Good Luck!

Because it’s time to start writing if you’re participating in NaNoWriMo. And I know from experience staring late causes all sorts of problems.

I started last night, right at midnight. Stopped at an even 1000 words, because it’s a nice even number. Instead of continuing, of course, I’m writing this post, both as it has been scheduled and also because I was introduced to an author today.

Sigh.

Apparently this guy is some kind of big deal, or at least an  author with influence, though fortunately I’ve never heard from him and don’t need to worry about having it color my reading of his work. Someone feels threatened.

Because that’s what happens. Published authors, are, of course, the only ‘real’ authors, and god forbid the dirty common people get their mucky hands over their white towers.

Do I sound a little bitter? I suppose I am. When I first found NaNoWriMo, I was thrilled by the almost innocent thrill of the organizers. It wasn’t some way to convince people anything they wrote would be worthy of publishing, but to show people writing, and by extension, authors, aren’t worthy of blind devotion simply because they’ve managed to get a few tens of thousands of words onto paper. Great authors deserve recognition for their work, their word play skill, their insight into the human condition. Challenging amateur writers to make a similar effort in no way threatens the respect we pay to dedicated authors who can change the way we see the world.

If you haven’t noticed, our culture has lately failed to honor the humanities it depends on to be culture. People have recognized that modern ‘literary’ authors and critics are out of touch, that they don’t relate to humanity at all—that modern literature can be little more than a circle jerk of mutual appreciation from student to teacher to student, and hardly anyone new enters the picture.

NaNoWriMo brings hundreds of thousands of literature lovers together actively in a way I don’t recognize. Not like universities, where you have a limited list of acceptable reading material: what my professor called ‘serious’ literature. As much as I liked him, that’s such an artificial and unnatural limiting of everything literature is and can be. For example, I recently read a non-professional critical article* on the qualities of the best science fiction versus what science fiction has become. Science fiction, especially is dismissed by ‘serious’ authors because it doesn’t realize with real stuff. Whatever that’s supposed to mean. And the article points out that the best part of Science Fiction speculates about how our world today will affect the world tomorrow. What could be more profound than that? The best science fiction provokes wonder from the reader, changes the reader, offers the world possibilities. Everything the best literature has always done. Do read the article, it’s a thought-provoking read with a great discussion afterwards. But somehow science fiction is just not good enough for real authors.

Back to NaNiWriMo, why do professional authors object to others knowing how difficult it is to truly craft a novel?  I’ve long heard complaints from authors about people pointing out they just get to ‘stay at home all day’ or that they ‘have a great idea for a novel’ that they just haven’t gotten around to writing yet. Even after NaNoWriMo, people will still say these things. But some of them will actually try. And maybe they’ll appreciate how hard their favorite authors, or even least favorite authors, have to work at their profession.

No, somehow it’s a challenge. It assaults their delicate sensibilities. Maybe it even makes it harder for them to be published…because if you’ve been published once, it’s your right to be published again.

The creators of NaNoWriMo have never, in my experience presented the challenge as the path to publishing. It’s always been nothing more than permission. Permission to write a truly terrible novel that maybe no one will ever see, that will never be graded, but that maybe, just maybe, could be made into something worthwhile. With work. Every year, successful NaNo winners—which really includes everyone who attempted any writing at all—to continue to improve, to edit what they have, to expand anything missed in the rush, to close up the plot holes. And unlike everyone trying to sell their self-publishing services, the NaNo crew has always advocated editing, once the work is to that point. As an editor myself, and a discriminating reader, I greatly appreciate that attitude.

So, Mr. Bertschy, I may well read your work in the future. I probably won’t even be reminded of this post. Heck, everyone’s allowed to say stupid things; it happens. Generally, I prefer to avoid attacking others on Twitter, because it sounds so much more cruel in fewer than 140 characters. I’m sure you’re not a terrible person. But I’m blogging about it instead of replying there because I’m not sure I want to engage directly with that kind of perceived elitism. If you do stumble across this post? It’s not personal, but I hope you understand why I disagree.**

Unfortunately, while you did back off a little when the ‘tongue-in-cheek’ part was pointed out, the tone of your first tweet hit a number of my berserk buttons when it comes to literature. I truely think the literary scene suffers from the artificial split between ‘literature’ and ‘genre’ and in insulated nature of the the big prizes. These thousand words are not a direct response to you. However, if you—or others of that kind of mindset—are willing to engage in a sincere discussion on the relative worthiness of fiction, I would love you forever. Seriously.

