Fish Story

I am not a DC guy, so I went into Aquaman with a bit of dubiousness. We Boomers chose sides in the DC/Marvel rivalry decades ago and you either were fer or agin one or the other with a fanaticism bordering on Cold War intensity. There were some outliers who claimed to like both equally, but they were viewed with suspicion, like pacifists who insisted the Commies weren’t all that bad. Adding to the dubiousness, it’s Aquaman, a blond spandex/fish scale armor-wearing guy who rides a seahorse and pals around with spandex wearing Aquakid, a la Batman and Robin, evoking the same uncomfortableness regarding their relationship. And he talked to fish. Fish.

Not that I felt any particular animus to the character. I watched the cartoon    

back in the 60s with some satisfaction, thrilled that TV had finally come to its senses and was showing comic book characters, even if it was DC. Cartoon Aquaman remained in his wheelhouse, the ocean, and did ocean things so was not to be taken seriously. This movie Aquaman, though, is deadly serious, done up in the person of badass cool guy Jason Momoa who did quite a good job in Justice League…which I liked.   

Yes, I know, that places me in a  very small minority and lends suspicion that I might be one of those aforementioned pacifists going soft on the Reds, but it was pretty good. As was Batman vs Superman. See? I can be persuaded. Aquaman might turn out to be this year’s Dark Knight. 

It’s not.

Instead, it turned into a mash-up of Lord of the Rings, Excalibur, Starship Troopers, the Cthullu mythos, Gladiator, the Little Mermaid, the Hunt for Red October, the Avengers, oh, just about every movie of the last twenty years or so. I swear some computer geeks got together and said, “Man, we gotta make some money, so let’s CGI every trope from every movie because you know people like that stuff.” There’s even a Skywalker finding his mother. I swear.

The first ten minutes or so was great. Nicole Kidman…or her stunt double…  kicked royal butt and butt royally, depending on with whom she crossed tridents. Gotta say, all the movie fights were stellar. But, danger, Will Robinson: a copy of “Dunwich Horror” lies on a tabletop. 

Now, why would that be? ‘Cause, you know, if you show a gun in the first act you gotta use it in the third and, yep, Cthulhu shows up later. Along with his/her fish monsters. WTF? Did one of the computer geeks note “Arkham Asylum” in Dark Knight and figured there was a Lovecraft connection?

I blame public education.

Minutes later, the scene that killed the movie:  a line of armoured seahorses facing off a line of armoured sharks. With lasers. And all roaring at each other. I laughed out loud, then asked, “Is this a joke?”                  

No, apparently not. Even when the timpani playing octopus was beating out the Planet Hulk combat rhythm in the arena, when the Green Goblin CGI-floated around pretending he’s still loyal to the Master Race, and Aryan God Boy Ocean Master screams like Howard Dean on the campaign trail, you’re supposed to regard all this as serious and intense.

It’s like Springtime for Hitler.

I can go on and on and on but I’ll just hit the lowlights. F’rinstance, the entire Russian Navy knows Aquaman exists. Aquaman even speaks Russian. Fluently. Everyone on the East Coast knows Aquaman exists. They party with the dude. Yet, the news media pish-poshes the idea of Atlanteans among us.

Must be CNN.

There is an eeeevil villain who simply can’t get over that Aquaman didn’t save eeevil villain’s Dad from a watery death. Dude, your dad was a pirate. Sort of goes with the territory so lighten up. But noooo, evil villain constructs an eeevil costume replete with a dirigible helmet that fires plasma. You’d think a  guy who knows he’s going to be maneuvering around submarine interiors would select something a little less unwieldy. But, it’s DC. Simple physics never bothered them. Like the Batcopter.

And for all their high tech, the Atlanteans are not the brightest. Aryan God Boy knew for decades where his hated half-brother lived and waits, of course, until Aquaboy is full on badass Aquaman before deciding to take him on. For that matter, the plasma firing laser shark Atlanteans have had a beef with the surface world for nigh-on millenia, but, of course, wait until we’ve got badass Aquaman on our side before making a move. No wonder the gods drowned them.

But Nicole Kidman showing up in a lobster suit…that’s it. Done.

Make mine Marvel.

