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An Omnibus of OMNI!

Just learned today something I should have known for a very long time but for some reason has completely escaped my radar. Every edition of OMNI Magazine is available for free on the Internet Archive! How has that missed me completely? Thank you Io9 and Patrick. (When you click on the Internet Archive link, you need to scroll down and click “more” to get to the full magazine archive.)

I started reading OMNI when I was about twelve, around 1983. I remember taking the long road trip from Colorado to Missouri to visit family, and the parents allowing us kids to get a magazine. The cover of this OMNI magazine in the rack was compelling and promised SF fiction and science news, so I convinced her to get this somewhat pricey glossy mag for me. I was hooked! I begged for copies every month after until finally I was gifted a subscription. It was probably the longest subscription to a magazine I ever had (mainly because until I was old enough to have a job, it was paid for by someone else) and I think I was getting them right up until about 1989.

I don’t really recall OMNI being on shelves much after that. But those formative six years entrenched OMNI as being an integral part of who I am. Yeah, weird, huh? But it’s from OMNI that I learned about William Gibson’s fiction and started me on cyberpunk, made me familiar with the name Ellen Datlow and made a teenager a fan of an editor, of all things. (Wow, I was and am such a nerd!) …and I’m still a huge fan. The magazine was a slick, stylish, almost exploitative companion to the SF genre and exploding science culture. I believe it was a forward-thinking contribution, years ahead of its time, to the cool-making of geekness. Back then, in the 80s, it was still a social stigma to be geeky or nerdy, to be too into computers and genre fiction, and know more about the space program than what was mentioned in weekly readers regarding the shuttles. If you read SF and liked Carl Sagan, you were pariah as a kid.

But little did we know that in 15 or 20 years, geek would be chic, and OMNI helped lay the groundwork for that! Loving looking through these very familiar past issues that I’d read and reread so many times as a young nerd.

 

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NaNoWriMo 2012

Time to play NaNoWriMo once again! I give it a go every other year or so. In the past I’ve not participated because, oh, I was busy writing my thesis or editing the novel I’d finished… things like that. I have a friend who recently lamented that he couldn’t play NaNoWriMo this year because he was busy with a freelance writing project. I found it tres amusing that he should feel bad about not participating in an arbitrary get-people-to-write gimmick because he was already writing productively–for pay.

Well, I have writing I’m working on, but it’s always good (great, actually) to have set goals, to write every day, to give yourself rewards and social punishment for being productive or being lazy about writing. So, I like NaNoWriMo and what it does for me (at least for the first couple of weeks before I realize that trying to write for two hours lat at night, after a day of work, doing cooking and cleaning and laundry, makes being productive writer on a forced writing march, very emotionally draining and leads to poor output). But in the meantime, here I go….

Though, I must say, preparing for NaNoWriMo this year (what? You don’t prepare?) gave me a massive epiphany! I have a handful of story ideas percolating in my noodle at a time, sometimes for days before I start writing them down, sometimes years. My first novel, the seeds of that one I’d been playing around with for four or more years before I finally started it. Well, among others, I’ve had the bits-n-pieces of three different novels working around for a very long time. Except one of them, the young adult novel I started thinking about a couple years ago and started writing a couple of months ago — that one’s the newest. Well, I decided I’d take one of the other ones and work on that fro NaNoWriMo, and as I started to outline the events and thumbnail the setting, something amazing came to me! These three particular, separate novels, are part of one giant epic that spans centuries! And the ways and reasons why the three settings are different, but similar, give me some really fun effects of time and social evolution to play with. But, there’s a distinct connecting line through them. Each novel can be read separately (and in the case of the young adult one, which sits as the middle book, it really must be distinctly separate because I want to keep that young adult while the other two are certainly for more mature readers), but the experience is much richer for having read the one(s) preceding it. Anyway, it’s been real fun working on the nuts and bolts of this more expanded universe that just opened up for me.

 

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Redshirts and Year Zero

I recently finished reading, well, listening, to a couple of fantastic novels on Audible. (I had a lot of car-driving time this last week.) I want to spend a little more on the absolutely amazing, beautiful, crazy novel, Redshirts, so I’ll discuss Year Zero first.

