Friday, December 18, 2015

The Force Awakens: Fanservice Galore, Some Cool Stuff, and Some Bothersome Bits (SPOILERS)

People clapped when the Lucasfilm logo signaled that the trailers were over and Star Wars: The Force Awakens had begun. People (including me) cheered when the yellow Star Wars logo popped up against the starfield, concurrent with John Williams' triumphal theme.

At the end of the movie, there were just a few scattered claps (not including any from me).

There was a lot that I loved about this movie, and nothing I hated. But I did have some problems with it.

Starting with the positive, everything felt real and solid. I expected nothing less than a seamless blend of real special effects and CGI, and I got it. Also, BB-8 was indeed cute.

I loved the multiracial cast. I loved that women had strong, active roles.

I loved the fanservice, up to a point. There were many callbacks to the first six movies, from the opening crawl to other things that I'll start mentioning after the spoiler warning. 


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Mind Meld: What Makes the Perfect Short Story?

I recently participated in another Mind Meld at the SFSignal website with about 20 other writers and editors. This was the question posed by superfan Paul Weimer, which each of us answered in our own way:

Novels have to do many things, novellas a few things. But a short story is a pure, distilled idea, crystallized down to the core, drilling down through a reader’s shields and evoking a reaction, branding a reader’s memory forever. With this in mind, we asked our contributors:
Q: What do you consider the perfect SF/F short story, or the elements of one?

Follow the link at and scroll down to see my reply along with those of many others.

(This item was really published here on Dec. 19 but scheduled as if on Dec. 16, the day the Mind Meld went up at SFSignal, to keep my essays chronologically tidy in my blog's timeline.)

Friday, September 18, 2015

FOL at the CFLC Spelling Bee, 2015

The Cape Fear Literacy Council holds a spelling bee for adults every year as a fundraiser. The 28th Annual Spelling Bee for Literacy was held last night, and the Friends of the New Hanover County Public Library made it to the fifth round of six. Congratulations to the Wilmington Cape Fear Rotary Club for winning and to the Rotary Club of Wilmington for placing second!

I've been competing on the Friends of the Library team (Fiends of the Library) for several years; I've been a member of the board for several years and a volunteer before that. Sadly, while the FOL team has won the bee nine times in the past, none of those victories has come in this decade, although we've been in the finals once or twice. But I feel no shame.

The word that beat us was kwashiorkor, a form of protein-deficit malnutrition. The other fifth-round words were hydroxyapatit, gymkhana, ephippium, and caitiff. Since the format for this round (and the first four) had two teams spelling at once (each team reached a consensus together and then wrote the word on a transparent sheet for projection), these five words ended up eliminating six other teams.

In the sixth and final round, they read out 10 words, and the two remaining teams wrote them all down and handed in the list. WCFRC had seven words correct -- very impressive -- and RCW had five. Playing in the audience at this point, I got four right.

I'm working on creating a sound file of the 10 words in the last round, with definitions and sentences, and will update this post with it when that's complete, so anyone who's interested will be able to play along.

Thanks to The Terraces on Sir Tyler for hosting the bee this year and all the great sponsors listed here, as well as the 18 other area organizations that competed.

Props to my teammates, Bruce Shuman, Carla Sarratt, and Jaz Theodore for upholding the honor of FOL! Jaz especially deserves thanks for stepping in at the last moment. I hope we all get to try again next year!

UPDATE (Sept. 21, 2015): I have created the sound file of the 10 words from the final round of the bee.

In case the embedded player doesn't work, you can find it at this link.

Have fun! If you play along, please let me know how you do!

Friday, July 31, 2015

My 2015 Hugo Awards Ballot

Tonight (July 31) at midnight PDT is the deadline for voting in the Hugo Awards, which celebrate science fiction and fantasy. I'm short on time today, so I'm mostly keeping this post to a list of my votes. If you're curious why I voted "No Award" so many times, The Guardian posted a pretty good summary of the issues today, and File 770 has a fairly comprehensive log of the ongoing debate between what I'll call the reactionaries and the futurists. I'll just say I appreciate multiple viewpoints and fiction that reflects some thoughtfulness about issues, as opposed to straight action-adventures steeped in one dominant mindset. Also, I strongly favor voting one's conscience as opposed to slate voting designed to crowd out independent thinking.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Mind Meld: Writing in Another Author's Universe

For anyone who missed it, I participated in a Mind Meld at SFSignal with a number of other writers and editors, which was published on May 27. Here it is:

The question posed:
"Recently, Alastair Reynolds and Stephen Baxter announced that they were writing a story set in the Jupiter-diving “Medusa” world of the late Arthur C Clarke. Collections such as Songs of the Dying Earth feature writers trying their hand in Vance’s many universes.
With that in mind…
What fallow universe do you think deserves additional exploration, and who would you ask to write in that world?"
Follow the link and scroll down to see my reply.

(This item was published belatedly but scheduled as if on May 28, a day after the Mind Meld was posted, to keep it tidy in the blog timeline.)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Serendipitous moments: Libraries, Renoir, and Vreeland's Luncheon of the Boating Party

Earlier this year, I was at the library looking for an audiobook to entertain myself during a long drive. To my disappointment, I had already listened to all the available P.G. Wodehouse works. I started skimming backward through the shelves, and my eyes fell upon "The Luncheon of the Boating Party" by Susan Vreeland.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir has long been one of my favorite painters (Dance at Bougival, Young Girls at the Piano, etc.), and Luncheon of the Boating Party (Le déjeuner des canotiers) is possibly his best, combining people, still-life elements, and a shimmering river landscape in one convivial scene. I borrowed a print of it from my father a few years ago, and it has hung in my bedroom ever since. So I checked out the 14-CD set, despite knowing nothing of the author.

