My genre is growing up


Someone I know is writing an article about aspects of science fiction, and has been looking at the evolution of the genre in addition to parallel readings of various kinds.

So a lot of our conversations have been about science fiction and how it’s changed. Meanwhile, I’ve been reading science fiction as usual, for my own enjoyment.

It was while I was reading Lois McMaster Bujold’s long-anticipated Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen that I began to think about how SF has changed in my non-academic, and non-researched perspective.

So these are impressions, and as always, I welcome suggestions of things I might have missed, both book-wise and branch-wise.

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Write Hacks #15:


Colored 3 X 5s

Before computers did more than behave as glorified typewriters, and could perform only one task at a time, I needed a second organizational tool. I was still learning the shape of a scene, pacing, plot structure, etc. So, a critique partner came up with color-coded 3 X 5s. Mostly we worried about point of view, so each character got a different color, pink for girls, blue for boys, orange for villains, and the green and yellow for secondary characters (I’ve written books that had to expand into the neon colors as well). If we got a clump of one color it was easy to see ways to rearrange the scenes or eliminate some. Do it on the cards then make the sections match.

On each card we gave a line each to Goal, Conflict, Disaster. Then the lead in to the scene, the next step, the purpose of the scene. If the only purpose was to show the heroine is kind to dogs, then the scene needed plumping up or eliminating.

Page number and chapter number go on the very top in pencil because they change. Punch a hole in the top left corner and slide onto a notebook ring. Easier to take just the ring of cards to a brainstorm session than the entire 50lb desk top computer. Continue reading

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From the Case Files of Grace Noir, Private Paw: The Missing Contact Lens

cat eyeIt’s cold as a dog, and the wind northeast. The windows of the office are rattling. Just another winter’s day in Ditsville. Even the mice are sleeping in.

Which is what I’m doing when the Dame yells, “I lost my eye!”

I crack an eyelid to squint past the catnip bong lying in front of my nose. The Dame is standing in the doorway. Beyond her the waterfall is dripping and the porcelain fishbowl is gurgling. She’s got both eyes. Also one new smear of oatmeal on the robe I slept on last night; two new gray hairs stuck to the frame of her glasses–one mine, one hers; a strong smell of peppermint and a slight white dab at the corner of her mouth and another small fleck of this on the leather slippers in which I like to hide mouse cadavers; and no evidence at all of a bowl of crunchies to pay me to get out of this chair. I yawn, stretch, and curl up again.

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Visiting Winter

Snow in YosemiteSince I’ve moved to Oakland, I’ve frequently observed that we don’t have winter here. During those months labeled “winter” on the calendar we get rain (at least now that the drought is broken) and the occasional blustery day, but so far I’ve gone so far as to put my wool hat and gloves on once this year.

If you’re the sort who pines for winter, there is a solution: drive out to Yosemite National Park or other parts of the Sierras. At 6,000 feet, there’s quite a lot of snow. (There are higher points in both the park and on other roads over the mountains, but most of them are closed for the winter.)

Here’s the best part about visiting winter: we went on sunny days when the temperature hit the low 70s. There was still plenty of snow, but you didn’t need to bundle up to look at it. Continue reading

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Getting Used to My Husband

Steven Harper PiziksWhen Darwin and I go somewhere and talk to actual people, we run into awkwardness.  Part of it is my fault.  I’m not used to my husband yet.

My entire life I was explicitly and implicity taught by everyone I know that the only spouse a man can have is a wife.  A man doesn’t ever use the phrase my husband. Even the LGBT community refused to use it, stupidly settling on the word “partner” as an idiotic way to maintain separateness from the straight community.  So I don’t have any precedence for saying my husband aloud myself. Continue reading

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piles of booksMy daughter, Kristine, reads constantly. She is, in fact, sitting in the living room reading Lord of the Rings with a stack of history books and Jane Austen-related material next to her chair. She gets her exercise by walking to the library and lugging home books. This makes her My Hero.

Recently, she introduced me to another writer who has also become My Hero. She did it by bringing home from the library a book about a very particular publishing phenomenon—series children’s books. There were a number of writers who gave their talents to this effort, but the paragon that stood out in my reading of the book was Mildred A. Wirt, the original Carolyn Keene. (The title, for anyone who’s interested is Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak.) Continue reading

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Great Reads for a Rainy Winter Day

The redwoods have been getting their fair share of the rain, and I’ve been holed up with a pile of wonderful books. Some of these came from my gigantic “To Be Read” bookshelf and others fall under the category of newly-purchased series addiction indulgences.

