Watch

Reading Watch, Rob Sawyer’s 2nd in the WWW trilogy, was awesome and worth the wait since last year’s Wake. Caitlin Decter is getting physically older but I expect she’s far too smart to be ‘growing up’ just yet. That is certainly part of her charm. Hell, that’s part of the charm of any teenager who knows too much for his or her age or good. I particularly enjoyed the incredibly quick ‘getting it on’ of Caithlin and Matt Reese. I love their first ‘date’ where Caitlin observes:

And — wow! — boy’s eyes really did do that. She’d read about it, but hadn’t yet seen it: straight to the boobs, and only apparently with an effort of will coming up to the face.

Webmind, on the other hand, is maturing incredibly fast. I’m very interested in seeing where Sawyer is going to take this super-intelligence in Wonder. I liked the ending with the poetic interruptus where the reader sees Webmind thinking in spurts around the single words of a human sentence. Kewl way to show human thought and speaking speeds as compared to the incredible speed of Webmind’s hopefulness.
Sawyer’s technical side is usually very well stocked with fact and there is nothing different here except that I would question Webmind’s ability to delete e-mails so easily and quickly. And more fundamentally I wonder how an entity built from ‘cellular automata consciousness’ would know if parts of it were under attack. It boggles the mind.
Like all of Sawyer’s books, this challenges and engages. Very worthwhile reading and recommended.

Coyote

Allen Steele‘s novel Coyote is an excellent, hard science fiction novel about the colonization of a new world. It combines politics, adventure and science into a pleasant reading experience. There are some minor discrepancies in the writing (like the river delta described in the trip down to the Equatorial ‘River’ being on the wrong side according to the map) but these are picky things and easily ignored.
The Coyote series was mentioned in two of the sessions I attended at Worldcon 2009, particularly Lots of Planets have a North. Steele was also one of the authors participating in the Atlanta Nights hoax novel I golbed about earlier.
I recommend it and would like to read the rest of the series!

The Diamond Age

This has been the first Neal Stephenson novel I finished but it won’t be the last. I tried to read Stephenson’s Snow Crash previously but I wasn’t able to get into it before I had to return it.  Now that I’ve read The Diamond Age I certainly want to give it another try. This is an excellent read about a girl and her primer in a future where diamond windows and airships made lighter than air with nano vacuum suspension are easily created. Where nano engineers can design almost anything imaginable and make them available, at a cost, through matter compilers fed by pure streams of molecules. The new economy is based on ideas and where old national lines (although they still try to rear themselves up) are a thing of the past. So without countries what defines which team you’re in? Stephenson suggests that phyles are formed based on common economic goals and principles. The Neo-Victorians, controlling the largest sources for the matter compilers and having some of the best nano engineers is at the top of the stack. In this story, Stephenson chooses to focus on the Vickys as well as their interactions with other phyles.
A Vicky engineer (John Percival Hackworth is one of the best) is commissioned to create a primer for a girl. This book bonds to its reader and transforms itself into the best learning device for her. It is designed to not only pass on knowledge but also to ensure that the reader has ‘an interesting life’. But Hackworth’s desire for his own daughter to have the same opportunity in life, leads him to create an illegal copy of the primer. This copy falls into the hands of the main character Nell, a young, poor and innocent thete (someone without a phyle). The story then revolves around the chain of events this unanticipated act causes.
This book was nearly impossible for me to put down. The ideas were very interesting and the main characters, especially Nell, were incredibly engaging.
This is not an easy book to get through but great works of art often incur a price. This art is very highly recommended and worth it.

Ender’s Game

I have finally read Orson Scott Card‘s brilliant novel Ender’s Game which is the first book in the Ender’s series.  This was originally a shorter novelette but was reworked into a full length novel by Card.  It is about a young boy named Ender who is a long hoped for military genius on a future Earth.  He is force trained to become the tool that will save mankind from an alien menace.  But Ender is, in the end, his own man or boy.  A product of his handlers but not them; the book has an incredibly surprising finish. 
I enjoyed it very much. It is intensely psychological and, like many of the best examples of fiction writers, Card dwells strongly in the territory of human relationships. That’s what makes Ender so interesting. In the end, Ender is more important than even Earth leaders think. The fate of more than just human’s is involved.
I definitely want to read more in the series.
Highly recommended.

