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Spitting Image - Eric Flint's Grantville Gazette Vol 68

My sci-fi short "Spitting Image" is up this month in the Universe Annex of Eric Flint's Grantville Gazette, Vol 68, Nov 1st!

The Annex is attached to the Baen's Universe Slush forums on Baen's Bar, where I've been a member since 2009. The slush forums are more a critique community than a submissions forum, these days, and I can't emphasize enough how much they've helped me improve my work over the years. Most feedback focuses not so much on technical proficiency but more on structural and thematic weakness, so the discussion there has revealed to me many of my blind spots and greatly improved my ability to self-edit.
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Books 2015

Open Season (Linda Howard)
Anyone but You (Jennifer Crusie)
Cover of Night (Linda Howard)
Size 12 Is Not Fat (Meg Cabot)
The Iron Duke (Meljean Brook)
Dawn Song (Sharon Green)
Magic Steps (Tamora Pierce)
Street Magic (Tamora Pierce)
Cold Fire (Tamora Pierce)
Hammered (Elizabeth Bear)
The Runelords (David Farland)
Pawn of Prophecy (David Eddings)
Queen of Sorcery(David Eddings)
Magician's Gambit (David Eddings)
Castle of Wizardry (David Eddings)

New reads:
Chaos (James Gleick)
Clockwork Angel (Cassandra Clare)
Rejections, Romance, and Royalties (Laura Resnick)
Unsympathetic Magic (Laura Resnick)
Vamparrazi (Laura Resnick)
Polterheist (Laura Resnick)
Abra Cadaver (Laura Resnick)
Street of the Five Moons (Elizabeth Peters)
The Misfortune Cookie (Laura Resnick)
Dogs and Goddesses (Jennifer Crusie, Anne Stuart, Lani Diane Rich)
Boy Meets Girl (Meg Cabot)
The Bride Wore Size 12 (Meg Cabot)
Getting Lucky (Susan Andersen)
Burn for Me (Ilona Andrews)
One Foot in the Grave (Jeaniene Frost)
Destined for an Early Grave (Jeaniene Frost)
At Grave's End (Jeaniene Frost)
First Drop of Crimson (Jeaniene Frost)
Shatterglass (Tamora Pierce)
Clockwork Angel (Cassandra Clare)
Delirium (Lauren Oliver)
The Chocolate Jewel Case (Joanna Fluke)
Soulless (Gail Carriger)
Changeless (Gail Carriger)
Blameless (Gail Garriger)
Etiquette & Espionage (Gail Carriger)
Curtsies & Conspiracies (Gail Carriger)
Waistcoats & Weaponry (Gail Carriger)
Wickedly Dangerous (Deborah Blake)
Touched By Fire (Kay Redfield Jamison)
Wickedly Wonderful (Deborah Blake)

Best discovery of 2015: I'd have to say Gail Carriger. I think Soulless, the first book of the Parasol Protectorate series, is my favorite, because it's the first and the sense of wonder and delight as I read was the reveal of first exposure, unique to that time and place.

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Delirium (Lauren Oliver)

Lauren Oliver

I picked up this book based on what I'd read of Raven; one of the novellas in the Delirium universe. I was sucked in by the writing and decided to start at the beginning. Unfortunately, that proved to be somewhat of a slog, because Delirium has the traditional slow ramp-up of YA dystopia. I'd write that off as a occupational hazard (so to speak) of the genre, but counterexamples such as Susan Ee's Angelfall come to mind.

Angelfall came to mind as a comparison often while reading Delirium, actually, perhaps due to the prominence of the main characters' mothers. Both mothers have their own kind of madness, but Lena's mother's ability to love is a stark contrast to Penryn's mother's schizophrenia. Passive and joyful versus violent and unpredictable: only one of these two comes across as an asset in a dystopian world. But I can be persuaded otherwise; the next book Pandemonium may be more what I'm looking for.

The language of Delirium also picks up speed after the first third of the book to hit that perfect pitch that dragged me in from the first pages of Raven. My favorite lines were these:

I'll tell you another secret, this one for your own good. You may think the past has something to tell you. You may think that you should listen, should strain to make out its whispers, should bend over backward, stoop down low to hear its voice breathed up from the ground, from the dead places. You may think there's something for you, something to understand or make sense of.

