The World in the Satin Bag has moved to my new website.  If you want to see what I'm up to, head on over there!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

U.S. Space Program is 50

That's right, our glorious, slowly dying space program is officially 50 years old today. I think it's cause for some celebration. As such, I'm officially holding a "Yay, our SP is 50" party over Superbowl. Who's with me?

On a side note, here is a New Scientist article on this very subject, though they're not offering to host a Superbowl party in Van Allen's favor...

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Edelman's Moral Quandaries (Pt. 5)--G.S.A.G.H.R.

The acronym stands for: Getting Serious About Global Human Rights.
The United States pays a lot of lip service to the idea of global human rights — and compared to much of the rest of the world, we’re willing to do something about it more of the time — but too often we back down from the ideals of democracy when it suits us. The way we’ve helped Israel shunt aside the results of free, democratic elections in Palestine is shameful, and the way we turn a blind eye to similar human rights abuses in our allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia is equally ludicrous. But compared to much of the rest of the world, we’re light-years ahead. We’ve ditched slavery, worked hard to put all races on an equal footing, and we’re in the long, slow process of recognizing alternative sexual orientations. Until the whole planet works the same way, we’re going to have a hard time moving forward as a species.

    I have one big problem with this argument: it implies that everyone has to think like us in order for the species to survive, or something similar to it. While he is very right that global human rights are a moral imperitive, a necessity for the advancement of our species, we also have to realize that we all don't come from the same background. Arabic nations have very different views on the treatment of women and marriage than we do. They don't adhere to typical Christian morals which are intertwined in our society, even if you'd like to deny it. We are a Christian nation and would still be one even if all the Christians disappeared.
    Given that, we have to understand that people of differing religious have different views of how things are supposed to be and as such have grown up living in a world where such beliefs are firmly placed. There is very little room in some parts of the world for 'radical' change. America and similar nations are flukes. There are more polygamists than there are monogamists, etc. The U.S. isn't the end-all-be-all for all things societal.
    However, that doesn't mean we can't find workable solutions for human rights. Surely people of other major religions don't condone the murdering of people? Buddhists can't think this and, extremism aside, neither can Muslims. I don't know a lot about many of the various religions (Buddhism isn't actually a religion, but I used it here anyway), but there has to be a standard in each of them that all of us can agree on.
    The biggest, and I mean the BIGGEST, thing that has to be dealt with first is the violation of human rights by the U.S. and her allies. We cannot, logically, sit around and tell people they aren't allowed to do something if we actually do it. This is the same logic we use against people having nuclear weapons and it's not out of the question for someone to ask "well, if you have them, why can't we?" The U.S. government cannot commit crimes against humanity, even against criminals. There are rules against it and we have to follow them just like anyone else. The U.K. and any other ally of the U.S. counts here too, though I can't point out any specific examples. The only thing I agree with President Shrub on is that Palestine and Israel HAVE to work things out and live peacefully. The Israeli's aren't going anywhere and neither are the Palestinians, so why are they bothering to fight and subvert one another when neither is going away? Likewise, it is imperative that the Middle East simply accept that Israel exists and will exist for a long time to come, otherwise we can expect to see further injustices committed there.
    Once we find that middle ground, it's a matter of increasingly complex politics that have to be navigated cautiously. Nobody is going to pay our current President much attention on the subject of human rights. Who would? Most of the world doesn't give him much attention in the way he would like. Regardless, it's delicate. The second we start telling people what to do they'll clam up and shut us off. In some cases we may be met with violence. The U.N., the global failure, won't do anything either unless someone grows some balls and starts taking action. How many nations have violated the rules on human rights that are members? Dozens? Tens of dozens? I don't know. I know at least ten. Why aren't such nations having economic sanctions placed on them? Why aren't they enforcing the rules?
    Global human rights, essentially, starts at home, must move on to global organizations, and then fed through every avenue possibly to outlying nations. If we can manage that, then we can expect that there might be different treatment of people, or peoples, in the world. The problem is WILL we do it? I don't know. I'd like to think that enough of us care to at least stomp our feet down and say "enough is enough" and stop trading with nations that hurt their own people, but history has shown that that doesn't always work out. As Edelman said, we are allied with nations that commit the very crimes we've sworn not to uphold. The U.S. has come a long way, but she's still got a long way to go. It's up to the U.S. government and the U.S. people to act out the changes necessary to begin by fixing human rights at home. Perhaps one day it'll happen. Perhaps.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Cyberpunk Isn't Dead

More 'SF is dying' stuff, only this time it's very specific to cyberpunk. For those that don't know what Cyberpunk is the subgenre of SF in which Neuromancer by William Gibson, Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, The Matrix (and sequels), and various other technocentric films and books fit into. A recent article over at io9 indicated that Cyberpunk has been slowly declining in the last few years. The problem is that I don't really buy that assertion. While they likely did a fair bit of homework and from what they found they may be somewhat correct, I think they are forgetting a lot of things that should be addressed. Here is a chart they used to show the fluctuations from year to year between movies (blue line) and novels (red line):

    The chart shows a steady decline from the early 90s into the 2000s. Something is missing. There's no way that cyberpunk is falling out of favor here. The article suggests that perhaps the fall occurred because we are living in a highly technological world now and much of what was once considered SF might not be so anymore. I think this is only the crux of the matter, but we'll address that first.
    Our definitions of cyberpunk are changing, unfortunately, and as we become more and more technologically inclined it will continued to change its meaning. However, even if something ceases to be SF doesn't mean it can't be called cyberpunk. Many technothrillers could very well be cyberpunk novels, even if nothing necessarily 'new' is presented. Cyberpunk isn't as restricted by a time frame as space operas. I would say that there is probably a lot more cyberpunk out there than we realize. We just don't know it because it's not labeled as such, and since we live in a society that is constantly advancing, our definition of what makes something cyberpunk is changing and the line between that and normal technothrillers becomes very fuzzy.
    However, another issue with the argument, which is nothing against the io9 folks, as they did do a hell of a lot of homework to have to find all the things they did find, which would have easily taken hours, is that it seems we're paying attention to a primarily English language market. What about China? China is the home of the world's largest circulation SF magazine and their market for SF works is exploding. They eat it up like crazy there and some authors actually make a living having works translated and sold there. There is Russian SF too, which, while focused a lot on the uses of governmental failure and dystopic themes, does deal with cyberpunk elements from time to time. There are dozens of countries out there contributing to the global market of SF. There has to be a myriad of cyberpunk books and movies in such countries. Technothrillers are a big deal, and so are cyberpunk novels, even if you don't think of many of them as cyberpunk. If cyberpunk is, in fact, seeing a significant decline in the U.S., that doesn't mean it's seeing that decline elsewhere. Some countries are significantly behind us as far as SF goes, and so they may just now be exploding with new cyberpunk themes. We should be paying attention and translators should actively seek to bring these works to the American market.
    One more issue with the argument is that so many SF works have cyberpunk elements built into them. This should say something about cyberpunk as a genre. It is unavoidably important! It has built itself into the fabric of SF and as long as SF keeps it around it will never die. This goes along with the notion that just because something isn't labeled cyberpunk doesn't mean it isn't cyberpunk. Cyberpunk isn't really going to go anywhere. It'll probably become full reality and then it won't matter what we all think about it anyway.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Donations Wanted

Many of you know that I co-own a website with a friend for young writers called Young Writers Online. We recently had a hosting problem and were forced to switch hosts due to the current host suddenly changing how it dealt with its customers (which resulted in our website being down a lot). We've moved on, but the move meant we had to buy hosting far sooner than we were anticipating, which means we have to figure out ways to alleviate financial concerns for the website.

So, I'm here asking for donations or sponsorship. If you think you can give us a few bucks please use the Paypal Donate button on the left sidebar (immediately left, you can't miss it).

If you're interested in being a sponsor, which would probably involve having your name on the site or something could be worked out, please email me at arconna@(no spam) (remove the no spam part) so we can discuss it.

Any help would be greatly appreciate. We're taking steps to ensure that we won't get into this situation again and that we'll have hosting permanently. Hopefully, in the future, we can offer prizes to our members for writing competitions and the like. We have high ambitions for the site.

Thanks for your time!

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Setting Standards

For myself. In light of all the things going on ever since last quarter and the start of this quarter I feel as though I need to set up some 'requirements' for every single day starting tomorrow. These are going to be things I'm going to do no matter what as a way to not only increase my writing productivity, but to increase my reading productivity as well. I am far too behind in my reading and I'm not happy about it. I can't read nearly as fast as some, who are reading a book every other day, but there shouldn't be any reason why I can't read a book a week, and so here are my new standards and requirements for every day of the week:
  1. Write 2,000 words. Period. Even crappy words. Doesn't matter. I just have to write.
  2. Read 100 pages. Should be easy enough. I read 100 pages tonight and intend to continue that. I have five books from publishers/authors right now, and I should be done with at least three of them. I'm done with being behind. Time to catch up and get things done.
I'll also have a per month list. I need to do certain things to keep myself on top of my writing game, because that's what you do if you want to get published right?
  1. Edit two short stories or two novel chapters. I need to start getting things in tiptop shape for publication.
  2. Submit at least one story a month, preferably two. Same as above, basically. I have three stories out there already, but I should really learn to keep on top so I can really get myself out there and possibly get published.
I think those are easy enough to follow, don't you?

