Tag Archives: review

481. Asimov’s Good Life

I couldn’t sleep last night so I lay awake thinking of an article to write and I’d think and think and cry at the sad parts. I had a wonderful night.
                         Asimov, from It’s Been a Good Life, p. 157

When I was new to reading science fiction in the early sixties, Clarke, Heinlein, and Asimov were everybody’s big three. Bradbury was in the next rank, but not for me. I found him unreadable. Andre Norton was still out in the cold for most people, but she, Clarke, and Heinlein were my personal big three. Asimov didn’t make the cut. I read a few of his novels, didn’t like them, and moved on.

Recently I ran across his summary autobiography, It’s Been a Good Life, edited by Janet Jeppson Asimov. It reminded me that I knew very little about the man, so I took it home.

Asimov has three full autobiographies, and a list of publications that goes on for eighteen closely packed pages. After his death, Janet Asimov published autobigaphical excerpts under the title It’s Been a Good Life. At 238 sprightly pages, 98 percent by Asimov himself, it was just right for someone who wanted to be fair to an author who is an acknowledged master.

Searching my memory and his bibliography, I found that I had read four of his novels: Lucky Starr and the Moons of Jupiter, The Stars Like Dust, and a couple of his early robot novels, each only a few years after they were published. I thought the first two were just adequate and the robot novels were dull. By the time I got to Foundation, I decided to skip it, along with anything else he might write. My local county library was full of science fiction I enjoyed, so why bother with Asimov.

It occurs to me now that might have been an error.

Asimov says (p. 143) The 1950’s [were] the decade of my greatest science-fiction triumphs, [but as] the 1950’s ended, I [ended] most of my involvement with the field. (see below)

From 1960 onward, Asimov wrote everything on every subject. It seemed to me that he had written every third book in the library. I dived into one or another from time to time doing research for my own writing. They were accurate, easy to read, and cursory, which is exactly what they were supposed to be.

When the novel The Gods Themselves came out in 1972 it was his first SF novel in fourteen years. (Not counting one novelization of a movie.) He had gone from SF novels, to non-fiction, then back to SF novels as a more mature writer. That was a biographical arc I couldn’t appreciate when I was first reading him as a teenager, for the simple reason that it had not happened yet. When it did, I had already lost interest. Not trying his new works, given his reputation, was certainly my mistake

By the eighties he was writing SF novels and winning awards once again. In 1989, he wrote Nemesis. He said this about it, “My protagonist was a teenaged girl and I also had two strong adult women characters. I placed considerably more emotion in the novel than was customary for me.” That sounds more my style, since lack of emotion was my complaint about his early work. I think I’ll check it out.

One last note for writers and would-be writers: This book is a treasure trove. I agree with pretty much everything he says about writing, but go read it from a man with far more credentials than I have.

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The brackets in the quotation are from Janet Asimov. She uses them to give context and continuity to excerpts which would otherwise be unintelligible. It is competently and smoothly done.

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Full disclosure time: After completing this post, I obtained a copy and read the first few pages of Nemesis. Sorry, I still don’t like Asimov’s writing style, but that’s all right. Not everybody likes Shakespeare, either.

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471. Sunshine Blogger Award (2)

JM Williams nominated AWL for the Sunshine Blogger Award, which he and I both consider a chance to give a shout out to bloggers we follow. I started on Monday, and ran long, so here is the rest of the story.

There are four rules to the SBA. I took care of two of them on Monday. The remaining are:

Answer the 11 questions sent by the person who nominated you.
Nominate 11 new blogs to receive the award and write them 11 new questions.

I only nominated four blogs, and only wrote three questions. Michael, Thomas, Joaquin and James, the questions are at the bottom, should you chose to accept. (There is no penalty if you don’t. This post will not self destruct.)

 JM Williams’ questions to me were:

1. When did you start writing?   In the early seventies I started by writing a few articles for magazines. I started writing fiction in 1975. not counting the answer to question five.

2. Which genre do you prefer to write? To read?  Fantasy for both.

3. Which genre do you actually write most often? It is about equal between fantasy and science fiction, with a few contemporary novels as well, but only SF seems to sell.

4. What is your favorite piece of work and why? By other writers, A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin. From my own work, a short story The Prince of Exile. Of everything I’ve written, that was the only story in which I had no idea where it came from, nor where it was going while I was writing it. On the inspiration-perspiration continuum, it was way to the left.

