Friday, April 29, 2011

Book Report: Cryptonomicon

Well, not quite a book report. I'm reporting that I am moving this book from my purse to my nightstand, where it won't get much attention. I'm still willing to finish it, but I'll tell you why it's not a priority anymore: I'm supposed to be posting science fiction reviews over at Worlds Unimagined and if there's one thing this paper brick isn't, it's science fiction.

Is it good? Yes. Stephenson knows how to hit me with just the right amount of hyperbole and get me awful close to honest-to-god ROFLing. That's a rare thing -- I'm a tough audience, when it comes to comedy.

It consists of a WWII-era storyline and a modern-day (late 90s) storyline. Of them, the WWII story is far more interesting IMO. I've been starting to skim the modern-day chapters, to be honest, because it's a bit murkier in its goals and challenges. Neither story, as of two-thirds of the way through the book, involves the slightest bit of science fiction. Which isn't bad in and of itself, it's just that my to-read pile is getting deep and I've got to keep moving.

Up next: Old Man's War.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Word Choice Wednesday: Parse


Merriam-Webster says:
1 a: to resolve (as a sentence) into component parts of speech and describe them grammatically b: to describe grammatically by stating the part of speech and explaining the inflection and syntactical relationships 2: to examine in a minute way : analyze critically

This is a five cent word, I think. Seems to me that it's had an upswing in popularity over the last few years (using the second definition) so it's not really a ten cent word anymore (if it ever was).

More specific than:
Sort, analyze, describe. For me, it's a combination of sorting and analyzing. I like the dictionary's use of resolve, but for me resolve includes images as in a sense of focusing and clarifying. Parse refers to assemblages of discrete items, usually words but this word seems to be spreading out into other situations. Parsing search results. Parsing complex flurries of emotion.

Word relationships:
I love this word. It's got mechanical, logical connotations, it's short and succinct, and it implies a bit of success, of domination of unruly things. Life dumps a mass of data onto you and you parse it into something usable. Arrange and sort definitely require moving things around physically, whereas parse is a mental function.

Catalog would be a similar verb. Index? Those also have strong relationships to texts, for me. A little more formality, maybe.

What comes to your mind?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Memory prompts

Libby's post about two months of blogging reminded me that I'm getting close to three months (already!) and I still haven't posted any of my writing here. It's something I ought to do. I have some work posted on Absolute Write, but it's under the wrong name and not in a public thread.

So I will settle on a sample and post it here this week.

In other news, I'm working my way through that chunk of backstory -- "Nell's Last Stand" in my progress bars. Turned out even grimmer than I thought. No wonder my characters didn't want to talk about it.

ETA: Posted a sample and later took it down. Maybe I'll post another sample sometime. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Book Report: Write the Fight Right, by Alan Baxter

I've posted a review of the ebook Write the Fight Right over at Worlds Unimagined.

I'll be keeping this one on hand for reference the next time my characters get into a scrap, that's for sure.

Voice in the crowd

When I was a kid, my parents would serve chicken livers for dinner now and then. Pan-fried chicken livers, with lots of sauteed onions and peppers (thank God) and served on white rice. I learned how to eat them -- cut the liver into small bits and fork up one at a time with as much rice, onion and pepper as would stick to it.

Never liked liver. Still don't. I came to the conclusion that my parents served it because it's good for you. And because you shouldn't be above eating something you don't like if it's all that's offered. 

I went away to college eventually, and one weekend when I came home it was chicken liver for dinner. I jokingly said that they didn't have to serve liver any more, I'm a grown up now. That got me a puzzled look.

"But we like chicken liver."

There's an excellent post about POV and voice over at Murder She Writes that spurred this post. She presents some great examples of how to use POV to communicate character and setting simultaneously, but what jumped out at me was the voice in both snippets. It's that thick, lush voice you see a lot out there. Lots of information jammed in on flurries of clauses. Blizzard of backstory packaged up as a description of a dingy bistro.

People love this stuff, it seems. Always gets gushy responses. I can see them sitting at the dinner table, napkin tucked into their collar, spoon and fork in hand, eyes bright. It's chicken liver tonight, right?

And I look down at my pan and push dinner around with the wooden spoon a bit. I don't like chicken liver, so I don't cook it.

Cloys to your mouth. Touch of grit, hint of bile, needs another forkful of onions to wash it down. It's good for you, come on. We love it.

Intellectually, I know the answer is to find my own way of doing it. But emotionally? I want to throw the pan back on the stove and close my eyes until the agony fades.


