Search This Blog

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Ray Bradbury on writing and politics

"Steinbeck is one of the few writers out of the thirties who’s still read, because he didn’t write for causes at all. He wrote human stories that happened to represent causes indirectly."
 -- Ray Bradbury from a Paris Review interview

"The Pagodas of Ciboure" by M. Shayne Bell

First appeared in Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling's The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest Reprinted in various year's best anthologies edited by David G. Hartwell, Kathryn Cramer, Terri Windling, Ellen Datlow.  It was nominated for a Nebula and collected in How We Played the Game in Salt Lake.

A severely ill AIDS patient checks himself into the

Editor/Writer Dave Wolverton/Farland speaks

Editor/Writer Dave Wolverton/Farland has had a spate of interesting to fascinating articles (although your mileage may vary):

  1. Get Focused
  2. Are You Tone Deaf?
  3. You and Your List (this may go directly against what Cat Rambo said about blogs)
  4. The Signal Problem
  5. Storytelling as a Fine Art
  6. Surprises and Revelations
  7. Selecting Manuscripts
  8. Turning Inspiration into Habit
  9. Five Easy Tips for Writing Short
  10. How to Write a Query Letter
  11. What to Look for in a Reader

Friday, November 29, 2013

Ray Bradbury on Education

"It’s my idea from now on to stop spending money educating children who are sixteen years old. We should put all that money down into kindergarten. Young children have to be taught how to read and write. If children went into the first grade knowing how to read and write, we’d be set for the future, wouldn’t we?"
  -- Ray Bradbury from a Paris Review interview

Does he have a point?  He suggests people don't need math.  I'm not sure I agree, but maybe more emphasis on reading for pleasure?

"Vandoise and the Bone Monster" by Alex Irvine

Cover story for Fantasy and Science Fiction. Collected in Unintended Consequences.  Nominated for Locus and International Horror Guild Awards.

Purty nifty tale.  Vandoise, an early fossil-hunter back in the Pre-Civil War days of the fossil wars where scientists tried to trick each other, witnesses the creation of a bone monster--an old dinosaur skeleton comes to life.  It kills everything around that moves, so that they have to stand still--at least during those times it can see well: twilight and dawn.  After awhile though, a hundred years or so, Vandoise tired of dodging the best and keeps asking different people to blow him and the beast up.

Way cool story.  The nested story-structure is a little less clear despite the reread.  Apparently in hearing the tale, listeners become a part of the story, culpable of its sins--torchbearers to pass on the tales.  As I love such structures, it's disappointing it wasn't more developed.

Odd Links

Artistic Masterpieces That Have Been Stolen, Destroyed or Lost

What Happens to Pizza Launched into Space?

Salvador Dalí Illustrates Alice in Wonderland

Nerd Intellectual Jokes

Magnets Fall Through Copper Pipes

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Ray Bradbury on writing optimal behavior

"I don’t believe in optimism. I believe in optimal behavior.... You must live life at the top of your voice! 
"Action is hope. At the end of each day, when you’ve done your work, you lie there and think, Well, I’ll be damned, I did this today. It doesn’t matter how good it is, or how bad—you did it. At the end of the week you’ll have a certain amount of accumulation. At the end of a year, you look back and say, I’ll be damned, it’s been a good year."
 -- Ray Bradbury from a Paris Review interview 

Analysis of "Anomalous Structures of My Dreams" by M.Shayne Bell

First appeared in Fantasy and Science Fiction. Reprinted in Dozois' Year's Best SF. Collected in How We Played the Game in Salt Lake.

A severely ill AIDS patient checks himself into the hospital for pneumonia.  His neighbor patient, he's told, is in for a non-contagious pneumonia as well.  He's somewhat jealous about the man having family visit as he is alone.  However, he overhears the doctors talking about how the neighbor contracted the disease at work, behind several layers of protection.  When the neighbor vomits blood, many are exposed.  The illness starts to become clearer when they find regular, straight lines in his lungs.  It turns out he's been infected by the nano-machines he's been researching.  And they will take over the world if allowed to spread.

Spoilers:  The neighbor dies but says they can be stopped with radiation.  (It's not clear, then, why the X-rays didn't work.  Perhaps it's a very specific kind of radiation.)  The protagonist volunteers for them to try it on himself first.  It works.  Salt Lake City is saved.  However, an illegal alien working in the hospital and infected has been transported south to Mexico.  She deposits nano-mechanisms along the way.  The nano-structures are communications equipment pointed at and signaling three different stars.  Some suspect evil aliens while the protagonist suspects good, hope for the best.  But his guess has no more evidence than those who suspect malevolence.  It's not clear why either would be the case except randomness, but it's still cool speculation.

Analysis:  The analogous (anything deviating from the norm) can be applied to the protagonist, Maria the illegal alien, AIDS patients and the lonely.  Yet these are an integral part of society.  The protagonist realizes his dreams by reconnecting with family and with the wife of the researcher--not to mention possibly saving the world.  Well worth reading.

