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Friday, February 28, 2014

Mathematically Astronomical Links

Moon & Solar System
First video in history to capture the Moon orbiting Earth

Moon flashes Earth after getting pounding from MASSIVE meteorite
Largest impact yet recorded visible from our world

The Sculpture on the Moon
"Scandals and conflicts obscured one of the most extraordinary achievements of the Space Age."

A Saturn Moon Erupts

To Infinity and Beyond
When Infinity Is Actually a Small, Negative Fraction (interesting math trick)

First 'Habitable Zone' Galactic Bulge Exoplanet Found

Astronomers Find What May Be a Star Within a Star:
"The best candidate yet for an elusive Thorne-Żytkow Object"

Astronomers Find [Possible] First Evidence of Other Universes 
Our cosmos was “bruised” in collisions with other universes. Now astronomers [may] have found the first evidence of these impacts in the cosmic microwave background.

Attack of the Ninety-Nine-Cent eBook

Ghosts of Yesterday 
by Jack Cady 

Lost Things 
(The Order of the Air) 
by Melissa Scott, Jo Graham 

RUINS series edited by Eric Reynolds

  1. Ruins Extraterrestri​al
  2. Ruins Terra
  3. Ruins Metropolis
(Eric is editing a fourth in the series.)

Rayne Hall's Writer's Craft series

ECLIPSE series edited by Jonathan Strahan

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Review: "Chip Crockett's Christmas Carol" by Elizabeth Hand

Chip Crockett's Christmas CarolElizabeth Hand
Open Road Integrated Media
Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy
This novella first appeared in Sci Fiction and was up for the World Fantasy and Locus awards.

Brendan is driven insane by his job as a lawyer, 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 but now is living in Brendan's house.  Peter doesn't like his father touching him, which has to smart when he sees the school and Tony have more success with Brendan's son.

Tony and Brendan reminisce about the Chip Crockett television show, a favorite from the 60s that disappeared because they recorded over the old program. Only clips remain. Tony combs the internet for any trace of the old program and is in for a pleasant surprise. Like Scrooge from Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol", Brendan has something to learn. Tony, Peter, Chip Crockett, and the homeless represent Timothy Cratchit or "Tiny Tim"--the broken vessels in need of aid that Brendan's so reluctant to dole out..

A largely literary work with some speculation (i.e. a slipstream or interstitial work).  Sales go to Austism Speaks in the name of special education teacher Anne Marie Murphy, who was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting.
The Woman Who Married a Cloud: 
The Collected Short Stories 
by Jonathan Carroll 
I started this collection and have enjoyed much of it. May review it later. Recommended

Review: Don't Dangle Your Participle by Vanita Oelschlager

Don't Dangle Your ParticipleVanita Oelschlager, author
Mike Desantis, illustrator
Vanita Books

For some reason I thought of the dangling participle as a junior high/high school grammar topic. As author Vanita Oelschlager and illustrator Mike Desantis make clear, grade school students can learn the topic as well.

The book opens with a illustrated grammar puzzle:  What dangling modifer is presented by this picture? The cover also serves as a similar puzzle although it is not mentioned. The answer is supposedly on the author's website (I couldn't find it).

Next, it explains what a dangling modifier is and illustrates the possible humorous misunderstandings along with the correct understandings.  Following the explanation are several examples to reinforce understanding and potential pitfalls. Including the puzzles there are ten examples: eight explained, two that have to be figured out. It's nice that not everything is explained, but the book allows readers to work things out for themselves.

Profits from this book are donated to charities, especially toward multiple sclerosis, which the author's husband suffers.  From the site:
"VanitaBooks donates all net profits to The Oak Clinic for Multiple Sclerosis and other charities where 'people help people help themselves.' "
You can view a sample here.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Book Brief: Little Horrors by David Gerrold

In "Skinflowers" a character grows flowers on his skin. They become a sensitive part of him, so that he waits for someone to harvest them, but of course, when someone does, it's not pleasant.

"Rex" is a tale of miniature dinosaurs. Rex escapes and kills off what remains of what used to be one of the largest collections. It's a battle of father versus daughter whether to keep the beast.

It also includes “Night Train to Paris” (reviewed here), which is now on the Bram Stoker finalist list.

The collection is more of a chapbook collection.  Available here.

$0.99 ebooks + 1

(Repairman Jack) 
by F. Paul Wilson

Galaxy's Edge Magazine: 
Issue 1, March 2013: 
Stories by Robert J. Sawyer, Jack McDevitt, Kij Johnson, JamesPatrick Kelly, Stephen Leigh, Lou J. Berger, Nick DiChario, Alex Shvartsman,Robert T. Jeschonek

Writing Scary Scenes 
(Writer's Craft) 
by Rayne Hall

Waiting for Snow in Havana: 
Confessions of a Cuban Boy 
by Carlos Eire 

Education Links: If we want teachers to inspire students, what are we doing to inspire teachers?