Heh, Course Corrections has gone out to my beta readers and I'm working on a wrenching bit of back-story. Feeling the teeth of the darkness a bit today, I suppose...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Word Choice Wednesday: Consciousness


Merriam-Webster says:
1 a : the quality or state of being aware especially of something within oneself b : the state or fact of being conscious of an external object, state, or fact c : awareness; especially : concern for some social or political cause
2 : the state of being characterized by sensation, emotion, volition, and thought : mind
3 : the totality of conscious states of an individual
4 : the normal state of conscious life
5 : the upper level of mental life of which the person is aware as contrasted with unconscious processes

First penny word on WCW! Though maybe it deserves a wee bit more respect just because it has a fair number of letters. But it's not a five cent word. 

More specific than:
It's not more specific -- let's talk about general. Consciousness is the baseline of mental activity, IMO. It's not particularly organized or focused. One would move from consciousness to awareness, as mental activity increases, and then to alertness and attentiveness or even focus.

Word relationships:
A mild peeve of mine is consciousness and its other forms being used in situations where a more active mind frame would be more appropriate. Such as: the man stood too close, infringing on her consciousness. Or: he became conscious of ghosts all around him. The first one is terrible -- he's infringing on her personal space, not her consciousness. The second one is better, but it raises all kinds of questions for me because ghosts are really more complex ideas. Maybe the chill crept into his consciousness, alerting him to the presence of ghosts. That makes more sense. Temperature is a sensation, something your hindbrain works with. Consciousness is a primitive function too. 

What comes to your mind? How would you stack these words, from least mentally active to most mentally active: focus, awareness, alertness, consciousness, attentiveness? Where would these fit in: interest, inquisitiveness, curiosity, instinct?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hard SF and fighters

It's time for me to wrestle with one of the big issues in hard science fiction: ship-to-ship combat. Namely, how to make it both accurate and plausible.

This includes the eternal question of one-man fighter craft in space. The general hard SF consensus is that they don't work. See Atomic Rockets and Rocketpunk. There's plenty more out there, if you go looking. However, the reason they resonate so heavily with readers is because they bring a personal agency to war in space. War in space or on earth involves far more randomness and loss of control than the human mind is inclined to handle, from what I've seen. I suspect this is why they say there are no atheists in foxholes.

Put a guy in a fighter (plane or spaceship) and he's got a say in his fate. Much more dramatic.

It's difficult to read and write situations where the characters have little control and are subject to large amounts of randomness, maybe because the writer's hand becomes obvious. When anybody could die, there's no reason it has to be the MC unless the writer was gunning for him.

I'll take a step back, here. Five years ago (in the story, before the beginning of Course Corrections) the independence movement spearheaded by the McBrides was caught in a pincer maneuver between a handful of security cutters and the Jovian Militia's main frigate, the Peacekeeper. As they were an undisciplined group of ships, it was something of a slaughter. A few people did escape, some were captured, many were killed.

I'm working on writing that scenario, because I've gone long enough without knowing exactly what happened there. Been getting scraps here and there from my characters and now it's time to sit them down and get the whole story out. Just working on the outline has brought out some interesting stuff.

On the other hand, I've got to work out just what sort of ship the Peacekeeper is and how it goes about its business. Unlike a lot of science fiction, I'm working at a relatively low technology level -- even for hard SF, it would seem. My spaceships rarely break a thousand kilometers a second. They're armed with ultraviolet lasers (also used for communication) and rail guns throwing iron slugs. I've been debating explosive missiles, nuclear or otherwise, but really you only need to hit a ship and the hard vacuum will supply the explosion (outward, as the ship decompresses).

Getting back to fighters, I readily accept the uselessness of a human pilot in such a situation. No problem for me in swapping fighters for unmanned drones flown by a combination of AI and neurally jacked-in pilots back on the frigate. Still, the only justification that I can find for even simple drones is... lines of fire? Angles? The target ships will try to scatter in all directions (don't forget that there are three dimensions to work with) and the Peacekeeper can't catch them all but still wants some sort of netting action to keep the high-value targets from escaping.

They need to cripple their targets, quickly and efficiently. That only requires a clear shot at some part of the engines. Maybe they don't need drones. Or the drones are mainly for rescue and recovery.

And whatever happens, Maggie and a few other people still need to get out in one piece. 

