Tag: science fiction

Books Make the Best GiftsBooks Make the Best Gifts

A group of authors affiliated with the San Francisco chapter of the Women’s National Book Association got together earlier this month to celebrate our pandemic-time publications. Oh, my goodness, what a variety! What awesome works.

Are you shopping for friends and family who aren’t as committed to science fiction and fantasy as you are? Need some hot tips for books that will surprise and delight them with your confidence in stepping out from your own genre?

Here’s your directory, so you can jump to satisfy your target gift recipients’ desires. Each cover photo links to the relevant Amazon page. If you prefer to buy elsewhere, head for the author’s website.

Historical Fiction

Thrillers and Mysteries

Short Stories and Contemporary Fiction

Memoir

Poetry

Books for Children and Parents

Nonfiction and Self-Improvement

And we’re off!

Historical Fiction

COver for Betrayal on the Bayou, showing a broad pool with tall bayou trees leaning over the water and casting reflections.

Hungry for a story with deep African American and French connections? Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte’s Betrayal on the Bayou plunges the reader into 1854 Louisiana, where a young Parisian widower “sets off a twenty-eight-year chain of events that reveal the brutal truths of inequality, colorism, and betrayal.” Sheryl’s blog is here. You’ll find she also teaches writing.

Book cover for What Disappears, with the Eiffel Tower rising above a cityscape.

Russian history? The delights of Paris? Ballet? Does your gift recipient love any of these? Meet up with long-separated twins at the Ballet Russe, and hold your breath as to what will happen next, in Barbara Quick’s What Disappears. Visit Barbara at her website.

Thrillers and Mysteries

Cover for What Jonah Knew, with silhouettes of a small boy and a young man superimposed on one another.

How about a deep, soul-searching, thriller….head for Barbara Graham’s What Jonah Knew, on the surface a story about mothers and sons, but one that delves into “metaphysical questions about life and death—and what happens in between.” Follow Barbara on her website.

Cover for Detours, with a young woman gazing from the cover, pale, wide-eyed and serious.

From mothers and sons to a mothers and daughters, come to Sheri McGuinn’s newest book, Peg’s Story: Detours, which answers questions raised by the first book in this series, Running Away. Discover links between the stories as you follow Peg’s escape to a new life—only to see her mistakes spiral “into a life-changing series of events.” Catch up on Sheri’s website.

Contemporary Fiction

Cover for What Is Possible from Here, with title words on a cardlike field, with clusters of pink flowers behind and around the edges.

Do you want to share stories of real people finding their way through ordinary life? Stories set all over the country? Try Cynthia Gregory’s What is Possible From Here, a collection exploring “the nature of friendship and love, and the myriad ways we endeavor to make meaning in an unpredictable world.” You can also find her nonfiction book, Journaling as a Sacred Practice, through Cynthia’s website. If you’d like a hardcover copy of her collection, you can find it online at Barnes & Noble.

Cover for Begin Again, with a wide landscape of golden hills rising to rough brown hills and a deep blue-clouded sky, with a rainbow falling to earth.

Looking for grounded contemporary women’s fiction? Consider Kimberly Dredger’s Begin Again. This novel takes you on a young widow’s journey, “as she struggles to re-enter life, enduring more loss and sadness on her way to ultimate empowerment.” To expand your collection, you might also pick up Kimberly’s anthology of essays, stories, and poetry, starting on her author page.

Memoir

Cover for Dancing on the Wine-Dark Sea with a woman in a long dress twirling as she wades ankle-deep at the edge of the sea, with a sunset glowing in the sky and on the water.

How about a fabulous feminist travel memoir? Diane LeBow’s Dancing on the Wine-Dark Sea: Memoir of a Trailblazing Woman’s Travels, Adventures, and Romance takes you “dining with Corsican rebels and meeting a black stallion in a blizzard on the Mongolian steppes to assisting exiled Afghan women and savoring a love affair with an elegant French Baron.” Catch up with Diane on her website.

Full disclosure: I WON a copy of this book in the event giveaway, after listening to Diane give us more details about her story. Can’t wait until it arrives, so I can follow the whole adventure.

Cover of Loving Before Loving, with an old black-and-white photograph of a couple smiling together--a white woman with close-cropped hair, and a black man with a short hair and a short-trimmed moustache.

