I made something silly

13 01 2009

I opened up the Gnu Image Manipulation Program (a free open-source image editing studio similar to photoshop) just to play around with some filters. I used HSV Scatter to make a starfield and then I found myself desiring to put things in said star field, so I made a nebula cloud and then it just spiralled out of control. So, here it is, the new e-Christmas card for some friends of mine. So best future holiday wishes from Scott and Kt!


Writing update

29 12 2008

So, I’ve been writing a lot, finally.

In the week and a half before Christmas, I wrote a story currently titled “The Master Clock,” about 6500 words. It’s in editing stages. I sent it to a couple people to read and I hope they like it. (I already know where some of the problems are. Eeek. I wish I’d proofread it before I gave it to them, but I needed it out the door to feel good about myself.)

Since Christmas eve, I’ve laid down 7500 words of a story “The Crystal Face of God,” and it’s almost drafted. I think I have a fair amount more editing to do on this one though, and at least another 1000 words to add or more, because I just filled in some details so I could get to the end and have it all down.

Both are entering the editing stages. I have a few more stories in the brain pipeline that I might start working on while editing, but that will require me to pay special attention to time management, making sure I can finish everything.

Woo, productivity! Sadly, I have real work tomorrow morning, and I am up past my bedtime.

Things you learn from British SF

15 12 2008

My friend over at liniment & lead posted a fun list of thirty things you learn from current British SF:

05. Creepy people are creepy for a reason. Children are automatically creepy and are much more prone to accepting contact from alien life, hostile or otherwise.

06. Sometimes humans are the most alien of all.

07. Never question someone immortal, nearly immortal, or just bloody old. Especially if he has really great hair.

Also posted are some interesting limericks.


13 08 2008

I did it! I actually wrote a story from start to finish all on my own with no one prompting me and no one assigning anything. A resounding “I can do it.”

It’s about 2,000 words and took me three weeks to find the right voice for the ‘first’ draft. It went through several different perspectives until I found one that compelled me actually to write to the end. It’s definitely still a draft, but I did it.

I’ve started calling it “Rico Marte,” which is (according to Google Translation) Spanish for ‘rich Mars.’ If you want to get all over my case about appropriating languages I don’t rightfully know, please be my guest. But then help me figure out how to do it better. I’d even let you read the story.

Anyway, I did it. Now I’m going to edit it. Don’t they say 90% of the work gets done in 10% of the time, and the other 10% of the work takes 90% of the time? Scary thought.

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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My Hugo Votes (2008)

8 07 2008

Tonight is the Hugo deadline, which means I need to stop procrastinating and actually figure out what I like best.

Hugo voting works on an instant runoff system. Here’s my order, and why:

1. Halting State by Charles Stross
2. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon.
3. The Last Colony by John Scalzi
4. Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer
5. Brasyl by Ian McDonald

Halting State is first because it was the most exciting story of the four I read. It was also the most daring, breaking literary conventions by narrating completely in second person—and yet was still readable, even enjoyable. Highly enjoyable. I don’t necessarily think it will win, but it’s my first choice, because Stross took real risks and managed to produce something worthwhile and insightful, as I said earlier.

I really liked The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, but it’s not science fiction. It’s speculative fiction, and the only thing that sets it apart, genre-wise, from plain ol’ ordinary boring literature is that it’s speculating about an alternate past with imaginary people, rather than just imaginary people. It’s not even fantasy! However, of the five books up here, it’s the only one that stands on real literary merit, and it was nominated.

What’s the difference between literary and non-literary? Most science fiction is rote description of events in some order, sometimes even delving into the complicated literary event of the flashback (note the irony), with some character development. Intermingled are usually plain descriptions and dialogue about various scientific ideas. But nothing transcends.

“Transcends?” What the hell kind of jargon talk is that?

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union—that book has a completely different relationship with language, description and ideas than the others. Chabon doesn’t just describe the world, he brings it alive. Take this character:

Rabbi Heskel Shpilman is a deformed mountain, a giant ruined dessert, a cartoon house with the windows shut and the sink left running. A little kid lumped him together, a mob of kids, blind orphans who never laid eyes on a man. They clumped the dough of his arms and legs to the dough of his body, then jammed his head down on top. A millionaire could cover a Rolls-Royce with the fine black silk-and-velvet expanse of the rebbe’s frock coat and trousers. It would require the brain strength of the eighteen greatest sages in history to reason through the arguments against and in favor of classifying the rebbe’s massive bottom as either a creature of the deep, a man-made structure, or an unavoidable act of God. If he stands up, or if he sits down, it doesn’t make any difference in what you see.

