Sometimes I get an urge to run a finger down my bookshelves and remember books – why I got them, why I loved them, why I still own some but not others, what it is that makes a book get tenure in my library.
I still have a bunch of the early Asimov stuff – the robotics stories, the detective-in-the-stars tales – and this is what I cut my SF teeth on… it was my password – “Hello stars, Asimov sent me”.
I still love some of the robotics stories, but it’s a sentimental affection. I, and the world, have moved on from the early simple sweet Asimovian storytelling. Comparing Asimov with, say, Stross, is like going from a Newtonian to an Einsteinian universe.
I can pinpoint exactly when McCaffrey began to go south on me. It was the Crystal Singer books. Good grief, but that woman was unpleasant. Tough, sure, able to fend for herself, talented, but MAN was she unpleasant. Why would I care about what happened to an unpleasant woman? I read the Crystal Singer books. I no longer own them.
I still have the Dragonflight/Dragonquest/White Dragon trilogy. EVERYTHING that has been said about them in so many other places is absolutely true. McCaffrey tapped into a powerful fantasy with her dragon-human bond – who wouldn’t want to have such a creature for a pet, a friend, a companion? But those books fail me TODAY in that they are too linear, too simplistic, too damned obvious. My tastes have gravitated towards the complex and the layered, the rich and the lush.
I first read Orson Scott Card’s Songmaster novel as a partial published in a magazine. I fell in love with the story, with the power of the tale, with the voice in which it was told, with the compassion and the tragedy that followed the development of the relationships of young Ansset and those who surrounded him, loved him, molded him, ruined him, redeemed him.
I picked up Ender’s Game – and really loved it. But then that franchise ran out of steam fast, and by the third book in that series I was gone.
The original Dune took my breath away then, and still does today. Here was my thirst for complexity slaked, and then some. It was incredible, and powerful, and it found a deep place within me. But the sequels – ah, the sequels – I managed to read the first three. I haven’t touched any since then.
Roger Zelazny’s Amber. I LOVE the original five. I am less devoted to the second set, but I still have them. Those books have full tenure. And not just because one of them happens to be signed.
Mary Stewart’s Merlin books? Keepers, all. One of the best and most powerful tellings of a story told many, many times. Spider Robinson’s stuff – ye gods, do I have to explain? The man’s a Pun King, and for someone similarly afflicted his books are a constant joyride of rolling-eye groaning delight. Keepers, again – and once more not because one of them is signed thusly: ‘To Alma, who obviously has The Callahan Touch herself.’
What else have I got there? Gene Wolfe? Larry Niven? Michael Moorcock?
Guy Gavriel Kay? Oh, him I’ve got – ALL of his books I’ve got. I could rank them for you, sure, from the astonishingly sublime (Tigana) to the merely magnificent (Song for Arbonne, Lions of Al-Rassan). I’ve got ’em all. He’s a keeper. Always will be.
Glenda Larke – friend and colleague – who understands story, worldbuilds with passion, and Writes Good Character. Keepers. Newer favorites, like Catherynne Valente, Elizabeth Bear.
Some books get bought, get read, get evicted. Others… stay.
They’ve got their hooks into my heart and my memory, somehow, and they are more than just the contents of a bookshelf. They are a set of signposts for the literary road I’ve traveled so far. They are not possessions. They are that part of me that is – that part that CAN be – written in other people’s words. They represent the bits of my mind and heart and spirit which THAT writer, THAT story, made possible.
So. What’s on your bookshelves, then…?
The complete version of this can be found at the Book View Cafe HERE
In a lithub interview, Joyce Carol Oates talks about:
Great Editors, Bad Reviews, and the Internet
Joyce-Carol-Oates- Photo Dustin Cohen
“The internet can provide a kind of visual beauty, but it does not seem somehow permanent, or “objective”—it can so readily be replaced by the next image. A book on a table, in the hand, on a shelf seems to exude a degree of integrity and “there-ness” totally missing in the digital world. However, I do much of my reading online and even on an iPhone. There is nothing wrong with this, and such reading is far better than no reading at all.”
Yes there are dozens of things you can throw at writers. They’ll always find a use for notebooks, they’ll love a fancy pen (even if many don’t write with one that often any more), and since writers are all readers, a gift card to a local bookstore would go down like a treat.
