Tuesday, December 21, 2010

At Death's Door Stand the Bold

It's with trembling hands that I type this. I'm not nervous, but ridiculously ill. My skin hurts, as do my bones. I cannot swallow without pain. My adam's apple feels like it has swollen to the size of an actual apple. Oh god, the horror.

An artist's impression of the battle going on inside my body

What's wrong? I have no idea, my general plan of action when I get sick is to lie in bed and let others tend to me. I've had the double whammy of having my wife be out of the country and my son get sick as well. All I got to help me is my stupid dog, whom I love, but totally sucks at nursing.

I ask her to bring me some medicine and she starts rummaging through the trash. I tell her that I don't need the used medicine and to get me the stuff from the medicine cabinet. She stares at me like I'm the dumb one. Sigh. She just doesn't get it.

It's funny to me that I recall bragging to someone at work just last week that I can't remember the last time I got really sick. I'm just too damn healthy for an infection, those little buggers pass me by for easier prey. That's what I get for talking smack to the microscopic biota nearby. I think they took it personal.

So I'm in bed, where I've been for the past few days. I'll try to get myself picked back up and go to work later this afternoon if I can, but I don't know how much I could expect to accomplish at the office the way I am right now. My ability to ramble incoherently seems to work independently of my overall heath, so co-workers might think I'm normal. But I can tell. And of course my superiors would be able to tell too. I'm pretty sure whimpering then falling asleep on my desk would raise some red flags.

The horrid thing for me is what could be next the next stage of this illness. I've petered around Google and Wikipedia this morning checking out my symptoms and all I can see for sure is that I may have something... frightening

That said, It may just be that I have read way too many zombie stories in the past few weeks. I think I'm nervous about what I'll be when I wake up. If my next blog is all about how good and tasty brains are then look out. I've already been changed.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Procrastination: Thy Name is Rusty

It's true. It doesn't matter how important it is. If I have something to do, no matter how important or urgent, I will put it off.

Why do I do that? I don't know. If I intend to clean, I'll have to piddle on the internet first. If I want to write, I'll have to read just one more chapter before I do. If I want to read, then I'll have to watch a few minutes of TV first. If I have to be go to work, I'll just have to take a picture of the sunrise.

Sigh. It goes on and on. If I set out to take a picture, I'll decide I need to draw a picture to get in the right frame of mind. It's a rare gift, or at least it is on the level I demonstrate it, but man does it have a tendency to throw my life into havoc at times. That's the real reason I struggle with Nanowrimo every year. And it confounds my wife to no end trying to figure out how I can carve out a block of time to write for several hours and come away with 19 words written but a killer guitar riff to show off.

So what has been my diversion today? Well, I set out to write some this evening on one of my always in various stages of editing novels and I starting thinking of titles. My working title was something stupid of course, like, The Dead Man Who Lives... To Die!, or maybe, Ricky's Rockin Rampage of Reclusive Reflexology.  In other words, aside for my love of alliteration - I've got nothing.

So I was thinking on the topic of titles, knowing full well if a miracle occurred and a publisher just waltzed up to my front door and said they'd publish me that they would really not care about what my title was... and even less so about my cover.

But I also harbor a secret desire to be graphic designer. So book covers are totally something I'd dig creating. It seems like folks have homemade covers before they write a single word of prose. Well, to avoid writing this evening I decided to work on a cover of my own. My title still sucks something awful, and I can't really think of how it even applies to what my story is about. Regardless - here it is:


So there it is. My attempt at another book cover. I really have a fancy to try a space opera or something hand drawn but something like that would take some time and effort to produce. To make one actually look good would require skills I just don't possess.

But I still think it's fun.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Oh What a Crapfest

Christmas is a difficult time for me. It doesn't help that my lovely wife had an opportunity to go home for the first time in 20 years or so and just couldn't pass up the chance. Therefore she has gone and the house feels really empty.

The weather sucks. It's snowed, sleeted, iced over, and we've had record low temperatures for this time of year. The kids haven't been going to school because of it and its wreaked havoc with my work schedule.

Even my poor dog has been depressed. At the time my wife was trying to say goodbye to her our beloved dog was too caught up in licking her crotch to notice. Now she wonders the house looking sad and trying to find my wife. Look who's sorry now.

But life goes on. I stood in line at the grocery store today for 10 minutes, watching in utter fascination as a young lady went through the self-checkout line and acted like each article must be carefully inspected before attempting to scan it. She bagged each can of ravioli like it was precious glassware that needed cushioned support before it could be placed in a bag for transport. I certainly appreciated her thoroughness, but the whole thing was surreal.

But when I'm not noting the idiosyncrasies of strangers I'm trying to cope with my own issues. I was thinking that while the missus was away I'd get to read and write much more than usual. So far I've written nothing. I'm too tired to muster up anything more than a passing thought of trying to produce some prose. Of course I am reading, currently I'm working my way through a short story collection that has as its theme the Fermi Paradox. One of my favorite distractions in life is to ponder the mystery and try to come up with my own solution. So far my best possible solution is that Alien civilizations are actively trying to hide from us. They've seen the whupass we can unleash when we feel like it.

But so far the book has been a pretty big disappointment. I'm nearly done and only a few of the stories stand out as exceptional. There was even one or two that I thought were embarrassingly bad  - how does stuff like that get published?

Anyway, I'll try to shake that melancholy mood and get back to my chipper self. I think it'll take me a few days to get in the mindset of being alone and then I'll start feeling all creative again.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Better Than the Comics!

I divide my childhood into blocs of time based on what superhero I was most enamored with at the time. For example, my earliest memories of even being aware of superheroes was the old black and white George Reeves Superman shows I would watch every afternoon after school - Kindergarten I suppose - most likely around '76 or so.

I would try to tuck towels inside my t-shirts and jump around the furniture pretending I could fly. He could bend steel bars, see through walls. He did it all. My mom or dad would come home with the occasional Superman comic and I would read them over and over. Reliving each panel, trying to draw him in various poses and otherwise try to be him - I probably got more of a sense of my adult values from him than real person I ever knew.

Of course the movie came out around that time, after I was exposed to him for sure, but not too much longer. I'd suspect that the TV show was airing at that time in a mischievous plot by studio execs to get me excited about the movie before I knew it was coming out.

Not so long afterwards though I moved on to bigger and better things. I don't know when the Incredible Hulk television show hit the airwaves. But that was all it took for me to have a new favorite hero. I must have been six or seven and found that when my parents would bring home a comic book version of the show that I loved that the comics were even more awesome. From that point on I think I actually preferred the comic book version of all my heroes.

So went the second era of my life, reading the Hulk led me to other marvel characters, Spider-Man, the X-Men, and eventually... Thor!

Thor was my favorite comic book character for years, I felt so anti-establishment. I mean, he had long hair, had a big hammer that he beat people with. He spoke in Jacobian english and he drank alcohol. He was a bad man. I suppose he was Superman with an attitude.

One could probably learn a lot about my personal issues considering I chose the most powerful heroes ever imagined to idolize growing up. But still, Thor was my third era of childhood, and lasted probably from the age of 10 or 11 up until I quit comics all together when I was around 15.

So now that I'm an adult and special effects in movies have gotten several orders of magnitude better superheroes have really gotten their due in the past decade. The child in me rejoices. Imagine my unmitigated joy upon seeing the trailer of the upcoming epic based on Marvel's Thor.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Boom. I Shot You.

"Frank Lester stared at the hyper-influx emulsifiers and knew the cobalt infused preon compressors wouldn't work."

Is that drama? I've been thinking about opening lines lately and have wondered about how important they really are. I mean, if I were to work my tail off comprising the greatest story told in the last fifty years and it had a so-so first line does that mean it's a lost cause.


