Life updates, adventures

I’ve been a little behind with things recently as I was dealing with a huge dayjob deadline at the beginning of May. It meant that I couldn’t work on writing for about two weeks, at all, and things got a little hectic. So I’m playing catch-up for the next couple of weeks, and then I’m off on a much-needed vacation for two weeks so I’ll be playing catch-up again once I get back!

On the personal front, I’ve been spending a lot of time planting flowers, what with it being spring and all. After a great battle of wills, I successfully planted a bunch of lovely peonies along the walkway. The S.O. hates most flowers, for whatever reason. He pretty much likes sunflowers, some colors of irises, black-eyed susans, and zinnias. Roses, which I love, and peonies, are right out. I don’t think he has to like everything I like, though, and I’m happy to plant flowers he likes, too. We therefore came to a compromise.

The peonies are a gift from my friend who grows flowers for a living. The flowers from our wedding came from his business, Flowers of the Sun, and I think that helped smooth the way. Plus they’re excellent landscaping once they get established, providing a lovely border along walkways. And I’ve agreed to allow the front porch to be surrounded by three types of sunflower.

I finally made it out on the trail a couple of weeks ago, too, mostly because I was going to go crazy if I didn’t. We did a healthy four mile hike. We all have a goal of doing a seven day hiking trip in August, but I am definitely not in shape to do 77 miles right now.

I also made it out to the local homemade ice cream place, where I got this amazing lavender honey ice cream that just blew my mind. There was also a coffee ice cream that tasted exactly the way fresh-brewed coffee smells, the way you want your coffee to taste before you become a coffee drinker (which I am admittedly not much of, on account of the caffeine).

It’s been a lovely spring, though we’re officially sliding into summer. All of my kale has bolted already.

Anyway, I’m expecting to do some more personal posts over the next two months since my energy will be elsewhere with the summer. On the writing front, which you’ll hear more about in the next week or two, I’m working on finishing up drafting my current WIP and doing research for revisions. I hope to have a few announcements about publication dates before too long, but I’ve got to finish some business end research first. I’ll talk more about that in my six month post.

Hope you’ve been enjoying the weather!

Mapping, stories, Random City Generator

Short post this week, but a fun one!

I encountered the Random City Generator a few months back, and I’ve really been enjoying playing with it. While I haven’t been doing a great deal of mapping for my stories recently, I do use maps a lot to visualize different communities. Previous to this, I have mostly hand-drawn maps for my secondary worlds and spent a lot of time clicking through Google and Google street view for my contemporary stuff. In my earliest days of writing, I didn’t map at all, and I think it shows in the weakness of some of my earlier work in terms of setting and worldbuilding. It’s a really great skill for a writer to have. 

I’m not sure that Random City Generator will entirely replace my hand-drawn creations, but I thought I would share this version of Herkun’s City below. You can see the castle complex, the river and the temple to Herkun with the square in the center, plus Goldtown (the scattered impoverished communities that have grown up against the walls, which will probably show up in book three). 

It’s a great resource for writers trying to wrap their heads around their worlds.

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Science fiction and science: believability in storytelling

So the other day I was at aerials – that’s aerial silks, where I go to work out my stress in a way that is simultaneously beautiful and brutal – and the subject of science fiction came up. Not in the way you might think, either. Everyone in the class technically knows that I like spec fic a lot, but they must have all forgotten because we started talking about bad science in science fiction.

Now, I have a decent science background as compared to the modern American public, or at least I like to think I do. So I understand how it can be frustrating to be reading or watching a story and suddenly get thrown out of it by something not being accurate to science, especially in a genre that is supposedly playing with possible futures like science fiction. I mean, my partner is a nurse and so was my mom, and yet somehow I manage to watch people deal with near fatal trauma and get up and keep walking on television all the time. But my position on science fiction – and the broader action, fantasy, and other genres that also sometimes fall into this trap – is more nuanced. I can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, as it were, because I really like the baby. 

(I apologize for that metaphor, but I’m not taking it back.)

Some of the best science fiction is believable not because the science is solid, but because we want to believe it. Because it posits something about humankind and what we can be – what makes us both hopeful and despairing about ourselves. This is the case for all types of fiction, but especially for genre fiction. 

Take The Light Brigade, which I reviewed a week ago on this site. One of the key ideas in this book is that it is technologically possible to turn a human being into light and then condense them back into matter. Let’s sit with that a minute. You are converting matter to energy and then back to matter and somehow managing to arrange all of the atoms in question into their respective parts and have a working human at the end of it. There is nothing in our science as it stands today that says it is possible, and a lot of information that argues the opposite. But this technological innovation is not the point of the story. It’s a backdrop, a lens through which we can see something new. This is a story about following versus leading and the institutional nature of evil. It’s about making change – about literally being the light, but also about metaphorically being the light. 

The important aspect of science fiction is always internal consistency. But there are also questions about what constitutes science. Sure, turning matter into light is definitely something you could explore through physics. But physics is not the only science – biology and neurology come to mind. There are also “hard” and “soft” sciences worth considering. Psychology, economics, and anthropology come to mind as great disciplines that feed a lot into certain science fiction novels.

