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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Art of Humor: Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer: Court scene

The court scene is one of the more famous scenes in Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer.  Here's a clip from the 1973 movie to jog your memory (the 1938 movie is better with its knife embellishment and attempt to stay more with the novel):

Unfortunately, unlike the novel, neither film clip is funny, focusing only on the dramatic.  In fact, even in the novel, many readers might miss what makes this funny.  The novel requires a long set-up: Tom and Huck swear not to tell anyone what they'd seen in graveyard--the murder of a man killed not by the drunk Muff Potter, who was to drunk to know what happened, although he's the one on trial.  The boys try to befriend Potter in his final hours in jail before the trial --a trial where the defense attorney doesn't even bother cross-examining the witnesses.

Before they enter the courtroom, Tom and Huck have this exchange, reaffirming, reemphasizing everything the novel has laid out [from Chapter 23]:
"Huck, have you ever told anybody about—that?"
"'Bout what?"
"You know what."
"Oh—'course I haven't."
"Never a word?"
"Never a solitary word, so help me. What makes you ask?"
"Well, I was afeard."
"Why, Tom Sawyer, we wouldn't be alive two days if that got found out. You know that."
Tom felt more comfortable. After a pause:
"Huck, they couldn't anybody get you to tell, could they?"
"Get me to tell? Why, if I wanted that halfbreed devil to drownd me they could get me to tell. They ain't no different way."
"Well, that's all right, then. I reckon we're safe as long as we keep mum. But let's swear again, anyway. It's more surer."
"I'm agreed."
So they swore again with dread solemnities.
"What is the talk around, Huck? I've heard a power of it."
"Talk? Well, it's just Muff Potter, Muff Potter, Muff Potter all the time. It keeps me in a sweat, constant, so's I want to hide som'ers."
"That's just the same way they go on round me. I reckon he's a goner. Don't you feel sorry for him, sometimes?"
"Most always—most always. He ain't no account; but then he hain't ever done anything to hurt anybody. Just fishes a little, to get money to get drunk on—and loafs around considerable; but lord, we all do that—leastways most of us—preachers and such like. But he's kind of good—he give me half a fish, once, when there warn't enough for two; and lots of times he's kind of stood by me when I was out of luck."
"Well, he's mended kites for me, Huck, and knitted hooks on to my line. I wish we could get him out of there."
 So Muff Potter's a good man, which makes us readers want to see him freed, but Tom and Huck want to keep their necks, so Twain has them swear again because "It's more surer."  A grammar faux pas said with boldness and solemnity--rather, dread solemnity.  The contrast of their boyish youth with this lofty abstraction makes the moment stand out.  It's not a knee slapper, but likely to remind adults of how over-seriously they took their youth when young.

Without a comment from Twain, Tom's called to the stands.  Tom stammers.  The lawyer seems to know everything.  How?  Has someone ratted them out?  

Actually, no.  As we learn in Chapter 24, Tom himself did the ratting to the lawyer, before the swearing of dread solemnities.  Again, not a knee slapper, but the kind of clever that observant readers enjoy. It might put a smile on their faces.

You could complain about Twain's manipulation of POV, withholding information unfairly, but it works, and most readers will willingly go along with it as it enhances the humor.

Monday, December 30, 2013

What Ants Have Taught Me

I live in Honduras where not everything seals well.  That means ants will stumble into house, and if they find anything, they will leave a chemical trail that will bring more ants in.  Some of those will branch off and seek other food sources.  Soon you will have a house infested with ants, assuming you like to eat--a fairly safe assumption unless you happen to be a robot.  If the latter, welcome!

At first this was really cool.  I'd kill an insect and they'd dismantle it down to the wings and antennae by the next morning.  However, when they started crawling on me and inside my cast when I'd broken my arm, I decided I'd had enough.  With 10% bleach solution, I'd follow their trails until I discovered where they were entering and exiting.  After that, just spray the entrances and exits.  It is a job that requires...