(Don't click the read more, there isn't any more after this!)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I Miss the Future

There's something about the Golden Age of science fiction and the period I call "Post Golden Age" that still captures my imagination and keeps me interested in science fiction. Some might call it the 'adventure' and others might think of it as a sense of wonder. Perhaps it's both. The thing is, science fiction is fighting a little battle right now. Technology has caught up with it, to some extent, and the more we learn about space travel the more we come to realize that we're most likely never going to shoot off to the stars to land on Earth-like planets inhabited by intelligent aliens.
Not long ago we lived in a society where cell phones were, for the most part, nonexistent. If you had a cell you looked like an idiot because it looked something like the picture to the right. Such bulky devices had practically no features--they couldn't take pictures, record your voice, text message, play games, display information, surf the net, or do anything except call people. Not long ago there weren't any computers like we have today. Any computers that existed were owned by the government and personal computers had barely even come into the market--those in the market could do little more than a standard scientific calculator can do today. We didn't have electric cars or hybrids, at least not as an economic option. Space travel wasn't being turned into a private enterprise by companies like Virgin Galactic, etc. and medical research was a long way off from growing a functioning ear on the back of a mouse.
But today we have all these things. So much of what science fiction writers predicted would happen at some point in the future, even if their dates were wrong, has happened. To some it is as if we live in a science fictional world--I'm sure if we went back in time and showed Asimov what the world of today is like he would agree.
This is a hurdle, a miniature battle for science fiction. What value does SF have in a world that is rapidly advancing to the point where many of the things that once were SF are now reality? Does science fiction still have something to say?
You damn well better believe it! Science fiction has plenty to say about the future, the world, heck even the universe! So long as some people with crazy brains can think about things that haven't happened yet, SF will exist. Certainly there might come a time when a lot of SF isn't as impacting as it is today, but it will still have value. Science fiction doesn't have to be loaded with technology or vast interstellar empires. It doesn't require space ships or space travel. There don't have to be vast networks of matrix-like worlds or super-humans with extraordinary powers due to evolution. Science fiction needs future. A powerful definition of SF might be that it is the future. Provided that a future of some sort exists there will be something for SF people to write about. Even in the event of the knowledge of our extinction there will be things to write about, and there is a TV program that takes on this very issue.
What will science fiction have to say? Science fiction can talk about the environment, it can talk about what might be the future of a political decision, or the future of a new, advanced cell phone that has a built in AI, or a myriad of other things. Even if technology becomes dull because it's 'everywhere', SF can still discuss societal changes and future issues of human rights, the evolution of 'race', the power of technology and its influence, etc. SF is a treasure trove, a giant metaphorical idea box where everyone can submit suggestions. Some of them will be heard and some of them will not. We might be living in a time where SF seems to be losing a little ground against the more escapist fantasy--I love fantasy too--but it still has value and importance because only science fiction can discuss the things that are more pressing in our future. Only science fiction can tell us what to expect.
Science fiction is the future.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Why I'll Never Buy A Mac or Anything By Apple

This was all inspired by a recent viewing of this most excellent funny video about Bill Gates on his last day at Microsoft. It's a spoof video with real people in it and it's quite brilliant and an example of why Microsoft is so much better than Apple anyway. I have a lot of reasons besides being an avid Windows user as to why I will not buy anything from Apple. And here it is the list:
  • iPods actually suck. I've used one. And everyone I know who has owned one has watched the darn thing die over and over. My sister's broke, and a friend of mine had hers break at least six times. The batteries suck too. I have a Creative Zen Vision:M 30 GB and it can do a lot of things many of the iPods can and the darn thing is practically perfect.
  • The iPhone is overpriced and Apple is being sued for some hundreds of millions over patent infringement.
  • Seeing Apple products get blown up in movies makes me laugh. Seeing Microsoft products (except Windows ME) get blown up makes me cry.
  • Windows is a superior operating system for a lot of reasons. In fact, it's so superior that if not for Bill Gates making sure poor Apple stayed afloat it would have become a monopoly. Remember, you Apple folks owe it to Gates for your existence. Bow to Windows in all its glory.
  • When Windows breaks you can fix it by yourself and it's really not that hard. When Macs break it's not the same.
  • Jesus doesn't like Macs. Yes, I've asked him. He told me in a dinner conversation with Joseph and Moses. By the way, apparently Lucifer is a huge mac fan. Not sure what that means, but he was banished to hell for a reason...
  • I refuse to buy anything that freezes when I try to print a document. Yes, this happened to me on Campus. I clicked "print" and the window froze. I had no idea how to close it and neither did anyone else and I tried forcing the program to end and it wouldn't. If Mac OS freezes on something that simple, why should I bother using it? You know what I have to do to get my Windows PC to freeze? I don't because it rarely ever happens. The blue screen of death? Never seen it. The worst I've ever had with Windows is a virus, which was easy to remove. You might see it as a flaw that Windows has viruses, but remember that if the Mac takes any sizable portion of the OS market it will have virus problems too. And they are going to suck really bad. You know what I'll be doing when that happens? Laughing so hard that milk shoots out my nose because it's ACTUALLY FUNNY. And Apple will deserve it for the next thing on the list.
  • Apple and Apple people lie...a lot. You know those cute little Mac commercials? They are 90% B.S. In fact, Apple should have an honorary B.S. degree for those things. They exaggerate everything as a smear tactic, which I think is remarkably pathetic. If Apple is so great, why should it have to smear Windows just to get a bone. I've yet to see Windows, the OS with class, do any such videos.
    As a rule, I don't buy products from companies that have annoying commercials or smear the competition just as I don't vote for politicians that do the same thing. If you want me to buy your product you should give me a reason to, not make me hate you.
  • Microsoft doesn't have DRM like Apple does in their iTunes market. DRM is stupid. Well, maybe they do, but I don't know where it is and they're not cramming it in my face like iTunes.
  • iTunes sucks. I've used it, it sucks, it's annoying, and I shouldn't have to use some stupid program to put files on my mp3 player. I just drag and drop and Windows Media Player keeps my files all organized for me.
  • The PC gods wrote on Stonehenge: "Windows doth rule."
  • Umm, because using Apple computers with Intel hardware to run Windows is way too much freaking work. I can just turn on my PC and Windows just goes.
  • I can't play my computer games on a Mac.
  • I can't do the things I can do on my Windows PC on a Mac, contrary to popular belief.
  • I don't need fancy programs and user-unfriendliness in an OS. I like my OS to be simple and easy to use. Windows is easy to use. "Start" much clearer could that button be?
  • I refuse to join in to the pandering masses of Mac users who think Mac is the greatest thing since sliced bread. It's not, get over it. It might be the greatest thing since sliced bread shaped as triangles, but it's not better than sliced bread. I can't make a sandwich out of a Mac.
  • I already know how to use Windows. Why should I switch when Mac offers me nothing I want? That'd be like finding out that your Cheerios were turned into Cheerisquares and lost all nutritional value.
  • Because people at Mac are stupid enough to build space probes and shuttles that use Mac software as a basis. Windows people aren't because they know what will happen if the system crashes. Macs are sort of like that accident we had a while ago where the scientists forgot to convert properly into metric...
  • Bill Gates is cooler than Steve Jobs. Did you watch the video? Yeah, so much better. Look at that A-list cast!
  • In nature the following number sequence shows up in relation to all things coming to life: 23, 9, 14, 4, 15, 23, 19. In relation to all things dying you get: 13, 1, 3. (Yes, those the alphanumeric values of Windows and Mac...I worked it out)
  • Because Mac people are delusional. When I say Mac people I mean those folks that cling to their Macs the way a 1980s nerd clings to a first sexual experience with a real woman. Macs are not better. In fact, history has proven this. If it was better it would have stomped Windows a long time ago, but it never did. Why? Because Windows is better. It's easier to program for, it's more useful, and easy to use. That's why it's been on the top of the market since...well, since forever.
  • Because Macs are responsible for Jar Jar Binks. Yes, I've heavily researched this and I am thoroughly convinced that Macs were the reason Lucas decided not to use the R2D2/C-3PO comedy bit!
That certainly was a lot of fun.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Heather Ledger Passed On Today

This has nothing to do with specfic, but it still is an impacting moment for me. I was a fan of Ledger ever since 10 Things I Hate About You. Brokeback Mountain and Four Feathers were both excellent films and he damn well deserved every bit of credit. He actually made me want to see that new Batman movie even though I'm not really a fan of Christian Bale and I'm one of those guys that gets pissed off when anyone other than Michael Keaton plays the dark knight.