Links to Writing Opportunities

Submit to Interzone online

Ten ways to win the Booker prize
Tongue planted firmly in cheek.
Tomorrow Project contest:
  1. Who? 13-25 year olds worldwide
  2. What? science fiction stories, essays, comics and videos about the future
Other challenges

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Ray Bradbury on Revision

"I go through and cut. Most short stories are too long. When I wrote the novel Something Wicked This Way Comes, the first draft was a hundred and fifty thousand words. So I went through and cut out fifty thousand. It’s important to get out of your own way. Clean the kindling away, the rubbish. Make it clear."
 -- Ray Bradbury from a Paris Review interview 

A Stir of Bones by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Is there writer who writes better characters who care for each other?  Even her baddies don't get the nasty comeuppance so commonplace in horror's revenge fictions.  Hoffman comes up with her own system of justice.  Nice change of pace--not to mention creative thinking.

A strength of Hoffman's work is its domesticity--the realistic (and sometimes idealized) family relations.  Fourteen-year-old Susan Backstrom is not used to having friends, but she invites herself to join a group headed to a haunted house.  The house is haunted, but the teenagers--especially Susan--create a special bond with the house and its inhabitant, Nathan.

When Nathan tries to scare her off with his skull bone, Susan learns that Nathan's bones have special properties.  They can touch when she holds one of his bones, and he can temporarily leave the house if she carries his bones out with her.

Meanwhile, back at home, Susan's father is abusive to her mother in order to get Susan to behave.  As Susan's need to escape this environment into the haunted house grows, her explanations of science projects grow more and more strained.  Something has to give.  Worse, a nosy classmate has spotted them entering the haunted house and alerted the cops.

The book jacket blurb said Nina Kiriki Hoffman is "this generation's Ray Bradbury."  I would agree (in fact it occurred to me before reading the blurb) in terms of that aspect of Bradbury.  They have different styles and preoccupations.  However, they also share a fondness for making traditional horror not so horrible, but a thing of love and beauty.They seek and find love in the darkest of places.

The novel would go on to become a finalist for various young adult book awards: Stoker, Locus, and Endeavour.

Links for Reading Poetry and otherwise

Cape Cod by Kristine Ong Muslim

Bruce Boston's Dark Roads sampler

Thomas M. Disch, Marilyn Hacker and Charles Platt:  Platt du Jour: Two Poets, One Chevelle

The High Cost of Medical Care by Kathleen Ann Goonan


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Ray Bradbury on politics

"You can’t write for other people. You can’t write for the left or the right, this religion or that religion, or this belief or that belief. You have to write the way you see things."
 -- Ray Bradbury from a Paris Review interview 

“The Burnished Egg” by Dermot Ryan

First appeared in Albedo One.  Won the reader's award.

The McHugh family had one good reader, Liam.  It drove the family nuts, and they condemned him for it.  However, his imagination/ability to read manifested as a literal egg that appeared above his head, showing everything that played out in his head.  Finally, Liam choses to read Paradise Lost, which is larger and more spectacular than any imaginative play.  The audience is in awe of Satan and his demons as the egg grows to a staggering size.  When Liam tries to exit, the vision does not disappear but hangs over the theater, the demons locked, blinking as if waiting for the reading to continue. 

Simple yet effective.  Too bad more writers don’t try this, bringing fantasy closer to home in a resonant a manner.  Variety is good.

Tech, applications and business matters for writers

Philip Hensher stirs debate among authors after refusing to write for free 
Hensher, branded ungracious by Cambridge professor, says it's becoming impossible for writers to make a living and expect pay
Five podcasts for writers

Monday, November 25, 2013

Ray Bradbury on Story Ideas

"[I]n the old days I knew I had to dredge my subconscious, and the nouns did this.... [Make] lists of nouns and [ask], What does each noun mean? .... Then, when you get the list down, you begin to word-associate around it. You ask, Why did I put this word down? What does it mean to me? Why did I put this noun down and not some other word? Do this and you’re on your way to being a good writer.... Make a list of ten things you hate and tear them down in a short story or poem. Make a list of ten things you love and celebrate them. 
"[E]xamine [the] nouns.... [B]ring some characters on to talk about that noun and that place, and all of a sudden I had a story going. I used to do the same thing with photographs that I’d rip out of glossy magazines. I’d take the photographs and I’d write little prose poems about them."
-- Ray Bradbury from a Paris Review interview 

“The Cult of Selene” by Brian Stableford

First appeared in Albedo One.  Won a reader award.

Brian Stableford offers an updated cult of Selene [wiki page for goddess of Greek mythology]; however, flavored by Lovecraft.  Ostensibly, the protagonist is just there to study the cult, but he realizes the situation is otherwise.

Education links

Education & Technology

When an adult took standardized tests forced on kids
I suppose all tests are "forced" on kids.
I am going to force you to take a grammar quiz.
Actually, no, I'm not, but smart people like to learn and test themselves to see how much they learned and try again if they fail.
Americans Don't Have the Skills They Need
The data means something, but the author may have overstated the case.  