  • patience,
  • observation,
  • study
  • and research.
Here again is my research on ants.  By the way, I love ants.  Cool insects.  I'm just not interested in housing with them.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

"Mistake" by Larry Niven

First appeared in Stellar #2.  Reprinted by Joseph D. Olander, Martin Harry Greenberg, and Isaac Asimov.  It was up for a Nebula.  Caveat:  Plot revealed.

While Commander Elroy Barnes is tripping on a drug, a mind-reading Martian visits and demands military secrets.  Barnes refuses.  Alien uses force and Barnes demands a little blue pill.  The alien relents because Barnes's mind is clouded by the drug.  When Barnes's mind clears, so does the alien.

Interesting POV piece.  It seems to be playing with a dual POV, but maybe there's really only one.  However, what would the mistake be if the alien is just a figment?  This may refer to Vishnu's dream where humans are just a figment of his dream and we are just his players without true free will.

"Wrong-Way Street" by Larry Niven

First appeared in Galaxy.  Reprinted by Frederik Pohl, Robert Silverberg, and Hal Clement.  It was up for a Nebula.  Caveat:  Plot revealed in fourth paragraph.

As a child, Mike Capoferri accidentally killed his brother, shaping him.  Doctor Stuart told him that time was a "one-way street."  After Mike moves to the moon, he proves the doctor wrong.  

The moons' new human resident discover alien artifacts on the moon--one a ship, inside a mysterious pyramid.  Mike fiddles with the pyramid by instinct and finds himself in another time.  

He guesses he's some three billion years in the past as the Earth is nearer than anticipated.  He wants to prove he was there, without time paradoxes.  He carves a hole with a sculpting pencil, which he accidentally lets go of.  When he tries to leave again, the moon is disintegrated and he has to go back further in time to save the moon.  After a few more mistakes, he travels back to find the aliens themselves,

Not just a cool onion-concept of time--revising and revisiting ideas of time as a street--Mike's past comes back to haunt his "present" as he discovers a third way of seeing time--a problematic one.

Last Day: Fiction Bundle

Support charities and authors.  Name your price for six books or pay $10 for a seventh book (which is actually like three books in one, Tim Pratt's collected fiction.  Includes authors:

  • Kevin J Anderson
  • Doug Beason
  • David Farland
  • Frank Herbert
  • Tim Pratt
  • Dean Wesley Smith
  • Brad R Torgerson

Saturday, December 28, 2013

"For a Foggy Night" by Larry Niven

Appeared in Fantasy and Science Fiction.  Reprinted by George Scithers.

Philosophically allied with "All the Myriad Ways" alternate universe.  A mathematician professor meets up with a stranger at a bar who says that foggy nights are when you might walk into a different universe, which explains why you don't want to go out on a foggy night.  Narrator walks out anyway and ends up in a quite different universe, yet still does quite well for himself.

"All the Myriad Ways" by Larry Niven

First appeared in Galaxy.  Was up for a Hugo award.  Reprinted by Robert Silverberg, Donald L. Lawler, Frederik Pohl, Martin H. Greenberg and Joseph D. Olander, including three major genre retrospectives concerning Galaxy magazine and alternate history.

Detective Trimble is investigating strange suicides, even of prominent citizens.  Why is it happening?  Trimble suspects the new opening of universes, finding universes of what-might-have-beens where your life turned out differently is the cause.  And then psychologically it hits him as it must have hit everyone else:
"There was no luck anywhere.  Every decision was made both ways.  For every wise choice you bled your heart out over, you had made all the other choices too.  And so it went, all through history....
"If every choice was cancelled elsewhere, why make a decision at all?"

The ending is left ambiguous leaving many possibilities on the table.  Or, more likely, all were taken.

Friday, December 27, 2013

"Jigsaw Man" by Larry Niven

First published in Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions.  Nominated for a Hugo award.  Reprinted in two major retrospective anthologies:  James Gunn's The Road to Science Fiction #3: From Heinlein to Here and Garyn G. Roberts's Prentice Hall Anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy.  Caveat:  I will "ruin" some of these Larry Niven stories as it is impossible to discuss the science without revealing the key plot points.