For a blend of social justice history and memoir, look for Joan Lester’s Loving Before Loving: A Marriage in Black and White, which takes the reader back in time. You’ll find a deeply personal story exploring racism, sexism, and marriage, through the lives of one couple: a memoir of love and life in the midst of the civil rights and women’s rights movements. Get to know Joan through her website.

Cover for The Red Sandals, with a graphic of a plant bowing down against a red background, with a black and white photo of a small Chinese girl in a white dress with white ribbons in her hair, her hands clasped together.

For an unflinching look into life in Mao’s China, and the impact on one girl, pick up Jing Li’s The Red Sandals: A Memoir, in which she shares her personal story of being the unwanted girl in a poverty-stricken family, her scholastic journey within the Chinese system, her transition to America, and growth as a teacher and writer. Learn more about Jing and her story here.

Cover for Promenade of Desire, with broad color slashes in yellow and blue and red, over a partially-concealed photograph of a young woman with her arm lifted, in a seemingly-seductive pose.

Through her dramatic memoir, Promenade of Desire—A Barcelona Memoir, Isidra Mencos uses her own story of learning to free herself from repression through books and salsa dance, to create a “sensual, page-turning coming-of-age story: Isidra evolves from a repressed Catholic virgin to a seductive Mata Hari.” Learn more about Isidra and her journey at her website.

Cover for Brown Skin Girl, a graphic design with an artist's representation of a young woman in a long skirt, her long dark hair sweeping out to form a background for the books's subtitle, with shapes of flowers, leaves, and birds woven into the background.

For a heartwarming story of one person’s escape from the abuses of family and culture, follow Mytrae Melania. In her Brown Skin Girl: An Indian-American Woman’s Magical Journey from Broken to Beautiful, she shows how her journey…through many trials…brought her to “freedom, love, and the magic that finds you when you follow your heart.” Find more about her mission at her website.

Poetry

Cover for Birds of San Pancho, with a golden-breasted bird perched on a twig, with blurred greenery in the background.

Shopping for someone who loves poetry? Travel? Birds? Lucille Lang-Day’s Birds of San Pancho and Other Poems of Place deploys Lucille’s wordsmithing to unveil her “vast curiosity, an intimate knowledge of flora and fauna, and a keen appreciation for the things of this world—travel, food, weather, the manifold creatures, love.” Follow Lucille at her website.

Cover for Deeply Notched Leaves, with a background of green leaves and one bright yellow daisy-like flower.

For “a merry-go-round of life experience in story-poems and social commentary full of spice and wisdom,” take a whirl with Dr. Jeanne Powell’s Deeply Notched Leaves. This 2021 collection will set your head spinning. Find more of Jeanne’s literary work at her website.

Books for Children and Parents

Cover for The Strider and the Regulus, a seascape with octopus/squid tentacles rising from the sea and curving through the letters of the title.

Looking for something fantastic for a young adult reader? Tricia Wagner’s The Strider and the Regulus is the opening salvo in a three-volume series. “A starry-eyed boy. A cryptic map. A mythical treasure. What perils await in the chasing of dreams?” Get to know Tricia at her website.

Cover for The Smugglers, with an old-timey suitcase covered with stickers about aliens and space and spaceships, sitting in a long metallic hallway that looks like part of a space structure.

My own 2022 release, The Smugglers, falls in this category. This LGBTQ-friendly story centers on an adolescent alien who’ll face changes in his world—and herself—as they rush to the rescue of an escaped animal. Written for children (middle grade readers and up) and their parents, the story shows us both the mother’s and the child’s point of view through this adventure.

Cover for The Peddler's Gift, wtih drawing of a man in a long coat and rond hat, with several villagers behind him.

Need a storybook for a young person…or do you just love those old traditional-style tales and beautiful illustrations of life in the Old Country? Maxine Schur’s The Peddler’s Gift, illustrated by Kimberly Bulcken Root, is a new edition of the “wistful, moving tale of a boy who steals a toy from a foolish peddler only to discover he’s not so foolish after all.” Find more of Maxine’s books, including Finley Finds His Fortune, at her website.

Cover for Treasure Hunt, with three children peering standing in a large cardboard box, with a pinwheel shape of yellow and green behind them.

