Thursday, April 20, 2017

Limnandi panel

Here's a peak at an early pair of panels. The first shows the central character/narrator (female) and the eponymous Limnandi (male). The second is just two local girls. The setting is South Africa, sort of, inasmuch as it is anywhere out of dreams, which is where the story was conceived.
If anyone wants to gauge the age level of the story, these are probably the most explicit pictures there will be.

Here are inspirational photos of a Zulu hut and a Zulu village.



Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Graphic Novel

So I went to the Vermont Comic Con the other day, and I tried to get a couple artists to think about wanting to illustrate some graphic stories I've written. They looked at what I'd drawn and told me to draw it myself. So... who am I to argue?

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Eugene Fairfield's Best Books of 2016

As last year, a book is considered "2016" if I read it in 2016. As such, the competition is highly random, pitting P. G. Wodehouse against Lemony Snicket. Here they are:

Best Young Adult


The Raven Cycle, by Maggie Stiefvater

Blue is a compelling heroine, her tension with the Raven Boys is artfully done, the setting is original and surprising, the plot and romance compelling. It's hard to find something not to like about this book.

Best Science Fiction

Oryx and Crake (MaddAddam, #1)The Year of the Flood by Margaret AtwoodMaddAddam (MaddAddam, #3)

MaddAdam trilogy, by Margaret Atwood (Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, MaddAddam)

 Lyrical, terrifying, absurd, human, brutal. Margaret Atwood is a stunningly powerful author. The Crakers are wonderful.

Best Fantasy

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Cycle, by Maggie Stiefvater

I didn't read a lot of fantasy this year, and if not for this series, I wouldn't have given a "Best Fantasy" nod this year.

Most Important

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande

What is it really like -- aging, infirmity, and dying? Informed by his experiences as a doctor and as the grandson of a dying man in India, Gawande explores issues of independence, pride and loss, traditional vs. modern care, and a medical system that sees death as an enemy to defeat. A peculiar war to fight, with the guarantee that no matter how many battles are won, the war will always be lost. If you know anyone old or infirm, read this book.

Best Discovery

Authority by Jeff VanderMeer Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer 

Southern Reach Trilogy, by Jeff Vandermeer

 Last Christmas Isabelle got a book on writing, The Wonderbook, by Jeff Vandermeer. Looking at it, I wanted to know who this writer was. Weird, complex, and original.

Author of the Year

Margaret Atwood 2015.jpg 

Margaret Atwood

Speaking of being mortal, Margaret Atwood is something more. The competition is hardly fair to mere human beings.

Best Author Who Isn't Margaret Atwood

Maggiestiefvater.jpg

Maggie Stiefvater

Seriously. She wrote 5 of the 30 books I read this year, and they ranged from Good to Great.

 Best Solo Audiobook Performance

Will patton 2006.jpg

 Will Patton

Apparently Scholastic sprang the big bucks for the Raven Cycle. This guy has an extensive filmography going back to 1983's Silkwood. Here, he performs the great feat of making you forget there is only one reader. I can't remember his voice, I can only remember Blue, and Gantsey, and the Gray Man.

Best Audiobook Performance in a book I didn't like

Simon Vance (Titus Groan)

I've noticed that the best audio performances usually line up with my favorite books. So here is a fabulous voice actor, despite reading for a book I didn't like. The diversity of characters and voices he is capable of is stunning. Hats off!

Best Protagonist

illustration by ulrikmunther

Blue Sargent (The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater) Second from right

Born under the kind of prophecy you really don't want ("You will kill your true love with a kiss"), Blue is the only daughter (and only non-psychic) in a house full of psychic women. At once tough and vulnerable, fierce and gentle, the inadequate diner waitress among the elite prep school boys, but also the queen of her band. Not only only that, but she's also super-cool.

Best Quote

"Who is this Fuck, O Toby? Will Fuck come and help us, too?"

MaddAddam, by Margaret Atwood

The day fuck became a deity. Need I say more? 

Book of the Year

MaddAddam (MaddAddam, #3)

MaddAddam, by Margaret Atwood

This is a book that will last generations. Bleak, visionary, at times absurd. It is the hopeful conclusion to a devastating trilogy.


