Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

I passed all my classes with a B+ average. Phew.

Now to do it all over again...

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

December 17, 2011

Ugh. What a semester. In the past two weeks, I have completed three twenty-page papers and one eleven page paper and done four finals, which included two take-home exams (one of which ended up being twenty pages long) and two in-class (one of which had eighty questions). I don't think I've ever worked so hard or learned so much in a scant few months. On the other hand, I've never tried so hard only to fail either. I failed my data analysis final. I wasn't the only one--two other people (about a quarter of the class) got Fs or D-s. Which tells you something about the class, when three grad students can't pass the test and no one gets an A. The highest anyone scored on the final was a B-. It's possible I won't fail, if the teacher has mercy and moves us all up twenty points.

I don't know how everyone else in my program held up through finals week. Maybe because they're younger, maybe they're more driven and willing to sacrifice to meet their goal while I'm jaded and cynical. But I want to cry. I gave up so much writing time and potential opportunity only to fail and probably have to take a course again. I think this is the first time in my life where I've actually tried so hard to learn something but apparently been incapable of learning it. I'm used to being smart but this stuff just seems to be over my head, I guess.

I may drop out instead of trying again. Or I may try a program that doesn't demand I spend 30 hours a week on homework.

Oh well, I'm taking my cousin to a book signing with Brandon Sanderson tomorrow. Hopefully that will cheer me up.

Feed (pretty hefty spoilers follow)

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

September 18, 2011 -- 2:08 p.m.
Been awhile since I've posted a book review. I haven't been able to find my camera with the Worldcon pictures in it. My mother must have put it somewhere strange when she unpacked the suitcase I borrowed.

Anyway, I've read several books lately that I think merit a mention. First off, there's Feed by Mira Grant. Up for a Hugo, but lost to Connie Willis. Full of zombies. This review is full of spoilers, so if those bother you, stop reading now.

One of the cool things about this book is that it isn't really about the zombie holocaust. Most zombie books take place during an outbreak, and don't really look at the aftermath because its anti-climactic. Don't get me wrong, I loved World War Z and its ilk, but it's nice to see a zombie book that focuses on human beings getting on with their lives after seeing their world get taken apart.

In the aftermath of a cancer/cold-curing retro-virus gone wrong, a brother-sister blogger team gets invited to follow a presidential campaign. The candidate is trying to take things back to normal with real campaigns stops and 'press the flesh' visits, despite the fact contact with the live virus can turn you into a zombie.

I liked the female protagonist especially, and enjoyed the banter. This is an excellent study for writers on how to write characters with great quirks and great voices. Also, on how to get background info dumps across without being boring.

Still, the heavy exposition makes the beginning go fairly slow. Unfortunately, there's a lot of repetition, some of it intentional by the author (you'll be as sick of the finger-prick tests as the characters before the end). I think you could easily have trimmed out 50 pages and not have missed anything. Did we really need the eye-rollingly mustache-twirling parents, for example?

But the flip side of so much exposition is that the worldbuilding is fabulous. The society the characters are operating in feels intensely, hauntingly real. Mira Grant's put a lot of thought into both the science and the social implications of her world.

I wish Grant had put the same time into the motives of her antagonists, who are evil just for the point of evilness. Oh sure, there's some gloss of rationality put on their villainy. For example, the aforementioned parents--who adopt the twin protagonists for a ratings boost--supposedly are unable to form any close bonds with the children they've been living with for more than ten years because they're busy grieving for the loss of their original biological child. I just don't buy it, or buy that the protagonists would be such well adjusted people if they're basically living in a paparazzi-centered fish tank. We all know how messed-up the British royal family are, and this sounds almost as bad.

The book's other antagonists don't even get token glosses of rationality. Even when he's doing his wind-up speech, the main villain doesn't point to anything specific when he's explaining why he felt the need to get his megalomania on. If we'd seen just one concrete example of what he was so pissed-off about, it might have made it all feel less comic-book monologue to me. Especially since his machinations never seemed necessary, since we never got a sense that the events swirling around him would justify his dastardly plan. A close presidential race doesn't feel very close to the reader if we never see the other side.

The vagueness of the antagonist's motives was possibly intentional, modelling modern politico's tendency to get take in by empty-yet-powerful rhetoric. But at the end of the day, I felt the villain character was an overly-generalized swipe at a certain segment of the population. Satire looses its sting if it's too easy.

