Continued Correspondences from my Love Affair with the Great British Author Neil Gaiman (and more recently Terry Pratchett)

1 08 2008

Neil – Oh dear, how embarrassing! I came across this unposted letter while finishing up my most recent one. I shall post them both together, and I apologize for my forgetfulness.

July 3rd 2008

Dear Neil,

I have, as promised, moved cautiously from our one-afternoon stands to timidly attempting a weekend getaway (encouraged by my trusted relationship-advise-giving friends) with Nerverwhere. Though I did believe this particular adventure of yours was overall quite predictable (really, I knew almost exactly how the weekend was going to go after the first couple pages!) It was definitely satisfying. There were a few minor surprises but most of the enjoyment came from the way you described and really showed me the ins and outs of your imagination. Your ability to create worlds is astounding, and your attention to little details and the bits of humor you bring to our time together are much appreciated.

That being said, I am still cautious about entering another long-term relationship with you. Though the combination of the current success of our weekend fling and my lack of plans for the rest of the summer is damaging my resolve to stay away from your longer writings…

Yours occasionally,

– Lindsay

July 31st 2008

Dear Neil and Terry,

You sure know how to show a reader a good time! I must admit I was a bit skeptical at first… my attempt to find someone other than Neil to spend some time with (Terry, that’d be you) didn’t quite work out as planned. I found myself so intimidated by your section of the bookstore, Terry, that it was much easier to go with the partially familiar and pick up both you and Neil in Good Omens. As it turns out, you two are so much fun together (as I’m sure you’ve both heard before) that I felt entirely at ease with both of you no matter where we went or what we were doing! (On the subway, camping, anywhere! Though I have yet to try the bathtub as you both seemed to suggest… ahem.) You guys kept me laughing out loud all week. I even wrote down my favorite exchange:

In fact the only things in the flat Crowley devoted any personal attention to were the houseplants. They were huge and green and glorious, with shiny, healthy, lustrous leaves.
This was because, once a week, Crowley went around the flat with a green plastic plant mister, spraying the leaves, and talking to the plants. He had heard about talking to plants in the early seventies, on Radio Four, and thought it an excellent idea. Although talking is perhaps the wrong word for what Crowley did.

What he did was put the fear of God into them.

More precisely, the fear of Crowley.

The plants were the most luxurious, verdant, and beautiful in London. Also the most terrified.

In addition to which, every couple of months Crowley would pick out a plan that was growing too slowly, or succumbing to leaf-wilt or browning, of just didn’t look quite as good as the others, and he would carry it around to all the other plants. “Say goodbye to your friend,” he’d say to them. “He just couldn’t cut it…”

Then he would leave the flat with the offending plant, and return an hour or so later with a large, empty flower pot, which he would leave somewhere conspicuously around the flat.

The plants were the most luxurious, verdant, and beautiful in London. Also the most terrified.

Pure brilliance.

I did find the end of our time together a little, thrown together? Hasty? Dissatisfying? Or perhaps I was just a little distracted by the end of our week together. I do wish I could pursue a long-term relationship with both of you together (please?) though I understand if you would rather not continue to be involved with each other and I hope I can continue to see both of you separately in the future. The week I got to spend with both of you was splendid, and I shall treasure it always.

And Neil – I think I’d like to try something new with you in the future, I’ll keep you posted ^.~

Yours more frequently,

– Lindsay


Anticipating Anticipation

31 07 2008

As some of you might already be aware – Denvention (world science fiction convention held this year in Denver, CO) is beginning soon. When Dan, Jacob and I started this blog way back in February, getting to Denvention was our original goal. We began posting our projects and our thoughts hoping to show the world we were awesome college students deserving of going to Worldcon. We had a “Donate” page and a couple wonderful, amazing people did actually support us! Unfortunately, going to Denvention is a lot of money – especially for us Massachusetts-dwelling individuals. There was a possibility of going there by Veggie-Oil powered School Bus to cut down on traveling costs (and to help the environment!) but the cost of the Convention itself is a lot for us college kids struggling with minimum wage jobs and trying to keep our Student Loans in mind (oh god… the terror…) and our bus, unfortunately, is in no shape for another road trip. It barely made it back from the first one!

