Thursday, December 10, 2015

Say what? A book review

Surprise can be a wonderful thing. Not always, sure. I mean a heard (herd?) of deer (dear? Mmm . . .) trying to leap over your car is surprising and not all that wonderful. But finding a twenty in your jeans or hearing a joke you haven’t heard 14 times or laughing out loud at a book you’re reading for research can be delightful. I recently encountered that last one.

The Art of Language Invention: From Horse-Lords to Dark Elves, the Words Behind World-Building by David J. Peterson is a piƱata of a book. You have to take a good whack at it. And if you do - if you get through the shell - you will be rewarded with all kinds of delicious tidbits.

The way words evolve. Why do does ‘pneumonia’ start with a ‘p’? The secret origin of my archenemy The Homophone. Peterson answers all kinds of questions I had never thought to ask, but I’m considerably better off for having answered. The book is also funny. I love his running onion gag.

Linguistics is not an easy and there is no trick to make it easy. The way we manipulate words is complicated, inconsistent and sometimes infuriating. Taking a look at language from the perspective of a someone who wants to construct one makes trudging through the complexity more of project than a chore.

Oh, yes. I've doing research for a new book. On language. And this bit of work made my work way easier.  I love that even more than onion gags.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

What’s waiting in Toronto?

On my way up to the Great White North for SFContario 6. For those that might possibly be interested, I’m serving on a quartet of panels that will less disturbing than the news, and more interesting than a blank LCD screen.

But I Liked It - Friday 7 PM, Gardenview: In which we defend indefensibly bad genre movies. 

Economics in SF - Saturday 12 PM, Gardenview: In which we convince you that economics is as cool as drooling aliens or rampaging robots.

Coming Soon - Saturday 7 PM, Room 209: We shall talk about what really is new and deserves to be talked about.

Getting to Done - How to Finish Your Work - Sunday 10 AM: Time spent on time management is time not spent on developing excuses for not writing or editing or reading that article about language development that might figure that conversation in chapter 4 . . . but I digress.

 Join us. It will be, on average, 23-percent more fun than you expected.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Wanted: Best of the worst

I’m looking for troubled science fiction movies. SFContario 6 is in two weeks and I’m moderating a panel (description below) on movies that were less that perfect. If I haven’t seen your suggestions, I will arrange to do so while my wife is still out of town and will not say “Why the Hell are you watching this crap?”

So, anyone?

Panel description:
But I Liked It - You've just seen the latest SF movie and loved it, and can't wait to discuss it with other fans! But when you do, it becomes glaringly apparent that A, everyone else hated it, and B, anyone who even sort-of liked it is a Brain-Dead Stupid Lame-O MORON! This panel is for all the people who had no problem with Star Trek Into Darkness, who forgave Indy 4's flaws, who thought X-Men: The Last Stand could have been a whole lot worse, and (Ghods help them) the people who actually enjoyed all 4 Transformers movies! Stand up for your right to enjoy the unpopular!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Just Joshing: Ella Beaumont

Joshua Pantalleresco, who I met earlier this year at When Words Collide runs a great blog – and accompanying pod cast - about writing, made greater today with an interview of Ella Beaumont. She is the acquisitions editor at my publisher, EDGE.

My only complaint is the length of this piece. Ella is ripe with knowledge regarding current publishing and I wish Josh would have squeezed her for more. Perhaps there he’ll have a sequel, or a multi-part series. Publishers seem to love those. It should be directed at the young adult market, but without excluding the mainstream, a taste of genre . . . I’ll stop now.

Check out: Just Joshing

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Not all Munchkins are the same

My daughter Nina got a part in her high school’s production of The Wizard of OZ. She is a freshman, so she’s excited. No. She’s excited because she’s excitable and the part is the spark. There are, it seems, other sparks.

Max is in fourth grade. Nina’s school needs a few more Munchkins, so it called down to the elementary school. Now Max and Nina are in the same play, even though they are five years apart. Awesome right?

Not if you’re Nina. I’m proud to say that performing in her first high school musical with her nine-year-old brother did not ignite in the fireworks I feared. The reason, as Nina explains it: Not all Munchkins are the same.

There is a Munchkin class system. Who knew? I am not sure I wanted the kids to learn about ridged societal structures, but they are getting a nice, round education and I should leave it at that.