Warren Lewis Knowles (or "Lew" presumably not the same man killed in "How the Heroes Die") stands to be tried for the death penalty.  In his cell he is surrounded by organleggers who steals people for organ donations (Wiki for Organ Transplantations and the Organ-theft urban legend, so according to Snopes, Niven predates the urban legend).

Bernie, the doc, explodes himself and the cell, and Lew escapes.  As luck would have it, Lew escapes into a hospital.  There he runs across all of the harvested organs donated waiting to be placed in people.  He attacks them so that he'll have died for a reason.

Spoiler:  The ending shows what his crime had been to deserve the death penalty:  various traffic tickets, drunk driving.  That is, the death penalty became a more popular option when other people benefited.

Cool, resonant ending:  Society shifts its moral structure to benefit itself.  Cool, too, is how Bernie believes that Lew's crimes deserve the death penalty.

"How the Heroes Die" by Larry Niven

First published in Galaxy.  Caveat:  I will "ruin" some of these Larry Niven stories as it is impossible to discuss the science without revealing the key plot points.

Inside a Martian colony, John Carter (different than Burrough's character) kills Lew because Lew became homosexual on an all-male crew.  Lew tries to wreck the colony's bubble, not anticipating the colony members would be able to suit up in time to live and repair their colony bubble.

So Carter takes in a buggy.  Alf, Lew's brother, chases after.  They taunt each other on the radio.  Who will turn back first?  Who has the stronger will to live?

During the chase, evidence of living Martians appears (evidence of dead ones in "Eye of an Octopus"), but they are too busy trying to kill each other to do anything about it--the reason they are both there:  to learn more about Mars when they're only interested in destroying each other.  Nice thematic quirk, that.

The cool thing about this story is how it keeps revising the "ticking time bomb" effect (See classic opening to Orson Welles' A Touch of Evil also below).  This is what scientists or engineers have to do on occasion:  This didn't work, so what do we do now?  The "bomb" or the death of one or both men keeps getting revised as they calculate a new scenario.

What may be less popular is the change point of view.  This didn't bother me much, but it will some.  What makes a homosexual may disturb people on both sides of the political fence, but oh well.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

"Eye of an Octopus" by Larry Niven

First published in Galaxy. Caveat:  I will "ruin" some of these Larry Niven stories as it is impossible to discuss the science without revealing the key plot points.

Mars explorers find they weren't the first.  The prior inhabitants appear to have adapted to the acidic environment.  When they find something that looks like a well, it turns out to be used for the exact opposite purpose.  The explorers add water to a corpse they found:
"That nitric acid wasn't dilute, exactly, but there was water in it.  Maybe this guy's chemistry can extract the water from nitric acid."
What they'd achieve is not clear--  However, the corpse explodes.  Remember, kids:  "Add acid to watuh, as you oughta."  Assuming this is the reaction intended.  Below is a video of a kid pouring water into acid (out to prove his chemistry professor wrong).  The mixture only heats up (in his other video he does not measure before and after, nor account for different volumes, nor the fact that the water he adds has not been in the sun).  As an undergraduate, I've had the mixture fizz and splatter acid out.

Niven may have had another reaction in mind although the corpse is dry, so when heated, maybe it becomes kindling.

"Wait It Out" by Larry Niven

First published in Future Unbounded Science Fiction Show and Convention Program Book. Reprinted by Robert Silverberg, Charles G. Waugh, Isaac Asimov, and Martin Harry Greenberg.  This forms a part of Larry Niven's future history series, Known Space.  Caveat:  I will "ruin" some of these Larry Niven stories as it is impossible to discuss the science without revealing the key plot points.

Who wouldn't want to be the first to walk on Pluto?  Not you if its surface melts when your ship come in contact with it and hardens as the hull sinks halfway down.  The astronauts are trapped on Pluto and may have to wait years before a new ship comes.  All you have for electricity is a battery that's dying.