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Plot Peeves

There are some things I just can't stand in a story.

Plot Fart

A compelling question is raised... and ignored

Ten year-old girl was nipped by a werewolf, but manages to fight off the lycanthropy somehow. Now seventeen, she is attacked by another werewolf, and bitten again. Will lycanthropy overwhelm her this time? Is she doomed, her life as a human ruined? What will happen?

Unfortunately, nothing. None of these possibilities even occurs to the characters, because they have divine knowledge somehow that she is immune to lycanthropy. Being immune is certainly possible, but their absolute certainty that this is how it works just doesn't make sense. It's like a story-wide brain fart.

Stupidity Plot Drive 

An obvious solution could solve the problem, but the characters, by sheer force of will, do not notice.

The young heroes, riding in a coach and four, are stopped by a tree fallen across the road. A second tree blocks their retreat. They try to pull the fallen tree out of the way, but they aren't strong enough. If only there was someone stronger to help them! Like four Clydesdale draft horses! Certainly it's possible the horse couldn't do it, either. But we don't know they couldn't, because no one even thought about the possibility. Although it's a good thing they didn't think to try this, because if they had escaped, they wouldn't have been attacked in the night and the plot advanced.

This is related to the Plot Fart, but worse. After a similar fashion, an obvious question doesn't occur to the characters. In the Plot Fart, the willful oversight is just confusing and annoying. In the Stupidity Plot Drive, it is necessary to  keep the story moving. Nothing is worse than a problem that is only a problem because the characters are too stupid to solve it.

Say What?

Characters briefly do the impossible, leaving the reader wondering if this is supposed to be significant, or what?

Often this happens to me with wildlife. The girl who runs "very fast" and escapes from a mountain lion. The hunters who decide they're going to kill all the wolves in the forest, so they walk into the woods and shoot them. Question: given a 40' head start, how long can an Olympic sprinter stay ahead of a mountain lion before getting caught and eaten? Answer: 0.9 seconds. Question: how far might a wolf pack be from its den when the hunters go looking for it? Answer: up to 30 miles.

I don't like to dispute accuracy with fiction. Just let it be a story. It's okay. But it is so darn jarring. For me it's analogous to having characters in New York jump in their car and drive to Paris for the afternoon. I stop reading and try to figure out if I'm supposed to make anything out of this apparently magical power or not.

In the case of the mountain lion, I actually was--the girl was half a were-lion. If the girl had been shocked or confused by her miraculous escape, I'd have been okay. But because she doesn't notice she's done something superhuman, I'm left wondering if she did, or if the author was just confused. "Very fast" doesn't cover what you'd need to do to outrun a mountain lion. It's the fastest sprinter in the world who can last 0.9 seconds.

In the case of the wolves, no, the hunters have no super-powers, these wolves just like to sit around and wait to be hunted.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Star Wars: A Simple Comparisom

SPOILER ALERT!

As everyone knows, Star Wars is a trilogy of trilogies. There's the Original Trilogy, from 1977. The New Trilogy, from 2015. And, of course, there's the Abomination, from somewhere in between, I'm trying not to remember.

Everybody knows how the Abomination compares to the Original, but how about OT and NT? I'm trying to make up my mind.

At the risk of making my co-workers laugh at me, I had to make a table.

Original Trilogy New Trilogy
PLUS: Heroic, Epic, Larger-than-life, classic retelling of the Hero's Tale. Deeply rooted in mythology Epic and heroic, but not the classic "Hero's Tale" (hero--Rey--is absent from the beginning of the story)
PLUS: Tight, solid plotting DING: fractured story-telling. Needlessly unresolved questions. Stellar hopscotch so fast the viewer loses track of what is happening where. Rapid-fire coincidental meetings.
DING: Lame, stilted dialogue, mildly whiny hero ("But I wanted to go to the Tashi Station and pick up some power converters!") PLUS: Strong characters, real feelings and situations. Characters drive story. Solid dialogue. A little more life-size.
PLUS: Amazing cinematography PLUS: Amazing, evocative cinematography. Better picture of poverty and oppression.
PLUS: Original, definitive. Star Wars transformed SF for the movies. DING: Death Star Redux III. A lot of parallel scenes.
DING: Cuteness. R2D2 had appeal, the Jawas were slightly creepy, but the teddy bears were over the top. Cuteness contained. BB-8 had it, and that was enough.
Improbable situations and physics, but it's all in good fun. DING: Silly physics. Silly enough to be distracting.

