July 21, 2013: A 17 (actually, 21) Question Science Fiction Book Meme!

The gang at http://www.sfsignal.com/ have launched another one of those irresistible SF-themed memes, what they’re calling a ” 17-question science fiction book meme for a lazy Sunday”.  I wrestled over a few of my responses, struggling with the relative worthiness of some of the titles, and finally decided to solve the problem by adding four extra questions to the meme (17 to 20) to round it out to an even twenty.  Er, plus one.

What follows are my responses.  Answer as many of the following as you can, in the comments section of this blog and over here: http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2013/07/a-17-question-science-fiction-book-meme/#more-79721.  They’d love to read your feeback!

1. My favorite alien invasion book or series is…?

1

The Ophiuchi Hotline by John Varley

It’s not an alien invasion story in the traditional sense of the term but an alien invasion does precipitate the events leading up to another (indirect) alien invasion in this thoroughly engaging novel about cloning, restored memories, and a mysterious radio signal from distant space.

2. My favorite alternate history book or series is…?

1

Watchmen by Alan Moore.

To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of Alt. History scifi and yet, Alan Moore’s non-linear, iconoclastic take on the superhero genre stands out as one of my favorite works crossing several genres.

3. My favorite cyberpunk book or series is…?

1

Glasshouse by Charles Stross

Okay, it includes enough cyberpunk elements for me to make it my selection in this category.  A twisty, turny, scifi thriller with plenty of humor and suspense.

4. My favorite Dystopian book or series is…?

1

Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower.

Unrelentingly grim yet possessed of a spirit and hope embodied by its determined protagonist.  I’d recommend it over the similar-themed, better-known The Road.

5. My favorite Golden-Age sf book or series is…?

1

Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

When I was a kid, my mother encouraged me to read by buying me a bunch of classic SF – Asimov, Ellison, Niven – but my favorite was Arthur C. Clarke,  and Childhood’s End is my favorite Arthur C. Clarke book.  A race of mysterious extraterrestrials visit Earth.  They bring an end to war, poverty, disease, and help usher in a golden age of peace and prosperity.  But what future plans do these alien, dubbed The Overlords, have for humanity?

6. My favorite hard sf book or series is…?

1

House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds

I could have just as easily placed this novel in the space opera category and Iain M. Banks’s Culture series here as the works of both authors share common elements: breathtaking narratives spanning the universe peopled with colorful characters, fantastic alien races,  and mind-bending technologies. Big, brilliant ideas.

7. My favorite military sf book or series is…?

1

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi.

Not only my favorite military SF book or one of my favorite SF books in general but one of my very favorite books.  Period.  Every person I’ve recommended this novel to has become a John Scalzi fan.

8. My favorite near-future book or series is…?

1

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon.

Maybe a bit of a cheat in that it may not have enough scifi elements to please the average SF enthusiast, but it’s got enough – the near future setting and medical breakthroughs – for me to include this poignant, inspiring, beautifully written novel here.

9. My favorite post-apocalyptic book or series is…?

1

The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe

A “far down the road” post-apocalyptic science fiction novel in the guise of a fantasy novel chock full of allegory, literary allusions, and elusive subtext.  A challenging read, but well worth the time and effort.

10. My favorite robot/android book or series is…?

1

In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker.

Not robot or androids per se but immortal cyborgs, employees of The Company, charged with the task of traveling back in time in order to locate and safeguard (read: hide) artifacts and valuable items for sale in the 24th century (when/where they will be discovered). Complications arise when our heroine, Mendoza, falls in love with a 16th century Englishman.  And mortal no less!

11. My favorite space opera book or series is…

1

Iain M Banks’ Culture series.

Grand, brilliant, staggeringly inventive and, yes, operatic, the Culture Series stands out as a marvelous literary accomplishment.

12. My favorite steampunk book or series is…?

1The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes

A washed-up illusionist and his imposing assistant battle to save London from dark forces in Jonathan Barnes’ witty, macabre, and all-out-bizarre novel.  There are surprises a plenty in a book in which no one can be trusted, least of all our narrator.

13. My favorite superhero book or series is…?

1The Superior Foes of Spiderman by Nick Spencer

Hmmm.  Though.  This changes week to week but, right now, coming off a highly entertaining first issue, this is the series I’m most excited about.

14. My favorite time travel book or series is…?

1

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman.

An exceptional treatment of time dilation makes this one the runaway winner in this category.

15. My favorite young adult sf book or series is…?

1

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

A seminal work of science fiction whose appeal extends well beyond young adult readers, this coming-of-age tale is set at a Battle School where, amid the training, the games, and the youthful interrelations, not all is as it seems…

16. My favorite zombie book or series is…?

1

Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead.

Before The Walking Dead television series became a breakout hit, there was the comic book series – smarter, grimmer and far more character-driven than the show.

17. My favorite ship-based sf book or series is…?

1

The Dark Beyond the Stars by Frank M. Robinson

Having grown up on ship-based science fiction (and worked on a ship-based SF series for two years), I couldn’t help but include this category – and this delightfully engaging novel centered on a shocking shipboard mystery.

18. My favorite New Wave sf book or series is…?

1

Camp Concentration by Thomas M. Disch

If we’re going to have a Golden Age category, I only think it fair we include a New Wave category as well and, as much as I loved Flowers for Algernon, Camp Concentration gets the nod here.  His refusal to enlist in military service lands our protagonist, a poet and pacifist, in a prison whose inmates are subjected to bizarre, brain-altering experiments.

19. My favorite Future Tech sf book or series is…?

1

Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover

Science fiction AND fantasy.  Heroes Die offers the best of both worlds in a rip-roaring adventure that explores the effects of developed entertainment technology on eager consumers – and, in turn, the media conglomerates calling the shots.

20. My favorite Otherworldly sf book or series is…?

1

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny

By “otherworldly”, I mean a story that takes place on a planet other than Earth – like, for instance, the colony world setting of this novel that gets taken over by the power mad former crew of a spaceship who use technological and physical enhancements to transform themselves into gods.  Fans of Stargate, take note!

21. The 3 books at the top of my sf/f/h to-be-read pile are…?

Okay.  One of each…

1

The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang

One of my favorite SF writers.  He’s not all that prolific but his work is consistently great.

1Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

If you like your fantasy dark, darkly humorous, and action-packed, then look no further than the works of Joe Abercrombie.

1A Terror by Jeffrey Ford.

A new release by one of the most wildly imaginative authors writing today.

Okay, those were my answers.  Let’s see yours!

December 20, 2011: Maximus! My Holiday Gift Reads!

On the heels of bringing Maximus in to see the vet on Monday, I’m faced with a tough decision.  The fact is, he’s not going to get any better – this despite the special diet, the radiation treatment, and the anti-cancer vaccine.  He only has a little time left.  Of course, one could argue that, relatively speaking, we all have little time left.  How much “little” is the question.  Maximus has hung in there despite the odds. The vet calls him “a tough little guy,”.  True, but he’s a tough little guy fighting a losing battle and I have to decide when it’s time to throw in the towel.  The decision isn’t as simple as it may seem to the impartial observer.  While he has been lethargic since his diagnosis back in July, it’s not exactly out of character for Maximus who has always been the laid-back type, preferring a cozy snooze over an afternoon walk.   Also, the vet suspects that this lethargy may have more to do with the tramadol he is taking for the pain than the pain itself.  As for his loss of appetite, the fact that he’s still drinking suggests his unwillingness to eat isn’t wholly pain-related either.  In fact, the vet informs me that loss of appetite is common in cancer patients.

And so, because Maximus can’t talk to me and let me know exactly what’s going on, how he’s feeling, and what he’d like to do, I’m at a loss.  Yes, given that I am leaving for Montreal this Friday, it certainly would be easy to make the final call over the next few days, but I won’t make a decision just because it’s easier for me.  I want to make a decision that gives Maximus the most quality time available to him.  I don’t want to ever look back and consider the possibility that, even subconsciously, my decision was dictated by my personal comfort.  Max may be ill but he has nevertheless continues to demonstrate flashes of his old self, looking downright happy and excited when some kids came to the house the other day (and, notably, whenever he’s LEAVING the vet’s).

It would be easier to leave him back at home with the dog-sitter, or at the vet’s, but in the likely event that these are his last few days, I think I owe it to my buddy to be there for him.  And so, I’ve arranged to bringing him along with us to Montreal.  He’s always been a great traveler, sitting quietly in his sherpa bag for the duration of previous flights.  The last time he stopped eating and I assumed he was on his last legs, the change of scenery from Toronto to Vancouver seemed to give him a second lease on life.  Here’s hoping the switch from Vancouver to Montreal does the same.

Well , I’m pleased to report that I’ve covered everyone on my Christmas list.  Figuratively speaking.  The task of the literal covering has fallen to Akemi who gift-wraps with all the professionalism and artistic sensibility of – well, someone who has worked retail in Tokyo.

I’ve elected to go with a balance of personal and impersonal gifts this year.  Sure, it’s easier to go with various scented soaps (see above), but I figured I’d also roll the dice this Christmas by offering some reading suggestions in the form of a few of my favorite non-genre books.  It’s tough because almost everything I read is genre fiction (either SF, fantasy, or horror), but there have been a few exceptions…

The Man Who Ate Everything and It Must Have Been Something I Ate by Jeffrey Steingarten

You may know him as one of Iron Chef America’s most hard-to-please judges, but he’s also been Vogue Magainze’s food critic for the past twenty-two years.  Along the way, he’s written countless food-related essays and these two books collect some of his most humorous pieces.  Endlessly entertaining even for non-foodies.