But I know the truth: I know from the nights of Coldness. I know the past will drag you backward and down, have you snatching at whispers of wind and the gibberish of trees rubbing together, trying to decipher some code, trying to piece together what was broken. It's hopeless. The past is nothing but a weight. It will build inside of you like a stone.
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Airborn (Kenneth Oppel)

Kenneth Oppel

I'm really glad I read this instead of just turning it back in to the library. Often books sit on my shelf and I renew them until I exceed the limit and have to turn them back in. But I discovered I had ONE more renewal to eke out. And once I started reading, I finished it in one sitting.

The technology of the airship was fascinating and in-depth enough that I had to go Google to confirm that hydrium was a fictional invention. The book proceeds at a breathtaking pace, leaping from disaster to brilliant solution to new disaster, in a way that invoked the legacy of "swashbuckling adventure" stories that inspired Mr. Oppel.

The atmosphere of naval discipline was also a lovely change of pace from stories about thieves and renegades. Not that there's anything wrong with thieves and renegades, but it's great to immerse oneself in the formalism and purpose of an order that still works as it should (as opposed to systems where justice and law has been perverted to the extent that heroes have to either "sell out" to the system or defy it). And I now want to go around calling people "Mr" and "Ms" -- if I were a teacher I would totally address my students that way. I think it has a great element of respect, both respecting each other and promoting self-respect. The Captain Walken of Airborn is a great role model for an authority figure.

While I haven't read the boys' adventure stories that created the swashbuckling adventure model, given the history of female characters in such literature, I'm pretty sure that Kate de Vries is a definite improvement on the model. Her relationship with Matt is equal parts poignant and hilarious, especially when they start bickering.

Will definitely search out the sequels Skybreaker and Starclimber to see more of this world, but Airborn also works as a great stand-alone novel.
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Structural Elements, Abyss & Apex 2Q 2014

Belated announcement... my short story "Structural Elements" is up as part of Abyss & Apex's 50th issue!

A&A has always been pretty high up on my list for submissions, so I'm happy to finally have something that they found a good fit! And especially for so important a milestone as a 50th issue--they are a quality magazine and it's good to have them still alive and kicking, long past the average lifespan of other 'zines.

Sam Tomaino reviews this issue at SFRevu, and calls "Structural Elements" a "luxurious, rich fantasy."

Also, my current WIP is a YA fantasy novel set in the same world, about 20 years later. I'm about 38k in. I'd better get on that while "Structural Elements" is still on the radar.
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Some Quiet Place (Kelsey Sutton)

Some Quiet Place
Kelsey Sutton

In my opinion, personifying Emotions and Elements never gets old. Even I have a short ten-minute play in my past where a girl has to face her own Arrogance, Tedium, Morbidity, Fear, Desire, Malice, and finally Hope. Ran at a student playwriting festival back in 2004. One woman came up to me afterward and told me in heartfelt tones that I had described her life.

After all, it's so much easier when you can condense Emotions from something tangled and abstract into a person. You can relate with a person, argue with a person, fall in love with a person. The relationship between Liz and Fear is the major hook of the book, and one that ultimately pays off.

My main issue with this book is pacing. The beginning was perfect, the ending was a little fast, but the middle dragged. Her brother's revelation about the "I'm not Liz" line is great, but needed to happen much sooner, about the same time as her conversation with her mother in the kitchen, when she asks where her daughter is. That would have been an easy transition, if her mother inspired doubts and she went up to ask her brother. And after that it needs to snowball to breaking the block. Instead, we continue to wander through emotional limbo, killing any momentum that might have built up.
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Giving In to Gravity

Man, I've been out of the SFF scene for over a year now. The last short fiction I submitted to a market was in May 2011. I don't regret my hiatus--among other things, I got a master's degree and an amazing job--but getting back into the flow is going to be work.

I understand now why people give up writing seriously. At this point, it would be easier to just keep sliding, write a 300-word blip a month, and pretend that I've still got it, while never finishing anything, never submitting anything. Dreams and goals are exhausting. I already work 50 hours a week on average--when I get home, I just want to chill. My day job has far more potential for success than my writing. The market is so tight anyway--maybe I'll wait to see where publishing is going first.

