New WIP: Space Opera… Sort of

A few weeks back, I was trying to figure out the plot to a book.  It wasn’t gelling.  Then a new idea hit me: a stowaway and a ship’s AI working together against mercenaries who’ve hijacked the ship.

As one of my writer friends put it: Die Hard in space.

Okay, that can work.  But it wasn’t quite right.

Then the stowaway became a passenger going someplace he shouldn’t just as the hijacking begins, and he hides, then joins up with the AI.  Better, but not quite right. I needed to figure out why the passenger is wandering areas of the ship he shouldn’t go, and how he gets through security–because I’m not pulling a “Cold Equations” style cheat of having what should be highly secure protected only by a sign labeled “Do not Enter.”

This morning, a stray thought crossed my mind, and I had it.  He’s a thief.

So now we have a thief–a cat burglar–caught unawares by the criminal actions of the hijackers in the middle of his heist, whose best chance to live through this is to join forces with the ship’s AI (it’s not that simple, but I don’t want to say much here on that) to retake the ship.

Yeah, I think I can work with this.

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In Which I Totally Steal a Blog Post Idea from John Scalzi

So, John Scalzi posted a link to this article in which Gay Talese comes off as either a misogynist or an idiot.  Then he posted a list, off the top of his head, of women writers who have inspired him.  I thought I’d do the same:

Molly Ivins

Melanie Rawn

Anne McCaffrey

Harper Lee

Elizabeth Bear

Robin McKinley

Ann Leckie

C.J. Cherryh

Lorraine Hansberry

Jane Austen

J.K. Rowling

Joan Didion

Agatha Christie

R.S.A. Garcia

Madeline L’Engle

Leigh Brackett

… and that’s just off the top of my head.

 

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In which I get Cranky about language

Elseweb, someone said the following in a discussion on language, and because it would not be appropriate for me to make this comment there, as it’s not exactly the topic, I’m going to do it here:
Chaucer was as incomprehensible to [Shakespeare’s contemporaries] as he is to us, but we can still comprehend Shakespeare with a little effort, and the literature since then with correspondingly less effort.
I see this all the time, and it’s basically nonsense.
Chaucer wrote in Middle English, which is pretty weird to our modern eyes, but not actually all that hard to understand. If you learn how to pronounce the vowels, it’s pretty easy to read, and not too hard to understand.  Here’s a version with translations below the original Middle English lines:

 

1         Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
When April with its sweet-smelling showers
2         The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
Has pierced the drought of March to the root,
3         And bathed every veyne in swich licour
And bathed every vein (of the plants) in such liquid
4         Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
By which power the flower is created;
5         Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
When the West Wind also with its sweet breath,
6         Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
In every wood and field has breathed life into
7         The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
The tender new leaves, and the young sun
8         Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne,
Has run half its course in Aries,

There are some odd words, such as the pronoun hir, which has been replaced with their in modern English, but overall, the general shape of the language isn’t that hard for us to figure out, even 627 years later.  We teach it to 12th graders, for goodness’ sake–it’s not rocket science (though, honestly, we teach that, too, in some classes)!

Shakespeare, by contrast, wrote in Modern English.  Here’s Shakespeare, completely as he wrote the lines:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Perfectly understandable.  Sure, in some of Ol’ Billy’s words there are grammatical constructions that are no longer done, and the pronunciation of words has changed, certainly, leading many of Shakespeare’s jokes to fall flat today if care isn’t taken.  I remember one teacher who told us that the weird construction in the final couplet of Sonnet 116 (above) was an example of an intentional “slant rhyme,” but I later discovered that in Shakespeare’s day, the words “loved” and “proved” would have rhymed perfectly.  Those pronunciation shifts also kill some of the imagery in this sonnet–for example, there’s a pun on “hours” and “oars” in the sonnet above, which links back to the imagery of a ship in line 7.  I’ll concede that understanding just what Shakespeare is saying may not be so easy–for example, this sonnet is often read as a romantic poem, but many scholars argue otherwise. So, sure, hard to analyze–but hard to understand as language, it isn’t.
This idea in our culture that Shakespeare is some kind of bizarre language we can only understand if we work at it is part of why his plays have gone from the everyday, for-all-people entertainments they were in his lifetime to supposed highbrow-only work today.
Every time I see some idiot waxing poetic about Romeo and Juliet being High Art, I want to smack them–fully half the first scene is a series of penis jokes, for crissakes!  And it includes rape jokes!
Anyway, I’ll do another post someday soon about the pronunciation changes, but for now, I just want to say this:  Shakespeare is not hard to understand, and if you have any part in fomenting the myth that it is, stop it.
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My Love/Hate Relationship with Elite: Dangerous

I’m a space opera junkie.  Give me starships, interstellar governments, and complex politics any day of the week.  So when I discovered that Elite: Dangerous now had a Mac client, and that my computer is more than capable of running it, I snapped it up.  After all, a game that is basically a simulation of being a starship pilot, where you can do pretty much whatever you want, is right up my alley.