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Ray Bradbury on the novel

"[T]he problem of the novel is to stay truthful.... [It] has all kinds of pitfalls because it takes longer and you are around people, and if you’re not careful you will talk about it. The novel is also hard to write in terms of keeping your love intense. It’s hard to stay erect for two hundred days. So, get the big truth first. If you get the big truth, the small truths will accumulate around it. Let them be magnetized to it, drawn to it, and then cling to it."
-- Ray Bradbury from a Paris Review interview 

“Velvet Fields” by Anne McCaffrey

First printed in Worlds of If.   Reprinted in by editors Roelof Goudriaan, Frank Ludlow, and John Joseph Adams.  Online at Lightspeed.  

When Earth colonists arrive at Zobranoirundisi, the cities are abandoned.  The former residents are nowhere to be found on this Eden-like planet of velvet fields.  But a biologist discovers that the plants go through various stages of life until they become sentient.  The colonists have done irreparable damage and are required to pay whatever reparations the newly born-again, indigenous sentients.  They remove the human’s tongues in what seems like a metaphoric gesture.  It seems important that the humans do tell their tale.

Michael Swanwick speaks

Michael Swanwick on "A Terrible Story":
Reader: "Why would you write about such terrible things?" 
MS: "Because they exist. Because the potential for them resides within all of us. Because refusing to look at them does not make them go away. Because periodically we must recognize all these hard truths.'
"I'm only riding the beast [the horse, his muse]. And so far as I can tell, he doesn't take requests."
Michael Swanwick on literary eating habits (other authors available on Lawrence Schoen's site

I recently posted a quote of Ray Bradbury on his SF reading habits.  Here's Michael Swanwick on James Branch Cabell and his own reading habits--how they change.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Ray Bradbury on the short story

"The short story, if you really are intense and you have an exciting idea, writes itself in a few hours. I try to encourage my student friends and my writer friends to write a short story in one day so it has a skin around it, its own intensity, its own life, its own reason for being. There’s a reason why the idea occurred to you at that hour anyway, so go with that and investigate it, get it down. Two or three thousand words in a few hours is not that hard. Don’t let people interfere with you. Boot ’em out, turn off the phone, hide away, get it done. If you carry a short story over to the next day you may overnight intellectualize something about it and try to make it too fancy, try to please someone."
-- Ray Bradbury from a Paris Review interview   

Writers on Science

Mike Brotherton on "Does Science Fiction Kill Interest in Science?"

The Depression Cure: How to beat depression without drugs. by Stephen Ilardi, Ph.D.

David Brin on Science and Science Fiction

Common Myths about Science by Aliette de Bodard

Ten Classic Hard Science Fiction Novels featuring Physics and Astronomy by Mike Brotherton

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ray Bradbury on his popular use in schools

"Teachers [teach my books in school b]ecause I speak in tongues. I write metaphors. Every one of my stories is a metaphor you can remember. The great religions are all metaphor. We appreciate things like Daniel and the lion’s den, and the Tower of Babel. People remember these metaphors because they are so vivid you can’t get free of them and that’s what kids like in school."
-- Ray Bradbury from a Paris Review interview   

"Programmed Love Story" by Ian Watson

First appeared in Transatlantic Review.  Reprinted by Brian Aldiss and Harry Harrison in a year's best anthology.  Collected in The Very Slow Time Machine.

A Tokyo businessman quarrels with his wife, Kei, because she is not what the firm's astrology computer suggests.  She should push him harder than she does.  They separate and she takes a job as a cabaret hostess where they program her personality for whatever visitors come by.  The husband programs her as she "should" be and visits her often although the price is exorbitant.  Eventually, the price is too much.  He steals from his company to see her and  loses his job.  They run off together to shine shoes.

This is one Watson's best.  The refrain, "Once upon a time in the Year Two Thousand," is at once potent and beautiful.  It has this intriguing contrast--of looking forward and looking back.  Plus, there's little to no finger-wagging.  It just is.  The husband still loves her, and in the end abandons the thing he and she were supposed to become for something else entirely.  I'm less certain about the ending.  Would someone sell this story for business purposes?  Why?  What advantage would it give the business?  Fork over all your money until you're broke but in love?  Maybe.

Editor John Joseph Adams speaks

Editor John Joseph Adams speaks on the editor-writer relationship (he had others, but these were my favorite responses):

  1. What are your favorite stories that you’ve published?
  2. What do you wish you were seeing more of in the slush?
  3. Have you ever rejected a story and then later wished you had bought it?
  4. Does being published in the semi-pro market doom ones chances of being published in Lightspeed?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Ray Bradbury on literary influences

"Eudora Welty... has the remarkable ability to give you atmosphere, character, and motion in a single line. In one line! You must study these things to be a good writer. Welty would have a woman simply come into a room and look around. In one sweep she gave you the feel of the room, the sense of the woman’s character, and the action itself. All in twenty words. And you say, How’d she do that? What adjective? What verb? What noun? How did she select them and put them together? I was an intense student. Sometimes I’d get an old copy of [Thomas] Wolfe and cut out paragraphs and paste them in my story, because I couldn’t do it....  I’d retype whole sections of other people’s novels just to see how it felt coming out. Learn their rhythm. "
-- Ray Bradbury from a Paris Review interview 

Analysis of "Midnight at Valdosta's" by Jay Lake

First appeared in The Steampunk Megapack* (?).

