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Thursday Link-Fest

Well, let's get right to it:

1) For writers - 6 steps to writing a successful book synopsis.

2) Mary Robinette Kowal and Orson Scott Card are wise on Writing 'rules' and when to break them.

3) A PowerPoint presentation explains why PowerPoint should be banned.

4) A bit of humor: Obama to invade Texas - with food, water and temporary housing. Sometimes American conservatives remind me of 5-year-olds: they want to run away from home but only if Mom will make them a sandwich first.

5) A picture, funny for geeks:

Random Thoughts, Apology Edition

Random Thought #1 - ConQuest Elevators

This is the second year ConQuest was at the same hotel. The only change I could determine was that the management installed a new elevator control system. At each floor was a touch-screen, and one selected your desired floor. The screen then told you which elevator (A thru E) to take. There were no floor buttons inside the cab. I found the system annoying and counter-intuitive.

Random Thought #2 - Scalzi's book deal

Unless you were under a rock, you've probably heard that SF writer John Scalzi signed a $3.4 million dollar, 10-year deal for 13 books. (That's just over $250,000 per book.) Using Scalzi's scale, that's an “I’m Getting the Next Round" level deal. No sooner had the news broke then various Scalzi critics were attempting to minimize the deal or suggest that Scalzi could have done better. Green is a great color if you're an Orion slave-girl; not so much for the merely envious.

Random Thought #3 - An Apology

At a panel on Sunday, I made a statement the intent of which was to say that the Spanish conquistadors had systematically written out of the history the contributions of their Indian allies. (Which they did - most of the actual fighting in Peru and Mexico was done by Indian enemies of the ruling empires.)

What came out made it sound like the conquest was the Indian's fault, and I did not get a chance to correct the record on the panel. I'm sorry.
I'm back from ConQuest, the Kansas City-area science fiction convention. I had a good time, including a dinner with Karin Gastreich and Brent Bowen, and some time to catch up with Eric Reynolds. Saturday in particular was wall-to-wall panels I wanted to attend, so I did. There was an interesting panel (scheduled opposite George R.R. Martin) about marketing books, in which David Pedersen of "Got Angst" fame and Blake Hausladen discussed the ways to sell books. In short, a good time was had.

While travelling, I read three books, and had some thoughts on them.

1) The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Leviathan. The umpteenth book in a long space opera / milSF series, it was highly enjoyable if you've been reading all along. If not, you'd be lost.

2) One of the victims of the Sad Puppies was the writer Annie Bellet. For a variety of reasons, I decided to take a flyer and buy one of her books. It's short, barely 121 pages, but very entertaining. (There will be a more profound review.) I think it's probably technically a novella, and would have been a vastly better pick than any of Wright's output. In Annie's books, stuff happens quickly to people we care about.

3) I'm working on Rite of Passage by Alexei Panshin. It won the Nebula in 1995 1968 (not sure where I got the other date from), and was recommended to me. It's frankly a bit slower than the Bellet, but still managed to grab my attention. Again, largely by providing characters I care about, a cool world I want to learn more about, and setting some high stakes.

If you're looking for a "Human Wave Manifesto" style story, I would recommend any or all of the three above over much of what was actually nominated by the human wave supporters.

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On Character Names, Sad Puppies Edition

This week has been interesting. On one blog, I was called a member of fandom's "Insider Alpha clique." (I wonder if I get a raise. Or actually paid. Expenses, at least?)

Erm, moving on. In yesterday's post I made an off-hand remark about character names. It was made in defense of a Sad Puppy author, but said author and others took extreme exception to it. In an attempt to make lemonade out of lemons, herewith are some thoughts on character names in fiction.

When writing fiction, we strive for the appearance of reality. In reality, everybody has bowel movements and brushes their teeth (hopefully not at the same time) but we rarely see fictional characters do either. When we do, there's usually some point to it, if only to show how ordinary Joe or Jane Character is, or at least how ordinary their day has been thus far.

Also in fiction, the writer is in a constant battle for the reader's attention. The doorbell or the phone rings, the spouse or the kids want something, or just the New Shiny on the To-Be-Read stack calls. In short, we want the appearance of reality without something that pulls the reader out.

So, even if it is perfectly realistic for a person to be addressed by more than one name, the author needs to be careful and consistent about the process. Joey might be Mister Joseph M. Smith III AKA Trey Smith, but each character in the story (and the narrator) need to pick one of those three names and (at least internally) be consistent. Thus, Joey's pal might introduce Joey to the President as "Joseph Smith," but in the pal's mind he's always Joey.