Also, plotwise, all the characters seem to do a lot of holding the idiot ball.

"Sure! I'll totally take orders from a guy who doesn't let me see his face or tell me his name! I'll totally trust that he'll take America back to the state it needs to be, even though I have no clue who he is or how he's going to do it!"

"Yeah, there was an assassination attempt on the presidential candidate a few weeks ago, but after one member of his family dies, we're not going to check and see if this death might have something sinister behind it. Even when the evidence is out where a reporter can conveniently step on it and we've been inside, cleaning the facility anyway..."

"Ooh, I'm an evil henchman rigging a bomb to explode in a hero's trailer. And after I do that, I'm going to kill the occupant's pet and leave it right where he can see it. If he finds a dead animal corpse, he'll totally stick around while the trailer explodes around him, right? It's not like EVIL HENCHMAN 101 teaches us about leaving everything the way we found it if we want our victim to get properly caught up in an explosion..."

The other issue that annoyed me was the book's treatment of the blogger/traditional media divide. I feel like this book came out of an atmosphere that's five, ten years old. I don't think there's the antagonism there once was, especially since print/web journalists make the hop back and forth all the time. The idea that all the Presidential campaigns but one would not include bloggers seems bizarrely retro. The idea that there will still be newspapers in thirty years in itself seems bizarrely retro, especially since going outside in this world is a hazard. What would the insurance premium be for a paper boy?

Even if I do buy the idea that the zombie apocalypse causes all the old flare-ups between reporters and bloggers to surface, I couldn't possibly think it would cause future presidential candidates to ignore online media. There are some things--including publicity seeking--that won't change, even if the world is ending.

Ah well. These are small pet peeves, and almost got me to stop reading, but I'm glad I didn't. After a slow-fuse start, the book ends with an explosive bang. Feed has a lot of great action, great humor, and great fun. I got the rug completely yanked out from under me twice by fantastic plot twists that had me jumping around in my seat. I'd totally recommend this book to people, especially people who love zombies. I would never have written about so many of my negative comments with this book if it hadn't been nominated (and almost won) a Hugo. It just wasn't on that level for me.

The frustrating thing is that this book could so easily have moved from 'good' to fantastic with a more believable antagonist and a few more red herrings. I think, in another few years, this author's books are going to be at the top of my wishlist every year. But it's not in that category yet.

Ten Minute Poem

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

Aug. 31, 2011 -- 6:31 p.m.

Well, grad school is more time-consuming than I expected. It's a little daunting to be surrounded by A-students who've been in the full-immersion class environment more recently than I. I'm used to competing with other slackers, not younger, more mathematically gifted versions of myself. I'm used to being at the top of the class, not the back. It doesn't help that everyone else attended BYU and so already seems to know everything about the campus while I'm stumbling around lost wondering what big hunk of brown brick I'm supposed to be going to. I wish there was a shuttle from one end of campus to the other. Getting from parking to my classes is pretty intense in the heat/humidity (yes, Utah does have a little of that.)

Anyway, first assignment due this weekend. We'll see if my writing/analysis ability is still any good. I've forgotten how to do simple things, like citations and mathematical proofs.

I'll try to post pics from Worldcon this weekend. It was awesome, but the kind of awesome that's hard to form into words. Mostly a sense of community. You can wander over to someone and strike up a conversation with people who share your loves, instead of looking at you with confusion and pity. And so many of my idols. E.G., I hung out at the Tor Party before the claustrophobia got to me and someone walked up and started talking to me and it was Lois Bujold. Lois Freaking Bujold just started talking to me like she's an ordinary person and not a goddess of awesome. In my own personal pantheon of Gods, anyone with a wheel-barrel full of literary awards is certainly able to pull a fiat lux out of nowhere and make it bright enough to blind my ass.

All the authors/editors had the same advice for breaking in. Write. Write some more. Write a lot more. Don't follow trends. I keep hoping if I collect enough chips of wisdom, I can cash in for a book deal, but it doesn't work like that. I understand, but I still can dream that someone somewhere will have the magic word that I need to hear.

The writing group with Louise Marley and N.K. Jemisin went well. Both of the pros had some hard things to say, but they were good hard things that I needed to hear. I'll take some of their advice and ignore the rest, but it was cool talking to them. Louise Marley grew up in one of the towns I used to cover with the newspaper I edited. Small world.