5. Where is the most interesting place you came up with a story idea? This is not so much a where as a how.

A couple of years before I started writing fiction, I was with my wife in the stacks of a library. I had finished for the night and she was still working, so I took down something to read. The only tolerable book in the area was Beowulf. I flipped it open to a random page and read, “All that lonely winter . . .”

A vision exploded in my head, of a young boy, at an open wind hole in a castle, looking out over a snowy scene. He was living with relatives who had taken him in after his father was killed. They expected him to grow up and avenge his father’s death, but he had no interest in revenge. He just wanted to be left alone.

I saw him and his situation with instant and absolute clarity.

The next day I wrote the first chapter of the novel the incident called out, then put it away. Four years later, it became my third novel, but it remained unfinished for decades. Now it has grown into a three book series, and if I ever find a publisher, I’ll announce it here.

6. If you could win any writing award, which would it be? The Nebula, of course. A Hugo wouldn’t be bad either. I can’t hope for a Nobel Prize since I can’t sing, play guitar, and blow harmonica at the same time.

7. Do you associate with other writers? Are they at the same level as you? My level  is totally weird. I have been published since 1978, but I went unpublished (and unknown) for a long time after, and now am published again. I work strictly alone. I loved meeting writers at Westercon this year, and I love meeting them on the internet, but there is a huge generational gap.

8. What’s one of your writing goals for 2018? I have two actually. I want to see my recently finished steampunk novel find a publisher, and finish the second steampunk novel I am working on now.

9. Are you a plodder or a plotter? 100% plod. I outline very little. When I was a teacher, I was always in trouble because I refused to write lesson plans. I carried everything in my head, and that scared the principal half to death.

10. Where do you currently live, where are you originally from, and have you ever lived in a foreign country? I live in the foothills of central California, on three acres with wild turkeys and bobcats. I grew up on a farm in Oklahoma. In between, I lived in cities and hated it. When I became a teacher, and finally had a dollar in my pocket and summers off, my wife and I spent six summers living in a tent and subsisting on bread and apples, four in Europe and two in Australia. You can go far on little, if you want to badly enough.

11. If you could travel anywhere in the Universe, where would it be and why?   If?  What do you mean if?  I travel everywhere in the Universe I want to. Why else would I be a writer?

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Now the questions for my nominees. Three instead of eleven, and loosely organized at that.

1. List your favorite authors. Length of list is your choice. A reason for the choices would be nice as well.
2. List your favorite books (That’s not the same question, since it it quite possible to have a favorite book by someone with only one great book.) Again, reasons would be nice.
3. List your favorite genres (or sub-genres, if you that works better for you) and tell what you look for as a sign of quality in that particular genre.

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I had a great time doing this exercise, but my nominees may not feel the same way. If they don’t respond, no problem. The reviewers in particular have a tightly formatted product that might not work well with the Sunshine Blogger Award.

The main idea is to send them some new customers.

470. Sunshine Blogger Award (1)

The logo above is for the Sunshine Blogger Award, for which JM Williams just nominated A Writing Life. It’s not a HUGO, but a way for bloggers to give a shout out to other bloggers. Thanks JM. I appreciate it.

The rules of the contest (if that’s the right word for it) are:

1.) Thank the person who nominated you in a blog post and link back to their blog.
2.) Answer the 11 questions sent by the person who nominated you.
3.) Nominate 11 new blogs to receive the award and write them 11 new questions.
4.) List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post and/or on your blog.

Okay, I’ve done 4 and I’ll do 2 and part of 3 on Thursday. Here come 1 and the rest of 3, all mangled together.

JM Williams who nominated AWL, is a writer with a long list of stories, mostly published electronically, and one anthology of flash fiction, The Adventures of Iric. I mentioned Iric recently in a post about author’s names, and reviewed it positively on Amazon. JW Williams has a new website, and an old one that you might still fall into if you are using a search engine, along with an author page on Amazon.