"Hack School"
Commentary: Home-schooling for the internet generation as presented by one of its practitioners. Examples are few, however--more filler than fact. Many teachers already incorporate these today. A few old-school teachers may turn their noses up. It might be interesting to see data of results. And what should data look like/examine? How we examine this might be biased toward whatever method we want to win... which bring me to...
How to Get a Job at Google [all quotes]
  1. math, computing and coding skills
  2. learning ability... process on the fly... pull together disparate bits of information.
  3. emergent leadership: when faced with a problem and you’re a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead. And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else? Because what’s critical to be an effective leader in this environment is you have to be willing to relinquish power.
  4. humility and ownership: step in... to solve any problem and... to step back and embrace the better ideas of others.... [W]hat can we do together to problem-solve. I’ve contributed my piece, and then I step back.
  5. big... and small ego in the same person at the same time: [A]rgue like hell... about their point of view. But then you say, "here’s a new fact," and they’ll go, "Oh, well, that changes things; you’re right." 
What are we doing as educators to create such students? (That is, if we should. Google is not the only employer, yet these are appealing attributes.) How are our teaching environments/culture similar?

That last is a question I've been pondering:  Why is teacher education so incredibly dull, full of turgid vocabulary meant to inspire more teacher yawns than teacher lessons, yet teachers are meant to be dynamic? Instead of boring teachers to death, what are we doing to inspire them?

If you're a teacher, you know all this. But it's nice to hear someone else say it.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Review: Awaken Your Perfect Self: How to Become Better than Everybody Else by Brian Haigh

Awaken Your Perfect Self
How to Become Better than Everybody Else
Brian Haigh
Brian Haigh has a special genius for titles. The sequel is The Road to Hell is Paved with Kitty Litter: The Hunt for Hoenfhmfjn.

The narrator finds Jim Hoenfhmfjn on the internet and, moved, decides to write his story. The narrator follows Hoenfhmfjn, and winds up footing this bill and that as Hoenfhmfjn teaches the way to have other people buy stuff for them, to make others do the work for you. Eventually, the narrator does Hoenfhmfjn's teaching for him while he rakes in the money and doesn't pay the narrator, who winds up in the LA county jail.

It's a send-up of self-help gurus (and possibly the rich one pecent as the cover may suggest), some of whom Haigh may feel create a sense of self-worship. Hence, the drive to be better than everyone, step on the backs of others to reach the top.

This title sold 10,000 copies on Amazon, which may be due to the title (and cover) as readers ranked at 2.3 stars. Several questioned the validity of the high and low rankings, which I'm inclined to agree with. It's a decent entertainment. Possibly a number felt cheated, thinking this would be an actual self-help book; possibly other readers felt it wasn't as funny as the title promised.

I had expected a hilarious send-up, one joke after another, but the story makes it clear early on, that it is a narrative and not a joke book.  Nonetheless, one of two improvements might have made this better: 1) more jokes (the teachings are funny but telegraphed in the titles, muting their humorous context), 2) stronger narrative structure (through character and/or dramatic changes). The narrator could have started to figure out he was a sap, and Hoenfhmfjn could have sneakily zapped the narrator back on the path each time. Or some other development to let narrative flow through different channels. But it's a solid entertainment for a dollar.

In the sequel, Haigh frees the narrator from jail to chase down Hoenfhmfjn.

Free and reduced ebook lunches from Astrid Julian, A. A. Attanasio, Paul Tremblay and David Nickle

Free (Astrid Julian)
Atomic Mouse (The Kaplan Files)

Blowup -- The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction 


That Ain't Right - A Lovecraft Themed Anthology by Jeremy Zimmerman
  • "Cthulhu Mythos tales from the people of the Miskatonic Valley."
  • Update: Funded. They're approaching semi-pro level payment

Jamais Vu: Raising the Profile by Eric Beebe - Post Mortem Press
  • "Help attract BIG name authors to Jamais Vu so the rest of the authors receive well deserved attention."
  • May get funded. First level of support: $10 for ecopy of mag.

Dreams & Nightmares Magazine
  • More than half-way to goal
  • Selling tons of stuff. Including poet's own collections.
  • Best deal -- get all back issues and future issues of magazine [lifetime subscription] for $25

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Review: Oddkins by Dean Koontz

A Fable for All Ages

Dean Koontz
Open Road Media
This was up for a Locus award.

Toy maker Isaac Bodkins gives toys life, the ability to come alive only for the children they serve, but they must pretend to be lifeless around adults. Before Bodkins passed away, he passes over responsibility to the toys to find the new toy maker before another group takes over.

Rex and an army of evil toys--robots, puppets, Jack-in-the-Boxes, and a switchblade bee--come alive and try to set in place a serial killer as the new toy maker so that their reign of terror on the hearts of children can return.

Isaac's nephew, Victor Bodkins, feels the pull to step out of his work, and to enter something different. As he drives around, he runs into the evil toys who attack him, and the serial killer himself. Meanwhile, the good toys, ill-prepared to attack like the evil toys since they are soft and without the evil toys' armaments, must fend off both the other toys and natural dangers in a world where they are only to be alive for their own children.