Anyway, until I post pics of me sitting in the Iron Throne, here's a poem I wrote in ten minutes, because that's all the time for writing I've had this week. I'll try to lock myself in a closet this weekend, where considerations of calculus don't tread on my creative synapses.


The pencil of Black Moods

is scribbling in my ear.

It makes thick, jagged lines

Whispering as it carves straight into

The pink lining of my cochlea.

From above, its scratches look like

Yarn after the cat’s been in the crochet drawer.

Or maybe letters formed by a two-year-old,

Who abandons things midway to go chasing after orange Jello.

Half-formed memories flow, twisted and taunting,

Belched out by the tip of the dark lead

Pressed against my eardrum--

The next-door neighbor to my brain.

The pencil of Black Moods

is scribbling in my ear.

Scribbling, scribbling…

Good thing I have an eraser.

Playboy Feminism

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

August 6, 2011 -- 7:55 p.m.

I enjoyed reading Linda Holmes' takedown of producer's attempts to sell the new show 'The Playboy Club' as 'female empowerment'.

I hate the fact some people conflate 'low neckline' with 'female empowerment'. There is a distinction. Female empowerment is the right to be able to do what you want with your breasts. If you want to be celibate? Sure, if it makes your life happier and more fulfilling. Wanna be a stripper? Sure, if it makes your life happier and more fulfilling.

(And I have met some very smart, well-adjusted strippers. And some not-so-well adjusted ones.)

The point is, it's every woman's decision, and you have the right to make it for yourself, hopefully for the right reasons. I feel like a lot of teenage girls let themselves get pressured into doing dumb things because there's this assumption that you have to do something to satisfy a man's expectations. That if you flirt or let someone take you out to a really expensive restaurant, then he's entitled to kiss you, to f*** you. That's not the case. Your sexuality is your own, nobody else's, and you don't owe anybody anything.

But in and of itself, sexuality is not necessarily empowering. It's especially not empowering if it perpetuates the idea that a woman's value is determined solely on the basis of her bra size. Appearance is only one facet of a person's personality, male or female. It's a big, important part in terms of dating and your professional life, but you bring more to the far more to the table, even if you're only a 34B.

Of course, maybe the Playboy Club was counting on the publicity generated by their stupid marketing techniques to drum up bigger ratings. If so, I think it's a failure, since the people who pay attention to feminist blogs probably aren't going to watch it anyway.

(Read an excerpt from Gloria Steinum's expose on the Bunny Clubs here.)

Sickness and Health

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

August 3, 2011 -- 12:33 p.m.

Ugh. It's amazing how the end of writing a book can leave you so frustrated, tired and depressed. It's like reaching the end of a marathon without the runner's high. There's the brief moment of joy and then...thud.

I can't bear to begin revising it at the moment. I'm bursting with creative energy though, even if I'm lethargic. Maybe I'll churn out another short story.

What I really want to do is start working on an epic fantasy about a city made entirely of mist but I probably ought to go back to the one I was working on during Brandon Sanderson's class, since it's already partially finished. New shiny ideas always seem to win out over dull old ones in terms of distraction.

It's also interesting how illness can strike two similar people in different ways. Monday, I woke up so dizzy I was barely able to stand up, so I spent the day napping and felt better after the sea-sickness passed. I wanted to nail the room down and say YOU! SIT! STAY!

But a family member of mine who works at a law firm felt fine...until he passed out in the middle of a deposition, banging his head a face times on the way down. The red scabs on his face looks like he got in a bloody beer brawl instead of a brawl with a table. He felt fine, afterward. Refused to let them take him to the hospital. I joked that he was the beginning of a House episode.

I figure we had the same illness and it just manifested in two different ways. Perhaps another symptom is me not particularly feeling like writing about the rest of my Hugo votes, though I did get them in on time. Oh well, maybe later.

In the meantime, in honor of all the Doctor Who nominees, here's the 1960s classic, 'I'm Gonna Spend My Christmas with a Dalek...'

Hugo Voting (Graphic Novels, Related Works, Fan Artists)

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

July 30, 2011 -- !:15 p.m.

" 'I think he's saying we have to keep talking to to ourself for the sake of exposition.' "

" 'That's going to kill efficiency.' "

" 'It'll be hard on the fourth wall, too.' "

-- Dialogue from Schlock Mercenary

Since I put so much time into writing last month, I won't have time to review all the Hugo categories, unfortunately. I'm trying to stuff what I can into the last few days.