Young readers (the 3-8-year-old set) on your gift list? I used to set up treasure hunts for my little brothers…so much fun. Here, Stephanie Wildman’s Treasure Hunt, with art by Estafania Razo, takes three siblings on a search for wonders In their own home. For grownup reading, find Stephanie’s website to discover her book on the perils of privilege in America.

Cover for Sun and Moon's Big Idea, with a cartoon sun and moon, smiling at each other above a cartoon city.

Another something sweet for the 8-and-unders, Karen Faciane’s The Sun and the Moon’s Big Idea, illustrated by Sierra Mon Ann Vidal, brings together the two most prominent “lights” in our sky… to celebrate “the uniquely, wonderful person you were born to be.” Keep up with Karen on her author page.

Nonfiction

Book Cover for Chakra Tonics, showing two glasses filled with a purplish mixture topped by raspberries and blueberries with sprigs of mint.

It’s that time of year, when people are looking for paths to self improvement, for personal well-being and creating moments of calm in this crazy world. Try out Elise Marie Collins’ Chakra Tonics, Essential Elixirs for the Mind, Body, and Spirit. Yes, finally, a “lively information packed recipe book filled with positive life lessons based on the ancient Indian spiritual system, known as the Chakras.” Catch up to Elise via her contact tree.

Book cover for Make Every Move a Meditation, with wavelike shapes in shades of red to gold rolling under words about mindfulness, mental health, and well-being.

Here’s more nonfiction for personal wellbeing: Nita Sweeney’s Make Every Move a Meditation: Mindful Movement for Mental Health, Well-Being, and Insight. Do you imagine meditation is all about sitting still or following strict formulas for movement? Nita teaches ways to understand meditation more deeply: “What if lifting weights, dancing, or walking across a room counted? What if you could make every move a meditation?” At her website, you can pick up a free handout.

There May Be Spoilers: A Review of Building Baby Brother, by Steven RadeckiThere May Be Spoilers: A Review of Building Baby Brother, by Steven Radecki

Oh, my, let’s unpack this one. First off, this book is a good choice if you’re shopping for a scifi story for someone who maybe isn’t all that into science fiction but loves kids and understands the parenting life, or anyone who’s given any real thought to what artificial intelligence might be like and what it would mean for ordinary people.

Building Baby Brother is a story made for Silicon Valley parents—wherever they may live. It has such a multi-layered dimensionality, you’ll be peering at your neighbors, wondering if that’s them, if this story isn’t fiction, but thinly-veiled fact.

The story begins with a typical divorced father managing a well-ordered shared upbringing relationship for the child he and his ex are raising together…but separately. The ex has her issues, Dad has his failings, but they both care about Josh, a wonderful kid whose one ask is “when can I have a baby brother?”

Parents want to provide for their kids. Don’t they? And this dad, once he stops to think about it, realizes he has the capability to provide his son with some of what he needs: a companion to play with, a buddy to share secrets with, a fellow child to grow up with. Gavin is just what Josh needs. What Dad needs Josh to experience.

Wait….back up a minute there. Secrets? Before Dad knows it, Gavin’s doing things he hadn’t designed him for, because Josh taught him new things, ways to access information Dad didn’t think Baby Brother would need. But what were the kids to do when they needed to make just a few improvements to their favorite video game? What would a Silicon Valley kid do? Of course, they get online and add the mods they want. And Gavin’s got the inside track on modifying software, being mostly software himself.

Gavin is an AI. And also a child. And what does a child do best?

Learn. And what do you do for a child that needs to learn, who is a good person, one who’s your other child’s best friend?

You help. Of course. Because that’s what a parent does.

What follows shouldn’t be a spoiler, unless you failed to read the blurb on the book.

EXTREMELY MILD SPOILER ALERT.

Stop here if need be. Grab tissues if you’re ok with indirect spoilers.

What happens when a child has learned all they can from their parents?

You mean when they’re all grown up?

<nods>

Oh. Right. That.

<holds out tissue box>

END OF SPOILER-ADJACENT MATERIAL

Building Baby Brother isn’t fear-the-AI, instead it drives straight to that point all parents say they’re working towards, but that tears them apart, all the same, when it finally happens. If you’re a crier, be sure you have tissues handy. If you’re a parent, be glad you have all those years ahead.

Or do you? It’s you, isn’t it, with the workshop and the spare parts and the know-how? Think, first. OK?

