Sunday, April 29, 2007

Not Girly

I always knew I'm a tomboy at heart - but - but - 12%?! I'm insulted. I'm a girl. Really.

You Are 12% Girly

Um... you're a guy, right? If not, you're the most boyish girl in the world.
And for you, that's probably the ultimate compliment.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Fifth Wheel Marathon at Forward Motion

This weekend I'm working on a writer's marathon at Forward Motion. The challenge is - how many reviews can I write by midnight Monday? I'm aiming for six. To qualify, they have to be at least five hundred words each, with the purpose of publication online or in print.

It is called a 'Fifth Wheel' marathon because it is only held on the weekend that is number five in a month. I'll be reviewing books I've read in the romance and SF genres, and sending the reviews to an online magazine. I'll post my results here Monday.

Anyone can play - stop by Forward Motion for more details on the Main Community forum.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Exactly Like Nobody Else

Reading through Karen Traviss' Wess'har series for a second time, I realized that comparing her to other SF writers -- even popular and award winning authors like C. J. Cherryh or Nancy Kress, is just not fair. Not to them, not to her.

Because Karen Traviss writes like nobody else. She is unique. Read all the books by Brin or Viehl that you want, you won't know what it is like to read a book by Karen Traviss. Her quality of thought is unique, her characters are unique, her plot twists are unique, and most certainly the ethics embeded in the Wess'har books are uniquely hers.

In some genres, it is the predictability of the characters and the outcome that is the attraction. In mystery, suspense or romance, many books are published that could nearly be any other book -- just change the setting and names of the characters.

In the Science Fiction genre, there is the challenge of introducing something that has never existed before, something new from which concentric, expanding ripples of "what if" are extrapolated to shape the story and intrigue the reader. Silvergull mentioned this unique attribute of the SF genre in a thread at Forward Motion yesterday. She explained that a lecturer at her university designated the concept "novum" -- something new.

A novum fits exactly the description of the Wess'har series by Karen Traviss. She fulfills the SF challenge, (to create something new), and does it within her unique style, logical consistency, and cliff-hanger plot twists.

The first time reading the series, I could see it being made into a movie or movies. In the second reading, I'm convinced that it has to be put on the big screen. I wonder if Lucy Lawless could play Shan Frankland?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Panda Dreams and Paradise Cake

I've been sleeping and dreaming long hours the past week while recovering from a flare. Most dreams I have are banal, gross, scary or weird. This morning, though, came a dream so happy I'm going to share it. I don't have any books on interpreting dreams, and if you do, please don't spoil it for me by telling me it was about my stock investments or whatever.

I meandered through the crowded cafe, looking for my friend. Yes! there on the patio, was a very young panda, sitting at a small, round table. I hurried over and asked my guest "What would you like to order?" "Why, paradise cake (of course) ." When it arrived the paradise cake was chocolate and other flavors, and just the right size for two. We laughed and talked of inconsequential things. It was a very happy luncheon.

So I've been reading SF novels by Brin, Viehl, Kress and Traviss lately. My panda friends would like them too... They understand that real people don't always look just like us.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

"Your order is now packed and ready to leave our warehouse."

"Night Lost" a novel of the Darkyn, by Lynn Viehl, is on its way to my house. Yes!

I will read it. Enjoy it. Think about it. Read it again.

At some point, I will try to share a bit about it here in a book review - without committing any plot spoilers. (Not hard at all, just like trying to carry water in a sieve without spilling any!)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Oh Dear!

While sorting through the book reviews I've published on this blog, I triggered a bit of confusion in the way the RSS feeds sort my blog.

Old posts are showing up as new posts. Oops!

I don't know how to fix it. I'm hoping it will sort itself out soon.

My apologies to my visitors for any inconvenience or confusion.

The Panda.

Random Joy

What gives you joy? What makes you happy? Here's my list:

Listening to "An Ancient Muse", the latest album by Loreena McKennitt. I hum, dance, write, read and daydream to her music.