Plenty of thinking to do.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Book Report: How to Win Friends and Influence People

The first thing I noticed when reading this book is how familiar it all sounds. This book was published before World War II and it has been thoroughly absorbed into our culture. The principles he outlines seem patently obvious these days.

Since these principles are now such a cornerstone of how we do business and interact, they almost sound trite. Like they're part of the problem, these days. I know I've read at least a million threads about bad behavior in public that's aided and abetted by how people and businesses implement Carnegie's principles -- "give people what they want", "don't criticize", etc.

So in some ways, this book reads as a "How to be obsequious and get walked all over" manual because 21st-century people don't react the way the people in his Depression-era stories do.

But I don't think that human nature changes all that much. Not the essential human nature. I don't think Carnegie is wrong, just that the implementation is out of date.

The second thing I noticed was how often I've seen these principles observed, but insincerely and/or by formula. I can't speak for anybody else, but there's so much praise out there and people seem to dole it out so easily that I don't put a lot of value on it. Especially if people use canned, vague phrases. "You must've worked hard on that." "We appreciate your contributions."

We suffer from a certain amount of hyperbole in modern life -- "EXTREME CAUTION!!!" on a cup of coffee. Because of statistical outliers and the horrible stories they generate, we all have to swaddle ourselves in bubble wrap. We're jaded and quick to assume insincerity.

Or maybe that's just me. I don't take the warnings on coffee cups seriously.

From a writing point of view -- and I picked up the book to try to fill out my character Maggie a little more -- it's good to see the principles laid out clearly. And it's good to read his dated stories and ask one's self, "But how would you do it nowadays? How do we show sincerity in a world that's saturated with advertising propaganda?"

Or, "How will they be showing sincerity in a culture that's getting thrown back to its frontier roots?"

How do people demonstrate sincerity in your universe?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Word Choice Wednesday: Unafraid


This WCW incited by R.E.M.'s "Walk Unafraid", which spontaneously crops up in my mental soundtrack with some regularity.

Merriam-Webster says:
M-W just took me to a definition for the prefix un-, of which this one is most relevant IMO:
a: deprive of: remove (a specified thing) from: remove  b: release from: free from  c: remove from: extract from: bring out of  d: cause to cease to be

I'm calling this a nickel word. Not unusual, but worth a bit more than saying not afraid or not scared.

More specific than:
This word's quality is not in its specificity but in its slightly stilted, I-get-used-in-poems-more (which I could be entirely wrong about) flavor.

Word relationships:
I wanted to write this WCW to think about the difference between unafraid and fearless. They taste different to me. I've always thought of fearless as being brasher, more aggressive than unafraid. However, unafraid seems more pervasive and maybe more resilient -- that by adding aggression to fearless, it becomes more brittle. Which is also interesting that of their two root words, afraid and fear, I would think of fear as deeper, more enveloping, than afraid. They swap places when negated.

What comes to your mind?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The elusive "first draft"

I'm closing in on the first draft of Course Corrections, which is nice. Personally, I define the "first draft" as "worthy of showing to another human being". But of course there are as many definitions of first draft as there are writers.

For me, something worthy of being shown to somebody else has to get a minimum of an "okay" from my inner perfectionist. Yes, I have an inner perfectionist -- those who have met me or who've seen my house are ROFLing right now. Try not to hurt yourselves, please...

I like to think my "okay" criteria are fairly rigorous, but what do I know about forests -- can't see anything with all these trees in here. I know I have a decent grip of grammar and paragraph structure. Evidence has led me to believe my dialogue is quite readable. That's about all I can comfortably say.

I'll be sending it out to beta readers soon (I have three! yay!) and I'm sure everybody here will know what I mean when I say there are some butterflies associated with that. Feedback is what I want. I practically crave it. Positive and negative. Couldn't tell you which I want more -- ego strokes or a good flogging.

Verbal flogging.

First draft, for me, indicates a fairly cohesive, readable manuscript. If I haven't gotten to the place where I'd put "the end" yet, it's still in progress. Not yet fully drafted. And even if I have written "the end" that doesn't mean it's fully drafted yet. I put down Course Corrections to work on a short story and came back to add some parts that I absolutely know must be in there.

Then I'll be at the point where I need someone else to tell me what it needs.

Maybe that's a more accurate definition of first draft: it has everything I know it needs.

How do you define "first draft"?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Leadership and anger

Something else Maggie and I have in common: anger. The difference being in expression, of course -- she channels it into planning how to get back what was taken away and I channel it into creating angry characters capable of channeling... yeah, it's kinda redundant.