My future lies 
Beyond the yellow brick road.

Is that line from that show?

Friday, September 11, 2015

Repairmen Wanted

The repairman never came. My oven stopped working two weeks ago. I called the place where I bought it and they said the quickest they could send someone was two weeks. Fine. I always knew appliance repair people were in way more demand than writers, but I’m not about to switch careers now. First, I’d have to invent a talent machine to infuse me with mechanical acumen, and if I could do that, I wouldn’t be fixing ovens.

Jump ahead two weeks and I’m waiting around for this person. I get a phone call, and a pleasant young woman tells me he ain’t showing. It’s not worth it. The repairs on my oven are going to be so much that I’m not going to want to pay. He’s doing me a huge favor by not coming out and changing $125 for rolling into my driveway.

I tell the woman that this would have been a bigger favor the day before, or the week before, or maybe when I called, seeing has how they can diagnose over the phone and all.

“Does that mean you want me to send the man out, then?” she asks. “No,” I reply, because how could the answer be anything else? I didn’t ace my logic courses in college, but how could statement one lead to statement two?

In my head, I’m thinking, these people have my email address, phone numbers – plural – and it’s the 21st century. I’m not in the witness protection program. On the odd chance that Ridley Scott wants to turn one of my books into a movie, I want him to be able to contact me. As a result, everyone can get a hold of me any time.

Relieved my post on the repairman watch, I run up to the pharmacy. They had ordered something for me. “I’m wondering if my order is in,” I start.

The woman at the counter puts her hand up. “I’m sorry, the truck is not in yet. You’ll have to come back tonight.”

“But,” I say, “I haven’t told you my name or when I ordered this stuff, which was a week ago.” I give her my name and she leaves. I have hope that she’s looking for my order, though I can’t really be sure. I am, at this point, doubting my ability to communicate with young woman or older woman or anyone.

She returns with my stuff and I’m gone, back out into the world, into the Information Age. Information is not communication and I don’t think there’s any repairman that can fix that fact.

And if there was, I’m not sure he’d show up.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Learning from Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter faces terminal cancer with “faith, hope and acceptance” just like do with my writing career . . . which makes me a total schmuck.

I'm going to learn from this guy and change right now. Ebullient is the word I am now, officially, making my signature quality.

Friday, August 14, 2015

From Calgary

When Worlds Collide is a writer-reader festival that throws authors from different genres together. Which is kind of how we all are anyway. Thrown together. I don’t know anybody in the real world who just reads one kind of thing, so it’s nice to be here for this, um, collision.

The word ‘collision’ got tossed around quite a bit when I toured the Gates Vascular Institute last year. The place was designed to enhance interaction among the various disciplines involved. Doctors, physician assistants, nurse and techs interact with engineers, scientists, marketing professions and even – and can’t believe I’m saying this – writers. They all share ideas via informality. The goal is to save lives.

The device here is the same, though the goal is not so lofty. But, good literature does make life worth living. I’ll hang my new Calgary cowboy hat on that. I’ve got to. You don’t want me putting a valve in your heart.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Hobble Along

The United States of America has 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Out of every 100,000 people, we keep 707 in jail. Russia’s at 470. China – 172. It is expensive. The average cost per prisoner in the US is $31, 286 (as of 2013) for a total outlay of $38 billion. Worse is the opportunity cost to the economy as a whole. Some inmates train guide dogs or make cabinets but most would be much more productive outside than in. To punish others in this country, we insist on punishing ourselves, but our redress does not have to be a two-way street.

We should hobble law-breakers.

Why build walls and hire guards to restrict movement when removing a foot from a leg costs next to nothing? In today’s information-based economy hands are important. You don’t need both feet to take orders at Zappos. You need them to run and climb fences, which might what got you thrown in jail in the first place. Hobbling offers an offender constant reminders of his or her errors, saves the country billions and maintains a usable workforce. It is quick, easy and I’m fairly certain presents a sound deterrent to future crimes.

With that, I announce that I am seeking the Republican nomination for President

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Reality 2016

There is a problem with the news and it needs to be fixed. I don’t want to avoid the press. I’m not some Unabomber ostrich. I keep my head up and out and want to know what’s going on. This presidential election – a year and a half from now - is making that much more difficult.

