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AQATWA: Actually opening the page helps

Alexandra Quick
So I have a confession to make: my writing output for the past few months has been... slim. Minimal. One might even say, practically zero.

I've spent lots of time thinking about writing, but not a lot of writing has actually happened.

There have been reasons for that, some good, some bad, but reasons don't get words on the page. And I've been missing the writing and yes, I do want to finish the damn book! As well as other things.

So anyway, I wrote 1400 words tonight and finished Chapter 28. This is going to need some serious, serious rewriting and editing when I finish, but I remembered where I was going and now I'm just taking off in that direction and trying not to let the hobgoblins that demand revision and polish slow me down.

So, current word count is 145,096. We're back...

And here's some morale-boosting fan art.

David Washington
by cactusfantastico on deviantART

by cactusfantastico on deviantART

Book Review: Life of Pi, by Yann Martel

Surviving on a lifeboat with a metaphorical tiger.

Life of Pi

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002, 319 pages

Pi Patel has been raised in a zoo in India. When his father decides to move the family to Canada and sell the animals to American zoos, everyone boards a Japanese cargo ship. The ship sinks, and 16-year-old Pi finds himself alone on a lifeboat with a hyena, an orangutan, a zebra with a broken leg, and a 450-pound Bengal tiger.

Soon it's just Pi, the tiger, and the vast Pacific Ocean - for 227 days. Pi's fear, knowledge, and cunning keep him alive until they reach the coast of Mexico, where the tiger disappears into the jungle. The Japanese authorities who interrogate Pi refuse to believe his story, so he tells a second one - more conventional, less fantastic. But is it more true?

A realistic, rousing adventure and meta-tale of survival, Life of Pi explores the redemptive power of storytelling and the transformative nature of fiction. It's a story, as one character claims, to "make you believe in God".

It did not make me believe in God, but it was not as annoying as I thought it would be.Collapse )

Verdict: Not quite a perfect book, and may rub orthodox atheists and orthodox believers alike the wrong way, but for its quotable prose and luminous imagery, for its gripping survival epic and relatable, resourceful, sympathetic protagonist, Life of Pi is a book that won me over despite my aversion to much-hyped books. It doesn't quite make my "highly recommended" list because of its spirituality-laden message and a certain verdant isle that tested my suspension of disbelief, but I do recommend it.

My complete list of book reviews.


Book Review: The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan

A Farmboy of Destiny hikes through Middle EarthFantasylandia

The Eye of the World

Tor, 1990, 670 pages

The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, and Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.

My, this Wheel does go on.Collapse )

Verdict: The Eye of the World is honored for its sentimental value and because of the massive investment Wheel of Time fans put into reading this huge series, not because this book is truly great. It isn't. It's not terrible. But Robert Jordan was not a great writer and there was barely anything original about this trite and overwritten epic fantasy quest. I don't mind having read it, but the thought of reading fourteen more fills me with existential horror. Enough.

My complete list of book reviews.

Book Review: Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders, by Susanne Alleyn

Get your underpants, your beheadings, and your menus right, historical fiction authors!

Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders

Spyderwort Press, 2013, 242 pages

This is not a book on how to write historical fiction. It is a book on how not to write historical fiction.

If you love history and you’re hard at work writing your first historical novel, but you’re wondering if your medieval Irishmen would live on potatoes, if your 17th-century pirate would use a revolver, or if your hero would be able to offer Marie-Antoinette a box of chocolate bonbons . . .

(The answer to all these is “Absolutely not!”)

. . . then Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders is the book for you.

Medieval Underpants will guide you through the factual mistakes that writers of historical fiction—both beginners and seasoned professionals—often make, and show you how to avoid them. From fictional characters crossing streets that wouldn't exist for another sixty (or two thousand) years, to 1990s slang in the mouths of 1940s characters, to the pitfalls of the Columbian Exchange (when plants and foods native to the Americas first began to appear in Europe, Asia, and Africa, and vice versa), acclaimed historical novelist Susanne Alleyn exposes the often hilarious, always painful goofs that turn up most frequently in fiction set in the past.

Alleyn stresses the hazards to writers of assuming too much about details of life in past centuries, providing numerous examples of mistakes that could easily have been avoided. She also explores commonly-confused topics such as the important difference between pistols and revolvers, and between the British titles “Lord John Smith” and “John, Lord Smith” and why they’re not interchangeable, and provides simple guidelines for getting them right. In a wide assortment of chapters including Food and Plants; Travel; Guns; Money; Hygiene; Dialogue; Attitudes; Research; and, of course, Underpants, she offers tips on how to avoid errors and anachronisms while continually reminding writers of the necessity of meticulous historical research.

Even Charles Dickens got it wrong.Collapse )

Verdict: An entertaining overview of historical fiction bloopers and how not to write them, Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders is an opinionated but informative grab bag of historical trivia of interest even to non-writers. If you enjoy historical fiction, you will want to read this, and if you write it, you really should read it.

My complete list of book reviews.

Wow, fandom, you really didn't know?

It's kind of amazing to me that SF/F fandom is going through paroxysms of outrage and disgust and shock right now over the "revelations" about Marion Zimmer Bradley.

(tl;dr version if you've somehow missed it: MZB's ex-husband was a convicted child molester, whom she aided and abetted, and her own daughter says MZB molested her too. And apparently all of fandom back in the day knew that MZB's then-husband, Walter Breen, was a jolly fellow fan whom you just shouldn't leave alone with kids...)

