Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Nominee Thoughts: Parasite

This year I'm giving each nominated work for the Hugo and Nebula novel awards their very own entry after I read them.


Since it was the first work I was able to find available as an ebook at the library, I'm starting with Parasite by Mira Grant (aka Seanan McGuire).

Last year, I read another work by Mira Grant for this project, Blackout. Now, Blackout was the third book in a trilogy, and I chose not to read any preceding books for any of the nominated works. I enjoyed Blackout a lot. The characters were engaging, and I found myself intrigued, but not lost, by the world that was surely more understandable if one had already read the first two books. 

I kept meaning to read the first two books, but I haven't yet. 

Parasite was a quick read, like Blackout. I liked that about it, and it is something that I want to learn how to do in my own writing. The narrative flows by quickly and doesn't sag. But I felt like something was missing when I finished the book. 

Granted, it is the first book of a trilogy, and it has to do a lot of work to lay the groundwork of the world. But, despite flowing quickly, it felt as if the narrative had been stretched out just to provide more room for backstory rather than actually having something to "say" about the action. On the one hand, that's a clever writing move, but on the other hand I felt vaguely cheated by it. 

Without going too far into spoiler territory, I found the most fantastical element of the book was not the parasite science, but the boyfriend. Tell me that tapeworms have been recombined with a variety of other species DNA, and that people are willing to eat them for their own health - if that's the premise of your story, I'll buy it. I'm willing to suspend disbelief when it comes to the fantastic. 

But tell me that this girl with six years of memories has the most perfect boyfriend that could possibly be described in words, whose worst sin is to occasionally freak out said girl by taking his hands off the steering wheel in an excess of emotion, and I just can't. There is no reason for me to believe that such a man exists - especially since he doesn't even have a magical, er, pseudo-scientific tapeworm in him. 

Still, that I'm invested enough in the characters to think that the boyfriend was unrealistically perfect does say something about the book. It is easy to get into this book, and I did like it. I didn't love it, and I especially didn't love the made up children's book that played a large role in it, but I think that opinion is more about my own relationship with poetry. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Seeing Clearly

Last year when I went in for my eye exam, I tried very hard to stick with contact lenses. Even though I'd been developing an astigmatism for the last few years, I didn't want to go back to wearing glasses full time. Not when I'd experienced the ability to wear the contacts for weeks at a time. It was almost like not having myopia at all...

But even with the toric lenses that accommodate for the astigmatism, I found myself unable to see well at a distance. I began to have headaches and was squinting more and more as the fall rolled around. So I decided to try a contact lens vacation, with a focus on not squinting.  After a few weeks of just glasses, I had come to the conclusion that the contact lenses didn't work well enough.

I still wore them for some exercise (mostly CrossFit and swimming), but for the most part I was glasses only. And I decided that I would get new glasses at my next eye appointment.

A week and a half ago, I went in to the eye doctor and got a surprise. My right eye had changed enough that the doctor exclaimed in what was almost an unprofessional manner. I couldn't even see blurry letters with my right eye - the rectangle that contained letters when I looked with my left was a blur of white with the left eye covered.

I thought that my prescription might have changed a little, based on the way that street signs wouldn't come into focus the way that I wanted, but I hadn't expected something so big. My left eye was compensating for my right eye in a major way. So when I picked up my new glasses yesterday, I discovered that I was not at all used to having both eyes properly corrected.

I'm still getting used to them, but it's nice to have new frames:

And, since I went to one of those places that offers two pairs (and because I wanted to have another pair to wear backpacking that I could be a little rough with), I got a second pair. 

Now, I picked this pair out because they looked like they could take some abuse. They are sports glasses. They've got foam at the sides and the bridge of the nose to hold them on my face, and I figured that they would come in handy for backpacking and any other sporty things I felt like doing. I only found out that they were kids frames after I showed them to the clerk... 

But I have a small face, I guess, so they fit just fine. I think they'll do well out there. And I know I'll do better without having to worry about my only pair of glasses falling off and breaking while I'm working out or in the wilderness. 

Now I just need to adjust to being able to see clearly for the first time in over a year... 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Review of Reviewing

It's that time of year again. The Nebula and Hugo nominees have been announced, and I'm done with school for the semester. Time to read up on the latest of the greatest of last year's science fiction and fantasy! And then write about like I did last year. But I think this year I'll spread the reviewing out a bit more, and not necessarily wait to finish all the books until I post a review. That will help me be a little fresher with the book in my mind and perhaps give the reviews a bit more depth.