While this doesn't have the children-storytelling voice I mentioned earlier in "The Voice of the Children's Author", the characters have their charm, and the tale conveys the pacing, suspense, chills and thrills you'd expect in a Dean Koontz novel.

It's curious that this is subtitled, "A Fable for All Ages" since the characters are toys, albeit animal toys (According to the a fable is "a short story, typically with animals as characters, conveying a moral."). What's the fable's moral? It may be good vs. evil (helpfulness vs. indifference, violence vs. kindness), or technology versus nature, or some religious parable whose parallel is not readily apparent. You'll have to decide for yourself.

Book Brief: The Finisher by David Baldacci

The Finisher 
David Baldacci
The author or publisher is sending out the first two chapters to create buzz for David Baldacci's new book, his first foray into imaginative literature. Is it worthy of a buzz?

The plot is, certainly. If you reach the end of chapter two, you'll likely read on. Vega has a good friend in Quentin Herms who teaches her the ways of being a Finisher. But something's up when she witnesses him fleeing the Wugmorts into the dangerous Quag.

The imaginative set-up leaves a lot of questions.  If you've read Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange or some of Margo Lanagan's stranger works, the strange vocabulary here may not challenge you. But others will be scratching their heads. The opening does not answer many questions, but I suspect we're living in a future Earth where technology has been swept away. Dogs (or dog-like creatures) are called canines. Hopefully, the rest of the novel explains the terminology.

If you're up for the challenge, this may be your next novel. Since Baldacci is a thriller writer, anticipate an edge-of-your-seat ride.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Women in and for genre fiction

NY Times interview with Alice Hoffman:
"I have no guilt regarding my love of fantasy and science fiction, only pleasure. I grew up reading the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. I chuckle over how this “genre” has become mainstream and how time travel, alternative universes and magic are now so everyday."
Here she describes one of a favorite kind of character--the complex--which as she points out, we tend to tend to flatten when we understand too little of human nature:
"the greatest psychological novel ever written, with the most complex character ever conceived... “Wuthering Heights” [--] when you’re 18 and you think Heathcliff is a romantic hero; when you’re 30, he’s a monster; at 50 you see he’s just human."

Review: The Otter, the Spotted Frog and The Great Flood by Gerald Hausman

The Otter, the Spotted Frog and The Great Flood
A Creek Indian Tale
Gerald Hausman
Wisdom Tales

The Otter, the Spotted Frog and The Great Flood, according to the author's note, is a Creek Indian folktale, specifically, but universal Native American tale about a flood. Gerald Hausman states that they are intended as moral lesson about taking care of the Earth.

Otter listens to Spotted Frog who says there will be a great flood. Otter Woman and other animal people do not listen because their leader, Honors, says no flood will come. Otter is the only one prepared and all other animal people perish.

When the flood recedes, the animal people are now mosquitoes, and Otter agrees to take on Otter Woman in this form. She drains his blood and he becomes weak, so she fishes for him, but this doesn't help. When she fishes again, she is eaten, and Otter plans to eat the fish in revenge, but the Spotted Frog says that Otter Woman is now the fish. She transforms again into human form. Otter, too, transforms. They become the First People. They are happy.

I agree with Hausman that this first section (second paragraph above) may be a tale of early environmentalism,  but the story keeps going, so that interpretation may be dubious. Rather Nature may be more of a model. It changes, so too should we listen and adapt to changes. One day, little animal (a parent may have tried to convey to their child) you will be one thing, but as you age, you transform until you gradually become more human.

It is interesting to read and hear the wisdom that other cultures have passed on to their children. You might come up with something different, but it, nonetheless, might prove useful to talk with children about these unknown, even scary future changes. As a teacher, I too wonder how I will convey the good and the difficult that lie in wait for my students. This story may well be worth discussing with the future generations to come.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Voice of the Children's Author

One of my chief pleasures in reading children's books is the authorial voice (or the book's storyteller voice), which tends to be different from adult books. I've examined a few favorite books to help nail down what it is.

Funny/Odd Character Names:
In Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the grandparents' names match: George and Georgina, Joe and Josephine. In Neil Gaiman's Coraline, we have Miss Spink and Miss Forcible. Sometimes the other characters have odd names but not the protagonist.

A Childlike Voice of Amazement
The voice may use "huge" or "very" (Neil Gaiman in Coraline) or otherwise verboten adverbs and simple words of aggrandizement (Dahl again):
"The house wasn't nearly large enough for so many people, and life was extremely uncomfortable for them all.... The bed was given to the four old grandparents because they were so old and tired. They were so tired, they never got out of it."* [emphases mine]

