I’ve decided to revisit a favourite author of mine, Robert J. Sawyer, by checking out some of his early works. I’m starting it off with a review of his very first novel, The Golden Fleece. I’ll be reading at least a couple more of his books, but meanwhile my review of the first one is up now at AE.
Today on AE, five books you can forgo in favour of the film. I’m a die-hard bookworm, so when I say the movie’s better, well, opinion is still opinion, but you might pay a little closer attention. Of course, the films in question are all genre (with Fight Club perhaps straddling the line a bit). Here’s one more that wouldn’t have fit on the list at AE:
Non-genre Bonus Example!
Into the Wild. The film is a dramatized version of the true story of Christopher McCandless, a thoughtful, adventurous young man with an inspiring zest for life. The book is a stunning example of long-form journalism by a master of the craft. Jon Krakauer’s non-fiction account of the McCandless story grew out of an article he wrote for Outside magazine. The book is a mix of narrative, interviews, the history of adventure travel, and some of Krakauer’s personal anecdotes.
In fine journalistic fashion, speculations are clearly labelled as such, multiple theories are floated and batted around. But in the movie version, a single interpretation is taken, a single cohesive narrative emerges, and it really feels like we see things from Chris’ perspective. In the film, we have a protagonist. In the book we have a subject. Most of us would choose the former.
I have a couple of book reviews coming up for the Free Press in the next several months (both are being filed very early since I received the ARCs equally nearly six months ahead of publication). I’ve also submitted a non-review draft to AE, which will likely run sooner than that. Other than that, what I’m sitting on is a really impressive “to-write” list.
If, before spring, I actually get around to writing all the things I plan on writing — scratch that, if I actually manage to pitch all the things I’m thinking of writing, and perhaps end up writing even a couple of them during that time frame, I’ll be satisfied.
The thing is, I have so much commissioned work already, trying to sell additional stuff, even were it pure gold (and only an editor can make that determination), probably shouldn’t be my main focus. I’m so focused on trying to get “caught up”, I think I’ve missed an obvious but important point. The whole point of pitching, querying, pounding the virtual pavement, as it were, is to get work. If I have enough writing work, my focus should really be on turning it in in a timely manner.
As a fairly employable teacher in a, nevertheless, fairly rough hiring environment over the last five years, I’ve gotten used to applying to new jobs on a daily basis. When I finally ended up with a fairly stable position, I had to consciously break the habit of checking the want ads, anticipating unemployment. “You’re not on a short-term contract,” I told myself. “They want to keep you. Relax.”
Likewise with my writing. I’m working on, not one, but three concurrent projects, related to content and curricular development for private companies, each one of which will likely stretch from two to five months. And of course, I do still have that pesky day job.
All of which means, this is enough. If I have any spare time at all, I’d like to fit in a few articles for Care2, since it’s been months since I’ve contributed, and I don’t want them to forget about me. But I certainly don’t need to start any new working relationships or make any new commitments at this point.
As a side-note, it’s worth noting that much of my present contract writing work is at least partially related to either my educational or science backgrounds. As a writer, you need to use every working relationship and connection, draw on every talent and experience you have to get work. Spent some time as a wedding planner? Parlay that into a gig writing for a wedding magazine. Worked at a Radio Shack? Write for a technology website.
Every new item on your résumé, every new sample in your portfolio, every new connection on LinkedIn increases your chances of getting work. It’s an exponential process — well, sigmoidal, only because of the human inconvenience of sleep.
Nintendo wanted to draw on a broader range of human experiences. With its motion controls and sensor bar the Wii created a new sort of shared space between our living rooms and the dimension implied by the glowing screen. The revolution was that anyone now knew how to play a videogame.
But here’s the thing, Nintendo already did this, without lasers or gyroscopes or accelerometers or even more than eight bits of memory. I’m talking about Nintendo’s 1984 creation: the NES Zapper.
You can read my full article at Unwinnable.
Just in time for its centenary, Robert Charles Wilson asks, what if the First World War had never happened? What if all the little things that go wrong before a breakdown in diplomacy had, instead, gone right? What if we were today celebrating a Great Armistice instead of a Great War?
Final review submitted in 2013, and first to be published in 2014. The full review is live at the Free Press.
I did a quick write-up last spring on a book called The Science of Miracles — in fact, this was the last title I covered before resigning from the Library Journal due to my over-committed writing schedule. I missed its publication, however, until now. It’s reprinted in full on the book’s Barnes and Noble page, and elsewhere. On the B&N page you’ll find it as the first editorial review.
It really is quite excellent and deserves to be on a year’s favourites list (my editor was careful to explain that this is not a “year’s best” list; we’re not jurying a prize, here and having made an exhaustive survey). Along with his caveat, I’ll add two of my own: not every book I’ve read is for FP review, and not every book I read is for review, period. Many of the books I read are not even recent releases.
So if I expand the list to include anything and everything I’ve read this year, what was my absolute favourite?
I dunno. The older I get the harder it is to pick favourites. Let’s just say it was a good reading year and leave it at that.
Everything’s better when it’s crusty. Read my review of this traditional German deli/café at the Spectator Tribune.
This post has been sponsored (and checked) by Grammarly.com. I use the grammar and plagiarism checker at Grammarly.com because misplaced interrobangs get good men killed.