Needless to say, Mr. Ledger will be sorely missed by me, by his family, and by all those that loved his work. It's sad that he had to go so young. His life was not yet lived and he had so many more great roles to play. This is a dampener on a relatively uneventful day.

Goodbye Mr. Ledger...

(You can read the article about it here)

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Interview w/ Zoran Zivkovic

Another interview! Thanks to Zoran for taking the time out of his day to answer my questions. Enjoy!

SD: Could you please introduce yourself to the audience and talk a little about your history in the writing/publishing world?

ZZ: I was born in Belgrade, the form Yugoslavia, in 1948. In 1973 I graduated from the Department of General Literature with the theory of literature. I received my master's degree in 1979 and my doctorate in 1982. I am now professor of creative writing at Belgrade University.
I started to write prose in 1993, when I was 45. In the next decade and a half I wrote sixteen books of fiction: The Fourth Circle (1993), Time Gifts (1997), The Writer (1998), The Book (1999), Impossible Encounters (2000), Seven Touches of Music (2001), The Library (2002), Steps Through the Mist (2003), Hidden Camera (2003), Compartments (2004), The Bridge (2006), Miss Tamara, the Reader (2006), Amarcord (2007), and The Last Book (2007).
I am about to finish my new novel Escher's Loops.

SD: What are you currently reading, what do you plan to read, and what have you just finished reading?

ZZ: I am currently re-reading Erasmus Roterdamus' masterpiece In Praise of Folly. Prior to that I read with great pleasure Peter Woit's excellent study Not Even Wrong. In early February I always read the same book: Jaroslaw Hasek's The Good Soldier Svejk, one of the greatest novels of all times.

SD: What are some of your writing influences? Who is your favorite author and/or what is your favorite book?

ZZ: Any book by Mikhail Bulgakov, Milan Kundera, Jose Saramago, Tamar Yellin, Umberto Eco, Kazuo Ishiguro, Orhan Pamuk, Haruku Murakami...

SD: What were some hurdles you faced when you first began taking your writing seriously?

ZZ: I wrote extensively about my initial hurdles in the afterward of the US edition of my first novel The Fourth Circle (The Ministry of Whimsy Press, 2004). Here is an excerpt:
When apparently there were no more publishers to whom my agent could submit The Fourth Circle, he stepped forward with an ingenious proposal. I should change my name. What do you mean, I asked incredulously. He meant I should choose a pen name, preferably something that would sound English. Like what? Well, we could try to find an analogous version of your original name. What would that be? After a brief etymological consideration, he boldly suggested: Donald Livingston. Why would I be Donal Livingston instead of Zoran Zivkovic? Can you really imagine, he asked, that anyone called Zoran Zivkovic would ever be able to publish anything in the USA? I could. He couldn't. So, inevitably, we went our separate ways.
SD: Do you have any strange writing habits?

ZZ: My only writing habit is that I am a morning writer. I write only between 9 AM and about noon.

SD: Since you write both science fiction and fantasy, what do you like about both genres? What do you think are some problems, if any, within each genre, given that you write and presumably read SF and fantasy? Did you have any difficulty crossing over?

ZZ: I write neither science fiction nor fantasy. These are mere labels invented by the publishing industry. I consider myself a writer without any prefixes. Quite simply, a writer. A humble practitioner of the ancient and noble art of prose.

SD: You write what would be called by a lot of people 'magical realism'. This is very clear in "Seven Touches of Music" as many of the stories 'flirt' with the lines between the real and the imagined. What about this type of fantasy writing is appealing to you and why do you write such stories?

ZZ: The term 'magical realism' was invented to gather under a single umbrella a number of Hispano-American authors active mostly in the second part of the 20th century. Although I have the greatest possible admiration for their invaluable contribution to world literature, I don't consider myself a part of that tradition. My literary roots are predominantly Middle-European. I am an unworthy successor of such prose giants as Hoffmann, Kafka, and Bulgakov.

SD: "Seven Touches of Music" is a collection of short stories that each use music as a common theme. When you began this collection did you intend for every story to use music in some way or did it just happen that way? Basically, how did this collection come together?

ZZ: It came together basically just as any other book of mine. I woke up one sunny April morning back in 2001 and it was there, in my head. The entire book. All I had to do was to sit down at my desk and start typing. As simple as that. In my prose writing there are never any preparations. That would be fundamentally wrong in my case.

SD: Tiffany, of Aio, told me in an email that she envisioned "The Violinist" as a story about Albert Einstein in his last days. After I thought about that idea it occurred to me that there could actually be some validity to such a thought. Is there any truth to Tiffany's idea or is it intended to be somewhat mysterious?

ZZ: There are plenty of clues for an attentive reader. The "Violinist" opens in a Princeton hospital. Einstein died in a Princeton hospital on April 18, 1955. His last physician was Dr. Dean, mentioned in my story. There is also his last nurse, Mrs. Roszel. I only left the dying professor unnamed. With a good reason...

SD: This novel is an English translation from Serbian. As a literature student I have an interest in translated works and the world of translation. Since you speak both English and Serbian, could you talk a little about some complications of translating your work?

ZZ: I was extremely fortunate to have on my side Mrs. Alice Copple-Tosic, an excellent translator. She has translated from my native Serbian to English all but two books of mine. So far she has received nothing but compliments for her work. I am eternally indebted to her.

SD: Also within your stories there is a sense of ambiguity. In the case of Miss Adele from "The Waiting Room" it is very clear as she is a character in a waiting area having visions and essentially 'freaking out' over what other people must think is nothing. To them she's a lunatic, but to us she's presented as really having visions. Yet, the audience is left to speculate whether or not she is crazy. What would you say about this notion of ambiguity in your stories? Why did you make some of them with this feeling and others without and what as your hope or intention in doing so?

ZZ: Only in trivial fiction, so much appreciated by the publishing industry, are all questions answered at the end. This is, of course, the colossal betrayal of the very essence of the art of prose. We don't write prose to answer questions, but for other reasons. One of them is the privilege of ambiguity...

SD: The first story in the collection, "The Whisper", follows a line of thinking that seems to have gained quite a bit of steam in recent years. I've seen programs discussing musical savants, and even a language savant who could learn a foreign language almost fluently in a matter of seven days. For "The Whisper" this is a sort of mild approach, but it still looks at the nature of the human mind and what goes on in a mind that cannot express itself like the rest of us (autism). Did you research autistic children at all for this story?

ZZ: As I explained earlier, I never do any research for my writing. At least not on a conscious level. But my subconscious, the very source of my imagination, has been very active, 24 hours a day, my whole life. Everything I have ever seen, heard, sensed, and experienced is safely stored there, all in the constant process of creative turmoil. Once a critical mass is reached, a new prose work erupts...

SD: Is there any truth to the stories in this collection? Perhaps you once owned an old music box as a kid that made you imagine strange futures or pasts, or found yourself transported into a fantasy by the strike of a beautiful note on a violin. I don't mean to ask if the stories are based on real events, but perhaps you were inspired by something you imagined once.

ZZ: There are no autobiographical elements whatsoever in any prose work of mine.

SD: How has music affected you in your life and how did music influence you when writing this collection?

ZZ: My daily life very often has a musical background. Except when I write prose. Then I am in profound silence. (Right now, while answering your questions, I am surrounded by the divine notes of Vivaldi's "Le Quattro Stagioni"...)

SD: If you could bring back to life one author or artist, which author or artist would you choose?

ZZ: Mikhail Bulgakov...

Thanks again or doing the interview Zoran and I hope everyone enjoys it.

