Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Can You Believe It?

I spoke with my mother on the phone the other night. After telling me her tidbits of personal news, she asked me if I could believe that some mass shootings had happened. I must admit, I mocked her.

Can I believe that it happened? Of course, I believe that it happened, Mom. I don't automatically doubt what the news media reports. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, at least not to that extent. I certainly found the news appalling, but her question irked me.

Her questions often do.

We say, "how are you?" when we mean, "hello."

We say, "can you believe it?" when we mean, "did you hear/read about this shocking incident?"

We say, "I do," when we mean, "I do for now."

Not everyone, of course, but as someone who got married, and meant it in the moment, even in the years leading up to the moment and at least a year after the moment, I can't believe that I said it at all now.

Some people in this country contradict themselves by simultaneously extolling the virtues of marriage and denying those coveted virtues to a significant portion of the population. If only there were less single mothers, unless of course those single mothers are gay, in which case, they cannot be allowed to be married, then this country would miraculously have lower crime rates and more rainbows and puppies.

I don't think that today's social problems can be solved by yesterday's solutions, especially not by trying to impose those solutions without modification or consideration of how society and technology have evolved. Even a person who denies Darwinian evolution must admit that the world of today is not the world of the 1950's (at least, anyone reading these words must, written as they are on what would then have been considered a miraculous device).

I think what disappointed my mom the most about my divorce was that it set back her grandchild timetable. Fortunately, my brother took care of filling that need for her (and it's really better that he did, since she wouldn't get to see any children of mine nearly as often). I do think she still wants me to give her a grandchild or two, but if I were her, I wouldn't hold my breath.

And I shouldn't be holding my breath waiting for my mother to change her turns of phrase or fix her leaky memory. She is who she is, the star of her own dream, and I am but a bit player in the drama of her life, and she a bit player in mine.

Believe it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Nominee Thoughts: Warbound

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


Warbound by Larry Correia is the third book of the Grimnoir Chronicles. The Hugo voter's packet did include the first two books in the series, but I stuck with my policy of reading only the nominated work for the purposes of these posts.

I was put off initially by the title. I don't think this is a book I would have picked up based on the title of the book or the title of the series. Even the title page on the ebook included a font that made me dread beginning the book.

Then there was the prologue. . . I had a desire to stop reading after the first few pages of the prologue (not that that stopped me). The language was unappealing, a kind of arrogance and stiffness to it that I didn't like. I had a bias with the "noir" in the title of the series that this would be a certain type of book, and I found myself reading the words with what I think of as the noir cadence. It's the kind of cadence you expect out of a hard boiled detective story, where all the womens is dames.

But I found myself getting past that. By the second chapter, I was more interested in the story. I enjoyed learning the magic system and trying to catch up on the world that had already been built out by other works. I did not find it hard to follow as a solitary book. As a whole, I felt it was a fun romp by the last half of the book.

I might even read the other two books and the short story in the Grimnoir Chronicles, in part because I'm curious if I would like the main female character better if I read more about her. As it was, she was the part of the story that I felt most ambivalent about. On the one hand, she's extremely smart and powerful as well as empowered. On the other hand, I didn't like the way her point of view read. It was off-putting even though I wanted to like her.

The story sucked me in well enough to distract me from literary techniques, so I probably should reread it to try to figure out some of them. . .

Oh, alright, it's the compulsive part of my nature. If I do read the first parts of the series, then I'll have to reread the this book, and I don't think it will be a chore.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Nominee Thoughts: Neptune's Brood

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


Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross bears the distinction of being the most boring story I’ve ever read about robot mermaids.

Okay, to be fair, it’s the only story that I can recall reading that involves robot mermaids.

Nonetheless, if I hadn’t been challenging myself to read all of the Hugo and Nebula nominated novels, I probably wouldn't have finished it.

Okay, okay, I would have thought about not finishing it. I did think about not finishing it. But I probably would have regardless, because that’s the kind of reader that I am.

I always feel a little awkward criticizing things that I am supposed to like. I feel as if, by virtue of being nominated, this work should be good. I should be the kind of person who likes this. But I don’t.

