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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