*The Absurd, Odd or Surreal Not Remarked upon
Note there's one bed for four people, two married couples in one bed in which they stay all the time for being tired. I first noted this in L. Frank Baum's Ozma of Oz as a child. Why isn't the character or storyteller more amazed?:
" 'Over to those trees, to see if I can find some fruit or nuts,' answered Dorothy. 
"She tramped across the sand, skirting the foot of one of the little rocky hills that stood near, and soon reached the edge of the forest. 
"At first she was greatly disappointed, because the nearer trees were all punita, or cotton-wood or eucalyptus, and bore no fruit or nuts at all. But, bye and bye, when she was almost in despair, the little girl came upon two trees that promised to furnish her with plenty of food. 
"One was quite full of square paper boxes, which grew in clusters on all the limbs, and upon the biggest and ripest boxes the word "Lunch" could be read, in neat raised letters. This tree seemed to bear all the year around, for there were lunch-box blossoms on some of the branches, and on others tiny little lunch-boxes that were as yet quite green, and evidently not fit to eat until they had grown bigger. 
"The leaves of this tree were all paper napkins, and it presented a very pleasing appearance to the hungry little girl."

Stating the Obvious (or the Obvious from a Childlike Perspective)
Sometime the voice tells us what we already know (Neil Gaiman in Coraline), which is part of the charm (is it because nothing should be taken for granted?):
"It was a very old house--it had an attic under the roof and a cellar under the ground."
 Here's a famous Lewis Carroll line that some may or may not take to be true, yet it has a certain ring of truth even if you don't agree:
" 'What is the use of a book,' thought Alice 'without pictures or conversations?' "

I doubt this is any way complete, but it's what strikes me on a quick revisit of old favorites.

Writing Advice Links

Scoop-It: Advice for Writers

Carrie Vaughn's advice for newly published/about to be published writers

Cat Rambo: Writing advice, superheroes, science fiction

John Irving: Advice to Aspiring Novelists: Don't Shoot Yourself

6 Pieces of Advice from Successful Writers

Writing tips & advice from Lovecraft eZine editor Mike Davis

5 Ways to Raise the Bar for Your Dialogue Writing

Tom Perrotta

Michael Swanwick's Only Writing Advice You'll Ever Need

Life & Health links

7 Reasons to Be Reading

Teachers and Bosses Reject Creativity? Something watch out for.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study uncovers the early-childhood reason many can't lose weight.

'Muppet Police Sketch' Mocked by Internet Leads to Arrest. Who's Laughing Now?

The Health Benefits of Humor and Laughter

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Free, new, reduced ebook lunches

Write What You'd Love to Read 
by John (Jack) Lehman 
Former editor of Rosebud

From FIRST Draft to FINAL Product 
by Michael Milton 
This guy is pursuing his master's in creative writing--possibly collated notes on what he's learned thus far. No publications as yet as far as I can tell.

A. A. Attanasio series:
Nebula-, Locus-, World Fantasy-nominated author seems to be having a series of sales on many if not all of his books.

The Shadow Eater 
(The Dominions of Irth) 

The Dragon and the Unicorn 
(The Perilous Order of Camelot) 

Lou Aronica series:
Until Again 
prequel novella

related novel


City of Bones 
(The Mortal Instruments) 
by Cassandra Clare 
I had a student fond of--rabid about?--this series.

by Steve Aylett 
a surreal novella/short novel which I found difficult because it does read like poetry. I made the mistake in trying to understand it. Better to simply allow the associative language pass by.
Cobweb Bride: 
The Complete Trilogy: 
(3-Book Boxed Set) 
by Vera Nazarian 
Quite a bargain.

The New York Times: Disunion: 
Modern Historians Revisit and Reconsider the Civil War from Lincoln's Election to the Emancipation Proclamation by The New York Times
Ted Widmer, Clay Risen, George Kalogerakis  

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Review: Magic Words by Edward Field, illustrated by Mike Blanc

Magic Words
From the Ancient Oral Tradition of the Inuit

Edward Field, poet
Mike Blanc, illustrator
Vanita Books

This picture book captures a magic of beginnings of the Inuit people on Earth, back when words could make things happen. Danish explorer Knud Rasmussen jotted the story down in 1921, which Edward Field, a poet with a shelf of trophies, translated into English.

The words tend toward the abstract, but with the illustrations, the combined whole creates a dynamic and inspiring work. My own imaginative cog wheels spun. The fertile land spawns people who become animals, animals people. While the words down create a since of building climax, the pictures do. Towards the end, the abstract pictures, with their slight hint of three dimensions, became unobtrusively complex so that you may not immediately notice the images have dual images humans and animals within one another.

I'm sure kids will love it, too.

