And Now, In Solemnity…

I apologize for the lateness of this post, Squiders. Our dog died suddenly on Sunday, and this week has been a bit rough.

R.I.P. Riley, 2008-2017

I am not a dog person, in general. They require a lot of work and a lot of attention, and in general I just don’t have enough spoons to deal with that. Also they’re messy and drool-y and…well.

But Riley was the ideal dog. He rarely barked and was never destructive, he was super patient with the small, mobile ones (though he did like to still their food), he was willing to walk and play but also willing to nap in the middle of the floor. He loved to have his tummy rubbed and his ears scritched, but he would be okay if you only did it for a minute and then wandered off.

He did shed more than every animal I’ve ever owned combined, but hey, in the great scheme of things, that’s not so bad.

It’s never easy to lose a pet, especially one that’s been an integral part of your family for several years. But I think what’s making it so much harder is that it was unexpected. Riley was not old. Riley was not sick. Riley showed no signs of anything being wrong and, in fact, had been in an excellent mood all week.

And then poof, suddenly gone. His heart failed. Why? Who knows? We don’t, and we never will. Was it a heart attack? A stroke? Did he eat something poisonous? Did he get bit by a rattlesnake (despite it being 50 degrees and raining)? Was there something we could have done differently that would have saved him? The ER did everything they could to get his heart going again, but nothing worked.

Sometimes that’s the hardest part, I think–being left behind and not having the answers.

It’s rained since he died, which matches the mood of the family.

Anyway, we’re coping. Everyone’s been very nice about it. His vet even sent us fancy flowers, delivery from a florist. But it’s been hard to get the creativity flowing.

I hope your week’s going better. See you Friday.

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Promo: The Divinity Bureau by Tessa Clare

Good morning, Squiders! Today I’ve got The Divinity Bureau by Tessa Clare, a dystopian romance, for you.

Dystopian Romance
Date Published: September 21st, 2017
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Publisher: Asset Creative House
The Hunger Games meets Romeo and Juliet in a stunning debut about a forbidden romance between a young activist and a government employee for a corrupt bureau that controls the population by deciding who lives and who dies.

 

Roman Irvine is a disgruntled IT Technician for the Divinity Bureau, a government agency that uses random selection to decide who lives and who dies. In a world where overpopulation has lead to pollution, a crippled economy, and a world in crisis, he’s accepted the bureau’s activities as a necessity… until he meets April McIntyre.

 

April has every reason to be suspicious of Roman. He works for the Divinity Bureau, which sent her father to an early grave. But he’s also sweet and loyal, and unbeknownst to her, he saved her life. As Roman and April fall deeper in love, the deeper they’re thrust into the politics of deciding who lives and who dies. Someone wants April dead. And the bureau’s process of random selection may not be so random after all…

 

Tessa Clare is the author of The Divinity Bureau. When she’s not writing, she’s an entrepreneur, an activist, a speaker, and the Managing Director of Asset Creative House. Throughout her early career, she was a concession stand attendant, a busgirl, a barista, a player’s club representative for a casino, and an administrative assistant. She also spent years working as a manager for Vacasa, whose business model and revolutionary marketing strategies would later inspire the groundwork for Asset Creative House. The Divinity Bureau is Tessa’s debut novel about a forbidden love between a young activist and a government employee working for a corrupt bureau, set in a dystopian world.

 

 
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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: Time Travel

Time travel! My other trope-y love. I have been known to pick up media based solely on the fact that they included time travel even if all other signs pointed to the whole idea being terrible.

But there’s so many things you can do with a time travel story! You can do fish-out-of-water stories (i.e., character ends up in incorrect time, either past or future–I mean, it’s the whole premise of Futurama, but even Mark Twain got in on the action). You can explore a past time period through a modern lens. You can stick dinosaurs wherever the hell you want them. You can have wacky shenanigans or tragic separation. The possibilities are truly endless. (As are the time travel related tropes, yikes.)

TVTropes has categories for time travel stories as well, although it breaks it up into nine:

It also notes four methods of time travel:

  • Videocassette time travel (basically, time is a straight line that you can travel forward or back on, and you can see the world changing around you)
  • Wormhole time travel (a wormhole or other “time tunnel” is used–this going along with my theory that no one understands wormholes and writers are going to exploit that as much as possible)
  • Instantaneous time travel (one minute you’re in one time, the next you’re in another)
  • Unseen time travel (the traveling character doesn’t know how they got there, or the audience is never shown the time travel process)

Time travel can be the main plot point of a story or in the background; it can be something that comes up once or twice in a series and is never mentioned again, or something used every week. It can be used to explore history, humanity, the future, time itself, cause and effect–you name it. Or it can just be the pretty box around an adventure or romance story.

It does seem to seep into all scifi series eventually, though, doesn’t it? I mean, even if we discount time travel-oriented series like Doctor Who or Quantum Leap, you get it in Star Trek, Stargate, Supernatural…even Fraggle Rock has a time travel episode.

But I still love it.