Over-analyzing leadership has led me to a few conclusions about qualities of leaders:
  • they project an air of confidence
  • they have reasonable-sounding plans and enough facts to back them up
  • when they ask for their followers' help, the requests are reasonable though some envelope-pushing is acceptable
  • the exhibit some degree of charm, which consists of: sincere interest in people, smiling, couching things in terms of the target's interests and desires, and a nice physical appearance helps too
  • the must have an excellent sense of timing, specifically in knowing when to push and when not to

Now make it look spontaneous. That's always the trick, right? Fortunately, I'm God in this universe and I can revise as needed to make it all work. Which may explain why I'm not necessarily any good at it in real life. Reading How to Win Friends and Influence People has helped -- I'll have to write a little book report on that when I finish.

Since I tend to over-analyze things, I set about over-analyzing why Maggie is doing what she's doing. Started drawing up a list of logical prods... but no, the anger is enough. She says. I'm willing to take her word on it for now.

I worked up a query-sized pitch to show to potential beta readers. I'm finding that writing these early on in the revision process really helps me focus the story!


Five years ago, authorities nipped the McBrides’ independence movement in the bud. Ended it with a body count and three-ring court circuses, then packed the prisoners off for realignment “treatments” to fix those obviously faulty thinking patterns.

Maggie McBride, just a teenager at the time, slipped the trap with a handful of others. Spent the years wandering Jupiter’s moons, laying low and nursing her anger. Now she’s assembling a team — the few who survived the rebellion, a couple sympathizers, a chuck who just needs the money — with the skills to break into the remote asteroid Correctional Facility where her last cousin is being “treated”. To secure the funding she signed a contract with an old pirate, selling her future into slavery if she fails.

But she’s going to get her cousin back.

Course Corrections, currently 75-80K, is a hard science fiction/adventure? thriller? what does Ocean's Eleven get categorized as?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Apologies about this week...

I suffered a creative derailment on Monday and been hip-deep in "What the heck am I doing?" for the last couple days. Today's alphabet blogs hit it on the head a couple times already: I'm Feeling Failure and trying to Finish the First Draft (Course Corrections, finally updated my progress bar today.)

My characters had better beware. This sort of thing tends to trickle down into something bad happening to them.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Word Choice Wednesday: Fell


Merriam-Webster says:
First adjective for WCW: a: fierce, cruel, terrible b: sinister, malevolent c: very destructive.

Using this word to get the full effect is tricky. It's not common, it's on the archaic side, it's on the purple side, I suspect. Going to call this a twenty-five cent word. Best used with a handful of ten-cent words to prep the reader IMO.

More specific than:
Scary, horrible or any of the words listed in its definition. In my mind, this adjective is for slavering beasts that chase you through the woods at midnight.

Word relationships:
Merriam-Webster lists some synonyms, most of which are lower-impact than fell. But there are a few that I think it shares that peculiar balance of archaic purple-ness. Baleful. Mortal, as an adjective -- a mortal wound. Stygian belongs in that group too. Abyssal. Why do these words get a bad rap? Because they're a bit archaic? Were over-used in the past? How long does it take a word to recover from over-use? (because we need awesome back, IMO).

What comes to your mind? Post a sentence using it? (can you do it without turning completely purple?)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Epic Follower Blogfest/Contest -- Final?

FINAL! (I think!)

Lena's a hacker, not a courier. Clear? But the boss's package has to get across the Jupiter system and she's the last agent left on tap.

Good luck to everybody!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Epic Follower Blogfest/Contest -- Twitter pitches!

My first blogfest, whee! I'm looking forward to reading and critting as many Twitter pitches as I can. Almost seventy people signed up, as of the 31st...

I came up with two tweets, so please vote for the one you like. Or tell me why neither one works for you.

Lena's a hacker, not a courier or a thug. Thief who just stole her boss’s secret probably is. She thinks this job can’t get any worse.

Boss wants a package couriered across Jupiter system, you do it. Right? Even though the chuck who brought it in is flat in the hospital now?

Confusing? Been there, done that? Meh? Be honest... and thank you :)


Lena's a hacker, not a courier or a thug. But the boss's package has to get across the Jupiter system and she's the last agent left on tap. 

Bang on 140 on the first try. Creepy...

Thank you to everyone who's commented! I'm chugging through the list, starting in the middle, so I hope I can return the favor to everyone.
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