Eureka!

No, I haven’t discovered something, sadly.

No, it’s the new season of Eureka. The last season of Eureka, sadly.

And then I watched the first episode. I was shocked. I was appalled; I was dismayed. Sadly.

What had happened to the writers of my beloved show? Had they all started huffing Liquid Paper? Had they been replaced with the writers of the former soap All My Children? Had they forgotten their characters’ personalities? Had they decided to protest the cancellation of the show by writing a full season of crap? I was mad. I was hopping mad and I am not a woman you want to see hop, sadly.

Then the last two minutes of the show saved everything. Better than saved everything. Made everything that had come before just right, happily.

I’ll miss Eureka, but after 4 seasons, I am so happy that they were still able to surprise me. If you’re a fan like me, I’d say it looks promising. If you’ve never seen the show, this season may not be for you. It’s already calling back to so much previous knowledge of character and situation. Nonetheless, Eureka is such a delight that you may want to catch up with the past four seasons and ride it out in its last wave of glory.

Do tell me in the comments what you thought of the first episode!

Hugo Nominees

2011′s Hugo nominees are official. See them here.

I must admit to not being familiar enough with all the material to have the right to opinions. Of course, I have opinions anyway, and—of course—I’m going to share them here.

I’ve read only one of the novels on the best novel list, and every novel nominated must be better than A Dance with Dragons, and I speak as a fan of  The Song of Ice and Fire.

I do know a few of the graphic stories, the “Fables” series (I’ve read the one nominated) and the Lock & Key series (I have not yet read the one nominated). I like both series and can recommend them, but can’t say much about who I think should win.

Long form dramatic presentations are mostly things I have seen. I expect “Game of Thrones” is a shoo-in, but you just never know with something as mass-appeal as “Hugo.”

I’m a little surprised that three out of the five short dramatic presentations are “Doctor Who” episodes. I don’t know if it says something about the Hugo nominators or something about what’s out there. Still, if Gaiman doesn’t win, I’ll be surprised. “The Doctor’s Wife” was a great episode… and he’s Neil Gaiman.

Book Review: Darkness Calls: Volume One

Darkness Calls by Andy Hill is an interesting and macabre little jewel box of stories. The small volume contains six horror stories, widely varied in theme and tone. These tales do not contain the creepies and crawlies typical of horror, except perhaps for the fourth story “Face Value,” but they are all well-written and delightfully atmospheric.

The first story is “Dark Rain,” and this story was the best in the book, in my opinion. Divided into sections that feel satisfyingly like chapters despite its short length, “Dark Rain” describes the terrifying effect of a mysterious rain on a country village.

“The Patio” follows “Dark Rain.” Surreal and dream-like, this very short story is light on plot but heavy in mood and mystery, making it nicely eerie.

Next is “An Open Letter…” This is a lovely piece of prose, less a story than what Oscar Wilde liked to call ‘a prose poem.’ It’s evocative: both beautiful and sad.

“Face Value” feels as though it was intended to be the powerhouse of the collection, a story of death, revenge and the unnatural. Here again is the episodic style that worked so well in “Dark Rain.” I think, however, it did not work as well in “Face Value.” Rather than giving the story a sense of progressive chapters, I found “Face Value” a bit confusing at first. The story would have been served by clearer transitions made between sections. Hill writes that this is the oldest story in the book, and it feels that way, as if it is so familiar that the progression between sections seem obvious to him. Still the tale is gruesome and gory and fulfills its horror promises.

The fifth story is “Fallen Angel,” the only story in the book that did not work at all for me. It is an allegory so big, so broad, I had nowhere to hold on, no place to hang my hat and become involved. While I believe I saw where it was going, and felt I could support its social commentary, I was never engaged in any way beyond the intellectual. I did not care. Still in “Fallen Angel,” as is true in every story in this volume, Hill’s prose is admirable.

Finally is “Trapped,” a gem of a story, both claustrophobic and sinister. My favorite second to “Dark Rain,” this story recounts the horrible time between accident and rescue of a mother and daughter imprisoned in an overturned car.

In sum, then, I would recommend this book without hesitation. The stories are elegantly written and suitably creepy. And—hey—only 99 cents from Amazon.com right here.

Geek Squee!