The candidates are not news. They are people talking. Were they next to you at a decent party, you would be doing your best to sidle away. They are not generally interesting or even truthful. They are, all of them, your friend’s friend who’s full of crap and yet there on the news, embodying a temporal barrier between you and something you might want to know. Or worse – they have replaced a genuine story.

It is true that we might be able to gain a sense of a candidate’s personality or temperament from the two-year telethon that is the presidential race. Those traits are important when comes time to fill in the dot. None of us need 18 months to decide if a person is reasonable or another caveman busting your wheel, saying, “Father drag, father’s father drag, you drag.”

I don’t care about the Real Housewives of anywhere. I care less
whether or not someone’s property gets flipped, yard crashed or a porcelain poodle is successfully pawned. If I do suddenly care, I can tune in. It should be the same for the presidential race.

The presidential race should get honest, admit it is a reality show and start scheduling like one. If you give a hoot, you can watch for a while. If you don’t, you don’t, leaving the news to the newsmakers. The sharks, the terrorists, people that love or hate flags and whoever licked that donut.

I promise to watch. When it gets interesting. Near the end.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Interview

The writing process is actually more interesting than half the stuff I read. (I won't comment on half the stuff I write.)  So I was pretty happy when Sacha Black asked to interview me about the way I go about things. For the moment, it seems Kim Jong-un has not blocked this interview, but that may not last so enjoy it while you can.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Milkman - by way of Chris Hedges

In his latest book, “Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt,” Chris Hedges argues that the world is on the cusp of revolution. French style - with world churning upheaval.

Here's my favorite quote from an interview with Salon: "There are all sorts of neutral indicators that show that. Low voter turnout, the fact that Congress has an approval rating of 7 percent, that polls continually reflect a kind of pessimism about where we are going, that many of the major systems that have been set in place — especially in terms of internal security — have no popularity at all." Followed by: "This is symptomatic of a state that is ossified and can no longer respond rationally to what is happening to the citizenry, because it exclusively serves the interest of corporate power."

I like when other writers think governments have become little more than middlemen. Makes me feel less alone.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Almost another award

The Milkman was a finalist in the Eric Hoffer book awards.  Not quite an award, but close counts in publishing. The category was general fiction. It's special when a science fiction book gets some recognition outside of the genre.  Actually any recognition is special. If ISIS chose The Milkman for its bookclub I'd be secretly thrilled inside, fighting the urge to tell people. Maybe fighting right along side Iranians, Kurds, Sad Puppies . . . anyway, this near miss is nice.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Milkman Takes Home the Gold

The Milkman has won a gold medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards competition: Best science fiction novel in North America, from an independent publisher. I am pretty happy about it. It is the only way I’m ever going to take home a gold medal as my Olympic career was cut short by lack of athletic ability and it doesn’t look like “Reading the New Yorker” or “Shouting to a barista” are even demonstration sports in Rio next year.

My wife Sarah and I will be attending the ceremony in New York May 27. I will post pictures of me wearing the medal and tearing up at the national anthem. My publisher, EDGE, is Canadian, so I hope they play both. Especially the good one.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Ian Sales Cycle

Sometimes you meet someone, you’re intrigued, you spend time together, you learn, you laugh and after a while you realize you’re smitten. Ian Sales new novel, All That Outer SpaceAllows, is the book version. It follows an American astronaut’s wife from the mid-sixties to mid-seventies. She is devoted to him and his career, and writes science fiction on the side. The two halves of her life should have a lot in common. They don’t. The resulting inner conflict is pure, real and underrepresented in literature. It’s also they kind of theme that makes literary science fiction an invaluable genre.

The novel is fully formed and overwhelmingly believable. It will make you doubt your actual knowledge of recent history. Ian employs a canny tool to assuage your doubts. He occasionally intrudes into the story, which at first I found a little disconcerting. Only at first. Once you are moved outside the story, you appreciate the full reflection. The device give the thorough research move depth and meaning.

“Allows” is book four of the Apollo Quartet. The first, Adrift on the Sea of Rains, took home the 2012 British Science Fiction Association Award for his hard sf novella. Each book experiments with our early years in space, testing and prodding and wondering what they may have been like if this or that were different. And in wondering they produce a sense of wonder.