Favorite time travel stories or tropes, squiders? I’m pretty indiscriminate, though I will say that I thought Connie Willis’s Blackout/All Clear duology was magnificent. (And I’m fond of Connie Willis in general.)

Ode to My Osprey Bag

We’ve been in Iceland! Sneaky, I know. And I wanted to highlight an MVP of this–and several other–trips: my Osprey Porter 46 backpack.

(Oooh, I see it comes in colors now! Back in the day it only came in black.)

This bag has been with me on four continents over the past seven and a half years. You see, back in May 2010, my husband and I were about to embark on our first big trip as a couple, a 17-day trip across Germany, Denmark, and a tiny bit of Austria. We’d found our guru in Rick Steves, who recommended packing in a carry-on sized backpack so a number of reasons, which, off the top of my head, were:

  1. If you’re wearing the bag on your back, you don’t have to worry about dragging your bag through whatever is on the road, if there’s a road.
  2. Roller bags = tourists, which in some parts of the world is not something you want to be promoting.
  3. By using a carry-on sized bag, you didn’t have to worry about your bag getting lost/stolen/rifled through while it was out of your possession, because it would never be out of your possession.

We took this advice to heart, bought a few different bags to try, and ended up with the Osprey based on comfort (I’ve worn the bag, completely packed, on an 8-mile hike over a mountain in Japan with no issues), storage space, and general awesomeness. (For example, the backpack straps can be folded in, essentially turning the bag into a suitcase.)

Ugh steep

(Here I am wearing the pack on our first day in Germany–in a little town called Bacharach. You can see my thoughts on the steepness of the hill.)

We’ve used these packs exclusively for all our international travel. They’ve been with us in Copenhagen and Berlin, in Cuzco and Lima, in Toyko and Kyoto, and now in Reykjavik and the countryside beyond. We’ve never had issues getting everything we needed into them, though we were a bit worried this time, with the amount of layers/boots we were taking. But everything worked fine.

The bags have weathered well too. One of the clips to help tighten the straps on the outside of the bag broke on my husband’s bag after Japan, but Osprey sent us a replacement for free.

Anyway, this bag is great. I highly recommend it. Everything fits great (we use packing cubes to keep things organized), there’s always room for souvenirs, they’re super comfortable, and we never have to wait to go places.

Do you have something that’s been indispensable for traveling, squiders?

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?

Library Book Sale Finds: The Goldcamp Vampire

Hooray! Another one off the shelf for your enjoyment. Neither my husband or me cop to buying this. I mean, look at the cover.

This has no elements that would entice my husband. It’s bright. It’s colorful. No one is immediately dying. (My husband tends towards darker fantasy.)

But I dislike vampires. A lot. I so rarely pick up any sort of media that includes them, and there one is, right in the title.

(It probably was me. But what was I thinking?)

Maybe I thought it would be a romp. I do like romps.

Anyway! I bought this book at a library book sale in 2015 and now I have read it, and we can talk about it.

Title: The Goldcamp Vampire
Author: Elizabeth Scarborough
Genre: Historical fantasy
Publication Year: 1987

Pros: Occasional fun capers and no one cares about there being a vampire, not even the Mounties
Cons: Wanting to beat viewpoint character over the head with something

I wanted to like this a lot more than I did. It’s fairly ridiculous, and no one’s fooling anyone, and also no one cares and it’s glorious. But I felt like the prose was dense and I admit to skimming when it got bogged down in description, and I wasn’t too fond of the main character, who often couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

(Goodreads includes a longer title: The Goldcamp Vampire, or the Sanguinary Sourdough, though I’m not sure where sourdough comes into it.)

This is also the second book in the series, the first being The Drastic Dragon of Draco, Texas. I have not read that book or this author previously.

Pelagia Harper, also known as Valentine Lovelace (author), has recently lost her father, so when his mistress offers her a chance to make a new life in the Yukon, she goes along with it, thinking she’ll at least have a good story to tell. There is a weird addition to the party, however–they’ll need to escort the coffin of the mistress’s new employer’s former partner with them.

By the time they reach their end destination, several people around them have died seemingly randomly, and Pelagia/Valentine has been implicated in at least one of their murders. So the mistress and her employer insist on hiding her in plain sight by dying her hair and making her a flamenco dancer at their saloon, answering to the name of Corazon and speaking no English.

So you can see what sort of book this is. I wish I had liked Pelagia/Valentine better. Besides the name confusion (as she rarely thinks of herself by name, and those around her have practically half-a-dozen names she’s referred to), she’s older (in her ’30s), an author, has dealt with supernatural creatures previously, and isn’t afraid to go to other people’s rescue. I should like her. But I didn’t. Nor was I too wild about most of the side characters, of which there are a couple dozen, which are sometimes hard to keep track of. I did like Larsson, Lomax, and Jack London, and occasionally Vasily Vladovitch. Oh, and the cat.

I dunno. I’d give it a 3 out of 5 stars. So not good, but not bad. If you like romps involving the Yukon, the Gold Rush, and vampires, hey, here’s a book for you. There’s also a were-moose.

Read anything else by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough? Would you recommend anything?