Okay, you may well have heard already, but Felicia Day (and others no doubt) has founded a new YouTube channel: Geek & Sundry.

OMG, you guys!! (insert high-pitched squeal of delight and inappropriately girlish bouncing here).

Ahem.

The channel will include:
*The Flog, Felicia Day’s weekly vlog about geeky things she loves
*Sword and Laser, reviews of fantasy and sci fi books by the guy and gal of the podcast of the same name, Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt
*Table Top, reviews/gameplay with Wil Wheaton (Wil Wheaton, people!) and others (I think the other players will change, but I’m not sure–the first episode included Jenna Busch, Grant Imahara and Sean Plott!) playing table top games.
*Dark Horse, motion comics
*The Guild (of course), the marvelous web series send up of MMORPGs and the people who love them, starring Vincent Caso, Felicia Day, Jeff Lewis, Amy Okuda, Sandeep Parikh and Robin Thorsen. Season 5 is coming up.

Right, so it’s a YouTube channel full of everything I love. I can’t really review it, for fear of dissolving into drooling adoration (again). If any of these things things are your thing, Geek & Sundry is your thing too.

Go.

Enjoy!

The Geek & Sundry YouTube Channel
Felicia Day’s website
The Guild on Wikipedia
Wil Wheaton’s blog

An Admission…

I have an admission to make. I have not seen Hunger Games. Honestly. I haven’t. It’s been out more than a week. A very good friend of mine has seen it already. Twice. And is thinking of going again. I haven’t seen it. I haven’t seen it and… I don’t particularly want to.

Have I lost my geek cred?

I read the book, the whole trilogy in fact, though it was sort of touch and go here and there. I don’t usually put down books I’ve started unless I really, really hate them. I even read all of Wise Man’s Fear and, I have to say, that was an accomplishment for me. So I did read Hunger Games and its sister books. They were okay. A little slick. A little shallow. A little Mary Sue. But okay.

I thought as I read the first one “Well, this would make a better movie than it does a book.” And yet I still haven’t gone to see it. I can’t work up the interest. Even though it’s proof that America will go see an action movie with a female lead.

I’m going to be drummed out of the nerd girl club.

I’m so ashamed.

wikipedia entry for the movie
wikipedia entry for the book
Author Suzanne Collins’ website

Review: Echo Smartpen and MyScript

So I write. Most people who write do it on the computer, typing directly into their word processor or other software… Well, I do that sometimes, but I often find that I’m more creative, more connected to my work, if I write longhand, real pen on real paper. Sometimes it’s the only way I can get past places where I’m stuck.

Of course, what this led to was a lot of pages, written out on paper that all needed to be transcribed into the computer. Bleh. No fun. Lengthy. A waste of time. What’s a writer to do?

This writer bought a smartpen, specifically the Echo smartpen by Livescribe.

So what’s a smartpen? It’s a pen that knows what you’re writing. The Echo needs special paper. Each page is covered in tiny dots, small enough to simply give the paper an appearance of texture rather than pattern. Each page has a unique pattern of dots and the pen looks as it writes and can keep track of what you write (and draw!) on each page. You can have as many as 8 unique notebooks at a time and the pen can keep track of all of them individually. The paper is reasonably priced, imo, at 4 spiral notebooks for $24.95 from livescribe and a little less from amazon.com.

Not only that, but the echo has a recording feature. This would be really useful for students or anyone who might be taking notes at a talk or a meeting. Set the pen to record and it will store an audio of whatever you’re listening to. What’s more, it syncs the audio to the text, so if you tap the pen on a particular section of your notes, you can hear what was being recorded as you wrote that section.

With an app, you can also listen to music on your pen as you write. How cool is that?

Wow, right? Well, there are a few downsides to the Echo too. The ink isn’t as nice as I might like, though that may be a function of how opaque or not it should be. I’m not sure. And the ink cartridges (also reasonably priced at 6.95 a 5-pack; amazon.com is less, but only sells mixed packs of black or blue with one red cartridge) are pretty small. This is a function of the way the pen works. There has to be room inside it for hardware.