City of Thieves by David Benioff.

Before becoming a writer and show runner on HBO’s Game of Thrones, David Benioff published this wonderful coming of age novel set in Leningrad during the second world war.  Two young men are charged with the seemingly impossible task of locating a dozen eggs for the wedding of a Russian Colonel’s daughter.

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim and When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

Another humorous collection, this one an assortment of personal essays from one of the funniest writers out there, David Sedaris.

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon.

Yes, I said non-genre but this book’s near-future setting and endearing protagonist make it incredibly accessible.  One of my top ten favorite reads.

Fool by Christopher Moore

King Lear told from the fool’s point of view.  You don’t have to be familiar with the bard’s work to thoroughly enjoy this riotous novel.  A terrific introduction to the wild and wonderful world of author Christopher Moore.

Finally – mom just finished Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand and is looking for another book along its quaint and comical lines.  Any suggestions?

August 9, 2009: Elizabeth Moon Answers Your Questions!

Elizabeth Moon
 
With the exception of those who accidentally wandered onto this blog and have since been unable to find their way out, you’re all here because you’re fans of science fiction. Or, more specifically and at the very least, fans of the Stargate franchise. Now I’m proud of the work we’ve done on all three shows (SG-1, Atlantis, and the upcoming Universe) and have done my best to highlight many of our accomplishments over the years. But this blog isn’t only about Stargate. And, of course, neither is science fiction. A little over a year ago, I was thinking about the fact that, despite the many, many SF fans out there, so much SF literature remains under-read and underappreciated. And I was struck with a thought. What if I could use this blog to introduce even a small percentage of you to the many wonderful works out there, SF books written by veterans and up-and-comers alike? I could accompany you on the journey, join you in reading, discovering, weighing in, and discussing. So I started this little book club and, since then, it has grown, engendering some terrific discussions and welcoming various authors in the field of not only science fiction but fantasy and horror as well.

Then, a little over a month ago, as I was considering August’s Book of the Month Club selection, I was struck by another thought. What if, on occasion, rather than selecting a book I was unfamiliar with, I chose a favorite instead? It would be not unlike bringing someone to Fuel Restaurant and treating them to their very first Crispy Duck experience. One of the greatest pleasures, next to loving a dish, is recommending it to a friend and having them love it in turn. The same applies to literature. And so, for August’s Book of the Month Club Selection, I put forth one of my favorites, the superlative Crispy Duck of SF novels: The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon.

It’s science fiction, but not of the kind many Stargate fans are used to. There are no bizarre aliens or unfathomable techno-weapons or big explosions (Well, maybe one explosion but at the risk of giving too much away, I’ll leave it at that). It’s simply a near-future, thoroughly compelling character study of one of the most endearing and fascinating individuals in contemporary literature. Too much? I don’t think so, and many of those who read The Speed of Dark would probably agree. Still don’t believe me? Well, why not pick up the book and find out for yourself? And if you need anymore motivation, author Elizabeth Moon has kindly taken the time to drop by and answer some reader questions.

 

I happened to catch Elizabeth at a good time as she’s informed me she’ll be at ArmadilloCon all next weekend (Yes, it’s a Texas thing). Anyway, if you’re in the Austin neighborhood August 14th – 16th and you do run into her, say hi from Joe. And if you enjoyed The Speed of Dark and would like to know more about the author and her works, head on over to her site (http://www.elizabethmoon.com/). And finally, if you’re wondering what Elizabeth has in the works, her next book, Oath of Fealty (http://www.paksworld.com/blog/?p=324), hits the shelves March of 2010, while two of her short stories have been included in a couple of recent anthologies: “An Incident in Uskvosk” in Songs of the Dying Earth, and “Chameleon” in The New Space Opera 2.

Enough with my rambling pre-ambling. Over to the Q&A…

Sylvia: “Thank you for a wonderful book. Very good and very thought provoking.
Questions for the author – 1. What was your inspiration for the book’s title?”

EM: It came from our son’s response to a science lesson on light.   After being told what the speed of light was, he asked what the speed of dark was.   I tried to explain that dark had no speed–that only light had a velocity.   Dark was the absence of light, etc.  He thought about that, and then said, “If the dark is there before  the light gets there maybe it’s faster.”   Some years later, when I needed a title for this book…that one was obvious, and so were the cascading metaphors that fall from it:  ignorance comes before knowledge, and is always out there waiting for the light to reach it.

“2. Please give some insight to Lou’s last statement, “…Now I can ask the questions.””

EM: People ask questions of the disabled all the time–looking for the stock answers they expect (like Lou’s psychiatrist in the first chapter.)   Their own questions may be ignored, considered unimportant or even inappropriate.   Now that Lou is no longer defined by his disability, he gets to ask questions–the questions he wants to ask, that have interested him a long time.
 

3. If you can share, did you experience some of the “experts” who were living in the past and had not kept up with research on autism?”

EM: Oh, yes.  Some very perceptive people, but also some with very rigid minds.  They’re still out there, too.

4. Even thought you wrote the book, if you were one of Lou’s closest friends like Tom, etc., and if he asked you – what should I do? How would you have responded?”

EM: Knowing what I know now, it would have been a long conversation, as I tried to feel out what Lou really thought, and really wanted, and yet leave it to him to make his own decisions. 

Ponytail writes: “Questions for Elizabeth Moon:Greetings fellow Texan! I am writing from the Dallas/Fort Worth Metoplex! I loved The Speed of Dark! Very interesting and emotional read! Thank you for writing it. Where is this story set? The, “finding a place to plug in my car”, had me wondering.”

EM: It’s set in the near future, when most vehicles are at least partly electrically powered.   It’s also set farther north, to a place that had sugar maples (but they didn’t like the heat.  Probably something like Kansas City or St. Louis.

“Why didn’t you spend more time on the new Lou? I liked the old Lou better anyway, but I was wondering if he was really finally happy with his new life.”

EM: The story is about changes and choices;  the critical changes Lou had to face, and the choices he made, are “done” by the end of this book.   The reader is free to face the ambiguity and uncertainty of life–that sometimes you have to just jump off the cliff of circumstance and hope your wings hold you up. 

“What did you glean from your own son in writing this book?”

EM: Close daily contact with his way of thinking and expressing himself gave me the experience to simulate an autistic mind from inside.

“I have read you wrote your first book at age 6 about your dog. This is a dog lovers blog. What exactly was that first book about? What was your dog doing in the book?”
 
EM: That first book was never finished.   The dog didn’t do enough; that was the problem.  Or rather,  I didn’t know to wait until the dog was old enough to sustain a book.  She was born, she was named, she was a puppy romping around being a puppy.  None of her life adventures had happened yet.    Later she was the hero of a possum hunt,  had adventures at the beach,  all with typical terrier enthusiasm.   But we were both too young for the task I set us…she hadn’t done much of anything yet, and I didn’t know how to make “nothing much” interesting.

“When you are in the middle of writing a book, do you walk around in a fog, thinking about the book constantly?”

EM: Not 100% of the time, but part of the time, yes.   Definitely.  

“Thank you Ms. Moon for taking the time to stop by and answer our questions. Your book was a great pleasure to read!”

EM: Thanks!

Charles Schneider writes: “My question for Elizabeth Moon:
“Speed of Dark provides a unique perspective on the Autistic experience in the United States. In the acknowledgments you cited research involving long-reaching and ongoing contact with families experiencing autism, but was any part of the book autobiographical?”

EM: Not directly, no.   Lou is higher-functioning than our son, and had more targeted interventions earlier.   I  chose to make Lou higher-functioning, so that his choice was not at all obvious: he had real alternatives.   Possibly the setting of the fencing group was somewhat autobiographical, because I do backyard fencing with a group, but it’s nothing like Tom and Lucia’s larger and more elegant house and yard. 

“And if so, which voice in the book was yours?”

EM: None, I hope.   Characters must be who they are (even though I make them up, they take on lives of their own, if I do it right.)    I did not identify with any of them.  

Iamza writes: “Question for Elizabeth Moon: Did you have the last few chapters in mind before you started writing The Speed of Dark? Or was it something that grew organically as the story went along?”

EM: The end grew out of Lou himself…I did not know what he was going to decide until he did (and my editor was not thrilled about that.   She kept saying “You have to know–you’re the writer!” and I kept saying “He hasn’t told me yet.”)

Michelle writes: “Questions for Elizabeth Moon:
– Has an autistic person ever read the book and told you what they thought about it?”

EM: Yes, quite a few.   They’ve all agreed that it’s an accurate picture of how they feel inside, but many did not like the ending because they themselves would not have agreed to the treatment.   Most understood when I explained that the ending did not reflect my judgment on autism or autistic persons, but was Lou’s own choice…but they didn’t agree with him.

“I read that you fence as a hobby. Would pattern recognition really help a person overcome basic lack of coordination?”