My favorites:

1) The Unwritten
2) Grandville Mon Amour
3) Schlock Mercenary
4) Fables
5) Girl Genius

I'm not a graphic novel reader per se--I've read the high watermarks of the genre, such as Watchman and some of Frank Miller, but other than that, my background mostly consists of manga. Compared to manga, American comic books are surprisingly dense, word-wise. I was surprised to also see some of the art wasn't as fantastic as I was expecting. It was definitely better than I can do, just not what I was expecting.

Despite my vote, the clear consensus favorite in this category is Girl Genius, which has won every year since the graphic novel category was introduced. But I like a little variety in my winners. This was the first sample of Girl Genius I've ever read, so I got dropped into the middle, but the characters were vivid and I like the art. The colors really pop and there are some nice moments. That is one high-quality web comic. Still, the lack of ability for a n00b like me to get in immediately would have tucked this one lower down on my list anyway, though maybe not quite so low down.

On the other side of the coin, I was surprised to find myself really enjoying The Unwritten. From page 1, I was practically set against it. You have a really pretentious (in my eyes) literary introduction talking about how the book is a groundbreaking look at the way we tell stories, and that we should consider it more of an anthology because the stories weren't intensely related plotwise but we shouldn't worry about that and we don't even need the mystery solved because the ideas are so awesome...

Anytime someone has 1) a plot with a mystery 2) has someone saying the mystery doesn't need solving in the intro is always going to get my danders up.

So between that and the poor scan quality that makes it difficult to read the blog posts which are mixed with the comics in a Watchman-like combo, I was prepared to give this graphic novel its thirty pages and then give it a miss.

But the thing is--I couldn't. The premise is interesting, the idea is interesting, the dialogue is great, and when I put the book down, this was the only graphic novel I was itching to see the sequel too. Mostly because the story ends on a cliffhanger, unfortunately. It gets minus marks for that. But I love the mix of surreality (is that a word?) and banality, adult humor and childlike enchantment. It's very meta and interesting.

So what's it about? Well, picture if J.K. Rowling had one son and named him Harry Potter. And little Harry Potter has to grow up in the shadow of the books, especially after his father disappeared. And little Harry Potter gets stuffed in jail after he mass-murders a house full of people. Only he claims he was framed, but the prison warden doesn't believe him and sets Potter up to be killed because he feels like Potter ruined his children's childhood by bloodying the Potter name.

Oh, but all the weird fantasy stuff? Yeah, it might be real.

Bet you didn't see that coming (rolls eyes.)

Okay, so maybe some of the twists aren't the most original. (Visiting the Third Reich? There goes that whole Nazi time vortex thing again)...but I'm all for comics that have little girls shouting the latin phrase for eye-poke while eye-poking a boy who just told her to come sit on his wand.

Naturally, adult content warning. It's wonderful, the way the author managed to capture the different narrative styles whenever it starts a character in another world/book. The flashes of the fake Harry Potter narrative feel a lot like Harry Potter, just like the narrative voice for the Beatrix Potter/Winnie the Pooh parody at the end is also spot-on-awesome. It reminded me of the South Park Christmas Critter episode, with less Jew-baiting.

My second favorite graphic novel was Grandville, which boosts my favorite art of the bunch. Some people might look at the animals and bright colors and call it cartoonish, but I like a little color in my art.

Grandville one features an alternative history where humans are (mostly) replaced by humanlike animals. A detective starts looking for a dangerous terrorist who has a Jack-the-Ripper penchant for killing prostitutes. So it's like Sherlock Holmes...if Sherlock Holmes was a giant badger. A mystery, shootouts, damaged damsels and political connivance -- this is pulpy, good fun. While the Unwritten shoots for great heights and sometimes misses, Grandville Mon Amour delivers exactly what I wanted. This is one I wouldn't mind owning in paper, and I'll have to look for it next time I'm at my local comics shop. Check out the youtube ad for it here.

I like Howard Taylor, and Schlock Mercenary makes me laugh (not to mention be impressed by the sheer content--I'm 400 pages in and still not finished), but Grandville and the Unwritten appealed to me more this time around. Maybe another year.

Fables has gotten really good critical reviews, and it has an interesting concept, but I couldn't get into it, perhaps because this is another one where I was dropped mid-series. I'll try to read it again when I have more time.