Year Zero is about the wacky hijinks of aliens, and their human copyright lawyer, trying to deal with the recent discovery that they owe the Earth literally the entire universe’s wealth in music licensing fees for all the music they’ve been pirating for the last 40 years. It was written by Rob Reid who is no stranger to the world of music and copyright law. The very, very absurd and ridiculous world of music and copyright law. This farcical and comedic novel is a perfect foil to point up just how comedic (in a black comedy sort of way) the reality of the subject is. In fact, the slowest parts of this fast-paced novel are where copyright law and licensing are discussed. But the thing is, the real subject — the revolving-door lobbying, the absurd legal penalties, the paranoid and spiteful barriers to licensing improvement — is so absurd that it actually doesn’t take away from the farcical fiction of the story.

One of the ups and downs of the book is just how much it tries, tries hard, to emulate Douglas Adams. Maybe not quite a “Hitchhiker’s Guide” novel, but at least a “Dirk Gently” novel. At times Reid handles it quite well and I laughed aloud at the pun or slapstick or wacky description, but much of the time, I listened with a small smirk the occasional eye-roll and groan. The novel bounces around from clever to silly to clever quite a bit, and the number of times aliens are depicted saying, “Well, duh!” got a little tired. …and then, like a Family Guy gag, it was to over-used that it almost became funny again.

In any case, it was a fun read, well written despite the groan-worthy puns. I hate puns!

And then there’s John Scalzi’s Redshirts. This was a huge surprise of a book! John Scalzi is a favorite author of mine, and an inspiration to my own writing. And based on the description of the novel and much of what I’d been hearing about it, I thought this was going to be a purely fun, action-packed, quirky romp. And, indeed, the first two-thirds certainly had a lot of that! But then, starting at the end of the main story and carrying through into the three codas, the book takes a very serious turn that left me both inspired and emotionally wracked. The codas are, from what I’ve read of his, the most sentimental (in the good way, not the sentimentality-bad way) stuff he’s written.

What’s funny (not in the ha-ha way), is that I did read some reviews of the novel before hand, to get an idea of the book before I bought it, trying to not spoil myself. And, I read a lot of comments saying that, “This is a great book! Until the stupid codas. They’re pointless and totally don’t fit.” A lot of those kind of comments. So, I was prepared to enjoy the satirical and fun first two-thirds of the main story, and then just kinda gloss over the rest. Whoa, was I wrong! No… boy are those comments absolutely wrong! See, despite the fact that most of the book is the story of a bunch or “red shirts” on a space shift figuring out newbies on the ship tend to die on away missions and figuring out how to overcome this apparent curse, that’s not the real story. In fact, I see that as the preface for the real story, which is the three codas! The sci-fi action story is a necessary setup for the themes and conflict that are dealt with in the codas which investigate the nature of finding yourself. Discovering who you are, what you want to be and do, and how you deal with the life you’re “given.”

I really can’t say more without spoilering the book. And this is a book that I highly and heavily recommend reading! It’s a short book, and very fast — you could probably read it all in a day and evening. I would recommend listening to the audiobook as Wil Wheaton (also no stranger to star ships and red shirts), does a fine job! Although, I don’t agree with some of his inflection and tone choices. Until He gets to the codas. Then, I can’t imagine anyone else reading it. He’s absolutely brilliant, and I’d recommend anyone listening through the first part in order to hear Wil Wheaton read the codas. He’s an actor, so very possibly the emotion I hear in his voice toward the end of the last coda is acting… but I don’t think so. I think, considering what and how he talks about his own life in his blogs, he’s truly feeling the emotion of that last coda, and it’s bringing tears to my eyes right now as I remember it.

Read Redshirts. Even if you’re not a sci-fi fan, even if you don’t think you’ll get the satire and the in-jokes. That’s okay. Remember, the main action story is just a prelude for some of the best contemporary literary fiction that is the core of the book.

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Looper

I just got done seeing the new film, “Looper.” Wow! That’s good cinema! An original film (not a sequel, not a remake — although I do not have anything against remakes) that takes you on a ride both emotionally and viscerally. It’s from the same writer and director who made “Brick,” one of my all-time favorite films. A film that also starred one of my increasingly favorite actors, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. As I write, briefly, about this film, I will avoid spoilers that aren’t evident from the commercials and trailers.