I recall being told once from a friend that when an agent was critiquing work in public that they took the first page from someone's work, put it on a projector (for the crowd, it was a conference) and said that they knew from the first sentence that they wouldn't want to represent that author. Ouch.

I've read often about how important it is to have a great first sentence. So I thought I would thumb through my library and pick a few at random and see how they look. Kind of a top 10 list of first sentences from novels I've found lying around the house.

Now, I'm of the opinion that one's first sentence is irrelevant. The first paragraph is a bit relevant, the first page is damned relevant. And it all culminates with the first four or five pages - which better be masterful.

So my personal opinion on the topic is something I came up with more or less off the top of my head. But I think it makes enough sense without thinking too much about it. I know when I'm browsing a the bookstore I won't make any real judgement on the quality of a book at least until I've read the first several paragraphs, a lone sentence means nothing.

However, I'm not going to reproduce several paragraphs of prose from several books on this blog. So I'll just do that with the first sentences. Why? To see if any sort of theme begins to emerge.

Now, the breakdown of books I chose looks like this:

Sci-fi - 3
Fantasy - 2
Horror - 1
Chic lit - 1
Literary/Mainstream - 2
Thriller - 1

I lied about them being random, but I did try to select from a good mix of different styles of writing and see what happened. I'll withhold the names of the books and authors for the sake of my precious little experiment, although I would think some will be pretty recognizable. Some will be pretty obscure (I'll post the author and title info in the comments section.)

  1. Before she became the Girl from Nowhere - the One Who Walked In, the First and Last and Only, who lived a thousand years - she was just a little girl in Iowa, named Amy.
  2. " No, I don't want the mangosteen."
  3. Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privit Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.
  4. In the beginning was a graph, more like diamond than graphite.
  5. Even at the moment she was born she knew something was wrong.
  6. The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.
  7. Sophie Dempsey didn't like Temptation even before the Garveys smashed into her '86 Civic, broke her sister's sunglasses, and confirmed all her worst suspicions about people from small towns who drove beige Cadillacs.
  8. IT WAS A KNOCKOUT BLOW - a punch so overwhelming that I didn't get back on my feet for fourteen years.
  9. ON A GRAY, FOGGY MORNING, THEY CAME, rising on the cold north winds from the icy peaks, sweeping across the timberland into the gray, misty valleys of the Black Forest... baby sounds!
  10. The building was on fire, and it wasn't my fault.
What did I learn? I learned that sometimes a single sentence tells you nothing, like when it was dialogue (#2). I've learned that some folks decide to go all caps for the first several words of the opening sentence. I learned that at least in a few of the examples above, the book as a whole had its tone nicely indicated by the opening line (#'s 3,4 & 10). And I learned that at least in one particular case, a great first line leads to a rather shitty novel (#6).

I have a suspicion that the more established the writer, the less emphasis they put into their opening moments of the novel. I'm sure there are numerous examples of new and established authors that show both types of openings so I doubt anything will ever be concrete. Which of course is great, because that means I can't be proven wrong.

Regardless, I do like powerful beginnings. 

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Greatest Internet Giveaway of All Time!

I think I'm odd in many ways. I'm somewhat solitary of a person by nature and generally find that my interests don't line up terribly well with most folks I meet in the real world. I love science fiction. I love to read. I write. I enjoy photography, art, I play a mean (er, mediocre) guitar. I try to keep up with the latest in science news and at least the occasional historical tidbit. Hell, I even enjoy the major sports. I find that I have more interests than I have time.

So why is it that I feel so damned uncomfortable around people, real people, internet people, made up people? I think I'm a pretty good communicator, I speak well, I don't have a fear of crowds or public speaking. I just don't get me. 

It seems the internet is made for me then. I can express myself with like minded folks and finally find a community that I'm at ease with. Nope. I find I'd rather stand in my own corner of the internet and mind my own business just like I do in the real world.  I'd rather lurk than contribute. 

The main reason I started this blog was to try to force myself to become more sociable. So how do I get people to want to pay attention to me when I'm not even sure I can muster up the will to really try? Well, I found myself wondering around the store the other day and I stumbled upon this sign:

A whole penny off? I'll take 10!

That's right, the regular price for the product is $1.89. No way a simple working man like me can afford that. But wait! They are slashing prices and the new, super low price is $1.88. Man, imagine my luck, if I'd come any other day of the week I might have missed that super sale. Black friday has nothing on Kroger's my local grocery store.

In all seriousness, I guess they're hoping that I'll  see the big yellow sale tag and fill up my cart with every available item on the shelf.

Huh, there's an idea. So let's try it.

I believe in the upper right had corner of my blog I've got a picture of an anthology that I contributed a couple of stories to once upon a time. Well guess what folks. I'm going to give a copy away. Yep. For free.

What do you have to do to win? Be the first to ask me for a copy. I'll send it to you. You have to live in the continental U.S. (I'm just not going to pay for international postage). So ask for it first and let the good times roll.

*Edit * I should have asked that the person should request their FREE copy of the anthology by asking for it in the comments section.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Nano: Day 30... oh crap.

After slogging through 30 days of writing, thinking about writing, dreaming about writing, talking about writing and complaining about writing, the month is finally drawing to a close. Where did all that time go?

I managed to annoy my wife to no end, use up all my vacation at work (no Christmas time off now), and piss off my children by ignoring them. Hell, I'm pretty sure my dog is mad at me (I got her a rawhide last night, I think we're cool now). Was it worth it? Check this out:

I'm pretty sure my family would agree. It's awesome, and therefore I am awesome.

In case anyone is interested it the boring details: I think I've made it known so much in the past here that it does no good to bother repeating it, but I love science fiction. So when I start to write I always will have a science fiction(ish) story to tell. I don't think I'm capable of anything else.

A quick synopsis of this years Nano novel: A guy has no idea what is happening, but things just seem mysterious. So he wonders around the city commenting to himself about how mysteriously creepy everything is. Then aliens, zombies and sociopaths just start crawling out of the woodwork. He then proceeds to defeat them.

I know what you must be thinking. Wow. But believe me, if it were really as awesome as it sounds I would be living in a tropical paradise drinking the fruity alcohol of the natives and smoking cigars that were lit with my discarded one-hundred dollar bills.

I'm being written out of your novel? 

If my previous attempts at revising a novel hold true then by the time I'm through with a second draft the story will be about a homosexual alcoholic that moves to a country town and battles prejudice, all while mending his relationship with his estranged father.

Then, before it's over, the main character will become a 9 year-old girl who gets lost at the circus and befriends a chimpanzee. Together they track down a pair of jewel thieves and decide to open a detective agency.

The point being that in order to make this disaster I have in my hands now into a real story I still have a lot of work to do. I love writing a first draft. That part is fun. I can do whatever I want and not worry about it making sense, it's the 7 year-old in me that gets to come out and play.

I'll maintain my excitement for a few weeks and then I'll start that ugly process of trying to mold it into a real story. It'll sap my will to live and I'll give up.

But I don't want to give up this time. That stack of manuscripts in my closest has gotten big enough. Maybe it's time I finish something.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Nano: Day 26

Well, I've only 4 writing days left and I'm about 6k behind schedule. By the end of the day I think I'll be about 2 - 3k behind where I want to be. Funny though, in years past to fall behind wasn't too worrisome because I could pump out 5k words in a couple of hours if I wanted.

Now days, not so much. I think what I write is more readable now certainly, but it ain't fast. I figure that going so long without writing anything at all has dulled my skills somewhat, but also I have found that it takes some effort for me to figure out what happens next.

And that is my real frustration, in my younger days of writing I had the opposite problem, stuff was happening all over the place and I had to reel it in a bit to avoid overwhelming things. Now it isn't unusual for everyone, good guys, bad guys, folks in between, to all stop and use the restroom, eat, take a nap. Whatever they need to do, they do.