*”The Issue with Science Fiction Nowadays: Where Has All the Wonder Gone?” by Kyllorac (August 17, 2011)

**It is exceedingly unlikely, as I’m not going to tag the name, but as the entire post was in response to that Tweet, I thought I should clarify why I felt it necessary. Should he visit, I’d hate for him to feel attacked, but it’s very difficult to have a true discussion online.

P.S. Oh look at that! Back to the tl;dr posts—looks like the limited schedule helps. And I didn’t even start to talk about my own NaNo first day, which I must get back to, or the fantastic writer’s group I found. I know you’re all devastated to miss my over-sharing.

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Review: Anathem

Anathem
Anathem by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well.

To start, I have far less to say than this book has to say about itself.

Though I first picked it up in July, and didn’t finish it until a concentrated burst this afternoon, as the library simply wouldn’t let me keep it anymore, it’s a quick read. I only picked it up after I heard about another of the author’s books, [b:Reamde|10552338|Reamde|Neal Stephenson|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1305993115s/10552338.jpg|15458989], from my friend’s dad while on vacation. Apparently every guy in the family had been reading and enjoying it, but the library only had Anathem. My friend hasn’t been enjoying that one, so my choice is just as well.

Not being much a reader of speculative fiction (I suppose the only genre I know to put this in, it’s not like anything I’ve ever read)the wildly different worldbuilding might have put me off, but I found the narrative voice strangely charming.

And really, that describes much of the book for me—fun and enthralling, bordering on silly. You know, I didn’t read any other reviews before either checking out this book or writing my review, so I don’t know what other readers will make of my response. Succinctly: it’s the familiar Campbell-ian hero’s journey only set somewhere else and with lots of exposition. Specifically, it’s about less a character and more a personality to walk the reader through the world without having to worry about a complex or unfamiliar plot. It tracks almost too perfectly.

I did enjoy the worldbuilding though, which saved it. I think the way I arranged in my head, to keep everything straight and not rely too heavily on the glossary right from the start went something like this: Eramus (Sp??) is a member of an academically-themed monkhood, on a planet much like our own, or at least ours in a parallel universe, if civilization had diverged technologically four hundred years ago and from there where it would be in another three thousand years all before it turned out to be the plot in-text. Sort of. Then, of course, he’s almost immediately outside the convent—sorry, concent—because that’s how this kind of plot goes. He meets up with his sister, or rather, ‘sib’, and while all the theoretical discussions are interesting, at least to me, I wonder how much of this is just a send up of, well, modern everything. That would be a really interesting discussion if I were smart enough to try it, and remembered enough of the work. I really have too much else to get to to try and get through this behemoth, however. Maybe I’ll get back to it, I have plenty of notes. After meeting his sib, Raz gets into trouble and has to stay home—at least until he has to leave again—there are so many more theoretical arguments to be made about the outside world! And anyway, we have to get to the sort of aliens somehow.

So the only reason I question whether or not this is a satire of modern culture, or rather, exactly how much of is, is because as I said, most of it is worldbuilding. There is lots and lots of worldbuilding with lots of theoretical math-ish type conversations. I couldn’t say whether it’s real math, because math isn’t my thing. Also, math is a term in the novel for a subset of the concent.

There are many random terms in the novel, really, that’s half the worldbuilding. He chooses what words to use carefully: I didn’t think there were too many, though most significant nouns were of unconventional usage. At least there were no apostrophes. It’s a bit pulpy, which is fun, and sometimes techno-babbly, which I’m not sure is the term as it’s been used, but sounds right. I wish I could tell how much of the concent was supposed to be satire, because I’m not sure of Stephenson’s point with the concent idea. The ideas and concepts are simplistic—but then again, it’s only a thousand pages, and long as that is for fiction, it’s hardly enough to start with reality. Of course, he’s not engaging with many tricky human quirks except in the most general sense…like I said, we’re led through the world by a personality, less a character. No one is particularly deep or complex, but suit their purposes.

I’ve barely even started with what I want to say…I’m not even sure what that is. I’ll have to give myself some time to format a proper argument or at least some cohesion. Let me think on it, look out for a proper review after I’ve had a chance to cogitate.

View all my reviews

Spock Must Die!


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Image by Morgales via Flickr

This picture has nothing to do with anything. But I can’t get rid of it. If I try, the entire post is deleted.