EM: It depends on how bad the lack of coordination is (and Lou did not really lack coordination.).   Pattern recognition is very, very important in fencing, because it offers you opportunities.   I’m not a very good fencer and I develop muscle memory slowly.  (It’s not lack of coordination, exactly–it’s just that I’m a slow learner, physically.)  And I’m older than anyone else in the group, and everyone slows with age, so even when I have a move down, I can’t do it as fast as a younger fencer.  But I can sometimes hit my opponent when their reliable, predictable pattern leaves an opening that lasts long enough.   Once you read the pattern (also called “tells” in the fencing community)  you can predict where the other person will attack, how they will parry–and then (with experience) you know what to try.  Some people have very simple patterns–outside low, inside high, repeated over and over.   Easy to parry and easy to attack. 

“Do you have any theories about why autism seems more common now than in the past?”

E: Yes, I do. 

First, it’s diagnosed more often.  In one state that made a serious effort to diagnose every child who had autism–went out and looked for every autistic child–they found the increase in “autism” exactly corresponded to a decrease in “severe mental retardation” diagnoses.  In other words, autism had been mis-diagnosed as mental retardation.   Same number of children with a serious disability–but a change in label.

Second,  autism runs in families and in occupations where the abilities that go with autism–especially its milder forms–are valuable.  So in Silicon Valley and other high-tech communities, people who are somewhere on the spectrum meet others who are somewhere on the spectrum–and thus are familiar in their behaviors–and they marry and have children….children who are more likely to also be on the spectrum.

“Do you think Lou made the right choice?”

EM: What was right was Lou making his own choice.   Lou had as much right to choose change (or staying the same) as any of us do.   Every choice has costs and benefits; every choice has consequences.

Nolalib writes: “Questions for Ms. Moon:
I’m curious about your writing process. I read that you researched Autism in depth for this book, did you have a spark of an idea about the storyline or about the characters prior to your research?”

EM: I knew that Lou would be faced with the dilemma, but I did not know how it would play out.

“Or did the research lead to the story/characters?”

EM: No–the research informed the story but didn’t drive it.  Lou came to me a year or so before and very quietly said perhaps I’d like to write his story.   The other characters came as I was writing him. 

“Do you know the end prior to writing a story or does the story dictate itself to you as you write?”

EM: Never.   I’m a discovery writer–I find out what happens by writing it.   I climb into the character’s head and experience what the character experiences.  The control I have is to understand what part of that belongs in the story and what part doesn’t.   So it’s not that the story dictates itself to me, but that the character lets me into his or her life.

“What inspires you to write?”

EM: (chuckle)   Most of the time I’m not so much inspired as driven.   Story beginnings come to me all the time and I will never know “what happened” unless I write them.   But on the days I don’t feel like writing, what inspires me is The Deadline.   Both the book’s deadline and the deadline for paying bills.

“Thanks for taking the time to blog with us!”

Otros Ojos writes: “Questions for Elizabeth Moon:

1) Which aspects of The Speed of Dark were most challenging to you as a writer?”

EM: Staying in the viewpoint of the autistic character. 

“2) If this isn’t too personal, which parts of the writing process were a) most difficult, and b) most rewarding for you as the mother of an autistic person?”

EM: The  answer may surprise you.   When I write fiction I’m writing as “the writer.”   I wasn’t writing it from the viewpoint of having an autistic child, but from Lou’s viewpoint.   So “the mother” part didn’t come in at all, except that it had given me the experience and knowledge to write the book….it was neither hard nor rewarding as a mother, but it was both as a writer.
 
“3) Regarding some (or all) of the controversial issues raised in this book, would you consider addressing them again from a different slant at some point in the future?”

EM: I’m not sure which of the issues you are seeing as controversial, but some of the issues that interested me here show up in my other books in different guises.   I’m not sure about different “slant.”    Let’s see:  identity (how it’s defined, whether by the individual or by society),  choice (who gets to make the choice, when, how), social justice/fairness,  the inevitability of change (and the need to cope with it creatively),  the connection of actions and consequences, other ethical and moral issues….all these show up in my other books with different situations, characters, and emphasis.   And some of them have shown up again in the books I’m now working on. 

Artdogspot writes: “For Elizabeth Moon –
I really enjoyed your book and the unique perspective you used to tell this story.”

EM: Thank you.

“Since this draws from some of your own personal experience, thank you for sharing part of this world with so many others. I did have a few questions for you.
1. The book is more about interactions experienced by perceived social outsiders than a sci-fi story – did this direction evolve as you wrote or was this a deliberate decision before you began writing?” 

EM: Let me challenge your idea of what a science fiction story is:  not saying you’re wrong, but I think you may be drawing a line I don’t quite agree with.   A science fiction story, to me, has to be about both people and technology, and reveal how the one affects (or doesn’t) the other.  It can be told either from the angle of  digging into the science or tech–discovery, development–or from the angle of those whom the technology affects.   Most people think of it as the former–with characters who are, perforce, the discoverers, the developers, or sometimes the users of the new knowledge or tech.  But it’s equally effective as the latter–and that branch has been in SF almost from the beginning (think Theodore Sturgeon, for one.)   

In this case, the medical advances that made prenatal and newborn interventions possible left the existing older autistics as a dying (going to be extinct) group–autism as had been known for centuries would cease to exist with their deaths.  Then a second wave of medical advances suggested that they could be made extinct (in the diagnostic sense)  right now.   So they were faced with the results of the scientific “breakthrough”–it directly affected them, in much the same way that the development of the polio vaccine affected my generation.   Suddenly those of us who got the vaccine before we got polio had no more polio to fear…and those people we knew who had gotten polio–who would spend the rest of their lives in an iron lung or another respirator, or who were permanently crippled–were living fossils.  Of course the story is also about the perennial human dilemmas–identity, choice, justice–but the setting is the collision of  the advance of science with individual lives.

To that extent, I did intend the story to deal with both the science fictional aspect and the perennial human issues. 

“And, how long did it take to write this?”

EM: That’s always hard to answer because for me the time spent mulling over ideas and doing research blends into and overlaps the time spent putting words into the computer.    This book, in particular, had a long pre-writing stretch, and several false starts (I started it in the common narrative voice–third person, past tense, deep interior viewpoint, only to realize after a couple of chapters that I couldn’t do that with an autistic protagonist.)   Writing in an unfamiliar form as well as a character mind-set so different from my own also required more time for the same number of words, to be sure I got it exactly right for Lou, not for me.  So something over a year for the actual writing, and probably (?) two years altogether, the early part overlapping my work on the previous book.

“2. How difficult was it to make Lou’s character believable and to write the story from his point of view?”

EM: The hard part was staying in his point of view–it required a lot of focus during the writing sessions.   I knew that if I captured his reality he would feel real, believable, to readers. 

“3. What was behind the decision to have Lou’s parents already departed?”

EM: That was part of ensuring that readers saw him as self-sufficient, adult, competent–not someone still relying on parents or guardians.    If his parents had been presented as still alive, some readers would’ve been expecting him to call them and ask them what to do about the experiment.” 

“4. What I liked about Lou was that he expected to be self sufficient and was always surprised when others were wiling to help him out. Was this supposed to reflect an autist’s difficulty in reading social cues or was it simply supposed to be part of Lou’s personal experience with people in general?”

EM: Both, really.  An autistic person’s experience of non-autistic people is very different than you might expect unless you’ve witnessed it.  Like most disabled people (including people who are merely wheelchair-bound and not  mentally challenged)  autistic persons find that most others relate to them very differently:  they are treated like incompetents,  or with disapproval for their inability to talk clearly or do/feel what average people do/feel.   Add to that the difficulty in reading social cues–the need to notice and analyze and think about each one (which delays the autistic person’s responses, something many people find annoying)  and again the autist experiences disapproval from others.  So Lou–both because he was taught to be independent and because of his prior experiences–did not ask for or expect help.   (Formal accommodations, like the gym at work, are different–they’re part of The Rules and not the same thing as spontaneous help.)

“5. Lou’s autistic friends and co-workers were generally more reluctant than Lou to socialize with “normal” people. How common is it for autistics to integrate into wider or larger social circles?”

EM: It’s still quite uncommon.  The main motivation for anyone to become “social” is the pleasure that other people give.  When other people are not fun or interesting to be around (and autistic children get a lot of negativity and some of them get a lot of rigid therapy)  then the prime reason to interact isn’t there.   Since it’s also harder for them to interact–to learn how to interpret expressions, tones of voice, etc.–they need more motivation to get over that difficulty.   The average person also needs more motivation for interacting with an autistic person:  because they don’t pick up social cues as well, they can be annoying, even boring (we all know what it’s like to try to talk with someone who has only one topic and goes on and on and on without noticing that nobody else cares.)  The average person doesn’t find the autistic person rewarding–and so doesn’t bother.  It cuts both ways.   When parents and other caregivers can make the social interaction rewarding for the young autistic child, then the motivation is there and there’s a higher chance (but not certainty) that the child will continue to struggle to socialize with others.   But finding others, outside the family, who are willing to help with the struggle–to put their extra effort in to understand and support and encourage–is very difficult.

“6. Did you know how the story would end when you began writing this (with many questions unanswered); and, did you know how you were going to write it?”

EM: Nope, neither of the above. 

Chevron7 writes: “Questions for Elizabeth Moon:
1. What research did you do to get Lou’s internal monologue so authentic, or what I imagine it to be?”

EM: For that part, I didn’t need to do more research: I had the years of being with our son, listening to him, seeing how he wrote (as he learned to write), noticing what he noticed.  I had also been online with other autistic persons and had observed autistic kids at a camp.