I'm sure that it has much to do with how much of my day to day existence boils down to my desire to do those sorts of things. It wasn't that long ago that staying up all night, going straight to work and then back out again afterwards wasn't too abnormal for me. Now, as soon as it hits 8:30 I'm wondering if I took my pills or not.

Oh the woes of a thirtysomething.

So, I've complained about my lack of advanced plotting already and I won't rehash it here again. But I feel that I've changed in the past few years. I'm just not the person I was not so long ago. I would like to say that I'm better all around, but I feel more like if I could have looked at myself a few years ago and seen who I am now I would be a bit disappointed.

C'mon self, be cooler. Write better. Nothing like Nanowrimo to take my soul and crush it.


Til next time.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Nano: Day 22

Wow. Hard to believe the month is nearly over. I've enjoyed this year of Nano, as I always do. However, I have been close to 10,000 words behind schedule it seems from the very beginning. I just hit the halfway mark last night, two-thirds of the way through the month. Looks like I'll have a busy week ahead of me if I want to finish.

I would like to think that despite my chaotic process for writing that I've finally hit my stride. Unfortunately, that would be a lie. I'm still struggling to figure out what my story really is about and am constantly having my characters stop what their doing and ask one another what's going on.

So I send in a bad guy to shake things up, whip out a gun and start shooting things up. That'll really jump start my story, right? Nope, my characters simply cajole him into joining them all for tea and then asking him why he is trying to kill them. He drinks the tea and grumbles nonsensical answers about an employer and then they all talk amongst themselves some more.

And it goes on and on and on. Page after page of stuff like that. I can smell my Hugo award already. So I promise myself that in the future I will have my story plotted out BEFORE I write it... if that fails I will at least have a premise.

Of course, if having a premise seems too difficult for me then I will, if nothing else, at the very least, have something that resembles a romantic interest. Then I can whip up some tension or love triangle or... or something that would at least be entertaining to write.

Wish me luck.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Nano: Day 1

November is National Novel Writing Month. Or, NanoWriMo for short. I love this time of year, it seems to be the only time I ever buckle down and make an effort to really produce something. After taking last year off, I was bound and determined that this year was going to be a really good one for me.

I succeeded in finishing in 05, 06, 07, and 08. None of those novels are quite ready for publication as of yet. Although I feel the 06 version was about as inspired as anything I've ever managed to do. But I haven't really written anything of substance in quite some time. I've edited some old stuff, written a short story or two, but otherwise, the past two years have been really sparse.

One thing I've always lacked though, is a tightly plotted story, I've felt that my past writing, no matter what it was about, has been a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants sort of thing. Again, when inspired, it can be a thing of beauty. But it can be a messy process. This year I had hoped to have detailed outlines and character bios ready to go.

No such luck. I don't know how a day can really sneak up on someone, but today did sneak up on me. I have nothing more than a desire to make it happen. Sigh.

I did manage to crank out a few thousand words. But I don't think I've often written crap like I did today. I hope the ol' inspiration bug hits soon. Many more days like this and I'll be hitting delete pretty quick on this year. I just gotta hang in there.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I've Been Hacked!

Hello all, been a busy month for me. I've been waffling on whether or not to do NanoWriMo this year. I've written very little over the course of the past two years and almost feel like I'm too rusty to pick up and write a draft of a novel with no preparation. Oh well, I'll probably do it, because the truth is that I love writing and am itching to dive in and get something down.

In other news, I've been hacked! Some losers from across the globe hacked my email and quickly decided to email all my friends to request they visit an awesome new website. I feel entirely violated. Stupid losers.

Anyway, I've read some. After the amazing run of greatness I read through the spring and early summer I've hit upon a number of books that I just didn't dig very much. Not that they were awful, but none that swept me away. Oh well, such is life. If every book was as good as those I read early in the year I would have no desire to write my own.

So, here's to October, a month where the weather is beautiful and the mood is great.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Forbidden Knowledge And You!

I don't even know where to start with this... awesome.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I Can't Write!

For someone who aspires to be a professional author I've realized that I can't write worth shit. I've spent the past few days going over previous posts of mine and realized that for the most part, lots of random sentences that don't have anything to do with the point I'm trying to make, lots of incomplete thoughts and tons of poorly argued... um, arguments, litter my posts.

It doesn't worry me though. Someone famous, Larry Niven perhaps, said he was an awful writer, but was great at revision. See, no need to worry. I can fix all those mistakes later.

My problem? I generally don't edit or revise before I post here. What comes out of my fingers is what I post. Oops. For some reason, the blogging world seems to frown on going back and fixing mistakes, so there it is. Crappy posts that make no sense and I can't fix them for ethical reasons... I mean, I could use all those strikethroughs and italicized text to indicate changes, but that just looks stupid.

So reader be warned. I'm just too damn lazy to do it right the first time.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Look Who's E-reading Now!

That's right folks. This is a summer of self-discovery for me. For some it happens in their teens or early 20's. For me, it hits right at the tail end of my 30's. Better late than never I suppose.

Actually, I think I'm a funny consumer, I'm an early adopter in some things, while in others I'm damn near a Luddite. I was years late to the whole MP3 thing. I hated the sound quality, was frustrated my the transient nature of the format (I've lost enough electronic devices in the past to know that what you store on them won't last either) and I enjoyed the format of the CD itself, the art, printed lyrics, even thank yous.

But I made peace with those shortcomings and instead embraced the good things about the new format, my exposure to new kinds of music (or, as fate would have it, podcasts), the convenience of having a gigantic library at my fingertips. And now I can't easily really recall the last time I bought a CD, I see them now as pieces of nostalgia from our previous age.

But books, that is a different story. I love my books. I quick glance at my downstairs den shows just what I've managed to put together in the past 6 or 7 years as I realized that I was purchasing the same books over an over again without noticing until I got a few chapters in that I'd already read whatever it was I'd just purchased. My epiphany is probably the single best reason book sales have gone down across the board during this time. I wasn't buying a copy of Rendezvous With Rama every 18 months any more.
I need something over my fireplace

Needless to say, I have been leery about e-readers for some time now. How am I supposed to slap a finished book on my shelves it I have it as a digital file? Regardless, I found myself with a shiny new iPad in my lap that my beloved gave to me.

I got a quick lesson in the pluses and minuses of ebooks right away. They are certainly beautiful. The iPad screen is impressive. I tried the iBook app, the B&N app and the Kindle app right away. I immediately found a few things annoying.

Aside from my aforementioned frustration of not being able to place a finished book on my shelves at home. I also have to deal with book covers that look like this:

WTF? I'm pretty sure someone in the art department needs to get fired over this one. That looks like total shit. I didn't really realize how often I flip to the cover to see if a particular scene, character or moment is captured. Compare with the actual cover:
I don't especially care for the real world cover any more than most other books, but if I just paid the same (or possibly more) for the right to read a DRM laden, and non shelvable, version. What gives?

Problem two - prices, the experience of reading on the device is actually not bad. Lying in bed at night while my wife sleeps comfortably just wasn't possible before if I wanted to read. Now, I dim the brightness and off we go.

But does the cost really need to be that high? I mentioned reading The Dresden Files - about half the books were read on my iPad. I could run down to Borders, use a weekly coupon, and get a copy of one of the books for around $5. For some reason, they were $9 for digital copies. Have I mentioned the covers?

Another plus, the whole whispersync thing with the Kindle app is pretty awesome, if I didn't care to take my iPad with me I could read on my phone. An acceptable compromise if I felt nervous about hauling my way too expensive iPad around town. My iPhone has had all sorts of problems upgrading to ios4 so I can't use the iBooks app. Looks like Kindle won the battle of e-reader apps... for now at least.

