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Galactic Philadelphia

December 15, 2017 Leave a comment

Last Tuesday, on December 12, I attending a reading called Galactic Philadelphia and wrote some reflections on it while the reading was happening. Reading that evening were authors Tom Doyle and Fran Wilde, and I can say that they both did fantastic jobs and I recommend buying and reading their books.

Anyway, on with my reflections:

So I’m sitting here listening to Tom Doyle read from the prologue of his new book, War and Craft, the third in his trilogy. I’m in the basement of an Irish Pub on Walnut street, across from Rittenhouse Square (it’s called Irish Pub, by the way, and I love that). This is an event for Galactic Philadelphia, which is kind of like an event for writers of science fiction or fantasy to do readings of their works. It’s the first time I’ve ever done sometihng like this, and it’s interesting to meet new people who have the same passion for sci-fi that I have.

There are a lot of people here who write science fiction–some as amateurs, and some as Grand Masters, like Sam Delany, who is sitting at a table very close to me. Michael Swanwick is also here. You know, it’s funny–in Michigan we just didn’t have these kinds of things with such legendary writers from where I was from. Once I got to see John Scalzi at a reading at Schuler Books & Music in East Lansing once, but it was a one-off event.

This event is a product of living in a city like Philadelphia. And I suppose that moving here, taking a chance, was worth it just for that. I mean, it was like a twenty minute walk to get here from my house, and it’s a pretty straight short with a few 90-degree turns. I guess to some extent I’m still getting used to living in a city where this is possible. A short walk to science fiction.

And I think to a large extent this is the kind of thing I’ve always wanted from life. I don’t think that I could ever have imagined that, when I met Anastasia in the science fiction class that Eric Rabkin taught, that I would have ended up here. Maybe this is where I was meant to belong this entire time. I really like that thought, and I really like the idea of spending time with such creative, intelligent people.

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NaNoWriMo 2014

January 13, 2015 2 comments

I almost decided not to participate in the National Novel Writing Month this year. I missed over a week of writing time due to the elections (I was very busy for the first few weeks of November taking care of campaign-related issues). At the last minute, I decided that I would give it a try.

I chose to write a fantasy story that I came up with by accident. I can’t remember the exact details, but I was playing some kind of game with a group of my friends, and due to my sloppy handwriting, they read the title of a fantasy novel I might write wrongly. Thus, Ser Darkthor’s Court was born; a novel about a Knight Errant who travels the realm and solves crimes. It was envisioned as sort of a Sword and Sorcery version of Sherlock Holmes.

Here’s the synopsis that I put up on NaNoWriMo when I started to write it:

Jesper is a class of Knight Errant called a Red Moon. They are tasked with policing the realm of Ser Darkthor, First of His Name, Honorable and Wise Leader of (Insert Name of Place Here). Jesper’s travels take him to a small village which appears peaceful on the surface, but hides a dark secret that could change the balance of power or something like that. Jesper begins an investigation in a Sherlock Holmes-meets-medieval fantasy novel, and uncovers a conspiracy that does something. I’ll flesh it out. It’ll be great. I promise.

The story, obviously, is much more developed now. Th good news is that I plugged away for the three weeks that I participated and I managed to win! Yay! It’s the third time in a row that I’ve won, and it always feels like I’ve climbed a mountain or explored a new planet.

I’m going to finish this story, clean it up, and probably serialize it on my fiction blog, Fictional Heuristics. Look out for that when it happens, because I happen to think it is an interesting story. It’s not the best fantasy, and I might have borrowed a teensy too much from Scott Lynch and George R.R. Martin, but I had a lot of fun writing it and I definitely think it is worth sharing.

I’ve actually thought about starting a patreon or something similar to that in case people wanted to chip in a few bucks if they like my fiction. I don’t have a lot of time to write, but if I can make some money doing it I’d carve out a niche for it. I think that’s something to think about for the future, if I can ever manage to get around to doing half the things that I say that I want to do.

Anyway, I hope that my fellow writers found success with NaNoWriMo last year, and I hope they continue to find success in the coming years.

A-to-Z Challenge Day Two: Books

April 2, 2014 7 comments

I’ve written before here that my life has been defined by books. I thought that I could use this post to share some of the over five hundred books I own (apart from the thousands I have read) that have meant the most to me or have impacted my life in some way. I’ve managed to whittle it down to ten books.

I apologize in advance for the low quality of the pictures. I’m not a photographer, and I only have the camera on my iPhone.

Book One: The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams

Tea-Time

Out of all of my books, this is my favorite. It’s easily Douglas Adams’ best work, and it’s funny. To give you a hint of the writing style, I’ll quote the first line: “It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the expression ‘As pretty as an airport.'” I couldn’t recommend this book enough to fans of British humor and eccentric writing.