Edelman's Moral Quandaries (Pt. 4)--Dropping Nuclear Options

The concern over nuclear weaponry and nuclear power plants (or nuclear anything really) has been strong ever since we bombed Japan in WW2. As Edelman says:
Once upon a time, two countries were idiotic enough to play a high-stakes game of chess where the stakes were the survival of the human race. You don’t like my way of governing? Fine, then let’s blow the whole place to hell and you can’t govern any of it. Figuring out how to get rid of these weapons so that nobody has the power to scour the planet clean is one heck of a challenge. There’s no Cold War anymore, but the odds of a nuclear war breaking out in either the Middle East or the Indian subcontinent are still much too high for us to ignore. (Personally, I don’t think the threat is going anywhere until some theoretical point in the future when we’re living so much of our lives virtually that physical threats just don’t make sense anymore.)
Let's face it, nuclear 'anything' has been a source of concern not only in our society (U.S.A.), but in the world in general. Nuclear power plants were thought to be the wave of the future of energy production, and in some ways they are. But in order to get to that point we had to pay a terrible price, and that price was of our international security. Other countries paid the same price, such as Russia, who, when they were the U.S.S.R., tried desperately to beat the U.S. in a deadly arms race and eventually in a space race that, while enormously beneficial, created even more problems for the world at large. While the U.S. space program has and will be the marker of great discoveries on our planet, in our solar system, and in the universe, it has also helped develop new ways to destroy other people and was built, in some respects, with the intention of doing so. ICBMs are, by nature, useful only in destroying targets far away and while the technology that created them did eventually spark a very promising space program that continues to be of value today, it also showed the world that the U.S. wasn't playing games anymore. "We can hit you anyplace, anywhere, and any time." What happened to this idiotic arms race was that we all came to realize how dangerous the world had become and how stupid it would be for any nation, organization, or individual to drop a nuclear weapon of any kind on anyone else, especially someone who has the means to retaliate with the same firepower. If the U.S.S.R. had at any time bombed the U.S. or an ally, who knows if the world would still be here, or if any of us would be alive (this is, of course, assuming that the U.S.S.R. actually had the financial means to deliver a payload of nuclear weaponry to any location outside of their sphere of influence, which, historically speaking, may have been nearly impossible at the time of the Cold War).

    This, I'm sure, sounds like a purely negative argument on the part of nuclear creations, but there are some very good benefits of what was a frightening time in the world. Nuclear power, despite its faults, is efficient and, generally speaking, easy to use. Chernobyl and other such incidents were not markers of a failed network of power facilities, but an indicator of how stupid human beings can be when they try to mess with things they don't yet understand (this is not a bash on Russia, as there were events in other locations where nuclear facilities became an issue, including the U.S., but Chernobyl is a prime example that everyone knows about). But there are benefits to the use of nuclear energy. Nuclear plants often use a large man made canal as a natural coolant. Such plants rarely, if ever, pollute these canals, but because the water is warmed up by the heat of the reactor, it provides a wonderful environment for a lot of little critters that otherwise would be hard pressed to find homes due to human expansion. This is prevalent in Florida where human encroachment has displaced a lot of gators and such.
    The downside of power plants, obviously, is nuclear waste and the risk of leaks and explosions. That's not to say we can't find a use for nuclear energy. There is a use, at the moment, but the inevitable is that we are going to have to go with better sources that don't have a downside (i.e. solar, wind, currents, etc.). Edelman is right that we have to wean ourselves off of this notion of keeping nuclear facilities and weaponry for protection or out of necessity.
Of course, nuclear power plants aren't Edelman's primary concern. He's concerned with nuclear weaponry, and I have to agree with him on that. First off, there are huge consequences with the use of nuclear weapons: massive destruction, nuclear fallout, nuclear winter, radiation, and severe environmental consequences when wind blows radioactive particles around. We can't use nuclear weapons without screwing things up. There's no magic radiation-eating machine. This means that when we use a nuclear weapon on a target, nobody can live there again for a very long time. There aren't any people living in Hiroshima or Nagasaki, unless something has changed that I don't know about, although people were living around the area where Chernobyl is for quite some time before being evacuated.
    Second, nuclear weapons create fear and clearly we live in a time when such weapons may or may not be used. There are concerns that extremist groups may use nuclear weapons (suitcase bombs) on U.S. cities, and I'm not naive enough to say that such things are impossible. They are possible. That's the problem. Nuclear disarmament is a must for EVERYONE, not just the U.S. It is idiotic for any nation to claim that the U.S. should be the one nation to disarm simply because we have used the weapons before (and when you take this idea you have to consider the conditions of that use). The problem with disarmament is that everybody lies. The U.S. might claim it has disarmed and so might Russia, but both nations are going to know the other is lying and will hang on to a few, or a huge portion of them. The U.N., in all its glory, is a failed experiment, no matter how we look at it.
    What authority does the U.N., which should be exerting some pressure to see disarmament and heavier use of sanctions on nations that refuse to follow the rules, have over nations it refuses to govern? It has none, and that's the problem. The U.N. is a collection of people unwilling to act. The U.S. and England do far more than most any other nation and even when good is done by those countries they are ridiculed. Few people look at the consequences of no-action (Kuwait, for example). To disarm we need a standard across all fronts where all nations agree to follow the same rule. The U.N. will not work so long as nations within it are enemies or on very loose terms of friendship. The U.S. and Russia might be playing the friendly game right now, but there's no shortage of distrust between our nations and it is both the fault of the U.S. and Russian governments for keeping such ideals prevalent. Russia, unfortunately, is stupid enough to do something impulsive, as it has been doing in regards to English airspace. Whether they're stupid enough to drop the bomb is very unlikely, but given their impulsiveness in the past it is not outside of the realm of possibilities. I simply would like to see more cooperation between allies and recent actions from the U.S. have harmed such relations.
    These are concerns we have to face as a species. What are we willing to sacrifice to achieve some form of peace across the Earth? Granted, peace is basically impossible as there are always going to be nations that hate one another or groups that refuse to adhere to whatever laws may be put into place (yes, sometimes dissenters are actually good). But why can't peace be reached among nations that would actually benefit from one another? England made peace with the U.S. and the end result was a relatively long-lived peaceful relationship of trade and what you might call 'national friendship'. Our histories are not filled with fluffy bunnies, yet somehow our two nations managed to set that aside. Japan, too, is another nation whose history with the U.S. is nothing short of violent, yet they are a huge economic ally and a friend, even if we don't always agree. So why couldn't a similar relationships be created with Russia or even some nations of the Middle East?
    The point of this is that in order for any nation to actually legitimately consider complete nuclear disarmament, there has to be a real valuable reason to do so. No nation that already has the ability is going to give it up so long as anyone else has the ability too. They're not stupid enough to think that nuclear weapons can't be used as leverage. How do we do this? I have no idea. We just have to. Perhaps one solution is for everyone to come up with non-radiation-yielding weaponry similar to what Russia recently detonated, which was the most powerful fuel-to-air non-radiation weapon ever set off. This isn't an ideal solution and, in fact, this won't even work. Why? Well, radiation does more damage, so the only reason you wouldn't use a non-radiation-yielding weapon over a nuclear weapon is if you really have no desire to hang out there. If you're invading you might reconsider, but if you just hate the other country enough, why both wasting a perfectly good fuel-to-air bomb when you can just screw over your enemy? The only viable solution is worldwide disarmament. The politics of that, of course, are mind-boggingly complicated. There is bound to be a solution, but it would not be viable in the next five years, or even in the next ten or twenty. Problems with disarmament from the U.S. side are numerous:
  • Russia isn't going to disarm any more than we are.
  • Terrorist organizations ARE trying to get their hands on them and probably have them, which gives little incentive for our government to dispose of weapons they feel they may need, for whatever reason (which might not make any sense to us since using nuclear weapons is really rather stupid).
  • Our government isn't going to disarm all of them if it has to tell people how many we actually have, which means it might be difficult to determine if our government actually did disarm all of them.
  • The U.S. is constantly feeling threatened by other nations and fear, by nature, constitutes protection by extreme measures (extreme translates to hanging on to the bigger guns)
  • Fear, again, comes into questions in regards to countries like India and China who are both rapidly industrializing. China, especially, is going through significant political and technological changes that give it the ability to knock out satellites, which we rely on in this country for practically all communications. My concern on this is why we don't have redundant communications devices in military vehicles/ships (such as keeping one of every major form of communication on board from radio to satellite, just in case). This isn't to say that China or India is actually a threat, but it is a concern. More on China some other day.
  • Exposure of U.S. nuclear practices equals bad exposure and criticism across the board. Yes, I have no doubts that we have performed illegal activities with nuclear testing.

    That's just a few, though. There are many more issues about nuclear disarmament for the U.S. I'm not saying we shouldn't disarm here. I'm simply saying it won't be easy. It's naive to think anyone can simply ask everybody to disarm completely overnight. We have to relieve political and social pressures in the Middle East and anywhere that they exist between all nations. Is that possible? Perhaps. This would require the celebration of differences rather than arguing about them (Palestine and Israel, for example, or perhaps all relations between Israel and Arabic countries, but more on that another day as well). We do have to consider disarming. It's just a matter of how. I foresee that the nuclear issue will become a bigger concern in the future, especially when the U.S. and other nations feel pressure from China and India, two nations that are rapidly growing and challenging economic supremacy.
    So, who's willing to start talking first? Who's willing to make necessary changes to find some measure of peace in a rapidly advancing technological Earth?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Book Review Up: The Dead & the Gone

I thought you'd all like to know that I reviewed The Dead & the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer. The review can be found here. Hope you all enjoy it!