Neither of these problems bothers me much. The only thing that really drives me crazy is that the Echo has a cute little cap, very small, very adorable, and there’s no way to deal with the cap when it’s off. You just have to put it down somewhere. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone frantically searching for that cap when I’m done writing. I wish there were some way to attach it to the pen. The cable that hooks to the computer is at the top of the pen, where you’d post the cap of an ordinary pen and I assume that’s why you can’t put it there. However, you can’t write while the pen is hooked up, so why not let the cap cover the cable connection when writing? I don’t know. There’s probably a technical reason, but it does drive me crazy!

Overall though, I love my pen and I recommend it to anyone who might see a situation in which it would be useful.

Now, I’ve told you all the cool things the pen can do, and I would never part with mine, but it was a solution to a specific problem for me. I wanted to get editable text transferred onto my computer from my written page. The Echo doesn’t do that by itself. You need an extra app.

That app is MyScript by VisionObjects. After I upload my written pages from the pen onto my computer, I use MyScript (which—very nicely—has a button integrated into the livescribe software). Now I have terrible handwriting. Terrible. No. Really. People who have known me for years, have read my writing over and over, still have trouble reading my handwriting. Sometimes I have trouble reading my handwriting. MyScript can read it, usually. It isn’t perfect and occasionally I have paragraphs of gibberish. It’s inevitable. But overall, MyScript is surprisingly good.

I had my doubts when I got it (and you can get a 30 day free trial, which I did) but it surpassed my expectations (which wouldn’t have been hard) and turned out to be quite good. Fixing the mistakes and the occasional paragraph of total nonsense still takes a lot less time than transcribing written pages. And my handwriting is so poor that others are likely to get much better results than I do.

The one irritating thing for me is that MyScript puts a hard return at the end of every (fairly short) line, meaning I have to go in and remove those manually. I know it’s probably a necessity, since MyScript can’t know if I’ve changed paragraphs or not. It’s still a small price to pay for the amount of time I’m saving.

So, there you are. I recommend Livescribe’s Echo smartpen and the MyScript app to go with it. Neither is perfect, but what in life is?

Book Review: Bridge of Birds

Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart is not a new book. Not even close. It was published in 1984. In 1985 it won the World Fantasy Award for best novel and in 1986 it won the Mythopoeic award for best fantasy.

Bridge of Birds is ‘a novel of an ancient China that never was,’ to use the lovely description that appeared on some of the covers of editions over the years. It is the first of three books that feature Number Ten Ox, our narrator, and Master Li, an elderly (at least 100 years old), disreputable scholar with ‘a slight flaw in [his] character.’

At the outset of the book, all the children between the ages of 8 and 13 in Ku Fu village are struck with the same illness. Ox is charged to go to the big city and ask a scholar how a plague has learned to count, that it would strike only some children and not others.

With the saved wealth of his aunt, Ox can only afford to pay the elderly drunkard, Li Kao, to help and so begins the quest to save the children of Ku Fu. When the hand of the August Personage of Jade, the greatest of the gods, seems to be involved, Ox and Master Li know there is more to their journey than is at first apparent.

Well, I can’t stress enough how much I love this book. I will make a confession. I just read this book, but it was not the first time (not even the second or the third). So I love this book. The End.

Well, that’s not much of a review is it? Fine. Here goes.

The tone of Bridge of Birds is light and there is a lot of humor to be found. Even better, the humor is offset with fast-paced, exciting action as well as passages of great poignancy. Other characters come and go. Some return having been transformed (for good or ill) by their experiences. All the while, something bigger than—though never more important than—the illness of Ku Fu’s children, builds around Ox and Master Li.

Hughart’s prose is playful and graceful. The voice of Number Ten Ox never falters. He is a young, innocent, country lad but wise enough to see the world around him as it is and to keep his tongue firmly in cheek. Still Ox remains kind enough to never disrespect the reader or the characters with whom he interacts. It’s a careful balancing act, especially in first person, and Hughart walks that tightrope well.

There are of moments of sweetness and sadness that never slip into melodrama nor become maudlin. There are moments that will make a reader laugh out loud, though the novel never descends into slapstick. It is a book of the fantastic and the grand, seen through good-hearted Ox’s prosaic and sensible mind.

In all, Bridge of Birds is a book of perfect balance, which would—I think—have pleased Hughart’s Taoist influences very well.

