Saturday, October 30, 2010

NaNo 2010

Getting very close to November... I don't think I ever blogged about NaNo last year, but I had a great time participating last year and decided to do so again this year. Last year I wrote some 55k words on a sequel to my earlier serial fiction project, which is currently out on submission. So hopefully both the original and the NaNo sequel will turn into something people have a chance to read. What I didn't do at all last year was make it to any of the in-person events. And...I don't know if I will this year either, but I'd like to, if possible.

This year I'm working on a new novel, but one that's been bouncing around my head for well over a year--I'd actually considered doing it for NaNo last year before changing to the serial project. Even with all that time to let images and ideas simmer, I don't feel I know the characters nearly as well as I knew the characters last year--so it'll be much more a journey of discovery as I go this time around. There's a challenge to that I like, but a danger as well that I freeze up or lost confidence in what I'm writing.

I'm also not rearranging my life to do NaNo. I want to show myself I can do this while doing all the other things expected of me and other things I want to do. I'm sure some things will get pushed back to December or whatever, but for the most I'm committing myself to maintaining a clean house, doing the yard work, all the other work I need to do. And I've increased my activity level a lot over the past two months (having my son in kindergarten means it's so much easier to go running when I can just plop my daughter in the jogging stroller, rather than trying to have my son bike along next to me as I push the stroller). I need to make sure I continue that as well.

If you think about it, it shouldn't be that hard. Not even two thousand words a day? It requires discipline, of course. But as long as I can keep myself from getting distracted, it should be eminently do-able. (Check back to see if I still think that in a week or two...) I'm not a feast-and-famine kind of writer usually, so I'll be much better off if I can establish that kind of pace from the beginning, rather than trying for 5k one day and nothing the next. That said, this year has been mostly famine in terms of writing new fiction--I've been focusing on a ton of rewriting, editing, and revising. So hopefully that means I'll be rearing to go, come...a few hours from now, rather than it meaning I'm too rusty to stay focussed.

Well all I can say now is, we'll see. I'll probably not have the weekly short fiction posts (though maybe I'll have time to read some), but while I won't bore you with the minutiae of how the novel is going, I'll have some posts related to NaNo in the weeks ahead.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fantasy Magazine's "relaunch"

I just posted this on a forum for a crit group I'm part of, and then decided I might as well post it here as well:

I saw this news on Ralan's yesterday--there's a .pdf news release, if you missed it. Any thoughts on this? JJA has tons of experience, and I even met him at World Con two years ago, and he's a nice guy. The consistency between the two zines makes sense in a lot of ways.

At the same time, I've had encouraging comments from Cat Rambo in the past, so I'll be sad to see her leaving. And with two reprints a month, this essentially cuts in half the number of stories they'll be buying (which is a big disappointment). But it also sounds like a big change in style/format: instead of a blog, with an unpredictable but pretty frequent number of posts (articles, reviews, interviews, etc.) each week, it sounds like it'll be going back to a more issue-based magazine, with a set (rigid) schedule.

If you asked me a couple of years ago, I'd have said that the blog-based set-up is the future of online magazines, or at least the most likely way to succeed. Cultivate a regular readership, have them come back frequently--ideally every day/weekday, make them feel involved in the community of its readers. Originally Fantasy was more regular with its daily posts, and recently has dropped back to only about three a week (their once-weekly "Blog for a Beer" hasn't appeared in at least a year, I'd guess), so maybe that was just too much work for the editors. Even as infrequently as I commented, though, I did feel more invested in it than I am in some of the other online zines I read. When I visit Lightspeed or even my other favorites, Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, etc. much as I obviously enjoy them all, I feel less like a participant and more like a consumer. (The blog model is essentially what does...with, I'm sure, a much larger staff and resources...)

