10/14/2013 01:47pm Book Review
The Hundred Secret Senses - Five stars.
It's become a tradition for me to read Amy Tan's books when flying. My recent trip to Las Vegas was no exception, since at the last minute, I pulled down Amy Tan's The Hundred Secret Senses - the Kindle version - and dived into it as soon as I could turn my electronic devices back on.
The book starts, "My sister Kwan believes she has yin eyes. She sees those who have died and now dwell in the World of Yin, ghosts who leave the mists just to visit her kitchen on Balboa Street in San Francisco."
There are ghosts a-plenty in this book. Two or three in particular are fundamental to the story line, and the stories of their lives, deaths, and in some cases reincarnations are woven seamlessly into the narrative, as Kwan shifts from her accented English into Chinese to tell her sister Olivia the stories. Kwan spends time in a mental institution for her troubles.
To Kwan, the ghosts are real. Olivia, born and raised in America, and not part of the culture Kwan is speaking from, is skeptical. And yet, against her will, over decades of listening to her sister, Olivia has learned the stories, internalized them, and become haunted by some of them herself, as well as taking on a few new ones.
The ghosts are the reason Kwan is so desperate to patch Olivia's failed marriage back together. The ghosts and their story are the reason Olivia, Simon (Olivia's ex-husband) and Kwan go to China. But a ghost can't change anything about its life. Ghosts are dead. It's for the living, the dying, and the newly born who ultimately bring the story to resolution.
Tan evokes both these women - Olivia and Kwan - so thoroughly you feel as though you know them, that you have known them since you were a child. Through the longstanding argument and story telling between them, she evokes the ghosts as well, and their stories, and their passions, their very lives that were, to the point that they too are characters in the present story.
If it sounds disjoint - like I'm still wrapping my head around this book, digesting it, trying to figure out how Tan did what she did, and why - that's because I am. There's a lot of story there. Tan's books are thick, dense with plot and rich with characters, and The Hundred Secret Senses is no exception. Totally immersive, and I found myself wishing my flight had lasted longer than the two hours or so it actually did, so I could get through more of it. As it was, I was up until 2:00am reading it in the middle of my vacation. It's that good. Read it. Enjoy it.
10/14/2013 12:41pm Blog Entry
I will be at MileHiCon at the end of this week, and I have my schedule now:
Saturday at 11:00AM in Grand Mesa 8c: Researching Fiction (my favorite thing) How do you do research for fiction? What are good places too look? How much is too much?
Saturday at Noon in Mesa Verde C: Reading with Stant Litore. If I have the right guy, he's writing zombie horror, so it could get pretty ugly. :) (I might not have the right guy. Ask me some time about the exquisite corpse reading I was in once. The dangers of searching the interwebs.) I'm not sure what I'm going to read yet, but I may polish up one of my unpublished short stories from the Brass and Steel universe. Probably not the 7500 word one.
Saturday at 2:00pm in Wind River B: Future of Biology and Medicine. Where are we now, what do we see becoming science fact, limitations of genetic research, new medical tech.
The rest of the time I'll be wandering around like all the other fans. :)
09/27/2013 05:30pm Blog Entry
The first draft of Brass and Steel: The City of Glass is proceeding, and it's developing its own feel, which is good - if time consuming. Here's a quick tidbit. Annabel and her sister Josephine are the main characters of this story.
Annabel gets up to look out the window, down at the streets below, at the elevated train as it slides by silently on tracks stories above the street. A brigade of steam melters slowly advance down the street, melting snow with steam, vacuuming up the water, heating it in their specially designed autoboilers into more steam. She looks down casually with her mystical eye, and realizes they’re strictly machines. No human being guides them. They roll along, low slung black boilers with brass fittings gleaming against the snow and muddy water. As she watches, squads of them divide off from the main brigade to pursue side streets. Hundreds of them. Perhaps thousands, and each one apparently controlled by a Dejstrøm engine the size of a wartime Dope brain, without the bound soul to animate it. Probably rectangular, as most are now, to facilitate bolting them to the regular shapes men seem to favor when they build. She looks out further over the city, past more elevated train tracks and ignores the prickle of her scalp.
08/20/2013 12:23pm Blog Entry
From David Foster Wallace: “When you write fiction,[…] you are telling a lie. It’s a game, but you must get the facts straight. The reader doesn’t want to be reminded that it’s a lie. It must be convincing, or the story will never take off in the reader’s mind.”