Dear WP, I hate you, M.

It’s been one of those days.


Spock Must Die! So goes the title of my newest Star Trek novel. You may see the appeal. Just the sort of campy over-the-topness I enjoy. And, as it is the Corgi British edition (1974 of course), it has the best cover ever:

Spock Must Die!

But frankly, I just don’t feel like blogging today.

There isn’t even much to talk about. Yesterday I spent a couple of hours sketching out a picture, and then nearly eight working with in in Illustrator. Which then crashed. So I had to do it again, and though it went faster I was still up to midnight. End product was awesome though.

But then I had to get up early to sub at the high school, which is cool and all but exhausting. And always weird, since so many of my former teachers still work there, and the others think I’m a student. It probably doesn’t help that I don’t feel like a teacher, which I’m not, but not even like substitute teacher. Anybody else remember elementary school, before you learned a teacher’s name, what you called them?

Teacher.

Students, I think, don’t see any particular person-hood in their teachers, not even in high school. They are starting to, but there are certain parameters of behavior that are expected, and I’m constantly afraid of violating them. It’s a disorienting experience.

I need to get back to writing on Plinky. The daily write-ups definitely kept up motivation and interest.

Killing Time. Literally. Introduction

Let me introduce Killing Time. Since I fell into watching Star Trek: TOS (I almost said, fell into the fandom, but that’s not really what happened) I’ve been picking up the old series of books about those characters written in the eighties. About a year ago I joined Bookmooch, which is a website that allows you to give books away, and request books from others. That gave me a cheap way to get a hold of cheap, old paperbacks. Like this one:

In which there is an alternate universe (so unique in Star Trek ‘verse!) wherein Spock is captain of well, not the Enterprise, but an equivalent starship, and Kirk is a random, drug-addicted, convicted-murderer, draftee ensign.

So Killing Time had pretty good reviews on Amazon, by well-spoken reviewers (uh, well-articulated? I think I’m just getting worse). Anyway, because though most of the reviews were short one liners, one of the positive was three paragraphs and well-written. Generally that’s good enough.

When he mentioned that it was renounced by Gene Roddenberry, it merely provoked a slight curiosity.

It should have been more a warning for further research. See, I have been under the impression—I’m not sure how, or how long, or why—that Roddenberry is, well, just a little crazy. At least after Star Trek became famous. I still don’t know much about him, but after I heard he disowned the fifth movie from canon, because it wasn’t “plausible” I kinda disowned him. Because seriously? You made the movie. It’s official whether you like it or not. Even if it wasn’t approved by him in the first place, he’s irrelevant. As soon as it became a television show, it wasn’t strictly his creation anymore. And anyway, Star Trek was never plausible, so I don’t know what he was thinking.

Like when my brother made fun of me for getting mad at current fantasy movies for explaining their ‘magic’ systems through science.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

I don’t call Star Trek’s effects science. I call it the parameters given by the show as to what they were able to do. It never really was consistent, and routinely changed per plot demands. While that might bother me in a serious show, Star Trek: TOS is, frankly, campy. Again, the episode “Spock’s Brain”. Indeed, my favorite fan fiction turned the events into an April Fool’s Day joke on Spock.

Anyway, Killing Time. So the throwaway line of the Amazon review eventually got me hunting for the whole story. Far too late to do any good, of course…

Turns out, whether or not Roddenberry dismissed it, the real problem came when the publisher used the wrong manuscript in the first printing. Della Van Hise was a slash fic writer! Who used her position in writing an “official” fanfic to try to advance the slashers’ cause. And had the manuscript sent back for rewriting, only to have the slashy one published. Yeah. That’s the one I got.

Actually, at first I didn’t think this would be a problem for me. I like my fan fiction gen, so I’m in such a minority, I have learned to read even fics labeled “pre-slash” as gen. I keep my eyes as open as possible (many fics are labeled ‘slash if you squint’).

Killing Time is a little slashy, as far as I’ve read.

Some people see it...

Its problems are so much worse.

For the first thirty pages are so, I just powered through. It’s not like I would have expected great literature even if I hadn’t known the story. But right after Kirk referred to his connection to Spock as, first, a literal thread. And second, no less than a “silver thread.” I had to write down my one question:

Why are mental connections always silver?

And then I kept writing, and between page 33 and page 83, I took three pages of notes. Just notes—and almost 1200 words.

As my brother called it: my most epic blog post ever.