But there are… other things. Far more valuable, even though they are intangible and not something solid you can wrap and put underneath a tree. But greatly, greatly appreciated, every time. Ask any writer.
Five gifts for the writer you love this Christmas
It’s been said that the worst enemy of a writer isn’t plagiarism, it’s oblivion. Do you love a book? Take a picture of it, post it on your social media. Have it in your hand on the subway. Ask for it in a bookstore. Keep the writer’s name in circulation. The more you do, the more people might hear, recognize, go, “Oh, that one. I might try that one…” Give the gift of RECOGNITION.
2. Reviews and recommendations
Follows on from above. Give a book you loved a review – on Amazon, on Goodreads, on Library Thing, on your own blog, or all of the above.
Talk about it to your friends. Tell the world. This is the fabled Word Of Mouth, and it is a treasure beyond price. Every writer is grateful for it because it is pure reader grace, and the genuine article is powerful, and impossible to ‘fake’. Sincere reader appreciation, spread out there for others to see and act upon, is something that is very special to every writer.
Trust me, hearing “I heard about you from a friend, (s)he raves about your work..” is a gift that will warm the cockles of any writer’s heart at ANY time of the year. But right
now, it’s Christmas. This is a gift you can give freely, and give often – and you will make a writer’s day, their week, their YEAR. Talk about books with your friends. Tell them about thei things you’ve read that you liked, ask about their favorites. Talk about a book that helped you in a difficult moment with someone who might be sharing that experience and might find the book special too.
Share. Share share share. Tell the world that you love reading, and what you’ve
recently read that lit up your world.
3. Something tangible – Kickstarters and Patreon.
If you still want something tangible, something that you can actually QUANTIFY, you can go and help a writer friend with something concrete, these days it’s easier than ever.
Support their Kickstarter campaign which is trying to raise money for a new work, a better cover, or a collaborative effort. Find out if your author has a Patreon page, and commit to $2-$5 a month – even if just for a year – to help them with a particular project, or a series they’re trying to get off the ground, or their research, or even just to help feed their feline
companions while the creator is creating. Trust me. It all helps.
4. Direct appreciation
Read a book and loved it? Send the author a note and tell her so.
Writing is a solitary occupation and it is sometimes a very lonely existence. Once our babies leave us and are out there in the wild we know nothing more about their travails. A note from a reader who found one of our books and loved it is a lift to our spirits. And it really helps to keep us writing.
If you’re an artist and feel inspired… well, when I’ve seen fan art of my work, it’s been a revelation and a joy. It’s AWESOME to see the images one’s words have created in someone else’s mind.
Most writers are easy to contact these days via their website or blog. If not, a more traditional note (and man, these days getting a Real Letter in the mail is a treat and a half!) sent through their agent or publisher will reach them. Some of them might even write back to you.
Most intangible and ephemeral of all but believe me – it matters. Be out there, be awesome, be readers. Let the writers see that there are people out there who are eager and waiting for new stories. Speak out about how much you love reading. Talk about how a particular book has inspired you, or helped you understand or cope or transcend a difficult time. Inspire everyone who writes to be more, to be better, to rise to meeting the needs and expectations you put out there. Tell us what you’ve found, tell us what you’re seeking, tell us about the things YOU think are important. Tell us about the things you want to see stories being told about. And then watch those stories get born.
~~~~~ He only wanted to help; instead, he started a war.
‘Shifter’, the stunning conclusion to The Were Chronicles, is here.
Saladin van Schalkwyk, better known as Chalky, was a chimera, both in name and deep into his DNA. He was created but he did not know for what purpose, and the secrets that surrounded his past were too well guarded for him to break through.
So when his friend Mal offered to take the chance of becoming a Lycan in order to infiltrate their ranks and find out the truth for him, he agreed to help. They both learned far more than they had bargained for. And one thing was clear.
Everything he thought he knew about himself was wrong.
My first foray into science fiction, AbductiCon, didn’t make it to Buzzfeed’s list but I’m rather pleased with the initial reaction to it.
After all, Hugo winner Robert Sawyer called it “a hilarious and affectionate look at science-fiction conventions, a wondrous mashup of Galaxy Quest and Bimbos of the Death Sun, a fast-paced and laugh-out-loud funny treat for SF fans everywhere.”