In ED, there are three major governments, and they each have their strengths and weaknesses.  There’s not a ton of story in the game, at least not that players are railroaded down–much of the plotline happens in the background, and you can get yourself involved as much or as little as you like.

The strength of ED is that, literally, you can do anything you want–and can afford to do.  It’s a simulation, so you need to work your way up from the basic ship you get in the beginning.  I’ve earned enough to get a few ships, but my crowning glory was my Type 6 freighter.  It’s got a ton of cargo space, which I’ve been using to build up credits by trading rare goods across the galaxy.

In a lot of games, you can have a freighter that handles like a fighter and is well-nigh indestructible.  Not so in ED.  Now, on the one hand, I love this–My fighter flies like a demon and has amazingly powerful guns, while my freighter handles like a pregnant yak, and her guns are not terribly useful in a fight.  In short, she’s a freighter, not a fighter.  On the other hand, I hate that, because it leads to things like what happened to me last night.

I was running the Lave-Coquim trade route.  I’d filled my hold with all sorts of valuable, rare cargo, and I was in the Coquim system, 20 light-seconds from the station on which I was going to sell it all for a nice profit, which would go towards buying a better fighter down the road.

And that’s when an NPC, computer-controlled pirate interdicted me (by which I mean he pulled me out of “FTL”) and destroyed me.  In 15 seconds.

That difficulty curve drives me insane.

I had enough in my accounts to replace the ship, but the cargo, and the 1.5 hours of work it took to get all that cargo?  Gone, along with several million credits of profit.  Which, OK, it’s a video game, who cares?  But still.  Games affect us, or we wouldn’t play them, right? The thrill of doing something right in a game is real, but so is the dejection when the game nails you to the wall.

But right now, I can’t say if I’ll start the trade route over, or jump in a fighter and go kill some bad guys for bounties. And a little stress relief.

 

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What Impostor Syndrome Looks Like From The Inside

Impostor Syndrome, the belief that one is a fraud, sometimes hits a lot of writers.  Most of the writers I know, both professional and not, suffer from it from time to time.  I feel lately like I live there.  It makes writing very difficult–how can you focus on the work when you’re convinced you’re terrible at it?

I suffer from it both as a teacher and as a writer, but mostly as a writer.  And when I’m in the depths of Writer Impostor mode, these are the things that go through my mind  (In case it’s not obvious, I need to point out that every single one of these is BS and I know it):

  • I’m a hack.  My book sucks.
  • I’m not analytical enough.  All my friends are waxing eloquent about that book’s structure and plot and character, and I’m sitting here with my Literature degree thinking only “I liked it; it was a good story.”  How can I be a good writer if I don’t analyze everything I read like that?
  • Writing is hard.  It wouldn’t be this hard if I was any good.
  • Fuck (insert writer whose career I’m jealous of that day)
  • I’m good at grammar but I suck at everything else.
  • I am never going to be published.  What’s the point of bothering to put my soul into this if it isn’t going to go anywhere?
  • It would be easier to just stop and be a reader.
  • My ideas are all trite and unoriginal.
  • Taking a dump would be more productive than this writing session.
  • VP lied to me to get my money. The instructors all laughed about how bad I am.
  • All my VP classmates think I suck.  They just tell me it’s good because they like me.
  • They don’t even really like me.
  • I’m wasting time I could be doing something more fun chasing a dream that will never come true.  I’m a fool.
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Angry Robot Result

Spoiler: They said no.

Got my rejection today.  Here it is, in its form-letter glory:

Thank you for sending us “The Widening Gyre: The Remembrance War Book 1”. The Robots really appreciated the chance to read it, and thank you for taking the time to submit it to this year’s Open Door. Unfortunately, this book is not for us.

The “unfortunately” is kind of amusing. Unfortunate for me, definitely.  But for them? *shrug* That’s just how rejections are worded. I mean, what else are they gonna say?  “You suck”?  I admit I’d have preferred a more personal “Hey, here’s what I didn’t like,” but the truth is, they’ve got over a thousand of these to get through; that’s not going to happen.  It doesn’t happen with agents, either, most of the time.  The one personal I’ve gotten was pretty clear the problem was the agent’s particular likes and dislikes, and I can’t fault her for that, but it’s also useless to me as a writer except to say “don’t submit anything similar to her in future.”

Ah well.  The book is back out to agents already, and I’m working on, depending on the day and how I feel, two different books.  I have a new project that has really grabbed my attention, so I’m mostly focusing on that, as well as finally finishing a crit I’ve been promising for ages.

Anyway, the day job is technically over for the day, but I have about two days of grading I need to finish by tomorrow, so I’m going to go do that.  Maybe I’ll get some writing done tonight, but maybe not–I’m pretty wiped out, intellectually.

 

 

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A Few Books That Have Made Me Cry

FandomCryI saw this image floating around Facebook recently, and it got me thinking about the power a good story has.  There are many books that, over the years, have made me lose my composure—sometimes privately, and sometimes in public.

I’m leaving some books out, here–I mean, practically everyone cries when reading The Diary of Anne Frank or Where the Red Fern Grows.  These are mostly the genre books that have done me in, with a few literary bits, as well.