Marichka Explains Etheric EngineeringMarichka Explains Etheric Engineering

Explain etherics? Hah!

Nobody can explain etheric engineering. Or the stuff that makes it work: aether.

The best anyone can do is describe aether. To our faulty three-plus-temporal-dimension senses, aether is nothing but a dark brownish fluid. It seems to bubble, giving off flashes well into the UV end of the spectrum.

That’s why one’s advised to wear goggles (or install UV-protective mods if you’re likely to encounter the stuff regularly). Relatively cheap, those. Even I have ’em, and you know what my finances are like! If you get the stuff on you (I strongly advise against it!), it tends to adhere.

Ń‚Đ°Đş.

Is sticky. You don’t want it stuck to you, trust me.

If aether gets loose, you want to corral it fast. Every compartment at risk of an aether spill (that is, any compartment etheric conduit passes through) should be equipped with an aether net. When deployed, it becomes a fine, gauzy web that attracts aether. Not to worry, it’ll draw off whatever’s stuck to you as well as gather up the globules floating in your face. So, no, it’s not a “net” so much as an “attractor.” I’d be happy to argue semantics with you any day.

Don’t get in my face about why it’s pronounced ay-ther in Standard. Open your chem reference, search for (C2H5)2O, and shut up already.

A swril of orange with a black ball at the core, and a bright blue jet

Aether’s the stuff that wormholes tunnel through. So no surprise that aether’s about as safe to play with as your average gravitational singularity. Aether is all places at once. That is, it knows only one where and one when.

The aether in the conduits of my ship is the aether flowing in yours. That’s why our comms people can talk to each other in real time. That’s why skipships don’t get lost, navigating the galactic byways, why the big ships that barge through gate-boosted wormholes don’t crush us as they pass. We’re all floating in the same ocean of aether.

There are…entities…out there who can perceive and manipulate aether directly. Some of them invented devices that make use of it. We lesser beings—humans, our allies, our enemies, our uncanny neighbors—have taken it on ourselves to copy those devices. Nobody knows what happens when you make a mistake copying Ancient etheric devices.

Nobody knows, because nobody comes back from those experiments. I like to think they’re gently transported to a parallel universe, given a kindly lecture on interfering with things they know not of, and sent off to some alt-universe pastoral countryside to learn…I dunno, painting, country dance, noveling, harmless little hobbies.

It’s nicer to imagine that than the alternative. Aether is dangerous stuff. A seemingly innocuous ball of cute fizzy brown goo can happily float straight through your ship’s hull. Try breathing vacuum sometime. Not fun. Not fun at all, no matter how well trained your crew is or how good your mods are.

And that’s just for starters.

So take it from me: don’t mess with aether without proper training. Even then, keep all the tools you might need right handy. You never know when you might need them.

Image Credits:

  1. Detail from cover of “Coke Machine,” by Niki Lenhart.
  2. Artist’s depiction of a black hole at the center of a galaxy. NASA/JPL-Caltech. (Modified for effect)

In certain portions of this timeline, Marichka Zelenskyy (no relation) may be found fixing things at the Truck Stop at the Center of the Galaxy. In other portions of the timeline, she is busy elsewhere.

2021 Final Roundup2021 Final Roundup

I promised a post on my so-called accomplishments of the past year. It’s a decent exercise, especially when the year ahead looks so daunting. I’ve had to slap some provisional titles on works in progress, but that’s part of the fun. So, without further ado:

Fabulous AccomplishmentWhat Bit of Writing It Has to Do With
One short story published in an SFF market, both digital and printParrish Blue
Finished first revision cycle with Wind and Smoke, divided the work, and completed second round revision with Volume 1.Wind and Smoke (work in progress)
Finished a two-book entry to my series, revised and submitted Book 1, nearly completed revisions on Book 2Shadows of Insurrection (submitted)
Fires of Resolution (WIP, in final revisions)
Talked a regular reader into reading the first two volumes of Lidian’s Promise, made decisions on updates needed to go to market.A Sorcerer in Levoigne (WIP)
Strangers in Almadina (WIP)
Wrote, revised, and had a short story published in an anthology, PLUS experienced having that story nominated for the Pushcart Prize.“Heart’s Delight” (anthologized in Fault Zone: Reverse)
Wrote, revised, advocated for, and had published a neurodivergent short story.“Reunion” (anthologized in Fault Zone: Reverse)
Wrote, revised, and had accepted a middle-grade SF novella for a shared-universe collectionThe Smugglers (planned for mid-2022)
Wrote, revised, performed, and had accepted a humorous short story for a shared-universe collection“Coke Machine” (planned for spring 2022)
Submitted multiple entries to the California Writer’s Club (CWC) SF Peninsula Chapter’s Literary Stage competition, won awards for opening chapter for a diverse-characters novel, a humorous madcap short story, a structured poem (a sestina), and a short story.A Sorcerer in Levoigne (Chapter 1), “Coke Machine,” “Trap” (poetry), “Solitary Dances”
Note: the contest does not involve publication, but awards are listed on the SF Peninsula Chapter website.
Launched a newsletter and published the first eleven monthly issues (Twelfth issue came out in January 2022.)Tales from the Oort Cloud
What do you mean? You haven’t subscribed yet? EZ box on this page. Pop-up roaming the page. Link in the title and right here. Go for it. You won’t be sorry.
Attended the Nebula Awards Conference online(I’ve volunteered to help at the 2022 conference.)
Served on four panels at Octocon, the Irish National Science Fiction ConventionModerated a panel on the isekai subgenre in anime, and another on global optimistic futures, took part in an improv panel (Orbital Tidy Town Committee), and a science panel on energy futures
Volunteered a full schedule at WorldCon virtualHosted Kaffeklatsches, monitored panels, teched a publishing workshop.
Performed a reading with Strong Women, Strange WorldsAll That Was Asked
No video, but similar to a reading on Fairy Princess Lolly‘s livestream program last year.
Performed a reading on Fairy Princess Lolly’s livestream series, Author Reads“Parrish Blue”
Part of a longer program. You’ll find this reading at T= 53:47 in the video.
Became board-adjacent on SF-Pen chapter of CWC as runner of open micsFourth Tuesday open mics
Provided a second year of tech support for the South Bay Writers chapter of CWCOpen mics on First and third Fridays
Updated my website, with a proper landing page, the blog in its own territory, and space for appearances.Cometary Tales (you are here!)
Increased my vast followership on Twitter (hahaha)Up to 241 for Cometary Tales and
204 for Pixel Gravity
Sold some copies of my book!“Some” is as close as you’re going to get to a number, here.
Also: racked up several agent rejections, practiced pitches and studied statistics of twitter pitch contests, and wrote four (count ’em! FOUR!) blog posts!Tally Ho!

I should note that at each of the open mics I manage, I also take part, sharing excerpts from works in progress as well as poetry and related works.

I’ve also been diligent at showing up for my critique partners and my non-critique writing group, even if I can’t be there in person. That boils down to 10-12 hours a week of reviewing colleagues’ work, accepting notes on my work, and discussing craft and our work together in online meetings.

Listening to BooksListening to Books

It’s the new old thing, isn’t it?

Listening to stories.

We played books on tape (remember tapes?) for our children during long car rides. Our oldest taught himself to read at preschool by playing tapes and reading through the accompanying books.

And now it’s become of the main ways people get their stories–in audio books, so they can listen in the car, while exercising, or while ignoring the rest of the people trapped in their house during a pandemic.

I’ve now had the experience of helping to create a new audiobook–the audio edition of All That Was Asked has just come out on Audible (accessible via Amazon, too, of course). If you’re not already on Audible, there’s a free trial offer running that you can take advantage of (and keep the books to collect during your trial, even if you cancel).

We should have the iTunes version out Any Day Now.

I suppose this is a tiny bit like being a playwright and seeing your script being acted out on stage for the first time. First, you squeal, “eeeeeeeee, someone is reading my words!” and then you whine, “heyyyy, that’s not how you say ‘Ansegwe’!”

We have a wonderful reader, Trevor Wilson, who was amazingly patient with all my OCD-level requests for adjustments…especially with all those alien names to learn in this book. I know–they’re made-up names, right, so should it matter? Well, yes, since they all go together to help create a sound-image of an alien culture. I’m so happy Trevor made time to put his mark on this book. He had some really fun, creative takes on ways to make individual characters jump out of the text.