Now, you certainly know, it is a time travel film. (Huh, Bruce Willis is good in those — see: “Twelve Monkeys.”) And yes, if you’re the kind of person who demands that your time travel films make complete and logical sense without any paradoxes, this film is going to totally P. you O. There are some potential problems with the laws of causality in this film. But, to badly paraphrase one of the characters: “I’m not gonna sit here and discuss time travel paradoxes with you! We’d be here all night and end up diagramming shit with napkins and straws.” This is obviously the filmmaker telling the audience, yes, he’s well aware some stuff doesn’t makes sense, thank you. Deal with it. He’s letting you know that time travel is, in a sense, a narrative macguffin, something you just have to accept as necessary and watch the film for everything that the film ultimately is about.

Now, I do have a fictional theory as how this fictional notion of time travel could work in this fictional world and have the kind of cause and effect it presents, and would be happy to discuss it with anyone curious — but I’m not going to spend time detailing it here, not without risking sounding like a pedantic hypernerd, (in Simpson’s Comic Book Store Guy’s voice) “They clearly established in episode 46, ‘Rise of the Regalitrons,’ that deck 12 only has 20 rooms as the phasematter converter controls are there. So, obviously, there can’t be a ‘room 14′ on that deck, unless it is 30 meters outside the starboard side of the ship. And I think not. Obviously, what would the crew even breathe?! Sheesh.” Sorry… back to “Looper.”

The film has a wonderful balance of dark pathos as well as moments of fun, and necessary, humor. There’s one moment that Gordon-Levitt’s character is seen examining his hairline in the mirror which makes fun of the fact that the prematurely balded Bruce Willis is in his future. There’s also some moments that, without giving much away, is difficult to watch as a parent. So, fair warning. But the script is clever, the acting just great, and the story engaging!

An element I found interesting: most of the film takes place in Kansas City or thereabouts in 2042 — thirty years from now. The world that’s created feels, sadly, extremely believable. There’s rampant poverty in the streets, mentions of “vagrant wars” (or “vagrant riots,” I can’t remember), and realistic appropriation and adaptation of technology, like solar panels everywhere and hydrogen fuel recycling systems fitted to early 21st century trucks. The only bit of tech that had be raising an eyebrow was the jet cycles that had hover capability. Eh, no, not buying that. Oh, and there’s one other major story element that I won’t spoiler because I don’t believe it’s revealed in any trailers, that, for me, is far less believable than time travel paradoxes and had me thinking outside the film a bit much.

It was nice to be able to get out and see a fun, dark, actiony, humorous film. Oh, and I saw a goose-bump-raising trailer for the upcoming film, “The Cloud Atlas.” Can’t wait! And a trailer for some Abraham Lincoln film that oddly had nothing to do with vampires. Pfft. Leave it to Hollywood to toe the line and perpetuate the lie about the truth about Lincoln all these years. *grin*

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The Tea Party returns for another round, and I rejoice!

image from http://maytherockbewithyou.com/mtrbwy/2012/07/jeff-martin-stuart-chatwood-of-the-tea-party/

No, not that Tea Party. Allow me to be political for a couple sentences as, on this subject, it almost begs for a comment: My mostest favoritest rock band of all time is Canadian trio The Tea Party. They’ve been around since the early 90s. They are so utterly not affiliated in any way with the “political” party, the Tea Party, that when they broke up for a bit, they were thinking of selling, or even giving their Web domain, to Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, or George Soros or Arianna Huffington, with the goal of their critiquing the lies and misinformation put out by the political movement (principally about Canadian healthcare which, like most Canadians, the band The Tea Party love). That aside….

So, not only did The Tea Party come back together last year, but they’ve been doing a reunion tour and recorded their Sydney, Australia concert for a double-size album. They pre-released the album through Pledge Music (with proceeds going to help the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto which does cancer research). I got myself a copy of the album… and I have not listened to an album with as much joy, excitement, air-drum-playing, as I have this one, since I first listened to their second album, Edges of Twilight, in 1995. Allow me to reminisce a bit.