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Netflix Updates


What more needs to be said about Season 3? Magnificent, perfection, Daredevil the way Daredevil was in Season 1 before Season 2 and the Defenders

blew everything off track. Man. That classic Kingpin/Daredevil knock-down drag-’em-out in the last episode harkened back to treasured Daredevil comics of my youth. Don’t know what it says about me that a brawl warms the cockles, but it did. Even more cockle warming, the knock-down between Daredevil and Gladiator, replete with saw blades. Would have been nice to see Gladiator in full regalia but this was fine, just fine. Gladiator

was always my favorite Daredevil villain and I almost shed a nostalgic tear as he tossed Matt to and fro. Loved Bullseye, too, but it would have been nice to see him in his own costume instead of swanning around as Daredevil. Yes, I know, there’s some Bullseye title where he does said swanning but that’s outside my comic book ken. Guess I’ll have to wait until Season Four…oh, right. Sorry.

Haunting of Hill House:

I have not felt this let down and ripped off by an ending since Lost. What the hell? This was, up until the end, the best horror series in decades. About the only thing comparable is The Returned (the French version), which was as creepy and disturbing but did NOT shoot itself in the foot with a final New Age post-modern angst-ridden sellout episode. Dudes, really? Really?


Whew. For a minute there, I thought Cleaver Greene had jumped the shark and we were going so far out into the Australian bush that we would never find a way back but, apparently, the writers realized they were crashing and burning and quickly ended that silly Secretary of Defense storyline. Trump Derangement Syndrome, and I guess they just had to say something, just had to. So, feel better now? Great. Let’s stay on course, shall we?

BTW, I don’t binge watch. I watch an episode a week, unless it’s grabbed me and then maybe two episodes a week, like this last Daredevil. Some of us savor our pleasures.

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And the winner is…

…no one.

Not one person entered the contest for signed copies of the Ship Trilogy.


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What White People Do on Weekends

Attend homesteader conventions, of course, because nothing screams “White people are crazy” more than taking seminars on how to live without electricity, medicine, air conditioning, and basic civilization. So what was I doing there?

That whole 12th Century peasant lifestyle is kind of appealing.

And not just to white people. There was plenty of ethnic, cultural, sexual, and racial diversity among the crowd attending a Homesteaders of America convention held near h’yeah a couple of months ago.                  

Don’t let the photo fool you, the place was packed, I’m guessing about 3ooo people scattered hither and yon throughout various buildings and tents. I’m beginning to wonder what everybody else knows that I don’t. EMP on the way? The zombie apocalypse? Disco returns?

Anyways, despite almost freezing to death, I had a really good time.

I am not disparaging of the Homesteader movement. It’s actually a very good idea to have skills such as canning and plant identification and pig slaughtering in case any of the aforementioned events occur. I should have learned all that when I was a farmer kid in Alabama. Guess I was too busy learning to read or something.

All right, all right.

Some of the highlights:

1.How to Make Bread with Bread.

I was attracted to this seminar by the title, thinking it concerned techniques of restarting a bread dough by using crumbs or something. Silly me. It was a seminar on how to make money selling bread. Get it? In summary, you make some bread and then sell it, preferably at smaller lengths/weights so you can rip people off better.

2. Foraging.

This was a fascinating discussion by Darryl Patton about traditional southern medicine, which comes from a blend of Indian, English, and African cultures. There are 3000 species of medicinal flowers and plants in each state and Patton knew every single one of them and then some. Funny guy. He described the fine art of 1960s television tuning, starting out with rabbit ears

… no, not those rabbit ears…

and then you’d upgrade to aluminum on the rabbit ears and then the youngest kid in the family holding the ears at the right angle with one foot raised and both eyes closed and presto! Lawrence Welk. Only those of you who experienced this can appreciate it.

Solzhenitsyn developed cancer while he was in the gulag and cast about for cancer medicine in the Siberian villages but there wasn’t any, not because of Democratic Socialist Wonderful People’s Healthcare, comrade, but because Siberians didn’t get cancer. They drank chaga tea their whole lives and it apparently prevents it. It’s part of current cancer prevention research. Chaga’s hard to find because it only grows in really cold areas, like the northern US and Canada. Which made me wonder what it’s doing in a seminar about southern traditional medicine.

Sassafras root has long been known as a blood thinner and fever breaker. It’s more recently known as the base for ecstasy.

Plantain was brought over by the English. You know, that ugly big-leafed weed in the middle of your yard? The leaves are like spinach. When it gets really big it’s called ribwort and you grind it up to get Metamucil. Juniper’s inner bark is a fertility drug so, ladies, don’t chew on Christmas trees unless you’re looking for a different kind of present.