The Night Wanderer

Drew Hayden Taylor‘s 2007 novel, The night wanderer (Annick Press Ltd.), is about a 350 year old Anishinaabeg (Ojibway) Vampire meeting a modern Ojibway (Anishinaabeg) teenage girl.
It has the subtitle ‘A Native Gothic Novel’ but I beg to differ with that categorization, ‘gothic’ implies something else to me. A dictionary defines it as:

A novel in a style emphasizing the grotesque, mysterious, and desolate.

To me, a better and less limiting summation would be ‘A Native Vampire Story’. While one of the two main characters, Pierre L’Errant, is certainly mysterious and has been, at times, desolate, he is never grotesque to me. Definitely not a typical vampire. And although Tiffany, the 16-year-old other main character, is frightened and helpless at times she has untapped inner strength. I see her as neither a gothic heroine nor could she afford to look like or be a goth. Taylor has created two very unique characters who inevitably clash with interesting and, IMHO, satisfying results. What I found most fascinating was Pierre’s view of the contrasts between his former culture and the current native culture found in Tiffany. I wanted more of that actually. Tiffany’s grandmother provides a sympathetic bridge between the old and the new as someone who yearns to hear Anishinabe language being spoken but lives patiently in the here and now.
All in all, a quick and highly recommended read!

Seed to Harvest

Anything written by Octavia E. Butler is science fiction gold IMHO. I just finished the quadrology entitled Seed to Harvest which contains the following novels in story chronological order:

  • Wild Seed
  • Mind of My Mind
  • Clay’s Ark
  • Patternmaster

The first two books tell the story of mutations in the human species that produce telepathic, telekinetic, shape changing and healing humans and the third; the birth of a new hybrid human through mixing with a microscopic but incredibly aggressive alien species. The last book describes when these two forms of human clash.
Butler was a visionary and her stories really bring you into a completely new and, I think, entirely possible and plausible future. It’s great and hard science fiction. But what makes her so interesting is that her focus is on more than just new gadgets and technology, she really explores social issues like slavery and race, religion, sex and politics. And through it all, she provides strong female role models but also develops strong male characters as well. Another interesting focus of hers is extending biology into the future: that is something (as a trained biologist myself) I often see done very simplistically in SF. Butler does it in a realistic and yet imaginative way. You can see this especially in Wild Seed with the character Anyanwu and in Clay’s Ark with the doctor Blake Maslin.
The actual books in the Patternist collection, her first series, were released as a set of five over an eight year period in this order:

  1. 1976 Patternmaster
  2. 1977 Mind of My Mind
  3. 1978 Survivor
  4. 1980 Wild Seed
  5. 1984 Clay’s Ark

so Butler actually expanded her original idea into four other books by writing prequels. And yet, when assembled in the proper order in Seed to Harvest they read very well.  Survivor, in story time, should come between Clay’s Ark and Patternmaster; it wasn’t reprinted like the four others – possibly because Butler didn’t like it afterward. And so it’s the only Patternist novel I haven’t read yet. It may be hard to find (I know my library doesn’t have it) but I’ll look anyway.
Also, during this eight year period, she had time to write Kindred too.  This shows how prolific an imagination and writing ability this author was gifted with.
Very Highly Recommended!

The Kite Runner

As I wrote previously, I’m a fan of Marc Forster. I finally watched his 2007 movie The Kite Runner last night and it did not disappoint.
The location in China, the acting (especially the two boys from Kabul: Amir and Hassan played by Zekeria Ebrahimi and Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada), the cinematography were all fantastic. The moving book by Khaled Hosseini was a richer experience, of course, but the film was pretty much dead on. I would have liked a little more reality when it came to the hell Amir had to endure to get Sohrab back to the US from Pakistan in the book, but you can’t have everything.
Khalid Abdalla did an incredible job at keeping the complexity of the older Amir believable. This antihero role was played meek, forceful, hopeful and tragic in all the right places. I also loved the beautiful work in showing the kites flying in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Very highly recommended whether you’ve read the book or not. Not for young children.