Hemp Cumin drives his mule, Salt, into Triune Town to make his midnight appointment at Valdosta's.  In exchange for found objects that have stories to tell, the protagonist will live another year.

This may be Jay Lake's best tale.  It resonates beyond itself, especially knowing that Lake, like the protagonist, struggled to stay alive [fighting cancer], hoping for another of life and of telling stories.

According to, salt is "An element that gives flavor or zest."    This interpretation is backed up by  the protagonist's last name, Cumin.  The mule is probably an extension of its owner, relating to its also meaning, "a stubborn person" (same source).  The protagonist's first name, Hemp, on the other hand, denotes a coarse, tough fiber (same source) often used to make rope. It also has a humorous connotation, which the author may or may not have intended.  Triune--meaning "three in one. Used especially of the Christian Trinity"--town makes it clear that death is meant.  Valdosta is a border town (in Georgia on the Florida edge).  Although some irony may be intended [from Wikipedia]:
"...named after the Valle d'Aosta in Italy. The name Aosta (Latin: Augusta), refers to Emperor Augustus. Thus, the name Valdosta can be interpreted literally as meaning "Valley of Augustus' City". Originally, a long-standing rumor held that the city's name meant "vale of beauty."[9] The land around Valdosta is flat."
This shows some of the protagonist's uncertainty of whether he wants to live or not, yet he does go on, chooses to live another year.

This tale has given more insight into Lake's process than I've previously found.  Although Lake's organic work tends fall outside of "design" [link gives a nice summary], it reminds me of Edgar Allan Poe's use and definition of a story ("Philosophy of Composition") where the effect or the conjuration of the reader's emotional response is primary.

* I'm not sure why this is considered steampunk.

Inspiration: Life and Writing

 Alan Watts - What if Money Were No Object?:

China's brand-new abandoned cities could be dystopian movie sets

Even a Dead Fish Can Float Downstream by Eric M. Witchey

Still Not Getting to That Goal? Four Essential Factors by Luc Reid

All About Broken Ideas and Idea Repair by Luc Reid

Rejection and Reinvention by Tobias S. Buckell

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Ray Bradbury on style and truth

"Style is truth. Once you nail down what you want to say about yourself and your fears and your life, then that becomes your style and you go to those writers who can teach you how to use words to fit your truth."
-- Ray Bradbury from a Paris Review interview  

Science Links about Biology and related matters

How T. Rex Ate Triceratops in 4 Easy Steps

Dinosaur klutz walks across an Oklahoma mudflat

Insect Sounds

Clues to Lost Prehistoric Code Discovered in Mesopotamia

Long Before Trees Overtook the Land, Earth Was Covered by Giant Mushrooms 

Extinct tree grows anew from ancient jar of seeds unearthed by archaeologists

Scorpion sting gives desert mice pain-proof superpower

Are ideas to cool the planet realistic?

Free and reduced ebook lunches

The Monster Opera 
by Nancy Stohlman

Dead Animals 
by CS DeWildt

The Louisville Problem 
by CS DeWildt

American Hunger 
by Richard Wright 

Native Son 
by Richard Wright 

The Stories of Paul Bowles 
by Paul Bowles 
Robert Stone (Introduction) 

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek 
by Annie Dillard 

by Kate Maruyama 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn 
by Betty Smith 

A Widow's Story: A Memoir 
by Joyce Carol Oates 

New Under the Sun 
by Nancy Kress, Therese Pieczynski 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Ray Bradbury as an early writer and influences

"I imitated Edgar Allan Poe from the time I was twelve until I was about eighteen. I fell in love with the jewelry of Poe..... 
I listened to a lot of imaginative radio shows, especially one called Chandu the Magician... Every night when the show went off the air I sat down and, from memory, wrote out the whole script.... Chandu was against all the villains of the world and so was I. He responded to a psychic summons and so did I.... 
I was going into one of the arts... drawing, acting, and writing. "
-- Ray Bradbury from a Paris Review interview 

Recent Science Links and videos of physics, astronomy, technology etc.

Japan Tsunami Caught on CCTV

Find the stars around you

Breakthrough: The world's first net-positive nuclear fusion reaction
As Shaggy might have said, "Zoinks!"
Three Scenarios For Funding Interstellar Travel

Free ebook by Iain Rowan

Ice Age 
by Iain Rowan

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Ray Bradbury on Ray Bradbury

"[M]y big science-fiction influences are H. G. Wells and Jules Verne.... I’m a lot like Verne—a writer of moral fables, an instructor in the humanities. He believes the human being is in a strange situation in a very strange world, and he believes that we can triumph by behaving morally. His hero Nemo—who in a way is the flip side of Melville’s madman, Ahab—goes about the world taking weapons away from people to instruct them toward peace."
-- Ray Bradbury from a Paris Review interview

"The Very Slow Time Machine" by Ian Watson

First appeared in Christopher Priest's Anticipations.  Reprinted in several major anthologies edited by Terry Carr, David G. Hartwell, Kathryn Cramer, and Peter Crowther.  Collected in the author's book of the same title.  Nominated for the Hugo and Locus Poll awards.