They encounter a helium-amoeba alien that sounds much like the one on Mercury ("The Coldest Place").  One astronaut removes his helmet and dies.  The other, though, decides too leap out in his underwear and hope that he's cryonically preserved.  He freezes and at night when it's super cold, he becomes a superconductor and can think and feel once more if not move.  Years pass in a blink.  He waits.

This carries resonance with some classic SF like Harry Bates' "Farewell to the Master"--not to mention some cool if out-there ideas.  I'm surprised it hasn't been collected more often.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

"Becalmed in Hell" by Larry Niven

First published in Fantasy and Science Fiction. Nominated for a Nebula award and reprinted by Donald A. Wollheim, Terry Carr, Damon Knight, Edward L. Ferman, Robert P. Mills, and Gardner Dozois.  This forms a part of Larry Niven's future history series, Known Space.  Caveat:  I will "ruin" some of these Larry Niven stories as it is impossible to discuss the science without revealing the key plot points.

On Venus, human/ship Eric (character from "The Coldest Place") cannot feel his wings.  When the narrator cannot find damage inside or out, there's a friendly stalemate.  Is one or the other character mentally unstable?  Is Eric being psychosomatic?  Is the narrator stalling, not wanting to do his job?  Or is there a third solution?  When objects heat, usually they expand.  In this case, Eric was losing contact.  Good science mystery with a healthy dose of psychology thrown in.  Worth seeking out.

"The Coldest Place" by Larry Niven

First published in If. Reprinted by Orson Scott Card, Keith Olexa, Christian O'Toole, and James L. Sutter.  This forms a part of Larry Niven's future history series, Known Space.  Caveat:  I will "ruin" some of these Larry Niven stories as it is impossible to discuss the science without revealing the key plot points.

The coldest place in the solar system is... the farside of Mercury--the side that faces away from the Sun.  It may support an unusual form of life.   Niven notes that some of the science may have dated.

A repeat character (see also "Becalmed in Hell"), Eric fused to his spaceship, possibly pays tribute to Anne McCaffrey's "The Ship Who Sang"--a story collected in Judith Merrill's Best SF.  In the future, those with accidents can have an adventurous life as a ship.

These aspects make the tale worth reading--how ideas of science change, how we might envision working on a future Mercury, and the idea that the disabled are not "not abled", so to speak.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Bigger, Better

Aliens vs. Predator 2 earned a 12% among critics, 31% among viewers, which is pretty amazing considering there really is no human protagonist.  What did the viewers respond to?  It's a very visceral movie--a slightly updated slasher movie with aliens instead of maniacs with knives or chainsaws--with lines that, while expected, still get you.  When Molly sees an alien through the window with her night-vision binocs, she screams, bringing in her parents [quote from IMDB]:
Kelly O'Brien: You know, when I was your age, I used to have these awful nightmares.
Molly: It was real.
Tim: [walks up to window] See? No monster.
[an Alien jumps through the window and attacks Tim]
What would have happened had the daughter been wrong?  We, the viewers, would have been disappointed.  We identify with the girl because we saw the monster, too.  We want the monster.  That's why a hefty third of the viewers enjoyed the movie despite drawbacks--we want something bigger and better than us.  This may be a similar audience to H.P. Lovecraft's universe where the universe, yes, has monsters and yes, they are bigger and badder than you.  Prepare to die.

Here's another example, Darksiders, a video game where heaven battles hell and there appear to be few good guys except the four horsemen of the apocalypse.  Note the size of the enemies to the horseman hero:
Although the hero has incredible size and muscles (not to mention a massive blade), his enemies are all bigger and muscly-er.  Now this only goes to show what prowess he has when he defeats his enemies, but it's the idea that there's always something bigger and better out there.  This is essentially the premise of most comic books in fact, but usually the good guys win.