3. Ferments.

Now we’re talking, or at least I thought we were talking about how to turn random plants into noxious spirits that the revooners frown upon, but no. Instead, we talked about kvass and scobies and kefir and kombucha (something like that) and other things I had never heard of and now regard with some suspicion. I mean, get this wrong and you end up with cyanide. Or botulism.

4. Doug and Stacy Part 1.

These two are Youtube celebrities who left their good jobs in the city to go off-grid. Why? Eh, why not? Doug is a funny guy and Stacy tolerates him and it was good fun. They both glommed on to an Amish community to learn the ways of off-gridedness, and one of the first things they tried was a 10,000 square foot garden because that’s what their Amish neighbors had. But their Amish neighbors had something they didn’t: fifteen kids or so, which makes tending to a 10,000 square foot garden a mite easier than if you DON’T have fifteen kids or so. It also makes it a lot easier when you’re 80 years old and someone needs to sling a horse-harnessed plow around the yard…yes, youngest kid of fifteen available, I’m looking at you. Progression of labor is why the Amish have large families…that and no television.

5. Eustace Conway.

I’m not familiar with this guy but he’s a big deal in the homesteader community because, at the age of 17, he moved into a tipi in the woods and stayed there for 17 years. Ah, so “homestead” is a polite way to say “bum.” Those 17 years taught him what he needed to live. Apparently a barber is not in the mix.

6. Canning.

Don’t confuse this with ferments, you Philistine. Got a lot of tips from this seminar, should I decide to start canning the various squashes and vegetables I manage to grow in my insignificant little garden patch. I’m pretty sure I would end up with a can of germ warfare, though, so I’ll stick to the supermarket. You may not know this but salt is for curing while sugar is for preserving. Cane sugar is the strongest preservative available…except for formaldehyde, I guess, but who wants to pickle something other than Amenhotep using that? Once a jar is vacuum sealed, it’s safe to eat forever but you probably wouldn’t want to.

7. Soap Making.

You know, after a hard day of killing zombies, you just want to relax in a bubble bath of ye own homemade soap. You cannot make soap without lye. Just can’t. Fats + lye = soap. Got it? So throw some bear fat and alkali into a pot and there you go. I had never heard the word “saponification” before this seminar, which is apparently what happens when the fat and lye eat each other in the pot. It’s a pretty intense process, if you remember Granny by the cement pond stirring the kettle,

so you can’t use herbs because they get burned up. Have to use essential oils which are really expensive. Consider bear fat, instead. You can throw in clays like bentonite and pumice or poppy seeds for that Lava soap consistency…or you can buy Lava soap.

8. Joel Salatin.

Another homesteading celebrity who I listened to for about five minutes before heading out to rustle up some grub. He was talking about cleaning animals and you can’t haul water, you have to use something called “pipes” and really, dude?

9. Doug and Stacy Part Deux.

This closed out the show because we can’t get enough of Doug and Stacy. No really, they’re very entertaining. They talked about the colors of food and what that means, such as red is lycopene in tomatoes. Blue/purple is anthocyanin…say, what? Is that like cyanide? Best lay off the eggplants. Foods with some bitterness are the best for you. Purslane has the highest amount of Omega 3’s of any other plant. You mean that crappy weed I keep digging out of the rock path is good for me? Okay, thanks.

Gonna get me some overalls and a straw hat, I am.

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Free beer

Eehh! Caught ya! It’s actually free books, three of them, to be exact. I’m giving away signed copies of The Ship to Look for God trilogy. Now through 14 Dec, go here, fill out the contact form, and pray for victory.

Giveaway rules are here.

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Stan Lee was my Father

Not in the Darth Vader/Luke Skywalker sense; more in the Max Perkins/Thomas Wolfe one. (Now THERE’s a literary reference that’s going to cause a Google scramble!). If anyone fired up my imagination and urge to write stories, it was Stan the Man. And Ray Bradbury. And Alexander Key. And Sheila Moon.


But I digress.