Well, at least epically long.

Don’t Tell Me You Started That Today

….well, yeah.

“That” was actually one of those Star Trek books, can’t remember which, and my brother asked yesterday because he caught me about 3/4 through. And I did not answer “well, yeah” even though I wanted to.

Because that was actually the third such book I’d started that day. Over the past week or so, when my fandom mind switched back to Star Trek from, I think, Sherlock Holmes, I have reread about eight Star Trek: TOS novels. And my reply to my brother when he asked was not sarcastic because, though I read them quickly, I’ve read them all before. Yes I read fast, but I admit in this case I’ve been skimming some…especially in Demons, which has a monstrous Mary Sue character–McCoy’s in love with her and Spock mind-melds with her, AND she has wild red hair and is a super genius. Yeah, I think I only picked it up again because, well, because I’d forgotten how bad she was. There were a few acceptable peril situations however…

Where was I going with this again?

Ah yes. I used to read lots. And then I got trapped by fan fiction, and probably read much less–this was, believe it or not, me be geeky, and more being burned out with college classes and assigned readings. While not as much, such reading is much more exhausting, and I think I was simply burned out for a while, even following graduation.

After graduation comes no job, and me volunteering at the library. So there are lots of books for me to read–including a rather large pile from a buying ‘spree’ a few months back when I did have a little extra money: some, well, now as I try to count them there are almost twenty. Plus the eight books I have yet to finish from the library (I’ve started three).  I do pretty well in keeping up though, at least until my fandom brain takes over–hence the Star Trek. But fandom, at least, is fast reading. When you’re talking series books that don’t have to build characterizations or mostly even worlds, they can go much more quickly. Well. That doesn’t actually count if they don’t get the characterizations right, which is very much a subjective thing now that I think about it. Let’s just go with: they read faster.

In seventh grade, I had a teacher, Mr. Prim, who had some one-page project to measure our reading speeds. I tested at 1200 wpm. The text, I distinctly remember, was from Huckleberry Finn. And I’d read it before. Even then, I remembered that passage. The other passage was from The Prince and the Pauper. I’d read that too. So, I’m not sure how accurate a measure that was.

Although I suppose I can use it to argue that even then I could be called fairly well read (though I couldn’t say that now). Even in fourth grade I’d tested with an ability to parse sentences and paragraphs at above a 12th grade reading level. See, our school had a program called “AR” reading (Accelerated Reader), and after you read a book, you would take a test, and that test would tell you how well you comprehended the test. I scored badly on Les Miserable only because I though, ooh, it’s a hard book, I should make sure I internalize it, and forgot the specific eye colors involved. Also, 1984 changes entirely from middle school to college. That’s a simple example, but you have to realize a program is flawed when it classifies Hemingway at a 4th grade reading level. Whatever “interest level” you give it.

Sans second digression, though I don’t know my “true” reading speed, although one interest test called it 700 wpm, I do read faster than the general population. Which is something like 200 wpm and really, really slow. To me. Poor general population, no wonder you can only read seven books a year. I can’t keep up.

Reading quickly of course has much more to do with general reading habits. And in my case especially, interest in the material. Because novels I can power through in, oh, four hours on average. Or three maybe? Time flies, anyway, so I start reading and them I’m done and depressed because it was over all-too-quickly. When I was rereading the first two Rogue Agent books before reading the third when it came out, I finished all three in one day, two? because I kept putting them down. Stopping takes up plenty of time, no matter how engaging the story.

Non-fiction books take longer.

Which is really hard for me to accept because I love them. I love checking them out. I love buying them. But they just take so long to read. And unlike fiction books, for me, harder to give up. There’s always the chance I will grow out of my fiction books, especially since I love those in series: like Rogue Agent, or Robert Asprin’s Myth books. Actually, those are still going strong, and you’ll pry my Terry Pratchett paperbacks from my cold dead hands (I’m taking the hardcovers with me), but I just managed to give up my Dorothy Cannells and Aunt Dimitys from middle school. But though nonfiction books may become outdated, they never lose information. Even if it’s just historical value.

Like my weird attraction to science books. The Fly in the Cathedral, books like that. I rarely, rarely read them, but I love to have them for when I want to read them. And I will eventually. I really will.