This is a really tricky category, because its so wide open. How do you compare a set of book reviews to a biography of Heinlein to a podcast on writing? It's like evaluating apples and orangutans.

I looked for criteria to judge on but found diddly-squat. We're just supposed to pick the best, whatever that means.

Well, two of the entries specialized in offering advice to new writers, which is great, but I wasn't sure that's what the Hugo celebrates, so sorry, Writing Excuses. We'll kiss and make-up in the morning.

In the end, I'm going with 'Chicks Dig Timelords', which is a collection of female voices dealing with Who and Who fandom. It contains many different voices--from new fans to old fans, costumers to voice actors--but all of them share a love of the campy, wonderfulness of Dr. Who. But I found it interesting beyond Who-dom, because it was also about carving out a female space in a male-world, one which (according to some of the writers) were full of 'Get Rid Of Slimy girlS' society, especially since the shippers were polluting their pure Who with romance.

Anyway, I don't have much of a dog in this fight, but I enjoyed the discussion, the reminiscences, and the spunky voices of the essayists kept me turning the pages. The collection contains entries from several other Hugo-nominated authors too (such as Mary Robinette Kowal and one of the authors of Feed) so it's not just fem and queer-lit professors.

It hits my sweet spots (feminism and science fiction) as well as capturing an interesting moment in pop culture history about a silly, bubble-wrap and tinfoil show that managed to capture the imagination of a generation.

My doctor is still Tom Baker though. You just can't beat that scarf. His fashion sense shaped my fierceness into what it is today. ^_^


I thought about skipping this category. I'm probably skipping the fan writing one just because I don't have enough awareness of the community to know what offers the most merit. But the artist who drew xkcd is nominated, and I don't think people who live off their art count as non-professional, so I figure I'll try and counter the legion of fans who will vote for him, even though I like xkcd.

But I liked Maureen Starkey's stuff, and some of the other artists too. Though some of the scantily clad females look very cold.

Anyway, that's my first round of Hugo pics. Now I'm working through the short stories, novelettes, novellas and other vision stuff. More later.

Skin Farm

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

July 29, 2011 -- 6:18 p.m.
Draft v. 1.0 is...


If that's not worth a few extra exclamation marks, I'm not sure what is.

I need to iron out some inconsistencies, esp. in the ending, then it's off to alpha readers, followed by query time.

And then the merry-go-round starts all over again. A writer's life, eh?

One Hundred Thousand Kingdoms Review (Hugo Reading)

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

July 21, 2011 -- 1:35 p.m.

I just got cool news. I signed up for the writing workshops at Worldcon and one of my workshop leaders is going to be N.K. Nemisin, which makes the timing of this review fun. It will be interesting to see what she has to say about my work, because while she's an awesome author, from what little I've read of her work, our styles will be completely, entirely different. It made me wish I'd submitted something a little more surreal/descriptive than Skin Farm, which is fun but very...well, plain-spoken. Purposefully so, since the main character is illiterate.

The other writer working with our group is Louise Marley, who I've never heard of before, but her body of work looks interesting. I'll have to pick on up before I go.

Anyway, onto The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms: (shouldn't be any spoilers)

HTK came out with more hype for any debut fantasy novel I've seen than Name of the Wind. Because of all the news swirling around it (and because the name made me expect Hundred Thousand Kingdoms = hundred thousand potential novels...), I was expecting some new sword and sorcery along the release of a new NoTW or a new Scott R. Bakker series sort of thing.

What I got was entirely different.

From the get-go, there's conflict. A child whose own mother even never wanted her born. A dangerous new world floating above the crowds, full of people who titter behind their hands at the protagonist, Yeine, who seems to have been brought only to serve as a sacrificial lamb on a chain. A lamb who might not even survive the day, for as night falls, she's being chased by a ravenous half-man, half-beast through glowing corridors, some of which will respond to her very thoughts.

In the back of the book, Nemisin lists her influences. Octivia Butler is among them, which doesn't surprise me, because this book reminds me of Butler's Patternist series in terms of style. The plot also strikes me as Butler-ian. Black girl from 'barbaric' (ironic air quotes applied) matriarchal backwater gets invited to rich white people's court by her maternal grandfather after her mother (who fled the court to marry the protagonist's mother) is murdered.

I point it out the race because it's there, but it's subtle. It's more about the characters than race/class politics.