I went ahead this year and bought myself a supporting membership for this year's Worldcon. I have to admit, part of it is because I read that they plan to include the entire Wheel of Time series in the voter packet. I remember friends recommending those books to me, and I always said that I didn't want to devote myself to a hugely long series with no end in sight. Well, the series is over, so I guess I can try and read it. I might be posting that review last. Like, in December. Maybe.

Even without a 15 book series, I think the voter packet seems like a good deal. Once the packet is out, then maybe I'll post a review of whether or not it was indeed a good deal.

The nominees for the Best Novel Nebula are (from here):
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler (Marian Wood)
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman (Morrow; Headline Review)
Fire with Fire, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
Hild, Nicola Griffith (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Red: First Light, Linda Nagata (Mythic Island)
A Stranger in Olondria, Sofia Samatar (Small Beer)
The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker (Harper)

And the Best Novel Hugo nominees (from here):
Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie (Orbit US/Orbit UK)
Neptune’s Brood, Charles Stross (Ace / Orbit UK)
Parasite, Mira Grant (Orbit US/Orbit UK)
Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles, Larry Correia (Baen Books)
The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (Tor Books / Orbit UK)

Since there's only one overlap this year, I've just gone and committed myself to a lot of reading. At least, if I decide to read every book to completion, because that's what I usually do. And especially in this case, since a number of people have found these books to be worthy in some way. That means there are probably things that I can learn from them. If I dislike them, then I can learn what makes me dislike a book and avoid that when I write. In theory. . .

I mean, I rarely stop reading a book, even if I don't like it (there's this one fantasy book that I only kept reading because it was so awful, like a train wreck). It isn't exactly that I'm trying to give it a chance to get better. It's more of a challenge for myself. There are times when I just can't do it, or won't do it. I had a copy of Sense and Sensibility on my bookshelf for years, and tried to read it many times. Every time, I would get about ten pages in and quit. And yet, I enjoyed reading War and Peace. I keep meaning to read that again, but this time in ebook form so I don't break my wrists or strain my eyes.

I'm not sure where I'm going to start with the nominee list. The voter packet probably won't show up this week, so I guess it will depend on what the library has available. But The Wheel of Time is definitely going last. It just is.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Trying a New Formula

When I took a literature class last semester, I had some concern about writing papers. I knew how to write papers that were based on primary sources, but the idea of revisiting the research paper and consulting with commentary made me nervous.

At the end of the fall semester, I discovered a way to write these academic papers that worked for me. I would make an outline, and then allow myself to vomit words and ideas onto the page for each bullet point, skipping the introduction and conclusion unless I felt especially inspired.

Once I had vomited approximately 2.5 times the number of required words onto the page, I would begin the slash and burn portion of the operation. Cut, rearrange, order, add transitions and make sure citations are correct and correctly formatted. Although there were portions I might have been attached to, I didn’t feel any compunctions about cutting them if they did not fit in with the narrative of the paper.

From there, I would write the introduction and the conclusion to fit what I had worked out for the body. Or I would finish writing them, as sometimes I would figure them out during the word vomit section and they might help shape the selection of body paragraphs. Finally, a nice, evocative title could be chosen and I’d be done.

Even though the spring semester’s instructor required rough drafts to be turned in, I did not deviate much from my method. Writing a 2 page rough draft is not something that works for me, so I only did it for the last paper, when a 2 page rough draft was required. However, I did the draft with bullet points. Because how can you fit a 5 to 7 page paper into 2 pages unless you are severely abbreviating your points?

At any rate, with the end of the semester drawing near, I’ve decided to try an experiment. I’m going to attempt to write fiction using the same method that I’ve been using for academic papers. I’ll start with a topic and a working title. The working title will be the one sentence pitch for the story, describing the basics of what it is about. The topic will ask a question and I will seek to answer it in the body. The bullet points will be the bases of scenes that I will word vomit on to the page.

The slash and burn phase will remain the same.

I’m not sure how the introduction and conclusion thing might translate, but I think this will be, at the least, interesting for me, and, at best, helpful. No matter how I do it though, it is time to start cranking out some stories. After all, I’ve got a lot of rejections to collect this year.