One of the things I liked, alot, was the ability to take notes... see below:

Looking things up, taking notes, bookmarking, all that stuff is pretty awesome. The only thing I seem to use the notes function for was to point out typos and continuity errors. Something which thrills me to no end.

Here is my proposal to the publishing industry as a whole... fix the pricing thing. You are being very greedy. I've read some pretty lengthy arguments regarding the pricing thing from both sides. But the bottom line is this: The e-versions are missing just enough that I feel like I'm getting ripped off. If you have to protect the hardback market then I'm ok with that. Leave those expensive. But those mass market paperbacks that are in some cases 40% more than the paper equivalent. Without the costs associated with printing, shipping, warehousing - the only real cost is bandwidth. They can rant all they want about the expenses, I don't believe them. I'm being ripped off.

How about this? If I go buy the physical book - let me download it for a huge discount. A coupon or something so I have my digital copy for an additional dollar or something. As nonchalantly as I make my request I am serious, that seems fair.

C'mon publishers, you can do it. Don't be evil.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My Productive Day

As promised, I'm writing again. Still feeling rusty (heh heh) and the writing is... awkward. I am trying to wrap the first draft of my future best seller and I've had a bit of a tough time getting revved up. I have to make my hero stand up to impossible odds where his life is likely going to be forfeit, and his love interest is going to die too.

So how do I really kick start this violent and potentially lethal finish? By starting a side story about rabbits. Brilliant! It's so great in retrospect that I should have been adding rabbits throughout the story. I'm a genius.

Sigh. I'm truly hopeless.

Rabbits. Geez.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Never Blog Angry

Last night I posted a pretty ugly rant against the unfairness of traffic cams writing tickets. Today I decided that it was wrong of me to do so. So I've taken the post down and replaced it with this. This totally has nothing to do with the fact that I watched the video of the infraction this morning. That is entirely irrelevant. All I have done is have a change of heart.

The moral of the story - don't blog angry.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Writing Life

Look at me, nary a post in months and then two in a little more than a week. Looks like I'm on a roll.

I have found myself thinking about writing again. My fatal flaw is my lack of consistency. I'll write in these weeks long marathon sessions that infuriates my loved ones and runs me into the ground. Then, after hundreds of hours of work and on the verge of a breakdown, I'll produce a (generally) readable manuscript with a somewhat comprehensible plot. In other words, a good first draft.

If past experience is any indicator of future actions then this is what will happen: I'll set my manuscript aside for a few weeks and think about in constantly. I'll try to catch up on the life I let pass me by and repair whatever damages I've caused to my relationships. After enough time has passed I'll pick it up again and start the long slog of the second draft... then things start falling apart.

I'll think about how I haven't been reading as much as I want to. I'll decide to read a new book, it may even be a book about writing, but the point is - I'll start doing other things.

So life has been pretty busy for the past year or two and writing just hasn't been a priority. Of late however, I've found that I've got more free time than I've had in a while. So writing comes to mind again.

Over this past weekend I read a first draft of a novel I wrote for nanowrimo a few years ago (07 I think) and what did I find? Damn. I'm good. I could see that the story could use some tweaking here or there, I need to correct some confusing dialog or action in some scenes, unclear or ambiguous motivations for some characters, but all in all, probably the best first draft I've ever done. To say I was inspired after reading it would be an understatement. Having just finished a string of 15 or so of the most enjoyable books I've read in a while I was stunned at how much I enjoyed reading my own work. I would have thought it would have suffered mightily by comparison.

However, the story wasn't complete. I had stopped writing before I could end the story, not too big a deal, the climax and denouement was the only thing left. 40 pages or so. I know where I was going with the story. The logical thing for me to do would be to wrap up the first draft so I could really pour my heart and soul into a second draft, fixing the obvious mistakes, cleaning up the rough spots, making the story flow - all that stuff.

I don't know if writing is more like riding a bike or mastering golf. I hope it's like riding a bike, that sort of stuff isn't easily forgotten. You just hop right in without missing a beat. However, if I were to take the time and effort necessary to excel at golf and then not play at all for a few years I would expect a disaster when I started up again. Judging from my attempts to wrap up that first draft I would think the golfing analogy is better. It's a finely honed skill that doesn't age well if it remains unused.

I recall Stephen King, in his book on the subject of writing. mentioning how torturous it was to begin writing again after his near fatal accident about a decade ago. He was experiencing physical pain from trying to write, but also his long layoff during his recovery caused him some frustration as well. Getting back in the habit after a long time away is difficult. The words just don't want to come out and when they do they're awkward and clunky.

But I'm dusting off my equipment, I thinking of stories again and will make every effort to get back into the groove.

Happy writing.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Doggy Days of Summer

Hello friends.

You ever have that sinking feeling that you've waited too long to ask someone their name? Perhaps you've seen them every day for a long time, at work or school, and you've had a few short conversations even. Then you see them out at the mall or bookstore and you want to introduce them to someone you're with and you realize you have no idea what their name is.

I've had to live that ugly experience several times in my life. I don't envy anyone who finds themselves in that situation. Learn peoples names. It can't hurt.

That icky feeling that pulls at your gut when you realize you didn't bother to learn someone's name after having a months long relationship with them is similar to how I feel about this blog. It's been so long since I've posted that I almost feel too embarrassed to show my face.

But much like real life, you just got to trudge on through it... now matter how bad it feels.

I have much on my mind that I'd like to share, but I don't think I'll get to much today. I'm just dipping my toes in the water again to make sure it's still warm.

I will say this quickly just in case anyone out there has been waiting with baited breath for the past few months waiting to hear about the fourth book I read in the spring that was so awesome. I'll save you any further suspense:

It was a great read. I loved, loved, loved the book. But that was months ago. I've moved on.

I just spent the past three weeks blowing through The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher. This amazes me for multiple reasons. I'll list them here:

1) I hate fantasy.

In fact, I think I've posted about it before. Wizards, swords, fairies, elves, and trolls. I roll my eyes at the thought of it all. This book series has all that and much more. It's so full of magical whatnots that suspension of disbelief is necessary to get past the foreword.

All that adds up to me loving these books about as much as any series I've ever read. It is no small irony to me that I also fell deeply in love with the Harry Potter books several years ago. I'm a man of contradictions.

2)  I hate series.

That is, I hate books ending in cliffhangers and the lack of resolution I feel when reading books of a series. Now, it's a bit of stretch to say that these books end in cliffhangers because they don't. Or at least mostly they don't. But there are generally enough dangling plot threads that you feel like you need to continue to find out how it ends.

I think my mental makeup is as one who just wants to put all his energy into one thing in a huge marathon session and then be done. I'm like that in most things I do. Reading is no different. If I am going to plow through 5000 pages of text over a few weeks then I want to be done with them when I put the final book down. As it stands now I believe that there are plans for another dozen novels or so in the Dresden series. Damn. It'll take another decade to get those finished.

3) I hate making myself a liar.

I guess in certain circumstances I can not only like fantasy, but love it. I don't even know who I am anymore.

All hail the king I suppose: Harry Dresden

Monday, May 24, 2010

An Eerie, Spinning Ark

May has been a great month for me. Among the highlights are the momentous news that I read 4 amazing books... in a row!

I read a lot, I try to be as selective as I can though, ensuring that I pick books that offer me the maximum of enjoyment when I read them. Still though, I often wade though stinker after stinker before I hit on one I really like. But man, I started getting nervous after I'd read the third in a row - there is no way my luck could continue.

Yet it did.

