This fortnight I’ve done so many things that I’ve lost track.
I’ve written the poorest drabbest first draft of a novel so that someone can check something in it before I polish the novel up. Last time I did this, the novel was approved of by the friends doing all the checking and I edited it lightly and suddenly it was in print (that was The Year of the Fruit Cake). This novel will need more editing that than because my gut says that it has a sagging middle. The story tells of a group of strangers that meet on a dying island and do the hard work to make themselves into such a group of friends that they will all get through the impossible even if they have no idea how they’re going to get through that impossible.
I guess I need to find a publisher for it after I’m happy with it, but that’s then.
Some writers write under contract. Me, I really like writing work that balances and expresses my research. That means it’s fairer on publishers if I have a complete novel to offer them, so contracts generally come after my work is finished. It also means I can write what I need. If it doesn’t get published, that’s my risk – so far this hasn’t happened. So far small and medium press have been very happy to take my work. (it doesn’t matter how published I am, I feel it’s always ‘so far’ – I can’t predict tomorrow.)
I never thought I’d see a crewed rocket blast into space at Cape Canaveral, yet — here I am. I also never thought I’d live in Florida, and likely would never even visit the state, yet — here I am.
I do remember Apollo 11 landing on the moon and I remember Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planting the flag. I recall sitting on the living room floor in our house in the orange grove cross-legged, eating an Oreo and drinking a 6-oz glass of milk. The living room walls in the grove house were cedar panels. I remember Rebel sitting next to me, his big head and floppy ears resting on his big old paws. Rebel was a phlegmatic Basset hound with deep brown, mournful eyes. I had learned to walk by clinging to his ears and toddling.
It seemed very easy for these two guys to hop out of the Lunar module and caper around the moon. At age seven, I thought the big rocket was just like the small rockets one of our teachers had launched at school. In my mind, flying to the moon was maybe a little farther than flying to Paris. My child’s mind told me that the astronauts were just like The Little Prince only instead of a nice costume and scarf, they wore puffy, funny suits.
This is in my child’s mind. All through school, we drew peace symbols, stuck “ecology” stickers on our notebooks, and learned about the Apollo astronauts. I was certain that by the time we were all grown up, the world would be a beautiful, green, peaceful place, and astronauts would be flying all over the universe.
Could you use some uplifting music for these strange and distressing times? Couldn’t we all? Here’s the Boston Pops Orchestra performing a special edition of “Summon the Heroes,” by the incredible John Williams, in honor of COVID first responders everywhere. This was recorded before the stress of the pandemic was compounded by the specter of racism, but if anything I feel even more keenly the need for a bit of uplift. Continue reading “Summon the Heroes!”…
The uprising in the streets of our country (and much of the rest of the world) brought me that hope.
Or more accurately, the reaction to that uprising, which for once veered away from the usual tut-tutting about property damage and instead focused on how the police attacked peaceful protestors. The blatant racism and casual police violence that have always been a part of our society are now under serious scrutiny.
There is a call for real and systemic change in how we handle public safety, something I’ve wanted to see for many years and yet never expected to see. Sometimes, despite being a science fiction writer, I lack imagination when it comes to change in my own world. Continue reading “A Little Bit of Hope”…
When the pandemic hit and the museum I work at was shuttered temporarily, I decided that I would make masks for medical workers and others who need them. Remember back to those long-ago days three months ago (!!) when frontline medical workers couldn’t get PPE for love or money, and were wearing their N95 masks over and over? So I did some research, trying to find out what style and features the local medical folk preferred–and got a lot of conflicting advice. Finally I settled on a pattern that could be made up fairly quickly, with fabric I had on hand, and started sewing.
I should note that the fabric I had on hand was, some of it, interesting. Almost two yards of fabric with 1930s-40s SF pulp magazine covers on it. A yard or so of what looks like a Candyland game board. An abstract star-scape. You ask a science fiction writer to make masks, you are likely to get interesting, if not downright eccentric, material choices. Continue reading “Sewing as Fast as I Can”…
Toward the end of April, as people began to plan WisCONline — the virtual WisCon — I got a notice that my academic paper for the con had been accepted and that they wanted a video presentation.
About the same time, I saw that Story Center was offering an online class in using WeVideo. Although I took one of their classes in digital storytelling about four years back and learned the basics of WeVideo, I had a lot of gaps in my knowledge since I hadn’t done any new videos.
I decided to sign up for the class with the goal of making a video for WisCon. That way I could do something besides a talking head of me reading the paper.
There were two problems with this plan. First, the 15-minute presentation would be considerably longer than the usual 2-3 minute videos Story Center works with.
Second, the paper wasn’t written yet. Once WisCon decided to cancel the in-person convention, I hadn’t expected them to want a paper. Also, in my previous academic papers for WisCon, I had still been putting the final touches on the paper the day of the presentation.
Step outside the house, into the forest. Take the uphill path through the woods. Notice the plants to either side: pine trees, oak, poplars, berry bushes, cactus, wildflowers. A flash of movement; a bird or a lizard. Glints of bright color in a tapestry of shaded greens.
