," the outsider is Deaver Teague, a range rider who joins the traveling playhouse family.  Deaver loses his horse, so the family gives him a ride.  Gradually, helping the family put on the show and interfering when he hadn't meant to, Deaver sees the family as the one he never had.  Their current play, of which the daughter is critical, connects the birth of America and the birth of Mormonism.  Interestingly, Deaver accomplishes uniting the family through not fully understanding what people want of him (although the family isn't certain, either).  The children, Ollie and Katie, want to escape; the grandfather wants to retire; and Marshall wants to stay the Patriarch when he should step down.

In "America" the catalyst outsider is Sam, who empowers all Americans by calling them all Americans.  His seed of change is figurative and literal as the Earth causes him to be attracted to and impregnates an older Native American woman to create a new Quetzalcoatl.  Interestng quotes:

"[W]hy else am I alive?  I figure the land kept me breathing so I can tell the story of its victory, nd it has kept you alive to heat it.  Gods are like that.  It isn't enough for them to run everything.  They want to be famous, too."

"This is what America wanted, what it bent our lives to accomplishing.  Even if we took twisted roads and got lost and injured on the way, even if we came limping to this place, it is a good place, it is worth the journey, it is the promised, the promising land."

Interestingly, much of the power of these works come out of their denouements.  Except "Salvage."  Since Deaver Teague has his moment in "Pageant Wagon," he cannot be fulfilled, but the gold of "Salvage" is in finding a different kind of gold.

Despite the politically uplifting and unifying nature of "America," which may have been why Ursula Leguin included it in her Norton Anthology of Science Fiction, the strongest aesthetic piece is "The Fringe," which stands the best chance of being reread far into the future.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Classics Revisited: Alastair Reynolds' Galactic North: "Dilation Sleep" and "Grafenwalder's Bestiary"

I'm bracing this one with a pair of covers.  I prefer the bottom cover in terms of pictorial drama, but the above has a good quote (the bottom's has a double-edged sword in meaning).

The second half opens with Reynolds' earliest "Dilation Sleep" where the protagonist is awakened from sleep by his programmed wife to act as surgeon to excise the cancer that is his wife's software.  Dramatic but not completely worked out and not resonant.  It may pay off to compare the more successful later stories to this earlier journeyman's work.  It has the loss of his wife's memory going for it.

On the other hand, "Grafenwalder's Bestiary" is an old story made new in a powerful way.  Grafenwalder is an interesting character in whom we simultaneously root for and against, constructing the most complex reader emotions toward any of Reynold's characters in the collection.  Grafenwalder has the most unique collection among the local collectors, but a newcomer, Ursula Goodglass, keeps vying for that title.  He's come up with the upper hand up until Goodglass tursns up with the living dissected parts of humanity's most reviled re-creator of humanity.  Grafenwalder scores a Europan Denizen, which turns out not to be what he thought. The most fascinating aspect of this story is how--no matter what your opinion is of the character's outcome--your own moral feelings are problematic.  As such, it's a wonderful skewering of revenge tales.  This may well be a classic.  My mind keeps wandering back to it.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Classics Revisited: Alastair Reynolds' Galactic North: "Great Wall of Mars" and "Glacial"

We lost power here for three days, so I did some romantic candle-lit reading of Alastair Reynolds' collection Galactic North, a book I've been meaning to get to.  I'm glad I did.  These are romances in the older, literary sense with a touch of mystery and a cargo hold full of wild speculative conceits, some of which span the galaxies.

I belated realized what may have  bounced out earlier attempts:  The language on rare occasions is strained by office-report-style nonfiction and jargon ("Most of them had dispensed with holographics, projecting entopics beyond their personal space"), but one merely plows forward for the clever plots and speculative pleasures which outweigh minor, transitory strains.  In fact, I read these all twice with pleasure to admire their craftsmanship.

Reynolds opens with "Great Wall of Mars."  Of the collection, this story feels like the universe extends beyond the edges of the story.  It feels rich enough to be a novel but whittled to a novella.  This alone would make it most readers' favorite.

Two brothers, Warren and Nevil Clavain--both soldiers and politicians--disagree what they should do with Mars, which is infested with Conjoiners, people who have joined their minds into a gestaltic state.  Nevil is sent down to Mars as a diplomat to get the Conjoiners to stop trying to escape their quarantine on Mars.  However, he crashes into giant worms that aren't supposed.  The Conjoiners throw down a rope and help him up.  One even sacrifices his life.

Inside, Nevil learns not only of Conjoiner lifestyle but also of his brother's betrayal, leaving him stranded with alien humans who are about to be destroyed.  The Conjoiners have other plans, plans involving the Wall of Mars protecting the air on the part of Mars that has been terraformed, and plans  involving the moon.