It started with a new book by Paul Davies, I heard about it from one of the blogs I follow (Mish Sci-fi Musings if you must know) and just had to get it.  It offers us another look at the Fermi Paradox. Damn, I'm a sucker for anything that offers any sort of hope of letting me believe what I want to regarding intelligent life in the universe that at the same time has the ring of intellectual honesty.

I've read pretty extensively on the subject and can say that I've heard most of the credible ideas that are out there on the topic. The conundrum that the author is pondering in this book is this: We've been actively listening to the cosmos for 50 years now looking for any sign of Aliens and so far have nothing to show for it. Nada.

Why this is a paradox at all might strike some as odd, but if intelligence arises at all in the galaxy and said intelligence begins to explore, it is inevitable that the universe should be literally bursting at the seams with colonized planets and intergalactic civilizations. So where is everybody?

This is simply the best book on the subject I've ever come across. The author's conclusion is somewhat shocking to me - I won't spoil it if any decide to read - but again, it just feels like he is being very honest here, not promoting an agenda. Highly recommended.

Stephen Baxter also released a new book, in the states at least, A sequel to last years Flood, this one entitled Ark. I don't know why I've always been so sucked into the novels that Stephen Baxter writes, but his stories speak to me in ways that few other works do. Even when I feel like he's not doing his best work, I cannot ever accuse him of not putting for something well thought out.

This novel tells the story of the abandonment of earth after an ecological disaster ruins our home. With the caveat of FTL thrown in, the rest of the story unfolds with what amounts to technology just barely ahead of what we have today being used to build a massive ship to shuttle the remnants of humanity to the stars.

And it's a great ride, one of the best novels I feel that I've read from Stephen Baxter in several years. At this point I'm unsure what his plans are for the future, but with his recent proclivity for writing trilogies and quadrilogies I'm assuming that more is coming. Nonetheless, this story is self contained and reading the previous novel isn't necessary to enjoy this one. Well done.

The next book I read may have been my favorite of the bunch, and I'm tempted to place it in a future top 10 list, but I'll hold off on that for now. It's too new to me and I need to let it percolate on it for a bit before I make any proclamations about its all time greatness for now.

Spin, by Robert Charles Wilson.
This is a literary novel disguised as SF. It's a bit short on action but awesome in almost every way imaginable. I fell so hard for the characters that I was horrified that the book had to end.

Imagine what would happen if all the stars went out. The moon, the planets, all gone. a generation of people born and living in a world where the night sky has nothing in it.

An ominous tale that has enigmatic aliens that are known only through their actions and nothing else. Their purposes aloof and unconcerned with the affairs of man.

God, this book was amazing.

So what of this 4th book? I'll have to let you know in the near future. But it too was a doozy.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Fan Art!

I wrote sometime last year about fan art and how I may try my hand at it one day. Well, I was inspired by the super cool opportunity that Scott Sigler is having as a design a logo contest for his upcoming book The Starter. The goal is to design a logo for one of the GFL football teams - a chance to win $50 and see my stuff in print. Too cool.

But alas, I'm a temperamental artist. My work ended up being unsuitable as a logo (they get reprinted very small, so they must look good when super teeny). So what I have now is a piece of fan art, for a fictional football team that plays an incredibly small role in the book I'm sure.

Nonetheless, here it is, my motivational poster for the New Rodina Astronauts:
*I did eventually submit a much lamer version of this for the contest.The rules said no gradients so I submitted a very flatly colored version.*

Friday, April 16, 2010

Battle Royale Round One: Sci-fi vs. Fantasy

Hello all, it's been a pretty interesting few weeks for me. Busy busy busy. Much is on my mind and I thought I would try my best and settle into a single issue that is near and dear to my heart: Sci-fi and Fantasy novels. I read an article that really got me thinking about the topic, and unlike many other things in this world that I find interesting, I think I have something to add.

That isn't to say what I have to add to the conversation is insightful, but it feels like it is. The article linked above points out why the author gravitates away from fantasy as a genre and towards science fiction. I must say that I agree with most of the points made, even if a large number of the commenter's on the piece rightfully point out that science fiction suffers from eerily similar problems when poorly written. However, one commenter in particular made a very insightful post that I think is worth repeating.
I'm of the opinion that the main issue is that bad Fantasy still sells and populates the best seller charts whereas bad Science Fiction does not.  And on top of that most of the fantasy lovers that I come across are fans of Bad Fantasy
 I think that hit the nail right on the head. Last year, before my several rants about the amount of fantasy I find at my local bookstore when compared toe sci-fi I decided that the problem was really with me, I have read too narrowly and needed to branch out. So I went to one of the more popular fantasy series of the modern era and decided to read and get caught up in a fictional universe where magic reigned and science was never a part of the story. Enter Terry Goodkind.

His series of novels about the seeker has generated a fortune for himself, a tv show based on his works, and entire shelves dedicated to only his books at my local Borders, the man is an industry of one.

So The Wizard's First Rule made its way to my reading list. It's a tomb of a book, but I can read the longer piece of work when the mood catches me. I did get through the LOTR trilogy in one go round, I enjoyed it. But aside from my single visit to the Tolkien universe I've never really read much pure fantasy.

That being said, I read in amazement as every cliche and stereotype I've ever heard of regarding fantasy novels unfolded before my eyes. Only my inability to leave things unfinished made me finish the novel. That isn't to say that some passages weren't moving, entertaining or well written, it's just that as a whole, the book was a thousand pages of a four year old telling a story as a single run-on sentence that never really had an ending in sight.

That book is exactly why I don't read fantasy. If that is representative of the genre as a whole then it's all a big ugly mess, and proof of the decline of the American educational system. I rarely feel passionately about anything, but the quote I posted above rings quite true to me.

Look, the realist in me understands that the bulk of science fiction is probably on par with the bulk of fantasy in terms of product quality, but my experience (as limited as it may be) hasn't provided me with that exceptional piece of fantasy literature that hooks me and forces to me to refuse to leave the genre in an effort to find something else that evokes that kind of enjoyment.

Regardless, the fine folks over at i09 gave us a great little story about gateway books for fantasy lovers. It made me interested in at least a few of the novels I've never heard of before.

Friday, March 26, 2010

It Was Already Bad... But Now This?

Hello all, I've been busy as a beaver of late and haven't been updating. I guess anyone whose bothered to see how I post can see that I have no schedule at all. But I post when I can.

I've read a few books of late, I made it through all the Rama books. On a lark I tried Bright Messengers by Gentry Lee... Uh, I don't have much good to say about that one so I'll leave it alone.

I also read Eon by Greg Bear. I think that one was a semi-classic of hard sci-fi but for whatever reason I never really made an effort to read it. Well, now it's done. I'm sorta torn over it though. I honestly feel like I have no idea what happened during that book. It was hellaciously complicated - to the point I'd nearly call it confused, but I'll forgo that moniker for now- and I think I'm glad I'm done with it.

Too bad, the giant macguffin in the sky is one of my favorite premises for a book. But unfortunately it quickly descended into a mess of 34th century politics and physics lessons on multi-dimensional transit systems. Oh well.

The real point of news for me in the past month or so is that I visited my local Border's again. I know, after that rant I went on about them previously, you'd think I would never go there again. But the fact of the matter is that I visit them regularly. The family seems to enjoy the place and all I can do is moan and complain about them as I continue to purchase from their crappy selection of items.

I was there bemoaning their overall lack of anything good science fictional when I thought I was spotting something odd regarding their sci fi/fantasy selection.

Sigh. See all those empty spots? I've got a brilliant idea: Why don't you put books there? I wondered around the section and found rack after rack of partially emptied shelves on nearly every rack they had in their sci fi area. If their idea of a great money saving gesture is to cut their inventory down to zero I think they've mis-interpreted how running a book store should work. Maybe they expect me to just come in and buy coffee and go buy one of their million copies of Twilight. I just don't get it.