This bear's a case that shows Lovecraft's not always right--at least many humans are enchanted by a bear that could maul us but instead does this:
Adorable, no?  In part because he could maul but instead waves hello--at least that's what we're trying to attribute to it anthropomorphically.  And it's our response I'm interested in.  What fascinates us?

Free and Reduced ebook lunches (Award winning and nominated works)

After: First Light (AFTER post-apocalyptic series, Book 0) 
by Scott Nicholson 

After: The Shock (AFTER post-apocalyptic series, Book 1) 
by Scott Nicholson 

Finalist for Crawford and Stoker awards.

Philip K. Dick award-winning SF

Nominated for a Locus award

Nominated for Locus and Gandalf awards 

Winner of the Golden Duck.

Winner of Hugo, World Fantasy, Locus, Geffen, Mythopoeic, SF Site awards.  Nominated for many others.

Winner of the Andre Norton Award


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Gateway ebooks for 3.79+


  1. Mary Gentle
  2. Keith Roberts
  3. Ian Watson
  4. Norman Spinrad
  5. Colin Greenland
  6. Rachel Pollack
  7. Bob Shaw
  8. Garry Kilworth
  9. E.E.'Doc' Smith
  10. Pat Cadigan 
  11. John Brunner 
  12. Barry N. Malzberg 
  13. Barrington J. Bayley 
  14. Richard Cowper
  15. Keith Roberts
  16. others

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Wolverton Novel Outline Workshop

If you're a writer, here's another way you can help the Wolvertons and yourself.  Take a workshop from David Farland.  He gives you his all:

Prewriting — From Brainstorming to Outlines $349
"In this 7-week workshop, learn how to brainstorm a complex novel or screenplay–from setting, through casting, conflicts, and plotting, up through creating a final outline."
It's more work than I expected, but it's worth the price of admission.  It will help you envision a well-rounded novel.  I've fumbled at novels before and made little headway, not sure how to proceed.  Farland clears the path for you, but some of those lessons are a sharp learning curve.  "You want me to do what? how?"  As soon as you belt yourself in for an extended ride through your own imagination, you'll feel like you've built a better amusement park.

Other courses are newly available.

One Good Fall by David Farland

Despite warnings from his parents, Ben Wolverton longboarded without a helmet.  On a steep hill new to Ben and his friend, Ben fell so hard he had to life-flighted to a hospital and was in a coma for a month.

At times, Ben's prognosis was grim.  Expenses accrued, upwards of a million, which the family is still trying to pay off.

This book serves multiple purposes:  to warn those who choose not to wear helmets and to help the family crawl out from a tremendous debt.  You can help the Wolvertons and any loved ones who don't heed Ben's example, through the purchase of this book.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Interesting ebooks newly released and/or on sale

Fantastic fantasist Brandon Sanderson has two ebooks on sale:  Infinity Blade: Awakening and Infinity Blade: Redemption.

I've read two of his novellas so far (not these yet)--both imaginative, potent works.  One of which went on to win a Hugo.


Good prices (less than $5) on two massive and massively cool collections (not literally massive since they're ebooks, but they're full of energy which Einstein tells us is the same):

The Jack Vance Treasury

The Greatship by Robert Reed

Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due on finding your soulmate

Free mp3 on finding your soulmate.  It's to promote a larger product that on sale until the end of the year, Soulmate Process.

Rather interesting.  They say you should write down who your ideal mate should be, and ask someone close to that ideal what their ideal is.  It should be close what/who you are and give you hints on where/how to change.

Monday, December 16, 2013

"Chip Crockett's Christmas Carol" by Elizabeth Hand

Brendan is driven insane by his job, his four-year-old autistic son, Peter and a down-on-his-luck high-school buddy, Tony Kemper, who used to be big in the 70s punk scene.   Like Scrooge from Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol", Brendan has something to learn.

A largely literary work with some speculation (i.e. slipstream), this short novel first appeared in Sci Fiction.  Sales go to Austism Speaks in the name of special education teacher Anne Marie Murphy, who was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting..