Students interested in physics might be impressed with the novel use of orbits and gravity.

"Glacial" has the opposite effect of the previous tale:  a novella with the pacing of a novel.  Nonetheless, it's a fine speculative mystery that kept me guessing.  I thought he hadn't played fair with the reader, but in fact, he had.  Like the last, a grand speculation beats this one's heart.  Plus, we get to watch the characters from "Great Wall of Mars" develop further--enough so that this reader is curious to read more.

Nevil and crew find a deserted colony on a distant ice planet where previous colonists studied its slow-moving worms, crawling through the ice.  In a deep crevasse lay a man--Setterholm according to the name on his suit--whose helmet had popped off.  He'd written "IVF" into the ice before he died.  Other  bodies are found--their quarters laced with a terrestrial poison that would have driven them insane.  One man had frozen himself, whom they are able to revive.  However, he provides little new information.  Nevil finds his suspicions raised even though the man is good with Nevil's adopted autistic child--better with her than Nevil is.

This story explores intelligence and what that is.Both stories captivate.

Monday, March 18, 2013

(Revised) Classics Revisited: The Folk of the Fringe: "Salvage" and "The Fringe"

In "Salvage" one of the yougest members of the "West" trip goes diving for gold in the underwater Mormon church.  But the treasure he seeks isn't what he finds.

"The Fringe" is one of the more enduring of Orson Scott Card'short works.  It features a teacher with palsy, stuck in a wheelchair teaching children of the farmers working The Fringe, a portion of the desert that became arable when weather patterns changed.

As an educator myself, I found myself sympathizing yet cringing for Carpenter, the teacher.  LaVon is the typical bad combination of bright kid who is also the class clown and ne'er-do-well.  This is the kid teachers lose sleep over trying to figure out how to handle him.  Strangely, you rarely see the difficult student in genre fiction.  At first Carpenter's reaction is good--no reaction--but then he resorts to acerbic wit, beginning with a tasty worm and ending with a barb:
"Brilliant essay, Mr. Jensen.  The irony was powerful, the savagery refreshing. Unfortunately, it also revealed the poverty of your soul.  Alcott's title was ironic, for she wanted to show that despite their small size, the boys in her book were great-hearted.  You, however, despite your large size, are very small of heart indeed."
Sometimes retorts work--high school students are just learning and appreciating the power of being a smart aleck--and sometimes not.  It surprises me when it works, actually, but it's a rather new tool to high schoolers and students do enjoy witnessing its wielding.  Nonetheless, I cringed.  And later it doesn't fare so well for Carpenter.  He presses the students a little harder in an economics lesson where he barbs a thinly veiled, anti-stealing sermon.  A few students' parents are involved  in stealing from their colleagues, and Carpenter number-crunches the data to prove it.

Carpenter hands the data over to the authorities who then arrest the parents, leaving the family in a more difficult situation, trying to make ends meet without one of the families' providers.  Carpenter is so confident in the rightness of his actions that he allows his victims to know the name of the man who turned them in.  The boys of the imprisoned fathers decide to exact revenge on Carpenter.  They want to hear him squeal without the aid of his computer.  Carpenter's reaction is heartbreaking, nail-biting, and uplifting.  Much as feels for Carpenter, one also feels the man brought part of it on himself--an interesting complexity of emotion not often experienced in the genre.  Carpenter may be a symbol for Christ--retribution for some, forgiveness for others--a man apparently weak but full of strength.

This piece deserves its place as one of the best representatives of Card's work and the field in general.

Review: "Map of Seventeen" from Before and Afterlives

"Map of Seventeen" from Before and Afterlives  (originally in The Beastly Bride)
Christopher Barzak 
Paperback: 320 pages  
Publisher: Lethe Press (March 18, 2013)  
ISBN-10: 1590213696 ISBN-13: 978-1590213698
Tommy is a famous painter, whose paintings critique his family and way of life--an annoyance his sister, Meg.  He doesn't seem to notice how Tristan, his boyfriend, and art ruin the family's life in this rural town.  To top it off, he and Tristan move in with the family.  They are written up in the church newsletter for prayer requests.

But Meg has her own secret:  Her will can make people do things they don't mean to.  Tommy has a further secret to reveal about Tristan, and that's why they're there.

Meg not only comes to terms with the strange but vows to fight for it.  A battle hymn for the strange.