Because, back then, those halcyon 60’s, Stan Lee fired up my geek/nerd/dweeb/spaz imagination as I raced down the street to Carl’s Drug Store with my allowance in hand to snatch up his creations: the first Fantastic Four, the first X-Men, the first Ghost Rider 

(the real Ghost Rider, not the later scary one. Which I also bought). I was in the Merry Marvel Marching Society and uttered “Nuff Said!” and “True Believer!” and ”Excelsior!” in every other sentence. I read Stan Lee’s Soapbox religiously, as well as the letters, and knew who John Romita and Jack “King” Kirby

and the hapless Artie Simek (they always insulted the letterer in the credits box) were. But Stan was the king,  the conductor, the guy running the show and keeping that unruly Marvel Bullpen in good-natured line so we FOOMs could get a new adventure every month. Or so. Or three.

I learned to read with those comics. Piles of them, from Rawhide Kid to Iron Man, on the back porch of my best friend’s house as we poured through them over and over with me going, “What’s that word? What’s this word?” and him patiently teaching because he was in fourth grade and I was in first. By the end of second grade I was reading at a fifth grade level. By the end of third, I was trying to write stories. I’m still trying.

All because of you, Stan.

Take a look (hint hint hint) at Frank Vaughn Killed by his Mom to see how important Marvel was to 60s kid-dom. Me and about a million other pointy-heads were obsessed with X-Men and the Avengers and Sergeant Fury up till we were about fifteen years old, then it was Shang-chi and Iron Fist and Daredevil and scary Ghost Rider

and the other lower level heroes as the galactic fell to the mundane. And then the mundane fell to the daily struggle and we didn’t buy comics anymore; we bought furniture. Then we had children and introduced them to Grampaw Stan, a re-introduction and renewal and there we were again, buying graphic novels of the stories we’d missed like Civil War and Secret Wars and Frank Miller’s Daredevil and then the movies, the marvelous movies. My childhood came back, in Dolby.

And there Stan still was, still conducting, still running things…well, maybe not so much. What Stan did to Jack and how he let Jim Shooter cudgel Marvel into pudding and his growing distance from the universe he’d created, well, this is what time does.

But that’s okay. It’s okay, Stan. You birthed a nation. There are hordes of aging Boomers with gravel in the expanding gut and spit in the cataracted eye who fondly remember, who soar the universe on silver surfboards and walk the streets of Asgard and swing from building to building on webs and rope canes. Rest easy, Dad.

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Pudding Fist

They gave the Fist to Colleen Wing.

Are you kidding me?

Now, before you leap on your feminist high horse and give me all that I-am-woman-hear-me-Kiaa crap, understand that it’s not grrl power or anything like that which sparks my incredulity. It is the baffling lack of logic behind what was obviously a pandering, politically correct  move. What baffling lack of logic, you inquire? Well, like, say, what is the reason or purpose for K’unlun? I mean, if all you need is some old Fist blood and a brand new tattoo, then why the deuce do you have to spend your entire life training to fight a dragon?

Danny Rand got rooked. Danny Rand should ask for his life back.

Other considerations, like, why didn’t Davos think of this earlier? Why didn’t his Mom? How in the blue blazing hell does a former member of the Hand end up with the Fist? And what the heck is that last sequence with Fist Bullets?

This is not Iron Fist. It’s not even a reasonable facsimile. I think the closest the writers ever came to it was glancing at an Iron Fist comic book cover on a newsstand as they were driving by. I actually started rooting for Davos. At least he understood what the Fist was for.

Upside, the fighting was better this season and you got to actually SEE the Fist,

which is why I upgraded it from Jell-o to Pudding. But it was still nonsensical. Colleen is a good basic-level sword instructor but a martial arts master? No. Not even close. A guy who spent twenty years practicing mystic martial artists and fighting a dragon is, however, and certainly doesn’t need some iffy samurai showing him how to fight. And a Japanese girl and a white boy telling the Tongs they must give up their centuries’ old traditions? Well, why don’t you invade Manchuria and machine gun the Boxers while you’re at it?

Other upsides: Typhoid Mary as the female Punisher and Misty Knight coming into her own, although her cyborg arm should be far more badass than it is. I would love to see Misty in her own series…own. With Colleen and Jessica Jones. That would be badass. How ’bout a team-up between Typhoid and Punisher? Oh, man. Get the popcorn.

But there aren’t enough upsides to save the show and it looks like Netflix has figured that out and thrown in the towel. Good. Iron Fist is one of my favorite Marvel characters  and what they did to him was criminal.

Matt Murdock should sue them.

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Conflict of Interest

I  went to Capclave 2018 instead of Lost Weekend 10 because the two conflicted. And because I can’t hang. At least at Capclave I can go to sleep at a reasonable time and wake at a reasonable time and take breaks and eat and do all the things that a 30-movie 4-day marathon exclude. Yes, getting soft in my old age.

