March 2006

"I need to learn some new profanity, 'cause the old standards just aren't cutting it in this situation." - Marten, Questionable Content

March 20th, 2006

I am terribly sorry for my five month, almost to the day, absence from updating these pages. The long version I'm not going to share. The short version is this:

In a chain of events which began on August 8th, and was most obliquely referenced on these pages on August 9th, I attempted to save someone from a truly horrific situation. Into this effort I poured essentially all the time, energy, and money that I could; gave it everything I had until it nearly broke me upon the wheel. In the end...

... I failed.

I am trying not to think of it as a colossal failure. I am trying to nurse the small hope that I planted seeds that will take root and give a truly remarkable human being the power to save herself from herself. But I'm hardly the first to try, and the Quote of the Month from Marten (look up) more accurately reflects my state of mind at this time.

If you come back tomorrow, there'll be some actual content on these pages. And, barring any more Drama with a capital "D", this will hopefully become a regular occasion once more.

 

March 22nd, 2006

More of What I'm Reading today. I might try for some variety tomorrow, or I might just keep chewing through these until I've got the website completely updated:

  1. The Psi Corps Trilogy - J. Gregory Keyes
  2. Komarr and A Civil Campaign - Lois McMaster Bujold
  3. Midnight Sun - Karl Edward Wagner
  4. Northwest Smith - C.L. Moore
  5. 40,000 in Gehenna - C.J. Cherryh

 

March 24th, 2006

Happy birthday, Sarah.

And now for the other three people reading this, more What I'm Reading:

  1. Startide Rising - David Brin
  2. The Tank Lords - David Drake
  3. The Myth Novels - Robert Asprin
  4. Unicorn Variations - Roger Zelazny
  5. The Uplift War - David Brin

 

March 26th, 2006

Variety, schmariety. Three more What I'm Reading reviews:

  1. The Merchanter Novels - C.J. Cherryh
  2. Lord of Light - Roger Zelazny
  3. Skylark - E.E. "Doc" Smith

The next What I'm Reading is a review of the Lensmen novels by E.E. "Doc" Smith. I never finished this reaction, for a variety of reasons. For my next update I will most likely be cleaning up and finishing that reaction. That's right: Completely new, never-before-seen content! Capture the excitement! An event to recount to your grandchildren!

 

March 27th, 2006

The reaction to the Lensmen novels of E.E. "Doc" Smith I mentioned yesterday is taking longer to finish than I'd hoped. Instead, let me share some thoughts on the grading scale I use for the What I'm Reading reviews:

What I'm Reading - Grades

  • A - Excellent

  • B - Good

  • C - Average/Mediocre

  • D - Poor

  • F - Worthless

 Or, to be a little more descriptive:

 A - This book is a classic. You should definitely give it a try ASAP, and itís probably worth reading multiple times.

 B - This book is very enjoyable. I recommend it, and it might be worth a reread.

 C - This book was okay. If itís in a genre you particularly like, youíll probably find something to enjoy here -- but there are a lot of things that will distract and detract from your reading experience. Definitely not worth a reread.

 D - This book was seriously flawed. It wasnít a complete waste of time, but thereís not enough here for me to recommend it on any level. Approach with extreme caution.

 F - Complete and utter waste of time. Unless someone is paying you to read this book, donít bother.

 Pluses and minuses generally modify or color these grades. An A- is an excellent book with a few flaws. A B+ is a good book with some memorable moments of genius peeking through.

Most of the grades youíll see from me will probably be in the A or B range. The reason for this is simple: Iím generally pretty good at picking what books I want to read. Since Iím not reading a lot of crap, Iím not in a position to review it.

An A+, it should be noted, is reserved for a book which immediately finds its way onto my personal Top 50. That isnít an exact science, since I donít actually keep a precise Top 50 list, but if Iím giving a book an A+ its because I think it compares favorably with Asimovís FOUNDATION TRILOGY, Kuttnerís FURY, Cherryhís CYTEEN, Howardís HOUR OF THE DRAGON, Banksí USE OF WEAPONS, Tolkienís LORD OF THE RINGS, Bujoldís MEMORY, or Besterís THE STARS MY DESTINATION. Take that as you will.

The basic theory of this grading system is Sturgeon's Law: 90% of everything is crap. I figure that if something falls into that 90% range, then it's not worth wasting the time to determine exactly how crappy it is -- so all of that material is simply graded F. The other grades deal entirely with that 10% of the pile which is worth our time to consider.

 

March 28th, 2006

The Five Facets

I think there are five things I look for in an SF work:

  • Ideas

  • Plot

  • Characters

  • Storytelling

  • Prose

The quality and originality of the speculative IDEAS is very important when it comes to speculative fiction. Truly original ideas are generally better than simply giving old ideas new twists or exploring them in new ways, and that's definitely preferable to simply rehashing old tropes in predictable ways (at some point that no longer truly counts as an 'idea' at all). The consequences of these ideas should be extrapolated and explored in as much depth as possible. And a bunch of different ideas all being played with at once is almost always greater than the sum of its parts.

A story's PLOT should be exciting, intriguing, compelling, and/or powerful. It should put you on the edge of your seat, keep you pondering the possibilities, force you to turn the pages, and leave a deep impression upon you when all is said and done. It should never be contrived, forced, or (worst of all) boring.

The CHARACTERS should be well-drawn, believable, and distinct. If at least some among them are meaningfully changed during the course of the story, that's all for the best. Characters should never be flat, forced, or dull.

The STORYTELLING needs to be clear, concise, and effective. Pick any two. Although having all three isn't a bad thing, either. At its best, storytelling will enhance the characters and plot and ideas. At its worst, storytelling will interfere with the characters and plot and ideas.

An author's PROSE should be beautiful, evocative, clear, and concise -- or, at the very least, some effective combination thereof.

Confused by some of the distinctions of the five facets? The plot is what happens. The characters are the people to which it happens or who make it happen. The storytelling is the actual means by which the author communicates his plot and his characters to the audience (his choice of scenes, his narrative structure, his choice of where to begin and where to end). The prose is the actual language upon the page. The ideas permeate everything -- although the speculative ideas which are the bedrock of speculative fiction are generally found exclusively in the plot and characters.

In truth, I think these five facets are important in any work of literature. Perhaps ideas do not need to be *speculative* in other genres, but I still think a work will benefit from charting a new course or playing with an original concept, rather than simply rehashing old tropes. For example, look at Sherlock Holmes or HARRIET THE SPY.

In the end, an effective book doesn't necessarily need to excel in every facet. RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA, for example, is one of my favorite books -- despite the fact that its characters are just a few degrees away from inhabiting Flatland. The book succeeds because it is driven by a compelling plot and some ideas of epic scope, with transparent storytelling and prose that don't get in the way. (And, actually, that last is not true: The storytelling is actually brilliant, albeit subtle. One of Clarke's storytelling decisions is, in fact, responsible for RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA being a classic rather than just a pretty good book. I am, of course, talking about the last line.)

 

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