Aside from inducing some boredom, I disliked the narrative tactic, which was used several times, of the narrator stating, “I don’t know what happened, but this is what I imagine happened.” And then the imagined happenings are described in exacting detail. It seems like cheating to me, a clumsy way of conveying information that the narrator did not witness. Or perhaps a way that is trying too hard to be clever. I’m not claiming that I could do it better, but I think that it could have been done better.

The pace felt odd. There was an overall sense of urgency to the narrator’s desire to find her sister, but everything in the world happened slowly. To me, there was a disconnect between the pace of desire and the pace of action. I will concede that the pacing fit the subject matter of the book.

Not the described subject matter on the dust jacket, but what the book was actually about. Judging from the description, this was going to be exciting. Space Opera! Missing sibling! Treasure! Oh, but wait, the crux of it all is banking. That’s right, this is all about interstellar finance.

And while I’m writing about things that the author doesn’t necessarily have control over, there’s the cover. The cover features a mermaid. A mermaid with a perfectly ordinary human face. But in the novel, there is a specific description of this specific character, detailed and repeated more than once. The character harps on the fact that her face is changed in order to adapt for the deep water (and she really doesn’t dig the tail), but the cover reflects none of that weirdness. It seems misleading to depict a non-hard science version of the mermaid on the cover of what is clearly, by all the exacting detail of space flight and finance, a hard science novel. People who like that sub-genre will like it for what it is, not for what the publishers would like you to believe that it is.

It seemed like every time something moderately exciting came up, it was immediately drowned in “realistic” finance. Oh, look, pirates! Wait, not, those aren’t pirates. They’re insurance adjusters. In bat bodies. That are also robots. But still manage to be boring.

The main villain is a caricature, completely one-dimensional and evil. She has no motives beyond greed, and barely appears as a character, let alone as an obstacle for the protagonist. It’s all about long laid plots and dastardly financial dealings that necessitate the death of various robots. And I couldn’t quite bring myself to care about their deaths. As robots, their personalities exist on soul chips. The reduction of the concept of a soul to a physical object that can be copied, transferred and backed up gave me the sense that their deaths had little meaning. In a way, the concept of infinite monkeys typing up Shakespeare is related, in that if your soul is data on a chip, then it is possible to reproduce “you” given enough time and processing power.

I didn’t relate to the personhood of the protagonist sufficiently to find her banking adventure compelling, despite the space battles and robot mermaids, squids and bats.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


Actually, this post is about DENTAL FEAR, but that didn't seem as catchy...

I have always hated going to the dentist.

I don't really remember that first dental visit. It's one of those childhood stories that your parents tell you so often that you think you remember it whether you remember it or not. Or maybe I do have pieces of it, since I don't think they came back into the cleaning area with me. No, I was all alone back there, with the strange smells and unfamiliar people.

I told the hygienist that I did not like mint, and that I did not want anything mint used for me. She claimed to understand. She claimed that she would respect my wishes.

And she lied.

The moment she brought that buzzing cleaning wand into my mouth I detected it. MINT!

But it was "orange-mint" so that was why they thought it was okay. Oh, no, unless we are talking Tic Tacs, orange mint is still mint.

According to my mom, I ran out screaming and refused ever to return to that dentist.

After that incident, my parents took me to a specialist children's dentist.

But even calling the Nitrous mask a clown nose couldn't make me love the dentist. Even having to get fillings after just about every check-up didn't make me brush my teeth enough to avoid such a fate. I could blame genetics... In fact, I think I will blame genetics. It isn't the sweet tooth or the hatred of mint in the land of mint flavored tooth paste that led to less than stellar brushing habits; it's my parents' fault!

I've gotten a lot better about the whole tooth self-maintenance thing in recent years. I actually do floss once a day (except when I'm out backpacking). I can handle the mint toothpaste even though it is still gross. And I still request that my dentists not use mint products on me. That's got to be a trust issue more than anything at this point. I don't think it's really an allergy issue (although the one time I tried to smoke a menthol cigarette, I experienced an instant asthma attack - something that non-menthol cigarettes did not cause). But I prefer that the dentist's office treat it like an allergy issue, which is to say, seriously, because being at the dentist still freaks me out. It is associated with pain and lies deep in my psyche.

My current dentist probably doesn't deserve my fear, but I'm glad that they are dealing with it and being nothing less than accommodating and polite.

If they're lucky, I'll never run out of their office screaming.