Consider, as an example, the movie Arrival, which is in turn based off of a novella called Story of Your LifeThe movie is based off of a linguistic theory, the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. This is a hotly debated theory, as unpacked in a Smithsonian article linked here, and the film and story largely seem to take this concept beyond one that is plausible in the field. Yet the Smithsonian article contains this beautiful final paragraph:

While the specifics of the Sapir-Whorf theory are still viciously argued today, Goddard says that the film offers a thought-provoking example of how integral language is to our lives—and yet how little we know about how it works, even today. “It’s not really about aliens,” as Goddard puts it. “It’s about us.”

It’s possible that all science fiction merely flirts with the idea of science. All science fiction writers use new discoveries and technologies as a mirror to explore the human condition. It’s not about the innovation. It’s about the people who made it.


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Sci-Fi Roundup

My dad recently found out that I read science fiction. I’m not sure how he missed this, as I have always read science fiction, even when I was living in his house, but it was apparently sort of traumatizing for him. Contemporary science fiction thrillers and certain dystopias seem to not count. He considers science fiction to be involving space, and is utterly uninterested.

Now this was not my first genre by any means, but from Star Wars to Outlaw Star to Cowboy Bebop I have been thoroughly enamored of science fiction for a long time. Some of my earliest scifi reads were by Julie Czerneda and C.J. Cherryh, and I’ve continued to read science fiction in that tradition as well. So below are three brief recommendations of recent science fiction books that I have enjoyed – all written by women and all dealing with very different things.

For those who like an element of romance in your fiction, scifi may seem unapproachable. Luckily, Jessie Mihalik is stepping in with her new series, kicked off by the book Polaris Rising. I really enjoyed this book, which I have described to friends as something like Chronicles of Riddick, for the folks that remember that film, and something like Jupiter Ascending (but with a lot more action and much more internally cohesive). If you enjoyed either movie but they didn’t quite do what you wanted them to, I suggest Polaris Rising as the ideal replacement. It’s fluffy and fast-paced, in space!

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear. This rambling, first person standalone is full of strange space creatures and fascinating technological ideas. It’s not for the faint of heart, though – the writing style, while clear, is full of digressions that don’t always seem relevant (thought usually end up relevant later) and so it can be hard to track this winding tale. The thematic elements of the book are also hard to wrestle with at points, especially since some of the most tense moments of the book involve two people trapped on a spaceship, each essentially trying to talk the other into coming to their side before they both starve to death or reach their final destination. While there is definitely action in this book – exploding spaceships, high speed chases, and a rather large praying mantis creature – the main conflicts are cerebral. It’s a strange, vulnerable book that will not be for everyone, but which posits some truly fascinating and beautiful futures.

Lastly comes my favorite science fiction book I’ve read recently. The Light Brigade looks similar to Ancestral Night at first glance, but the tone of this book is far more gritty. While space in Bear’s distant future is almost (but not quite) bloodless, Kameron Hurley brings her trademark gore and grunge to this book about space marines subject to psychological and physical experimental technology that literally transforms them into light. This is a profoundly psychological book, but it’s also a profoundly physical one. And it does not hesitate to make strong assertions about power and how it corrupts. While most of the action takes place on Earth in a not-so-distant future that is terrifyingly plausible and there are no spaceships to speak of, this is a science fiction book that deserves a read. Do not miss it.


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Marvel’s Endgame

Hello, and welcome. Did you catch the premier? I did, and I recommend you brush up on the following movies:

While watching all the movies is a great goal, most of us don’t have time for that. These five should get you to a good place, though. If you have time for one extra, you may check out Ant Man and Wasp, or just catch the end credits scene.

Right. Now what did I think?

Spoilers, obviously, after the break.

Continue reading “Marvel’s Endgame”

Competence: The Custard Protocol

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about books, but I wanted to talk about this one because I enjoyed it so much.

I read a lot, and one of the reasons I read a lot is because I love to lose myself in another character, to feel their emotions for awhile instead of my own. Writers talk about “hacking” our readers, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re fiddling with your brain chemistry to help you see things a different way.

When you read a lot, there’s a chance that you will become inured to that fiddling. Of course, there are also those masters that always manage to bring it out in you – laughter or tears or, if you’re very lucky, both. One of those authors that can evoke laughter in me is Gail Carriger.

I first read Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series about ten years ago now, and devoured the rest of the books in that series. Alexia’s practicality – which sometimes bordered on insanity – was something I could commiserate with utterly. Perhaps that is why I so enjoyed this new installment of the follow up series the Custard Protocol, Competence. Whereas Prudence and her method of going off half-cocked was annoying, Primrose with her deep practicality, was someone I could get behind. And the core emotional conflict of the story – that practicality can sometimes cause you to make choices that are harmful in the same way trying to walk in too small shoes is harmful – was something that I felt deeply.