Score: 

For the Original Trilogy, the Heroic Tale, the mythology, and its original, transformative nature are its greatest hallmarks. The dialogue and, especially in later episodes, cuteness factor are its most famous flaws.

For the New Trilogy, the characters, their conflicts and struggles, the vision of the First Order, and the evocative places stand out. It's a shame, therefore, that the frayed plot undermines all this.

Telling the difference between what is a delicious, compelling mystery, and what is an annoying withholding of information can be a tricky call. But there are two simple, basic guidelines:
  1. Unless mystery and subterfuge is the point of the story, if the heroes know the answer, the viewer should know it. 
  2. If a character has a mysterious background, when others discover it, the viewer should discover it. 
In the case of Rey's past, the first point means that, by the end of the movie, we should know something of the circumstances of her abandonment. We shouldn't be guessing whether she was waiting for her mother, boyfriend, sister, best friend, or entire family. We shouldn't wonder whether the parting was forcible abduction, probable death, neglectful abandonment, or heroic abandonment. The memory flashes at the cantina are only a tease, not a resolution. The second rule says that when Rey and Leia meet, it should be clear whether she's thinking "Here is someone who knows what I'm feeling," or if she's squealing "Mommy!"

The ambiguities build on each other. It appears as if Rey is Ren's sister, but that raises more questions. If not, then we know nothing of her background. If so, then why doesn't she know anything about Han and Leia? It's all so completely unresolved that I even lack confidence it's worth trying to unravel. That is to say, I expect that, when the "mystery" is revealed, any evidence against the revealed truth is simply ignored. J. J. Abrams track record with Lost encourages this view.

The parallel scenes I can forgive, because they felt like tributes more than rehashes. If a funny-looking band had featured in the cantina (as in Return of the Jedi's rehash), if there had been a brawl, if the Yoda-ite had used Object-Subject-Verb word order (or some other odd speech), if the Neo-Death Star's weakness wasn't directly tied in to the uniqueness of its original weapon, this would have annoyed me much more. However, no new twist can really make Death Star Redux III okay. We need a new threat.

The silly physics aren't a bad ding, they're just annoying. They disrupt the story for anyone who thinks about what's going on. You don't need a Ph.D. in physics to wonder how a planet can survive after its sun has been sucked up by the Neo-Death Star, we learned in kindergarten how we need the sun. Anytime your viewers are scratching their heads and saying "Wait, what just happened?" you've interrupted your movie. It's bad story-telling.

The Winner: The Original Trilogy

It's a close call, and a shame, because it wouldn't have taken more than a junior story editor to fix the flaws that undercut the new movie. All the genius of the characters, dialogue, settings, and plot was badly hampered by the shoddy storytelling. Simplify the planet-hopping, make clear what is happening where. Pay attention to the questions you raise, and notice the difference between a mystery and an annoying omission. That part isn't hard. It boggles my brain that Hollywood so often skips the critical, easy parts while creating brilliant bits to flounder in the soup.

The New Trilogy is fabulous, and I am eagerly awaiting the next two episodes. I even have hope that Disney will ask JJ Abrams to remake the Abomination episodes, since they own the rights, have no shame about admitting what a disaster they were, and will make tons of money and happy fans if they do. But this movie doesn't displace the original from its iconic top spot.

At least, not yet.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Eugene Fairfield's Best Books of 2015

As last year, a book is considered "2015" if I read it in 2015. As such, the competition is highly random, pitting Adam Rex against Jerome K. Jerome. Here they are:

Best Children's Book: 

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex

(See below for the many reasons this won)


Best Science Fiction:


A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias

Excellent depiction of First Contact, with all the cultural misunderstanding, a compelling alien world, and dramatic plot.