I showed up around 3 on Friday, Sep 28th, about an hour before the first seminars kicked in and threw my stuff in the hotel room. Nice place. Then to it. The first thing I did was jump into a game of Valeria: Card Kingdoms,

which I had never heard of but is now definitely on my list of games to get. It was fun and I think I was on my way to winning but had to move on to the seminars:

  1. The Business of Editing. Panelists: Elektra Hammond, David Stokes, Jack Skillingstead, Alex Shvartsman. This was fairly basic with a lot of time spent discussing the various types of editing, from developmental to copyediting. The editors on the panel tend to work with people they meet at conventions or through recommendations so if you’re looking for a job, start attending. David Brin put Skillingstead through the most extensive editing ever. Brin had put together an anthology with a positive take on the surveilled society and Skillingstead’s submission wasn’t all that upbeat. Sheila at Clarkesworld had him cut 5000 words out of a 15,000 word story and he had to admit, it was better. Stokes said a story can always be shorter. Always. There are “hang out” novels, read for the author’s voice, and no one really cares how long it is or if everything in it applies. John Irving is a good example. Hammond said she often gets manuscripts that are really first drafts; the story actually starts in Chapter 4. Stephen King had written Salem’s Lot chronologically and was told to switch the first and last chapters. Voila, best seller. Skillingstead used to take short stories and type them out so he could see what the author was doing without the distraction of the printed “magic.” When an author signs a contract, it’s an agreement to editorial direction. No one’s words are so precious they can’t be changed, although Skillngstead hates it when editors mess with his sentences. Shvartsman reads a submission to the point he knows whether it’s right for him. Gardner Dozois could tell from the first page. Generally you have about a page to catch the editor’s attention.
  2. Small Press Publishing. Panelists: Danielle Ackley-McPhail, David Stokes, Ian Randal Strock, Sean Wallace. Most of the editors admitted they fell into publishing unintentionally. For Stokes, it started as a joke he made to a friend who was writing a book, “If no one else is interested, I’ll publish it.” What helped push him into publishing was the job market for PhDs in History. The primary contact small publishers have is at conventions like Capclave. The slush pile is murder to the point that Strock finds it’s easier to get pitches from people attending. Advertising works, but none of the publishers could say which piece of it does. Small presses publish the novels from big time authors that their big time publishers reject. Readers love it when an author has a body of work. A publisher doesn’t print books; that’s the printers’ job. A publisher puts a logo on the cover telling the reader this book is worth their time. The big publishers are run by accountants now, not editors, which is why you see a flood of identical books at any given time. When a formula succeeds, such as Harry Potter, they jump on it.
  3. Dark Fantasy vs Horror. Allen L. Wold, Michelle Sonnier, Darrell Schweitzer, Hildy Silverman. Schweitzer stated it baldly: there’s no difference between the two except as a marketing ploy. If a distinction is to be made then horror has less hope while dark fantasy deals with evil. Actually, I think it’s easier than that. Horror deals with the real world (yes, yes, define “real”) while dark fantasy with imaginary ones. If Frankenstein is running around, then it’s horror. If Puck, then it’s fantasy. M. R. James felt that horror should be somewhat remote, set in your grandfather’s time and you’re hearing the story some years later. Dark fantasy is not necessarily trying to scare you, like horror is. And please don’t include slasher movies, which someone on the panel called, “fuck and die” movies. Charles Williams ran with C. S. Lewis and Tolkien and wrote horror stories that only work if you believe in Christianity. A story is an event in someone’s life while a novel is a time period.
  4. Writing Near Future Scifi. T. Eric Bakutis, David Bartell, David Walton, Carolyn Gilman.

This turned out to be the best panel I attended the entire convention because it was free-wheeling and fun and it was more like a big discussion at a party than a lecture panel. Near Future scifi is the term replacing “mundane scifi,” I guess, because it deals with things as they are now, just taken a step further. I always defined mundane as scifi of the here and now, no FTL or galactic populations, and that pretty much is what we talked about. It is more a commentary about the world as it is, not what it can be. I buy that. Besides, writing mundane…er, near future…scifi is a lot easier than world building. Trust me. One of the panelists (regretfully I cannot remember who) said we are not in the Space Age, at least not any longer, because two guys with a canoe doesn’t make you a seafaring nation. So spot on. A guy in the audience said that Orwell did not anticipate we would actually like Big Brother. He wrote 1984 as a warning, not a prescription. The seminar then turned into a wide-ranging discussion about virtual reality, facial recognition technology, ads that social media offers and Amazon choosing your books for you. Very stimulating and lots of fun.