An example. I recently gave a piece of fiction to my writer's group in which a father and son were both named John. Obviously very typical, yet two of the writers looking at the piece both said "it took me way too long to figure out that John in Chapter 2 was the son of John in Chapter 1." The reader is not in your head, writer. Nor are they looking at a screen where they can see the Old Man and the Younger Guy. Throw your reader a bone and be consistent on names.

Hugo Packet - The Wrong Way to Wright

I am really bouncing hard off of John C. Wright's novellas. For One Bright Star to Guide Them I'm baffled by the attitude to magic. Robertson, our first character, hasn't thought of magic for years, yet the instant he sees a black cat he's all magic!!!! - Then when we visit Richard, he alternates in the same paragraph between "yeah magic, especially if it gets me laid" and "no magic for me, I'm British." Oh, and since when have you described out loud what somebody was wearing to the person wearing it? Sorry, no dice. (Oh, and I checked - somebody on File 770 thinks that Wright forgot the name of one of his characters, and changed it from Sarah to Sally randomly. Not so - she is referred to as both names, but there's no explanation as to why in the story. It would have been better to be consistent.)

For The Plural of Helen of Troy I got five pages into it and found myself wondering who I was supposed to be rooting for and why. I get that Wright was trying for a hard-boiled hero, but for that (or any hero) to work, we need a reason to root for the hero. Kratman did that quite well in Big Boys - I liked Maggie The Tank. I don't like anybody I've met in Troy.

Pale Realms of Shade suffers from a similar problem. I guess I'm supposed to care about Mathias, the ghost, but I'm not told why. Moreover, we spend entirely too much time figuring out that the narrator is a ghost. It's first person, just tell us!

Results - the Andrews is a novel fragment, and the Wrights all have the wrong stuff in them. So my decision is between one-and-done (Kratman then no award) or just no award the whole category.

Hugo Packet - Thoughts

I got my Hugo packet last night, and herewith are my thoughts so far:

Best Related

Mike Williamson's Wisdom From My Internet is everything the Amazon preview promised, namely random crap half-assedly puked into book format. Yeah, I get that it was parody, but I'm not amused by it. Antonelli's Letters from Gardner is better (small praise indeed) but seems mostly an excuse for an anthology ETC: collection of Antonelli's short fiction. No Award for the whole category.

Short Story

The one short story I hadn't read was “A Single Samurai” by Steven Diamond. I read it, more-or-less, and bounced off of it hard. It will not be getting a Hugo from me.

Novella

Big Boys Don’t Cry by Tom Kratman proved interesting. It starts as Yet Another Gung-ho Blow Shit Up Real Good story, but turns subversive. Our heroine tank, Magnolia AKA Maggie, discovers that her human masters are venial and corrupt, and that many of the wars she fought in were merely for conquest. You'd think that its exactly the sort of subversive "false advertising" that would get Brad Torgersen's underwear in a wad. Either Torgersen missed the subversion or Its Okay When My Buddy Does It.

Having said that, I do have issues with Big Boys. I thought it could be tighter with less weapons-porn, and I felt that the training sequences at the end were too long. (Although the part where the trainers left Maggie in a burning tank overnight was powerful.) Overall, Big Boys is a competent story. Now I need to decide if it's Hugo-worthy.

An Old Dog Knows Old Tricks

Over the weekend, I received several annoying calls to my (work-issued) cell phone. When I answer the phone, I get a woman mumbling gibberish to me. Frankly, she sounds like she has Alzheimer's or a related condition.

I ended up having to ask my staff how to block calls on my iPhone, which one of them showed me. Out of curiosity, I did a reverse lookup of the number. I then passed that information to my (young) staffer so he could see if the carrier could do anything. He was amazed that such a thing as "reverse lookup" existed.

Old dogs know old tricks.

More Sad Puppy Thoughts

Four thoughts by others.

1) Eric Flint grows weary of the whining of the puppies. As a target of three (3) (!!!) murder attempts, he has less-than-zero patience for the "persecution" of Sad Puppies. Also of interest, he's a personal friend of (if only in his own mind) "lead" Puppy Brad Torgersen. I suspect Torgersen's "gulag" post caused a bit of heartburn at Casa del Flint.