I know it may seem I am overreacting a bit, and I concede that I could be. After all, perhaps they were about to revamp their selection. They could have heard my complaints and decided to clean up their act and fill their shelves with a more varied selection of books. But this happened on a Saturday night, most likely one of their busiest shopping times of the week, and I saw no evidence of replacement books waiting in the wings. No workers were scurrying about and attempting to restock these shelves.

However, I wasn't there for me, the kids had earned their rewards for some good deeds and we were there to buy them a book. They made their selections and I went to the register. Now, for the past few years I don't think I've gone to Borders and not had a coupon that had been previously emailed to me good for 20 to 40 percent off. I know that they are offering me a discount from their already everyday low prices to to lure me in and they don't actually owe me one... but after a few years of this I have sort of come to expect it. It is the reason that 80% of the time I'm out I'm shopping there instead of B&N. I would actually prefer to shop there, but their membership costs me money.

So when I walk up to the counter I kindly mention to the teller that I didn't get my coupon for this week. She informed me that one didn't go out. I shook my head incredulously and said, "I don't think that has happened to me in 2 years!".

At that point I don't know what I expected her reaction to be, but standing there with $50 dollars in books with no coupons means I'm paying 10 to 20 dollars more than I might have had to otherwise (Multiple books means my wife uses her membership to get the same discount). Did my cashier nod sympathetically and shrug? No. Did she offer any sort of contrite action to try to make me feel any less frustrated? No. She decided to confront me on the accuracy of my statement.

"That isn't correct sir," she said, "we had a week a few months ago when we didn't offer any in store coupons."

Geez, I feel better already.

I wasn't going to disappoint the kids, who were very excited to be getting the books, so I nodded, saying something witty, like "touche" and pulling out my wallet.

She did ask if I wanted a bag. "No," I said, "won't be needing it."

She nodded and ran my card, only after handing me my receipt did she say anything else, "I'm sorry, did you say you wanted a bag?"

"No, won't need it" I said again. Trying my best to be polite and just get out of there.

She smiled and shoved my books in a bag and handed it to me. "Have a nice night," she said, holding the bag at arm's length for me to take.

I was flat out dumbfounded. I'm sure the other folks in line would have thought me the idiot for just standing there not taking my bag, but I was just stunned at the passive aggressive attitude I was getting from that nutty cashier. What the hell is going on?

That crazy bitch lady gave me a bag... and I didn't want one. I half expected her to cuss me for destroying the environment by not refusing the bag she offered.

All in all, Border's has increasingly become a place I don't like going and I no longer go there when the choice is mine to make. Well, that location is no longer my first choice anyways. Anyhow, I'm happy that the ugly incident is over now. Maybe an e-reader is the way to go after all. I wanted to wait until another gen or two hit the market before getting one, but who knows. Maybe the iPad will be an acceptable choice. I'll just have to see.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tinker Time

Just an FYI to all the faithful out there (including me there should be at least one). I think I'm gonna play with the layout some. So beware of ugly and/or disastrous changes.

And beware of evil computers.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Flipbook Awesomeness

You know, after seeing this on nearly every single blog I visit I figured that everyone in the world must have seen it already. But then again, for the two or three of you that might not have, check this out:

17 years old and doodling for an art class. 2100 doodles later and you have the history of the world. I think more time should have been spent on the role evil computers play in our world, but still...


Monday, February 15, 2010

A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Not Too Far Away

What does the Death Star look like? Pristine instrument of planetary destruction?

The famous Star Wars crawl at the beginning of each movie, cartoon, video game or whatever else tells us that the the story takes place a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. I think that's shit. It happened right here, in our solar system, many eons ago. Here is what a Death Star looks like when it's been sitting around for a few billion years.

Even the mighty empire finds its glorious wonders in ruins after a long enough period of time. The universe is very old. I'd wager they could still make the lasers work though. Just needs a little elbow grease.

Cassini is taking some new pics of one of Saturn's moons (this isn't one of those new pics).

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Second Judgement

I've been reading again. I'm sure I deserve a reward. I finished a book in the past week I found to be interesting to say the least. But to be honest, I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it. At times I was excited and on the edge of my seat, while at others I was bored and thinking of quiting the book altogether. That doesn't happen to me very often. I think this is probably the product of a talented but not-yet masterful author who is putting forth a great effort - just not quite ready for prime time.

The book was fine though, at it's heart it's really a story about Eugenics. Interesting topic to say the least, if it weren't for Hitler it would possibly still be practiced today in much of the civilized world.

It's easy to forget, but at the dawn of the twentieth century evolution was still a somewhat newish concept and many intellectuals were wanting to take an active role in shaping the future evolution of mankind. Like breeding of dogs, cattle, or sheep, people would be encouraged to breed if they were deemed smart, healthy and attractive while those that weren't were to be sterilized. Despite the revulsion I'm sure it makes everyone feel now, laws were put in the books in many U.S. cities and towns that did force persons below a certain IQ level to be neutered, or even forbidden to marry. Do yourself a favor and read the Wikipedia entry on the subject It'll blow your mind.

So this story is another take on the subject. What if aliens told ancient humans that they've failed as a species, that they were doomed to extinction by a wrathful alien entity... unless they could improve their stock over the course of a few thousand years?

A group of prehistoric humans are whisked away from earth and transplanted on an engineered world near the galactic core where they spend several thousand years enacting a rigorous Eugenics plan to improve the species before the aliens arrive to judge humanity again.

I like the concept and I was intrigued from the get go. However, I think I was disappointed in the end by the feeling that the dialog that the characters use throughout the book reminds me of what I might have found from a fantasy book from the 70's, that is to say, it feels a bit silly. The teenagers (as all the main characters in this novel are) might have also been pretty preoccupied with screwing one another, but the way that the the second half of the book unfolds I spent too much time rolling my eyes at how the characters acted - I kept waiting for an impromptu orgy to break out.

So the answer to the unasked, yet still burning question - what is the end result of thousands of years of intense evolutionary pressure to produce the perfect human? Horny teenagers.

But that orgy never did break out, and despite my annoyance at every character in the book - I still enjoyed it. This isn't classic literature, but it's still entertaining. The author at least tries to answer some of the questions that get raised during the story at the end and that is commendable. After all, I am a sucker for that sort of stuff.

For a guy that spent his adult life as a politician, he does a nice job as a sci-fi writer, the flaws of the book aren't enough to turn me off to him. My advice to William Drinkard: Stay out of politics, write more sci-fi.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Universe... It's Big

Hello all, not too much to say except I saw this video a few weeks ago and found in inspiring. Watch it in the highest quality you can for the full effect.

I've watched the video several times in the past few weeks since I found it and it actually makes my stomach queasy. Honestly. Religious is the only word I can think of that describes how this makes me feel.

I can't help but think it is at least a bit similar to the masterful opening sequence to the movie Contact (one of my favorite movies of all time)

The purpose it to evoke the emotion here, not so much to be educational. The effect is eerily similar. The "bubble" of space covered since humans have been transmitting signals is presented here too, but nowhere near as accurately. Seeing the universe in silence once we pass that barrier is lonely (although one might mistakenly believe that the outer planets are 10's of light years away if this movie was to be believed.)

Still, I loved Carl Sagan's books (on which this movie was based) and I'm sure he would have approved. Good stuff.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hey Borders! Here's Why You Suck!

Borders, remember when you used to be cool? I do. What happened to you? You've gone from a super hip place that had it all to a sad shell of a bookstore that has a selection more akin to a Wal-mart than anything else. I hear that you've been struggling to make ends meet. Is this an attempt to make yourself more profitable? Well, I'm sure your scratching your metaphorical head and wondering why I'm so upset. So let me back up a bit and explain, just so we can make sure we are on the same page.