And on that note, I went to bed.

The next morning started out with some forgettable breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant and then on to:

  1. Writing Mixed Genres. Panelists: Jack Campbell/John Hemry, Brenda Clough, Andrew Fox, David Keener. The opening statement: “Amazon has changed our lives.” BFO. Most writers believe they have an insight denied the common man so are given to such profundities. But the point is valid because Amazon means cross-genre books that no self-respecting publisher would touch are now all over the place. You can find My Little Pony post apocalyptic literature, tentacle porn, naked battle elves…any odd combination you can conceive or not has some representation there. Fun to write, as Fox (who has the best novel title in decades, Fat White Vampire Blues) said, but hell to market. Seriously. Where do you list Naked Battle Elves? Under fantasy? Sexual perverted fantasy, at that? Shake my head ruefully. Publishers see everything in black and white, not the subtle shades that indies do, which is why the same authors dominate the shelves in bookstores. Walk into any of them and you’ll find six different editions of Game of Thrones. Heinlein said the publishing game was rigged but the only way to win was to keep playing. About the only place to find indie book titles outside of Amazon are at indie bookstores. No kidding.
  2. The Best of 2018. Panelists: Jim Freund, Jonathan Edelstein, A. C. Wise. Given the avalanche of possible reading material, both publisher and indie (see above), I attended this panel hoping to get some direction. Turns out this was a contest between all of the panelists about which of them was more hip to the Latest Thing. They did confirm a slightly distressing trend: translations are big. Specifically, translations from the Chinese. I’d already noticed that Chinese scifi stories were very much in vogue the last couple of years, especially in Clarkesworld. Last year’s Capclave seemed dedicated to it. Not that I’m opposed to Chinese scifi. Some of it is very good. But vogue tends to push out everything else and I wonder what I’m missing. Worse, it is cementing my suspicion that editors are making choices based on political correctness. As Wise said, it’s all about the color and sex of the writer. Since I’m the whitest straightest old guy in America, I haven’t got a prayer (that, and my crappy writing). Although, I am slightly Choctaw. My paternal grampaw and grandma were half Choctaw each, or some such combination (one of them may have been ¾, not sure) making my Dad a quarter and me an eighth (or does that make him half and me a quarter?). My grandparents are registered with the Choctaw Nation. No, really. I’ve got more Indian blood in my left foot than Elizabeth Warren has in her entire family. So maybe I should change my name to D. FallsDownTheStairs or something and claim a genyouwine Indian awthentical voice. Bet I’d get a publisher then. Anyways, the panelists gave some suggestions that sparked my interest, such as Blackfish City.
  3. Guest of Honor Interview, Nancy Kress. This panel was a delight, made more so because the interviewer, Jack Skillingstead, is Nancy Kress’ husband so there was a lot of fun with questions like “What’s for dinner?” I have read a few things of hers, notably Beggars in Spain, but she never was one of my top gotos. That’s changed after this panel. She’s won six Nebulas, two Hugos, and a smattering of other awards and runs the Clarion Workshop…or has some major doings with it, I’m not sure. She grew up rather isolated in northern New York (having lived there for four years, I can empathize) and thought all writers were dead, like Alcott. She did not see any scifi until she was 14 yo. She had a boyfriend who was a concert pianist and she would hang out adoringly at his piano while he practiced. But she was tone deaf and drifted over to his Dad’s bookshelves, where she found Clarke’s Childhood’s End. She didn’t want to be a writer, wanted to be a teacher and so did, 4th Grade.