Best Epic Fantasy:

Sabriel by Garth Nix

Original, at once epic and human-scale, with a compelling heroine, well-developed and original magic system, dramatic climax, and flawless submersion in the culture.

Runner-up: Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johanssen

Queen Kelsey pulls along this tale of a teen who must assume her throne through multiple assassination plots, with a compulsion to justice that drives her to make dangerous choices.

Best Political Theme in Story Form: 

 

12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northrup

Plainly and powerfully told. Should be required reading in high school.

Runners-up: (tie) The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi & The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex

Bacigalupi's no-holds-barred indictment of the corporate spin machine is powerful and timely, but Rex's allegory of the Euro-american conquest of North America is more subtle and less preachy.

Funniest Book: 

(tie) The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex

 and Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome

 How can you rank one over the other? Both hilarious and brilliantly written, yet so completely different in tone and, well, everything. On the one hand, there are eternally quotable lines from Rex: "I was told to come to the obnoxiously-colored building where people who are bad at math give away their money" "'Do you know why we've pulled you over, Miss?' 'Uh... because I'm only twelve and my car is floating?'"  On the other you've got the pinnacle of British humor.

Most Heart-Wrenching: 

(tie) Landline by Rainbow Rowell

and The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex

Rainbow Rowell is a powerhouse of real life, flawed characters, and heart-wrenching scenes. But it is hard to beat the poignancy of Adam Rex's Tip, trying to drag her mother to the doctor, or standing in the snow on Christmas Eve, staring at the place where her mother was just sucked up by an alien ship.

Most Haunting: 


We Were Liars by E. Lockheart

A powerfully told story of PTSD, family drama, wealth, and, of course, lies.

Best Sequel: 

Smek for President by Adam Rex

Nearly as good as the original. Expands and builds on the previous while staying true to the story.

Continued -->



Eugene Fairfield's Best Books of 2015, continued

Most Magical: 


Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block

Bleak and beautiful. Suffused with awe and wonder.

Best Scientific Grounding: 


Dark Orbit by Carolyn Ives Gilman

This tale of a sightless people combines the most recent neuroscience and a keen sense of culture to create great science fiction.

Best Magical System: 


Sabriel by Garth Nix

Simple yet fully developed, original, evocative, and wholly self-consistent. What more could a fantasist ask?

Best Protagonist: 


Gratuity Tucci (True Meaning of Smekday)

Smart, sassy, bold, introspective, literate, and still needs her mommy. She's  one heck of an African-Italian-American 12 year-old. 

PS. Do you know how hard it is to find an image from a book after Hollywood has made a movie out of it?

Best Villain: 

(tie) the captain (Challenger Deep) (no image available)

He's crazy. He's cruel. He's incomprehensible. And he hates that parrot.

the Gorg (True Meaning of Smekday)

All Gorg are left-handed. All Gorg like musical theater. If you were to take all the Gorg in the world, and stack them one on top of the other, the Gorg would kill you. Those who do not cooperate will be severely punched.

Best Audio Performance: 


(tie) Michael Curran-Dorsano (Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman)

Every character comes alive, you forget there is only one man reading. Total immersion in the book.

Bahni Turpin (True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex)

Not only was her Gratuity Tucci fantastic and heartfelt, but her J-Lo was definitive. The perfect voice for the alien that was at once meek, out-of-it, and yet superior to human foolishness. She'd have first place all to herself, if I could have shaken the image that the residents of Roswell were black. This could be subconscious racism--I doubt if I would be as bothered if a white reader didn't make black characters sound black--although of course some black people do sound white, while rednecks never sound black. It probably wouldn't have mattered as much to me in another context, but race mattered in this story, and in this scene the fact that the characters were white mattered, so the accent distracted me.  But, mm, (sheep noise--bubble rap--bubble rap), maybe, her J-Lo was the amazing. [that's an inside joke if you haven't read it]

Author of the Year:

Paolo Bacigalupi (The Doubt Factory, The Water Knife)

He writes for young adult, he writes for adult. He explores the future of climate change in dramatic, intelligent stories. He is bold enough to smear dozens of major corporations, accusing them of real criminal activity around real events (such as the warnings of Reyes Syndrome on aspirin, that Bayer fought to suppress or delay). He vividly displays the horror of modern warlords. And he hasn't dropped the ball once.

