Ok, Glory Road is ultimately kind of garbage. I don’t often quit reading books once I’ve begun, but if I do it’s usually within the first chapter or two. This thing strung me along to within 50 pages of finishing. But alas, I can take no more.
And you know, if Heinlein had possessed the humility or sense not to keep writing once the adventure was done, or if his editor had possessed the cajones to rein him in, it would have been a middling, serviceable scifi story.
But nope. Instead we get more Stranger in a Strange Land Heinlein, who can’t stop himself from writing about free love and weird sex. The adventure is over, so here’s a few chapters of exposition about some weird imperial sex culture stuff.
As Kaiju tweeted some days ago: Heinlein died after writing Starship Troopers.
I consider myself fairly well-read, at least when it comes to Science Fiction and Fantasy of the 60s, 70s, and 80s.
This is because I was a voracious reader living in a small town, and I read every SF&F book the town and school libraries had. Being a small town, they didn’t have much that was new.
But since I read so much, I don’t always know remember who/what I read. Being young and foolish, I didn’t bother to take the time to check publication dates, or try to fit the books and stories I read into the context of the time in which they were written.
But then in the 80s, I started babysitting, getting a decent allowance from chores, and working part time, and I put the money I earned into books.
I got a sense of who the main authors were, and explored most of them. Sometimes I encountered a story I didn’t like, and if I encountered two from the same author, that would burn the author in my estimation, and I’d rarely give them a second chance.
But there were often strange gaps. Jack Vance and Damon Knight were both considered Grandmasters, but none of the libraries I had access to had any of their books, and so I never read either one, until PCBushi recommended Vance to me.
Because I was both a voracious and precocious reader, I started young, with The Lord of the Rings at age 9, Robert A. Heinlein at age 10, Herbert’s Dune at age 13. Some books I just really didn’t understand. I tried the Lord of the Rings at age 9 after a teacher read The Hobbit to us, but not knowing what I was doing, I grabbed and started with The Two Towers. I finished it, but I had no idea what was going on. I picked it up again at age 14 and read it in order, and loved it. I tried C. J. Cherryh a few times at age 17 or 19, and just didn’t like her. When she came out with Lions…. In…..Space…. when I was about 20 (the Chanur series), I gave it a try and liked it. But it wasn’t until I turned 26 that I actually really understood her writing, and she became my favorite.
Looking back, there was one author I tried in my early 20s: C. S. Friedman. Not sure why she felt the need to hide her female name, because there were plenty of famous female authors by 1986, when her first novel was published.
But her stories were complex and perhaps a little beyond me at the time, like Cherryh.
I started with the Coldfire Trilogy. I enjoyed it, but my girlfriend loved it. She fell in love with the main character, who I thought was cool, but not especially lovable. But trying to understand what she loved about the main character helped me understand a little better what women want from/like in men. The trilogy is a fascinating construction of a Catholic-like religion battling demon-like aliens. The main character is absolutely a Knight Templar type, or could be seen as a D&D-style Paladin.
Look at this picture. Isn’t this guy a bad-ass? Don’t you want to read this book now?
It’s been so long, I barely remember the story. What I remember is the heartbreaking love story, where the main character falls in love with a woman, and she loves him back…then her memories are stripped. He goes to extreme lengths to try to accomplish the return of her memories, but without her memories of their time together, she no longer loves him and falls for someone else. It was well done, as I recall.
I enjoyed the books enough to purchase and read In Conquest Born. It, too, was a complex book. It has a little twist to it, though, not mentioned in the wikipedia page, that I don’t want to spoil for you, if you ever find it and read it.
I never found any of her other books, and had pretty much forgotten about her, until seeing C. L. Moore mentioned a few times in the past year stimulated my memory to the point where I had to figure out who C. S. Friedman was. I even went so far as to write a tweet asking my SF&F peeps if they knew who the author was when I remembered “Friedman” and was able to do a quick search.
[Man, you younger kids have no idea what life was like before the internet, when it was difficult to find a song you heard on the radio, or a book you once read, or even the back catalog of your favorite band.]
Glancing through the books she’s written since, she is still writing complex stories with some pathos, although she is nowhere near as prolific as many of her contemporaries.