And Lenora Rain-Lee Good said “”This is truly one of the funniest SF books I’ve read in years.”
Besides, it was a great deal of fun to write.
As far as Buzzfeed’s list goes, there is one book in particular, from Catherynne Valente, that I’ve been wanting to get to. Maybe I’ll hint it would be a good Christmas gift.
Radiance is dreamy and strange in the best possible way. The whole universe of the book feels like sci-fi “B movies” of the early to mid 20th century, filled with imagery that will remind the reader of early Méliès films. This book is a departure from the other epic space opera fare you’ll find on the rest of this list, but it’s a refreshing change of pace.
This years Worldcon report might as well have been entitled Never yell fire in a crowded theater. Well, almost. I need to break it down into subheads for you to understand.
1) Never Yell
when you can whimper .
Ive been having a bit of trouble with my lower extremities recently. My doctor offered a diagnosis of osteoarthritis and sent me to physio. The therapist thought there was some soft-tissue problems as well as the potential arthritis. After four sessions, one in the pool that nearly destroyed me, I left the last session feeling quite pleased with myself. I didnt feel like running a marathon, but at the very least I didnt waddle like my hip joints were close to dislocated.
And then I got into the car Thursday morning, at an hour at which I am not usually required to be compos mentis, let alone possessed of enough concentration and focus to drive a car over a mountain pass and for more than six hours.
The I-5 corridor was uneventful, but then we turned into the mountains and Stevens Pass was unusually murky. It might have been only mist and cloud, but I was primed for smoke. It didnt smell like it, though, so I let it slide and by the time we pulled into Leavenworth it was bright sunshine and clear skies anyway. We took a break, ate some nice German pastries, caffeinated, and hit the second half of the road. My body was starting to rebel. I had a knot at the back of my neck which felt hot like something was literally on fire back there and I could sense things that shouldnt have been moving actually sliding over one another when I tried to shrug it into a more relaxed state. But it was the hips which were the real problem because Id already been limping in Leavenworth and by the time we climbed out of the car in Spokane I was a full-on train wreck.
I managed the rest of Thursday with just a limp and a wince, dealing with all the responsibilities that had to be dealt with immediately including my first panel. I ran into half a dozen people I knew ranging from luminaries like Vonda McIntyre (the GoH) and Larry Niven to various friends I hadnt seen in too long. I was also supposed to connect with a FB contact, Elizabeth Leggett, but missed her. By this stage I was hungry and footsore. There was supposed to be a party that night which Id wanted to go to, but by the end of the day, I was moving vewwy vewwy carefully indeed. We wimped out completely and had room service for dinner.
On Friday I was hobbling along like someone had kneecapped me. Of course, my Friday programming involved items that were consistently alternating between the two furthest ends of the convention center. The air outside looked apocalyptic the sun was just an orange blob in the fug that covered the sky but see the next section, for all that.
This was my Friday:
10 AM :KaffeeKlatsch (one end of the Conference Centre): That went wonderfully well, with a mix of people Ive known for years and new faces whom I only met for the first time on the day. I told some funny stories. They all had the grace to laugh. It was fun.
Back to the other end of the CC to deal with things.
12:30 PM: Back to the OTHER end of the CC for my pre-arranged `interview.
2 PM Back to the OTHER end of the CC for my autographing slot. In something of a tradition, I shared a table with Stanley Schmidt on one side of me I think if I ever do another Worldcon signing again I am going to insist that it be done this way, we appear to have become something of a Worldcon tradition this way, Mr Schmidt and myself. On the other side of me was a nattily attired L.E Modesitt, in one of his trademark brilliant waistcoats. I got to say hello briefly to Elizabeth Bear, at the next table, and completely failed to even find a moment to connect with Catherynne Valente, further down because I had actual people who brought actual books to be actually signed and I didnt just sit there staring into space.
4 PM: back to the OTHER end of the CC for the Writers Workshop, where I was one of the resident pros doing the critiques. Then it was BACK TO THE OTHER END OF THE CC to pick up the husband I had left waiting for me there and we barely managed to scrape by the rest of that evening. In fact, by the third trip across the CC I had actually left him sitting comfortably while I borrowed his cane to help me maneuver across the halls. I ran into any number of people who looked appropriately concerned to see me attached to one of those. By this stage I was in near agony and of course the one thing I had forgotten to pack was aspirin. I could not get comfortable in bed and sleep was iffy.