(Don't click the read more, there isn't any more after this!)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Interview w/ Karen Miller

Here is another interview for all of you. Thanks to Karen Miller for taking the time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions. I look forward to finishing The Awakened Mage. Here it is:

SD: Thanks for doing this interview with me. I was very glad to receive a response back from you. First, would you tell us a little bit about yourself, such as the basic history of how you came to be a writer, what you've written in the past and recently (fiction or non-fiction), and the like. This is sort of the typical first question just to introduce you to people reading the blog.

KM: And many thanks for asking!
Like a great many writers, I've been scribbling stories for years. Ever since I was a child. My favourite classes in school were English, Composition, Creative Writing. All that stuff. When I left high school I went to university and did a communications degree. One of my majors was Creative Writing. I also majored in Literary Studies and Film
Studies, basically wrapping up my three favourite past times -- reading, writing and watching film/tv drama.
I always always always wanted to be a writer, but it took me a long time to grow into the person I needed to be in order to achieve that goal. While that process was happening I did a lot of different things -- I worked in the public service, the insurance industry, the
telecommunications industry, the publishing industry, I was a PR officer in local government, I worked professionally with horses, I was a college lecturer and I owned/managed by own sf/fantasy/mystery bookshop for several years. That was the last 'regular' job I had before making the leap to professional writing. And while it was
unnerving, not being able to settle, I did gain a lot of useful experiences over those years that have in turn helped my writing. My favourite mantra is: Nothing learned is ever wasted. Or, Who cares if you're bleeding? It's all good copy!
My first professionally published work was in Australia. I wrote three YA light romances. Then I started working on my first fantasy novel, The Innocent Mage. In 2005/6 Innocent Mage and its sequel were published in Australia as the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology, and then went on to be published in the US and UK in 2007. They were followed by my first Stargate novel, Alliances, and my current fantasy trilogy --Godspeaker. Bks 1 and 2 are out in Australia, and they'll be published this year in the US/UK. Bk 3 comes out in Australia in June, and in the US/UK next year.
I've got a new series starting to release in Australia this April, under a pen name. That's also been sold to Orbit, but I don't have any firm release information yet. I've just finished my next Stargate novel, Do No Harm, which is due out in a few months. Once I've completed Godspeaker bk 3 I move on to the next in the pen-name series, and in December I'll deliver the first volume of the sequel duology to the first Kingmaker, Kingbreaker books.
On the whole, it's a good thing I don't mind my own company. *g*
SD: Speaking of Stargate, what is it like writing for shared-worlds? For others out there that don't know what that term means, a shared-world is basically one in which people other than the original creator are allowed to write stories within the world, provided some rules are adhered to. Prime examples would be Dragonlance and Star Wars. So, for you, what were some problems or issues you had in writing for Stargate? Was it hard? How much research did you have to do?

KM: In terms of working with MGM, the parent company who licences the franchise, or with the editors at Fanedomonium -- no troubles at all. My experiences to date have been wonderful. As far as the work being hard is concerned, yes. It's hard work. There's a school of thought in the genre community that says media tie-ins are by definition low-brow crap written by talentless hacks who are too pathetic to write 'real books'. To which I say: really? Honestly -- if you're going to accuse someone of being a talentless hack because they write about worlds and characters they didn't personally create then almost every single tv scriptwriter on the planet is a talentless hack. For the record? Not so much.
I take the Stargate novels I write very seriously because I'm a fan of the show, and before ever I was a professional writer I was a fan. I try to the very best of my ability to get it 'right' in terms of characterisation and dialogue, because I feel my job is to give the reading fans an authentic 'Stargate' experience.
Having said that, though, the single biggest problem with writing fiction based on a tv how is that while all us fans are watching the same show, none of us is 'seeing' the same show. We bring individual biases and beliefs and interpretations to the source material. Which means that for some people, I will never get it right. And I need to make my peace with that. I pretty much have. I'm sad if someone's disappointed with what I've written, but I know I've been true to the show I see to the best of my ability. Whatever I do I make sure I can point to aired material in support of my story -- and boy, I watch and I watch and I watch and then I watch again. I have the show on dvd and it's my constant reference source.

SD: Your biography on your website talks about your various moves in life. Could you talk about what the transition was like when you moved from Canada to Australia and then to England, etc.? What sort of cultural challenges did you face? Was it difficult to adjust? How did this part of your life affect your writing, if at all?

KM: In practical terms, there was no impact because I did all that shifting around when I was a small child. My mum's English and my dad's Australian. They both went to work in Vancouver, Canada, as youngsters.
Ended up in the same street, met and married and had me. When I was around 18 months they shifted to England, but that wasn't working out for Dad, so when I was two they decided to go to Australia, and if he couldn't make it work here they'd go back to Canada. But it did, so here I stayed! I did go and live in the UK myself for three years, after finishing my first degree. That was really wonderful for a lot of different reasons. A lot of stuff that I experienced working professionally with horses found its way into the first two Kingmaker, Kingmaker books -- most particularly, the class structure/barrier/prejudice stuff.

SD: Why did you choose to write fantasy? What about the genre is most appealing to you?

KM: I think fantasy chose me. I've always loved history, ancient and British up to the end of the Tudor Era in the UK especially. But writing in the real world involves restrictions, and in fantasy you're really the only one in the driving seat -- provided you bserve/respect the general tropes and expectations of the genre. So in writing fantasy I get to play with the best of both worlds – larger than life events and themes, a splash of magic, and a chance to explore humanity from a slightly skewed perspective.

SD: Were you influenced by anything in particular to write fantasy, whether in your childhood or in your adult years?

KM: The first fantasy I read was the Narnia series. I was in fourth class primary school (around 5th grade or ages 9-10). I fell in love with those books, and still read them as an adult every so often. After that came Andre Norton, the Tom Swift books, the fairy tales illustrated by Robin Jacques. I watched Lost in Space and Star Trek and all the Irwin Allen sf series. The Hobbit and LOTR. Heinlein. Silverberg. Harrison. Star Wars. I adore popular fiction, genre fiction. SF and fantasy, crime, some romance. I find them exciting and thought provoking and emotionally engaging, and positive, and that's what works for me as a reader and a writer.

SD: What are you currently reading, what do you plan to read, and what have you read in the recent past? Alternately, what are some of your favorite books and authors? And, since your bio mentioned you have an interest in composers like Hans Zimmer and John Williams, what is your favorite soundtrack(s) and do you listen to music while you write?

KM: Right now I'm reading the first Jaz Parks urban fantasy, Once Bitten Twice Shy, by Jennifer Hardin. I don't think I'm the right person to write urban fantasy, but I do enjoy reading it. I recently finished the new Robert B Parker and the new Sue Grafton. I don't read nearly as much as I used to, because after a day in front of the computer my brain needs a break from words. I watch a lot of tv drama on dvd. That feeds my need for story without having to process more words when my brain is in meltdown.
Some of my favourite authors are: Pratchett, Kage Baker, Rachel Caine, George RR Martin, Janet Evanovich, Robert Crais, Michael Connelly, Jacqueline Carey, Jennifer Cruisie, JD Robb, Kate Elliot, Sara Paretsky, Karen Traviss. That's not an exhaustive list, but they're just some of the people I buy regularly, in hardcover if that's what it takes to get the new book.
I always listen to soundtrack music when I write. Always. I don't have one absolute favourite, but I very much enjoy and regularly play: the Battlestar Galactica soundtracks by Bear McCreary, The DaVinci Code, Gladiator and Pirates soundtracks by Zimmer, Children of Dune by Brian Tyler, Master and Commander by Iva Davies, compilation discs of Williams, plus various soundtracks by James Horner, Thomas Newman,
Gabriel Yared, Rachel Portman. Basically, anything lyrical and beautiful and emotional, but not too much that's bombastic because it tends to pull me out of the writing.

SD: What makes you think you're not the right person to write urban fantasy?

KM: You have to connect on a really fundamental level with the material to do it justice, I think. And while I enjoy reading some urban fantasy I'm not passionately in love with the genre. I can admire the people who do it really well, like Rachel Caine, but that 'click' in the soul isn't there for me.

SD: What are some of your favorite television shows (shows that perhaps influence you, spark inspiration, and simply amaze you)?

KM: Okay ... in no particular order:
The West Wing, New Doctor Who, Shark, Criminal Minds, Waking the Dead, Wire in the Blood, Bones, new Battlestar Galactica, Stargate, Buffy, Angel, Due South, Rome, Deadwood, Farscape, Star Trek (all incarnations), The Shield, Spooks (MI-5), NYPD Blue, Murder One.

SD: Fantasy as a genre has exploded massively as far as production goes. Dozens, if not hundreds of book series are being published these days by new and old authors and ever since the Lord of the Rings films did so well it seems that film companies are buying up every bit of fantasy property they can. How do you feel about this boom in the field? Do you have any concerns about saturation (which has probably already hit the young adult market) or do you see nothing but good news ahead?