“Was it a difficult style to write and  did you find it flowed as you went along?”

EM: Very difficult.  First person present tense is hard anyway,  and being focusing on Lou’s way of thinking (which isn’t mine) was exhausting, especially at first.    It did become less hard over time, but about then my friends began telling me I “talked like an autistic person.”  I found myself seeing my world–not just Lou’s world–through Lou’s filters. 

“2. I loved Lou’s POV and found it abrupt when you switched to Pete or Tom’s POV. Did you ever consider writing it solely from Lou’s POV?”

EM: Yes, but I wanted the contrast–to remind readers of how smoothly and easily the average person can interpret social signals, how easily they can talk to others.  My editor and I discussed how much to put in the other voices…basically, only the things the reader needed to know, that Lou could not know. 

“3. Everyone seems to see the ending as tragic, whereas I see it as hopeful. What did you think as you were writing it?”

EM: I  saw it as a validation of a person’s right–including a person with a disability label–to make his own decisions.   In that sense, I think it’s hopeful.   Lou saw it as hopeful, too.  But I also know what he lost in that decision, what the cost was.  So, I think, did he.

“4. How did the Nebula Award change your life professionally?”

EM: It’s a prestigious award in our field, so it certainly bumped my name out in the limelight.   I suspect I’ve had a few more invitations to anthologies because of it.  But in terms of how I work…it didn’t..   I still plant the seat of the jeans on the seat of the chair and plug away at the next book just about every day.

“5. What are you reading at the moment?”

EM: At the moment I’m working on the current book, so I’m reading mostly nonfiction as needed for that book.    When I’m on a project, I don’t read much fiction, and nothing that’s in the same genre.   So I’m reading about longbow and crossbow tactics,  leather tanning and finishing,  tile-making,  wood-carving,  counterfeiting in the medieval and Renaissance periods,  finance and trade in those periods, various other crafts and skills,  and so on.  

Mishmee writes: “I don’t really have any questions for Elizabeth Moon, just heaps of admiration and thanks for a provocative and gripping novel.”

EM: Thank you! 

Sparrow_hawk writes: “So I guess I do have a question or two for Ms. Moon:
Lou seemed to believe that God would want him to accept the treatment, since refusing it would be refusing to “drink from the well”. What do you think?”

EM: I think it’s an individual matter–one person might come to one conclusion and someone else with equal thoughtfulness come to another.   It requires self-knowledge–understanding one’s own motivation.   Are you motivated by fear or  resentment or anger or ambition or hope or excitement…?    And of course it ties into the individual’s conception of God (as nonexistent, existent,  loving, angry, rigid, flexible, with or without certain characteristics.)    Any treatment that expands a person’s abilities offers a challenge: any unknown treatment that might (but is not certain to) do that offers an even greater challenge: is it worth the cost (pain, effort, time, money.)   What treatment (be it a shot, a pill, a device like glasses or a hearing aid, an operation like a cochlear implant or a hip replacement, or a lifestyle change that reduces the chance of a heart attack)  would you accept for a condition that a) bothered you a lot or b) didn’t bother you that much?   If your employer thinks you need to quit smoking, lose weight, eat a different diet…what would you do?

“Why did you bring right and wrong into the already complicated decision-making process?”

EM: You don’t think right and wrong are central issues in any decision?   Lou does.  He’s been shown to be a thoughtful, ethical person who sees many issues in terms of right and wrong, fair and unfair, just and unjust, rather than easy and difficult, or profitable and unprofitable.  Many people see actions/situations/decisions in a similar way–to them,  right and wrong are involved in everything, all the time.  Their definition of right and wrong may not be yours, but it’s clear to them. 

“If this is too personal, just skip it: If the treatment you invented in the book was available, would you encourage your child to take it?”

EM: If a treatment had been available when our son was very young,  I probably would have jumped at it–his early years were as difficult for him as for us.   Probably more so.  And we had no idea how much progress he could make, how he would turn out, whether he would be happy as an adult or not.  And that decision might have turned out to have disastrous consequences or good ones.   His life now is more difficult than it would be if he were not autistic–but he is old enough to make his own decisions about who he is and who he wants to be.

August 5, 2009: Who’s Up For A Three-Parter? Technical Difficulties! More The Speed of Dark Discussion!

 

DSC03834

“Ooooh fuuuuudge.” Only I didn’t say ‘fudge.’ I said the word. The big one. The queen mother of dirty words. The ‘f, dash, dash, dash’ word. Yep, for a full minute this morning I was little Ralphie Parker. It was the moment I opened up Martin’s script, Lost, on my laptop and noticed the font. Courier New as opposed to the old SG-1 and Atlantis Times New Roman. Hmmm. I checked Carl’s script. Courier New as well. I went back to the two scripts I’d slaved over these past few weeks. Times New Roman. I automatically used an old template without even having given it a second thought. But I was certainly thinking about it this morning as I accessed the “edit format” function of Screenwriter, changed the font to the accepted Courier New, hit “OK” – and watched the scripts balloon. Script #1, once 50 pages long, was now a pudgy 56. And Script #2, formerly 53 pages in length, was a colossal 60! Anyone up for a three-parter?

No, no. I didn’t think so. Actually this is a good thing. It allows me to focus on tightening up both scripts without having to worry about relative act lengths. Once I’m through with them, these scripts will sing. And when the my fellow writer-producers read them – well, there won’t be a dry eye in the house.

“Hey, wait a minute!”I hear you say. (Yes, that’s right. I’m hearing things. I also saw the ghost of the woman who used to play the nosey neighbor in the old Bewitched series, but that’s a story for another entry). “You were supposed to read those scripts last night!” Yes, yes. No need to shout. That was the plan. Unfortunately, I got a little sidetracked by computer issues. Or maybe wordpress issues. I’m not sure which. I was trying to back-up my blog but every time I tried to export the blog to my laptop, the XML file was empty (0kb). I contacted tech support and they informed me that they were able to export the blog no problem, then asked me to send them a screenshot of the error message I kept getting. As it turns out, getting a screenshot of the error message proved just as daunting as trying to back-up my blog so I finally gave up and, just in case, went back to my old blogger home and imported an older XML back-up of my blog. Well, I clicked the “import” button anyway. When I went to bed last night at a little after 11:00 p.m., blogger was still in the process of importing. Some twenty-one hours later, the “Importing your blog” feature is still at it. Al…most…done…?

Stumped, I went to the experts. Google. My search turned up quite a few suggestions for backing up a blog. And I’m sure they would prove very helpful to someone who could understand them. The first suggested I use an FTP client to download all the files. Great! Hire someone to do the job! I searched the yellow pages for FTP clients but came up empty. Then I thought “Hey, wait a minute! If they’re working for me, shouldn’t I be the client?” Was this some roundabout way of getting me to do the work myself? I returned to the site and read step #2: “Log into phpMyAdmin and select your WordPress database.” What the what now? I read on and realized that even if I could log into my phpMyAdmin, the site warned me that I was essentially playing with fire and, in trying to address my issue, I could inadvertently screw up my blog or trigger World War III. Maybe both.

I moved on to the second suggestion which instructed me to download the WordPress Database Back-up Plug-in, which I did, then told me to “Extract wp-db-backup.php, upload it into /wp-content/plugins/ and activate it under the Plugins menu.”, which I didn’t. Okay. Let’s see – wp…wp-content… Seriously. It’s like trying to get to the Universal lot without a map. It can’t be done!

Okay, moving on to suggestion #3: “Use straight MySQL commands“. Of course! It’s so simple! Why didn’t I think of that! Step one advised me to change my directory. The rundown for step two sounded suspiciously like instructions for creating my own dirty bomb and included the following helpful breakdown:

user@linux:~/files/blog> mysqldump –add-drop-table -h mysqlhostserver
-u mysqlusername -p databasename (tablename tablename tablename) | bzip2
-c > blog.bak.sql.bz2

Enter password: (enter your mysql password)
user@linux~/files/blog>

It’s as if this guy’s cat just walked across his keyboard and he didn’t even bother deleting that section before posting.

Finally, option #4 was a link that read “complicated method”. Needless to say I didn’t bother clicking.

Further research suggests that the Export function on WordPress times out after sixty seconds and, given my blog’s enormous database, it would take roughly double that to download it in its entirety. So it would appear that, after sixty seconds, the function simply throws it’s hands up and says “F- this! I’m gonna go watch Big Bang Theory!” and leaves me to my own devices – said devices being the hammer I was going to take to my laptop in frustration.

So, what to do? Do I need to go out and buy a laptop fast enough to allow me to complete the export in less than the 60 seconds allotted? Do I need to ignore the painfully obvious fact that this isn’t working and keep trying in the vague hope that it may eventually, magically, actually start working (because, I’ve got to tell you, this particular approach, while the simplest, has yet to achieve results even remotely promising). Or should I turn my blog into a print edition that I can simply photocopy before mailing out to interested subscribers?

Suggestions?

[A hilarious little post-script.  About ten minutes ago, I had just uploaded the above pic and was about to hit “publish” when my laptop flashed what the gals in playback refer to as “the blue screen of death” and immediately, and mysteriously, rebooted itself.  Well, I guess that settles it.  The problem isn’t technical after all.  It’s supernatural.  My latop is cursed.]