Trevor isn’t just a narrator, he’s a voice actor. That makes a world of difference. To create, in sound, the character of Ansegwe, he came up with three distinct voices–Ansegwe the memoirist, looking back on his youthful escapades, the younger Ansegwe, in dialogue, and the thoughts in young Ansegwe’s head. Each character, major and minor, has their own distinctive voice. He even gave two brothers–who only drop by in a few scenes–a unique, shared accent that still cracks me up, after, what? fifteen listens?

So if you like your books in sound format, mine is there for you, now. Enjoy!

Review: Black Nerd, Blue Box by T. Aaron CiscoReview: Black Nerd, Blue Box by T. Aaron Cisco

Give yourself time to read when you pick up this book, because once you start, you won’t be able to stop reading T. Aaron Cisco‘s memoir, Black Nerd Blue Box: The Wibbly Wobbly Memoirs of a Lonely Whovian.

You don’t need to be a Doctor Who fan, or Black, or even a Nerd. If you love words, and the idea of extended bursts of witty, angry, insightful “one-sided dialogues” makes you just the slightest bit curious, you need to pick this up. If you happen to have all three characteristics, then you’ve finally got the chance to hang out with someone who … wait … is not exactly like you, because … what the heck were you thinking? Because you have three things in common, you’ll be the same? I bet you think you’re from Chicago, too. (Teaser: inside joke for readers of this book.)

I should also state clearly that, though it’s a memoir, and we all “know” it’s grown-ups who read memoir, this book could be an inspiring discovery for any young reader at YA-level or above who identifies with any of the above characteristics. Or for one who likes music their friends think is stupid. Or for one who self-identifies as anything out of the so-called mainstream.

Black Nerd Blue Box transports you into the mind of a fellow traveler in this universe and reveals just enough of that person’s experiences and inner life to allow you to connect with what resonates with your own. With that connection established, Cisco takes you on a journey, skipping through moments like the Doctor skipping across times and worlds. It’s not always a jolly adventure. There’s heartache as well as humor. Doctor Who asides will be enjoyed by fellow Whovians, but non-fans can catch up with the series later and not miss a beat in this life story.

Unless you happen to be an alternate-universe version of the author with only one or two minor differences from this time-line’s one, you will undoubtedly stumble across moments that teach you something about yourself, maybe a hard lesson, maybe one you need to go back and reread a couple of times, run a highlighter across until you really get it.

The chapter where he writes about his mother’s battle with cancer is wrenching in ways you won’t expect. Cisco was only a child at the time–but he has a stunning ability to convey the way that experience impacted his younger self. If you only have time to read ONE chapter, read this one, because it will change the way you think about talking to children about illness, about living with the prospect of dying, and about the nature of optimism.

I’m not saying Black Nerd Blue Box is a tear-blaster. It’s a humanity-sharing-lesson-learning experiment in self-revelation. About a third of the content is a hilarious inside-his-head discussion/ argument/ philosophy discourse. I laughed out loud twice while reading this on my phone–because I did not want to take the time to go back and boot up my computer after I’d read the first two pages on my phone–and I do NOT laugh out loud while looking at my phone. It’s embarrassing when people look around to see who’s the nerd laughing at their phone.

If you’re still hesitating, you know, you could do a trial of Amazon kindle unlimited and collect a copy-to-keep later. Make a note to remind your future self. Timey-wimey stuff isn’t just for nerds and aliens.

Cisco has fiction for you to read, too. Look for Teleportality, Dragon Variation, and The Preternaturalist. Amazon has all three, Barnes and Noble (my preferred shop) has only the first two at present. I can’t claim to have read them, but I skimmed the online sample of The Preternaturalist (love that title!), and the voice of the first-person narrator is lively and entertaining…much like Cisco’s own voice in this memoir.

You can find out more on his website, Black Intellectual. Lest you doubt his nerd credentials, you can find him writing for TwinCities Geek, such as his breakdown of Star Trek: Short Treks. Or if you’re in the Minneapolis area, you might meet him at the local Trek/Who trivia night.

Two Poems by AnwegweTwo Poems by Anwegwe

Sunset #734

the fire dies down, and the colors rise up
rivers flow amber, gold, and blood-rose
cascading one upon the other
wave upon wave around the sky
pushing back the eastern dark
holding the light for one last hour
giving us time, time to remember
all of the days we have had together
the glorious days beneath the sun

The main character in my recent book, All That Was Asked, is a poet. It’s a first-person narrative, and he keeps mentioning how people reacted to a poem, or how much he enjoyed writing a poem, or that he likes to watch sunsets because they inspire poetry. But . . . there aren’t any poems in the book itself. It seemed to me I couldn’t quite measure up to the standard implied in the text . . . one gets the impression, although Ansegwe is self-effacing about it, that he’s actually rather good.