KM: I think it' s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it's great that the genre is so popular, that people are loving to read it and see it on the big screen and on tv. On the other hand, it is harder to get noticed when the field is so crowded, and there is always the chance
the reading public could get exhausted. But on balance I think it's a good thing. What I love about the spec fic genre is that it's such an elastic field -- there's room for so many different kinds of storytelling, so many interpretations and permutations of what started
out as a fairly narrowly defined style of story. And provided it stays that way, I think its future will be healthy.

SD: The Innocent Mage is book one of a duology. Given the popularity of enormous fantasy series in the market, what made you decide to write it as a two book duology rather than a trilogy, etc.?

KM: I didn't start out to write a duology. I was so uncertain about my ability to write a fantasy novel -- it took me a long time to really get some confidence and self-belief that I could tell a long and complicated story -- that I wrote it originally as a stand alone novel. But it quickly became apparent that I'd massively short-changed the story. After that first version was knocked back by Voyager with some suggestions for a rewrite, I decided to split it in half. I had just enough confidence in myself to do that! And the more I wrote, the more confident I became.

SD: Your approach to magic in this book is one that perhaps is less common, at least among the younger market of fantasy books in which magic is flashy, grand, and often with few limitations at all. In The Innocent Mage, however, it very much touches upon aspects of Tolkien in which magic exists and can be used to great effect (such as with the Wall or even mention of magic in ancient times), but it rarely is. When you set out to work with magic in your story, what did you want to initially do with it? Why did you choose this non-flashy, or at least lightly presented form?

KM: First of all, I think that if you're using magic as a permanent Get Out of Gaol Free card, you're really robbing your story of any true tension and conflict. If it doesn't have limits, if it doesn't come with a hefty price tag, then what's the point? Your characters are never in any true jeopardy, and if they're not in jeopardy my interest as a writer isn't engaged, and I don't think most readers' interest gets engaged either. For me it needs to be a lawed, limited tool, not a sonic screwdriver solution. It's how the characters work within the limits of their powers that makes life interesting, I believe.
In the KK books, the magic is an integral part of the world. It's literally life and death on one level. And it's a mixed blessing for those who have to wield it on that level, because it hurts and it shortens your life. I guess it's like electricity -- it can power a video game or it can keep someone alive on life support. Magic in the KK world can make toys dance, or it can keep a powerful evil at bay and make sure everyone's got enough to eat. It's also a strong social engineering tool. I wanted it to be the driving force of events.

SD: I'll be honest in saying that I absolutely despise Fane. You made me hate her so much it actually made me mad when she was on the page. I don't know if that was your intention, but on that subject, what influences drove you to make her a spoiled rotten, wicked Doranen?

KM: It's funny -- I seem to always have more sympathy for my 'bad' characters than a lot of readers do! *g* Fane's not the nicest person you'll ever meet, I agree. But while her life seems to be charmed on the surface, I think her pain is legitimate. She wasn't born for her
own sake, she was born to replace her defective brother. She was born to serve her father's agenda. From the minute she drew her first breath, her life wasn't her own. And she grew up knowing it never would be. That all her choices were made for her by other people before she was born. So if she's bitter, and a bit twisted, I can't really blame her. But I agree -- she shouldn't have been so mean to Gar.

SD: I'd like to ask you some things about the nature of opposition within your novel. First there is the opposition between Fane and Gar, the most obvious one. Were you conscious of the conditions of this opposition when you began writing The Innocent Mage? What made you want to provide this opposition, which has serious social and political repercussions within the story?
SD: Could you also talk about other oppositions within your story and how you use them to provide political and social tensions between your characters and the society they live in? (Such as the tension between Borne's family and Lord Jarralt's, the differences, socially, between Gar and Asher, and how Asher comes to be seen as an equal, even though he is technically still of a 'lower class' and in some eyes even seen as a 'heathen').

KM: I'm going to answer 10 & 11 together, okay?
In a nutshell: when it comes to drama, opposition creates conflict, which creates tension, which drives a story. So wherever possible I looked for chances to throw opposing agendas/aspirations/personalities/experiences into the mix. If everyone in a story wants the same thing, you don't have a story, really. Or at least, not one as interesting as when the characters are after different things, or all want the same things but have different
methods of achieving them. Exploring those issues is fun as writer and hopefully makes the reading experience fun too.
The difficulties between Gar and Fane have helped to make them the people they are. If they had reacted differently to their respective situations -- if, for example, Fane had not resented Gar, and looked down on him for his deficiencies, perhaps the disasters that take place could've been avoided. She might have figured out what was truly happening to him. But because she turned away from him, she sealed her own fate and the fate of the kingdom.
The social/political divide also drives the story. If magic wasn't used as a way of keeping the two races separate, forcing the levels of secrecy that exist, the bad things that happen might have been avoided.
I think the fact that Gar and Asher are such different personalities makes them a fun 'odd couple' pairing -- and yet what they have in common, difficult family experiences, gives them a bridge that helps them build their friendship. Gar is an outsider in his own community, so he's more easily able to recognise Asher's value on his own terms. He's not blinded the way his own people have been blinded by being able to use magic. So the oppositions he experiences in his life make him able to remove the oppositions between himself and Asher. Which of course is the key to everyone's survival.
As for the conflict between Jarralt and the king, well -- Jarralt looks at him and thinks he could do the job better. Isn't that the story of every political party? *g*

SD: The Olken and Doranen societies have some clear similarities and some clear divisions. When you set out to write about these two cultures, did you intend for them to have similarities as, perhaps, a result of cultural influence? Or were these two always supposed to be seen as two separate entities that simply came to live with one another? Could you talk a little about what you wanted to do with each society and anything that acted as an influence (historical elements you might have read about, etc.)?

KM: They started off as very different cultures, but inevitably over the years there's been some blending. They've been stuck together for a very long time! They're a bit like a Venn diagram really -- two circles with a little bit of overlap. I did do that on purpose, yes. They recognise they need each other, but they also privately (or not so privately) think that they're people are the superior ones. Asher looks down on the Doranen because they don't get their hands dirty. And many of the Doranen look down on the Olken because they lack elegance, they're somehow 'less' because they lack magic. It's all snobbery and
My experiences in the UK working professionally with horses really informed that aspect of the story. As a groom I was essential because I did important work, but I was also despised because I was a servant and 'lacked' things that my employers deemed essential for a person to be socially acceptable. It made for an interesting life.

SD: The ending of The Innocent Mage leaves the audience with a cliffhanger. Some really don't like these sorts of things, but having read the book I have to wonder whether you could have chosen a better place to end the book. Ending when Gar suddenly gains magic would have left the audience with some annoyance, I think, because it could potentially come off as 'deus ex machina'-ish. The logical place to end is where you ended it. Did you have problems with finding the best way to end The Innocent Mage? What about other parts of the book? Were there any points where you weren't sure what to do next?

KM: As I mentioned, in its original incarnation this was a stand alone novel. When I realised I needed to break it in two, that literal cliff-hanger moment seemed the most logical. Also, it was the back end of the original version that needed the most work in terms of expanding the story.

SD: What are some of your writing habits and what advice would you offer to any budding writers out there about their own writing and about the publishing world?

KM: Right now, my writing habits are chaotic and insane and I don't recommend them to any smart person. *g* I'm writing every day, all day, almost every waking moment. That's because life got a bit complicated last year and I ended up having two novels due to due
different editors at the same time. Note to self: NEVER AGAIN.
When life isn't so insane, I write 6 days a week, anywhere between 3 and 4 thousand words a day. Around the core writing time I do research, maintain the website, the livejournal, keep up with friends, read other people's books, think about upcoming projects.
For anyone who's still on the road to publication, I'd say:
1 – learn to read and watch film/tv analytically. Deconstruct the stories you're taking in, to find out what does and doesn't work for you, so you can use the positive elements to your advantage.
2 -- lose any defensive attitude you have about your work. The only way you improve as a writer is to open yourself up to criticism.
3 -- don't submit your work too soon. Nine times out of ten when you think it's ready, it isn't. It is NEVER ready when it's still in first draft mode.
4 -- if you're writing spec fic, join a group like the Online SFF Writers' Workshop. I
recommend this group because I got my start there, with a lot of great feedback and encouragement. Not only do you get your work critiqued by other writers who love the genre, you get to critique other works in progress. And that will teach you a lot about the craft of writing. It's vital.
5 -- not everyone who wants to write publishable fiction can do it, just like not everyone who wants to win American Idol can sing. But if you *do* have the basic elements of fiction writing in you, then write. And write. And write some more. Never give up.

SD: I recently spoke to Jennifer Rahn about what it was like working with a small press and I'd like to ask you the same question about working with a larger press like Orbit. What was or is the experience like? What do you think are some advantages of larger presses over smaller presses, if any? Would you publish with a smaller press or are you pretty happy with your relationship to Orbit? Also, could you talk a little about your experience with Voyager?