Finding a joyful email from a friend in my inbox.

My husband taking the day off - and spending it with me.

Tossing out the expired vitamins and OTC remedies from the pantry.

Reading my favorite SF a second time.

Preparing for a writer challenge at Forward Motion. The fifth weekend of the month!

Choosing roses for my garden from Heirloom Roses new catalog. Joy from our in-laws, who sent a memorial gift to plant for my mother.

Sipping water from a "2000" champagne flute and remembering the landmark New Year's Eve, celebrating it with family.

So, the tax bill was horrendous this year, and I had to go to the hospital last week, and getting old isn't much fun sometimes -- BUT!

Joy is always there: seize the joy.

Friday, April 13, 2007

"Beggars In Spain" - the Future is Now

There are books that entertain. There are books that stimulate thoughts and ideas. There are books that challenge perceptions and make demands on their readers.

There are a few books that do all of the above and more, books such as "Beggars In Spain" by Nancy Kress. But why review a book that was published in 1994? Perhaps because I just now read it. Perhaps more to the point, the book opens in the near future, which is now upon us -- the opening of the book is set in 2008.

When it was first published as a novella in 1991, it was about a future earth, shaped by advances in genetic science. At that time, real parents were already purchasing genetic modifications for their real children: modest increases in height, intelligence, and other traits seen as desirable. What genetic modifications have been discovered and marketed in the sixteen years since then?

Although books and news articles on human genetic enhancements are scarce, it is because doctors fear losing their medical license, and parents fear condemnation, not because it is isn't being done. It is being done, in this country and elsewhere. Few people are comfortable discussing questions of money, priviledge, ethics, law, and other considerations that Kress unveils in her seminal work. It is happening folks; the future is now.

Nancy creates memorable, unique and believable characters in "Beggers in Spain". It is great science fiction and also a thoughtful scenario of "what if". What if genetic mods created a group of people so different they would seem alien? What if genetic improvements were available only to the children of the wealthy?

I bought "Beggers in Spain" because it was so highly recommended, but when it arrived I wasn't sure I would like reading it, and it sat on the shelf for a few weeks. It is one of my favorite books now, and I'm glad I didn't miss it. I think it is classic Science Fiction, and the only caveat I would give would be - "Read it while it is still - fiction!"

Vasovagal Response and Criminal Intent

Vasovagal Response is a medical term for near fainting. It is also what I experienced yesterday morning.

It can be triggered by a variety of ordinary things, when the body has an exaggerated response and a subsequent drop in blood pressure. Happily, people recover quickly, even if they experience a Vasovagal Syncope and lose consciousness.

It was very distressing to to experience a clammy sweat, loud ringing in the ears, and the room going suddenly quite dim for no apparent reason. I had the opportunity to find out how very fast and effectively our local emergency response team can work. Within minutes of placing a 911 call, they arrived, gave me oxygen and started a saline drip. Most surprising was the portable equipment they used to take an EKG reading, complete with print-out.

I'm happy to report that my blood pressure and EKG and all other systems are quite normal and healthy. There may be a complication from the event, though.

Here in Oregon, fainting is categorized with other criminal activities, and strictly regulated by the state. A law passed in 2003 requires doctors to report fainters. Then a letter is issued by the state (not the Department of Motor Vehicles) which instructs the fainter to report to their doctor for evaluation of said fainting, or lose their driver's license. The doctor must send a subsequent report to the state, under penalty of losing his license to practice medicine. The report the doctor sends to the state is confidential and the patient is not allowed to see the report! (I found that most troubling.)

Although I did not lose consciousness yesterday, I did faint in 2003. I'd had the flu or something, and was at home when it happened, but the state still suspended my driver's license when I missed their deadline to see my doctor for evaluation. In a domino effect, our car insurance company cancelled our car insurance, and would not insure my husband separately as long as my driver's license was in suspension.