It was the summer of 1994 when I was working at a brand new Hastings entertainment store while getting my BAs. The store hadn’t opened yet, we hired staff were in the process of constructing the displays and stocking the place, and the music department manager was playing CDs for us while we worked. And one of those days, this amazing sound came on the system. It was a melange of Led Zepplin, the Doors, some middle eastern flavor. Hard rock with a splash of mysticism. One could, fairly I’ll admit, make the criticism that they were trying too hard to be a reinvention of Led Zepplin. Even so, the raw, amazing musical talent of this group was certainly not a gimmick. The album was Splendor Solis, and I fell in love with a band like I hadn’t since I discovered Pink Floyd in high school. I believe the very day that Hastings store opened, before I put my employee apron and name tag on, I bought that CD, and if one can wear a CD out, I about did.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait too long for more. Not long after graduating undergrad, we moved to a different town, my wife and I, and settled in to life, and I heard The Tea Party was releasing a second album. Excited, giddy, doesn’t come close to the feeling I had as I waited for release day. When I got the album and brought it home, I made sure everything was right: the stereo settings, the lighting, the drink in hand, and I hit “play.” The experience of listening to that new album for the first time was nearly a religious experience. It did not in any way let down. Every song was as good as from their previous album, with new instant classics that rivaled anything on Splendor Solis, such as “Sister Awake,” “The Bazaar,” and “Inanna.” If asked, at that time, which album was better, I’d be hard pressed to answer.

Then came their third, and nearly equally amazing, album, Transmission. It was an even harder, more techno album, moving a bit away from the blues and middle eastern influences of their first two albums. While not every song is among my favorite, like the previous two albums, it’s still filled with mind-blowing works like “Temptation,” “Transmission,” and the heartbreaking “Release.” You would never see me in a more than 5 minute car trip without that album.

With their next album, Triptych, things started slowing down a bit in my They Can Do No Wrong passion for them. While still a great album with beautiful and technically amazing songs like “Heaven Coming Down” and “Samsara” and “Halcyon Days,” I wasn’t in as much love with each track like I was for everything prior. Then again with the album, Interzone Mantras. There are again songs that alone would make them better than 90% of the bands out there, like “Lullaby” and “Requiem.” But it almost started sounding like they were trying to hard to be mainstream at that point. (In point of fact, come to find out, they indeed were being pressed by their label to indeed become more mainstream.)

This discomfort with what they were starting to sound like extended into their final studio album, Seven Circles. While still a fine album, I have a hard time recalling off the top of my head any particular tracks I love. “Wishing You Would Stay” comes to mind because of how beautiful it is, and also because it’s their only song with a female guest vocalist. And evidently, the label pressure (and, *sigh*, drug issues, of course) came to a head in regards to interpersonal differences among the band’s three members, and singer/guitarist Jeff Martin left for a solo career, breaking the band. (And actually, his first solo Exile and the Kingdom, is really good. It felt like an attempt to return to Tea Party’s pure rock and blues roots. Sadly, his next band, The Armada, album, felt closer to Interzone Mantras.

image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Martin _(Canadian_musician)

And during this time I’d been waiting anxiously for the remaining members, Stuart and the other Jeff, to do something with The Art Decay. Where Jeff Martin is an undeniable guitar god, the reincarnation of the still living Jimmy Page, Stuart Chatwood is a musical genius. His skill and versatility at nearly every instrument he touches (primarily keyboards, bass, middle eastern percussion) is… well, “impressive” is a lame adjective. Alas, they never got anything together. But Stuart went on to do all the music for the Prince of Persia video games at least.

Despite the slow decline of my unholy love for The Tea Party over the last couple albums, when I heard they broke up, I was devastated. My hopes and dreams for hearing That One Next Great Album, or ever seeing them in concert, were dashed. Well, I thought, maybe I could catch Jeff Martin at least… should I ever find myself in Ireland or Australia.

Then, a few years later, the news that would make my heart swell with great, but cautious, joy: Their reunion for a Canadian music festival. The fact that they got back in the same room was pretty amazing–could it last? And, O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! When they declared they were going on a reunion tour, I think I literally jumped for joy! When they later said they’d be working on a new album, well, I think I’m still recovering from palpitations and vapors.

Back to the present, I got the recording of their Sydney reunion concert. I didn’t take as much care setting the mood to listen to it as I had for Edges of Twilight, because I was excited, but still thinking, “Eh, it’s a concert album. I’ve heard it all before.” Boy, was I wrong! They do not simply play copies of their studio performances for their live shows. They freakin’ bring it! Bring. It! “Temptation” becomes even more brain-smyooshingly hard and edgy, they break “Save Me” down and jam in the middle of it like Led Zepplin would’ve, Jeff Martin’s familiarity and banter with the crowd, and letting them sing key passages (like the ending chorus phrases in “The Bazaar”) is intoxicating and exciting!