Some further discussion on The Speed of Dark:

Ponytail writes: “Seems like today the increase in autistic diagnosis is frightenly soaring. I never heard of it when I was young.”

Answer: Maybe that’s just it. Is it a case of an increase in autism or are experts simply doing a better job of diagnosing autism?

Sparrow_hawk writes: “Is one type of therapy good, but the other is tampering with someone’s mind? Where do we draw the line?”

Answer: Not an easy question to answer. There are certain many, many cases in which medication has helped people. On the other hand, one can argue that ours is an over-medicated society. Where to draw the line? I don’t know.

Otros Ojos writes: “However, now that breakthroughs in knowledge and treatment have taken place in some areas, there’s quite a bit of bandwagon-hopping. Misdiagnoses are made; prescriptions are written when a course of behavioral therapy might actually be more effective as well as making meds unnecessary, but maybe both doc and patient really want change NOW. Or maybe a typically short-sighted health insurance group will pay for the meds, but no other type of therapy — which really makes me burn, especially where kids and adolescents are involved.”

Answer: Couldn’t agree more. Often, easy and fast is not always best.

Iamza writes: “When does a kid go from being very active and mildly inattentive to needing treatment for ADD, stat!”

Answer: I’m thinking, in many cases, about the point the parents get fed up.

Sparrow_hawk also writes: “ Is it more humane to lock someone up or to treat their problem with mind-controlling technology? This gets into the big-brother discussion. It is certainly cheaper and more convenient for society as a whole to use the mind-chip. You keep the members of your society functional and don’t have the expense of prisons.”

Answer: Hey, I brought up the parallel but if I was a character in the story I’d have no doubt been arguing for the mind ship as well. It becomes a very interesting topic of debate given that many who argue against the “throw away the key” mindset insist that the goal of incarceration is not to punish but to rehabilitate. Well, the mind chip would be the quickest and most effective way of accomplishing this.

Chevron7 writes: “I felt that the existence of Lou-Before deep inside the new Lou was a big F You to the people handing out the treatment. I’m sure they thought that nothing would remain of the old Lou. Perhaps I’m reading something into the end that no-one else is reading.

I am sitting here at a desk entering my notes, and the desk is in a ship and the ship is in space, and the space is full of light. Lou-before hugs the series to him, dancing inside me like a joyous child, I feign more sobriety, in my workday coverall, though I can feel a smile tugging at the corner of my mouth. We both hear the same music

Isn’t that hopeful?”

Answer: I guess my feelings were clouded by new Lou’s off-hand dismissal of the friendships that once meant so much to him. Yes, maybe Lou-Before is somewhere inside, but the people who cared for him (and he cared for in return) seem to have become little more than an afterthought to him. And I find that incredibly sad.

Sparrow_hawk writes: “It seemed to me that the turning point for Lou came when he heard the sermon in church about “drinking from the well.””

Answer: This is truly. I look forward to seeing how the author responds to your question.

Thornyrose writes: “Given how Moon works to show us that using labels like “he’s a retard”, or “he’s autistic” is not good reason to assume someone has no depth of intellegence, ability to plan, or to feel, it seems odd that Don is presented so one dimensionally as “the nutcase”.”

Answer: I read her depiction of Don in much the same way as her depiction of Marjory – purposely vague. In the case of Marjory, I think it was so we could empathize with Lou, follow allow on his journey of discovery and, hopefully, love. In the case of Don, his character’s motivations are left purposely vague so he can play the part of the villain. Like Lou’s friends, we react strongly to what he has done and yet we don’t really know what led him to act. Yes, obviously, he doesn’t like the fact that Lou receives “special treatment”, but there are hints that it goes far deeper than that. Also, we receive the occasional hints that Don has been denied the support offered Lou – as in the incident at the tournament.

And thanks to Charlie’s Angel, Mishmee, Otros Ojos, Sparrow_hawk and others who have shared some of the personal challenges they and their families have faced. Good luck to you all. Ttoday’s blog entry is dedicated to you guys.

August 4, 2009: Announcing the Winner of the Caption This Contest! The Biggest Holy #%&@ Ending Ever! Some The Speed of Dark Discussion!

I’d like to kick off today’s entry by announcing the winner of our very first Caption This contest. The winner was chosen by none other than the awkwardly pictured party himself: Carl Binder. Thanks to everyone who took the time send in their captions. There were a lot of great ones – and a few that had me scratching my heads wondering whether some of you had been drinking.
 
Anyhow, drumroll please….
 
In third place, DougIndy with a nice call-back:   

“There is a producer standing here with wet hands”
“There is a producer standing here with wet hands”

 Second place goes to K-Man for:

Pretty fly for a white guy
Pretty fly for a white guy

And taking the first place crown is JES with his winning caption:

Jonathan Livingston Binder
Jonathan Livingston Binder

DougIndy and K-Man win bragging rights!  JES wins…er…something else.  I haven’t decided quite what yet.  But drop the Baron an email (BaronDestructo@yahoo.com) and you can discuss.

Well, I had only planned on finishing up Act IV of Script #2 today but, as expected, got on a roll and ended up sailing through Act V to finish the darn thing. The second script is a robust 53 pages (52 full) and contains what is, without a doubt, the biggest HOLY #%&@! ending I have ever written. I mean, I knew what was going to happen but, as I was writing toward it and the different pieces of the story were falling into place, I decided to go with a little something different in the lead-up and…well…it’s quite the eyebrow-raiser. Actually, the double eyebrow-raiser. Hell, the truth is, you don’t have enough eyebrows to make it work. Trust me.
 
So, now I have two rough drafts. Tonight, I shift gears to reading two first drafts Lawren sent my way – Marty’s G.‘s Lost, and Carl’s latest oeuvre, Pain. Tomorrow, I start work on streamlining my two scripts, getting the all important timing down, adjusting the scenes, tweaking the dialogue, and generally just making sure it all makes sense. The plan was to put them out on Monday but, given that I’m so ahead of schedule, I may aim for a pre-weekend release.
Let’s celebrate with some pics: 

IMG_1801x

Qu'est-ce que c'est? indeed.
Qu’est-ce que c’est? indeed.
Bet you always wanted one of these.
Bet you always wanted one of these.

 I’d like to finish off with some discussion of this month’s book of the month club selection: The Speed of Dark.  And a gentle reminder to post your questions for author Elizabeth Moon before week’s end.

Sylvia writes: “Not far into the book, I began to feel anxious for Lou…waiting for the shoe, the other shoe, etc., to drop because we know how mean, cruel people are/can be. And, the “child like” innocence and trust seemed quite vulnerable. “

Answer: What I found particularly interesting was the fact that, despite his skills in pattern recognition, Lou was unable to figure out who was behind the acts of vandalism directed against him.  Rather, he works it all out in his head and yet refuses to accept the logical conclusion because allows his emotions and sense of right and wrong to overrule the obvious answer. 

Sylvia also writes: “The ending was good, but it did not feel exactly right. Perhaps my overly critical view of the people performing the experimental procedure biased me. So, now, we see where the procedure worked and apparently worked well.”

Answer: I think that the ending will be the point of contention for many.  Does Lou achieve his goal and is it a victory or does he abandon who he was and is it really, in some sense, a defeat for the character and all he represents?

Shelly writes: “The characters were noble, to me, as they struggled with the sudden possibility of being like the majority of people and there is no one right decision to make.”

Answer: That’s what I loved about this book.  It presents a complex issue but doesn’t offer up any easy answers, allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions.  Whether the decision (in the grander sense) was the right one or the wrong one is up for debate – EXCEPT in the case of one of the project’s participants who is referred to only in briefly passing at book’s end: “Bailey, in particular, made a juicy tidbit for the media. I didn’t know how badly it went for im until I saw the news archives; they never let us see him.”  I wonder what did happen to Bailey?  Did he remain in an arrested childlike state?  Or were the effects even worse?  He’s the only one who rolled the dice and you could say with certainty lost out.

Charlie’s Angel writes: “The Speed of Dark is one of my favorite books.”

Answer: Had you read it before?  Did you read it again for this discussion?  If so, what did you think of it on second reading?

Thornyrose writes: “The same point of view strengthens our commitment to Lou as we can recognise how badly treated he is by certain characters in the story, from Dr. Fornum, to Crenshaw, all the way to Dr. Ransome, all of whom fail to recognise, or even acknowledge, Lou’s place in humanity.”

Answer: That’s a terrific point.  None of the aforementioned saw Lou as a person.  He was merely the means to an end for all of them.  I wonder whether a non-autistic person was in the same position would have received the same treatment.  Quite possibly yes in most cases, but I think they would have received a certain amount of respect that wasn’t afforded Lou.  These individuals didn’t little to hide their disdain and ulterior motives in front of Lou – which is ironic since Lou was in a better position than most people to pick up on this.

Thornyrose also writes: “There’s even the question of Don’s punishment for his crimes? Is it justice, or even mercy, to “adjust” a person’s mind?”

Answer: Yes, that was interesting, the parallel between the mind reformating that Don undergoes for his crime and the similar treatment Lou must undergo to become “normal”.  It’s interesting to note how, despite the fact that no one else had a problem with Don’s treatment and even argued for it, Lou was quite adamant in his belief that altering someone’s brain was wrong regardless of the desired outcome.  So it came as a shock when he ultimately decided to go ahead and have the procedure done.