A Plague of Angels by Sherri S. Tepper was a thrift store discovery.  Someone must have donated their collection of tattered, dog-eared 1990s science fiction to swell the fare that I’ve already picked through. For me, Tepper is a sure bet and I was pretty sure I didn’t have this one. That’s one of the problems of thrift store offerings, especially since my husband’s dowry included 70 cartons of books, much of it science fiction. Despite the cover images (couple on white horse, undoubtedly fleeing something; dragons in the sky and ruined castles on the hilltops), this is not fantasy. It begins like fantasy, with an Orphan growing up in an archetypal village where everyone has a designated role: Oracle, Thief, Hero, etc. Tepper’s world is much bigger than the village, and by the time our characters arrived at the Place of Power, I’d recognized genetic engineering, an analog of AIDS, the remnants of scientific institutions (the families Mitty and Berkli), ecologists on a multi-generational mission to restore habitats, and cyborgs gone seriously postal. Great stuff, wildly inventive.

Chapelwood by Cherie Priest continues (and supposedly concludes) the adventures of Lizzie Borden, she of the axe and the forty whacks that saved the world because Chthulu, and if you haven’t read Maplecroft, I won’t give away any more. As enchanted as I was by Lizzie, I found Chapelwood a bit of a letdown. Mind you, Maplecroft was a tough act to follow, with its exuberantly creepy mix of Lovecraft and American history. Still, despite the lesser originality of the concept, Priest’s deft storytelling kept me turning the pages. I definitely would not begin with this one, however. Start with Maplecroft and if you adore it, treat yourself to Round 2.

More of Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse. Dead Reckoning, to be precise. That’s the one that begins with the firebombing on Merlotte’s. I think this is #11 of 13 and I’ll be sorry to see the end of Sookie’s world. I love how she cleans house when she needs to think. But once I have read them all, I will always have the option of binge-reading the whole shebang. Continue reading

Posted in Books and Reading, fantasy, Reviews, science fiction, Series | 1 Comment

BVC Announces “The Unpleasantness at Baskerville Hall” by Chris Dolley

The Unpleasantness at Baskerville HallThe Unpleasantness at Baskerville Hall
Reeves & Worcester Steampunk Mysteries 4
by Chris Dolley

An escaped cannibal, a family curse … and Reginald Worcester turning up on the doorstep. Could things get any worse for the Baskerville-Smythe family?

As the bodies pile up, only a detective with a rare brain – and Reggie’s is so rare it’s positively endangered – can even hope to solve the case.

But… there is the small matter that most of the guests aren’t who they say they are, the main suspect has cloven feet, and a strange mist hangs over great Grimdark Mire.

Luckily the young master has Reeves, his automaton valet, and Emmeline, his suffragette fiancee, on hand to assist.


“Jeeves and Wooster meet (or run face-first into) Holmes and Watson with a touch of steampunk in the hilarious first full-length Reeves and Worcester tale … This laugh-out-loud parody works on several levels … With razor-sharp wit and fast pacing that plays fair with the reader, this is an excellent genre mash-up that fires on all cylinders.” – Publishers Weekly

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Posted in Book View Cafe publications, eBooks, fantasy, Humor, mystery, New Releases, science fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

H is for Health

H is for health.

Writers are prone to a variety of health challenges, both physical and mental. It’s important to develop strategies to combat these problems—ideally, before they reach career-stopping levels.



As an initial matter, writers must create a working environment that avoids physical pain. Ergonomics—the study of efficiency in the workplace—addresses many of these issues.  Volumes have been written about specially designed chairs, about the proper height of desks, about the ideal distance of a computer monitor from a user’s eyes and the best angle for that monitor. By definition, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Each author will need to experiment with equipment to find a system that avoids (or, at least, limits) strain in the eyes, neck, wrists, and other body parts.

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Dice Tales: What happens in a game?

Roman twenty-sided die(This is the fifth installment of Dice Tales, an ongoing series of posts about RPGs as storytelling.)


So you’re playing an RPG.

What exactly are you doing?

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