After I reported to my doctor, the state reissued my driver's license on the condition that I report to my doctor for evaluation every six months for the next three years. If I had been driving when I fainted, I would see the necessity for the state to be concerned. People usually have the good sense to stay home when they aren't well, which is where I was when I fainted. The fact that I can faint in my own home and yet the state involves itself the minute I tell my doctor is disturbing. Driving while ill enough to make operating a vehicle hazardous could be construed as reckless endangerment. Staying home in bed while ill enough to make operating a vehicle hazardous? I would call that common sense and good judgement.

Women can (and sometimes do) faint while pregnant, because it puts an extra load on their bodies. Should pregnant women be banned from driving because that could happen? Men who stay up all night to study for a college exam could possibly get dizzy or even pass out briefly while driving. Should all college students be banned from driving?

At what point should the state insert its judgement and control into the decision to drive a vehicle? After someone has operated a vehicle with poor judgement? Or before?

That is the crux of the matter.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

"The World Before" by Karen Traviss

>"What am I then?" asked Sergeant Bennett.

This sentence has become one of my favorite "first lines". It's a knockout, especially when followed by:

>"Am I still human?"

To reveal more would be to risk telling a plot spoiler. This book begins with a punch, and it is one of the reasons I recommend reading the series from the beginning.

All six of the wess'har war books in the series can stand alone. Not every series deserves to have all the books read in order of publication. This series, though, is worth reading all the way through from the beginning work, "The City of Pearl".

The third wess'har novel, "The World Before", continues to unfold the fascinating characters introduced in the first book, knitting their lives together in totally unexpected but satisfying ways and places.

Five alien societies live and rub shoulders in the wess'har war series, (humans included). They all have domestic and politicial problems, which are dwarfed by the secret: something so transforming of their worlds that obtaining or containing it becomes their top priority.

I like the plot twists in Karen's books more than nearly anything I've read, and I don't intend spoil the surprises for anyone else, so it becomes a challenge to convey the excitement of discovery, the pleasure of the tantalizing developments in this story.

Russell Letson, reviewing Karen's second book, "Crossing the Line" in Locus (2004), favorably compares Traviss to Le Guin, Nancy Kress and C.J. Cherryh, and others. I agree with him: Karen's writing is easily as entertaining, thought-provoking and skillful as any of the leading lights of Science Fiction today. To his list, I would add David Brin (the Uplift series), and S. L. Viehl. (Stardoc series), two of my personal favorites.

Looking for aliens that are truly alien and not just humans in funny costumes? Looking for unforgettable characters, in spite of (or is it because of) they're flaws? Looking for a plot you cannot see coming a mile away, but which is believable once it arrives?

The wess'har war books give all that and more. Just don't make the same mistake I did, but order all five of yours together. Because once you start reading, you won't be able to put them down. Since I only ordered the first two in paperback, and couldn't wait for the next three to be delivered, I ended up with those three in digital format. Now I'm usually agreeable with digital books, but these five novels are books I want to take places with me, read again when I go on vacation, handle and pop open and consider. Not so easy with digital. You've been cautioned.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Karen Traviss Knocked My Socks Off

I didn't plan to read five books by Karen Traviss in eleven days, but that's what happened.

Once I began the first one, "City of Pearl" I was hooked - SO hooked.

Recipe for addictive novels:

Begin with a base of Science Fiction genre. Season with a handful of irresistible characters that have been coated with tension. Next, select a variety of fresh vital ingredients: genetic manipulation; war and "ethnic cleansing"; ethics and consequences of media reporting. Dice into tidbits and sift together. Add to seasoned base and stir. Now, firmly seize gender roles at the root and twist. Add to the stew. Simmer with talent, serve hot and flavor with insights or epiphanies as desired.

Margaret Fisk posted reviews for "City of Pearl" and "Crossing the Line" in her blog, so I will begin tomorrow with a review of the third in the series, "The World Before".