Some readers may be disappointed that Barzak doesn't directly use speculative conceits except as metaphors, but most of those familiar with Barzak's work have come to anticipate this aspect.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Classics Revisited: The Folk of the Fringe: "West"

This is a book I've long heard good things about and finally got around to since my Kindle died.  "The Fringe" in particular was a finalist for the Nebula, Hugo, and Locus award.  Two appeared in three different Year's Best anthologies, and "America" appeared in Ursula LeGuin, Brian Attebury, and Karen Joy Fowler's Norton Anthology of SF.

"West" opens with Jamie Teague, an Appalachian who's come down to the Carolinas to trade for goods to take back up to his people in the mountains.  Six nuclear bombs have done enough damage to  put America's civilization into chaos.  He encounters a hapless group of doomed Mormons, singing and otherwise exposing themselves to an early death by the mobbers looting the strange and less fortunate.  He slowly befriends them and guides them to the Appalachians where they are in less immediate danger, so long as they do nothing suspicious.  Teague portrays himself as a murderer of his parents, but he's buried another secret.  Meanwhile, the Mormons try to talk him into taking them further west to Utah, Mormon country, where he will be rewarded.  Except Teague already has a home in the Appalachians.  What might Utah offer him?

This piece, just shy of a third of the book, sets the basic scenario and a few intriguing characters, especially the loner Teague.  Brother Deaver may be my second favorite as he is the most deeply wounded of the group (he'd be my favorite if he'd played a stronger role).  Deaver is a black man who feels such guilt about not warning his family of imminent danger that he doesn't want to move on to Mormon country.

There's much maligning of Baptists who created an atmosphere of feeling that it was okay to kill Mormons.  On the one hand, while I'm often suspicious of such broad-stroking of groups, Orson Scott Card is probably better informed on the history of Mormonism.

An interesting comment on women and civilization:
"[Teague had] never had an inkling of how...women help each other instead of trying to drive a bargain.  'It's called civilization," [Sister Monk or Tina] said to Teague, between visits. 'Women invented it, and every time you men blow it all to bits, we just invent it again.' "
 This works well as an introduction to the world and characters although it doesn't have the impact of later works in the series.

Review: "What We Know about the Lost Families of ____ House" from Before and Afterlives

"What We Know about the Lost Families of ____ House" from Before and Afterlives  (originally in Interfictions)
Christopher Barzak 
Paperback: 320 pages  
Publisher: Lethe Press (March 18, 2013)  
ISBN-10: 1590213696 ISBN-13: 978-1590213698
Rose Addleson is the house's latest victim.  She spoke in tongues at church a child, using what the people say in Jesus' voice.  After her car stalled, she needed a phone, so she stopped by the ____ House.  The House says it needs her, so she marries its owner, Jonas.  She cleans up buttons continually since  a former owner used to own a button factory.  She had one child who died at age one on a cold winter's night.

The first owners people remember were the Blanks.  The first son disappeared into the orchard, the father died, and their last son disappeared, leaving just the mother.  Next came the Olivers whose parents were murdered by their son who had gambling debts and who held his brother and sister hostage.  At first the town is generous helping the kids find work, but when the sister has a child, the town shuns them until they're forced to leave.

The next owners were the Addlesons, Jonas' grandparents, who arrived during WWII while the men were gone.  The button factory owner, James, however, had gotten various factory girls pregnant, killed them, and buried them in various locations.  The community wanted to intervene then--"if it is not the business of one’s community, whose business is it?"  But the mother needed a place to raise her children, but then Jonas' father killed himself when Jonas was ten.

Finally, the community chooses to act:

"We thought we were doing best by them, leaving them to their own choices, trying not to interfere with the lives of others. But we saw how wrong we were when — House took our Rose, when it took our Rose’s little girl....   
It was then we decided to take action. Not one more of our children would we let that house ravage."

The story treats in a literal way how places shape us and how we may or may not have the power to change that--how places remind us the history of those shapes, long after they occurred.  This sets the metronome for how we interpret the collection's title.

This is an ambitious story.  The viewpoint--famously executed by William Faulkner in "A Rose for Emily"--is tough to pull off as it encompasses the attitude of a town in the first person-plural.  In Faulkner's we see a town reacting to an elderly woman.  Here again the town takes ownership, but perhaps it takes a more active moral role.