During her first marriage, she was out in the country taking care of Irish twins…Irish twins? What’s that? Her husband was gone all day and at school at night so she began writing. Her first story was accepted by Galaxy…right before it went bankrupt. Every other writer in America knew it was going under and had stopped sending them stories, which probably helped her get accepted, but it took her three years to get paid the $105.00. While she was taking night courses, she met Judith Merril. Kress has written 136 stories, many of them novellas. Beggars is her best known and she wrote it out of jealousy of those who don’t need much sleep because she does. Her favorite of her novellas is Fountain of Age, and said she didn’t like all of her stories. I noted a slight tone of regret in her voice when talking about Beggars. I suspect she’s already heard enough about how good that story is and doesn’t want to be a one trick pony. Her first stories were lush fantasies, but she became hard scifi as she went along. Can’t take everything with you on a journey. Her first novel was Prince of Morning Bells, which she described as picaresque. She sent it to Ursula Leguin’s agent and the only reason he bothered was due to her short stories. Theodore Sturgeon gave it a good review. She has had a haphazard career, nothing planned, writing things that lit a spark within her, like a character or an idea. Her favorite author is Jane Austen and she does not understand why people don’t read fiction because the brain is wired to understand the world in stories. Her older son, though, reads only non-fiction: “Why would I read something that didn’t happen?”

The Dispossessed was the first scifi novel she read where the characters were rounded. Scifi up to that point was under the thumb of Clarke and Asimov and others who believed only in ideas, not characters. Asimov actually wrote an essay called The Little Tin God of Characterization.

Kress went to the Sycamore Hill workshop run by Bruce Sterling, who is not a tactful man. He described the novella she brought as “rearranging decorations on a moldy scifi cake.” He called it a series of tropes and said she had not considered economics, what the haves owe the have-nots. So she rewrote it into Beggars of Spain.

She really hates scifi movies because they get everything wrong. Apparently the only things that can escape a black hole are Hawking radiation and Michael McConaughey.

  1.  By contrast, the Guest of Honor interview of Alyssa Wong was not a delight. It was like watching an episode of The View. I guess. I never saw an episode of the View but I imagine it is like this. At one point, I thought Wong and the interviewer would braid each other’s hair. Yes, yes, generation gap, I freely admit. But it was off-putting and not a big motivator for me to read anything Wong has written. Which I have yet to do.
  1. Gravity Waves. Inge Heyer. I love Dr. Heyer’s presentations. Last year, it was the solar eclipse and this year, gravity waves. How cool. Einstein told us 100 years ago that they existed. And it’s simple, really: if matter moves, you’re going to get waves, just like a boat moving through water. Matter tells spacetime how to curve, and objects moving through space follow that curve. Think of a roulette ball. Saturn is the least dense planet in our solar system. It can actually float in water, if you could get a tub big enough. Run-of-the-mill gravity waves are too slight for us to detect. You need something really big, like a collision of two black holes or a neutron star going off, something like that, to produce a gravity wave powerful enough to notice. At least, at a distance. If one went off next door, we’d know it because life would end. Fortunately, there’s nothing powerful enough close enough to us to produce that magnitude of a wave, but it does make detecting one problematic because the likeliest candidates are so far away, outside our galaxy. Hence, the LIGO project, interferometers built far enough apart that a real gravity wave can be verified and not just be a truck driving by. The buildings contain mirrors suspended from pendulums and they’re looking for the “chirp,” that exact moment when two black holes merge, followed by the “ringdown.” There have been two confirmations so far of gravity waves, and we’re working on four more. One of them came from the Magellanic Clouds and looks like a black hole merge. When neutrons collide they create heavy elements like gold and silver. One such collision could create as much gold as 10x the mass of the moon. Yes, this all sounds scattered but that’s because I’m giving you the treatment from my notes, which are kind of random. If you want a better take on this, look at my review of Govert Schilling’s Ripples in Spacetime. Quite a pleasure to find out that Dr. Heyer and Schilling are acquaintances.
  1. How to Remember Everything. Lawrence M. Schoen. I’d tell you more about this seminar, but I forgot. Yuk yuk. Been waiting all day to say that. John Jacob Astor, holding a teddy bear with a golf ball for an eye and wearing a rose with a caterpillar on it and smoking a cigar, is frowning at Crazy Horse killing a buffalo, while a ceiling fan holding mushrooms spins overhead. He’s waiting to escape on a hot air balloon made out of the Declaration of Independence as the iceberg is hit and the sand castle on top falls. So it’s to the moon and its fire hydrant opened with a can opener to wash away a sundae on top of an Aztec calendar into the mouth of a husky. I think I’m missing four or five, but that’s pretty good after a month.
  1. Book Design 101. Danielle Ackley-McPhail.