This story is a coming out story of the best kind. It deals with not only attraction, but with the broader implications of coming out – the costs, both perceived and actual, and how those are not always the same; the embrace of family, both found and otherwise; and the joy of finally being yourself and letting go of the ideas of who you should be. It is absurd, as all of Ms. Carriger’s books are. It is also kind. In short, I recommend it.


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A breath of fresh air: Kamisama Kiss

Once upon a time, there was a girl who loved anime and realized that there was endless amounts of it on Hulu. She promptly subscribed, and got lost in anime for months. This is not her story.

This is the story of Momozono Nanami, who accidentally becomes a god.

One of the things I loved so much about Kamisama Kiss was that Nanami has a very distinct personality. From the start of the anime, she’s plucky and angry and stubborn. In fact, she borderlines to tsundere status – but Nanami is also gentle and infinitely honest and open about her feelings. She’s a complex person, which is rare enough to see on the anime screen. Women in anime are too often put into very specific boxes – the gentle, childlike love interest, the boyish tomgirl, the insane seductress. They’re stereotypes that parallel but do not overlap American patriarchal concepts of women. If you are sexually confident or open, you must be unhinged. If you are too loud, you should be available.

How rare, then, to see a loud, self-determining woman who is comfortable with her attraction to the main love interest but who nonetheless is not overly sexualized? Nanami has been betrayed continuously by men in her life, but chooses to give them second chances – on her terms. She balances strength and kindness, force and compassion, and stays true to herself, all while growing into a power. All of this while navigating a world of magic that is mostly foreign to her, full of demons and gods and every kind of creature between.

In short, I definitely recommend the main series of Kamisama Kiss, especially the first season.

However….

I do not recommend the OVA. Let us pretend the OVA never existed.

As often happens in anime adaptations of stories originally told in manga, pacing and plot resolution becomes an issue in Kamisama Kiss. We see this clearly with such classics as Fruits Basket, where an ending was tacked onto the anime that made no sense, all the way up to one of my favorites, Akatsuki no Yona (Yona at the Blush of Dawn) which just…ended without any resolution. In Kamisama Kiss, they managed a little bit of both. The ending of Season Two had far too many plot threads dangling in the wind. In order to fix these, a three episode OVA was made. It does succeed in collecting and resolving the major plot threads (though not all of them) but it fails to leave Nanami as a powerful individual at the end. She is forced to give up her god power and her new way of life in order to save Tomoe, the fox demon who has been acting as her familiar.

Questions about how they will survive together – and whether Tomoe successfully becomes human, a key requirement according to the dialogue – are never fully resolved on screen. Overall the ending seemed rushed and generally unsettled me, especially when Tomoe threatened to rape Nanami while she was incapacitated, an incident whose emotional repercussions were never fully addressed. While knowing what happened helped to sooth some of my feelings of being cheated at the end, the hopeful and emancipatory emotional resonance of the series was largely spoiled by the OVA plot.

Nonetheless, Kamisama Kiss remains one of my favorite recent shoujo forays and will intrigue those with an interest in Japanese mythology as well. Give it a watch.


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Heroes and Dreamsnake

We’ve lost a lot of people in the past few years.

Perhaps it just feels that way because there are so many other bad things, and so the losses hit harder. Perhaps it is just part of growing up. I’ve just recently entered my third decade. It’s probably about that time. But you’re never ready to let go of your heroes.

Carrie Fisher was a hard one for me. So was Mary Oliver. This week, we lost Vonda McIntyre.

If you’ve been reading science fiction for a while, you’ve probably heard of Vonda McIntyre. Her book, Dreamsnake, is one of those canonical works that become their own entity, irrespective of author, almost separate from the author. Though no work could or should be separated from the one who made it, Dreamsnake has its own weight within the world of science fiction.

I first read this book in middle school, where I found it in the school library. I’m not sure who made the decision to stock that book in the middle school library of a small town in Southwest Virginia. It was shelved alongside Redwall and Jane Yolen, and I picked it up all unsuspecting. I have not read it since. I remember it so clearly, nonetheless. The desert landscape where the book begins, the craters from a long ago war, the idea that there were some things that could not be healed and that, sometimes, the only peace that could be given was sweet dreams. The found family Snake accrues in her travels, and the joy of discovery, the hope that remains a core of the story despite all of the darkness that inevitably fills a post-apocalyptic world. The book showed me what fiction could be. In some ways I have always been aspiring to do to others what that book did to me at twelve.

If we are lucky, we lose our heroes to death. Not to controversy, or an unkind word when we needed or wanted their kindness, not to villainy, but to death, which takes us all eventually. So though each of these losses makes the world feel smaller, I am grateful.

Look, if we’re lucky, we’ll leave some small mark in the hearts of those we meet. If we’re very lucky, it will be a mark like Dreamsnake left on my heart.


In less somber news, you can catch me this weekend at Roanoke Author Invasion from 10 am to 2 pm on Saturday. Stop by and tell me about your heroes.

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