The story also plays with time and dramatic continuity (it starts in the present, backs up a little, then goes as far back as its residents can remember, switching up characters and story lines along the way.) and with reliability:
"If anyone is curious [about who first built the house], of course there is the library with town records ready to be opened. No one has opened those records in over fifty years, though. Oral history, gossip, is best for this sort of situation."
That this opens the anthology suggests that the author and/or editor hold it in high regard, or perhaps this story sets the tone for others to come.  It is without doubt interesting with intellectual challenges (I read it three times) although it is surprising that they would challenge readers so quickly instead opening with a more traditional narrative, such as "The Language of Moths":  Lure them in, then toy with readers.  Perhaps they wanted readers aware of the kinds of pleasures Barzak offers.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Review: "A Beginner’s Guide to Survival Before, During, and After the Apocalypse" & "The Other Angelas" from Before and Afterlives

"A Beginner’s Guide to Survival Before, During, and After the Apocalypse" from Before and Afterlives  
Christopher Barzak 
Paperback: 320 pages  
Publisher: Lethe Press (March 18, 2013)  
ISBN-10: 1590213696 ISBN-13: 978-1590213698
 A gently humorous, metafictive look at the the Apocalypse story:  "Practice these phrases: 'I am a
patriot of the first order,' and, 'God has shown me the light,' and, maybe the most important one, 'If you don’t like it here, go somewhere else.' "

The best part appears near the end (spoiler?  Not so much as it isn't really a drama-building story). The shadow of the protagonist remains in the cave he used to live in, which gives the tale poignancy.

"The Other Angelas" from Before and Afterlives  (originally appeared in Pindeldyboz)
Angela meets a younger/older version of herself, which initially is disconcerting, but they accustom themselves to the situation.  After a disappointing encounter with her future husband, the younger wakes to find a third Angela.  She takes on a disappointing lover, and the next day, a fourth appears.  After packing her husband's stuff, they settle for coffee.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

"It is always an economy of time to read old books."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson 

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

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

"A vast number of books are written in quiet imitation of the old civil, ecclesiastical and literary history; of these we need take no account.  They are written by the dead to be read by the dead."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson 

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

Monday, March 4, 2013

"It is taking a great liberty with a man to offer to lend him a book.  Each of the books I read invades me, displaces me."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson 

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

Free ebooks

Fierce as the Grave: A Quartet of Horror Stories by John Hornor Jacobs

Kenneth Cain's These Old Tales

Several of Ruth Nestvold's works (list of what & when)

Sunday, March 3, 2013

"If a man reads a book because it interests him and reads in all directions for the same reason, his reading is pure and interests me....  No matter where you begin, read anything for five hours a day and you will be knowing."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson 

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

Saturday, March 2, 2013

"Many times the reading of a book has made the fortune of a reader,--has decided his way of life. The reading voyages and travels has waked a boy's ambition and curiosity and made him a sailor and a explorer of new countries all his life, a powerful merchant, a good soldier, a pure patriot, or a successful student of science."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson 

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

Dolphins call each other by name?
This is a study you'll probably never hear from again, which is a shame.
Spin 360 degrees on Mars

Parachuting drugged, dead mice to attack brown snakes on Guam

Mary Gordon on her writing process

Natural Society had two problematic, sciencey articles:

  1. Leading Geneticist: Human Intelligence is Slowly Declining -- interesting in that I'd IQs were on the rise.  How does one tell if genetics is responsible?  But the article itself blames it on food, which leads to...
  2. Americans Eat 35 Lbs of ‘Stupidity’ Linked High-Fructose Corn Syrup on Average  -- How do we know that this isn't due to other factors comorbid with poverty?

Friday, March 1, 2013

"I expect a man to be a great reader."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson 

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

Review: Deadly Adorable Animals

Deadly Adorable Animals
Nadia Higgins
Lerner Publishing Group

Target Audience:  Age 9-14 

Over Facebook, old and young people share photos of these adorable creatures.  They're all cute, photographed in a certain way--giant otters, slow lorises, long-tailed weasels, bottle-nosed dolphins, puffer fish, house cats, golden poison dart frogs, polar bears, platypuses, giraffes, swans and chimps--but watch their behavior long enough, and you'll note disturbing behavior.

This book is genius.  It introduces the animals with an adorable (targeting a substantial young female audience) and flips the scenario where the animal directly or indirectly is doing something not so adorable--generally deadly for some hapless creature or other (which targets the other gender although your results may vary).  The genius is in how the author targets the broadest swath of interest in animals and brings them together in one book.   The otter attacks fish; the lorises, birds; and weasels, rabbits.  Some of the creatures surprise you.  I myself have witnessed friendly seeming dolphins pacing the ship I sailed on.  But they apparently attack porpoises.  The cat example is indirect and an excellent method to introduce young readers to microorganisms.  Other surprises await.

The back of the book has a section of websites, leading young readers to other fascinating animal behaviors.  This is highly recommended for most elementary libraries and classrooms.  Readers fascinated with animals are bound to love this one.  Undoubtedly, such readers will be eager to share their knowledge of animal behavior with parents and friends.