I like how Nemisin manages to blend a lot of elements into one, not-too-big book. There's a mystery (who killed the protag's mom and why?) politics (need to manipulate one faction against the other) and religion. That last is especially intriguing, and builds the backbone of the work. If John Milton's Lucifer and a few of his angels were kicked out of heaven, confined inside mortal bodies and given to one hierarchical family to be used as weapons, it would be a bit like this book.

Since family conflict and religious conflict are two of what I love to see most in fantasy literature, this one hits most of my sweet spots. My only quibble was that I'd like to see more try-fail from the protagonist, who has gods at her beck and call. It seems like, with all that power, she could try to do something more. I understood that she was a) in a new place, b) limited by the fact everyone else around her also could command the gods and c) that none of her scurrilous family could be fatally harmed by said god-weapons, but still, I would have liked to see her try more, even if it meant failing. One scene in particular would have resonated more if the villain had caught a god-weapon spying on her instead of just singling him out because she wanted to hurt someone.

That passivity reminded me a little of Butler as well. In books like Dawn, she'd put the characters in situations where they were completely helpless (or only had the illusion of free will) and make her readers squirm. I loved that style when I first read it, but am a little less enamored of it now, maybe because I feel far too helpless sometimes in my own life and I read (like the blog says) for escape. For the belief/illusion that one person can be powerful and potent. And the protagonist in this book is powerful--but not because of her choices, but because of what others made her.

The obligatory romance also wasn't my cup of tea. Since being sexually assaulted, I don't have much truck with women falling in love with men who could violently hurt them even if, theoretically, the men 'didn't mean to.' But I understand that my taste is not everyone's. Also, I wished I could have seen a little more of the female gods.

That said, this book was tremendously awesome. I enjoyed the book a lot and thought it was beautifully written. The setting was fantastic fun. From the first pages, I was hurtling through, hungry for more. I almost started reading it again from the beginning as soon as I put it down.

The style is definitely on the literary side, which I love to see in fantasy, because as much as my own style is pretty simple, I like to see variation in a genre. One of the interesting things Nemisin does is, instead of a straight narrative, the character is constantly engaging in asides--sometimes from her present self, sometimes from her future self looking back--very complicated, but it never lost me as a reader even though Nemisin's juggling so many balls.

I especially enjoyed the conversations the protagonists had with 'herself.' You'll understand what I mean if you read the book.

For a sample of her style, take this excerpt from one of my favorite scenes (Minor spoiler, naturally. Well, kind of, since it's out of context):

[I]n that sliver of time, I felt the power around me coalesce, malice-hard and sharp as crystal.
* * *
That this analogy occurred to me should have been a warning.
* * *
Rish swung. I held still, tense for the blow. Three inches from my face Rish’s fist seemed to glance off something no one could see—and when it did, there was a high hard clacking sound, like stone striking stone.

Rish drew his hand away, startled and perhaps puzzled by his failure to put me in my place. He looked at his fist, on which a patch of shining, faceted black had appeared about the knuckles. I was close enough to see the flesh around this patch blistering, beading with moisture like meat cooked over a flame. Except it was not burning, but freezing; I could feel the waft of cold air from where I stood. The effect was the same, however, and as the flesh withered and crisped away as if it had been charred, what appeared underneath was not raw flesh, but stone.

If that bit made you want to read more, go pick up Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

I can tell already that choosing Hugos is going to be like picking teeth out of my spine. I also watched Doctor Who's version of the Christmas Carol, nominated as a short, and loved it, even though the science was complete bunk. (Proper frequency, my foot...) I thought it was a new twist on an old classic, and who doesn't like seeing Dumbledore as Scrooge? Or a shark pulling a sleigh? This is must-see Christmas watching, along with Futurama's X-mas episode and the Grinch Who Stole Christmas (the cartoon, not the Jim Carrey version).

Hugo Reading!

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

June 18, 2011 -- 4:28 p.m.

So I've finally had time to begin my Hugo reading.

I haven't actually read any of the previous books by this year's Hugo nominees, so it's exciting and kind of disorienting for those books that plop me down mid-series. From discussion boards, Ian McDonald seems to be the inside favorite, but Connie Willis won the Nebula, so I wouldn't count her out yet.