Maybe that's OK. Maybe the participant model was flawed--too much work, too little return. Maybe the rise of e-readers means a more issue-based format makes more sense. Or maybe this won't be as drastic a change as it appears in the release. I don't know. This announcement doesn't make me worried about Fantasy's future or anything, but it still makes me sad to see it seemingly abandoning what I had once thought was an exciting new approach.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Short Fiction Tuesday

I just returned a copy of Ted Chiang's "The Lifecycle of Software Objects" to the library and then discovered that Subterranean Online is posting the entire novella for free. Check it out. Chiang is always a worthwhile writer--Stories of Your Life & Others is one of the best collections I've read in recent years, and "Exhalation" (the link is to the Wikipedia article about the story and includes links to a pdf of the text and a link to Escape Pod's podcast of it) is an excellent more recent story that quite appropriately won a Hugo. This most recent story explores the idea of creating artificial intelligence more organically (so to speak)--instead of by programming all the factors the AI needs, by programming an entity to have the capacity to learn and presenting it with similar stimuli to what a human baby and child will encounter. From a storytelling standpoint, some of this one felt weaker than some of Chiang's other stories, but the ideas (and ideas are always a large part of the pleasure of Chiang's stories) are packed in and thought-provoking.

If that doesn't sound like what you like, I'll link to one more story, that's very different. Fantasy Magazine's "Bitterdark" by Eljay Daly takes an idea that wouldn't usually appeal to me--fairies and a very clear battle between good and evil--and tells a memorable and fascinating story with it. Part of what I like is just the idea of a former king and hero of the fairies who has left the faerie realm behind out of weariness--a hero's weariness has certainly been done before, but it still resonates with me. And the way the story turns out makes it noteworthy as well.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Inspiration--space travel and exploration

I don't write a lot of what probably first comes to mind when people (meaning your average, not-deeply-involved-in-SF-fandom kinds of people) think about science fiction--spaceships and grand explorations across space and that kind of thing. Neither do I often seek out that kind of thing to read, but I do find it fascinating to wonder and speculate about how that might take place.

If you're interested in writing about (or just thinking about) the near future possibilities of space travel, MSNBC has a couple of recent articles that explore a bit of what that might look like and what challenges lie in the way. "Can Starships Survive the Journey?" is a brief article that addresses the danger posed by even tiny bits of dust, once a spaceship got going fast enough. And then it moves from some theoretical systems to protect spaceships to wondering if we might observe evidence of aliens using those kinds of technologies. "The Best Options for Flying to Faraway Stars" tries to tackle a broad and technical topic in a pretty short space, so it's not likely to uncover anything new to those who are already interested in this...but it's good to get a sense of where exactly the current research and technology is.

Combine these two with the surprising amount of water found in a moon crater and the White House adviser's study of emergency response to an asteroid (all posted within the last 24 hours), and you've got quite a space-focused news day...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Short Fiction Wednesday

For a few weeks now I've had a Strange Horizons story open in a tab, a story that looked worth reading but for one reason or another I kept reading other things first. Then this week Fantasy featured a story by the same writer, Lavie Tidhar, so I decided it would be a good time to read them both.

The story in Fantasy, "Monsters," begins in a very self-aware way--something that often appeals to me, but I know some of my writer friends are less keen about--talking about stories as metaphors, spaceships and aliens as symbols. Then its narrator tells its own story, about the amphibian species it comes from and the planet left behind, and finally about the purpose of sending its message (something I'll leave for other readers to discover). I enjoyed the touches of non-Western cultures that are mirrored in the alien's culture (or at least the way it uses our non-Western cultures to explain itself), and the mood as the story wraps up creates a good effect.

The Strange Horizons story, "Aphrodisia," is also science fictional, though in this case more focused on the body adaptations people have taken, both in response to technology (so there's a definite cyberpunk feel) and to colonizing the Jupiter moons and other regions of the solar system. Those social touches are what stand out in this--the evocation of Earth society and the ways each of the main non-Earthborn characters feel in it. I'm less clear on why the narrator had been forced to seal his body data ports--at first mention, I'd guessed in was in response to some sort of crime, but later I wondered if it was more an intervention/rehab kind of thing to deal with addiction...though in that case I would have liked to see a stronger sense of the narrator's addiction earlier. Anyway, despite that, I enjoyed the story a lot.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Gigantism's appeal one more time

A while back I did a series of posts on why I find myself drawn to stories where something is monstrously large--an impossibly large castle; a tree the size of a city; a mansion big enough to have many cultures within. Even the ribcage that surrounds the city of New Crobuzon in China Mieville's three Bas-Lang novels fits in here. Maybe especially that. I'd meant to do one more post on that topic, but never got around to it. I posted that it was simply something different, that it's a way of belonging yet not fully to the tradition of speculative fiction, and that it's a fantasy counterpart to SF's sensawunda.