The thing is, this has been public knowledge for years. I first read this many years ago. With the way fandom nowadays hunts down every stray tweet and tumblr that someone might have posted in an ill-advised moment, it's kind of odd that somehow this is only becoming a Big Deal now.

I read The Mists of Avalon in high school and remember it being an okay retelling of the Arthurian legend, but OMG so men-are-slavering-beasts-women-are-the-sacred-uterus-of-the-universe. I don't think I've ever read anything else by her.

So anyway, yeah, MZB was apparently an exceedingly creepy and horrible person, but like I said, until now I thought that was common knowledge.

And yeah, every single person back in the day who thought it would be too "mean" to exclude a known child molester from conventions because "Geek Unity!" deserves the beating they should have given Walter Breen.

Book Review: Parasite, by Mira Grant

Tapeworms shall inherit the Earth in Mira Grant's #weneedtokendiversity Hugo nom.


Orbit, 2013, 512 pages

A decade in the future, humanity thrives in the absence of sickness and disease.

We owe our good health to a humble parasite - a genetically engineered tapeworm developed by the pioneering SymboGen Corporation. When implanted, the Intestinal Bodyguard worm protects us from illness, boosts our immune system - even secretes designer drugs. It's been successful beyond the scientists' wildest dreams. Now, years on, almost every human being has a SymboGen tapeworm living within them.

But these parasites are getting restless. They want their own lives . . . and will do anything to get them.

Entertaining but formulaic Hugo-fodder.Collapse )

Verdict: Entertaining, derivative, readable, a Mira Grant product for fans of Mira Grant. I liked Parasite but it did not in any way impress me, and the ways in which this Hugo nomination did not impress me were sufficiently irksome for me to belabor them in more detail than I usually snipe at books I'd otherwise write a mostly unmixed positive review for. If you liked Newsflesh you will probably like Parasite, but don't expect anything new.

Also by Mira Grant: My reviews of Feed, Deadline, and Blackout.

My complete list of book reviews.

Book Review: The Postman, by David Brin

A post-apocalyptic novel that came at the wrong time, and then got shafted by Kevin Costner.

The Postman

Spectra, 1985, 321 pages

This is the story of a lie that became the most powerful kind of truth. A timeless novel as urgently compelling as War Day or Alas, Babylon, David Brin's The Postman is the dramatically moving saga of a man who rekindled the spirit of America through the power of a dream, from a modern master of science fiction.

He was a survivor--a wanderer who traded tales for food and shelter in the dark and savage aftermath of a devastating war. Fate touches him one chill winter's day when he borrows the jacket of a long-dead postal worker to protect himself from the cold. The old, worn uniform still has power as a symbol of hope, and with it he begins to weave his greatest tale, of a nation on the road to recovery

It was better than Waterworld!Collapse )

Verdict: A smartly plotted novel with bits of political and scientific philosophy sprinkled into the story, The Postman is a superior TEOTWAKI novel that would probably have sold better if it were published today. And if it weren't wrecked by an awful Kevin Costner movie.

My complete list of book reviews.

Book Review: The Currents of Space, by Isaac Asimov

A tale of galactic political intrigue and colonial metaphor.

The Currents of Space

Doubleday, 1952, 203 pages

High above the planet Florinia, the Squires of Sark live in unimaginable wealth and comfort. Down in the eternal spring of the planet, however, the native Florinians labor ceaselessly to produce the precious kyrt that brings prosperity to their Sarkite masters. Rebellion is unthinkable and impossible. Living among the workers of Florinia, Rik is a man without a memory or a past. He has been abducted and brainwashed. Barely able to speak or care for himself when he was found, Rik is widely regarded as a simpleton by the worker community where he lives. But as his memories begin to return, Rik finds himself driven by a cryptic message he is determined to deliver: Everyone on Florinia is doomed . . . the Currents of Space are bringing destruction. But if the planet is evacuated, the power of Sark will end--so some would finish the job and would kill the messenger. The fate of the Galaxy hangs in the balance.

Asimov at his best, when characters are just racks to hang ideas on.Collapse )

Verdict: Classic SF about a planet endangered and a population oppressed, written by one of the greats in the field. Which by itself would not sell a novel to me, since Asimov often leaves me cold, but The Currents of Space blows away a lot of contemporary Hugo nominees for smarts and entertainment value, and even handling still-extant social issues. That said, it's very much a Fifties space opera, for those who love 'em or hate 'em.

Also by Isaac Asimov: My review of The End of Eternity.

My complete list of book reviews.

Book Review: Saturn's Children, by Charles Stross

A post-human space opera riff on a rather notorious SF classic. Tribute or parody? You be the judge.

Saturn's Children

Ace Books, 2008, 336 pages

In Saturn's Children, Freya is an obsolete android concubine in a society where humans haven't existed for hundreds of years. A rigid caste system keeps the Aristos, a vindictive group of humanoids, well in control of the lower, slave-chipped classes. So when Freya offends one particularly nasty Aristo, she's forced to take a dangerous courier job off-planet.

The cover and the story makes a lot more sense if you know your Heinlein.Collapse )

Verdict: Entertaining, tongue-in-cheek sci-fi about a very sexy android that will amuse you more if you've read the Heinlein novel it's spoofing. Saturn's Children isn't truly brilliant, but it's a smart, fun space opera set in a post-human solar system.

Also by Charles Stross: My review of Accelerando.

My complete list of book reviews.

My Book Reviews



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