Ponytail writes: “His only issues where sometimes having trouble communicating and handling emotions. Don’t we all?”

Answer: No argument here.  I reader some reader reviews after I finished the book and was surprised by how many people strongly related with Lou – to the point that some of them wondered whether they were “slightly autistic”.

Ponytail writes: “The new Lou seemed to be just seeing the surface – like “normal” people tend to do. Like “normal” people did with him.”

Answer: Yes, which is why I, personally, found the ending more tragic than hopeful. 

Ponytail also writes: “I guess it worked out the way Lou had wanted. I felt a loss. I’m don’t know why but the Epilogue made me cry. Maybe because I would not like this new Lou as much or maybe because I know he would not like me either. I don’t know.”
 
Answer: Or, quite frankly, because by book’s end, the Lou we know is gone and has been replaced by an inscrutable stranger.
Charles Schneider writes: “The only dissapointments I suffered were the threat of Lou’s villains, I never really felt that Lou would not ‘vanquish’ them. Don was just a man-child, and Mr. Crenshaw is excized off-screen in a deus-ex machina call from his boss, and in the end both become speed bumps in Lou’s life.”

Answer: In the case of Don, he was a pretty dangerous man-child, escalating from petty acts of vandalism to assault.  And I disagree that Mr. Crenshaw’s punshiment came as the result of some deus ex-machina.  His downfall is orchestrated by Pete Aldrin.  In fact, one of my favorite moments in the book comes when Lou arrives at the office to find a shell-shocked Crenshaw, boxed belongings in hand, being escorted out.
 Charles Schneider also writes: “I thought it was interesting that virtually everyone in Lou’s life after ‘the treatment’ virtually left the story as Lou set off on a whole new life. “Answer: Yes, interseting and incredibly sad.  He was no longer the Lou they knew and the new Lou no longer had an interest in maintaing a friendship with them.

Iamza writes: “It struck me as kind of ironic that the first thing Lou does after his treatment is sign up to be an astronaut, and travel to the stars, far away from all the normal people just like him. Is that what normal means?”

Answer: Interesting.  I never thought about it that way.  It’s ironic that he seemed warmer and more empathetic when he was autistic (given that many people with autism are considered remote and socially isolated) but seemed to embrace a solitary existence as a “normal”.

Iamza also writes: “I am somewhat torn on the notion of developing drugs and/or computer chips to regulate behaviour. I thought it was an interesting idea to raise: what if we could condition abnormal behaviour — make everyone normal, productive members of society. On the one hand, you would be able to get rid of anti-social behaviour like that of Don. On the other, who gets to decide what it means to be normal?”

Answer: The truth is this is a debate we should be having now at a time when drugs that alter brain chemistry are being prescribed to deal with everything from depression to attention deficit disorder.  I’m sure that they help in many cases, but what are some of the undiscussed drawbacks?

Light writes: “I agree with your review of the book, it was great. I have read elsewhere that it was the publishers that classified it as a scifi book, which may explain why it is under that, even though as pointed out above, it is more marginally a scifi.”

Answer: I’ve always found it interesting what tends to be classified and NOT classified as scifi.  The Road, for instance, is, in my opinion, SF, but many (including, if I’m not mistaken, even the author himself) do not consier it SF.  Compare this to Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents which pretty much told the same story some 15 years earlier and IS classified as SF.  

Silver_comet writes: “All the other characters were well drawn, too. The only exception is Marjory. The reader didn’t learn much about her and her real feelings, the reasons behind them. That’s a pity, because for Lou she had an important part in his life.”

Answer: I think she was written this way to place us fully in Lou’s perspective.  Like him, we don’t know for certain whether she does or doesn’t like him in “that way”.  Rather than be allowed into her mind and know for sure, we share in Lou’s anxiety and doubt.   

Silver_comet also writes: “From Don’s point of view it’s so much easier to blame Lou for everything instead of himself. He was definitely a person who couldn’t take responsibility for his own actions. The question for me is, has anybody ever explained that to Don? Really, in a friendly way? Or did they just turn away and confirmed therefore his way of thinking?”

Answer: Hey, that’s a very interesting point.  Did the others contribute to Don’s descent by not showing him the kidness and respect they showed Lou.  Was there a double standard here?  I mean, having dealt with my share of jerks, I totally sympathized with them.  It’s hard to turn the other cheek or be understanding with an openly hostile individual.  I guess I’m guilty of it myself.

Silver_comet also writes: “I don’t have problems to socialize. However, I’m a person who needs much time for herself. Definitely more than most other people. Since I was a kid I have been happy being left alone for hours. It hasn’t changed much since then. I still like daydreaming. To immerse myself into the world of books, films and forget my actual surroundings. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood for talking and/or company. Is that bad?”

Answer: We’re very similar in this respect.  While I enjoy socializing, for the most part, when given the choice, I can’t be bothered and prefer to just stay at home with the dogs and just write or read.

Silver_comet writes: “It was different with Lou. The changes were forced, they happen suddenly and quite randomly – not because of events in his life. For example, maybe his feelings for Marjory would have changed anyway. Naturally. I just don’t feel comfortable with the way they have changed now.”

Answer: Agreed.  In some ways, this book reminded me of Flowers for Algernon.  But in reverse.  The shock of losing someone so dear and so suddenly stays with you.

Chevron7 writes: “I must say that I loved Lou’s internal monologue. I actually found it very comforting. In fact I was REALLY annoyed when the author switched to Tom’s or Pete’s POV.”

Answer: I agree.  While I realize it was necessary, I always found myself eager to return to Lou’s POV.

MikeB writes: “As one who has lived with Asbergers all my life, albeit undiagnosed for most of it, I read this story with great appreciation. It is a wonderful book.”Answer: Hey, Mike, were there certain aspects of the book that rang particularly true for you?  Were there some that didn’t?

Michelle writes: “At times I found myself wondering why I was so fascinated. I mean, the description of how Lou will replace four slashed tires goes on for pages, but I couldn’t stop reading them. “

Answer: Like you, I found Lou’s voice so engaging, his character so compelling, that I took my time with this book, truly appreciated it.  I have a feeling it’s one of those books I’ll be pulling out and rereading for some time to come.

 

Michelle also writes: “I missed Lou-before by the end, but I felt selfish for doing so. As beautiful a soul as he was before, he was not “happy” in my opinion. He was unsatisfied on many levels. And maybe that was partly because of what he’d been told all his life, but to the degree that life is about the people in our lives, he was missing so much. And I’m very glad he got to keep his genius.”

Answer: I had the exact same feelings at book’s end.  Even though he seemed happy and fulfilled, I wished he’d never taken the treatment – and immediately felt guilty because I guess I was being selfish, missing the old Lou.

Nolalib writes: “Like Michelle said earlier, I felt selfish for missing Lou-before. “

Answer: Well, you’re not alone.  One thing the book doesn’t cover that I was curious about was how his friends reacted – especially after their friendship drifted.  Tom, Lucinda, and especially Marjory – did they feel selfish for regretting his decision to take the treatment?

Drldeboer writes: “Like Tom, at the end I found it very hard to accept that Lou didn’t value things about himself that I valued. “

Answer: I wonder whether new Lou would have liked old Lou, or appreciated some of the things that made him “him”.

Otros Ojos writes: “ Her jealousy of Marjory, with resulting statements and actions, culminates in her telling Lou that he needs to associate with “your own kind” — although Emmy, like many other people, doesn’t perceive the difference between her disorder and Lou’s. In this way, the author not only nudges readers about the tendency to lump together all disorders that are superficially similar; she also brings in another concept related to communities of people outside the majority…”

Answer: I also found this very interesting, how Moon contrasts the autistic community and the community of “normals”.  On closer scrutiny, however, it’s surprising how many unsavory similarities exist between the two groups. 

August 3, 2009: The Speed of Dark, by Elizabeth Moon

 

Speed of Dark

 

In the interest of full disclosure: This isn‘t my first time reading The Speed of Dark. It’s one of my favorite books and I have nothing but good things to say about it.

Okay. Onto my review:

Thirty-five year old Lou Arrendale is a bioinformatics specialist working for a pharmaceutical company in the not too distant future. His astounding pattern analysis abilities sets him apart from the average man. But that isn’t the only thing that sets him apart. Lou is wholly sincere, honest to a fault, and highly sensitive to the attitudes, feelings and intentions of others. And he also happens to be autistic. As are his fellow co-workers.

Lou has a great job, a pleasant home life, and good friends from among the members of a local fencing club he frequents. Life is good. Until his new boss, Mr. Crenshaw, sets his sights on Lou’s division. The company is developing a new experimental treatment that purportedly cures autism through a procedure that rewires portions of the affected brain. The initial trials on apes proved very promising and now they’re looking for human subjects. Seeing an opportunity, Crenshaw strong-arms the division, threatening them with dismissal if they do not “volunteer” for the human trials.

Suddenly, Lou’s organized existence is upended as he faces a difficult choice, one that could well undo his sense of self and transform him into someone totally different. But would that necessarily be a bad thing?