Review: Live To Write Another Day by Dean Orion

Live To Write Another Day
A Survival Guide for Screenwriters and Creative Storytellers
Dean Orion
Sky Father Media
Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) Members' Titles

Dean Orion has written an atypical yet nonetheless useful volume for writers with plenty of encouragement and new ways to look at the lifestyle. The title contains more information than it appears:

  • "Survival" indicates not plot/character/setting advice but advice to keep your writing lifestyle going.
  • "Screenwriters and Creative Storytellers" indicates a broad range of writers who use story, but most people will automatically think "novelist" when they think of writers. Orion has made his career writing scripts for movies (bought but not produced) and for video games. This alone should help open writers' eyes to the broad possibilities out there if you want to be a writer.
The book is divided into the following sections:
  1. "The Writer Gene" -- the "gene" is the desire to write stories (although if you don't write for extended periods, you may not be a writer).
  2. "The Art of Procrastination" -- just because you're not writing does not mean you're not writing. He sees writer's block differently. It's part of the creative process that will help you get through the problem you've encountered. The key: Don't get anxious about not writing but use it to inform you.
  3. "The Write Environment" -- Find different places where you only write. He used a business office after hours so it was a place he had to go to write. (Great idea.) You need to get rid of distractions and temptations. The writer only needs a desk, chair and an outlet. But sometimes you need to change that location to reinvigorate creativity.
  4. "Writer's Block" is a myth. You just need a creative solution. The solution exists. Your brain may naturally go through these processes in seeking the answer. Simply relax and trust that it's there in the big picture, and find the process to get there. Use similar situations you've come across in your or other people's writing. Your problem may have occurred earlier in the story.
  5. "Tuning in the Radio" -- Story's have a perfect form. Research so you don't panic later. Take a broad range of notes without limiting yourself. Write down notes, then concepts, then create your story outline. The story doesn't have to be perfect. You'll fill in the blanks as you go along. Use index cards or a whiteboard so you can view and rearrange things as necessary. Dig deeper into characters. Interview similar people around you. Write one line for each scene and see if the story flows.
  6. "This Draft's for You" -- Don't share your work until you have a first draft (I recall Larry Niven did, though). Use this story to exorcise problems or feelings. When you give the story out to be critiqued, make sure it's ready for outside influence.
  7. "The Art of Giving Notes" -- Notes mean "critiques." Be ready to give good notes and you'll be ready to take them. Accept other people's feeling. Let them feel like they're a part of your team. Don't just offer problems but concrete ideas (some writers get positively irate when they receive concrete ideas, but I'm with him on this--not that a writer has to do "X" but seeing what a critiquer means is useful). Be empathetic and humble because it's hard to see our own flaws. Ask what's the big picture, how clear is it. Look at setups and payoffs, as well as character wants and motivations in each scene.
  8. "The Art of Receiving Notes" -- Orion is a script writer so he has to be open to changes. Allow stories to be in a constant flux, state of change. Anything can go. Value the critic's opinion and pass over ones you don't find useful. Which notes can build on your story's core theme?
  9. "The Art of Executing Notes" -- Forget the notes on the rewrite. Use your index cards or whiteboard to rewrite major changes. Let go of any scene. How does each change add to your story core? Consider giving the note giver your outline before executing.
  10. "Writing Partners" -- Use trust, respect and commitment. Set ground rules. Be together for brainstorming. Be willing to sacrifice and compromise.
  11. "Pitching Stories" --  Be able to express yourself verbally and on paper. Pitches are performances of character, with hooks. Be open and flexible to whatever happens.
  12. "Writing for Hire" -- Gather your writing samples together. This is a group project, not yours. The critic or note-giver is always right. He's the employer. Shape the notes according to your vision. Same with writing classes. The teacher's always right. Keep your passion projects going to feed your soul.
  13. "Art vs. Commerce" -- financial success does not = writing success. Luck is important. Be ready for luck. Success = writer gene + process. It's a long haul. You define your writing success. Is your story the best you can make it?
  14. "The Write Community" -- Surround yourself with writers to exchange energy, ideas, and moral support.
  15. "Live to Write Another Day" -- He ends with motivational advice about your career. Don't play it safe. Be your own hero. Record your culture's history.
You may not have heard of Dean Orion before, but he's made this his career and has useful advice worth paying attention to. Grab a copy, study and apply to your own writing habits. I've read it twice, skimmed it and plan to read it again.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

New ebook lunches

Heirs of Grace 
(Kindle Serial) 
Tim Pratt 

David Gerrold has put out several musings and chapbook-length collections. Here are a few:
  1. Little Horrors
  2. Read My Shorts

Nocturnes and Other Nocturnes 
Claude Lalumière

The Engineer ReConditioned 
Neal Asher 

Alt Hist Issue 6: 
The Magazine of Historical Fiction and Alternate History 
Has a story by Douglas Texter whose work I admire.

Tanith Lee's Tales of the Flat Earth series ($5 each)

  1. Night's Master
  2. Death's Master
  3. Delusion's Master
  4. Delerium's Mistress
This and his other collection made me fall for his work. Where's his collection of new stuff? 


half-way to goal

hours to go and shy of funding.

may reach stretch goals

Free and reduced ebook lunches

Kevin Bufton has a baker's dozen of anthologies for free. I recognized few of authors (except K. Trap Jones whose latest collection, up for the Bram Stoker, I enjoyed).

Cat Rambo lists her writer-friends' books on sale.