See, I was at Borders last weekend and decided to pick up a book. I make no secret to the fact that I enjoy science fiction. Uh, that may not be entirely accurate - science fiction makes the world go round and without it I'm certain the universe would explode in hopeless despair. I haven't been avoiding sci-fi at Borders on purpose, it's just that it seems like I've had better luck finding what I want on amazon or at a used bookstore.

I still buy pop science, sports and general fiction at my local super Borders (btw, this rant could have been about Barnes and Noble, but I wasn't at Barnes and Noble, I was at Borders), but not science fiction. Over the last year or so I've been trying to pay attention. I figured out that my selection was limited there and have been trying to anticipate what I want to read and order accordingly from Amazon. My issue with that is that sometimes I'll either learn about something new that captures my imagination and want to read stories from the same author, or topic, or whatever, but if I want to read it now I either have to run to my local bookstore and cross my fingers that they have it or I have to order it online and sit on my hands until it gets here. I may lose interest during the wait (that has happened to me) or I may just up and decide that I don't know what I want to read but I will go to the store and figure it out while I'm there.

That last sentence describes my mood when I stumbled into Borders over the weekend. I didn't want a sports story, or pop-science book, or biography. I needed a sci-fi fix. In my last post I spoke about how I used to go to the bookstore and just see what they had in the sci-fi section. All those gems I talked about in my top 10 list that are more than 10 years old were books that were just sitting on the shelves at my local Borders or B&N.

I've always been a bit annoyed that fantasy and science fiction are mixed on the shelves at most stores. In fact, it bugs the hell out of me. I understand that demographically, those that buy fantasy novels are almost exactly the same group that would purchase science fiction. I don't care. Keep them separate. I can understand if Kroger's does it that way. But if you are a bookstore with 20,000 square feet of nothing but books, then you're just lazy.

Anyhow, before my rant becomes more of a ramble, let me get back on topic. Why can't I find my sci-fi at Borders. The picture above was taken on Saturday night (Jan 23) at one of the Borders stores in Knoxville.

After going through their selection again and feeling a bit frustrated I decided to do a quick semi-serious inventory of what they were offering. Just in case I'm just getting picky in my old age.

The picture I've posted was a single rack in the sci-fi/fantasy section. I counted 29 total racks in the section. I decided to see just how many sci-fi books were represented versus fantasy.

First off, I wanted to pick a rack at random, that was tough enough, R.A. Salvatore has his own, so does Terry Goodkind, Star Wars has three, another one was for Warhammer. In all, I found a large percentage of space was dominated by a surprisingly small number of writers or series. Of the racks not solely dedicated to a single author or series, many nearly were. I didn't have many choices, only an illusion of choice.

But I found one. At least one I felt would suffice. Here's what I found.

Total Book Titles: 128

Science Fiction Titles: 21

At first glance that might seem at least like I would have a few choices. But the sci-fi titles included about 7 books from E.E. Knight's Vampire Earth series, another was a story I'm not familiar with about Egyptian gods that had the SF label. A few military sci-fi books, some steampunk novels. Ursla LeGuin had several books there but her stories really blur the line between sci-fi and fantasy anyway.

The number of books I felt I had to choose from given my preferences totaled 0.

Damn. I won't pretend I can't find books by Jack McDevitt, Kevin Anderson or Charles Stross. But I guarantee I won't be discovering any new talent based on what is represented there. I left very depressed.

Borders, why? Have some dignity. Your business model isn't working right now. At a time you are losing customers right and left to the internet and indifference, you should work harder at not sucking.

You're welcome.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The 10 Greatest Science Fiction Books of All Time! (or at least the 10 best on my bookshelf)

Hello all, I know, I know. I promised more posts coming soon over a month ago and haven't quite fulfilled that promise. What can I say? I've been doing other things. However, I thought I would go back to my roots a bit and come up with a list. Lists are everywhere now. The 10 best this, the 10 worst that. The 7 things you should eat, read, buy, hate, etc. I'm drowning in them.

So guess what? When I saw this list I just couldn't take it anymore.

I got the sneaking suspicion that the author just went down their bookshelf and said "ok, I've got an article to write on the 100 greatest books of all time. I'll just start at the top of my shelf, work my way down, and be done in a 15 minutes" and went on to other things. Ha, I can do that. So I did. Now presented to you, wonderful reader, are the 10 greatest science fiction books of all time - which all, quite conveniently, happen to be on my bookshelf.

Honorable Mention: Star Maker, by Olaf Stapledon

Guilty perhaps of having one of the worst covers in the world right now.

My edition is only a few years older and is way cooler, my scanner is down so I took a quick pic with my phone for proof.
Ahh, can you see the beauty there? at least you get a sense of the wonder that the book is all about. The newer cover reminds me of The Running Man (the Arnold flick from the 80's). No effort at all on that one. Ugh.

Regardless, the book is awesome more for its influence than anything else, I don't know if Arthur C Clarke or any of his ilk ever would have come if it weren't for this book. I dare anyone to show me a book that is more epic in scope. Can't be done.

Honorable Mention #2: Also, I have to throw in a token nod to Star Trek novelizations. The Next Generation novels to be exact. As a yougster I read quite a bit, Clan of the Cave Bear, Millennium, Riverworld, Foundation, along with many others. But during my teenage years it all stopped, I did other things and didn't feel like I had time to read. I did take notice however, when Star Trek The Next Generation hit the airwaves. I watched and adored all the original shows and was chomping at the bit to get my fix. When I went away to college the first time the show was really just hitting it's peak (I could be mistaken, but Riker ordering the Enterprise to fire on the recently Borgified Picard was the last episode I saw before I was wisked away to college life).

I stayed with the show through it's run and I found my 20+ episodes a year was no longer enough. I picked up a copy of novelization number 26.

Yep, I could have picked up any book, but this one was just published and I needed more Trek in my life. I don't recall much beyond the fact that Picard and a random Romulan were wondering around an abandoned world that was once populated by beings with amazing technology, of which the Romulans were trying to scavenge. As fuzzy as my memory is I'm surprised I got that much out of my head, the point is that I was hooked once again. I read as many TNG books I could handle and found that I got lucky with the one I selected, it was pretty good, many sucked. Hard.

Eventually though, I had to have more non ST related stuff, they glossed over what I thought were some of the more interesting portions of the stories they told. In a galaxy littered with the artifacts of long forgotten empires of glorious power and technology... why did they all disappear (I know, they all evolved to pure energy. I think something else was going on)?

The 80's and 90's were really a golden age for science fiction, especially space based sci-fi. I'm a sucker for first contact stories (you should read some of my fiction) and Big Dumb Objects (BDO's people), so the list I am about to provide you will have both those types of stories well represented. I haven't really connected with fantasy, steampunk, cyberpunk, or many of the other subgenres out there, I've tried, I really have. I just don't get it. So be warned, I'm biased and I don't care.

Number 10: Rendezvous with Rama, by Authur C. Clarke.

Big. Dumb. Object. I told you I loved them. This book is about one of those things just flying through the solar system and humans popping in to take a look. A tiny group of humans exploring a giant spaceship with no one on board. That's it. Awesome. Again, I can see its influence over and over again in the books I've read since. Including at least one other author that made this list.

Number 9: The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

Just in case you thought this whole list would be nothing but aliens and spaceships I decided I would throw this in - just to prove I've got depth. My wife handed this over to me a few years ago and told me to read it. She never does that. Ever. I rolled my eyes and said "sure thing".