Bridge of Birds on wikipedia
amazon.com reviews for Bridge of Birds
Bridge of Birds goodreads page
The first, unpublished, very different but also delightful, draft of Bridge of Birds
(thanks to @navythriller for directing me to this!)

Polishing a Manuscript

Well here’s an interesting article about polishing your final manuscript.

I agree with much that’s here, but not everything. I do however, believe that any manuscript can benefit from going through this process.

Do you have to replace every adverb you find? Absolutely (<—- adverb) not! Should you examine each one and make sure it’s doing something that you actually (<— another one! the sneaky little bastards are everywhere) need. When I was polishing my manuscript I went through with a search for ‘ly.’ I removed most of them, in particular almost every appearance of ‘completely,’ ‘really,’ and qualifiers like ‘apparently.’ Don’t use ‘suddenly’ unless you are certain it’s really sudden. But sometimes you need an adverb. They exist for a reason.

On other hand, some of the words that have been suggested ought to be removed, I don’t know. ‘Seemed’ is a great word when you’re dealing with a limited 3rd person point of view. Your pov character can’t know some things for certain. But again, be 100% you want that word. It can be weak if not used precisely (<—- adv– okay, yeah, you get it).

The rest of the advice is spot on. Honestly (<— oh, nevermind).

Is it Irony?

Well, my last post was all about writer’s block, or what is often called writer’s block.

Well, now I’m suffering ‘writer’s block,’ also known as (in this particular incarnation) laziness. I sit to write and remember all those other things I need to do that are so much more important than writing. They aren’t. I know they aren’t, but I don’t want to write.

Writing’s hard.

I’m going to go sulk now. (Instead of writing!)

Writer’s Block: Myth or Reality?

Here‘s something Neil Gaiman had to say about writer’s block. It’s short. Go read it. I’ll wait.

Okay, so what do you think of that? If I understand what the inestimable Mr. Gaiman has written, he suggests writer’s block is a glamorization of a few more mundane and more easily solved problems. (Well, laziness is not easy to solve. Laziness is a lifetime’s work and a hard habit to kick! Believe me, I speak as a knowledgeable lazy person in this.) Is writer’s block really just a name writer’s use for other problems with their work?

Naturally, I’m going to give my opinion. I think so. Of the three culprits Mr. Gaiman lists: perfectionism, laziness and a stalled story that needs to be reassessed, I think perfectionism is the sneakiest culprit.

Laziness might be hard to combat, but it’s fairly easy to identify. There are two distinct symptoms.  One is sitting in front of your preferred medium (computer, tablet, wax tablet, chisel and flat rock) and staring at it and not doing anything. Not even agonizing about not doing anything, just thinking you ought to do it and not doing it. I’ve been there. You can disguise it if you try by blaming your muse, or the weather or what have you, but what’s really happening is you just don’t want to do it. The other symptom is not sitting down at all. Telling yourself you should and then watching tv or surfing the net (or writing in my your blog). Inspiration gets blamed again, but you should know better. Writing is hard work. Deal with it.

Stalled stories, ones that have gone off the rails as Mr. Gaiman says, are the easiest of these three evils. It’s sometimes hard to recognize your story has gone wrong somewhere (hence the identification as writer’s block) but if you think hard you’ll see it’s not that you can’t write, it’s that you can’t write this. At least not the way it stands right now. When inspiration seems far off, reread what you’ve written. See if you’ve wandered down a blind alley. Take some steps back and plot a new course. It feels good.

And now the true evil: perfectionism. It’s insidious and I’ve written about it before on the blog. The biggest problem a writer faces when trying to pin down why she isn’t writing, and what to do to combat it, is that perfectionism feels like work. You give yourself the illusion of getting somewhere because you are sitting down and working with words. “I wrote for three hours this morning, but I didn’t seem to get anywhere. Must be writer’s block.” What you really did is spent three hours crafting the first paragraph over and over. In theater they say it’s all about bums on seats. In writing it’s all about words on pages. Don’t judge your success by how long you worked. Judge your success on how many words you wrote. You’re not a writer if you don’t write. The words might not be the perfect words, but that’s why first drafts exist.

I’m guilty of all these sins. I did finally shut down my inner editor. I can get words on page, but I have had derailed stories and I know I’m lazy… but I promise never to blame writer’s block again!