The Best Horror of the Year: 4 
Ellen Datlow 

The Shambling Guide to New York City 
(The Shambling Guides) 
Mur Lafferty 

Without Absolution 
Amy Sterling Casil 

The Disappeared: 
A Retrieval Artist Novel 
Kristine Kathryn Rusch 

Eyes Like Sky And Coal And Moonlight 
Cat Rambo 

Near + Far 
Cat Rambo 

Karen Traviss 

Ship of Magic 
(Realm of the Elderlings: Liveship Traders Trilogy) 
Robin Hobb

Monday, February 17, 2014

Astronomical Survey -- scientific illiteracy or not

1 In 4 Americans Thinks The Sun Goes Around The Earth, Survey Says
"To the question "Does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth," 26 percent of those surveyed answered incorrectly."
Interesting AAAS study. What this study may show is not what it seems to show. Since I have taught astronomy/physical science/physics, I submit that most know the answer. The numbers of slower thinkers who can't remember the answer probably number less than 1 in 20. Twenty-six percent is way too high. This may call into question this method of surveying (or at least increasing the margin of error). Possibilities may have caused the respondents to...
  1. Lie (question may have insulted or pricked respondents to impishness)
  2. Get confused by the wording. Both answer-choices have a similar pattern of response, which has a tendency to confuse the mind: "Wait, I knew the answer, but right now I can't tell which is which."
  3. Accidentally choose the wrong answer. Sometimes we know the wrong answer and think, "I know it's not B," and we select B.
  4. Lose focus on the survey, distracted by TV, life, troubles, or something else.
  5. [insert your own possibility here].
One reader pointed out that mathematicians would state that it's your frame of reference that decides what's circling what. This would be an example of impishness.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Free and reduced ebook lunches (nonfiction)

How to Give a TED Talk 
(2-in-1 set): 
Complete Guide on how to Create and Deliver a TED Talk 
Akash Karia 

Hidden In Plain Sight: 
The simple link between relativity and quantum mechanics 
Andrew Thomas 

Hidden In Plain Sight 2: 
The equation of the universe 
Andrew Thomas 

Free Robert Reed ebook, Submit and/or Support Mad Scientist Journal

SF Signal gives you a chance to win Robert Reed's new ebook, The Great Ship.

Dawn Vogel and Jeremy Zimmerman's Mad Scientist Journal has a special call for submissions:  Basically, anything goes, but it also asks for unusual items like classified ads.

A new anthology from MSJ:
That Ain't RightA Lovecraftian Anthology:Tales from the Miskatonic Valley by the people who live there
This Kickstarter looks to be quickly funded, with a bunch of stretch goals, designed to pay its contributors more.

Free and reduced ebook lunches (Angry Robot--reduced more)

a romance of many dimensions 
Edwin Abbott Abbott 
Read the book; check out the analysis.

West of the Sun 
Edgar Pangborn 
Classic novel

Angry Robot

Elephant's Graveyard & Other Sci-Fi Stories 
David Alexander, Hayford Pierce 

In Sunlight and In Shadow 
Mark Helprin 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Richard III resources

Wikipedia on Richard III of England

The Trial Of King Richard The Third

Richard III Society

Video on his life

Richard III found!  (Still dead)

Richard III's face reconstructed

Review of Annette Carson's biography

Creative Richard III: Shakespeare, Movies, Plays, etc.
Shakespeare's play

Sir Thomas More's biography

Ian McKellan discusses the opening lines and Richard III.

His movie delivery of opening speech

Kevin Spacey on Richard III

Librivox recording (free but uneven performances)

Review: Richard III: A Small Guide to the Great Debate by Annette Carson

Richard III
A Small Guide to the Great Debate
Annette Carson
Troubador Publishing Ltd

The remains of Richard III (wiki) was found and genetically confirmed (article on genetic confirmation) in February last year, causing numerous reevaluations of who he was. Later, writers piled on his physical deformities and presumed atrocities. But who was Richard III? Who has the true portrait of this king (I mean metaphorically, of course, but here's a facial reconstruction, possibly biased toward looking like his last living relative)?

Annette Carson (author of the The Maligned King, a longer if earlier work on Richard III) tries to set the record straight by erasing likely misconceptions. She placed me firmly within her camp when she discussed her reasons for dismissing them. I'm all in favor of understanding people over creating villains, which appears to be the daily pastime of the collective internet.

"Fame feeds on itself. Newspapers and magazines were duly brimming over with articles [about Richard III], most of them reproducing the usual stories by the usual people who made up their minds about Richard years ago.... [S]ober facts would diminish diminish the sensational aura that surrounds Richard III.... [I]t's vital to avoid 'looking back', you have to put yourself firmly in the past as if it is the present."
Carson then proceeds to dismantle the more sensational aspects around Richard III's story:  Richard III did not usurp the throne, was not deformed (though he had scoliosis), was a beneficent and pious ruler, did not kill Edward V, the successor, etc.

The problem becomes that an anti-book (that is, a book primarily filled with all that did not happen) makes it hard to form a picture. Much as I sided with the author's stance and well-wrought reasoning, I was torn by the book's outcome. On the reread, I had a clearer picture and enjoyed the book more. 