KM: I'm not able to make any comment about small press, because I've never worked with them. I know some folk who've had horrible experiences, and others who've had a great time. Whoever you're looking to work with, as a writer, you should do your homework on them before becoming partners.
I can say that my experiences with Voyager and Orbit have been fabulous. I consider myself blessed with both my publishers. I have a wonderful personal relationship with both of my editors, who are so incredibly supportive of me and my writing aspirations. Given that publishing can be a volatile business -- incredibly so, in some cases -- I have been spoiled rotten. Long may it continue!
I know I sound like a press release, but it's true. I adore them both.

SD: I noticed that Orbit titled your second book "The Awakened Mage", but Voyager has it titled "Innocence Lost". Why was the title of the book changed, or if you don't know could you possibly speculate?

KM: Orbit felt they wanted more punch in the title. Since they're the marketing experts, I'm happy to defer.

SD: Now for a random question: What one thing from a fantasy world, either your won or someone else's, would you like to become a reality?

KM: A holodeck.

Thanks again to Karen and I hope everyone enjoys this!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Spellweaver of Dern--It Has Begun

I would like to announce that I have officially started writing The Spellweaver of Dern, book two of the Satin Bag sequence (a working series title at this point). I'm 400 words into Chapter One (entitled Of Dire Passages) and it's looking to be an interesting beginning of the book.

For those of you who might need a refresher about what is going on, here it is:
James and his friends have escaped the mainland of Traea, slipping away from Luthien in a last ditch effort to make a run for the city of Ra. But the Strait of Loe is a dangerous place dominated by a violent, fast-flowing current. If the current doesn't topple the Luu'tre, then the maze of reefs and rocks along the coast of Traea will prove an even more dangerous task.
And what of this mysterious city of Ra in the Isles of Loe? Ancient legends speak of it as a lost city and a place where no man has ever returned. It's a place that even the dark ruler Luthien fears. What will such a feared city hold for James and his companions? Will they find sanctuary, or will unknown forces pull them into the dark?

The short non-synopsis style reads as such:
James has come to Traea and rescued his friend, only to find that his actions and his existence in the land of Traea has sparked a war that has been in the works for hundreds of years. Having run from Luthien and convinced the captain of the Luu'tre to risk his life and take he and his companions across the ocean to the city of Ra, he now finds himself being battered and tormented by the rough seas in the Loe Strait.

That's where this novel starts. I'm skipping ahead a few weeks intentionally. It works out better that way I think.

On some side notes: I have two interviews coming up and anyone interested in that Eaton Conference please contact me as I'd like to go!

And apparently nobody wanted a free $10 for creating something fun for the WISB world. So, I guess that was a waste of time. Oh well!

Until tomorrow!

Genre Links For Jan. 17th

Yup, more links for all of you. I read so many blogs and I poke around with stumbleupon and can't help myself. Enjoy:
There you have it! I'll have more for next week I'm sure. Now to more profound posting.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Eaton Conference on Mars: Anyone want to go?

I'm going to go out on a limb here. A friend from school told me about this conference at the University of California, Riverside. It's a three-day conference talking about Mars (in the scientific and literary context) and there are going to be a whole bunch of science fiction writers there including Greg Bear, Ben Bova, David Brin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Gregory Benford, Frederick Pohl, and others. Basically, HUGE names in the SF field are going to be there.
I'm wondering if anyone out there would like to go with me. The reason is that I'm a UC student and I'm not rich, meaning that I can't really afford hotel fees on my own. Since I'm a UC student I get quite a discount on registration, but again, that hotel stuff is going to bite me. So if anyone is interested in going to this with me please let me know either through email or in a comment or however. It would be nice to split costs and have some like-minded people to hang out with. We could share a room, carpool down, or whatever, and work it all out. Multiple people will really cut things down.

Let me know! This is proving to be a really awesome conference and I really would like to go!

(Don't click the read more, there isn't any more after this!)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Edelman's Moral Quandaries (Pt. 3)--B.P.F.&.D.W.

The acronym stands for: Balancing Personal Freedom and Division of Wealth.
Edelman wrote:
Westerners are inclined to see the political landscape as a spectrum between hard-core loony socialism (all the world’s wealth should be divided equally among its population, regardless of merit) and equally loony hard-core capitalism (everyone go grab your share of the pie, and if that results in radically uneven distribution of wealth, so be it). In Infoquake and MultiReal, I called these two poles governmentalism and libertarianism. Somewhere in the middle, theoretically, is a society where nobody’s starving and everyone can afford basic medical care, yet we still have ample freedom to make our own individual choices without governments taxing us to death. We’ve got to find that place, and figure out how to sustain it long-term.
And here is what I have to say: YES! I live in a country that is so extremist and radical it's scary. On the one side, as Edelman points out, there are the folks who want the government to pay for things that, quite frankly, it can't afford, in exchange for sacrificing ones rights and taxing the crap out of anyone who so much as tries to earn a decent wage in a country that is growing more and more expensive. On the other side are the folks who want complete control of the government in exchange for the huge gaps we are already experiencing between the rich and the poor. This second area is one in which personal freedom means nothing even if people want it. Why? Because corporate entities have the power.
    Right now we don't have a balance between the two. We have corporations trying to control things, and to some extent they do, and then we have the people who seem to want things that they really can't have at this point. I'll use healthcare as an example.
    We all want it. We all want to be able to afford it, but the problem is that the government can't afford to adopt a socialized medical program. It can't. You can try to run your little figures all you want, but right now, we can't afford such a program. It will bankrupt us, and at this point we need to think of better solutions. With the Iraq War still going and Afghanistan not exactly complete, though forgotten, we have to make sure our troops have the money they need to do what they have to do. No, we cannot pull out of Iraq. I'm not a crazy Republican, but I'm smart enough to realize that pulling out at this point would permanently damage what little reputation we have. Iraq is weak because of us. Can any of you live with the idea of simply walking out of a situation we created without making sure that Iraq can defend itself from extremists? If you can, then I propose that every time some innocent Iraqi dies a letter be sent to you with that person's picture and any relevant information about his or her life so that you'll always know that someone died due to a cowardly act of simply walking away. We can't walk. That's just one problem we face right now, and one that isn't going to go away for a few years at least.
    The next financial issue is social security. Baby-boomers are going to bankrupt that program so that all of us younger generations won't have anything when we retire. Granted, you shouldn't rely on SS for retirement, but some people need it to supplement other retirement funds. We have to fix this problem now before it can't be fixed. That means finding new solutions that don't involve raising taxes that can fund newer generations. An option might be a 401K type plan in which funds produced by your SS taxes are placed into considerably safe and secure stocks, i.e. low-risk companies that might lose you some money, but are very unlikely to ever just flat-out disappear. Why would this be a good idea? Well, for one, by having vast amounts of new money invested into our businesses we can expect to see our economy benefit from it, which will actually help secure your new SS funds for a much longer period of time. You'll also be earning money just as you would in a 401K employer plan, which is good. You're willing to take a risk there, why not with SS? If it means that more people might have even better lives in the future, so be it. That's just one idea and there might be far better ones out there.
    The point is that we can't afford universal healthcare right now, and honestly, we shouldn't have a fully socialized health program. What do we need? The middle ground. We need a healthcare system that ANYONE can afford so that EVERYONE can get basic medical care and emergency care and not have to worry about if they can pay the bill. This means finding ways to reduce the costs of insurance programs, reducing prescription drug costs, etc. The whole lot of it has to be reduced. We need a system that still has you pay, but not pay until you can't afford to eat anymore. How do we do this? I don't know. I wish I did know, but I don't, and I don't have any viable solutions. I don't know enough about the medical field to hazard a logical guess. I've dealt with considerable bills, however, and I understand what one has to deal with when you only have one health insurance card and it can't cover the whole cost.
    That's a little off the mark, but back to the topic at hand. Edelman is proposing that we find a middle ground where corporations can still bring in profits, as they should, and everyone still has a roof and food and is able to find work or get an education. One thing we should be doing is monitoring corporations, especially energy/fuel companies that claim shortages, but still bring in record profits. Corporations need to have more requirements placed on them to feed their financial earnings into the market to bring costs down. Of course, you should make a lot of money, but it doesn't make a lot of sense when you bring in massive profits during a supposed "shortage" and then keep that money and not put that into the industrial infrastructure (if I'm using that word correctly). For oil companies, it's creating new facilities to refine oil and getting their hands into alternate fuel sources NOW rather than later. They seem to believe that in 50 years we'll still be working on oil, or perhaps even 10 years from now they think this. The reality is that eventually the U.S. is going to wean itself off of oil, so why aren't oil companies trying to get their greedy hands on it? I don't know. Perhaps some of them are and are being quiet about it.
    We also need to drop programs and laws that remove personal freedoms from people. These laws were initiated by a scared public, and it seems somewhat unethical to use fear as a mechanism for removing personal freedoms. Such things should be dropped. We also need to foster confidence in the government, which won't happen any time soon, but must be done. People should be more concerned about whether their children have food on the table or can go to college, not whether their government is spying on them or doing something nasty and illegal behind the curtain of law.
    It was once a Republican ideal to have less government. What has happened in the wake of 9/11, however, is a surge of new-Republican (or not-real-Republican) ideals that have actually removed many of the freedoms we once cherished. The Patriot Act can actually be used against any American under the guise of 'national security', so long as someone believes you to be involved in terrorism. Our government has been caught wiretapping phones without warrants, etc. These are not Republican ideals. Our founding fathers were real Republicans (minus the slavery bit) in that they believed government to be as non-obtrusive as possible. We need such a government again, to some extent. A government that will take care of its people when it has to and one that ensures that future generations will still have a great place to live. That's what we need. Government should only be called into action when the people are incapable of solving an issue. Racism, for example, couldn't have been stopped without government intervention. Slavery as well. Without banning slavery we'd still have slaves today.
    We also need a government that encourages innovation and encourages people to become better earners, because such people drive the economy. But we don't have that right now. We tax the living hell out of anyone that makes over $100,000 a year all to provide social programs, many of which we don't actually need. Why are we so drastically punishing the wealthy? I understand the impulse, and I certainly get irritated at filthy rich people that seem to treat society like peasants, but by taxing too much we become too socialist and inevitably we become a society without innovation. Innovation, mind you, was what gave us the lightbulb, the car, the airplane, the computer, the Internet, and Nintendo (no, Sony doesn't count, even though both are Japanese). What happens when we stifle innovation? Other countries take up the job and beat us to the punch. More advancements in technology are being done in countries where such breakthroughs are encouraged. We need to take a step back and think about what we're doing. How is innovation good for us?
    Innovation creates new jobs, for one. If some new product comes out that revolutionizes something, a new market will open and jobs will follow. The economy benefits from all of this in that new products can be sold across the world, and here. Innovation is, essentially, so vastly important to our economy the idea that we stifle it, even a little, is frightening. The last major advancement in technology, I would argue, was the Internet. That was, some 10 or more years ago (commercially viable Internet, I mean).
    This is why we need that middle-ground society where we have the ability to advance while still providing the aid necessary to make sure people can survive. We need that middle ground to find solutions for healthcare, social security, and the economy. Our economy isn't doing well, contrary to what we hear on the news. It's not dying, but the dollar has lost significant value in the world, which is a concern. Don't worry, I'm not saying we're going to being a third world country. We're far from that. The point is that a middle-ground government that draws influences from both conservative and liberal policies is the way to long as it's good for the country as a whole.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Interview w/ Me!