Well, it’s just an amazing album, and I listened to it the first time in shock and wonder, and a youthful excitement I’d not felt in some time. Over the last several years, I’ve come to love some bands, like Arcade Fire and Silversun Pickups and The Decemberists, and I really enjoy their music. But nothing has ever quite grabbed ahold of me and never let me go like The Tea Party. And no matter how much I greatly enjoy listening to Neon Bible or Picaresque, no experience has ever matched listening to Edges of Twilight that first time, nor Live in Australia this weekend. The Tea Party is back, and life is good!

(PS: The band is hugely active in The White Ribbon Campaign, “the largest effort in the world of men working to end violence against women. In over fifty-five countries, campaigns are led by both men and women, even though the focus is on educating men and boys. In some countries it is a general public education effort focused on ending violence against women.” Yay!)

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Distracted by my no distractions editor

omm writer

At GenCon last week, at one of the writing panels, I sat behind someone who was taking notes on their really sweet Apple Macpro Air Jordan Tigerbond, or whatever they’re called. I don’t think I can even afford to know its proper name. And I couldn’t help but notice that the text editor he was using was extremely cool. No bars or ribbons or icons or buttons anywhere–just a nice, pleasing full-screen image and the text situated in the center third of the screen without borders. Really nice. I was afraid it was going to be some Apple proprietary software.

When the panel ended, I risked being rude and asked him what it was he was using. Happily, he told me it was Omm Writer, a free (for the older version) or super-cheap, pay-what-you-will (for the latest version) distraction-free editor. But what’s even cooler, it’s available for PC in addition to Mac! … except I use Linux. Except I do have a PC with Windows that I only use to convert documents into files Amazon will accept for their e-book store. (Stupid Kindle issues with Tables of Contents.)

focuswriter and a busy background theme

So, using the best frakkin’ Web site ever created, Alternative To, I followed some links and reviews until I came upon FocusWriter. It’s also a for-donations application that actually works on Mac, Windows, and Linux! And indeed, as people on LifeHacker and the NaNoWriMo boards have said, it’s an amazing no-distraction editor! You can set timers/goals, such as how much time you want to write or by word count; basic rich text formatting; typewriter keypress sounds (little things make a difference). And what I really like, is you can download themes, quick and easy, and modify them. Then, you can switch among them based on whichever story you’re working on. My current young adult fantasy novel, I use “Leathers,” for my Eclipse Phase fanfic, I use “Bladerunner – Cockpit,” for a horror story I’m working on, I switch to “Midnight Dreary,” and for the contemporary lit novel I’m playing around with, I use a somber “Winter Afternoon.” They really help one’s mindset for that story.

So, I spent about an hour on that instead of writing. And now I’m spending time writing this. :-/

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Glasshouse

(A no-spoilery review.)

I recently finished Charles Stross’ novel of the posthuman future, Glasshouse. It was closer to his novel Halting State in style, and certainly more readable than its unofficial prequel, Accelerando. While not a perfect novel by any means, and containing a few misses and rough parts, I’m placing it in my top 10 favorite SF novels and top 5 posthumanity-themed works.

I stopped reading Accelerando, but not permanently. (Not like Dies the Fire, the probable inspiration for the upcoming TV show, “Revolution.” That book is the only one that I’ve put down mid-way and said, “Nope! I’m done, thank you. No more.”) It really is a fascinating book that depicts the coming singularity, the advent of the posthuman age, in a believable and detailed manner. Unfortunately, I’m finding it a bit too dense, too inscrutable when it comes to the detailed, and far too often, explanations of intellectual property rights and venture investing and whatnot.

In contrast, Glasshouse, like Halting State, is more action and adventure. Where Accelerando explains the posthuman rise, Glasshouse exists in it. We don’t need to be told what’s happening, it just happens. In the opening pages, the first scene, the reader is thrust right in the middle of a strange, new existence where bodies are interchangeable and minds can be backed up and restored. At first, you have no idea if the characters are players in an advanced online RPG, a virtual reality, or what. But soon we come to accept that this setting is post-Earth, post-human, post-normal expectations of what it means to have a body or even an identity. The protagonist, Robin, goes through a crisis of identity involving his past life (lives — in the metaphorical sense, not any metaphysical “reincarnation” sense), while at the same time dealing with his current situation as a test subject in a closed environment meant to simulate late 20th, early 21st century Earth.

One of the most clever conceits of this novel is making most of it take place in a setting that’s vaguely familiar to the reader, if a bit askew (like a collision between the village from “The Prisoner” and the town from “Leave it to Beaver,” with Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and an Ikea display showroom), and allowing that to counterpoint the characters and their floundering in this environment. We can understand the posthuman world better because of the way the characters who live in that foreign world react to the things and ways of our world–and at the same time provides the cognitive estrangement needed to examine our own ways and mores with their arbitrary restrictions and customs.