That's one of the things I really enjoy about libraries: serendipitous finds! I love looking at the new arrivals, and I love wandering the stacks, discovering stories that have been waiting for me all along. And because they're free to users, I can try anything, however random and far that offering may be from my usual reading habits.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Podcastle Best of 2014 nominations

I posted last week about Pseudopod's nominations; this week, I'm sharing what I wrote on the Escape Artists forum about my nominations for Pseudopod's sister podcast, the fantasy-oriented Podcastle. It was another really good year for the podcast, one of my favorites, so I have quite a few honorable mentions too. I'm linking to the podcast pages, but they don't autoplay. Some were published elsewhere first and so those pages have links to their original text versions.

... [My] top pick for the year:
305: Heartless by Peadar Ó Guilín
This had a fascinating basis for the system of magic, with a well explored sociology; a strong female protagonist with the courage of her convictions, fighting to save her sister; and choices with real consequences. And the ending blew me away.

My second pick is a story that I didn't entirely understand, nor did I agree with all the protagonist's choices, but it was really powerful. 
302: Feed Me the Bones of Our Saints by Alex Dally MacFarlane
It's still in my head, like it is for [another forum member].

But Podcastle is not always heartwrenching and heavy, thank goodness! A lot of the episodes are just fun. Partly because of Alasdair's delicious delivery, partly because of the Wodehousesque worldbuilding, partly because of the charmingly not-strong protagonist, my third pick is the one story I went back and re-listened to later in the year when I needed cheering up:
322: Saving Bacon by Ann Leckie

Honorable Mentions:
328: The Old Woman With No Teeth by Patricia Russo -- great fun; I loved how the old woman kept interrupting the storyteller to make him revise the narrative.
324: Without Faith, Without Law, Without Joy by Saladin Ahmed -- wonderful style and a really fresh perspective on an old tale.
320: Baba Makosh by M.K. Hobson -- Russian mythic figures during the Russian revolution, neat!
316, Giant Episode: The Meaning of Love by Daniel Abraham -- I loved the worldbuilding and the dialogue about the meaning of love.
315: Stranger vs. the Malevolent Malignancy by Jim C. Hines -- fantastic fun, fighting despair, and turning weakness into strength.
307: Out of the Deep Have I Howled Unto Thee by Scott M. Roberts -- the Easter werewolf!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Pseudopod Best of 2014 nominations

One of the free podcasts that I regularly listen to, Pseudopod, provides narrations of horror short stories, plus excellent, insightful intros and outros. The site's discussion forum recently called for nominations for its Best of 2014 episodes. After submitting my thoughts to the forum, I'm sharing them here, too.

Top Three:
Pseudopod 400: The Screwfly Solution by James Tiptree Jr. read by Matt Franklin, Tina Connolly, Anna Schwind, Matt Weller, Rish Outfield, Eric Luke, George Hrab & Jarus Durnett 
        (sadly feels as though it were just as plausible and terrible now, if not more so, than it probably did when originally published)
***Pseudopod 399: The Wriggling Death by Harold Gross read by Veronica Giguere
        (disgusting, disturbing, fascinating worldbuilding, and a twisted sisterly relationship -- highly memorable)
Pseudopod 418: Shadow Transit by Ferrett Steinmetz read by Marie Brennan
        (that poor mom, struggling with her reluctance and guilt as her daughter seems happy training to fight eerie doom)

Honorable Mentions:
Pseudopod 393: West Gate by Mitchell Edgeworth read by Ron Jon
        (intense snapshot of panic in flight from an unknown menace)
Pseudopod 394: Summer Girls by Caspian Gray read by Robert A.K. Gonyo
        (mixture of uncanny yet taken-for-granted floater-ghost with real-life creepiness of an entitled-feeling guy)

As for best narrators, I'm afraid I rarely think to take note of the narrator when the reading is great but the story is only good, although that does uplift the experience and makes the story itself give a better impression. All of the above readers are great, but there are many other award-worthy readers, so I guess I won't nominate in this category.

I can't think of any stories this year that were less than good! Horror isn't my usual thing, and I only came to this podcast because of listening to the siblings, Escape Pod and Podcastle; however, Pseudopod selections are always interesting and often very evocative, and the characters and their reactions to impossible, horrific situations seem very real. I value the fresh perspectives I get from these "true" stories, even if they aren't comfortable listening!

*** The three asterisks in front of Pseudopod 399 indicate that the story was a podcast original. All others are podcast narrations of stories that were originally printed elsewhere (cited on the linked pages).

James Tiptree Jr. was a pseudonym adopted by a woman to help sell her stories (since women read both genders but men are more likely to read works by men). Much of her work explored gender issues; "The Screwfly Solution," which was published in 1977 and won the Nebula Award for best novelette, certainly did this. I don't want to spoil the plot, so I won't say more about that, other than to emphasize that all the conflicts over gender issues during the past year make it seem more horribly relevant than ever.
Bonus: It's in epistolary form, which is always neat when done well. (That's why so many narrators are listed.)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

That skiffy and fanty thing

Although I've been tweeting links, I haven't mentioned here on my own blog that most of my writing activities lately have been for another blog,, which covers science fiction and fantasy. So far, I've written reviews about the Z Nation TV show (and a certain loaded phrase), Radiant by Karina Sumner-Smith, and Zombies & Calculus by Colin Adams. Here's my author page. 

Update, 1/17/2018:
After the skiffy and fanty website got redesigned, the above link doesn't include my old reviews, just things I wrote in 2017. Here are the individual links.

Also, here's a humorous "book review" I wrote in 2017, for the A Book By Its Cover category at skiffyandfanty, where we take a book and make up a review based solely on what we see on the cover, and what we speculate about it. I used the cover of Grady Hendrix's My Best Friend's Exorcism as the launching point.