Yeah, another one! This one is really cool though. It's sort of a bizarre interview conducted by Jennifer Rahn. It's strange, it's neat, and it's just plain awesome. Check it out!

(Don't click the read more, there isn't any more after this!)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Edelman's Moral Quandaries (Pt. 2)--Divorcing Morality From Religion

Ah, the infamous 'religion' thing. Edelman has a clearly atheist viewpoint on the subject of religion. That's not necessarily a bad thing, and this isn't in any way an attack on Edelman, but simply a point of explanation. His viewpoint is shared by quite a lot of people, including me to some extent. Religion is a wonderful, beautiful thing, for some, or it is a bigoted, ignorant cloud to others. Who holds the correct viewpoint is irrelevant.
Having said that, Edelman presents this point on the subject of divorcing morality from religion:
I don’t think anything good comes from the belief that we should refrain from murder, theft, and rape because someone wrote it down in a book five thousand years ago. Those of us who don’t believe in an all-powerful Being In The Clouds are just as capable of defining principles of morality and sticking to them — in fact, I’d argue that we’re more capable. If you want to continue to believe in God, great; but we can agree on moral principles regardless without the intervention of priests, pastors, rabbis, popes, ayatollahs, imams, or prophets. What I’m saying is that the species needs to be able to think moralistically in a way that’s inclusive of both religious and non-religious people.
    This is a very difficult idea to discuss. One of the reasons why it's difficult is because our society is built upon religious principles founded by Christianity. The solution to this is to think about religious ideals as non-religious. In the U.S., most of us hold on to the same basic ideals. Murder, rape, molestation, extortion, theft, and similar are bad. Adultery is not an acceptable behavior, even though many people, religious or not, do it. But, for non-believers there is no need to believe in God or to follow codes of conduct presented in the Bible such as going to Church on Sunday and the like.
    I can't say I necessarily agree with Edelman that non-religious folks are significantly more capable of adhering to moral laws than religious folks. Perhaps the reason this is said is that we often see and hear about religious people breaking their own 'laws', but are not exposed to the same treatment of non-religious folks. There aren't any news reports stating that "the agnostic anti-believer was caught with a young boy last Tuesday". The problem with religious people is that they often try to set rules that are unrealistic. The notion of sex-after-marriage is, socially speaking, an unrealistic desire. I certainly think this is a better option than the ones we are dealing with (i.e.: taped events, random sex, promiscuous sex, and the like). Regardless, it is unrealistic. Teenagers and adults are not going to follow this rule, or at least a lot of them won't. If that were the case we wouldn't ever have had to think about the issue of abortion, as there would be no pregnant teenagers. Well, that's probably not entirely true. The number would just be drastically lower.
    The most important point that Edelman makes is that discussion of morality should be all-inclusive. When it comes to moral quandaries in politics, we should have input from both the religious and non-religious side, and both sides should work together to find good solutions. That goes for any type of political discussion among all types of politicians. There is no reason why only religious people should be allowed to define moral issues and one of particular interest is on the issue of science.
    Science, which I'm using since it is directly related to genre fiction, is something that must be understood before you can make policy on it. There have been many issues involving scientific discovery that have plagued those who considered themselves the makers of moral policy. At one point we had issues dealing with slavery, something which we consider now to be immoral. This became an issue of race and ethnicity and, in the U.S., the treatment of such races and ethnicities by Whites. We often consider this the White/Black issue, but it extended beyond that to Asians and Hispanics. What science has to do with these issues is that it was originally used to define race as a hierarchy, with Whites at the top and Blacks at the bottom. Science was, for a while, used as a basis for determining that Blacks are sub-human, or not-quite-human. With the advancement of technology, however, this was proven to be a load of crap. We found that aside from skin color, Blacks are not that different from Whites, and neither or Asians or Hispanics. In fact, we're all basically the same, with the exception of minor genetic differences that vary from person to person. Science found out that there really aren't any physiological differences that are consistent, even in skin color. But for a time the law held firm that Blacks weren't the same and should be treated differently, despite the grand letter of science flooded much of the White world and began to gain acceptance. We all know the result and while racism still exists, it is not in a form that is outwardly condoned by the government. Jim Crowe is gone.
    Now, we are plagued by issues of stem cell research, the ethics of cloning, and even concerns over nano-technology and bio-manipulation. I'll avoid the stem cell issue as that is a particular hot one, and move to the others. Many considered cloning to be mankind's attempts to 'play God', and so it was determined that cloning technology should be stifled. We can clone some little cells and the like, but we're not allowed to go around creating Dolly over and over, or any other such thing. The fact is that cloning is actually a part of our society, just not in a form you might consider to be 'cloning'.
    However, many of the moral quandaries surrounding technology like cloning, and even bio-manipulation, are influenced by religious ideologies, and rarely, if ever, concerned with the reality of the situation. Cloning should be a controlled technology, as we don't need to develop super soldiers and the like. However, it should never have been banned by any notion of 'playing God', but banned because it was considered entirely unethical or wrong from a humanistic standpoint. Many scientists believed that with controlled cloning and research they could create organs that are not part of a living organism like us (humans), and that it wasn't an issue of morality. Others did not. Still, the issue should have been approached entirely from the point of view of people discussing people issues. Cloning is not a religious issue and while both religious and non-religious people can talk about it, it should remain a non-religious or at least ambiguous issue.
    The end result on the subject of science, which goes directly with Edleman, is that we should look at it from two viewpoints and find a middle ground in which both viewpoints are allowed, but at the same time are not entirely inclusive. One should be able to talk about science without saying "cause God said so". That little phrase has been the cause of so much turmoil in the world and it shouldn't exist in policy, since it's introduction has ruined the lives of a lot of people in the past. We should be cautious how we incorporation religion into moral decisions. Should we divorce religion entirely from morality? I don't think so. There is a necessity for religion to exist, which I won't discuss here. But we should certainly do as Edelman eventually suggests and try to find that middle ground where discussions can be made from a more level-headed approach.