Lou is our narrator and, as such, our POV throughout this funny, touching, fascinating, and altogether engaging tale. We grow to know him, to like him, and, most important of all, to understand him. By novel’s end, our emotional investment in the character is enormous. We’ve shared in his frustration and bewilderment at the hands of the cruel, sometimes vindictive individuals who target those they deem different or weak.  We’ve experienced the affections and friendship of the people in his life, autistic and non-autistic alike.  And, ultimately, we join him in wrestling with a decision that could alter him either for better or worse and, quite possibly, both.

On the surface, Lou’s dilemma seems fairly straightforward. Given the opportunity, why wouldn’t someone with autism take the chance to live life as a regular person? But this question becomes incredibly complex when applied on a personal level. The author opens our eyes by making us realize that it isn’t as simple as it appears on first blush, especially if someone we care about is at the heart of the issue. On the one hand, Lou does have trouble socializing and approaches the world with an almost childlike innocence, and yet, on the on the other hand, he succeeds where so many other “normals” fail, building a solid life for himself, establishing friendships, even falling in love. The author does such a wonderful job of allowing us to see the world through Lou’s eyes that, when the time comes for him to choose, we feel for him as we would a friend. In fact, my sentiments echoed those of his fencing instructor, Tom, who ends up torn between wanting to see his Lou achieve all the things he ever wanted but heartsick at the prospect of losing him to that new life.

This book asks some tough questions.  What is normal?  How does one weigh the value of identity in the face of progress?  And what is the speed of dark?  In the end, these questions are left unanswered. Or, rather, the author leaves it to the reader to draw their own conclusions.

I can honestly say that few books have affected me as deeply as The Speed of Dark. It’s smart and compelling and leaves a lasting impression. Not only a great SF novel, but a great novel across all genres.

So, those are my initial thoughts. Yes, I loved this book – even more so on second reading. And you? Let’s hear your take and let’s see those questions for author Elizabeth Moon who has kindly agreed to join us for a little Q&A.

Well, it’s official. Sometime in early 2010, my very first professional short story will hit store shelves as part of With Great Power, an anthology of superhero-themed tales in the tradition of Watchmen, Kingdom Come, and The Dark Knight. When editor Lou Anders first approached me about submitting a story for this collection, I was honored. And somewhat terrified. Scripts, I know I can do. But short stories? I accepted Lou’s offer with the understanding that if my submission didn’t meet his high standards, I would happily serialize my efforts on this blog and we’d have no hard feelings either way. And soon after, I got to work. Lou wanted the stories to be “non-ironic takes on the superhero genre”. As he put it: “…stories that contemporary readers of DC/Vertigo, Marvel, Dark Horse would comprehend and enjoy. Not “outside looking in” stuff.” As it turned out, I had a story – actually two stories – that fit the criteria, notions I’d been considering as potential comic book series. After much thought, I combined the two and set out to write my story. I had an opening scene. I had my protagonist. I had the mystery. And I had my ending. Now, all I needed to do was come up with the rest. And, over the course of some ten months, I did – writing a scene here, a paragraph there, going dry for days on end before returning to my labor of love and always, always agonizing. Writing, re-writing, and re-rewriting until I couldn’t stand it any longer and decided to send it off before I drove myself mad. The next day, Lou dropped me an email. The initial review was positive – and I was finally able to breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Yesterday, Lou published the table of contents for the upcoming anthology and I must say that I’m in some mighty impressive company. The many distinguished authors contributing to the collection include Dr. Who’s Paul Cornell, SF great Stephen Baxter, comic book heavy-hitters Gail Simone and Bill Willingham, and many more. Check out the complete line-up here: http://louanders.blogspot.com/2009/08/look-up-in-sky-is-it-bird-is-it-plane.html

Continued progress on the script front. I finished Act III today and got a little ahead of myself, writing a couple of scenes form Act IV before being stymied by a communications issue. Hopefully, it’ll be resolved before tomorrow and I can remain on track. Today, to celebrate, I give you the countdown clock:

Tick tick tick
Tick tick tick

Among the author home pages I check out on a semi-regular basis is that of Jeffrey Ford (http://14theditch.livejournal.com/). Most of you know I’m a huge fan of Jeff’s work and recently finished (and, incidentally, adored) his 2005 novel The Girl in the Glass (which definitely makes my July Top Picks, an entry I’ll be jumping on as soon as I finish this final script). Anyway, Jeff’s livejournal page is incredibly eclectic, running the gamut from the philosophical to the downright ridiculous. And hilarious. Take a past entry (http://14theditch.livejournal.com/287714.html) titled “Jimmy Olsen in “Gnor Trouble”“ that offers up some pretty funny excerpts from the comic book icon’s least memorable appearances. The entry inspired one Thom Davidson to send in one of his favorite comic book moments that I post for you below. All I can say is – I had my suspicions.

 justice_league

Finally, those of you who opt to let fate decide with the flip of a coin might do well to check and see what side is facing up before you call it. Recent findings suggest the old coin toss may not be 50/50 after all. According to this (http://www.thebigmoney.com/articles/hey-wait-minute/2009/07/28/flipping-out?g=1) artcle coin flips are governed by laws of mechanics meaning “their flight is determined by their initial conditions.”  As The Simpsons’ resident pigskin prognosticator would say: “Hey, when you’re right 51 percent of the time, you’re wrong 49 percent of the time.”

August 2, 2009: Those Act II breaks are always in the last place you look. Some set pics. Book club reminder. My super, secret project revealed! Carl’s 3 Stages. Creepy ads, dogs, and the mailbag. Holy crap! This title is almost as long as the entry itself!

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A great writing day. Granted, a better day for lazing about in the sun but, still, writers can’t be choosers. So after lying awake in bed last night working the story out in my head, I finally found my Act II break! (I’d left it in the garage behind the recycling bin.). Thus armed, I sat down to write (actually, I stood but that’s neither here nor there) and banged out the second act in no time. 10 ¾ pages, by the time I was done I had hit the 26 page mark. And it was only a little after 3:00 p.m.! Of course the fact that I got up at 7:00 a.m. may have been a contributing factor. Anyway, I’m very pleased with my progress. If I can get Act III done tomorrow, Acts IV and V will practically write themselves (Not literally though. I’ve tried and it doesn’t work.). I’m aiming to complete rough drafts of both scripts by Tuesday, will go over them Wednesday and Thursday, and put them out on Friday when I will, no doubt, be relieved and overcome with euphoria that accompanies a job well done…until Monday when I receive everyone’s notes and they tell me to combine the two scripts into one.

Let’s celebrate like the peasants of yore.  With pitchers!

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Martin Gero and Carl Binder, hosts of SyFy's new Ghost Hunters Intergalactic.
Martin Gero and Carl Binder, hosts of SyFy’s new Ghost Hunters Intergalactic.
What the - ? indeed.
What the – ? indeed.

Oh, hey, speaking of Marty G. – a rectification on my part.  I completely forgot that he was on hand to spin and break stories with us in the early going (I know because I had to provide photographic proof to the gals in accounting who were suspicious), so he IS a Consulting Producer for the first ten episodes. 

Finish up The Speed of Dark book club participants.  Tomorrow, I’ll be posting my thoughts on the book and starting to gather reader questions for author Elizabeth Moon. 

Finally, the grand announcement! Around this time last year, I started work on something I called “my super, secret project”.  As it turns out, it was a short story I was asked to contribute to an upcoming anthology edited by Lou Anders.  What’s the title of the story?  What kind of anthology is it?  Well, head on over to Lou’s blog for the breaking news (http://louanders.blogspot.com/2009/08/look-up-in-sky-is-it-bird-is-it-plane.html) and I’ll follow up on this in tomorrow’s entry.

Hey, check it out!  USC alumnus Carl Binder goes thought The 3 Stages of Crosstown Rival Grief upon spotting Producer John G. Lenic sporting a UCLA t-shirt.:

Shock.
Shock.
Disbelief.
Disbelief.
And, finally - nausea.
And, finally – nausea.

Oh, hey, my sis sent me a link to some horrifically memorable ads:  http://www.retrocomedy.com/2009/07/15-creepiest-vintage-ads-of-all-time.html  For real!  Gotta get me one of them styling eye-patches. 

Mailbag:

Thornyrose writes: “If you’d done your “secret Project” on the same time scale, you’d have had time to write at least two more stories.”

Answer: Speaking of that super, secret project.

Nadine writes: “How are the dogs handling the heat? Do you keep them inside most of the day? Or are just careful to not let them get overheated?”

Answer: They love the sun but hate the heat so they’ll go outside for a while then head back indoors to cool off then head back outside for a while… 

We interrupt this mailbag for an important doggy interlude:

Jelly
Jelly
Maximus
Maximus
Lulu
Lulu
Brie
Brie
Bubba
Bubba
Jelly
Jelly
Maximus
Maximus
Lulu
Lulu

We now return to our scheduled mailbag already in progress…

JJ writes: “Will there be a trailer for SGU pilot release in september?”

Answer: Don’t know what MGM or SyFy have planned.

Anais33 a ecrit:: “1) Combien d’heures par jours passez vous à écrire vorte scripte?
2) Quand tout les épisodes de sgu seront finit de tournés?”

Reponses: 1) Ce weekend – 12 heures par jour.

2) En Octobre.

Translation: 1) This weekend, I’m averaging about 12 hours a day on the script(s).

2) We’ll season one of Universe in October.

Lynn writes: “Hi Joe: I was wondering on Stargate Atlantis if the idea was ever broached to have a religious advisor among the crew, considering how far away they were going and the odds about returning?”

