Archive for the ‘Discussion’ Category

Nonfiction Poll, Videocast Thoughts, and Other Sundry

Hey, guess what, squiders. I found my paper for the Shards library book talk. It was under my bed. Sigh. Who the heck knows why. (There were also cat hairballs under my bed, alas.) Too late to save me now.

(One would think I would put it someplace where I can find it now, but it’s still on my nightstand. Authors: not always the most organized people. We can follow a character arc to its completion but can’t remember where we put our socks.)

Nonfiction! Let’s start back up. I’ve got two options for the next one instead of giving you the giant list.

I’m good with either though I have already done a lot of work on the outlining one, so if you want to make my life easier… >_>

So, it sounds like people like the videocast idea! I like it too, and I actually have a pretty decent set-up for doing video which I’ve used previously for interviews and whatnot, so it wouldn’t be hard to get going! But logistics, logistics. You have to be consistent. If you were to tune in to said videocast, how often would you want to? Once a month? Twice a month? Once a week? I’m thinking they’ll be relatively short, at least at first, 10-15 minutes.

I’m also pondering tying them into my Patreon. My Patreon is an ongoing adventure in “marketing that I don’t really understand but am fiddling about with” and I know that not consistently producing content for it helps it not at all (the problem of course being that I don’t really know what sort of content people want over there). The videos won’t be limited to Patreon subscribers, but maybe I could release them a day early or something. Who knows? Not me!

I’m attending an online marketing conference this week, which has been interesting. I’m doing the free versus the paid option, so I have the day of to watch the conference videos before they disappear, which has been challenging. Thus far it’s been a good reminder of things, and I have learned a few new things to try. But it–and some networking I’ve done over the past few weeks–have reminded me that hey, there are some points of this marketing/publishing part that I’m good at–good enough to teach other people–and that I’m not as terrible as I sometimes feel like I am. So that’s been really nice.

I’d like to do another book-related thing this month. Which do you guys like better, the readalongs or the library book sale find reviews? I mean, it’s too late to do a readalong for this month, but we could get one rolling for the holiday season (not like the holiday season needs more stuff, but hey).

Found anything cool lately, squiders? Please let me know your thoughts!

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Pondering a Podcast

Good morning, squiders! How is your October treating you? We’re in the midst of a butterfly migration. Which sounds amazing, but they’re literally everywhere and every time I hit one with my car I feel like a horrible person. (Two weeks ago the newspaper said we were at the peak of the migration, but they were wrong. There’s so many they’re showing up on weather radar.)

buuuutttteeerrrfffllliiieeessss

So, I’ve been pondering starting a podcast for about a month now. Well, a videocast. The idea started after the local author showcase I did at the library at the end of August, and it’s percolated after the last month as I’ve done some other networking with local authors and gone over what I want out of my writing during my writing break last month.

The idea would be to talk about how awkward and horrible it is to be an author at times, all the silly introverted or shy mistakes that I make, to show that there’s a side behind the “professional” facade we’re supposed to present to the world.

(She says as she routinely posts pictures of landsquid.)

I just can’t figure out if it would be a good way to connect with people, or if it would be a good way to shoot myself in the foot.

Thoughts, squiders? Does hearing about my three awkward run-ins with the author coordinator at the library sound like it might be fun? Or do you think it’s a bad idea, that showing off potential weaknesses will make it harder for me to sell books in the future?

In other news, I’m taking a new approach to MileHiCon this year. Instead of buying a table in the Author Row and camping out sadly for the three days, I’m doing a 2-hour signing spot and participating on some panels instead. They sent out the initial panel listing the other day, and I’m on three, all fan-related stuff: Star Trek, Doctor Who, and fangirling in general. At first I was a bit disappointed at not being put on any writing ones, but now I think this will be better–it will be more fun, I hope, because I won’t have to worry so much about what face I’m presenting (see above) and I can hopefully connect to people on shared interests.

Anyway, let me know about the videocast. Still pondering, yet still routinely finding good topics for it…

(I would talk about other things too, genre stuff that catches my interest, writing, process, etc.)

Fun Scifi Tropes: Alternate Universes

Alas, Squiders, today we come to the end of our scifi trope series, and we end with alternate universes, which are a personal favorite of mine (which seems to be a trend). WordPress handily keeps track of blog posts I’ve started, and there’s one from, oh, six years ago that is entitled “Alternate Universes” and the entirety of the post is “ARE AWESOME WOO.”

Good job, me.