As alluded to in that last post, this last one is the sense of wrong-ness that undermines the awe of big things. I was reading Danielewski's House of Leaves a few months ago, and one of Zampano's footnotes discusses the aesthetics of the uncanny. It apparently comes from Freud, and in German the various words translated as "uncanny" (the main one being unheimlich or literally "un-home-like") all have a root or connotation of something that's gigantic.

Given the way House of Leaves works, I can't say for certain that this claim is true, but it fits with what I'd been sensing about these kinds of stories. It's the juxtaposition, that sense of awe-and-yet-wrong-ness. Those two things working together, I think, is what gives these kinds of settings a strong power. Setting alone is not enough to make a great story, of course, but it's often the first thing that draws my attention.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Short Fiction Wednesday

"The Interior of Mister Bumblethorn's Coat" by Willow Fagan is a wildly imaginative story, one that began with a fascinating and mysterious setting and I began building a shape in my head for how the story would go...but then it twisted itself away from those expectations, and then did so again. It's weird in all the best senses of that word, a story of man trying to forget his past while living in a foreign and constantly unsettling city.

Very different, but also a story I enjoyed this week, is Sarah L. Edwards' "The Girl who Tasted the Sea." It's a much shorter story. Into that length she packs a well evoked setting and some broken taboos, giving a very satisfying, quick read.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Inspiration--Tree Bridges

I saw this link on Ideomancer's LJ the other day--living root bridges. They create these amazing bridges in northeast India, taking ten to fifteen years to coax them into usable bridges. Check out the blog post in the link for a bunch more pictures, a video, and info on how they're build. Very cool stuff.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Short Fiction Friday

I was up late the other night, waiting for my in-laws to arrive so I could let them in and get them settled, and I had a chance to read some stories. One that really struck me was Jacque Barcia's "Salvaging Gods." It's a story in which gods are physical objects full of inexplicable code that you can manipulate by wiring them in certain ways. The main character and her father find discarded gods and have learned how to reuse them in new constructs. Fascinating and highly imaginative piece.

Also worth noting in the context of short fiction, my writer friend Lindsey Duncan has a new story available for purchasing (as a pdf) at Gypsy Shadow Publishing: "Taming the Weald."

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Vargas Llosa, Nobel winner

Congratulations to Mario Vargas Llosa on winning the Nobel for literature today! I'm pretty sure I've read some shorter stuff by him, including essays, but the thing that stands out the most is El Hablador (The Storyteller is what its English translation is called, I believe), which alternates between two storylines. One is an account of a storyteller traveling the (Peruvian, I imagine) Amazon rainforest, using his stories to maintain a sense of cultural identity among a dwindling group of forest wanderers. The second is of two university friends and the way their lives diverge. I probably shouldn't say more about that aspect, because while I'd guessed the connection between the two storylines fairly early, based in part on the back cover copy, I think it's supposed to be a kind of spoiler. But it's a story of the difficult question of cultural contact (especially in this context from both missionaries and anthropology professors), of "advancement" and the losses that entails...but not in any kind of one-sided or strident way. A wonderful book.

(La SeƱorita de Tacma, that's the other thing I read in college. A drama. I don't remember much about it at the moment. And I also found we own Llosa's Lituma en los Andes. I'm not sure if that was a thrift store find once that I never got around to reading, or if it was one of my wife's college books. I may have to pull those down and see about reading one or both.)

Tuesday, October 05, 2010


I'm still not completely back to the schedule I used to follow, so there's no reason to wait until Friday to post this link. Linguists studying a pair of little-known languages in northeastern India discovered a third, previously undocumented language, Koro. What's especially fascinating is that the speakers of Koro consider themselves to be a part of the Aka, Aka being one of the two languages the linguists were studying. And culturally they really are clearly connected. The language, though, turned out to be completely different in vocabulary, sounds, and syntactical structure.

While in one sense, trying to work this level of detail into a secondary world fiction would likely just leave readers confused or else bore them with dry data...I think you can hint at this kind of complexity, and it's something I aim for in my stories, the sense that there are always more wrinkles to the diverse societies and micro-societies that make up a culture. When successful, this kind of detail makes the story itself far richer.