Though seeing a WWII travel book made me feel like writing a story where a history professor comments: "You know, why do time travelers never seem to end up in Africa? Isn't that a little weird?" And then having it turn out there's some sort of time-nexus that will automatically draw all time travelers to WWII where they will be given the opportunity to kill Hitler only to a) have something go terribly wrong or b) alter their own futures in a horrible way. And the time travel nexus was created by aliens who wanted to mock us.

Well, what else could explain how the time travelers ALWAYS end up there, except when they're going to assist with the assassination of J.F.K. instead...

As a postscript, apparently China banned shows about Time Travel. Odd.

(Spoiler-Free) Review of A Dance with Dragons

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

July 14, 2011 -- 7:17 p.m.

Woo! It finally came. In my younger years, I would have read this book straight through in one day, 1000 pages or no, but now I'm made of less stern stuff. I had to fit it into two.

The hardcover is beautiful. I just liked holding the book. I almost didn't want to read it, because it looks so pristine.

So what about the contents?

As always, George R.R. Martin is a fantastic worldbuilder and storyteller. It's easy to get swept away into Westoros. Between the return of old favorites characters, the addition of new favorites and the thickening of the plot, there was a lot here to love.

On the other hand, if you're new to Martin, just picking up his books after seeing the TV series, this probably isn't the place to start. Because this is dense, and the pacing can be a little frustrating.

Like its brother, Feast of Crows, this is a turning point in the series. This feels like it's going away from the mystery/political conflict that drove the first few books and becomes more of a travelogue. So there's a heavy heaping of wonder--I appreciated the idea of a medieval/magic leper type camp especially--along with lots of legends to unravel, but I think fans may miss the tightly wound plot of the first few books. Earlier, most of the storylines took place on the same continent and you could see more direct reactions on how characters' decisions affected one another. This time around, the threads here feel more spaced out.

There's definitely also a sense of 'darkest before the dawn.' We're hitting the middle of the series, which means that characters are going to suffer. And some of them suffer hard. There are no good choices, and some of the bright spots that used to lighten the tortured characters' souls are missing. Maybe fewer heads roll here, but it felt to me that this book offered fewer servings of hope than any other book in the series. And pretty much every plot ends on a cliffhanger, so don't expect too much satisfaction on that score. Though, since I've been studying G.R.R.M. for years and know his tricks well, I'm pretty sure I know where 90 percent of those cliffhangers are going to end. Yet he does manage to keep me guessing.

With all that said, would I still recommend A Dance with Dragons? Absolutely, if you don't mind dark fantasy. I feel it was worth the wait. While I may not see where everything is going now, the skill with which Martin handles his twists and turns convinces me that we are in capable hands. This book is a page-turner. About 400 in, I found myself struggling to put the book down. It kept calling, even when I had better things to do. I may not have liked this one as much as Storm of Swords, despite their comparable length, but it's still George R.R. Martin. And he's still fantastic. And some things are best savored slowly.

Still, I think the next book will be a test of fire. I think everyone was expecting more character convergences, but there wasn't much of that. If G.R.R.M. truly intends to end it all in two more books more, everything needs to be turned up a notch.

Neil Gaiman Interview

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

July 12, 2011 -- 9:51 a.m.

There's a great Neil Gaiman interview over at A.V. Club. You should go read it, if you liked American Gods. Go on. I'll wait.

"'[B]estseller' can be a publishing category as much as it can be anything else. It means that the book is going to be on certain shelves, pushed a certain way. Back then, it mattered. I don’t honestly know that it matters anymore. The whole shape of bookselling has changed. Back then, it meant that your publisher would pay for your book to be on the table by the door when you went into a Barnes & Noble or a Borders. There would be those tables, and the publisher is paying for it to be stacked on those tables, rather than back in a particular area. So I knew that because I was being published as a bestseller, I could be a lot more cavalier with my genre distinctions. And I hoped that people who would like it would find it. And I think eventually they did."

While you're reading that, I'll be watching this awesome fake movie trailer.

Adventures in Seattle

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

June 29, 2011 -- 2:16 p.m.

Updates from the hermit.

Seattle is lovely this time of year, but full of pollen. I keep a spittoon nearby for the purposes of expactoration. Makes me feel like Gaston, or Mulan. What is it with Disney men and spitting, anyway? We had a cherry pit spitting contest back in Montana as part of Polson's cherry festival. And yet, surprisingly, spitting was not considered the height of masculine virility.