So for those of you in the process of getting ready for Denvention, please do not fret when you do not see any of us there – we truly wish we could go, but it was simply not possible this year. I wish you all safe travels and a phenomenal Worldcon!

Falling short of our goal to go to Denvention is dispiriting, but I have found something just as exciting to anticipate! Jacob and I have already bought memberships for Anticipation! (Worldcon 2009 in Montreal, Quebec) So we will almost definitely be going to Worldcon next year. Additionally, though our blog was originally started with the intent to get us to Denvention, it continues to grow and change into something far more sustainable and wonderful and I hope you all will continue to come back and read our fantastic commentary on the world at large, in addition to keeping up with our latest projects! (Our current project is making a better blog format so you can all easily see our latest projects, heh.)

Look for me in Montreal, August 2009!

Zombie Apocalypse: Choose Your Own Final Stand

30 07 2008

On facebook there is a current group titled If 1,000,000 People Join This Group, We Get Heath Ledger Back. Sidestepping the Humor vs. Tasteless argument entirely, I would like to move on to a more pressing problem that this group, ahem, raises.

Zombies. If 1,000,000 people join, and the group succeeds in doing what it promises, it has been pointed out that Heath Ledger could possibly come back as a zombie. Might that be the catalyst for the Zombie Apocalypse?

Begin exciting fantasy: The Zombie Apocalypse is in full swing and you are making your final stand against the zombie hoards. One thing’s for sure – you’re going down. You are going to die and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.. But how’s it going to go?

1. Choose your ideal setting

2. Choose one weapon

3. Choose what song you want playing in the background to make your final stand the most awesome moment ever.

Additional Fantasy Fun:

4. Add any exciting details you want (final words, your last meal, who you would call right before your final moment, etc) just remember when it’s all over, you’re dead!

Review: New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear

29 07 2008

On a weekend trip to visit my grandparents in upstate New York, I read New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear. It’s a collection of episodes about an ancient vampire-detective named Sebastian and Abigail Irene Garrett, forensic sorceress for the Crown. They go about solving all sorts of mysteries, mostly magical and gruesome. In this alternate history, the sun never set on the British Empire. At the dawn of the 20th century, tensions are heating up overseas in the colonies between the royalists and those who advocate for home rule. It is an exciting time for the first vampire to arrive in the New World.

The collection reads almost like a fantasy-based Sherlock Holmes novel, or maybe a very sophisticated Encyclopedia Brown book, with magic. In each episode, Abigail Irene, Sebastian, and the rest of the cast are faced with a challenging mystery, usually a messy and magical death. Using state of the art sorcerous techniques and good-old gumshoe investigating they invariably figure out the answer. It’s pretty fun to read if you like that sort of thing, and might remind you of various incredibly formulaic detective stories, almost.

Unlike Holmes, Brown or other traditionally episodic detectives, the characters of New Amsterdam have highly complicated and constantly changing relationships with each other and other powers in their world. Their actions in one story have reverberations down the rest. Relationships between characters change as they solve mysteries, which affects the way they approach problems. While each story stands on its own, the overarching narrative and character arcs make what could be just another detective story come to life.

I want to focus on this point a little more. Taken individually, each story in Bear’s New Amsterdam is interesting, if formulaic. The characters are detailed enough that in no story are they entirely flat or completely predictable, though they do have their patterns. I’ve read a number of similar episodic detective stories, but this is the first one that has a complicated character arc unfolding over the course of the larger narrative. It’s so complicated and subtle that I didn’t realize a character had been growing toward a particular point for about three stories until one line which made me go, “Woah. That makes sense!”

Bear’s vampires are another of those super erotic types, definitely ripe for gross cliché. Yet, I think she handles them well. Instead of sexily seducing young pretty things, her vampires form courts of supporters who sustain them. It’s something that readers of large amounts of vampire literature may be familiar with, but I wasn’t. While this could just be a major undead-sex-fest, Bear actually builds the most interesting characters out of interactions between members of Sebastian’s court. It’s only a minor undead-sex-fest—the vampire’s bite causes a most intense and nearly-orgasmic experience. If you were thinking, “My twelve-year-old might like this,” you should figure out if it will make them uncomfortable first.