At the top of the hill, pause and breathe. Here you can see into the distance: thunderclouds gathering on the horizon, silent for now. Angel wisps of pale cloud overhead, melting and morphing as you watch. Look up at them and turn full circle. See the whole sky.
Although I work at home, I’ve been reading more since the pandemic Shelter In Place orders. Like many others, I’ve had more than my share of moments of wanting to run away to Middle Earth or Darkover or Narnia. (One of the ways I exercise is on a recumbent bike in the garage, facing a TV/DVD/VCR unit on which I’ve been watching the commentaries to Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films, but that’s a different topic.) Here are some books that really grabbed me:
The Bone Ships, by RJ Barker (Orbit Books)
Oh, what a luscious, heart-rending, beautifully crafted book this is! In the world of warring island nations, the most valuable commodity – one that comprises the great war ships that grant naval supremacy – is the bones of sea dragons. The supply is limited, for the dragons are believed to be extinct, so the bones are salvaged and repurposed to for the great ships of the fleet. Then there are the black ships, the ships of the condemned and untouchable. Fisherman’s son Joron is one of those wretched souls, sentenced as “shipwife” (captain) to a black ship and determined to stay as drunk as possible. His fortunes change with the arrival of “Lucky” Meas, an extraordinary leader and daughter of the ruler, although why she might have been sentenced to a black ship, Joron has no idea. As Meas trains and then inspires the dissolute crew, Joron goes from grudging obedience to trust, even as he learns her true mission. For after centuries a sea dragon has been spotted, and the contest for its precious bones threatens to plunge the world into unending war.
There is so much to love about this book, but for me it was the language that enchanted me the most. I found myself slowing down and repeating passages just to savor them. In many senses, the narrative text itself was a character and gateway to this world.
Tide Child’s colour showed he [in this world ships are masculine] was a last-chance ship, the crew condemned to death. The only chance anyone had for a return to life was through some heroic act, something so undeniably great that the acclaim of the people would see their crimes expunged and their life restored to them. Such hope made desperate deckchilder, and desperate deckchilder were fierce. Though if any forgiveness had been offered to the dead it had not been in Joron’s lifetime, or in his father’s lifetime before him.
At some point this crew of the violent and the lost had decided that Meas could be trusted, and if she kept her side of the bargain then they would keep theirs. It was an odd thing, thought Joron, to find a purpose in such a dark place as a black ship. Superb world-building, compelling characters, and carefully nuanced tension mark Bone Ships as a book to treasure. And there will be more – I can hardly wait!
Ancient Rome! With magic! I am not a scholar of ancient history, so I cannot vouch for the historical accuracy of this dramatic tale of politics, warfare, cultural upheaval, and romance set about 67 B.C.E. But the world, its peoples, and their attitudes and choices, in every detail feel so seamlessly consistent I was never jolted out of the story.
Rome – Aven in this book – is in the beginning of its decline but still the dominant power in the known world. At the opening of the story, a brutal dictator, having executed or exiled anyone who spoke out against him, has died. Now it’s up to those remaining leaders to reconstitute a republic. Some are already in Aven, having bowed to the dictator or gone into hiding; others return from exile. One such return is Sempronius, a mage of Shadow and Water elements, a brilliant leader and strategist who must hide his magical powers, for mages are forbidden by law from holding public office. Latona, daughter of an elder Senator, has just been freed from the dictator’s thumb (and bed), and her confidence in herself and her magical powers of Spirit and Fire have not yet recovered. Meanwhile, elections bog down as those who want to restrict power to traditionalist classes vie with those who see Aven’s future in the expansion of suffrage. And on the Iberian peninsula, a fanatical war leader is using blood magic to expel the Avenian invaders.
The book perfectly balances the richly nuanced portrayal of a culture in tumult with characters that change and grow, a fascinating system of magic and its relationship to pantheist religion, lively dialog, unexpected plot twists, and a tender love story. It’s a long read (and only the first part of a longer series) but well worth savoring every page.
I’m Gillian, and I’ll be blogging about things that are everyday to me. I’ll change the title whenever I feel it needs changing, and I’ll put my name up top so that you know it’s me, playing with titles. I love playing with titles. My current draft novel is up to its sixth. I also like writing letters. This will be my letter to you.
I discovered (the peculiar way) that the combination of all the things in my life mean that my life is a bit different. I live in Australia (my family migrated here between the 1850s and 1920) and have had an exceptionally strange career. I’m not certain what my everyday is different to, not yet. We’ll explore that together.
Take my Sunday. You don’t have to take it very far, because I’m writing this on Sunday afternoon. Right now I’m downloading the Hugo packet for the WorldCon in New Zealand. I was so happy about going to a place a mere six hours travel from home and spending time with friends and… COVID-19 hit. At least I’ll have more time for reading my Hugo awards packet.
My corner of Australia (the national capital) has bad internet. This means that it has taken me 8 hours to download the Hugo packet. I live in deep commune with my computer. It thinks it’s my life partner and plays games with me. I think I need to get a new one. My computer is proud of the duct tape holding it together. Actually, it might be masking tape. It’s an old, grumpy computer. Continue reading “Winter Is Coming – Gillian Polack”…