Writing my novel using Ubuntu

One of the nice features of using OpenOffice for writing on my Ubuntu machine is that it exports directly into PDF. So when I finished the major edits of my manuscript I was able to output it into the format that pleased me although not without a few twists. For example, I really liked the font ZapFino for the title. But this is a Mac font: so I just put my odt file on the Mac and used NeoOffice (the version of OpenOffice for it) to add it in. Of course, I probably could have downloaded a ZapFino-like font for Ubuntu but it’s fun not being system-dependent for my word processing. I can move from Ubuntu to Mac to Windows with no issues. It was fun to experiment to get what I wanted. 10 Point fonts were fine to read zoomed on my system but I found I had to change to 12 points in order to be easily read in PDF without zooming.
I’m using PDF because my reviewers are computer literate and it would be, I think, too wasteful to print out more copies than I already have.
The name of the book is “The Relater” and it’s a science fiction novel for young adults that reads a little like a fantasy. You could say it is fantasy but that with no magic if that works for you. It’s set on a planet in the distant future where metals are scarce and so little advanced technology still exists after the humans and several other races first landed five thousand years previously.
The hero is a 12 year old boy who wants to be a Relater or story teller. And the story begins with him getting ready for his rite into adulthood.
The story seems straightforward but there are three twists that affect him: a prophecy, a chance meeting with another race and something special about him and his relationship with the solar system. There was not enough time for everything to be explained in the book. It would take a trilogy to do that…

Finished my novel

Three words I didn’t expect to say. But now I can. Actually I’ve been finished for a while but I’ve been editing it so saying it’s finished sounds wrong but the main writing effort is done. I have read the whole thing through for continuity and made quite a few corrections but that wasn’t enough. I’m halfway through reading it out loud to the boys and I’ve caught more errors and other issues. That whole oral process of telling your story aloud to an audience (even if it is a small one) is an excellent way to find issues. Speaking of my audience, they seem to like it so far but they are not the harshest of critics. Once I’m through this stage I’ll be giving it out to some serious target readers. I’m looking forward to hearing what they have to say about it.
One of the biggest problems was knowing where to cut the book off. I did take a chunk out of the first book and put it in a file for the second book if I ever get that far. There are, I think, enough ideas for a trilogy but that decision is down the road a bit.
I plan to self-publish. I have friends who have done that and I like the idea of the control you have. I also have friends who’ve had problems going with a professional publishing company. These days, I feel, authors are treated very much like commodities. I don’t like the idea of being a cog in a corporate machine. I’m not under any illusions that this book must bring me fame and fortune. If it does and I do it myself than so much the better. But if it doesn’t then I will treat it the way it should be treated: as a stepping stone to improving myself as an author.
While I’m going through the throes of publishing I’m planning on working on a short story in an entirely different vein. I am planning it as a break.

Oryx and Crake

I listened to the unabridged audio version of this speculative novel by Margaret Atwood. She has amazingly crafted such intimacy with her characters. I refer especially to the most interesting hero of the book. Of course, the hero is neither Oryx nor Crake but the self-denigrating narrator Snowman. Jimmy or The Abominable Snowman, as he calls himself, is a movingly sad though resilient person.
I can’t help but think about how Crake, the tormented genius, saw his only friend. He obviously saw the strength in Jimmy that Jimmy himself didn’t know. He thought him strong enough to survive his own manipulation. Atwood is so incredibly good with character that I think I can read into Crake what he had planned. He needed someone strong to bear the burden of his new species. It’s obvious to me that Crake set it all up. He found Oryx just to ensnare Jimmy. He hired her and ensured that she had enough hints to figure out part of Crake’s sociopathic master plan to wipe out humanity to make room for his own creation.
So Oryx would have Jimmy promise to take care of the Crakers. It is all speculation, of course. Crake planning all that…? But he was smart enough to pull it off.
I give you Crake’s last words. They go something like “You know what to do, Jimmy.” Then like some kind of tragic opera, he kills Oryx. But why? Jealousy? I don’t think so. By killing her, he ensures Jimmy has no else but the Crakers to be responsible for. He knows Jimmy will react with his own murder. Crake expects to die. He wants to die; he is so possessed by his genetic masterpieces (his ‘floor models’ as he calls them) that he ensures even he doesn’t influence them. He can’t bias his creation if he’s dead.
I think that Crake’s convinced that Jimmy’s character, though strong, won’t effect his Crakers. But here is his error. The Crakers feel so much for Snowman that they do something that Crake had strived so hard to eliminate from their genes. They create an effigy or an artistic likeness of Snowman while he goes back to the Paradise Dome. They need him that much. I wonder what Crake would think of that. His intellect may be off the scale but he still might consider it frightening.