Told in a kind of journal--updated annually or so--the very slow time traveler's tale is simple if mysterious to the observers, waiting decades for answers to their questions.  On December 1, 1985, the disheveled man appears near the National Physics Laboratory.  Scientists are puzzled, but even though they discover he's traveling backward, they are unable to get immediately the answers to the questions.  His predictions of when he reveals answers pass by.  They come later than he predicted.  After decades, they learn that when he disappears, he slingshots into the future.

Interestingly, the books that the time traveler reads parallels the narrative itself:  Robinson Crusoe, Journals of the Plague Years, and Journey to the Center of the Earth.  We have a lone traveler, isolated even in the presence of many.  They wonder if he carries a plague and he does infect the people--indirectly--as many work harder on peace, science, etc., knowing that future has some certainties.  Finally, he reaches into the heart of what it means to be an Earthling--intentionally or no.

When they try to read the traveler's lips they find he's traveling backwards, but because they don't understand, they assume he is insane.  He clearly knows more than they--about time, for instance.  Towards the end, though, he shows his true face--that he sees himself as a messiah that is infecting them.  They will choose him voluntarily or become robots.

There are frequent references to Jesus, so presumably the time traveler is be seen as a Christ figure (albeit, an insane one):  A man comes, changes the way people think, is reviled by some, sacrifices himself for the greater good of humanity, and will come again.

Reader’s Guide to "Stable Strategies for Middle Management" by Eileen Gunn

First appeared in Asimov's.  Later collected multiple times in several major anthologies by editors Gardner Dozois, Ursula K. Le Guin, Brian Attebery, James Patrick Kelly, and John Kessel.  Nominated for the Hugo and Locus Poll awards. 

Summary and Commentary:
The story has struck a business-world nerve, comparing corporate life to the insect world.  Editors Kelly and Kessel note its very Kafka-like influence, and Dozois points at its more SF'nal features of genetic engineering--all within a claustrophobically corporate atmosphere.

The narrator awake to find herself changed involuntarily by her corporation into a mosquito--likely a metaphor for their blood-sucking ability.  While involuntary, she does have and later uses this another human.   Also, she's not human before she drinks coffee and cannot drink coffee. She is part of the system, indicated by how she desires a leadership role and how she does not have a compound eye to see things from different angles (although she does have a comb to clean them, indicating that she may in the future).  She develops chitinous skin over time, hardening her surface.

She contemplates quitting; however, when the narrator learns that corporate leaders are squeezing her out, she fights back.

  1. What does it mean to the narrator that she's becoming an insect?  Is there more than one feeling?
  2. How does the corporate world see her becoming more like an insect?  What's the problem with that?
  3. Look at the passages concerning coffee.  How does that tie in?
  4. How are the narrator's actions as an insect positive and negative?
  5. List each anatomical insect part mentioned.  How does each insect part contribute to the overall theme?
  6. What does she transform into?  Why?  How does that play as a pun and corporate life?
  7. How does evolution play into what Gunn has to say about corporate life?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Ray Bradbury on SF writers reading SF

"I’ve always believed that you should do very little reading in your own field once you’re into it. But at the start it’s good to know what everyone’s doing."
-- Ray Bradbury from a Paris Review interview 

 Curious.  Other writers have said something similar.  I suspect Fred Pohl kept up with the field--often applauded for his ability to improve--but perhaps it stymies growth for some writers?

"Intelligent Design 2.0" by Ian Watson

First appeared online in Flurb.  Painting is by Rudy Rucker.

Adam and Eve appear on the scene already knowing everything--including things like shopping and predators--even though none of that is in existence yet.  Absurdity taken to the extreme.

This would probably be funnier if the source being mocked were made more clear.  There are likely many versions of intelligent design, but this isn't a version I'm familiar with.

Watson often does a fantastic job of asking "What if this were true?" and pointing out absurdities.  As a writer, I wonder which hits more readers squarely between the eyes:  one played with extreme absurdities or one played sympathetically--that is, heightened realism.

"Hive Mind Man" by Eileen Gunn and Rudy Rucker

First appeared in Asimov's.  Collected in Rudy Rucker's Collected Stories.

Diane hooks up with Jeff and Jeff hooks up to the internet.  He makes money through the internet--albeit not enough to support himself--promoting bands, chirping, flooding opinion polls with phony responses.  Dubious if not criminal.  But he's a sensitive guy, and as much Diane would like to dump, he does things that draw her back to him.  When he hooks his brain completely to the internet, it seems to spell doom for the relationship. He's a walking advertisement.

The ending threw me for a loop.  I'd expected--was set up for?--one ending and received quite another.  I do appreciate the change-up, though.  More fun.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Ray Bradbury on Fahrenheit 451 (and SF taking an idea and turning it into a story)

You’re dealing with book burning, a very serious subject. You’ve got to be careful you don’t start lecturing people. So you put your story a few years into the future and you invent a fireman who has been burning books instead of putting out fires.... and locked into [a great suspense story with a grand idea] is this great truth you want to tell, without pontificating....
Instead of looking into the face of truth, you [Perseus] look over your shoulder into the bronze surface of a reflecting shield. Then you reach back with your sword and cut off the head of Medusa.  Science fiction pretends to look into the future but it’s really looking at a reflection... already in front of us. So you have a ricochet vision, a ricochet that enables you to have fun with it, instead of being self-conscious and superintellectual. 
-- Ray Bradbury from a Paris Review interview 

Education links

Thomas Hardy writes a novel--a sentence anyway (Monty Python).