Book Two: Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

Dinosaurs

It’s evident from the condition of this book that I’ve read it many times. Once I even read all four-hundred pages in a marathon seven hour session. As a fan of the movie, I couldn’t say no to the book it was based on, and it didn’t disappoint. Much of it is malarkey, but it gives a bit of an Island of Doctor Moreau vibe, but with science-y sounding jargon and dinosaurs.

Book Three: The Erasers by Alain Robbe-Grillet

Les Gommes

The Erasers is a fine example of the “nouveau roman” school of writing, and one of the best books I have ever read. It’s ostensibly a murder/mystery story, but underlying that is a retelling of the ancient story Oedipus Rex. It is stylistically refreshing and exotic, which makes sense when you understand that Robbe-Grillet wrote a series of novels to underscore what was called “aesthetic fatigue” in novels and stories. The novel is densely packed and layered, and takes several readings to really get your mind around it. I’ll give you a revelation or two for free: at the exact halfway point of the novel, the protagonist, Wallas (who is investigating the murder of Daniel DuPont–heh–du pont = of the bridge) walks into a store and wants to buy an eraser. He can’t remember the brand name, but he remembers that the two middle letters are “di” and it may head had two letters before and two to three letters after (Oedipus). The second is this: A few people are discussing the murder of Daniel DuPont and a few lines later a man walks in with a riddle that starts: “What is the animal that in the morning…” I really love this book.

Book Four: The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov

Foundation

I’ve written about Asimov in the past, so I won’t repeat myself here.

Book Five: The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide by Douglas Adams

Don't Panic!

Another Douglas Adams series of books makes the cut. This series of books is both hilarious, depressing, thoughtful, and fascinating. Adams’ unique writing style really shines in this series, as evidenced by perhaps the best sentence ever written: “They hung in the air much the same way bricks don’t.”

Book Six: Maus by Art Spiegelman

Maus

This story, based on the story of Spiegelman’s mother and father, is depressing. But not necessarily in a bad way. It is a brilliant recounting of the holocaust, and makes use of Nazi propaganda about Jews as inspiration for the art style. It is multifaceted, with a subplot of Art coming to terms with an identity that he didn’t understand before the interviews he conducted with his father. I highly recommend this book, even if it is hard to get through.

Book Seven: The Norton Shakespeare ed. by Stephen Greenblatt

IMG_0316.JPG (2)

This 3,400 page volume of Shakespeare closely resembles a cinder block. It’s full of historical information and notes about the plays and sonnets, and well as notes on Shakespeare’s life. It’s a vital companion for any Shakespearian.

Book Eight: Cosmos by Carl Sagan

Cosmos

Cosmos sparked my interest in science so many years ago. A compelling and informative read, Sagan is a master at communicating scientific concepts. A must-read.

Book Nine: Making Shapely Fiction by Jerome Stern

Fiction

I recommend Making Shapely Fiction for writers of short stories and novels. It’s a very good manual for writing techniques, including time-tested ways of starting a story.

Book Ten: The Fantastic in Literature by Eric S. Rabkin

Fantastic

Eric S. Rabkin was one of the best professors that I ever had at the University of Michigan. This book, which forms the cornerstone of his class on Fantasy Literature, is the definitive book about fantasy. You can find videos about fantasy and science fiction by Rabkin all over youtube, which I highly recommend watching.

Well, dear readers, that brings me to the end. This list isn’t really representative of all of my tastes in books (both fiction and nonfiction) but it was a fun list to compose. If you have any that you’d like to recommend to me, please leave a comment! I’m always on the lookout for new books. I even have fancy new Kindle for ebooks because, well, I obviously don’t have enough things to read.

The Republic of Thieves Review

December 2, 2013 Leave a comment

I was recently introduced to Scott Lynch‘s Gentleman Bastard series by Anastasia Klimchynskaya, my t’hy’la. I have a love/hate relationship with fantasy as a genre, in that I love the promise, but hate that few books actually meet their potential (notable exceptions include, but are not limited to, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Lord of the Rings, Alice in Wonderland, and the works of Edgar Allen Poe). For every book like The Hobbit there are ten books like Twilight.

I wasn’t immediately stricken by The Lies of Locke Lamora, but the story and Lynch’s writing style eventually grew on me. It was much easier to get into the sequel, Red Seas Under Red Skies, partly because the characters, style, and setting were already developed. The third book in the series, The Republic of Thieves, presents a completely novel scenario for protagonist/thief Locke Lamora and stalwart companion Jean Tannen, and as thieves, their role as advisers for the “Deep Roots” party is a perfect fit for their talents.

In the third volume, we’re introduced to Sabetha Belacoros as an actual character, and I feel that she represents a strong female role model. She is, perhaps, cleverer than Locke and just as stubborn and unafraid. Most of the time she bests him in the battle of wits, and it seems to me that she has a firmer grip on her emotions and has more strength in this regard than does Locke. I like that she has the strength to make difficult decisions and be unapologetic for them. As the adviser for the Black Iris party she gives Locke more than a run for his money and it is genuinely touching to see them reconcile their feelings for each other with their assigned roles (which carry severe consequences should they not deliver). What Locke can actually hold over her is a kind of experience that he gained in the first two books that are unique to his particular narrative which I believe that Sabetha will eventually match.