Related to this (and to be included in this discussion) are parallel universes, which are almost exactly the same thing.

An alternate universe is a universe existing alongside our own, usually with slight changes (or sometimes major changes). These can be accessed in some manner that helps the plot along (or, alternately, the alt universe can stick its nose into our universe, usually with disastrous results).

TV Tropes lists ten specific variations of alternate universes:

  • Alternate History (This is, as it sounds, where some major event in the past never happened, or happened differently. Germany winning WWII is a common example of this.)
  • Another Dimension (TV Tropes says this is actually the parent trope for Alternate Universes. In this case, this is any world next to our own, whether it’s the Otherworld of the Fey or some of the weirder planes in Dungeons and Dragons. There does not need to be a relationship between our universe/dimension and the other one.)
  • Bizarro Universe (Usually everything is opposite, though the name of trope makes me think of the bizarro episode of SeaLab 2021 where all the bizarro versions said “Bizarro” all the time.)
  • Dark World (Essentially our world, but everything is terrible. To link in with last week’s time travel, you can get one of these by accidentally messing up something in the past.)
  • For Want of a Nail (One small change creates a MAJOR change between universes. Also In Spite of a Nail where the differences are critical but the characters tend to be the same.)
  • Mirror Universe (a subset of the Bizarro Universe, but basically where everything is the same except good people are evil and vice versa.)
  • The Multiverse (There’s multiple universes to be bounced around across.)
  • Elseworld (This is essentially what fanfiction alt universes–AUs–are. Basically you take a familiar character and put them in a wildly different situation.)
  • Wonderful Life (How the world would be if you were never born/existed.)
  • Alternate Tooniverse (An alternative universe that’s animated.)

(As a side note, TV Tropes is a bit like Wikipedia and you can lose hours in there, so be careful.)

Like most of the scifi tropes we’ve looked at, alternate universes can be used pretty much any way you want. They can be used to explore aspects of humanity, causality, or history. They can be used as backdrops for adventure, romance, and exploration. You can have a new universe every week, or have a number of universes intricately connected.

What are your favorite uses of alternate universes, Squiders? I recently started V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series, which deals with alternate universes in a fantasy setting. And, of course, Star Trek makes excellent use of this trope through episodes like Mirror, Mirror and even my very favorite Next Gen episode, Inner Light.

Fun Scifi Tropes: Faster-than-Light Travel

Oh, squiders. I love Faster-than-Light (FTL) travel. I love it a lot. It opens up the universe for exploration, gives us the chance to meet new species every week and touch down on a new planet.

Of course, it also breaks the laws of physics, which has made it a bit of a black sheep in science fiction circles recently. Relativistically, nothing can go faster than the speed of light, and then there’s time dilation and other things you technically need to worry about.

And there’s some really excellent science fiction out there that deals with interstellar travel in a way that’s scientifically plausible (The Forever War comes to mind, which made the engineer in me positively giddy). But I don’t mind it when we invent made up things to hand wave it away either for the sake of story.

TVTropes breaks FTL travel into three main categories:

These categories seem fairly sufficient to me–they cover everything from Star Trek to Star Wars to Stargate (although that is people moving and not a spaceship, but ehhhh, I’ll allow it). The portal/wormhole version of this trope seems to be most popular right now, which can either fall into jump drives or hyperdrives depending on what happens once you go through the portal. That’s probably because no one understands wormholes well enough to know how they work (or if they even exist) which allows better leverage for writers playing around with cool things.

I will admit to be rather partial to the warp drive version of this trope, probably because I was raised on nothing but books and Star Trek. Yes, I have two engineering degrees. Yes, I have taken more physics courses than most people can name. And, actually, I am better at quantum physics than some more mundane versions (::shakes fist:: Right hand rule!). But I love it undyingly anyway. How can you not?

Well, I mean, I suppose you can take it too far. I’ve certainly read books where I’ve shaken my head at the FTL mechanism. But I think the issue there tends to be that they’re trying to take themselves too seriously, focusing too much on technology which isn’t realistic or working.

Another way writers get around FTL travel (and its physics-breakage) is by shrinking space (i.e., making everything closer together than it really is). If everything is closer together, then it (obviously) takes less time to get places. This has its own problems of course (such as the fact that the universe is expanding) but hey, you do what works for the story.

How do you feel about FTL travel, squiders? Do you mind some types more than others? Do you avoid it? Do you love it? What’s your favorite FTL mechanism/series?