Make sense now? You just don’t find that in any of the other books. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is like that at every turn—not science fiction, but better fiction than all the rest combined. Number two.

A side note: The sad state of science fiction is that only one book on the Hugo nominees list reads like The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, and it’s not really science fiction or fantasy at all. For pure writing, that book was meat, the rest are candy. Let’s just keep that straight, alright?

(The other sad state of the Hugo awards is that all the nominees are old(er than me) white guys. But you know, let’s leave that one the hell alone for right now.)

This is where it gets hard:

The Last Colony doesn’t deserve a Hugo, because it’s not that great, but neither did Sawyer’s Hominids. I can only speculate that the other books that year (2003) were truly horrible or everyone was suffering from a bad case of mass hallucination. I like Scalzi’s writing in general better than I like Sawyer’s—even though I thought Rollback was a better book than The Last Colony. On the off chance that neither Stross nor Chabon wins, I’d like to see Scalzi walk away with a Hugo for the whole Old Man’s War saga, even though it’d be represented by the weakest of the three. If Zoe’s Tale is a good as everything I’m hearing, Scalzi will stand a chance to pick one up for Best Novel next year—his career is still rising. Scalzi third, Sawyer fourth.

Brasyl is number five because I was unable to read it. I sat down earlier today and tried—but I couldn’t seem to get into it. In the eleventh hour, that makes all the difference. Next year I’ll hopefully be able to get to the books earlier. I’m sorry, Mr. McDonald, if you ever read this, it’s nothing personal.

The only other place I feel qualified at all to make judgments on voting is the Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form, because I’ve seen four of five of those:

1. Stardust
2. Enchanted
3. Heroes, Season 1
4. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
5. The Golden Compass

Quickly, The Golden Compass sucked in so many ways. I didn’t see Harry Potter, but it had to have been slightly better. Heroes was wonderful until halfway through the season, when they dropped one of the most important minor characters with… no explanation whatsoever. I know the mother of one of the stuntmen in Enchanted, and she speaks worlds of good things about him and the movie. Stardust was a beautiful book and a beautiful movie.

Done, and done. Now we wait.

Review: Halting State by Charles Stross

4 07 2008

At Circus Smirkus Camp, I worked with an aerialist who would tell campers when introducing a particularly painful stretch, “New stretches don’t hurt. They’re new and exciting!”

Halting State, by Charles Stross, is new and exciting. It’s different from anything I’ve read before, simply because the narrative is written in second person rather than third or first person. Instead of introducing you to the thoughts of an outsider, or letting you see through a protagonist’s eyes, Stross puts you through the story, tells you the manic jumble of tangential thoughts that you are experiencing right then and there—as if you are a character in his world. It is a mad experiment that seems to work, and in fact probably carries the book.

The year is 2018 and you are either or all at once Sue the police officer, Elaine the forensic accountant, or Jack the computer programmer. Extrapolate current online gaming culture to a future with easy wearable computing and fast distributed networks. Everyone has a head-up display (a la Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, or Elizabeth Bear’s Undertow), everyone is playing one game or another. Only, some games are more reality-based than others. When an online bank gets robbed, the effects reverberate through the real world.

Halting State is a bold and refreshing take on narrative storytelling, which happens to be set in the exciting world of computer crime. It adds a new skin on subjects that many authors have touched before. Books like the Dream Park novels by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes, parts of the Otherland series by Tad Williams, and even Cryptonomicon by Neil Stephenson come to mind.

Aside from being difficult to follow at times (because of the experimental structure), the novel suffers from the a few of the frustrating afflictions that one sees in other science fiction. Everything turns into an international terrorist plot, with the characters mingling with super-double-secret organizations to beat the Bad Guys, as well as the burning desire to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s and tie up loose ends with a final chapter of exposition. The characters suddenly gain lucidity they didn’t have and always seem to be able to make the right decision at the end and be redeemed.

Halting State does drive home one sad fact about the current gaming industry. Most games that see mass-market are based more on business models and earning potentials than innovation and good gameplay. In the future Stross creates for the industry, things do not seem much better.

At the end I found myself thoroughly satisfied. This is definitely not a book to rush through, but to savor the many delightful moments that make any geek giggle. Stross is not only a mad genius but also a sharp, witty writer, producing philosophical gems such as, “If only families came with safewords, like any other kind of augmented-reality game.” The book isn’t perfect‚ in fact, it probably rides mainly on the strength of its new narrative approach, but it makes for a fun read, and I highly recommend it.

I’ve still got to read Brasyl, by Ian McDonald. Three more days!