Have any of you heard of her or read her? Honestly, the Coldfire Trilogy and In Conquest Born were good enough, I’m really surprised she isn’t mentioned more often as one of the greats.
I think I’m going to have to purchase and re-read her books (further delaying my slow-motion rampage through Edgar Rice Burroughs back-catalog). I think with the added maturity of 20+ years, I should appreciate her books more. Or perhaps discover that they aren’t anywhere near as good as I remember.
As you may be aware, “real” quidditch has become a thing.
Weep for humanity.
To be fair, I thought quidditch was a pretty cool sport in the Harry Potter universe. But that’s mostly because the players were flying around dodging magical murder balls while one guy tried to catch a little golden orb with wings.
But as far as the real-life version, I think I’m going to have to go with little big boye from YouTube.
For my money, the fake fantasy sport I’d like to see as a real thing is hussade, from Jack Vance’s Trullion: Alastor 2262. Or if we’re talking about after the impending Great Collapse, maybe I’d vote for The Game.
Hussade is described as follows:
The hussade field is a gridiron of ‘runs’ (also called ‘ways’) and ‘laterals’ above a tank of water four feet deep. The runs are nine feet apart, the laterals twelve feet. Trapezes permit the players to swing sideways from run to run, but not from lateral to lateral. The central moat is eight feet wide and can be passed at either end, at the center, or jumped if the player is sufficiently agile. The ‘home’ tanks at either end of the field flank the platform on which stands the sheirl.
Players buff or body-block opposing players into the tanks, but may not use their hands to push, pull, hold, or tackle. The captain of each team carries the ‘hange’ – a bulb on a three-foot pedestal. When the light glows the captain may not be attacked, nor may he attack. When he moves six feet from the hange, or when he lifts the hange to shift his position, the light goes dead; he may then attack and be attacked. An extremely strong captain may almost ignore his hange; a captain less able stations himself on a key junction, which he is then able to protect by virtue of his impregnability within the area of the live hange.
The sheirl stands on her platform at the end of the field between the home tanks. She wears a white gown with a gold ring at the front. The enemy players seek to lay hold of this gold ring; a single pull denudes the sheirl. The dignity of the sheirl may be ransomed by her captain for five hundred ozols, a thousand, two thousand, or higher, in accordance with a prearranged schedule.
So essentially you’ve got a bunch of dudes with padded sticks swinging between platforms and knocking each other into a pool while they try to get to the other end of the field to denude the other team’s virgin cheerleader. The successful players get a bunch of cash.
Tell me that doesn’t sound awesome. Oh, apparently some Star Trek fan fiction has, ahem, borrowed hussade.
A few weeks ago I wrote “Economies of Scale”, a fairy tale. One thing I wanted to do in that story was make the main character encounter a series of obstacles, overcome them in his path to achieving his goal, and even have some of those obstacles actually contribute to achieving that goal. Meaning, the main character wouldn’t have succeeded if something that seemed bad at the time didn’t turn out to help.
So the story was partly an exercise in trying to make a coherent, believable narrative.
I cheated, perhaps, by making it a fairy tale, which relaxes some of the rules of realism.
It didn’t work for everyone. One critique I got was that it just seemed like things happened because the author wanted them to happen. I disagreed: I thought I set up fairly realistic obstacles, had the character make fairly realistic responses to the obstacles, and the outcomes were also fairly realistic. I just figured he wasn’t the audience for the story (which was a big breakthrough for me in writing confidence).
However, after thinking about it for a few days, I realized that what it meant was I didn’t set up the foreshadowing adequately.
[As is my wont, now is the moment when I suddenly make a sharp turn into a different topic that seems like a digression until I bring it back to the main point]
In music, there is no impossible collection of notes. Anything can be musical. You can walk up to a piano and slam your fists down randomly on the keyboard and still make it sound like music, if you are skilled. The trick, the key element, is resolution. Each note must be carefully resolved toward consonance. If one step isn’t enough, two or three probably are. In fact, the best music is often that which hits what would be a very discordant, unmusical sound (if heard in isolation) that, nonetheless, is beautiful and even moving when properly resolved to a consonant chord. You can make it even better if you approach it carefully and properly.