Danielle and her husband, Michael, are my two favorite people at Capclave although they are far too busy to do much more than exchange greetings and gossip when I pop around. So I jumped at the chance to take a basic book design workshop she put on because she knows what she’s doing. I am trying my own hand at formatting the Frank Vaughn trilogy and could use some tips. She worked publishing for 25 years, the past few with Dark Quest Books, which died at its own hands. I’d love to hear that story. It was a good workshop and I learned that I don’t have a clue what I’m doing so maybe I’m going to hire a pro.

I went to the Awards Ceremony as standard and talked with some people and bought a couple of books, one I didn’t want but I like the author so there’s that.  I got Nancy Kress to sign a couple of her short stories in a couple of anthologies I have, one of which

already has Greg Bear’s signature. Two more to go, that is, two more still living. I went to bed, got up on Sunday and, ya know, I’m done, so I went home.

But not before buying a ticket for next year. They’ve got Robert Sawyer as the Guest of Honor.

Oh boy.

Posted in Pros and Cons, Uncategorized | Comments Off on Conflict of Interest

World Series Update

Figured it was about time I updated things, like several series I finished over the past few months:

  1. Daniel Suarez’ Daemon and Freedom. Daemon left me breathless. My goodness, talk about brutal and ruthless. Freedom, though, threw a great big bucket of ice water on all that when it turned the entire story into typical far left corporations-bad communes-good kerap. But it did underscore the far left’s willingness to slaughter millions simply to install their own narrow version of how the rest of us should live. Under their guidance, of course. Because there’s something about being a talented computer programmer that gives you a greater ability to tell everyone else how to live their lives than they can on their own. Still, it’s a great read. Just know what you’re getting into.
  2. Ann Leckie’s Ancillary series. Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, Ancillary Mercy…wow, wow, WOW! Just love this trilogy and, yes, I understand it’s more than a trilogy but these are the base books and you gotta read them before you read anything else. The story of Breq, the ancillary (read “zombie soldier”) who becomes a starship (yep, a starship) and then a Fleet Captain opposed to the warring aspects of his empress (read “clones of the empress who are fighting each other”) as he cherishes the memory of his beloved captain when he was a starship…c’mon, with a description like that, you know you have to read them. The last book reduces this universe-wide story to a single star system, which makes the whole thing manageable. You can catch your breath.
  3. N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series. The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, The Stone Sky…wow, wow, WOW! Nothing more to say. She’s won the Hugo three years running for a reason.
  4. Abaddon’s Gate. The third book of The Expanse series. Let’s just say this completely changes the direction of the story. Completely. I don’t know if that’s good or bad yet. Tell ya after the next one, Cibola Burn.
  5. Second season of Jessica Jones: Hmm. Not…bad, but who’s this whiny, self-pitying dweeb and what have you done with the real Jessica Jones? And Trish as Hellcat? Dunno ‘bout this.
  6. Second season of Luke Cage. That’s MUCH better. They got away from the 70’s-style blaxploitation silliness and made a gripping, gritty, street fighter black superhero show the way it should be. I could have done without the tropes (“Hands up, Don’t Shoot” did not happen) but the show played straight throughout. Shades is now my favorite villain: a murderous cold blooded killer with a conscience. And Misty Knight has come into her own.

7. Second season of Iron Fist. Hmm. I’m only halfway through and have mixed feelings. When I’m done, I’ll give this the full treatment.

Posted in Merry Marvel Marching Society, Reading itself | Comments Off on World Series Update

Harsh Mistress

The 49th anniversary of the first moon landing passed a few days ago with no fanfare, no notice, no interest. As has every single moon landing and its anniversary since about the time Alan Shepard whacked a golf ball into orbit there.

I get that. Once something’s been done, subsequent doing of those things stir little interest. Whoever was tenth to reach America didn’t get the press that Columbus did.

But the first moon landing was a big deal to me so on July 20th I did what I did back on July 20th, 1969 and took my telescope out and gave the moon a look-see.  These pictures are courtesy of a Samsung 9 through the eyepiece. It was a cloudy night and things were a bit eerie, but not bad.

Not bad at all.

Look at this place. Harsh mistress, indeed.

We should be there. Maybe not on the moon itself because, harsh, but a space station orbiting it, definitely. Then we can shoot things over to Mars and go monolith hunting around Jupiter and haul back an asteroid or two for fun. All the enviro-istas will scream about exploiting space but, gotta ask, strip mine for minerals here, or pick up a few loose rocks lying around the Kuiper Belt? Your choice, dudes.

Posted in Life in the Shenandoah Valley | Comments Off on Harsh Mistress