While I enjoyed each book in the quartet, I found “Allows” quite moving. I plan to go back to book one and start again. I expect this time, the journey will be different – which I have come to believe is the point of the whole quartet.

Friday, April 17, 2015

A tale of two trailers

Two tiny glimpses of future movies were released this week. One filled me hope, the other? Meh. I am passionately interested in both projects, so it’s interesting to me that the results should be so different.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer gave me chills. Taught, energetic, fascinating – I watched it several times, loving it more with each back-drag of the scroll bar.

Batman v Superman’s trailer is the anti-Star Wars. And it shouldn’t be. The trailer for Unfriended was brighter than this wet, drippy dive into the dark.

It shouldn’t be that way. I was worried that Disney might, you know, Disnefy my beloved franchise. So far, so wrong. I was also worried Warner Bros. would fail to learn the lessons of the last two Super movies and  make Kal El the Punisher in blue.

 I’m 50-50 on predictions, but I so wanted to be wrong.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The hidden power of our Iranian deal

I have not yet heard anyone talk about the underlying, but powerful ramification of the pending nuclear pact with Iran: Sanctions. Or, more precisely – sanction flux.

It is spring in Buffalo. The thaw reminds you that life is no longer going to be like it was for the last five months. The cruel oppression of bellow-zero temperatures and nine feet of snow is lifting. You can venture outside with exposed skin. A little anyway. If you want.

The fact is, people get used to conditions - environmental, political, physical. We, as a species, adapt. Which is why we’ve got to oscillate the system on occasion. Our restricted dealings with Iran began in November of 1979. They’ve been on an ever-tightening noose ever since, dragging the rest of the world along. That is a full generation of Iranians living without full trade, full exchange of scientific advancements or full participation in the world’s economic community.

The cheering in the streets of Tehran last night had nothing to do with centrifuge inspections. Iranians know they’ve been missing out on something and now they are going to see what they’ve gone without. It will give the threat of being cut off again - should their government abandon their end of the bargain - much more force. This is the kind of personalized force no military can ever muster. The impact of economic sanctions is at home, every day. So to the boon that comes with their lifting.

 Let the money flow. That really is what we do best.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Brady Gets Air

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady jumps off a cliff and people in the greater Boston area freak out. He's supposed to be in cryogenic freeze until halfway through practice camp.  But they shouldn't have worried. Look closely. That waterfall is aerating the water. Making it bubbly. Ariel skiers use the same technique in pools when they're training. It makes the water softer.  

Brady made sure some air was added to the water to make his jump easier.  Which is nothing like taking air out of something to make it easier. 

And no, I will never let it go.  I ain't no Disney princess.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Effective Danger

I had to clear ice off my roof last Saturday. There must have been half a ton. Yes, I am highly prone to exaggeration. It is, in fact, both my vocation AND avocation, but this is the truth. My estimate put the ice at over 1,000 pounds. (450 kilos for my foreign friends.)

The first monstrous chunk I dislodged landed in the snow pack and looked a lot like Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. I told Max (the nine-year-old) to grab an action figure so I could take a picture. (Ex. 1). I returned to the roof to chip more.

Nina (the 14-year-old) saw me through the skylight and ran to get her mother. “He’s going to die,” she said. Sarah explained that the snow was five feet thick. I could, and probably would, fall off and survive.

Nina pointed to the ice sculpture I had position for better light. Right in my landing spot. Rock-hard, spear-tip ice. (Ex. 2)

“What a moron,” Sarah said as she returned to her business. Max and Nina sat staring through a window at the ice. Waiting for the whoosh, crunch and scream.

Which never came, I’m proud to say. Not despite the danger, but because of it. The spikes below made me better above. I think I’m going to start taking this approach with everything I do. Starting with my writing. If this piece is not well liked, I’m going to put a hole-punch to my left nostril.

There. That upped the ante. I’m going to put a shark in my pool before my next novel comes out.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Accessorize like your heros

I need a utility belt. Like Batman’s, only not so yellow. I don’t have the cache to make this a big fashion movement, but necessity is nudging my sense of style. The fact is I’ve got to carry too much crap with me all the time. Like Batman. Hence, my gravitation to his innovation.