Saturday dawned magnificently different, clear and sunny and we were off and running again:
11 AM: Interview and photo shoot, just off the Dealers Room area (again, the opposite end of the CC)
12-1 PM: Manning the SFWA table in the Dealers Room, and at the same time having an extra little hour of signing there. I actually did a brisk trade in my paperback copies of Abducticon while here. People picked the book up, begin reading the blurb on the back, started smiling, and then cackled when they hit and the coffee in the Green Room was DREADFUL. Everyone whos been to a con more than once recognizes this book and gets a look of warm affection when gazing upon it. Which is EXACTLY what I was aiming for. Very happy to see that it is hitting the right demographic.
Quick visit to the Terry Pratchett exhibition (and a photograph with The Luggage!) and then it was on to
3:30 PM My Reading.
People came, bless em all, and I had a proper audience which, given that this was a Worldcon and there were a dozen worthy alternatives of things to do and places to be, is always a win. More copies of Abducticon found homes at that reading and I am immensely pleased at the reception this book has been getting in con circles.
4 PM: interview with a grad student from the UK who asked me to be a part of her study on the role of things like fanfiction and derivative versions of peoples work and the pros reactions to this.
I was supposed to be attending the traditional Tea with the Duchess at 7 PM but somehow they couldnt quite make the proper arrangements for the Tea and although the Duchess was present and accounted for it didnt quite come together. So we went to the hotel restaurant to grab something to eat, and ended up being found, and then wrapped in a cocoon of loving care, by Gerald Nordley and his lady. They found me some aspirin, they delivered a loaner cane to get around for however long I needed it while still in Spokane, and they generally acted like a couple of guardian angels.
Sunday morning, I moderated a panel called When we were young, about books that had been formative influences on the panelists in our larval years. We had Steven Barnes, Scott Lynch, Marissa Meyer, Kevin J Anderson, and myself and all I had to do, as moderator, was ride herd on a number of articulate, passionate, knowledgeable people who had ideas and opinions and who had the presence and the confidence and the vocabulary to present them. I had to call a halt long before we were really done there hadnt even been time for a proper question session from the audience.
And then it was homeward bound.
Of course, these were the bare bones of the con. No mention of meeting old friends, meeting new people, making wonderful serendipitous connections. All of that went on too. It was a WORLDCON and it was magic and the Sasquan people did a magnificent job of it. All kudos to them. But, er, wait a sec. Lets backtrack just a little.
Id been following the news about the wildfires in Washington state. There seemed to be enough of them in between home and Spokane to be well a cause for travel concern. And then I extrapolated that and read a report about air quality in Spokane and the day before we left it was rated unhealthy, specifically singling out people older than 65 or those who had had a stroke, all of which describes my husband, and I was getting antsy. He said, were going, I dont CARE. So we set off fully aware that there were flames out there, and that thousands of acres of forest and not a few homes had already been reduced to ashes and smoke.
Stevens Pass was murkier than we had ever seen it before but then again we hadnt driven it for some years, and we had to admit that we didnt have a valid basis for direct comparison. But it was cool enough outside in the mountains for us to nod at each other and firmly agree that what was hiding the views from us was just mountain mist and high clouds. Yes. That was what it was.
On the road to Spokane, things thickened a little but not remotely to the extent that Id been reading on Facebook, about the sun rising as a tiny blood red orb in the smoky skies, making the whole place look extraterrestrial. There were pictures, yes. But it didnt look so bad, when we approached the city. A bit muggy, yes, a bit brown, the air a tad too uh VISIBLE for comfort but not TOO bad.
And then, on Thursday night, it began to thicken.
On Friday morning, it was Apocalypse Now. Apparently there were signs on doors eventually dissuading people from venturing outside at all but that was after I heard the story of an idiot who went jogging in that soup and ended up on a respirator. And you didnt have to go outside as the day wore on you started to smell smoke in the corridors. I could smell it in our room when we ended up there on Friday night. You couldnt see past the next couple of blocks out of our hotel room window, outside. There was no sky, no horizon, just this dirty-brown ashen and featureless pall that lay over everything. I had actually been contemplating the delight of a short stroll on the riverside path, just outside our hotel but my troubles with my hip, and then Fridays air quality, put paid to THAT.