A few weeks later she asked about it and I thought I'd better get reading or risk her wrath (we were only dating at the time, but I knew I was going to ask her to marry me, so I thought I would prove my love by reading her crappy book). I started in and was swept away. By the end I was a weepy mess of a man who was holding his kleenex box close and praying for a miracle to save our hero. What a book. It changed my outlook on what a sci-fi story could be. That was a game changer for me.

I never saw the movie that came out based on the novel. I'm sure it was crappy. But the book was great. I wish the cover wasn't so feminine, it's embarrassing if you get caught reading it out in public, definitely should be read on the Kindle.

Oh, and it is science fiction, not fantasy. The time-traveling is biological in nature, they had a doctor and everything, that makes it sci-fi.

Number 8: Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson

Bam! Why is this science-fiction? I have no idea. It's a WWII tale about cryptography interspersed with a modern story about... uh, cryptography, and treasure hunting. If feels like sci-fi but I can't figure out why its classified as such. Not much to say about it though, it's great. That 2 page digression about how to eat the perfect bowl of Captain Crunch cereal was pure genius.

When I finished the book I got the feeling that I just read history in the making. A cult like following did spring up around Neal after this. I get the vague feeling I'm not smart enough to appreciate it in all its geeky goodness, but if it can make #8 on my list I can't be too dumb.

Number 7: Hyperion, by Dan Simmons.

Don't have any idea what this one is about. A spiky guy that watches sailing ships on seas of wheat? Did I read it? Yep, I loved it. This book in particular is the stories of several (7 people maybe) that have to meet to try to avert the destruction of the universe or something. Anyhow, most of the novel is their backstories. Great writing here. I tried to read the sequels and couldn't get into them. This is the work of a master though and I encourage everyone to read it. So read it.

Number 6: Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card.

Sigh. I am so sick of this damn book. It's The DaVinci Code of science-fiction. The only thing that makes this different is that it's actually good, real good. If you say you are a fan of the genre and you haven't read this then you are a liar. Because this is required to join the club. Many think its sequel, Speaker for the Dead, is better, but I was never able to agree, as much as I liked Speaker it just didn't mean as much to me.

Anyhow, I hope to never speak of this book again. I am over saturated with it and am tired of seeing on every list out there. I even think this made the list of best cookbooks I saw recently. I know I'm part of the problem (So is the author, there must be 30 sequels, prequels, comics and other branch-off stories that he's produced in the past few years), but this is one of those novels that is worthy of the praise it gets.

Number 5: Doomday Book, by Connie Willis

Another tear jerking time travel book. What's up with me? The only books I've ever gotten the missus to read are this one and number 6. It's a story that should be crossing genres - she'd make a killing if this was ever put in the historical romance market (except for the lack of romance... but still). Oh well. I felt this one way deep in my gut as I read it. Before reading this I had never heard of Connie Willis and must confess I've never read anything else she's written since. I did go buy more of her books, I just never got around to reading them. I'll get to them.

Number 4, The Rookie, by Scott Sigler

Did I like this book? I have 3 copies... and they ain't cheap. The author self published this novel because no one wanted to take it on. What Publisher would turn down a NY Times bestselling author with a rabid fanbase eager to buy anything he puts out? Apparently, every Publisher.

I've blogged about the author before, Scott Sigler is a relentless self-promoter that has parlayed his efforts into mainstream success (most notably for Infected and Contagious, two alien invasion novels that no one seems to have figured out are sci-fi yet). When I was first exposed to him I actually passed on reading any of his work because I figured anyone who had to work that hard to promote himself can't be a very good writer - the work should stand on it's own.

Well, on a bored afternoon I decided to give him a shot. I downloaded the podcast version of this novel and before I knew I had to eat my words and join his legion of followers. That thousands of others have done the same as I have gives him the freedom to pursue some avenues of publishing that "real" publishers might be too nervous to try.

So we have a masterpiece that no one knows about. The self described mash-up of Any Given Sunday, Star Wars, and The Godfather is awesome on too many levels to fully describe. I get the feeling that Scott Sigler shares a lot of my sensibilities when it comes to storytelling. So of course I feel like this is what I would have written if I had the opportunity (or talent, skill, discipline, etc).

There are a few noticeable changes from the podcast version of this novel as it made its transition to the print version. All those F-bombs that made the story a bit too R-rated for a lot of kids were gone and in it's place is something that I feel just as good about given to my children or nephews as I would Ender's Game (damn, I thought I wasn't going to mention that book again).

All in all, this is a masterpiece and my favorite of all his work - given more time this may end up sliding up a bit. But right now number 4 feels about right. I'll come back in a few short years and see how I feel then.

Number 3: Manifold Space & Ring, by Stephen Baxter

How can 2 books fill one slot, 2 unrelated books at that? It's my list and I can do what I want, that's how. Stephen Baxter is the first non Star Trek related author I remember reading once I decided to branch out. I totally lucked into Ring. Baxter had a string of books that came out in the nineties that were each unbelievably fantastic in their right. In some ways these are stand ins for the author himself - Timelike Infinity, Manifold Time, Vacuum Diagrams, Voyage, Titan... this list just goes on and on. I didn't want one author to dominate the list so I crammed him in this slot instead.

His more recent works have disappointed me somewhat. His Weaver quadrilogy was a disaster in my opinion. Whatever spark he showed during that fantastic run in the nineties hasn't really carried over into the the naughties. I have high hopes for him in the coming decade though, ARK holds some promise and I'm ready for another round of greatness from him.

But Ring is a story about the end of the universe and the ragtag band of scientists who are determined to find out why all the stars are going out. Epic scale that approaches Olaf Stapledon. Many of Baxter's early novels were stand alone stories that took place in the same universe. He had carefully crafted a backstory for Ring that you wouldn't have been aware that you were studying if you read his previous novels. It was pure brilliance. My hat's off to you sir. Congratulations.

Manifold Space was part of a trilogy of books that all started with the same premise and same central cast of characters. I enjoyed Manifold Time a great deal, but Space was the true gem here. This trilogy was his look at the Fermi paradox and this book in particular is about what it would mean to live in a crowded universe. A very philosophical trilogy of books. Well deserving of any praises I can give.

Number 2: House of Suns, by Alastair Reynolds

It's so liberating to me to not feel like I have to pull out the classics for this list. Again though, this is a stand in for an entire body of work. Much like the British invasion of bands that rocked American girls in the 1960's, British Sci-fi authors rocked my world in the 90's.

House of Suns is a recent work by my favorite author, Alastair recently penned a million dollar contract with his publisher for 10 books and I feel like he's totally worth it. It's hard for me to pick a dud in his body of work. The guy is rock solid as a writer. He added something to the genre that I didn't realize it was missing, he has an admitted love for the mystery genre that clearly shows in how he constructs a story. His added mystery elements make for compelling novels.

House may well be my favorite - Like many great books, I don't think a blurb can do it justice. It's about.... um, just read it. Trust me.

And by the way, I mentioned other authors following the Rama template earlier, I think Reynolds' Pushing Ice is a descendant of that type story. Even the modern greats go back to the well for great stories.

Number 1: A Fire Upon the Deep, by Vernor Vinge

Damn straight. Is it really the best book of all time? Yes. How can I know that? I read it. And it's my list. You don't like it, go make your own, everyone else has.

Zones of thought as a concept made me scratch my head, but I've gone back to this book time and time again. I've never read a single book more (well, maybe Ring). I can't give you a synopsis because again, I don't think you would get it. It has space ships and aliens.... what more do you need?

There it is folks. A definitive list that you can use to weed out all the rest. A bit of space opera and perhaps a touch time travel heavy. But still, it makes me sad for the reality that I can only read them for the first time only once. There were many that I thought of adding, Ringworld (what really kicked off the BDO sub genre), Startide Rising (Space Opera), amongst others, and if I ever put up another list again, I'd probably change things around some.

Hope you enjoy.