Thursday, December 27, 2012

Thursday Thoughts

Long time no post, I know:  my computer crashed the morning of the 13th (when I would normally post) and was not back up and in shape until the 22nd.  This wasn't so much because it was in bad shape as because I decided to reinstall with a RAID configuration, and getting that to work in Windows 7 turned out to be trickier than I had intended.  If you're going to try this yourself, word of advice:  unplug the second hard drive while installing the OS.  Otherwise, it will put the System Reserved partition on the other drive, and you won't be able to mirror it.  (You can tell 7 not to create a System Reserved partition, but then it won't mirror that way, either.)

On a less technical note, I found I wasn't doing much writing during the downtime.  Instead, I read:  ploughed through the Rum and Runestones anthology, A Company of Stars, and about a third of the way through We Open On Venus.  It turned out to be a needed hiatus:  since returning, I've (finally) finished a short story, edited another, and have done some further work on Scylla and Charybdis before I broach my intended drop-everything-and-edit.

I've always thought that taking a break from writing can be crucial.  Usually, I like to plan these, but even an unexpected hiatus can infuse one with new energy when the vacation ends.  Maybe this isn't true for all writers, but I incubate, brew on the story or stories in the back of my head, allowing my subconscious to solve my problems for me.  And it usually does.

On another note, my short story, Mythocraft, got nominated for the Preditors and Editors Annual Reader's Poll!  (Anyone want to nominate Flow?)  You can see all the action here:

Sorry these "thoughts" are so scattered.  I'll try to get back to a more formal post next week, but at least I *am* back.

Friday, December 21, 2012

GoodReads Review: A Company of Stars

A Company of Stars (Starship Troupers, #1)A Company of Stars by Christopher Stasheff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a reread of an old classic for me, and I'll be the first to admit that Stasheff has his flaws ... but most of them are flaws that happen to appeal to my sensibilities, and the high points in his books are so much fun that I really don't care.

Of course, being an older science fiction novel, there are a few elements that haven't worn well - the hard copies of the news "faxes" which the characters read; the size of the memory banks of the scenery projection units (measured in gigabytes. No, really) - but beyond that, the setting feels very authentic. The technology has interesting flavor while remaining firmly in the backdrop (where it belongs in such a story), and the politics, history and social circumstances are based in universal impulses.

A Company of Stars is the tale of a pair of aging actors who decide to put together a theatrical company to tour the colony planets, leaving the bosom of their beloved New York. Providing the crucial outsider perspective is Ramou, a young, half-trained engineer on the run from a romantic entanglement. It's a great way to fill in the reader about aspects of the setting that would otherwise amount to the characters telling themselves what they already know.

The characters are archetypal, just like the roles they play, and their interactions are polished and larger than life ... dramatic dialogue in a wholly appropriate venue. Part of the fun is the anticipation of their interactions.

The plot builds naturally from a simple idea ... and even though much of the action, on the face of it, is mundane - casting calls, buying a stage projector - it is conveyed with such enthusiasm that a reader is blissfully carried along until the real conflict strikes ... and it stems from what initially seems like "mere" worldbuilding. One of Stasheff's gifts is the ability to "geek out" about something technical, whether it be the process of auditions or the operation of imaginary technology, and make it interesting to the reader.

On the other hand, one of the most consistent flaw in Stasheff's works is that the book and his characters all wear a passionate message on their sleeves. In the case of A Company of Stars, that message is about absolute freedom of speech. It does, in my opinion, reach the level of preaching, and there's no attempt to give the opposing viewpoint any validity - a straw-man argument. Even though I find nothing to disagree with in the message here, I do find the presentation of the message heavy-handed.

... and as stated above, I just don't care. This book is a blast, and even though it's clearly an episode one, it's satisfying and fun.

View all my reviews

Sunday, December 16, 2012

GoodReads Reviews: Rum and Runestones

Rum and RunestonesRum and Runestones by Valerie Griswold-Ford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pirates and magic mix and meld in this fast-moving anthology from Dragon Moon Press. Most of them are good-sized stories without being lengthy, and all of them offer a dose of adventure. However, if I had stopped about halfway through this anthology, I wouldn't have been very impressed. The earlier stories all had fairly generic settings and/or plots, the silly story didn't work for me (though it had a few clever moments), and one just left me puzzled.

Get later into the anthology, and the quality of the stories increases sharply. In The Runes by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and At Map's End by Misty Massey tempted me with some intriguing settings and vividly drawn characters. I particularly enjoyed Tera Fulbright's History In The Making, which approaches the historical Grace O'Malley through the eyes of an inadvertent time traveller from a near-future earth - a really interesting blend and contrast of worlds. I also found elements to enjoy in Thar Be Magic by Laurel Anne Hill - a quirky take on pirates as childhood friends - and MJ Blehart's A Treacherous Stone, which provides a really interesting take on a certain classic pirate trope.

If I have a complaint about these favorite stories, it was that almost all of them felt as if they ended too soon. Most felt more like prologues, the beginning of an adventure, than a finished short story.

Overall, though, I enjoyed this read, particularly as I got into the later pages.

View all my reviews

Sunday, December 02, 2012

GoodReads Review: The Palace Job

The Palace JobThe Palace Job by Patrick Weekes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm going to be tough on aspects of this book, but before I do, I just have to state this upfront as the most important point: this book made me gleeful.

The Palace Job is best described as a high fantasy novel crossed with a heist movie, with loving emulation of the latter in the characters, the patter, the elaborate scheme, the hidden agendas, and the magitech that stands in credibly for laser grids and state-of-the-art security systmes. The latter aspect is done particularly well: it's evocative enough to be loving homage, well-described enough that the reader can follow along, yet seamless and logical when considered in context of the fantasy setting. The team that Loch assembles is a motley crew with several briefly outlined but still satisfying personal side-stories ... but I think I would have preferred a little bit more focus on them, especially the romantic subplots. For instance, one of the characters is betrayed, and I would have loved to see his emotional response.

The humor in this book is wonderful and largely timeless - it relies on running gags, character quirks and interplay, and the occasional pun ... rarely supplemented by parallels to our modern world. The pace snaps right along ... until the actual raid, when I felt it got bogged down in too many people trying to accomplish too much, which inevitably takes too many pages. Here's where the attempt to translate a heist movie to a written medium falls down a bit: what could be handled in 5-10 minute montage ends up taking 30-40 pages. It takes longer to read, absorb and keep track of those pages than it does to do the same with the visual montage. This is a tough problem, and I can't really hold it against Weekes that it wasn't perfectly handled.

Another part of the heist movie trope that I thought suffered in translation was the trick / trap that the characters have planned, but the reader / viewer doesn't know about until afterwards. There's a lot of "all will be become clear" in a movie that I feel just doesn't work in a book. Personally, I couldn't suspend my confusion for long enough - I found myself going back to ensure I hadn't missed something. I don't think the book would have been ruined by giving us a few more internal clues as to what lay ahead.

Yes, I'm critical of this book ... but I would definitely recommend it, because ultimately, I loved it. It has the perfect blend of the familiar and the surprising, both a touching tribute to the heist story and its own, unique tale. It even made me tear up once. Check this one out.

View all my reviews