08/12/2013 04:53pm Blog Entry
Yeah, City of Glass is about a city, so I have to learn at least a passing familiarity with the architecture of the time. Burnham I can deal with. Sullivan I can at least understand. I think it likely that Frank Lloyd Wright, in my world, was fatally stepped on by a cow before he could produce any significant work. Wright's Prairie Style is /awful/ - and in the real world, ubiquitous. All the faceless, soul-less brick-facade buildings that so typified 1970s Cheyenne, Wyoming were clear examples of it. Unimaginative, boring, unadorned, without any sense of style. And flat roofs, in the midwest and west? Insanity.
08/07/2013 07:36pm Blog Entry
Okay, just had a bit of a scare. I was tinkering with and re-reading Brass and Steel: Inferno and wanted to see how many words I'd changed, so I clicked on targets, and got 93,000 and some odd. What's the problem, you ask? Inferno is a 118,000 or so word novel. It meant that somewhere a great swath of the novel was just… gone.
Don't panic, I told myself, even though clearly I already was. Check your compile targets and make sure you have the whole novel selected. Er… yes. I did. Okay, NOW go ahead and panic.
Then I happened to notice that some chapters' little icons in the scrivinings list didn't have any text in them. This is how empty chapters are represented. Surely not, I thought, but I clicked on those chapters to make sure the text was there. It was, and as soon as I touched the chapter, Scrivener noticed the text was there and reset the icon accordingly. And my word count jumped. Once I had touched all the empty icons in the list, my wordcount was back to normal.
I was imagining 'sure, one of the agents I was querying will naturally want the full manuscript while I'm figuring out how to recover what's missing, or if I was grossly miscalculating the wordcount before. It always goes that way. It didn't go that way this time.
I'm a little puzzled why this happened, and it doesn't give me warm fuzzies that it did happen, but this file's been through a lot. I have A. Edited the bundle. There was a lot of stuff in there from dropbox syncs gone bad. I had removed them. I have B. Touched the file with scrivener for windows running in Wine on my Linux machine. That failed to work, so I also installed the unsupported Scrivener for Linux on that box, which did.
C. My desktop mac has been showing a little flakiness recently, booting into safe mode rather than normal. The disk checks out, and from the log, I think it's an inexpensive USB hub and constantly switching that hub between the work machine and the play machine. Terrifying moment to think I'd lost a great chunk of the novel and that I wasn't even sure where. Yeah. Better backups in my future, for sure.
08/06/2013 06:58pm Blog Entry
There's been a lot of discussion in the news lately about the harsh blue light of lcd screens making it hard to sleep, etc etc. How much of that is actually true, I don't know. By way of an experiment, however, I have put a bright daylight beach wallpaper on my work machine, which I use mostly during daylight hours, and a night cityscape on the play machine.
Does it make a difference? I don't know. I do notice that I get the same "ugh! Daystar!" reaction to the day wallpaper at night. Whether it helps or hinders my sleep, I have no idea. I figured it can't hurt.
08/06/2013 06:46pm Book Review
Chicago - Five stars.
Studs Terkel's Chicago is a rambling prose poem about his city, and the changes, in a thousand vignettes; his own and others; reeling from flashback to then-current events and back. That's what the book is about, sure, but when literature is good, as this is, it captures something else. In the transitions, in the sound of the language chosen, in the herky-jerky structure from past to future and from one face of this two-faced city between the go-getters and the go-get-it-yourselfers, as Terkel puts it. He captures a lot of background, drops a lot of names, but the feel, the spirit of the Windy City; he catches that too.
That's what I was looking for when I picked this book up some years ago in a used book store in Denver. Not the history of Chicago, not exactly, but who this city was, and who it has become.
08/05/2013 09:18pm Book Review
In 1893, the city of Chicago put on the Columbian Exposition, aka the World's Fair. Larson documents the years leading up to the fair largely from the point of view of Daniel Burnham, who was the primary architect on the job.
It was a time of change - a time of urbanization, a time when women first came to the city alone. Predators followed. This is also the story of H.H. Holmes, arguably America's first serial killer. The two stories are woven together in complex narrative that bogs down in spots, and is a touch short on a satisfying climax. Oh. Right. That's because it's a true story. So yeah, Holmes gets away with murder, at least for a while.
Still, the frenzied construction of the fair, the banding together of Chicago for once in its history, short lived though it was, is a fascinating story, and I will say Holmes gets his in the end. Impeccably researched, this book really brings early 1890s Chicago to life, showing it in the days of the political machines, when the Chicago river ran with blood from the slaughterhouses, when the city thought it could do anything, and did it.