2) Kevin Standlee posts that fandom is a big potluck dinner. Since Torgersen came into fandom via for-profit comic-cons, perhaps that explains some of his whining.

3) Michael Stackpole is wise on the multi-generational aspect of equality.

4) SF Kittens thinks Torgersen is wrong and has charts and graphs.

The Eiger Sanction

Apropos of nothing, I found myself thinking about diversity in fiction. One of the arguments against having non Straight White Males in fiction, especially historical fiction, is that the non-SWMs are "not representative" of the era.

Well, here's a fact - prior to the arrival of the Industrial Revolution in any given society, 90% of the population was engaged in subsistence agriculture. They were farmers and herdsmen, poor and living hand-to-mouth. Everybody else in the society, from kings to knights to wizards to the village blacksmith, everybody, fit in that other 10%. So, any non-farmer in fiction is inherently unrepresentative, and any other occupation would be even more unrepresentative, consisting of maybe 1% of the population. Maybe 1%.

Yet how many historical fictions have you read about farmers? Even if the main character starts as a farmer, something happens to make him leave the farm. In short, pretty much any piece of historical fiction you've ever read is "un-representative."

Here's the truth - all characters in fiction are unrepresentative. In the zombie apocalypse, 90% of humanity are dead and zombie-fied, yet the story is about the 10% who aren't. If the characters weren't exceptional when the story started, they become so over the length of the story.

In short, anybody trying to tell you that we should only have "representative" characters in fiction is offering to make change for a nine-dollar bill in threes.


(with apologies to The Eiger Sanction)

It's a Tuesday

As you may have heard, we bought a bank over the weekend. It's meant that I've spent an inordinate amount of time stuck in traffic on I-294 heading north of O'Hare to work at the new bank. Yippee. Have a couple of thoughts:

A) The epic inefficiency of secret police. Basically, if the police unit is a secret, how does anybody know to call them? Also, how do they find out about whatever it is they work on?

B) An interesting post on matters maritime: Why Should Captains Go Down With Their Ships?

C) This article bills itself as the real story behind the demise of the streetcar in America. General Motors contributed to it, but mostly it wasn't GM's fault.

ConQuest KC, Memorial Day Weekend

My programming for ConQuest KC:

Here is your list of panels. (M) = Moderator

Friday 4:00 PM Aliens Invade! But Why? (M)
Saturday 11:00 AM Do the Hugo Awards still matter?
Saturday 1:00 PM Evil indie authors
Sunday 10:00 AM Reading
Sunday 12:00 PM Editors Are Not The Enemy
Sunday 4:00 PM Erasure Is Not Equality

Tags:

Number Six

Really?

The only freely-available Hugo novella I have been able to find is Arlan Andrews' Flow. I just finished reading it, and am frankly underwhelmed.

The plot, such as it is, consists of Rist, a native of the northern Tharn's Lands, who is riding an iceberg down a river to sell same in The Warm Lands (capitalization in original). We spend pages and pages watching Rift wander about aimlessly while the author drops hints (occasional) that the faux-medieval setting is post-apocalyptic. We eventually get to some conflict, in that Rist decides to steal some artificial spiderweb wire (left over from the Goode Olde Dayes) and then goes on the run. There's a bit of Rist On The Run, then the story ends on a literal cliff-hanger - Rist descending a cliff into he knows not what.

I'm frankly surprised that this story was published at all. I also don't see what the Puppies see in this story. There's a shocking lack of action, and it takes a damn long amount of time before anything happens.

John C. Wright tends to leave me cold, so unless Tom Kratman's got something under the hood, it's looking like a short ballot for novellas.

It's Friday - Two Links and a Picture

Like the label on the tin says:

A) 5 celebrities everybody forgets did terrible things. Presented as an artifact of historical interest.

B) It's time to bury the Hitler analogy, or, Iran 2015 is not Germany 1939.


Hugos, Editors and Best Related

Continuing my practice of noting who I'm voting for in the Hugos, here's my thoughts on a couple of categories. I recommend Jim Hines' thoughts on this as well.

Best Editor, Short Form (870 nominating ballots, 187 entries, range 162-279)


1) Jennifer Brozek
2) Mike Resnick
3) Bryan Thomas Schmidt
4) No Award

Comments: Schmidt is a bit of a light-weight in this category, and can be abrasive, but I did really like his Raygun Chronicles collection.