Gornenghast trilogy by Mervyn Peake

Gormenhast trilogy -- what do you think?  If you like it, why?

Here are other people's assessments:


I've only read the first quarter of the first book, but it's slow slogging.  Current assessment:

The Good

  • Characterization:  Quick and deft as Dickens--you get a vivid sense of them
  • Writing: Sometimes juicy and inspired
  • Setting:  Unusual, labyrinthine, byzantine

The Difficult 

  • Characters: hate each other (or soon will), little development (perhaps that's the point--seems a critique on classed society)
  • Plot:  The characters are going nowhere very slowly
  • Writing:  Sometimes dry and academic

I'll keep at it to see for myself if it's worth the effort.  If you're a Peake fan or not, I'd be interested in your opinion.

Free and reduced ebook lunches

Reality Check 
by David Brin

The Giving Plague 
by David Brin

If This Isn't Nice, What Is?: Advice for the Young 
by Kurt Vonnegut 

The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty 
by Eudora Welty 

The Stories of Paul Bowles 
by Paul Bowles 

by Neil Gaiman 

Fire in the Hole: Stories 
by Elmore Leonard 

by Don DeLillo 

The Tree 
by John Fowles 

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking 
by Susan Cain 

If on a winter's night a traveler 
by Italo Calvino 

A Passage to India 
E.M. Forster 

Asst. Malcolm Gladwell 

Arc: Volume 1 

Friday, December 13, 2013


Nnedi Okorafor -- lots of commentary on her works in the tagged link below

Christine Schutt did a cool novel called Florida which did as much between scenes as in them.

Gareth L Powell -- crazy imaginary monkey comes to life!

Matt Mason -- very colloquial and poignant poet with a touch of wit and humor

Lou Anders -- in his editorial capacity (shortly in an authorial capacity, no doubt)

Joe Lansdale -- author of gritty works

"Laudate Dominum (for many voices)" by D. P. Watt

Appears in Shadows and Tall Trees (editor Michael Kelly).

Stephen Walker is a curmudgeon, a grumpy old man who requires of others what he does not of himself:  military service, no humming.  He is on vacation in Looe.  He plans to take in the wishing well and Mechanical Music Museum, but he can't find the well, and he stumbles on the museum where a large choir is practicing.  He lets himself in but cannot find the choir--a recording, no doubt.  The curator initially brushes off the visitor but becomes curious in Mr. Walker's voice....

An interesting tale with a horrific device at its core.  Mr. Walker seems to be just a random victim.  The beginning of the tale quotes Wittgenstein:
"How things are in the world is a matter of complete indifference for what is higher. God does not reveal himself in the world."
Interesting quote.  However, the tale is not as resonant because of it.  Why Walker?  No reason, except he's unpleasant.  He is, though, well characterized at the story's outset, and organically placed in his denouement.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

"A Cavern of Redbrick" by Richard Gavin

Appears in Shadows and Tall Trees (editor Michael Kelly).

Playing by the gravel pit, a young boy encounters a blonde girl... who's dead, hair full of ice--a ghost who challenges his being there.  The boy talks with his grandparents who poo-poo the idea, but then the grandfather goes into a shed with a freezer.  When the grandfather's caught, he explains that some jinn are fire and need to be frozen....

This appears to be an ambiguous tale if leaning toward a slightly realistic interpretation.  Some highlights of writing and emotional tone raise this above most stories.

"Casting Ammonites" by Claire Massey

Appears in Shadows and Tall Trees (editor Michael Kelly).

For the lit'rary set.  The narrator lives by the sea, near a hidden labyrinth.  A woman stops by and immediately spots it, to the narrator's surprise.  She asks pointed questions.  They discuss ammonites and snakestones and she probes deeper that he imagines.  The ammonite becomes more than a metaphor.

Interesting work that intrigues me to investigate more of her work.  This may not even be dark fantasy, but it sparks thought and from the foreshadowing, it seems clear the author put some work into this one.  If she has more in this vein, I'd like to mine it--a collection, even better.  The kind of writer that writers like to read.  A writer to watch.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

"New Wave" by Gary Fry

Appears in Shadows and Tall Trees (editor Michael Kelly).