Our connection came when he liked one of my posts, some time ago. I don’t formally follow any blogs, since my time is limited, but every time someone likes one of my posts, I drop in to their site and look them over. I get a lot of newbies, and a lot of people who are working out problems in the semi-public sphere of the internet.  I like that. I hope this doesn’t sound smart-ass, but it seems to me that baring your soul to the universe, without telling anyone your home address, is a safe way to both vent and find support. I also get likes from a lot of new and would-be authors, and every time I post a poem, I snare a lot of poets.

I end up reading a lot of poetry and fiction and occasionally something really grabs my attention. JM Williams and Iric did that. I have also found a lot of useful information on the world of e-publishing on his site. I’ve been in this game a long time, but the “e” side of publishing is something I’m just learning about. So thanks for shared interests and information. I’m glad we’ve met. I liked Iric and I’m anxious to read your novel when it comes out.

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I’m only going to nominate four new blogs, one by an author and three by reviewers.

Michael Tierney was another whom I discovered when he liked one of my posts and I backtracked him. His blog, Airship Flamel, is largely devoted to steampunk and victoriana, and to publicizing his writing. That makes him a man after my own heart. I enjoy his blog, but this is primarily a shout out for his novel. I bought, read, and reviewed To Rule the Skies. I recommend it as a very British romp.

The remaining nominees are reviewers of novels that they consider really old — but which I read when they first came out.

Thomas Anderson is the voice of Schlock Value, which is the only blog I read without fail every week. His subtitle, Reading cheap literature so you don’t have to, is probably all you need to know in order to understand his perspective.

I found him in an odd way. About the time I was starting my blog, I googled myself. Strictly business, you understand, and I found a review of Jandrax, my first novel. It had been out of print for forty years, and here was a review dated 2014. Did I read it? Does Donald comb his hair funny?

Thomas didn’t love Jandrax, but his review was fair. More important, compared to the reviews it got when it came out, he had obviously read it closely.  I went to the contact me section and sent him a letter, saying something like, “Since you review books that came out forty years ago, you probably never expected one of the authors to respond, but here I am.” We’ve been going back and forth ever since.

Thomas likes to review schlocky books, and he has a talent for finding them, skewering them, and still finding something worthwhile in most of them. It’s an odd approach, but I really like it.

I discovered Joachim Boaz (actual name unknown to me) and his site Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations via Schlock Value. He reviews book of the same era, but takes them all on, the good, the bad, and the weird, and with a more serious demeanor. If you check out one of his many indexes you will be amazed at the breadth of his coverage. If you are curious about an old SF book, this should be your go-to site.

James Nicholl  of James Nicholl Reviews also came to my attention when he reviewed one of my old novels. His site covers publications over a wider time scale, and anybody who has review categories like 50 Nortons in 50 Weeks and The Great Heinlein Juveniles (Plus The Other Two) has something worthwhile going on. I have read a dozen or so reviews so far, which means I have just scratched the surface. This is going to be fun.

Okay, I’m up to a thousand words and I haven’t started answering questions yet. It looks like this post is going to roll over into Thursday.

464. Miscegenation at Work

This post is a rewrite and mashup of 90. N Word, M Word and 89. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

A cousin of mine told me recently that interracial marriage is still a big no-no in Oklahoma. Bear in mind she is my age, so she may not speak for the present generation. Here in California where I live now you see black-white couples everywhere, and that pleases me, but then I never did fit in back home.

Abhorrence of mixed-race marriage has two parts. It is a fear that a (perceived) bad thing has been made legal, and it is a refusal to admit that the (perceived) bad thing has been going on for a very long time.

Did you ever hear of a nigger in the woodpile? (Yes, there’s that damned word again. In looking at race honestly, there are some things that can’t be avoided) The phrase has been a Southern staple forever. You can Google it, but it won’t tell you much. You will find it was used in an anti-Lincoln cartoon during his election bid, and you will find various definitions to the effect that it refers to something not being what it seems.

Fine, but why this particular phrase? Why is that legendary black man hiding in that woodpile near the back door of the big house? What are his intentions?

The answer lies in when the phrase is used. It is rarely used to cover general sneakiness, but it is always used when a child doesn’t look like his father. Hmmm. So that’s why that black guy was sneaking around the back door.

The great fear is that black men will do to white women what white men have been doing to black women for four hundred years.

That black feller in the woodpile helps whites laugh at the hidden realization that white purity is not just endangered; it hasn’t existed for a really long time.