Kelly Searsmith offers editing services.

The cost of illiteracy

Speech against the Common Core (I have no dog in this fight since I am not presently part of the US Education system--I just thought it interesting):

"Differences" by Eric Brown

First appeared in Albedo One.

A celebration of books in the way similar to that of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.  Here, Daniels 347 finds a book on what (although her prosecutors insist that she had been given the book and want to know the giver's identity).  Apparently, in this future society, sameness is revered, where even sex is packaged into a "fast-food" commodity, and this book has taught her the value of differences.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Ray Bradbury on Early SF writers

"When I was a young writer[,] if you went to a party and told somebody you were a science-fiction writer[,] you would be insulted. They would call you Flash Gordon all evening, or Buck Rogers.... We were all closet science-fiction writers."
-- Ray Bradbury from a Paris Review interview


Kate Maruyama

Kij Johnson

Stephen R Donaldson

Douglas Lain

Susan Palwick

Richard Bowes

Margo Lanagan

Don Sakers

Ray Russell

Nick Mamatas

"Like Snow" by Brian Richmond

First appeared in Albedo One.

People--ghosts?--start to appear all over the community.  They are insubstantial and do not move.  Many people are confused about what to call them--the dead or aliens--but Danny is grateful for their presence, especially as his family is falling apart.  Even if they don't respond, they seem to sympathize.  Others, however, don't feel their presence is welcome.  They seem grateful when the presences fade away.  By then, Danny's parents have separated, and Danny has no one to turn to.

Interestingly,  the change is the parents' relationship comes with Danny's initial fear of the beings, which drives a wedge between his parents (or seems to).  We appear to have an omniscient narrator, but whether Danny is the inciting incident of parental separation remains unclear.  Pretty good magical realism.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ray Bradbury on Ray Bradbury

"I... see myself as the Janus, the two-faced god who is half Pollyanna and half Cassandra, warning of the future and perhaps living too much in the past—a combination of both. But I don’t think I’m too overoptimistic. "
-- Ray Bradbury from a Paris Review interview (initially earmarked as “a bit informal in places, maybe overly enthusiastic” but isn't that part of the charm?)

Analysis of "Goldfish Bowl" by Robert A. Heinlein

This first appeared in Astounding, reprinted by the following editors: Groff Conklin, Damon Knight,  Leon E. Stover, Harry Harrison, Bonnie L. Heintz, Frank Herbert, Donald A. Joos, Jane Agorn McGee, Ric Alexander.

Two scientists investigate a pair of water columns on the Pacific Ocean--one climbs up, the other down.  One scientist's an icthyologist and carries a pair goldfish with him.  His heart is failing, so everyone refuses to allow him to travel up the column to see where it leads. His companion makes the journey but fails to return, so they allow the geezer to follow him up.

They indirectly encounter unsuspected higher intelligence where they least expected it.  They are trapped in the typical alien nowhere-land--a small, enclosed space where the characters have to hatch their way to escape.  They see themselves like goldfish, trapped in a bowl.  Unfortunately, the only way out is death.  To spread knowledge, the last living scientist carves on his own flesh, "Beware. Creation took eight days," to let those below know that other creatures exist.  They find him but fail to understand the message.

The extended metaphor comparing humans to fish felt fresh:  Both physically in the shape of their prison and their treatment and intellectually in that the humans are trapped like pets without any communication to their alien owners, aside from a feeble attempt to attack their owner.

The theme is foreshadowed in the old man's name ("Graves") and his inability to see the water pillars with a spyglass. Only with two eyes--binoculars--can Graves make out the pillars.  Also, the men cannot communicate when the loud speakers yell, "Range one.  Man and cast loose"--doubly meaningful in terms communication, limited range, and humanity being set adrift.

When Bill's body is discovered by Portuguese fisherman, they are no more able to understand the message than native speakers of English.  Since the message comes from Genesis, a religious interpretation may be allowed although it may not be an entirely positive one.

Relationship to other stories:
 Other writers such as Frederik Pohl, Nancy Kress, among others have tackled this challenging SF scenario.  What if you're intellectually nothing to your alien captors without any means to communicate?

This also connects to the two prior stories in the collection, The Menace from Earth--"The Menace from Earth" and "Sky Lift"--stories of ascending sacrifices.  What happens if your sacrifice is meaningless, though? Your life and life's work has been for naught.  While depressing, it is meant to be a thorough and honest look at sacrifice, rather than a rosy one.  Humbling, too:  There may be aspects of the universe humanity may not be able to comprehend.

Legally "Stealing" Jay Caselberg

I'd schemed an anthology years back, but the funding fell through.  I bought an excellent story by Jay Caselberg--a fine writer with interesting ideas.