Still . . . it’s nagged at me, that I didn’t have any poems by Varayla Ansegwe. After spending hours and days and weeks and months with him, I’m sort of a fan, if you will. If I were a real fan, I’d have his work, wouldn’t I?

So I gave it a try. It’s interesting, to try to write personal-style poetry from someone else’s perspective. The one above results from all those mentions of poetry related to watching sunsets. Imagine our hero trotting down the hill after enjoying a really nice day’s-ending light show, muttering to himself, wriggling his fingers, anxious to scribble down this latest idea. We can leave it to your imagination how he improved this “draft”.

For a second poem, I tried to combine two things from his background. First, it seems Ansegwe had a fairly decent collegiate-level ranking in, well, whatever ball game is popular in Korlo. I envision it as sort of like baseball, maybe like an upsized version of kickball, with a larger, rugby-sized ball. Lots of running, jumping, catching, throwing–very energetic. Second, it’s evident that he was quite the one for romantic entanglements.

If I can gather enough of these, I’ll put together a little “collection” that I can share at events and such. Oh, and as a reminder . . . consider these as translated from Korlovian.

(Photos are mine. All from our own universe, alas.)

Intercept

In this moment,
there is only the ball, gliding on its parabolic arc.
It requires all of your mind to calculate the leap
the extension of your arm, the stretch of your fingers
the breath you draw at its approach
the strength you need to hurl it to your comrades.
 
For this moment, you do not know that she is gone.
For this moment, your heart is no more than a muscle.
Whether the ball glides into your hand
whether it skims your fingertips and caroms off under the lights
either way, you will crash to earth again
the world's gravity will bear you down
the moment will end
and you will know.
 
But in this moment, you leap
and time stretches to meet you.

Review: Memory and Metaphor, by Andrea MonticueReview: Memory and Metaphor, by Andrea Monticue

Sharon Manders is having a very bad day. She’s been drop-kicked into the distant future–a thousand years out of time–and has no memory whatsoever of making any plans to go anywhen. She’s an archaeologist with a thriving career in good old 21-century Earth. And here she is in the 31st century, where everyone’s calling her by some other name that she doesn’t recognize. And she’s accused of treason, sabotage, terrorist acts. She has a lot on her plate, and she’s going to have to move fast while trying to figure out just what happened.

And you’ll be reading along, trying to figure that out, too. When she finally solves the last layer of that puzzle, you’ll lean back and say, “Oh, yeah, why on Earth didn’t I think of that?” But you won’t have thought of it. Andrea Monticue leads you quite a merry chase. I really can’t roll in too much detail without spoiling the whole thing for you.

Let’s just say a woman from our time finds herself plunged into a high-tech future with AI, biological engineering, and dangerous politics. Just when you think you have everything figured out, Monticue rotates the horizon by 37 degrees and you’re floating in space again, looking for answers. The book has to end (which you will not want it to do) and she ties all those twists and tangles together in one stunner of a unique conceptual shift.

Engaging characters, complex political situations that nonetheless remind you of the mistakes humans make right here on Earth in the “distant past”, and a plot that moves ever faster–all that will keep you glued to the page/e-reader.

At the very least, if all you take from this story is the tech (and there’s way more to it than tech), you will not think about artificial intelligence the same way, not ever again.

I got my copy directly from the publisher, at last year’s Bay Area Science Fiction Convention (BayCon), and was lucky to meet the author, who has the experience and technical background to make this story come alive.

So . . . my copy is autographed. You can get a signed first edition, too, direct from the publisher, at Paper Angel Press. Or you can choose your favorite digital medium or snag the trade paperback from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Full disclosure: at this point, I’ve also had a book published by Paper Angel Press. I was impressed by Monticue’s book and her publisher, enough so that I submitted my own book, hoping to follow in her footsteps. Rest assured there are way, way more explosions (literal and metaphorical) in Memory and Metaphor!

What’s with the weird words?What’s with the weird words?