While I’d love to carry shark repellent, 300 feet of Kevlar line and a smoke bomb with me wherever I went. Sadly, my life requires a different set of tools: Chapstick, reading glasses, an iPhone and car keys. That last one is the straw the broke my pockets. My new car key is bigger than a Phaser 1. Starfleet Velcroed those things to a belt because they don’t fit in your freakin’ pockets. Again with the utility belt.

I’m thinking something tasteful. Black leather. Not some SWAT team web system. Something that almost looks like it belongs. For all the stuff that belongs.

Because I can’t carry a purse. I’ve had my eye on a Coach clutch for some time, but no. Captain Malcolm Reynolds, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jacque Cousteau – they didn’t carry purses. Belts all the way. I’m starting my hunt now.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

I hate random acts of kindness

. . . week. Random acts of kindness are great. Let’s have more of them. It’s the nationally designated week I dislike almost as much as World Kindness Day (Nov. 13). My problem: we should be nice all the time, not loading it up on one day or one week. What, so we can be jerk-wads the rest of the year? So we can say, ‘hey, I was nice to you all back in February!’ Doesn’t work that way.

Not all designated time periods are stupid. It’s good to draw attention to breast cancer, fire safety or black history. But being nice doesn’t need any press. It’s a default position. Putting a spotlight on it creates the opposite effect – it makes niceness look unusual. Special. Like we’re not nice all the time when most of us are – at least more than 50%, if you don’t count your time in the car.

Kill kindness day and its random acts week. Kill them so we can let kindness live.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Superbowl Response

Whatever. A game that ends in a virtual coin toss - two crazy plays making the game a near toss up - features an embarrassing brawl. Seriously. This is how millionaires chose to end America’s premier sporting event.

Sport can create great stories, though. And this one has a moral. Cheaters win. Cheat often, without remorse and cheat whether you need to or not. Cheat for that feeling that you took something from someone else. That makes you feel extra clever. In end, to the winners go the spoils, or get spoiled, or simply spoil. Can’t remember. One of those is right.

 I liked the commercial with the girls running like girls.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

State of the Football Union

Even if you don’t care about football, the newest scandal matters. The England Patriots stand accused of deflating their footballs in last week’s playoff game. It made their footballs easier to pass and catch than the ones they supplied to the Baltimore Ravens. It’s cheating. When Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was asked about it, he giggled. Which is worse than cheating. Brady’s giggle is bad for America.

Football is a game and a game is nothing but a set of rules. You have four tries to move a ball 10 yards. Move it one hundred yards and you get six points. The team with the most points wins. Rules. There is simply no game without them. That the rules are minor or frivolous or technical doesn’t matter. They are the structure. The purpose is not to get around the rules. The praise, if any is to be deserved, is from achieving despite the rules.

The National Football League doesn’t share this believe. The fine for tampering with game balls is $25 grand, which is like asking me for $3. To gain a little advantage in a playoff game I would’ve paid $6 up front. Maybe even $9.

The NFL is also dumb and short-sighted. Poor referees, criminals on the field, a disregard for the very make-up of the game – football is number one in America right now, but each degradation threatens that perch. If you don’t believe go ask someone at the boxing commission.

All of which is bad for America. Because a nation is nothing but a set of rules, too. You’ve got to respect the little rules if you don’t want a culture that ignores the big ones.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

To those who will kill cartoonists

Attacking cartoonists with guns? Really? I didn’t want to write about this, but it keeps reentering my brain space. It’s too stupid. I’m glad others have called the slaughter of staff at Charlie Hebdo heinous and barbaric. It is those things. It’s also dumb and counterproductive and I wish I could explain that to extremists before they’re gunned down.

I understand the Quran says those who insult Islam shall be seized and slain without mercy. (33:61) Aside from the fact that it was 1,000 years ago and the world was different –  and skipping over the fact that these morons forgot to seize before the slaying – you’ve still got to define the insult. That is neither easy, nor full proof. Satire is both irreverent AND elevating. Any celebrity will tell you, you know you’ve made when you’re being made fun of.

What did the extremists accomplish? Killing, in the end, leaves you not with new converts, but new enemies. So it’s not a good growth strategy. As far as image goes, gunning down unarmed jokesters makes you look pathetic. “We have avenged the Prophet,” they shouted. What arrogance. To think Muhammad ever needed the help of these cowards.

They made hate out of people who made jokes.