Saturday was a bit better, blue skies and clear air, and the sun resembling its more usual self but by Saturday night we were sliding again. When Sunday came, it was getting brownish out there again. I had my final panel, we collected our bits and bobs, and we drove out there. Out onto the highway.
Friends, it was spooky. You couldnt see further than a few hundred feet to either side of the highway further in, ghostly outlines of brooding poplars haunted the edges of vision, barely sketched in. Cars on the other side of the highway emerged out of a smoke bank, as though something was vomiting them out of that dragons mouth; cars in front of me vanished into that same bank a disconcertingly short way ahead. We stopped to get gas and I could smell the smoke in the thick air, I could taste ashes. TWO HUNDRED MILES WEST OF SPOKANE WE WERE STILL IN SMOKE. The West. Is. On Fire.
More than 500,000 acres (and untold human property and human lives some literally) have been lost to this conflagration. That is almost too big to comprehend. And yet I viscerally know that it is true because of the air I saw swirling thick and brown through the city streets in Spokane, and blowing across Eastern Washington highways. Its heartbreaking.
And yet . This is Worldcon. Were nothing if not a bunch of creators. I Tweeted at some point that the unofficial anthem of Sasquan was Smoke gets in your eyes. By Saturday lunchtime completely independently of that tweet someone else had already filked up an entire song about the circumstances surrounding us.
We will none of us forget this con. We were smoked like salmon. Some of us were lucky to get home in good time and in one piece and just the memory of the hint of what it must really be like closer to where real flames are rising. Ive seen some pictures and its catastrophic, unbelievable, entire mountainsides scoured bare and black by the blaze. Oh God, my darling forests, my beloved cedars and maples, I am so sorry. For the whole towns evacuated in the inexorable advance of this conflagration, for people who gathered up kids and pets and a pathetic bundle of belongings and fled, I am so sorry. For the firefighters who are tirelessly trying to get this under control, you have my enduring respect and gratitude; to those who didnt make it through I dont even have words.
The West is on fire. Dont forget us.
But that wasnt the only scorched ground that was being claimed in Spokane
3) In A Crowded Theatre.
Lo these many years ago, I went and did one of those sing your own Messsiah things, where a group of volunteer singers, coached and directed by a professional, get together to sing the Messiah oratorio by Handel. We were doing tolerably well, dutifully following the music and the directions, until we got to the point where the Hallelujah Chorus was due to be sung. The director stopped for a moment, looked us with a small smirky smile, and said, lets face it, this is why youre all here, isnt it?
In a situation that is almost but not completely unlike that incident, there were. the Hugo awards of 2015 at Sasquan. No, I dare say that it wasnt why we were all there but I would be prevaricating if I didnt admit that we were all aware of the Hugos, and that a certain electric tingle in the air was building up as we rolled on towards Saturday night.
No, I am not going to go into great gory detail analyzing things here. Its been done, by other people, elsewhere you can start with io9, if you want to read more:
And there are other articles. Easily found. Ill settle for a couple of comments.
I didnt go to the ceremony itself. We found out a little late that it was a ticketed event because the theatre had fewer seats than warm bodies in attendance on site. I guess they thought first come first served could lead to chaos, so they announced that tickets, although they were free, could be got by queuing some two hours ahead of the ceremony at just the hour that most people were sitting down to dinner, so there was a lot of gnashing of teeth over that. I had been vacillating about going anyway so this tipped the scales; I ended up following the live-tweet feed, and learned of what happened almost in real-time anyway. Which was good enough.
And what happened was simply this. The body of fandom reacted to an infection, and the immune system went into overdrive. For now, at least, the virus is out and the bodys state of health looks to be preserved I might have wished for a different ceremony, a different set of circumstances, the possibility that some of those nominated got caught up in the whole controversy and lost out in what turned out to be a gigantic and self-destructive paroxysm of Its not FAAAAA I I I R! from the kindergartners in the corner who couldnt seem to grow up well enough to play with the adults in the room in an equitable manner.
The end result measured up reasonably well with what I hoped was going to happen, and what I expected was going to happen.
What I had hoped was that those TRULY deserving of the rocket would end up holding it and that those NOT deserving, those who had tried to wrest the award by bullying and bickering and whining and blackmail, would NOT. I looked at the vote counts, afterwards; it is clear that the no-award wins were a message from fandom. And the message was, You Will Not Pass.