I really liked how well-written the political aspects of Karthain’s Five-Year Game are written. Some of it was a heavy-handed commentary of the American political system (at least, that’s how I interpreted it). The Five-Year Game is what the Magi of Karthain call the election process of the ungifted, those that cannot use magic, to the Konseil of Karthain, the governmental body that serves as a facade for the purposes of the Magi.

Particularly pleasing was how well the flashbacks to the Gentleman Bastards of yesteryear fit into the events that were unfolding in the main narrative. It was also good to see the return of Calo and Galdo and get a fresh dose of their antics as the Asino brothers, even if it was bittersweet because of their ultimate fate.

One of the largest disappointments of The Republic of Thieves, however, was that the book was so focused on Locke and Sabetha that Jean was relegated to a minor role with little development. After Red Seas Under Red Skies, where Jean gets a lot of focus and development, I felt like one of the best characters in the series was robbed. I hope that he plays a larger role in The Thorn of Emerblain because there is a lot to like about his character, his intelligence and loyalty being two of the most important. Indeed, there was a lot of room in this book for Lynch to explore the consequences of the events surrounding Ezri in Red Seas Under Red Skies and their lasting effects on Jean.

With that said, the book has a lot to offer. The dialogue is as sharp and witty as ever, and the complex, winding relationship between Locke and Sabetha is laid as bare as it is going to get. The twist about Locke’s identity leaves a huge mystery for the reader to ponder, and the return of an old enemy from The Lies of Locke Lamora just makes you hunger for more. Plus, one of the most unreasonable and annoying aspects of the first two book, the magi, was explored and explained enough for the idea to finally work without feeling like there’s a huge deus ex machina hanging over the story.

The Republic of Thieves offers a very satisfying reading experience and some of the best worldbuilding since George R.R. Martin. While some mysteries brought up in the first two books are answered (some only partially), many more are raised in this book.

Final rating: 5 Stars (out of 5)

Miscellany

December 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Well, the last semester was a success. I four-pointed all of my classes and now look forward to organic chemistry and human anatomy next semester. I’m very enthusiastic about my progress toward becoming a physician’s assistant, but I do have to say that I miss microbiology. I may decide to make a series of posts about topics in microbiology in the future because I find the field of study fascinating.

Other things in my life have been proceeding at a healthy pace. I’ve been adding more to the story I started writing for NaNoWriMo and I’m optimistic that the rough draft will be complete in another month or so. I have also just finished George R.R. Martin’sA Feast for Crows” and I have to admit that I wasn’t as impressed with this installment as I was with the previous novels. I gather that this is the consensus opinion. I don’t really have much to say about it in terms of a review except that I think Martin continues to display his impressive talent at writing characters while displaying a horribly clumsy writing style.

My friend Crystal has a website that I have linked my blog to that talks about education. I think it’s very well done and I appreciate her writing style. It’s called “edunewsyoucanuse” and it’s fairly easy to tell she’s very passionate about her chosen profession.

I’m planning on writing a post about video game violence and aggression, and I’ve already started to do a great deal of research on the topic. I take this topic very seriously and have explored it in great detail in the past. Though I am a fan of video games I don’t write off the very real psychological effects that violent video games can have. With that said, however, I do not believe that the right answer for dealing with horrible tragedies like the events in Newtown is to attack video games, and I will go into more detail later.

I’m also very excited about The Great Gatsby movie. It was one of my favorite books in high school and, from what I can see, it will be a very interesting take on the story.

Via io9, I ran across a post displaying some very interesting artwork from Melanie Schultz that shows a ponderous William T. Riker. It’s actually really fantastic.

And, finally, I’ve been planning to write a series of articles about Bioshock 1 and 2. I’ve completed a playthrough of Bioshock and am almost done with a playthough of Bioshock 2. I have taken a lot of notes on each and I have some pretty interesting ideas about them and hope to discuss a lot of topics. I know that I’ve also got a lot of other essays to write, including a number on Battlestar Galactica. I guess with the upcoming release of Bioshock Infinite I want to focus on these games.

Anyway, I wish everyone a happy new year. I don’t know if I’ll be writing another post before then.

The Science Fiction Research Association 2012 Conference

April 6, 2012 Leave a comment

The 43rd annual Science Fiction Research Association conference is going to be held in Detroit this year.

I can’t even begin to explain how awesome that is.  I’m definitely going to find a way to get the money to register. The guest of honor for this year’s conference is the renowned Eric S. Rabkin, who teaches the Science Fiction Literature and Fantasy Literature courses I took while a student at U of Michigan. I highly recommend his book, “The Fantastic in Literature.” It’s a fairly rare book, but it really is worth the money and the time to find a decent copy.