Here's a whole bundle of his books for only 99 cents.  Steal it while you can.

The Jack Stein Omnibus 
by Jay Caselberg 

All of the Jack Stein novels collected into one volume for the first time. Wyrnhole, Metal Sky, The Star Tablet and Wall of mirrors, completing the entire story arc in one volume. 
"Jay Caselberg is Philip K. Dick gene-spliced with Raymond Chandler" -- Stephen Baxter 
Jack is a Psychic Investigator. The problem is his dreams and hunches point him the way. For the rest he has to rely on good old fashioned detective work and his streetsmart sidekick Billie to cut through the mystery involving corporations, aliens and the fate of the world.

(I still hope to get that anthology funded.  One day.  Not quite as infamous as Last Dangerous Visions.)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Ray Bradbury on What Sets Science Fiction Apart

"[T]he mainstream hasn’t been paying attention to all the changes in our culture during the last fifty years. The major ideas of our time—developments in medicine, the importance of space exploration to advance our species—have been neglected. The critics are generally wrong, or they’re fifteen, twenty years late. It’s a great shame. They miss out on a lot. Why the fiction of ideas should be so neglected is beyond me ."
-- Ray Bradbury from a Paris Review interview (initially earmarked as “a bit informal in places, maybe overly enthusiastic” but isn't that part of the charm?)

Not always true, but generally.  However, literary works tend to focus on the life between the details, which SF generally doesn't do (not always true).

Huge Book Bundle  has six books for the price you name ($2.99+), with a 2-book bonus if you pay $10.  Authors included:
Andre Norton, Bill Ransom, Frank Herbert, Joe Haldeman, Kevin J. Anderson, Mercedes Lackey, Mike Resnick, Nancy Kress, Robert A. Heinlein, and Robert J. Sawyer

Online Writing Workshop on Outlining and Prewriting

David Farland has a new online writing workshop available on outlining (Prewriting) a novel.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Ray Bradbury on Science Fiction

"Science fiction is the fiction of ideas. Ideas excite me, and as soon as I get excited, the adrenaline gets going and the next thing I know I’m borrowing energy from the ideas themselves. Science fiction is any idea that occurs in the head and doesn’t exist yet, but soon will, and will change everything for everybody, and nothing will ever be the same again. As soon as you have an idea that changes some small part of the world[,] you are writing science fiction. It is always the art of the possible, never the impossible."
-- Ray Bradbury from a Paris Review interview (initially earmarked as “a bit informal in places, maybe overly enthusiastic” but isn't that part of the charm?)

Cobalt City Rookies

Jeremy Zimmerman and Dawn Vogel, the editors of Mad Scientist Journal, are writers themselves.  Zimmerman has a clean prose which he uses to push the envelope with traditional tropes:

See Cobalt City Rookies for his short novel. It also includes short novels by Rosemary Jones and Nikki Burns.  A trio of super heroes fighting crime when the good superheroes have been disappearing.

Mad Scientist Journal

I neglected to mention the arrival of this magazine, Mad Scientist Journal.  It's a fun romp with tongue-in-cheek pretense toward mad-cap science.  This particular issue has an impressive list of writers:
K C Ball, Cat Rambo, David D. Levine,  K.S. O'Neill, K. Esta, Mathew Allen Garcia, Janka Hobbs
I am pleased to count myself among them.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Terry Bisson ebooks

One of the best living stylists in the field.  I've gobbled most of his short fiction like Halloween candy a kid accidentally left on the counter. Here are a selection of low-priced ebooks.

The Pickup Artist 

Talking Man 

Pirates of the Universe 

Voyage to the Red Planet 

More Stupefying Stories (from the Showcase and ebook magazine)

"A Hole" by Jason Armstrong

A guy comes over to fix a hole in a wall for a six-pack.  He finds doll furniture.  Super cool premise that didn't quite get its feet off the ground.  Dang.  (I was rooting for the story since I've lived in Nebraska, too.)

"In Vino Veritas" by Anatoly Belilovsky

Taking off of Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado", Belilovsky veers away from Poe's original, told from the other guy's perspective.  A tale of wine, women and song.

"We Talk Like Gods" by Jon David

A small treat.  Talking mice versus humans.  Interesting, fresh perspective.  It takes two traditions of these kinds of tales and mashes them up.

Preview of The Golden City by J. Kathleen Cheney

J. Kathleen Cheney [link to free fiction] Here's a writer I've enjoyed everything I've read--two suites of stories (~a dozen), which are equivalent to two novels. One was an Irish magic/romance thing:  Tales from Hawk's Folly Farm. Which I reviewed favorably on SF Site: 1, 2, 3.  I suspect a reader who has read and enjoyed these stories would be hooked for life on anything Cheney writes.

I meant to review her Chinese ghost stories, which I liked even more (the other tales available on Amazon) although they're hazy in my mind now.  Even if not always stunning, her work always satisfies--a mark of a true professional (not something all professionals do). Both story suites need to be packaged as novels.

I started the new book, The Golden City, and the first few pages seem to promise a book of manners, magic, and possibly class. I am intrigued so far....