I discovered another issue when I watched a BBC(?) program on Richard III: They had a storyline, a history of Richard III and his brother's violence that was a more compelling presentation of the king's personality. Although Carson's version was well reasoned, her version slipped away as I slid into their version of events. This creates a compelling case for finding the story in biography.

Nonetheless, Richard III: A Small Guide to the Great Debate probably works best as a supplementary text--in addition to reading Shakespeare's or Sir Thomas More's creative "biographies" or a more recent, researched biography like Carson's own, The Maligned King,  or perhaps one that opts for a traditional view so you can have a greater sense of the controversy.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Whole milk: Does a Body Good? or B.S. (Bad Science)?

NPR carried a story being passed around about people drinking whole milk being healthier. Is it a valid presentation of findings?

After they open with a personal story of a mother who uses whole milk, they write: "Consider the findings of two recent studies that conclude the consumption of whole fat dairy is linked to reduced body fat.... [H]igh-fat dairy was associated with a lower risk of obesity."

I do not doubt the studies, but the verbs are key: "associated" and "linked". We must distinguish correlation and causation. This is not a study of causation but an observation. But the italicized "lower" distracts from them.

They write, "It's not clear what might explain this phenomenon." Excellent. They list these two reasonable explanations:
  1. " The higher levels of fat in whole milk products may make us feel fuller, faster.... we may end up eating less."
  2. "There may be bio-active substances in the milk fat that may be altering our metabolism in a way that helps us utilize the fat and burn it for energy."
That last is a quote from Greg Miller, executive vice president of the National Dairy Council, who may have a vested interest.

The list makes it appear they've exhausted all possibilities. There's at least four(-ish) other possibilities not examined:
  1. People who eat less can eat what they want. People who eat too much have to look at caloric content.
  2. Some people have better metabolisms (either due to genetic causes or daily habits) and they can eat what they want. 
  3. Something not yet considered occurs--something we may never consider.
  4. A combination of these and/or other possibilities.
These other possibilities do not mean that the NPR article is incorrect. Rather, it might give listeners or readers a false impression.

Horror lists: stories, movies, writers, etc.




My Top 10 Horror Stories (Stephen Jones)


74 (huh?) top Horror Movies (Paul Tremblay)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Need another ten years of life? Play games?

Game designer Jane McGonigal claims to give you an extra 7.5 minutes of life, but her speech lasts 19 min. (Joke.) Actually, she claims an ten years of life.

The speech is interesting although you could probably do other things than gaming to get similar effects.

Here's a summary to save you more time and life:

Post-traumatic growth (some people grow stronger after tragedy--they have this attitude):
  1. My priorities have changed. I'm not afraid to do what makes me happy.
  2. I feel closer to my friends and family.
  3. I understand myself better and I know who I really am now
  4. I have a new sense of meaning and purpose.
  5. I am better able to focus on my goals and dreams.
I would add that some people are jerks and let it go. They're probably confused thinking they're saving their job, their kid, or the world. Let it go. As soon as you can. This doesn't mean you should allow evil, but if they let you, give them the benefit of the doubt. (Must remind myself of this.)

Tackle tiny goals to boost will power.
Improve/test these 4 areas everyday:
  1. Physical Resilience
  2. Mental Resilience (tackling mental challenges boosts will power)
  3. Emotional Resilience (baby animals -- 3:1 positive emotions)
  4. Social Resilience (touch/gratitude) -- like and want to help others.

Review: Dark Roads by Bruce Boston (Final Part: 6: Circling Back)

Eventually, Boston circles back to home, back to surrealistic mode but changed, darker, carrying his new voice, his new insights on the field after a lifetime of trucking down these darker roads....
"Fire Is the Devil's Only Friend"  
The devil loves destruction (and those of his ilk), but it isn't especially bright or pleasant companion.

"The Changing of the Flesh"  
A tale of overcoming, notable for its dual voices.

"The House Broods over Us"  
Lovely prose poem about house/family relationship that is as intricate and mysterious as myth.

"The Crow Is Dismantled in Flight"  
Another strong poem--well paired to contrast with the above--about a woman-crow and a man who "eats crow."

"The Restaurant That Is No Longer There"  
Memory plays tricks, invents itself where it had never been:
Just like its patrons,
creatures of blatant needs
and transient significance,
who have also succumbed
to time and been changed
by the years passing by. 
Tonight I invite you
to dine at the restaurant
that is no longer there.

"Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Vulture"  
A nod to Wallace Stevens concerning long-hated carrion eaters who often bode an  end approaching.

"Dark Rains Here and There"  
Fascinating poem about the muse and symbolic expectations. Dark literature may reap positive effects:
When the dark rains fell
on many different worlds,
here and there,
she learned to live with love 
when life seemed dry and spare
as the [cloudless... high desert] around her,
she found herself watching
for one more dark rain
she could walk in.