However, Bear writes really strong female protagonists. Abigail Irene is not a damsel in distress. She handles spells, murdering beasts, and pistols, skills all young girls should learn. In addition, Sebastian has a remarkably healthy attitude toward intimate relationships, multiple and long term relationships, for a vampire. Definitely worth exposing your kid to these types of characters early and often.

In short, New Amsterdam is a nearly formulaic detective vampire orgy that’s likely to rattle your neo-post-victorianist sensibilities. It’s fun, and candy-like—but a sophisticated hard candy that you kind of have to suck on a little before you can figure out what flavor it actually is, not to mention that it’s got some good vitamins. Reading this book isn’t exactly vegging out, because Bear is really smart and it shows in her writing (which is a good thing!). If you’re looking for a good four-hour car-ride book or one-chapter-each-commute book, and don’t have something super important like homework to do, I recommend reading New Amsterdam.

Neal Stephenson on Science Fiction and Literature

11 07 2008

Via BoingBoing, Neal Stephenson gives an insightful talk on Science Fiction as a genre that raises a lot of interesting questions — like why is lit-era-ture so damn full of itself?

… So rather than trying to salvage anything from the standard model [of genres], I believe that it makes more sense to speak of a bifurcated culture. Of course, the bifurcation isn’t absolute or perfectly clean, but it’s clear that there are two distinct audience groups and that they have different characteristics. One carries swords in elevators and the other doesn’t.

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Criss Cross Circus Documentary Trailer!

7 07 2008

We are in dark times, environmental collapse has pushed the territory formerly known as the United States to the brink of despair… but there is hope! Watch as a touring circus spreads joy and happiness across what’s left of the nation. (Hey look! We were a science fiction themed circus after all…)

Molly has kindly put together The Criss Cross Circus Documentary trailer on youtube. Check it out! (And watch for the Documentary as well as our book – coming soon!):

Review: Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer

2 07 2008

Rollback, by Robert J. Sawyer (blog, website) tells the story of elderly Sarah Halifax, a former Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) researcher, through the eyes of her husband of sixty years, Donald. At the height of her career, Sarah broke a code sent by an alien species to earth, figured out what it said, and then sent a message back. Nearly forty years later, earth receives another message from the aliens, but this time encrypted. Despite knowing the previous code, the message still comes out as gibberish. Many eyes are on Sarah to break the encryption, even though she is in the last few years of her life. When Cody McGavin, a billionaire roboticist offers to pay for a costly life-lengthening medical procedure known as a rollback, Sarah agrees on the condition that Cody pay for Donald’s treatment as well.

When things go wrong with Sarah’s rollback, it becomes a story of a couple deeply in love faced with an oncoming tragedy that nothing in the world can possibly avert. Between flashbacks and conversations, Donald tells the story of his relationship with Sarah, as well as her first triumph translating the alien language. The characters are relatively predictable, which is in line with the other Sawyer book I’ve read, Hominids (which was so bad… yet it won a Hugo, wtf?)

Deftly woven into these interactions and memories are discussions of the SETI program. Rollback is nearly an elaborate essay or fictional case study of the characteristics of a SETI astronomer. It makes some thought provoking, keen observations and speculations about intelligent life that is interested in finding other intelligent life. They’re certainly things that I’ve never considered before—I recommend reading the book if only for that reason. I would entertain the argument that the emotion is wrapped around a fascinating essay on SETI psychology.

Rollback is definitely the most thought provoking of the three Hugo-nominated books I’ve read thus far. It definitely seems the most science bound of the three I’ve read. In addition, it entertains questions of ethics and morals as well as personal responsibility. It is one of the only books I’ve read that’s made me think so much about mortality. The plot, while not complicated or really as good as either Chabon’s Yiddish Policemen’s Union or Scalzi’s Last Colony is designed to pull the ol’ heartstrings, and sometimes it’s a bit heavy-handed. This book might make you cry if you get emotional about people in love and people dying and songs like Sufjan Steven’s “Casimir Pulaski Day”:

If you like that sort of thing, you should read Rollback.

If you like cool discussions of SETI psychology and don’t mind emotional stories at the same time, you should read Rollback.

If you’re slogging through the Hugo nominees because you were too busy to read them sooner, you could also read Rollback because it’s quick, but you won’t miss anything huge if you don’t. It’s better than Hominids, and can certainly stay in the running with the other two, but it’s not my favorite.