Later, after another 40 pages, more intrigue, politics (although not overtly or annoyingly political), some manners. I am still enjoying it so far.  A tiny yet necessary expository hiccup at beginning, but Cheney's sold me so far.

The 19th century flavors the descriptive style, which matches the early 20th century setting in Portugal:  objects and people in relation to one another:
"A knock came at the door, and she jumped. She instinctively hid her bare hands in the fabric of the skirt. She was usually so careful, but she’d taken off the mitts that normally hid her fingers so she could help Isabel pack. Then she realized she was wrinkling the skirt terribly and forced herself to let it go. She took a calming breath, hoping her voice would sound normal. 'Who is it?' "

There's an artist's underwater city that feel like the kind of creepy weird and wild that Tim Powers might do. Count me in.

An excerpt is here, but you'll probably find it's the second chapter that will sell you.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Analysis of "Sky Lift" by Robert A. Heinlein

This first appeared in Galaxy, reprinted in A Century of Science Fiction, (1962 by Damon Knight) and Sentinels In Honor of Arthur C. Clarke (2010 by Gregory Benford, George Zebrowski for Hadley Rille Books).

A fine and moving story.  It's too bad only Damon Knight, Gregory Benford, and George Zebrowski had the insight to show it to more readers.

Joe Appleby is one of several military pilots qualified to fly blood needed by colonists infected by Larkin's disease, but it will require more than 3g's of constant acceleration to get it there in time.  Appleby is eligible to go back to Earth to meet up with a girl, but finds himself selected for duty, which of course he fulfills.

On the flight the primary pilot senses the flight is killing him, so he tries to talk Appleby into saying they couldn't make it.  The flight confuses Appleby's senses and doesn't understand what the other pilot is saying... until the ship has been shut down.  He restores the acceleration and turns off the primary pilot's controls.  The pilot is killed, but they arrive in time, with Joe cognitively damaged for the rest of his life.

Relationship to other stories:
Imagine you wrote Tom Godwin's classic "The Cold Equations" about the sacrifice of a guy instead of a girl.  That's "Skylift".  The scenarios are similar:  People are dying.  The only way they can be rescued is if someone unknowingly gives up his/her life.  Both have people they care about and would like to visit.  Godwin's is a controversial classic, read and argued over. This tale, just as moving for the sad sacrifice the character unknowingly made, hasn't been but should mentioned in the same breath "The Cold Equations".  Why don't people complain?  The answer to that is personal, but should reveal bias, get people to examine what they truly think.

The difference, though, is that Heinlein's story focuses on the sacrifice, the greater good.  Okay, you're in pain; okay, you're dead; okay, you're mentally maimed for the rest of your life; okay, you have something you'd rather do than save lives; okay, you'd rather live the sacrifice your life.  But you do what you have to do to save lives.  As for us, the living, our hearts break for you.

Joe Appleby is perhaps the same character--or a relative of--from "Columbus Was a Dope", who was Chief Engineer of the Starship Pegasus.  He may be a relative as they are still working out faster starships in the "Columbus" story.

So far, "Sky Lift" is the only story without a clearly ironic title in the The Menace from Earth collection although one could point out that the tale isn't about skies, per se, or about anything uplifting. "The Menace from Earth" is also a tale of sacrifice, but it's voluntary.  Here there the choices aren't left to the individual.  Also, another sacrifice takes place in the following story, "Goldfish Bowl", another sacrifice in the name of something whose underlying purpose is not truly understood.

Stories and links from Stupefying Stories

The Slushpile Survival Guide A Manuscript's Odyssey (parts 1-5 in links)

Interesting observations about naming stories

Aaron Bradford Starr's "First Impressions"

Alien contact seems to be far harsher than the diplomat imagined.  While their technology sounds out of this world, their prices sound awfully steep.  Or are they just funning us?

"The Cat's Tale" by Simon Kewin

Schrodinger's cat is mad....  A short revenge monologue from the POV of the cat.  It may be useful as a way to cement student understanding the Schrodinger's cat experiment although it's not explanatory.

Jackie, We Hardly Knew Ye by Carly Berg

Famous first wife seeks revenge for infidelities.  Her societal weakness, her ire, becomes her strength.

The Storyteller by Alex Shvartsman

Scheherazade's story is a little different than you thought.

Two, a glimpse

TWO: The 2nd Annual Stupefying Stories Horror Special (STUPEFYING STORIES PRESENTS) 

I checked out the first couple of stories in the recently released horror anthology, Two.  Evan Dicken treats readers to the background character in most stories:  What if all of those weird, old store owners you bump into--the ones desined to give local color--just before you meet the crazed villains, what if they're all the same person?  Sure, they might introduce to nightmares you'll never forget, but if they like you, they might just help you out.  Might.

Jose Iriarte visits the creepy "priest" guy who works in the infirmary.  He so puts Cristina on edge that she goes out of her way to keep the sick girls from visiting him.  The tale is bi-lingual and may frustrate non-Spanish speakers when the context of what was said is not provided although intermediate Spanish speakers should enjoy the piece.

Interesting concept stories.