"Surreal Fortune"  and "The River Magnus Winds through the Shadow City" and "Thirteen Ways of Looking at and through Hashish"
These last three play out the promise of "Dark Rains Here and There". We return to Boston's surreal origins, but darker (I take the drugs as a metaphor of genre-like dreams, but you can take it at face value). It ends:
Tendrils of illumination
Cling to my thoughts,
Trailing in my wake,
Puzzling to those
Whose paths I cross,
Those ever immersed
In the dull endurance
Of their daily tasks,
Without illusions,
Without perception
Of what lies beyond
The stolid borders
Of the everyday,
Insensate and
Unable to travel
In the domains
Of space and time
And consciousness.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Inspiration from Octavia Butler

I had the privilege of studying with Butler at Clarion West. She probably had the most encouraging presentation of all our teachers. I remember when she came in Sunday to give us her spiel, which was a part of her life story as a writer, no doubt similar to the one you'll find in Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler, "Positive Obsession".

Her story filled us with enthusiasm (although I recall details she doesn't mention here, such as watching "Devil Girl from Mars" galvanizing her to write because she "could write better than that."  I still haven't watched the movie that inspired her. Apparently it's high British camp.

She had an ornery streak, which I enjoyed. When pigeon-holed (even if well-meaning), she'd lash back out. This happened to one poor lad at a reading who tried compliment but limn her work. It's on display in this collection as well as she talks about others have said.

It's a good collection. While she may have "hate[d] short-story writing", they garnered her first awards in her field.

Another essay, "Furor Scribendi" from a Writers of the Future collection, recommends that writers

  1. "Read" the good, the bad, about craft.
  2. "Take classes."
  3. "Write every day."
  4. "Revise... until it's as good as you can make it." Sorry, Heinlein.
  5. "Submit your work."
  6. Forget inspiration.
  7. Forget talent.
  8. Forget imagination
  9. Persist.

Support Dreams & Nightmares Magazine

Dreams & Nightmares Magazine is a largely speculative (sometimes flash fiction) poetry mag nearing 100 issues. It is seeking further funding here. You can sample ten issues for $5, or become a lifetime subscriber for $25. Both great deals.

The Rhysling-award-winning (and currently up for a Stoker) editor, David Kopaska-Merkel, is also selling off his collections.

Daily blog with often topical poetry.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Kickstarter Success: What's the Secret?

Who knows for sure, and random chance may come into play, no doubt, but there may be more. Here's my research and thoughts:

Fast Company:
"Want Your Kickstarter To Work? You Better Have A Good Story
More than half of all Kickstarter projects fail. Want yours to be among the lucky few? Having a great product isn't enough. You need to connect with people using storytelling."

"Five Essential Tips For A Successful Kickstarter Campaign"
  1. Make Sure Goals are Attainable
  2. Give Your Supporters Something Good
  3. Hit Feasible Deadlines
  4. Go Hard and Get Shameless
  5. Make a Great Video
Few of the following did videos. I'm not sure how necessary it is for anthologies.

Because I'm not rich, I don't buy in at higher levels. What can I do with funds available?  Ask yourself if you are providing value at as many levels as possible. I spoke to one author who was funded by adding several unusual values at different levels.

These are projects I backed, so they seemed to have promise. Comments below:

Ares Magazine by One Small Step Games
"80 pages of amazing new science fiction and a complete board game in a bi-monthly periodical."
Funded.  Most people wanted a game only--a few scattered others. The only other primary group wanted one game plus another that may have value one day. These guys just made their goal.

Dark Trails: An Anthology of Weird Western Stories. by Michael Knost
"Saddle up your horses and get ready for Dark Western fiction that will merge the horror and western genres like never before!"
May not get funded.  Too few levels and the goal is high. I bought in, but the prices scared me off at first. Are there more levels that could have been added? An ebook--if even a partial sampler--could be given at a smaller level. Do you have other ebooks available to add? Can the ebook be given with the books? What else can be added?

Streets of Shadows - A Noir Urban Fantasy Fiction Anthology by Steven Saus
"A new fiction anthology combining noir crime and urban fantasy. Life on the streets was tough...before things started getting weird."
May get funded. The ebook price seems steep to me (will they charge that at the bookstore?), yet that's the level people are buying into. They also want the ebook and the book.

Unidentified Funny Objects 3 - Annual Anthology of Humor SFF by Alex Shvartsman
"UFO3 is the 3rd annual anthology featuring offbeat and humorous science fiction & fantasy short stories."
May get funded. While the ebook-in-question's price may be steep, they have other price levels, including a bargain one (at least at this pricing system) which gives you all three ebooks. Again, the editor includes the ebook with the book. Since you can see interest spread across multiple levels, Alex Shvartsman is probably doing something right.

Waylines Magazine: Year Two by Darryl Knickrehm
"An online magazine of speculative fiction, poetry, comics PLUS streaming film.
Not funded. I suspect that people wanted more for their investment.

"Women Destroy Science Fiction! is a special issue of the Hugo Award-nominated magazine LIGHTSPEED entirely written—and edited—by women."

Killed funding goals.  The zeitgeist jackpot. Take a close look. These guys planned: tons of levels you can buy into. They unlocked double-subscription goals and multiple other goals with additional issues underway. Multiple partners in the making.