Fun Scifi Tropes: Aliens (and Their Invasions)

Good morning, squiders! I hope your Thursday finds you well.

Today we’ll be looking at aliens. Aliens come in a number of different flavors. You have your friendly aliens like E.T. You have your invading aliens ala Independence Day. You have aliens who have their own cultures and beliefs and goals, which can be presented in a totally unfamiliar way (such as insectoid aliens from Ender’s Game or Starship Troopers) or as friendly, relate-able faces that showcase different aspects of humanity.

(Alien has stopped looking like a word.)

“Alien” is a word that has been used in English for hundreds of years. My Internet combing tells me that it came into usage in the 1300s as a word meaning a foreigner (a usage it still has, though perhaps less common) or an outsider. I’m getting mixed results on the word as meaning “someone from another planet.” One sources says 1920s. Another accredits it to John Wood Campbell in 1953 in Analog magazine. Who knows? Apparently not the Internet.

(On the other hand, the word “extraterrestrial,” which is perhaps more explicit in its definition, was first used in 1848, according to Merriam-Webster.)

But anyway.

Aliens have evolved throughout science fiction. Early science fiction, which often has adventurers exploring far-off-but-not-really locales such as the Moon or Mars, usually has extraterrestrial beings that are close to human beings (I’m looking at you, A Princess of Mars).

Indeed, a lot of science fiction tends toward fairly human aliens. We touched on this a few weeks ago, but part of this is because science fiction tends to be an exploration of humanity, and by representing different alien species as different aspects of humanity (::coughStarTrekcough::) you can explore humanity as a whole. Another reason is because if an alien has an aspect of humanity to them, it makes them more relate-able to a human audience. If a character is supposed to be sympathetic, they’ll often have a human element to them.

Alternately, inhuman aliens are often portrayed as “evil” or in opposition to humanity. This isn’t always true–writers often turn this trope on its head by focusing on the miscommunication between two species with little in common. But almost all of your “evil” alien species are inhuman in appearance or actions. Series with multiple alien species sometimes make this more apparent. If you watched Falling Skies a few years back, contrast the Espheni and the Skitters (the bad guys) versus the more human-sympathetic Volm. Or take Doctor Who, where the Time Lords are literally indistinguishable in appearance from humans, versus anything that decides to try and eat Earth at any particular moment. (See particularly: Daleks.)

What are you favorite aliens, Squiders? Favorite exploration of alien vs humanity themes? Likelihood of an ancient, powerful society seeding other planets with life and/or rescuing the dinosaurs so they can earn their sentience and eat us in the future?

The Finnbranch Readalong: Winterking

We’re done! It’s a miracle.

Oh, squiders. This one started out so much better. There were other characters! There was a clear plot! And then it spiraled down into insanity still. Sigh.

Goodreads tells me that this book was nominated for best novel for the World Fantasy Awards in 1986, so I’m just going to assume that 1986 was a bad year for fantasy novels. (Actually, further research tells me books like RedwallHowl’s Moving Castle, and The Light Fantastic came out in 1986, so maybe we were awarding awards based on how smart we thought books were that year. Do you know what I mean? Where something is totally incomprehensible, so it must be because you’re not smart enough to understand it, not that it’s just a mess?)

I feel like we got an incomplete story. At the end of Undersea, Finn/Llugh/Ar Elon had disappeared instead of leading his people to war, as had been foreshadowed through both Yearwood and Undersea. And as it doesn’t seem like Paul Hazel wrote any more books related to this (there seems to be a fourth book, The Wealdwife’s Tale, which is not directly related), apparently that will just never be finished up.

Winterking takes place at some unspecified time which I assume is roughly the 1930s. It’s after WWI (as I assume the “Great War” is referring to) and there are cars, yet if it wasn’t for those clues, I would assume it was earlier, sometime in the 1800s, because despite taking place in New England somewhere, it feels distinctly like Regency-era novels I’ve read in terms of setting/conventions. I had to keep reminding myself that this was supposed to be the New World because it felt like we were in England.

(Of course, it’s not really New England and it could literally be any time, but that leads us into the messy part of this and I’m not ready for that yet.)

SPOILERS AHEAD

We follow Wykeham, whom I originally thought was Finn but I’m pretty sure is actually supposed to be Wyck, who was present for most of Undersea though not seemingly of any import til the end. (Remember when I was talking about allegories about youth?) Finn gave him his cloak early-ish in Undersea which apparently made it so he could never age, and so he’s just gone on, forever, pretending to be his own son, in what’s a fairly standard I’m-immortal-and-this-is-how-I-don’t-seem-too-suspicious way. That part was interesting.