Runner-up: Adam Rex (The True Meaning of Smekday, Smek for President, and Fat Vampire)

The author of the Smekday toure de force ought to be the hands-down winner. But his Fat Vampire didn't hold a candle to his masterpiece. So I gave top honors to the man who never disappointed. Still. If Adam Rex never writes a good book again, he belongs in the hall of fame.

Book of the Year:


The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex

What else could it be? What other book can place in Funniest, Most Heart-Wrenching, and Best Political Theme? When I read this at the beginning of the year, I predicted no book would top it. I was right. I further predict it will be among the best books of the decade. If it can stand the test of time, which it may, it has a shot at placing among the best children's books of all time.

NOTE: Unless it is cold and raining and you need a campfire lit or freeze to death, do not ask me what I thought of the Hollywood movie using characters with the same names, a rough similarity to a few plot structures, and some quotes (I would not stoop to call it an "adaptation"). I will flame.

Brief Reflection

It bears noting that I get most of my literature these days (Sabriel excepted) through  audio books, and further that the best stories coincidentally have the best narrators. The opposite also tends to be true, as I disliked the narrator of Invasion of the Tearling, a disappointing sequel. Despite reading the books (very nearly) word-for-word, I think audio books are a distinct art form. It becomes impossible to separate the performance from the story. A talented reader can elevate a book high above others that might be its peers in written form. Conversely, A poor reader can ruin a book of any quality. It is rare, but I have encountered audiobooks that were simply unlistenable. It makes me wonder how I would view these stories on the page, Still, no skill in narration can push a poor story into the ranks of the great.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Carolyn Ives Gilman and Me

I just started listening to Carolyn Ives Gilman's Dark Orbit. I was immediately struck how her set up parallels the SF saga I've been working on for years: Mischief's World (working title). Both stories feature a female protagonist with a science background in alien life who has a reputation for holding authority and official conventions at arms length. Both protagonists are compelled by a difficult circumstance, skillfully exploited, to accept a job. Both jobs put her on a journey to an unknown alien world, and both alien worlds were discovered by a message from an ancient exploratory vehicle that people had given up expecting to hear from. Both alien worlds also give a previously unseen look at alien life--the first-ever non-terrestrial life in Gilman's, the first compatible with terrestrial life (i.e. human) in mine.


The parallels end there. Dark Orbit goes off into mysterious deaths and fractal space, Mischief into mysterious passengers, a romance, power and domination, and [SPOILER DELETED]. But that's an awful lot of overlap. Although Mischief might be more light-hearted and temperamental than Gilman's Sara, they would certainly be friends if they met.

I met Carolyn once, at Readercon, years ago. I'd had the great privilege to have her read one of my short stories and offer insightful feedback, and I was pleased she remembered it some months later. At that point, Halfway Human was her only title, and she wasn't accustomed to strangers looking up at her and saying, "Oh, Carolyn's here!" At that point in time, I only had one completed novel manuscript, and, curiously, like Halfway Human it was a "Gender SF" story. Hers shook up gender roles by creating a world where exists a third, neuter gender, mine by reversing the power dynamic by eliminating 90% of the male population (on a continuing basis).  The parallel would be truly astonishing if Mischief's World were my current project, but I confess it is stalled. It has an epic scale akin to The Fellowship of the Unloved, and epic scale means an epic undertaking for me.

When I tried to look her up online, I discovered that Carolyn's better-paying job is Historian, and my paycheck is for teaching High School Social Studies (and other subjects, but that's my favorite). I've always felt a kinship with Carolyn. A little envy, too, of course. But I like it that she sent a little of the spirit of Mischief O'Malley out into the published world. She was feeling a little cramped, stuck on my hard drive all these years. I hope we will meet again some day. I wonder how she would react if she got to see the opening for my story.