You can see it in the classic movie Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, but you have to look sharp. If you don’t remember the story, in 1967, a very handsome, very black man (Sidney Poitier) wants to marry a very pretty, very blonde white girl (Katherine Houghton). They spring this on her liberal parents and complications ensue.

I like the movie despite its obvious problems. I even forgive that it ends with a fifteen minute monolog by the grumpy, old white guy (Spencer Tracy), as he puts everybody else in their places.

The movie is dated and excessively sweet. It is unrealistic that the black guy in question is such a moral superman and so terminally handsome. Never mind; the movie’s heart was in the right place and it probably did some good. And it was 1967, after all.

However, if you look closely there’s something else to be learned from this movie beyond what the producer intended. The next time you see it, take a look at Dorothy (no last name, played by Barbara Randolph), a minor character, assistant housekeeper and a drop-dead gorgeous black girl.

Or is she black? Stand her up in your imagination half way between Poitier and Houghton. She is half as black as he is, and half as white as she is. How could this happen in America! And why do we accept her as black? Why not white? She’s exactly half-and-half, compared Houghton and Poitier.

The whole movie is based on the shock that everyone feels when Poitier and Houghton decide to marry, but no one even takes notice of the obvious product of four hundred years of interracial sex, married or otherwise, strutting her stuff in the background.

Imagine that, people not noticing what is right under their noses.

Ursula K. Le Guin

January 23, 7 PM.    The post I promised you, regarding how I organize my writing, is postponed until tomorrow.

I just learned that Ursula K. Le Guin died yesterday. It occurs to me, given how young the people who read this blog tend to be, that you may not know her. That would be a shame.

My years teaching middle school also leads me to a suspicion, that she may have passed into that limbo of forced reading. If a teacher makes you read it, it must be dull, right?

I have no power to tell you what to read, but I can make two suggestions.

Ursula Le Guin was the greatest fantasy writer in the history of fantasy. No exceptions.
and
A Wizard of Earthsea is her masterpiece.

Of all the writers who moved me, inspired me, and taught me how to write by example, Le Guin is the one I most would have loved to bump into at a convention just to say hello, and thank you. That it didn’t happen, is one of my regrets.

453. More Weight: Arthur Miller’s Crucible

About a month ago in a post I mentioned Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Sometimes a passing reference like that can bring old thoughts and feelings to the surface, and send me back for a closer look.

I encountered The Crucible in the winter of 1966. Yes, they had printed books that far back. I was in my first quarter at college, writing what was probably my first college paper, “The Evil of Innocence.” My take was that evil came from the girls’ testimonies despite their essential innocence. I offer no apologies for lack of sophistication; everybody has to start somewhere.

For Arthur Miller, The Crucible was about the McCarthy hearings before the House Committee on Unamerican Activities. I remember those days only vaguely, since I was less than ten years old. What I actually remember is going to a public meeting with my parents at my grade school where our principal read from J. Edgar Hoover’s Masters of Deceit: The Story of Communism in America and How to Fight It, and gave a talk on how communism was a danger, even in our little town of 121 people.

The adults in my life were author to many nightmares.

I met Arthur Miller’s The Crucible about a decade later than I met J. Edgar, and I didn’t react to the McCarthyism allegory. I didn’t respond strongly to the characters either, except for Giles Corey calling for “More weight!” as they crushed him under stones. John Proctor left me unmoved and the various girls were merely victims. I cut them a lot of slack, for reasons you’ll understand in a moment.

In short, I didn’t react to the words on the page, but to the implications that exploded in my mind as I read them. That happens sometimes.

I had turned atheist just before my sixteenth birthday, and had told no one. I was enmeshed in a Baptist family in a Baptist town in the Baptist State of Oklahoma in the middle of the Bible Belt. I kept my head down and my mouth shut and told no one until I reached college two and a half years later.

So, when I read The Crucible I was a recent escapee from my own personal Salem. For me the main protagonist was not a man, woman, or girl, but Salem itself, seen as a massive, encircling, inescapable miasma of religious intolerance, hovering ready to strike down any who disagreed with its particular version of Christianity.

That isn’t good history. It isn’t even a full reading of The Crucible, but it was the story as I read it. No surprise, really.