And then it gets messy. So apparently Wykeham has the ability to remake the world, or at least a little section of it, whenever things start to not go his way, or whenever Duinn (the god of death) gets too close. I assuming Duinn is Finn/Llugh/Ar Elon, that this is the name he did not give in the last book, though this is never explicit. So I could be completely wrong.

So Duinn gets too close, and there’s something about Indians burning churches (I really just…did not understand what the Indians ever had to do with anything. They’re in there from the beginning, and at first, before the whole world remaking madness cropped up, I assumed they were just your standard Native Americans handled indelicately because it was the ’80s. But later on I think they’re more of an indicator of how close Duinn is to catching up to Wykeham.) and Wykeham gathers nine men to him to remake the world again, and he uses the memories from himself and the nine to create the world, so it keeps people and conventions and things that people want in it.

And then, and I’m just trying to make sense of the madness, something goes wrong with the new world creation, because it’s snowing, and there’s still Indians, and the stone kings from the first book, and I think the implication is that the women (who left during the actual world remaking) got into the process accidentally, or at least Nora did, since she didn’t get all the way away (distracted by Duinn) during the remaking, and also because she’s Wykeham’s daughter, and maybe somehow has some of the same ability.

AND THEN THE BOOK JUST STOPS so there’s STILL NO RESOLUTION.

AUGH.

Anyway, if you’ve read these along with me, I’m sorry. Also, I hope you followed what happened better than I did.

Have a good weekend, Squiders!

Fun Scifi Tropes: Robots

Hey, guys! We’re doing this today rather than Thursday because we’ve got our Winterking discussion then. (Are you guys reading that with me? At first I thought it was better but we seem to be delving back into familiar confusion as we near the end.)

So today we’ll talk about robots. Who doesn’t love robots? Well, technophobes or people waiting for the Singularity, I suppose.

According to NPR, the word robot was created in 1920 for Karel Capek’s play, Rossum’s Universal Robots (RUR). In the play, robots are biological, but have no feelings, and are used to do all the jobs that humans don’t want to do. “Robot” comes from the Old Church Slavonic word “rabota,” which means servitude of forced labor.

That being said, despite the image that is generally rendered by the world–a futuristic machine that does various tasks–robots have actually been around for quite some time, mostly in the forms of automatons, which are machines created to do a specific purpose and are usually self-contained (i.e., they don’t need external control). Stories from ancient times often include automatons, and several from the 1700s-1900s still exist.

(Automatons gained some public interest from the success of the book/movie The Invention of Hugo Cabret.)

Automatons often feature fairly strongly in steampunk media (such as the webcomic Girl Genius) though the capabilities of various automatons are somewhat exaggerated past what is historically accurate (which is a feature in steampunk anyway).

Despite living in an age of robotics now, most people still get that 1950s-era Lost in Space Robot sort of image. Or the Cybermen from Doctor Who. Or Rosie from the Jetsons. It’s hard to look at a Roomba and see the connection.

(Speaking of Roombas, my partner and I recently kickstarted a robot by the same company called Tertill, who is designed to weed your garden for you. I am SO excited. I hate weeding. Anyway.)

And, of course, scifi has branched out from your classic mid-century robots. Androids are an especially large area of interest, because it allows us to explore questions such as what it means to be human, what constitutes as life, etc. If a robot looks human, acts human, are they human? Where is the delineation between man and machine?

(Actually, for a look at a world where AI are accepted as a lifeform, you might look at the webcomic Questionable Content. It starts off as a slice-of-life comic, but has added more and more AI characters and focused more on them and how they fit into the world as the comic has gone on.)

You really can–and scifi does–go over with this trope. I read a very interesting short story in one of those Best Of collections not too long ago, about a robot whose job is to keep the outside of a spaceship repaired. You can do more humanoid, or stick with more modern-day robots, where they have a single function, often something that humans won’t or can’t do. You can look at humanity through machines or just have them as background flavor in your space adventure. They can develop sentience or not.

You can have them overthrow their creators or be locked down by the laws of robotics.

(TVTropes has 47 subtropes under “Robot.”)

Who are your favorite robots? I’m partial to Data, Bender, R2D2 and K-2SO (I really like snarky robots it turns out), and Johnny 5 (…is alive!). Favorite book/show/movie that includes robots?