Translations In the Real World
(Photo by Tflanagan at KSU, Saudi Arabia,
Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

One of the first things people ask me when they read certain of my stories is “What’s the right way to pronounce all these weird words?”  My stock answer is:  “However you like! It’s all made up, whatever sounds right inside your head is fine by me.”

Starting the process of doing an audio book for All That Was Asked has forced me to face the fact that, well, really there is a “right” way.  For one thing, the story centers on language–in fact, the working title of the book was “Translations by Ansegwe.” In general, for the stories where I have a made-up culture with their own language or an “evolved” culture that’s grown from more-or-less familiar cultures but uses a language other than English as their root language, I do know how those words should be pronounced. I’m that wonky sort that blows off an entire afternoon at Worldcon to attend a linguistics workshop, so, well, that’s where I’m coming from. 

In the real world, I know French pretty well, I watch a lot of foreign-language TV (though of course I’m relying on subtitles), I live in place where I hear Spanish and Russian regularly, and I have technical-world acquaintances with a great variety of language “homes” from India to Europe to Africa to both Chinas.  I’ve struggled to learn a smattering of my culture-base language–Gaelic. And I grew up being hauled around to various places in the U.S. and England.  I even still “hear” (and alas for spell-checkers, spell) most English as Brit-style.  End result:  I love the interplay of languages and the way everyone talks. I do not claim to be a polyglot, but I’m a diligent researcher and I just love all those sounds.

In my writing, most of the problematic words are names, because I think of such stories as having been “translated” from the alien/alternate history language set.  Names tend to get left over after a translation, because even if I’m translating a story from French to English, I wouldn’t change “Tourenne” to “Terence” or “Gervais” to Gerald, because a) the names aren’t really the same and b) the sounds of names add the flavor of a language without requiring a reader to actually know a foreign tongue directly. Spoiler? My current work-in-progress has characters named Tourenne and Gervais, and they live in a francophone culture that doesn’t exist anywhere in the real world.

In the made-up language base for All That Was Asked, I have lots of names for people, place-names from more than one country in the alternate-universe world, and a few name-based terms.  (The academic types in the story have dreams of winning their version of the Nobel prize, so they talk about it a lot.  The Nobel prize is named for a person, but . . . it’s a thing.)  I wanted the central names to make sense, to have relateable sounds, and to have some commonalities.  For instance, in English we have a lot of names that end in ‘-y’.  I selected some sound elements that would fit into different names and tried to make them sound like they came from a distinct self-contained culture–except for a few names I made up specifically to sound like another culture, in the same world. 

I decided on a family-personal naming order that made sense for the culture–Family first, Personal second, and most people refer to each other and address each other by their personal names, because everyone knows what family everyone else belongs to.  And I made names longer than we’re used to in English.  In our culture “power names” tend to be short, in theirs, most people have multisyllable names, and powerful people tend to have longer names.

For other sets of words in this story, ones that are “translated” to English, I “hear” the words in British/European English rather than American English, because that fits better with the social style of the people and gives it a little bit of distance for American readers.  It may sound really fussy–especially for such a short little book–but I think having a clear auditory sense going into it helped me with building the alien culture.  I just have to hope it carries through to readers and listeners–not a burden to cope with but an added feature of the story.

In my next post, I’ll give you a blow-by-blow pronunciation guide for All That Was Asked, with a few background bits to liven it up a bit.

. . . GO! “All That Was Asked” is out, now!. . . GO! “All That Was Asked” is out, now!

The pre-midnight roll-out

One thing about the global economy…it’s January 31st in some places already. Barnes and Noble has the paper editions as well as the Nook version ready to go.

Meanwhile, Amazon is lagging behind, with just the Kindle version and it still is tagged as “preorder” . . . in the U.S. C’mon Jeff, don’t you want more money for your rocketship project? UPDATE: Amazon is up, in Kindle and Trade Paperback editions.

But you can download it from Amazon’s sites for the UK or India.

And it’s up at Canada’s Biggest Bookstore, !ndigo.

And in Australia at Angus & Robertson.

No problems at Smashwords, either.

And you can use Paper Angel as a home base, plus a place to read the sample or order a signed copy direct from the publisher.

My favorite, though, is the listing on Rakuten-Japan. Though of course it’s on “regular” Rakuten, too (i.e., Kobo).