Today, being a reasonably honest scholar, I went to Goodreads to see how others had reacted to The Crucible and got an earful. About half reacted to the McCarthyism allegory and gave high marks. About half gave three stars for skillful writing, then trashed The Crucible for its sexism. To be more precise, they trashed Arthur Miller for making his males into characters and his females into cyphers.

It kind of makes you wonder: did Miller write a sexist Crucible to reflect the era of the actual witchcraft trials, or because he was a grown man in the fifties and it seemed normal?

Perhaps there is one thing we can learn about great literature, which The Crucible is no matter how unpalatable it may seem to some of today’s readers. It has many messages, for many people, in many ages, and not all of them were necessarily clear in the mind of the writer. Miller saw McCarthyism. I saw the danger of being different in a small community. Goodreads is full of reviews from readers who can’t get past its sexism.

Maybe we can all agree that Giles Corey was a hero and John Proctor was a weasel?

449. Go Google Yourself

Cover by artist E. Rachael Hardcastle

This is mostly for and about writers; but then, most of you are or want to be writers.
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who Google themselves and those who don’t.
There are two kinds of people who Google themselves: those who admit it and those who don’t.
Me, I just do it for business reasons. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

All this came up because of a young author I occasionally converse with through post replies. J. M. Williams just published his first book The Adventures of Iric (a flash fiction collection). On the cover, his name appeared as JM Williams and he asked his followers about which worked better — J. M. or JM.

Actually, he has bigger problems than that. J. M. Williams, written either way, is not sufficiently unique in our internet world. When I went to Amazon to buy his book, he was nowhere to be found. Instead, the J. M. Williams who wrote A Legacy of Magi: A Mystic’s Path popped up. Different book, different author.

This is the second time I have had this problem. I met Thomas Watson, author of the War of the Second Iteration series at Westercon, picked up his book Chance Encounters, and found him a pleasant person to talk to. When I wanted to see what a short story sold separately as an e-publication looked like, I went to Amazon and bought one by Thomas Watson. Bad idea; it was a mess, full of blood, guts, and bad writing, because it was by a different Thomas Watson.

If J. M. Williams and Thomas Watson have this problem, what would it be like for John Smith?

If these seem like shameless plugs, so be it. I liked Chance Encounters. I have just begun Adventures of Iric and am enjoying it already.

Personally, I have the childhood misfortune of being Sydney Franklin Logsdon. The first name is from my father, who was named after a great aunt. The middle name is from my grandfather. Logsdon is unspellable and unpronouncable. That triple consonant — gsd — does not roll off the tongue. Even shortened to Syd, my name is a little girlie, which was a big deal growing up in an Oklahoma cow town. In high school I went by Log, except for a few of the smart alecks in math class who called me Logarithm.

An odd name turned out to be a godsend on the internet. The first time I googled my name, it was mostly me, not a thousand strangers using my name. When I bought the URL for my website (sydlogsdon.com), no one else had snatched it up.

J. M. Williams’ announcement of his first novel reminded me that I hadn’t googled myself recently, so I did it again.

I found a few posts by or about Sydney Logsdon, a young girl who is heavily into sports and into posting pictures of herself. The last time I did a self-google, about a year ago, she was all over the internet, but not so much this time. Perhaps she moved on, or maybe she got married and is still out there under her new name.

I found one obituary of my father — different middle name — with misspellings and no mention of children. The internet has a lot of accuracy problems.

I found a Myspace music mix by Sydney Logsdon aka dumbgirl98. She is probably a namesake I don’t want to meet.

I found quite a few references to my newest novel Cyan. I found a ton of advertisements from used bookstores selling Jandrax or A Fond Farewell to Dying. One of them was in French. I even saw one in German, touting Todesgesänge, the translation of FFTD. It had a review I couldn’t read.

I found a review I hadn’t seen before for FFTD. In English, this time. That also gave me a new old-SF review site to follow.

I found somebody with my name telling how to make slime.

I found a number of sites selling illegal copies of my novels as ebooks. You won’t be surprised to see that I am not including a link to any of them.

What I didn’t see, was a hundred other people using my name. I dodged that bullet.

If you are a writer, or want to be, and your name is Avant B. Jones, don’t use A. B. Jones as the name on your novel. If your name is Bill Smith, you might consider a pseudonym. It’s a matter of branding, and it gives you something to think about while you are waiting for your first book to hit the internet.