The same is true, albeit in reverse, in writing fiction.
You can have the most incredible, unbelievable, unrealistic event or character action/decision…if, and only if, you set it up correctly.
Chekov said that if a gun is on the mantel in the 2nd Act, it must be fired by the 3rd Act. Or something like that. A quick search returned so many different versions, I’m just going to stick with my gist.
The corollary of this is that if you want to have a gun go off in the 3rd Act, you should have it innocuously appear in an earlier act. It can’t be just pulled out of nowhere. Even worse if you take the time to set up a conflict that looks completely unresolvable with the current tools and options open to the main character, and then resolve the problem by having them pull out a tool the audience didn’t know they had, like a pistol. This is how I understand the weakness of a Deus Ex Machina ending.
So one way of understanding why my friend didn’t like the plot development is I didn’t set up each obstacle resolution properly, with enough foreshadowing.
One technique I tried to use was something I don’t know the name of: if the character is going to find or use something that helps, it must also be used to hurt the main character. The reverse is true, as well: if the antagonist can use something to harm or block the protagonist, then it is fair game for the protagonist to use it in return.
Go read the story again to see if you can spot the times I tried that. Let me know if you thought it too clumsy, or what I could have done to do it better. I say “could have done” because for better or worse, the story is done. I like it. It has weaknesses, but I think it works as is, so as is it shall stay.
Later, in a discussion with my friend, he pointed out that another thing that would have helped make the story better is if the main character has a better feeling of agency, meaning that all the actions taken by the characters seem, um, in character with the personality/person I’ve established.
I admit, that one’s harder than me. I have a difficult time thinking in characters. I fear that everything I write is going to end up sounding like “me, as a space pirate”, “me, as a dragon hunter”, “me, as an assassin”. I hope not. My characters do seem different from each other to me, but they’ve grown on the page, rather than me choosing a specific voice, or specific attributes. This is one I really need to work on.
I’ve never read anything by Robert Silverberg, but you can only hang with the serious scifi/fantasy for so long before you begin to see his name crop up.
At some point in the past few months, I acquired a copy of Downward to the Earth, a scifi story presumably about alien elephants or some such.
It’s not a terribly long book, so on a whim I added it to my commute bag. Now I’m a little more than halfway through, and I’m not yet sure what I think of it.
This morning I reached a chilling scene. I think the story has been growing on me, and stuff like this can stick:
Reminiscent of Alien, no? Written almost a decade earlier, though. Of course I’m sure this must be an older idea, inspired by horrible creatures that exist in our own reality. But still, pretty compelling.
I’ve got very fond memories of the old Rankin and Bass production that HP recently reviewed. I saw it before having read the book, and no doubt it contributed (along with the other Rankin and Bass films, David the Gnome, Eureeka’s Castle, and the like) to the strange brew that fostered my strong and lasting love of fantasy and scifi.
The other day I was killing some time with my son, who’s just starting to notice shapes and colors and reach for things with his hands, and I decided to play “The Greatest Adventure” for him. Conveniently, I found a whole playlist of the OST!
And…what’s this? Track 3: Old Fat Spider.
Quite interesting. I don’t know if the Mirkwood scene involving Bilbo’s fight with the spiders was originally slated to run longer, but this song didn’t make it to the final cut.
So if you’re a fan of the animation, check it out. A nice little secret tune.
In 2012, researchers hooked 16,000 computer processors in parallel, with more than 1 billion connections, and let the artificial brain browse a video website. Before too long, it began watching cat videos. We didn’t know it at the time, but this was the first salvo in the Second Robot-Human War.
The Second Robot-Human War gets all the attention, of course. Few people even realized there was a First Robot-Human War, which mainly consisted of a street light on 4th and Main deliberately delaying the morning commute of a man named Nathan Alexander. But that is a tale for another day.
“Perfessor! Jones! Get over here!” the Corporal bellowed.
I scrambled over, sliding over the detritus of a collapsed wall, then clattering down a rickety set of stairs into a basement. I wasn’t worried about noise, because the hiss of ionized air, rattle of nearby explosions, and loud buzz of the ubiquitous sonic repellers covered any noise I might make.