In no particular order:

 

 

Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern, Anne McCaffrey

When I moved back to Napa after living for a year in Modesto, I attended Napa High School.  I immediately befriended the librarian, and asked her if there were any more Pern MoretaPern(1stEd)novels (I’d recently read the first three of them and loved them), as I’d heard there was another book.  She showed me that not only were there more, there were four more (this was 1983), and she had them all.  I devoured the Harper Hall trilogy, and asked for Moreta.  She had just got a new copy to replace a destroyed one, and I was the first student to get to check it out.  She assured me it was amazing.

I had an hour-long bus ride to get from my home on the rural outskirts of Napa to the high school, which is in the middle of the city, and I read the final chapters one morning during that ride.  The chapters where Moreta dies, and the survivors of the plague discuss her death (Not really a spoiler; Moreta’s death is broadcast in earlier books).

And every time someone mentioned Moreta’s death, I would start crying.  Over and over again.  When I got to school, I took the book back to Mrs. Sward and told her what had happened.  She apologized for not warning me, but also I could tell she was trying very hard not to laugh. In future, whenever I checked out a book, she would warn me if it was likely to make me sad.  I adored that woman.

Skybowl, Melanie Rawn

Skybowl is the final book of the Dragon Prince/Dragon Star trilogies.  The Dragon Star trilogy concerns a war, and there is a LOT of death.  This isn’t the only book in the series that has made me cry, but it is the one that consistently does so, nearly 20 years after I first read it.  All that has to happen is thskybowl-coverat I read through the book, and when I get to the first line of chapter 37, “It took [SPOILER] five days to die,” it is over.  I am in tears.  And I didn’t even like that character!

Traitor, Matthew Woodring Stover

Yes, the Star Wars tie-in book.  What can I say?  Stover is amazing, and the death of Ganner Rhysode is one of the best moments in the entire Yuuzhang Vong war, which I loved.  I cried for the guy.  Sue me.

The Mageborn TraitorMelanie Rawn

Book 2 of the still unfinished Exiles trilogy. It is the perfect middle book of a trilogy—the heroes whose future looked so amazing in the end of the first book are on the run, in hiding as their enemies have risen to power.  They have no idea how they’ll go on, what they can do, or if they’ll even survive, and one of the best of them has fallen.

220px-Mageborn_Traitor-smThere’s a reason Rawn’s fans still live in hope that book 3 will come out someday, even as most of us acknowledge it probably won’t.  Sadly, none of Rawn’s recent work has thrilled me as much as her first eight books did, but I live in hope and keep trying them.

Incidentally, the cover of this book is one of my all-time favorite book covers.  The scene depicted never really happens in the book, but it’s thematically perfect.  One of my favorite Michael Whelan paintings.

Magic’s Price, Mercedes Lackey

As an adult, I see the huge problems in Lackey’s world, but I still love the Last Herald-Mage trilogy, and the endings of both books 2 and 3 get me every time.

Book two ends with Vanyel having a conversation with Death, and learning what his future will bring him—he is given a choice, and full knowledge of the consequences.  It’s so well-written, the poetry and beauty of the moment reduce me to tears.

Book 3, of course, as it had to, ends with Vanyel’s sacrifice, and that, too, gets me very time.  The very end is sappy as hell, but before that is sorrow and rage and unfairness, and it pushes my buttons still.

Jumper, Steven Gould

It’s no secret that I love this book.  I first read it when I was 22, the year it was released. I’ve loaned it to damn near all my friends, I got my wife into it, I’ve loaned copies to many JUMPER_Steven_Gouldstudents.  My original copy, in fact, is probably in Russia now, as I loaned it to a student in 2010 who was on vacation in Russia when his family abruptly decided not to come back to the US.  I’ve used it in my American literature class when we get to the 20th century popular fiction unit. I’ve used an excerpt from it to teach units on stereotypes and how harmful they can be.

There is a moment when Davy thinks he’s lost everything, and he breaks a cup by accident, then loses himself in smashing every cup and dish in the set.  I know that guy. I’ve been him.

I’ve read all the books in the series, and enjoyed them all, but it’s Jumper I reread periodically.  For me this is one of those books that, once read, becomes a part of you.

Teckla, Steven Brust

TecklaThis is, so far, among my favorites of Steve Brust’s Dragaeran Cycle.  This is the book where Vlad Taltos begins the long and painful process of growing up.  The emotions of a man on the edge, whose life appears to be falling apart, and who has to look long and hard at himself and what he’s doing with his life, come across so well that even before I’d met Brust and learned the background of this one, I knew there was truth in the writing.

An honorable mention goes to Brust’s apparently non-canonical short story set in the same universe, “A Dream of Passion.”  Didn’t make me cry, but is very emotionally affecting.

 

 

And, lastly…

The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger

I didn’t want to include this one, because there is SO MUCH I dislike about this book. But I, like many others, spent the last 20 or so pages crying.  For all this book’s problems (which I admit might be personal opinion more than craft), it was affecting and well-written enough I devoured it in a weekend.

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