Here's a chilling tale by Gary Fry.  Lee is haunted by the loss of his wife, who was carried off by a current while learning how to swim.  Even though she predicted such a death, she suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.  Lee worries that his son, Jacob, may be going through similar travails.  The boy's seeing things.  He seems to have interpreted the scarecrow in the wheat field as a boneless woman, coming for him.  Lee has already moved once.  He hopes this time it will work.

It's not clear why Lee did what he did when teaching his wife to swim, but why do we do some of the foolish things we do?  I bounced off the opening a time or two, but the tale gave me literal chills by its end.  That's the name of the genre, right?  Success.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Reading Update: Power Structures

David Farland kept asking about "power structures."  At first I resisted:  "I care more for people than for politics," but I relented to Farland's greater wisdom, and I'm glad I did. Among online investigations, I dug up two books of note--one for its usefulness, one for its dubiousness.  Both fascinating.  They answer Farland only indirectly, however.

Here are their slide-show summaries:
Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don't Hardcover by Jeffrey Pfeffer

The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don't Hardcover by Jeffrey Pfeffer

The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

Reading Update: Fiction

-- Rereading Anne McCaffrey's 1st award-winning Pern stories that made up the first of the novels. Still potent.

--Kim Stanley Robinson's Shaman (actually was reading it when my Kindle died)-- survival among the early hominids.

--Dan Krokos' Planet Thieves -- finished awhile ago and was in the writing throes of a review when a triptych of tech woes steered me off course.  The book's a fun YA romp with "alien" baddies.

--Scott Nicholson's Transparent Lovers, a PS Publishing noir-flavored novella about a detective coming back to life to find his murderer and stopping another in process.

--Cate Gardner -- short stories mostly.  Often takes a situation--sometimes common trope, sometimes not--and milks out the emotion of such a scenario.  This and her sometimes startling imagery are her strengths.

--J Kathleen Cheney's The Golden City -- approaching 1/2 way mark.  A cross between Tim Powers, Jane Austen, and a mystery--an original confection set in early 20th century Portugal--both familiar and sufficiently strange.  The love story's kicking in.

--Robert Heinlein (finished Menace from Earth collection -- I just need a stretch of time to write.

--Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer.  Loved as a boy.  Still delightful.  It begins as a picaresque tale, but slowly events shape others.  Wonderful studying how Twain twists his turns.  I still remember thinking, "Man, if Tom's this ornery, imagine Huck's Adventures!"  And then Huck wasn't near so bad.  His was still a good story, but for different reasons.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Reading Update: Lying

I'm reading various items.  Of note are books and videos on lying.  When do people do it?  Here are three TED talks on lying:

Jeff Hancock: The future of lying

Pamela Meyer: How to spot a liar

Dan Ariely: Our buggy moral code

Fascinating stuff.  Especially fascinating is when they disagree.  Several said you can't see lies in peoples, but others said you can.  What's the truth?  Are they lying?

Maybe.  More likely the paradox is resolvable.  Paul Ekman in his book on lying, Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage, said that lies change over time as the liar begins to believe his/her lies.  Also, knowledge makes liars more slippery, but presumably still catch-able.

Dan Ariely's ebook is on sale.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

“Eye for Eye” by Orson Scott Card

First appeared in Asimov’s and won a Hugo.  Also up for Asimov's and Locus Poll Awards.  Reprinted by Isaac Asimov.

What feels like a contemporary fantasy gradually becomes SF.  Mick Winger is being interviewed by what sounds like the authorities, what kind of authorities (their allegiances) becomes murky for a while.  Mick tells his story of growing up in an orphanage and giving people cancer he doesn’t mean to kill--some he loves, some he didn’t feel deserved to die for what they did.