The what-I-expected part was the social media sphere exploding with puppies and their supporters screaming We lost, so we won! in full throat, no matter how little actual sense that made in any form of their narrative. Lets unpack this they thought the wrong people and the wrong stories were taking over the Hugos so they packed the ballot with the right candidates. This means that they valued the award enough to want to win it and they LOST. Dramatically. The goal posts then shifted to Well, *we were on the ballot*, and the fact that you didnt vote for us means that our point is proved and there is a clique thats in charge of things and that wants to exclude us.
Except that the clique turned out to be all of fandom, which turned out in unprecedented numbers to vote (the tally was a whopping 65% higher than any previous Hugo vote!) and the only clique in the room turned out to be the puppies themselves. I am told that the losing puppy candidates immediately got up and demonstratively left the theatre which is more juvenile behavior. They spat out the dummy and they took their toys and they stalked home, sulking. And then the social media exploded with the blame game of the other side and how they were all bad and evil and how they were all in cahoots against the pups and their supporters.
One of them turned to someone in an elevator, after the ceremony, and said spitefully, well, you got what you wanted, didnt you? You burned the awards to the ground rather than give them to someone you didnt want to win them.
To which MY response would be, dude, no, YOU got what you wanted. YOU burned the bridges here. Its all on YOU. And no, you cant claim that you deliberately lost to win, because you couldnt know this was going to happen. But thats the narrative now, changing to fit the circumstances. Theyre still put upon, and repressed, and somehow being oppressed by the future into which they refuse to step. Even as the past to which they cling so violently crumbles to dust in their hands.
When the history books get written well, I dare say that those referred to as social justice warriors are going to come out if it all as better than sad/rabid puppies. Even the names are self-selecting. You cant rail against social justice and then claim that you are being oppressed in the name of social injustice. Thats illogical, Mr Spock.
Fandom did what needed to be done. The only thing that could have been done. What happens going forward well, its the future. We shall see when the smoke (this time almost literally ) clears. In the meantime, the looming Hugopocalypse has been turned aside, and 2016 is a new game. Forward. Its the only way we can go.
Postscript: Smoke gets in your Eyes, redux
And so, then, it was over, and we climbed into the car for the journey home. It was, as I said, brown and mucky. The air had taste and texture when I stopped for gas on the outskirts of Spokane. And then we hit the highway, going west.
And it was smoke smoke smoke smoke smoke all the way to the mountains, and well into them. Two hundred long miles of brown air and alien landscapes shrouded in sepia. Saddening, and scary.We stopped in Leavenworth for supper, ate quickly, and pushed on but by this stage I was really ready to stop driving. That knot in the back of my neck was the size of a pineapple, and the pineapple felt like it was on a grill my muscles were hot and knotted and achy. And then we hit the post- Leavenworth road, going into the pass, and it was all I could do not to stop and just sit there taking photographs.
The skies turned unlikely shades of apricot and cinnamon, with shadowy mountain crags silhouetted against them and in the middle of it all that round red bloody sun hung like a curse. And would not go away. Every time I thought we had put paid to it wed round a corner or take a turn and there it was again, hanging lower, redder, more baleful. And I was driving directly west. It was a game of chicken and there were moments on the road that I literally had red flecks dancing on my retinas from the direct malevolent crimson glare.
It wasnt until we hit the I-5, and Everett, literally an hour from home, that the sun finally set on Sasquan and skies painted themselves into one of the most spectacularly picturesque sunsets ever (and I couldnt even watch because I was driving, and I was TIRED, and I knew I couldnt really afford to let my attention lapse).
Towards the end I was looking at my GPS and muttering to myself, Fifty minutes I can do this. Forty five minutes, I can do this. I turned into my driveway riding on fumes, staggered into the house, petted the cats,fell into bed, and slept for ten hours.
And then, because now that its over Im sorry that it is and I wish I was still back there, I sat down to write this. You do realize you just read close to 4,000 words about an event that lasted less than four days in real time? Sasquan, I miss you already.
May the smoke grow less. May fandom continue strong. And we shall all see each other again. Soon.
~~~~~ Alma AlexanderMy books Email me If you found this blog post interesting, amusing or helpful, then please use the icons below to share it with other writers, readers or the guy next to you on the subway.