Sound familiar?

When those thoughts pop up in my brain, I recognize them instantly--they're every classic excuse for not pursuing a dream. They're seductive. Or rather, they're like gravity--persistent, and inevitable, and omnipresent, and it's so much easier to give in and let yourself fall.

But I will not let myself fall. I will not give in, and I will not give up.

My comeback plan hangs on a dilemma right now--novels or short stories? I'm really a novel writer--all my shorts try to turn into novels--but it's so much easier to workshop shorts, to get feedback from fellow writers and slush readers whom I respect and admire. That dynamic exchange of feedback is a powerful motivator.

First I guess I should catch up on the stacks and stacks of to-be-read books around my apartment. Library books are going to take priority, then half-finished books I own:

1) Brown Acres: An Intimate History of the Los Angeles Sewers (Anna Sklar)
2) Beyond the Deep: The Deadly Descent into the World's Most Treacherous Cave (Stone & Ende)
3) Un Lun Dun (China Mielville)
4) The City & The City (China Mielville)
5) Antonio Gaudi (Juan Bassegoda Nonell)
6) Angel of Darkness (Caleb Carr)
7) Territory (Emma Bull)
8) Spin State (Chris Moriarty)
9) Indigo Springs (A. M. Dellamonica)
10) Flesh & Fire (Laura Anne Gilman)

Going to keep it at ten for now. It looks more manageable. Those top two are novel research, and I already renewed them once, which I guess answers my dilemma of what to work on first.
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This is a fascinating information visualization project. Wordle is a visualization of text, the homunculus is a visualization of the brain, and maps can be recreated and proportioned according to a number of factors, but I've never seen anyone do this with cinema before. As the creator points out, it is a time-based medium, and the additional dimension means that few people have tried to tackle a purely data-based representation.

This makes me wonder: how could you visualize music, another time-based art? I'm sure someone has done it...
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Alice in Wonderland

Finally got around to watching the 2010 Alice in Wonderland, and the last third was... a disappointment. There are at least five people who could have turned out to be the Jabberwocky, some less logically than others, but all heartbreaking. When I saw Absalom going into his cocoon, I was sure we had a winner.

But no... the Jabberwocky was just an anonymous ugly dragon. Alice was just the generic dragonslayer. I'm not saying we should have some fluffy ending where she's taming the Jabberwocky instead of killing it, or something similarly vanilla, but a little more nuance. Or coherence. I got all these brief glimpses of genius, but they didn't GO anywhere.... argh.
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The Angel Experiment (James Patterson)

Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment
James Patterson

Continuing with my YA reading... I got 54 pages into this book before I started skimming.

The pros:

Max, the Maximum of the title, is actually a girl. And it's not a big deal, just slipped in detail by detail.

The cons:

"Yes, you, standing there leafing through these pages. Do not put this book down. I'm dead serious--your life could depend on it."
Does that sound familiar? Like, 54-book series familiar? Even now, when I can laugh at the clunky writing of the Animorphs series, I never forget how heartbreaking they are. In comparison, this book seems half-hearted, or maybe dumbed down.

"Chapter 2: I jolted upright in bed, gasping, my hand over my heart."
Yes. Yes, she woke up and Chapter 1 was All A Dream.

"Wincing, I pushed downward with all my strength, then pulled my wings up, then pushed downward again."
If I were writing a book about bird-children, I would research the mechanics of avian flight. The power stroke is forward as well as down, and the back stroke is, as the name implies, back and up. Plus, she's jumping from a cliff, so this shouldn't be flapping flight at all--she should be going right into soaring flight.

""He was my son!... You killed your own brother!"
These are a page apart, but clearly they add up to "No, am your father."

I think this might have been a lot stronger if the book had started in the cages, at the School. I'm thinking of Colfer's The Supernaturalist here, and how starting at the orphanage put the entire book in perspective. But The Angel Experiment starts after they've escaped and are hiding out, and while they talk about how horrible the School is, it's not real to the reader.

I might recommend this book to very young readers, or maybe I'd just tell them to read Animorphs instead.