Answer: Never on Atlantis but we did discuss it on Universe.

Tammy Dixon writes: “Jason M. put the SGA movie was a go (on his myspace page). Could they have talked to the actors first?”

Answer: No. I’m guessing that, like me, Jason is a glass half-full guy when it comes to the movie.

Matt Boesch writes: “ u said that Episode 19 will become episode 18 and your two scripts will become episode 19 and 20 so does that mean subversion is now episode 18?”

Answer: If my fellow writer-producers feel that I have two strong scripts then, yes, Subversion will become episode 18.

David Chapple writes: “What month are you going?
The winter months may be a littler busier because of the heat from the food.”

Answer: I’m going from late November to early December. I’m having the concierge at my hotel book most of the other restaurants on my itinerary so I’ll do the same for this one. Oh, and while we’re on the subject, have you heard of a restaurant called Kabukicho?

Kathy H. writes: “Do you use language books, or tapes, or…?”

Answer: I use both books and CD’s but prefer the Pimsleur language CD’s that I can listen to in the car on my way to and from work.

Greg writes: “How many hours does it take to write the typical script?”

Answer: About two weeks worth of hours.

2cats writes: “I thought you’d especially like this “pug” story Joe… poor Dexter, stuck in the middle.”

Answer: Yep, poor Dexter. It’s always the pets who suffer. Can’t understand why the judge just doesn’t give them joint custody. Shouldn’t be a problem unless one of them moves out of town.

SebiMeyer writes: “Answer: It means episode 19 will become episode 18, episode 18 will become episode 17, the story schedule to be episode 17 will disappear, and the two scripts I’m working on will become episodes 19 and 20.

And get paid twice?”

Answer: No, no. I only get paid once. For each script.

July 18, 2009: Script Progress! A Book of the Month Club Reminder! Dinner With Ivon! The Destiny Living Quarters!

So far, so good on the script front. I hit the 15 page mark this afternoon. Things get very busy very quickly and there’s a hell of a lot happening in what’s shaping up to be a fairly robust first act. Tomorrow, I’ll go over what I’ve got so far, tweak and tighten, trim the page count and move on, hopefully closing out Act 1 before the 18 page mark and well ahead of schedule. Complicating matters for some of the one on one discussions is the fact that the preceding scripts are presently being written and certain cross-character developments are still in the process of solidifying and settling. Some of these conversations will have to be TBD until I’ve read the scripts for episodes #16 through #19 and, more importantly, everyone is on board with the directions of a few of these arcs.

I tried to wind down today by doing a little reading. It had the opposite effect. I’m working my way through Philip K. Dick’s Valis, easily his most inaccessible book so far. It’s sometimes hilarious, sometimes thought-provoking, but mostly altogether baffling. Anyone out there read it? And finished it? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Since we’re talking books, I’d like to remind everyone that August’s book of the month club discussion fast approaches so, if you haven’t already done so, pick up Elizabeth Moon’s The Speed of Dark and start reading.

From Amazon.com: “Corporate life in early 21st-century America is even more ruthless than it was at the turn of the millennium. Lou Arrendale, well compensated for his remarkable pattern-recognition skills, enjoys his job and expects never to lose it. But he has a new boss, a man who thinks Lou and the others in his building are a liability. Lou and his coworkers are autistic. And the new boss is going to fire Lou and all his coworkers–unless they agree to undergo an experimental new procedure to “cure” them.”

It won the Nebula Award for Best Novel, an honor richly deserved. It’s one of my top 10 favorite SF books. If you’re looking for a wonderful, character-driven story, do yourself a favor and pick it up. Author Elizabeth Moon will be joining us to field questions about the novel and her many works, so don’t miss out. Discussion the week of August 3rd.

Tonight, I went out to dinner with Special Features Producer Ivon Bartok. He phoned me up last night, informed me his mom was in town, and asked me to join them for supper.

Ivon's mother enjoys the evening - until her son informs her she can't come visit the set.  She responded by grounding him.
Ivon's mother enjoys the evening - until her son informs her she can't come visit the set. She responded by grounding him.

“Wow,”marveled my wife. “He’s introducing you to his mother. It must be serious!”. For her part, Fondy wasn’t able to attend as she was off doing the Grouse Grind (trekking up one of Vancouver’s mini mountains). She set off this morning, whistle in tow. “What’s that for?”I asked. “To scare off bears?” “No, this is just in case I get lost,”she informed me. “So the search teams will know where to find me.” Ah. She left at 11:00 a.m. It’s about 8:30 p.m. now. How long do you figure I should wait before organizing the rescue party?

Suffice it to say that, given the choice, I’d prefer restaurant dining to mountain climbing. And so, tonight, we were at one of Ivon mother’s fave Vancouver eateries – Bristrot Bistro.

Ivon's sister and local radio show host Sarah Bartok says: "Listen to Virgin 95.3!" and "Pass the mach and cheese!".
Ivon’s sister and local radio show host Sarah Bartok says: “Listen to Virgin 95.3!” and “Pass the mach and cheese!”.

Also in attendance was Ivon’s lovely sister, Sarah, who hosts a radio show on 95.3 Virgin Radio Vancouver, Thursday mornings 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 pm. and Saturday mornings 8:00 a.m. to 1:00p.m. We talked Tokyo travel (Ivon sat this one out as he was the only one at the table who has never visited), show biz stories, and Ivon’s mother’s love for actor Robert Caryle (Alas, Ivon had to break the news to her – no unauthorized visitors allowed on set this season). It was a great meal and, best of all, I was able to keep to my new sensible eating plan, enjoying a refreshing ahi tuna salad to start and a savory halibut with tomato-lemon broth for my main. As difficult as it was, I resisted the urge to dive into the marvelous-looking duck confit mac and cheese but drew comfort from the knowledge that I‘d be back. Soon. Soon. Thanks to Ivon for picking treating and thereby securing himself future employment.

Ivon enjoys a traditional French after-dinner disquieting thought.
Ivon enjoys a traditional French after-dinner disquieting thought.

Today’s pics: The Destiny living quarters.

Early design work for the crew quarters.
Early design work for the crew quarters.
Paint and treatment give the ship's walls that ancient weathered look.
Paint and treatment give the ship's walls that ancient weathered look.
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Eventually, the room is dressed.  Note the Ancient espresso machine on the table.
Eventually, the room is dressed. Note the Ancient espresso machine on the table.
The gang from room service clean the place up.
The gang from room service clean the place up.

June 24, 2009: August’s Book of the Month Club Selection. And – BEST. MOVIE REVIEW. EVER!

In case you haven’t noticed – I’m slowing down the pace of the book club, limiting the selections to a single title a month in order to – hopefully – give you all enough time to read and participate in the discussion. In a couple of weeks, we’ll be discussing James Enge’s fantasy debut Blood of Ambrose that Dr. Who‘s Paul Cornell describes as: “rich, witty, aware of its genre’s traditions but not bound by them, with a new surprise of plot or turn of phrase every moment.”. Looking ahead to August, I wanted to pick an SF title, preferably something character-driven, something clever and engaging and, well, altogether wonderful. And as I was considering the possibilities, my gaze fell on THE perfect book sitting on my book shelf. Character-driven, clever, engaging, and wonderful, it won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 2003. August’s book of the month club pick…

The Speed of Dark, by Elizabeth Moon

The Speed of Dark

From Amazon.com: “Corporate life in early 21st-century America is even more ruthless than it was at the turn of the millennium. Lou Arrendale, well compensated for his remarkable pattern-recognition skills, enjoys his job and expects never to lose it. But he has a new boss, a man who thinks Lou and the others in his building are a liability. Lou and his coworkers are autistic. And the new boss is going to fire Lou and all his coworkers–unless they agree to undergo an experimental new procedure to “cure” them.”

As a rule, I tend to steer clear of books I’ve already read but this is one of my absolute favorites, a beautifully written, enormously touching, altogether tremendous story that you don‘t have to be a fan of science fiction to enjoy. Allow me to reiterate and underscore: Even if you generally don’t read science fiction, do yourself a favor and pick up this book. Like I said, I don’t usually choose novels I’ve already read but, in this case, tradition is trumped by a desire to introduce as many new readers as possible to this exceptional work.

Discussion on The Speed of Dark will begin Monday, August 3rd and we’ll be joined by author Elizabeth Moon.

Hey, you know who’s great?  My buddy Carl. Not only is he a terrific sounding board for story ideas and run-throughs of prospective jewel heists, but he’s incisive, humorous and guaranteed to go off on at least one hugely entertaining rant a day. Oh, and he’s also very informative, a wealth of reality show trivia and topical web links. And so today, I present a couple of items from the Need to Know file, compliments of Mr. Binder….

The first is The Greatest Movie Review Ever! Roger Ebert’s take on the latest Michael Bay two and half hour oeuvre, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. His review begins: “ “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” is a horrible experience of unbearable length, briefly punctuated by three or four amusing moments.” – and then he really lets loose.  http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090623/REVIEWS/906239997 Brilliant!

The second is list of The 13 Most Unintentionally Disturbing Children’s Toys, put together by the fine folks at Cracked.com: http://www.cracked.com/article_17493_13-most-unintentionally-disturbing-childrens-toys.html. I got to get me one of them remote controlled yodeling lederhosen.