So between reading too quickly, and having an active fandom attraction, I both gather too many books, and don’t read enough. Fortunately, books last. Maybe not hundreds of years, but long enough for me to get around to them. Or maybe my theoretical kids, that I’m not sure I want, but at least I have an excuse for those Hardy Boys and John Bellairs (<–he’s awesome, look him up!).

My Parents are Trekkies

Which for many years guaranteed I wasn’t.

And when I say “Trekkies” I mean mostly that  my dad can watch the same episodes over and over and over and over and over and over and over again without difficulty, and gives my mom a Star Trek calendar every Christmas, and my mom watched the series, and therefore I knew all the character names, the general ‘universe’ of the series, and the theme song from the very first note. This also helped ensure my indifference.

After the new movie came out, however. Well, lets just say I’ve never had an objection to expanded universes.

When I find something I like, I never really want to give it up, which lead me to fan fiction, which in an indirect way made me a perfect fan for fan fiction. Much like Star Trek, fan fiction is one of those things that is unbearably geeky in popular culture. But I’m not really that fan either. I haven’t a clue what those “star dates” are supposed to be, know little to nothing about the later series, couldn’t care less about when the uniforms changed, and inconsistencies abounded–you know, like all the time. Nor do I know the difference between a trekkie and a trekker, which is apparently important.

That’s my personal theory as to why Star Trek spawned the era of fan fic, by the way. Because it has so many inconsistencies within its own universe, but such great characters you keep watching. Of course, this reason just occurred to me after I started this post, so forgive me some inconsistency of my own. It came to mind, though, because I recently read an claim that Trek evolved fan fiction because it had character potential that would not have been acceptable in the time period: specifically, Kirk and Spock slash. Slash when characters on a show are given a non-canonical relationship. Canon, in this context, means the accepted ‘truth’ of this universe, in this case the TV shows and movies. The ‘pairing’ of Kirk and Spock actually gave name to the term slash because warnings for it apparently followed a progression of Kirk/Spock, to K/S, to /, which of course is “slash”. Or so I’ve heard.

The explanations of which has completely derailed my point.

So. Kirk and Spock. Well, I don’t see it. Then again I rarely do. However, it also bothers me because claiming people did see it and were simple drawn to make it fact almost sounds like an argument that they were simply oh so progressive. That’s problematic to me because so many people who write slash are women, and it really isn’t a way of standing up for gay rights. If anything, it could be called exploitive. It’s a well-established phenomenon though, and it’s on the internet and can’t be stopped.

I think the sheer randomness of the so-called canon though might be what really got it going. Obviously people enjoy writing things like slash or what have you, but when there are so many holes in the storyline, it makes you question what might fit to fill them. Some people really like relationships.

My favorite part of Star Trek though, is that it never seemed to take itself as seriously as the fans–and for that matter, the creators–did. Take, for instance, the episode of “Spock’s Brain”. It’s practically canon crack!fic! Spock’s brain is stolen by beautiful, brainless females who need a new one to run their world. Hilariousness!  And so many of the lines are so over the top–if you watch the original series, the only one I’m referring to–that I can’t imagine the actors didn’t realize it when delivering them. Now, I can’t say anything  about what happened after the fame…because in current Trek fandom, the only thing you can’t say about them is that they don’t take themselves seriously.

Especially the sequel series. Much as I love Data and Picard, the Next Generation is so studious dramatic, half the episode I’m cringing in sympathy for the over-acting. IS SERIOUS BUSINESS people!

Star Trek 2009 was fun for the lens flare and explosions, and I don’t think meant to be taken entirely seriously either. And the score is awesome. I just watched it again a few hours ago, and it really doesn’t translate as well to the small screen, but that music just grabs your spinal cord and shakes you, yelling “it’s exciting dammit!” Also, considering they blew up Vulcan, it’s positively warm and fuzzy at the end. It’s almost as good as The Voyage Home and saving the whales and sending Chekov to look for nuclear veapons in the eighties. How I love that movie.

Popularly, Star Trek seems to be the absolute height of geekiness. Like there’s nothing to recover from: you either love it all or you don’t. Which in some ways makes it very hard to be a casual fan. Especially a casual fan who likes the eighties book series and The Animated Series (hey, they had non-humanoid aliens!). But don’t try to get the original series on DVD because even though it only ran three seasons they’re even higher priced than some current series, which makes no sense to me. So I can’t have them. Other than, you know, watching them free online, where they are hosted by the owners, with really irritating commercials. So I’ll just keep up my whine of “it’s not fair!” and enjoy my (gen) fan fic.