At seventeen he’s working for Mr. Kaiser who accepts him as he is, but he runs into a girl in Roanoke who knows what he is and his abilities.  He’s a little attracted to her but he has to go home to Eden (in the Carolinas, but likely intended to say you can’t go back to your Eden), but then he finds they’re looking for him and will pull him to them, so he tries to go in the opposite direction.  He hitches with a guy traveling to D.C. but when Mick falls asleep, the guy drops him off in Eden.

There he meets his blood relatives who let him go to an orphanage because he was so powerful and could have killed for not feeding him on time.  In the colony of his people, the kids go unwashed for the same reason.  They have an inbreeding program to enhance abilities, but Mick doesn’t want to take part, so they try to kill him.  While he’s on the lamb, he learns a little more about the girl from Roanoke and her people.  They’re facing off for war.

Interesting meditation on the Biblical concept of “eye for eye” so often used/implied in narratives, often unquestioned.  Here, it's questioned.

Four lists of [insert random number] books you must read--maybe

10 best long reads

David Bowie's 100 Must-Reads

61 Books You Really Should Read & Have Read To You

50 Incredibly Tough Books for Extreme Readers

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

“Saving Grace” by Orson Scott Card

 First appeared in Night Cry.

Billy, crippled, goes to the TV preacher for healing, but despite his hope and belief, he’s not healed.  He goes away, bitter... but suddenly finds himself with the power of healing.  People come from all over to get healed.  Then TV preacher comes, asks for healing of himself who used to have a gift until he got greedy.  Billy gives in but preacher hasn’t changed.  Still, people come around to this poor side of town to get healed.

“Mortal Gods” by Orson Scott Card

First appeared in Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Aliens of different planets come and worship humans because all other creatures of the universe don’t die but pass on DNA as intelligence.  What one mortal human means as evil, the aliens take as blessing.  Interesting switch parallel of perspectives.

Links on Writing

Writing Fight Scenes: Graphing Fictional Violence

Free online writing "workshop" advice from Jeffrey Carver

On getting criticism

The Joy Of Failure: Improv And Writing by Jason S. Ridler

Fifty Writing Quotes By Larry Hodges

John Garth on "Tolkien and the boy who didn’t believe in fairies"

The Hidden Art of Achieving Creative Flow


Monday, December 2, 2013

C. S. Lewis on the roles of Reason and Imagination

"Reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning."
-- C. S. Lewis

Writers on Writing (interviews, etc.)

Jeannette Cheney [J. Kathleen Cheney] talks about killing…your darlings

Cat Rambo interview

What My Mentor Taught Me By James Patrick Kelly

Why I Write...Karen Traviss: Science Fiction

Elif Shafak: The politics of fiction
Interesting comment on how people are only associating with the like-minded and becoming more extreme, as psychological studies have pointed long before.

Chizine sale + post foulup

Chizine is having a huge ebook sale.


Out here in Honduras, power went out for about five straight days, so things I was working on were accidentally posted.  Will correct later.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Ray Bradbury on the Writer's Obligation

"Edgar Rice Burroughs never would have looked upon himself as a social mover and shaker with social obligations. But as it turns out—and I love to say it because it upsets everyone terribly—Burroughs is probably the most influential writer in the entire history of the world.... 
"By giving romance and adventure to a whole generation of boys, Burroughs caused them to go out and decide to become special. That’s what we have to do for everyone, give the gift of life with our books. Say to a girl or boy at age ten, Hey, life is fun!"
   -- Ray Bradbury from a Paris Review interview

Is he right?  He is so persuasive and "optimal," I feel a deep desire to have some of his shine rub off on me.

"Refugees from Nulongwe" by M. Shayne Bell

First appeared in Sci Fiction. Preliminary nominee for Locus and Nebula awards. Collected in How We Played the Game in Salt Lake.

Writers on Technology

Charlie Stross on the Future of Books

Tad Williams on "The price of creating a connected future"

Simon Owens first broke this story about those doctoring Wikipedia.
Does this undermine Wikipedia's credibility?  Only with corporations.  And those have been corrected.