My family went to eat Chinese food to celebrate my younger brother's acceptance into UW/my other younger brother's first third of his summer law internship/my acceptance into grad school. As traditional, we ordered the weirdest things we could find on the menu. (At a previous Chinese restaurant, this led to my discovery and addiction to moss soup, which is very good). This meant 'pig ears' and something literally called 'Blood and Guts Stew' for my brother. The cook came out of the kitchen and asked him if he liked it. When he said he did, she went away shaking her head at the crazy Caucasian. We needed her to interpret what the different meats were. I thought the whole thing tasted vile and the intestines felt far too jiggly going my throat. But my brother gobbled down all the wobbly blood cubes (thickened with corn starch, maybe?) and wished there were more. I'll stick with my eggplant, thank you very much. It was quite good.

Pig ears are...well, pretty much like you'd expect. Very chewy. Like nibbling on someone's ear, only you're eating it. (Insert generic Mike Tyson joke here. *Baddabing!*)

Skin Farm is at 70,000 words and counting. It'll probably clock in around 90k. I did a good push but then wrote myself into a corner, but I think I've got a way to write myself out again. I got signed up for writers workshops at Worldcon. I need a new perspective, I can't quite decide whether my first chapter is too exposition heavy or not and I've tainted my writing group. The workshop looks at 8,000 words, so I spent time editing the first three chapters (AGAIN. I swear I've got the things memorized by now!).

I'm still toying with the idea of self-/e-publishing the book. I'm definitely feeling dubious. It seems to me that the best strategy is to wait until you have a sufficient collection to post several books at once and then hold sales trying to entire readers to get the whole series. I've been researching how authors with similar books have been doing, and the answer is pretty hit or miss. The ebook market seems to currently deal with a certain narrow demographic that I suspect will widen over time. One potential problem is categorization. Skin Farm has a young protagonist, but it seems like every other book in Y.A. is a romance first, a science fiction book second. So people looking to read books with male protagonists and limited smooching (Think James Dashner's Maze Runner) might not be shopping in that category. I might have better luck labeling it adult sci-fi. After all, Ender's Game has a young protagonist but adults love it too.

I wish Amazon had more sub-genres. Science fiction/fantasy as a category is much too broad.

Yesterday, I also wrote a 5,000 word short story, a re-write of the classic Cinderella fairy tale that came to me in a dream. Only in this version, she kills everything she touches and uses a glass knife to frame her evil stepmother for murdering Prince Charming's father. Rell's fairy godmother is a glass blower. I wasn't able to work in the step-sisters, but ah well. It's probably a better story idea in theory than in practice, but it felt good to work on something else. When I edit it enough that it makes sense, perhaps I'll post it. Whenever I write short stories, I go into 'fairy tale mode', meaning a lot of jumping around people's heads, heavy narration, and very shallow POV, so it probably isn't very salable, but it was fun to write.

Good Day

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

June 14, 2011 -- 12:21 a.m.
Good day. I managed to get 3000+ words on Skin Farm done. I also wrote up a 500 word synopsis. I have trouble with synopses, as I think everyone does. I can write ones that are about eight pages long or ones that are about a page long, but no in between. The short one, I cheated by doing the 'and they were tested by various challenges' kind of summary, but I can't think of any other way to do it. For some reason, God's Play seemed easier to shortly summarize even though it was a longer book. I'm not sure why.

There's a part of me that feels guilty for not writing more since I have a bunch of spare time at the moment, but there's only so much I can do before the well goes dry. I have to accept that I can't write at a breakneck pace all the time. I have my limitations.

It helps if I'm writing dialogue or action, then the words just fly by. It's also easier to write beginnings. As I get toward the end, it's harder to punch the keys because of worrying about past chapters and because of the looming sense of import. Your book is almost done. Is it any good? You'd better make it good and choose every word carefully, because the ending will make or break everything that's gone before. Maybe the beginning is important, because it gets people hooked, and maybe the middle is also really important, because it KEEPS people hooked, but the end is the last taste a reader will get of your style, of your philosophy, of your everything.

Which is why endings make me nervous.


I'm re-reading Katherine Kurtz's Deryni series. I liked it more when I was younger. It came out of a different age. I've become used to modern conventions, like magic systems with more rules. There's a lot of 'Camber learns a new spell' that can feel deus ex machina. Still enjoy it, though. Like old, familiar friends who've come to visit after so long.