Probably. You never knew when the AI might get a software update that would let it pick out man-made noises. I had a philosophy for that: when it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go. There’s no point in pussyfooting around what the AI might do next. You just did your best, took out a few of the brain nodes if you got lucky, and hoped your genes got passed on.
Jones slid in beside me. He was quieter. Maybe not so willing to let fate have a free hand? He was calm, not even breathing heavy.
“What is is, Corporal?” I asked.
“Look what I found, guys! A whole case of cinnamon containers,” the Corporal said, beaming. “There’s gotta be 120 or more!”
“That’s great Corp! What do we do with it?” Jones asked.
The Corporal looked at me.
“Well, uh…” I began, then stopped. A faint memory glimmered, then ignited into full flame. “Cinnamon was one of the earlier spices prized for food preservation!”
“Hey, that’s great, Perfessor!” said Jones. “Now that the AI cut us off from salt, we’ve had some problems keeping food safe long enough to eat.”
“Hey, do you remember what they used to do before the War?” the Corporal asked.
“Eat apples?” Jones said.
“Make gravy?” I added.
“Throw very small rocks?” Jones ventured.
“Nah, ya numbskulls! They used to do the Cinnamon Challenge! You used to take a spoonful, then try to eat it without inhaling any into your lungs and making you cough.”
Jones looked blank. I must have, too, because the Corporal seemed to grow, if anything, more irritated than normal.
“Awright, youse two!” the Corporal said. “We’re going to do it, too.”
“Right now?” I asked.
“Right now,” the Corporal agreed. “I’m in charge of you dolts, and now that I have ascertained a gap in your eddycation, I’m gonna fill it. Put your weapons down and SHUDDUP!”
We followed orders.
He pulled a spoon from his kit, and poured a heaping spoonful.
“Open up, Perfessor!”
I opened up. The heaping spoonful went in. It…tasted pretty good. Then it started to get hot. Waitasecond! Wasn’t cinnamon supposed to be sweet and sticky? The heat made me gasp–
–and then I was kneeling on the floor coughing out a cloud of light brown spice. The Corporal was laughing and slapping his knee. He calmed down and his expression resumed its dour state about the time I coughed it all out.
“Now you, Jones,” he said.
“I dunno, Corporal, I don’t think–” Jones began.
“–Exactly!” the Corporal said. “You don’t think. You follow orders.” He poured another spoonful. “Open up.”
Jones opened up. The Corporal poured it in.
Nothing happened. Jones chewed for a while.
“Hold on!” the Corporal said. “Jones, spit it out. Now!”
Jones spit out the cinnamon. It was dry and dusty.
The Corporal wasn’t known for high intelligence. He’d never been a member of Mensa. He was the farthest thing from an intellectual that I could imagine. But he still saw it before I did.
“No saliva! You’re a bot!” the Corporal said, then opened fire.
The sonic rifle shredded “Jones'” clothes and ripped great rents in his “skin”, revealing a metal endoskeleton, complete with shining cables and joints. But even at close range the sonic rifle was too weak. The bot we had thought of as Jones leapt at the Corporal, his hands reaching for the Corporal’s throat.
In a flash, his neck was snapped. I recoiled and stumbled over the crate of cinnamon, knocking over several containers. I reached out, grabbing for my rifle, knowing what little good it would do me.
The bot whirled and advanced toward me. My hands felt something, grasped the cold plastic of…a container of cinnamon. I needed a weapon, but maybe this could buy me time.
I ripped off the lid, and flung the contents at the robot. It ran through the cloud of spice, came at me just as I was reaching my proton disruptor tube…
…and ground to a halt, the fine cinnamon powder having floated into every possible niche, crevice, and cranny of the bot, absorbing lubricant and fouling gears. It was the work of mere seconds after that to destroy the robot’s AI brain. With luck, I had managed to kill it before it could establish a connection and upload its experience back to the main AI.
And now we have a new weapon. One that we can use as a virtual aerosol defense that destroys mechanicals, but can also serve as a test of humanity to protect ourselves against bots.