Best Editor, Long Form (712 nominating ballots, 124 entries, range 166-368)


1) Sheila Gilbert
2) Toni Weisskopf
3) Anne Sowards
4) Jim Minz
5) No Award

Comments: My logic here is to favor repeat nominees over first-timers.

Best Related Work (1150 nominating ballots, 346 entries, range 206-273)

1) No Award

(The non-awarded nominees are:)
“The Hot Equations: Thermodynamics and Military SF”, Ken Burnside (Riding the Red Horse, Castalia House)
Letters from Gardner, Lou Antonelli (The Merry Blacksmith Press)
Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth, John C. Wright (Castalia House)
“Why Science is Never Settled”, Tedd Roberts (Baen.com)
Wisdom from My Internet, Michael Z. Williamson (Patriarchy Press)

Comments: I've read 3 of the 5, and a sample of the Williamson. Unless the Antonelli really impresses me, this is my vote.

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Double-barrelled

Apparently thoughts are coming to me in pairs this week. So, in honor of my Ruger Red Label shotgun, have a pair.

First Barrel

Posted in part for my dad, an article which asks how effective and ethical the Wounded Warrior charitable organization is. I always get a little concerned with charities that spend a lot of money on TV ads myself.

Second Barrel

I attended my writer's workshop last night, and in honor of that, this author critiques your story that he hasn't read.

More Quick Thoughts

I find I have some time, so you (lucky you) get some more wit and wisdom from me.

Thought The First

If a comment thread has devolved into personal barbs aimed at somebody, additional commenting is probably not worth anybody's time. See here, especially #7, #8 and #10.

Thought the Second

Utah found a brilliantly effective solution for homelessness. Money quote: Between shelters, jail stays, ambulances, and hospital visits, caring for one homeless person typically costs the government $20,000 a year. Providing one homeless person with permanent housing, however — as well as a social worker to help them transition into mainstream society — costs the state $8,000. Sometimes the simplest solution is the best.

Two Quick Thoughts on a Rainy Tuesday

Quick thoughts, with a Bonus! link.

Thought The First

An educator posted his Top 10 no-sympathy lines for his students. Other than the one about student loans (which are not dischargable in bankruptcy) I agree.

Thought The Second

An analysis of why Amazon ratings don't matter. Basically, less-well-known (read "self-published") books don't get a lot of reviews, and the ones they do are actively recruited by the authors. In short, there's a self-selection effect at work that you don't see in broader fiction.

Bonus! link

This fellow is reviewing the Sad Puppies Hugo picks so you don't have to.

Monday Update

I had a quiet weekend. Saturday was largely given over to assembling my new grill, which cooked its first steak Sunday. I also finished Mary Robinette Kowal's latest novel, Of Noble Family. I found the book okay.

Set in Antigua, the novel is largely an exploration of 18th Century race, slavery and family relations. In the afterword to the book, Mary wrote that she wanted to make the conflict bigger, but the geographical realities of Antigua meant she had to make the conflict smaller. It shows, and some of the contrivances needed to make the story work I found a bit irritating. So, it was an okay ending for the series, and I'm looking forward to a new series from her.

May Day

On this 1st of May, have some links and commentary:

1) A lengthy article on the start of Gamergate. The ex-boyfriend sounds like a full-on sociopath.

2) In certain gun-owning circles, it is an article of faith that the Sandy Hook shootings didn't happen. Tim McGraw begs to differ, which shows how impossible these "conspiracies" are.

3) One of the things which fascinated me about the book Ender's Game is how the author set up his reality such that Ender, a true sociopath, is the hero. This fellow thinks it's related to Mormon theology. Presented without comment.

4) This article about Sad Puppies has been all over the Internet. I link to it because it provides a useful definition of fascism. To wit, one needs all of:
- A charismatic leader
- A call to a (usually authoritarian) past Golden Age (frequently mythical)
- A stabbed-in-the-back narrative, which explains why the present is fubar
- A secret cabal of backstabbers, the existence of which means extra-legal or at least extra-ordinary actions are required

Comment Policy

This is the personal blog of Chris Gerrib, and all opinions expressed here are solely his own. Commenters are welcome; however please be polite to me and my other readers. I reserve the right to delete comments that are rude, inappropriate or otherwise objectionable at my sole discretion. The opinions expressed in a comment are not necessarily mine, and if I do not delete a comment that should not be construed as my agreement with the commenter.

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