I’m not a tremendous fan of exclamation marks. The old ! has its place, of course. Floating disembodied over surprised comic strip characters, denoting a factorial in mathematics. But I feel it’s dug out an undeserved niche in certain types of correspondence in such a way as to force itself upon those of us who feel exhausted by its enthusiasm.
An example: in any type of semi-formal business correspondence, from email to the lowly sticky-note, where one is either requesting a favour or acknowledging one, isn’t it the most natural thing in the world to end with “Thanks a lot! -Cathy”? Of course it is. Who could blame you? Certainly not me. In moments that will be forever tinged with the taint of shame and weakness, I’ve done it myself.
But I haven’t done so unthinkingly. In fact, each time has been a struggle: the better, truer part of me striving to end on a (completely appropriate) period. But the ubiquity of the exclamation mark has conspired to make the lack of it seem an intentional slight. The context of modern standard practice may cause readers to assume disinterest or even sarcasm when your thank you comes bearing a mere period. In the end, it’s simpler just to cave and add that painful vertical line.
Why does it matter? Simple honesty. I’ve long harboured the suspicion that many individuals of my acquaintance “laugh out loud” less frequently than their use of this phrase suggests, and I, at least, have no wish to misrepresent myself via disingenuous punctuational emphasis.
(Indeed, this particular acronym has almost forgotten what it stands for, apropos of nothing compulsively, it has become a new type of punctuation: one with absolutely no modifying effect; the Metamucil of the written word, a tasteless fibre to pad your messages while adding zero meaning. “Lets go 2 teh mall lol!!1″ indeed.)
But the ! cannot be denied. It is the LOL of the adult world. So many have come to expect it, its absence is more significant than its presence. A period is a slap in the face. You might as well sign off with a string of expletives.
So, I submit. I wait and bide my time. Perhaps the tide will shift. Perhaps, one day, it will be possible to be less than manically enthusiastic in text, and this will be a life choice others can accept. In the meantime, I won’t swim upstream.
Thanks for reading. I mean, thanks for reading!
It’s been a bit quiet here of late. Few updates. As it happens I have been writing a bit, but most of it’s been content development for a private educational company so it’s nothing I can link to here. But it’s also true that I’ve been limiting my work intake for most of the fall season. No real reason other than that I felt like slowing down a little bit and the easiest way to accomplish that is to accept less writing assignments.
Meanwhile I’ve made it a goal to make a small dent in the pile of non-review books I’ve been wanting to read. I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction on social science topics which have all had more overlap than I had expected. I’ve just been working on an audiobook of Slavery by Another Name, which is all about the post-Civil War Southern United States.
It’s not a metaphor for racism or something vague like that. It turns out that after Lincoln freed the slaves, a huge number of them actually continued as slaves through corrupt economic and legal apparatuses that basically allowed small town sheriffs to arrest the United States’ newest citizens on phoney charges, whereby they’d be sentenced to hard labour, which was then contracted out to railroads, plantation owners, mines, etc. Often the paperwork would get lost and their “sentence” would never end. Yes, slavery actually continued well into the twentieth century, and no, it wasn’t a rare thing but actually extremely widespread in those regions.
I also just finished Debt: The First Five Thousand Years, which talked a lot about debt peonage, which works the same way, except it’s a fine or debt that has to be worked off, and which can never be repaid because the indebted person is only paid a pittance. So debt peons too are basically slaves, but it’s justified by an account book instead of racial ideology or archaic customs of war.
On the heels of wrapping up 1491, about North American society before (and, to some extent, also immediately after) Europeans arrived, I picked up Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, subtitled An Indian History of the United States. It tells the tales of Geronimo, Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, and other leaders of indigenous nations set against or attempting to make peace with the United States during the same period discussed in Slavery (about the time of the Civil War until the end of the nineteenth century.
It’s an incredibly infuriating and sometimes hard to read story. Many indigenous groups experienced horrors a par with the Jewish Holocaust or African American slavery. In fact, in some parts of the country, huge numbers of indigenous people were kidnapped and sold into slavery, often in Mexico. And in many parts of the country (most, perhaps), American military and government groups sought no less than the complete genocide of all indigenous peoples, to the extent of slaughtering entire villages of unarmed women and children, begging for mercy (look up the Sand Creek massacre).
It’s easy to forget how recent all this has been. Yes, some of the Nazis who murdered Jews are still alive today. But some of the people who murdered indigenous people unconscionably (or who continued to keep African slaves in defiance of the 14th amendment) were still alive when Auschwitz was up and running, so it’s just one generation further back. All of this horrible stuff happened very recently, but maybe it’s easier to learn about the terrible things that happened across the Atlantic rather than what happened much closer to home.
Besides all this heavy stuff, I read Gateway, one of Frederik Pohl’s best-known novels, which I got at the used bookstore a few months ago. Coincidentally, I decided to read it just before hearing that he’d passed away, which made reading it a little bit, funereal, I suppose.
It’s quite good. Some of the old guard of SF have a reputation for not really getting character development or dialogue or other things of that sort. But Pohl’s pretty good in that department. The conceit that has almost the whole novel be told in a series of flashbacks during a man’s therapy sessions with a robot psychiatrist — I thought it would just be a gimmick but the novel has a psychological payoff that really worked for me.
Mr. Pohl, you will be missed.
So, what should I read next? (No, don’t tell me. My bookshelf is quite full.)