Meanwhile, Robin must solve a couple of mysteries, one involving who these people are running the experiment, and the other involving his missing memories.

Glasshouse is well-written and moves reasonably quick, but there are annoying moments where characters occasionally do or say something odd that pulled me out of the book. Whether it was something that was unmotivated, or awkwardly phrased, I found moments that my reading ground to a halt, I would have to go back and re-read the passage to see if I missed something, and just ended up shrugging and moving on. Fortunately, that was a rare occurrence. The only other complaint, is that some of Robin’s background and history would be presented in flashback with teasingly little in the way of context and explanation. This is fine, when explanation does eventually come and the tangles and loose ends get wrapped up; however, too much of his flashback went unexplained for too long, making it difficult to understand how it motivated some of his fears and goals. By the end, when the whole story starts to come together, I felt it was too late to make me really grasp who he was and what was going on in the past.

Indeed, difficult not just in understanding Robin, but the history of the book as well. The greater wars and conflicts that happened before the novel begins, which helped shape the condition of transhumanity in this story. Some of it in intentional, as, and this is difficult to explain without spoilers, much of history is actually lost to the characters and must, therefore, be lost to us readers. But I feel as though there are too many holes that Stross let go in the backstory that I really needed to have filled before the climax.

Stross and his works appeal to me because of my own keen interest in the topic of post- and transhumanity. It’s been a focus on my own graduate work (and, hopefully, will be the focus of my doctorate work when I finally get to attend Trent University. Oh, yes–one day I shall!), my writing, and my hobbies. I’ve written recently on my love for the pencil-and-dice RPG, Eclipse Phase. The creators of that game, set in a quasi-posthuman universe, have listed Charles Stross as a “writer to watch,” and it’s no wonder why: I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Eclipse Phase was heavily influenced by Glasshouse (and Accelerando), as much as it was inspired by Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon, and maybe a bit by Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. (I really want to see reputation (i.e. Doctorow’s “wuffie”) used more as currency and capital n the game!)

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Do a little to help working authors?

Steven Brust, Emma Bull, and a fan

A while back I blogged about my favorite fantasy artist’s health scare. He’s recently had heart surgery, as a good friend and collaborator of his, Emma Bull, also went through a procedure. Naturally, because they’re very hard working, talented writers in America who make their living with the sweat of their brow as artists–they get paid crap and health insurance is likely non-existent for them. (Our country’s insurance-care system is, besides horrific just on its own merit, absolutely cruel to anyone who strives to follow their artistic passions or actually be an entrepreneur certain political groups give lots of lip service supporting… but I digress….) Cory Doctorow, an amazing writer and activist, a favorite author of mine, and someone who has said will never again let his family live in the U.S. because of our insurance-care system, explains the issue in his Boing Boing article.

Another excellent author, Scott Lynch, is raising donations to help them with their medical bills. Here: http://www.scottlynch.us/ironsands.html, then clicking the “Donate” button on the left.

I’m sorry about the political ranting there, I try to avoid anything political on this site–but this issue, as I’ve discussed before, is greatly important to me: the near inability or anyone in America whose passion is artistic and creative in nature, to be able to devote themselves to their craft, is, in my mind, cruel and completely anti-civilized. Any advanced society should allow their creative citizens as much access to life and health as a wage-slave has, equally. All citizens of an enlightened society should have equal access to life and health.

But, I digress once again.

Forget the politics: If you care at all for helping hard-working writers afford their medical care, please consider donating! Thank you.

Side note: Another most excellent, favorite scifi author of mine, John Scalzi, noticed Brust’s humorous ode to Scalzi’s highly popular blog, “Whatever.” Then, Scalzi featured others setting Brust’s words to music! (I prefer the ukulele.)

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Before They Open the Door

At GenCon last week, during the Tracy and Laura Hickman Killer Breakfast, I signed up for a drawing. Low and surprise, I won! What’d I win? Their collection of stories, Eventide and their daughter Tasha’s brand new CD: Before They Open the Door.

As for the book, I was immediately excited! I’d recalled hearing Tracy Hickman talk about the book on podcasts a year or so ago, and it sounded really interesting! (Though, if I recall, I thought he and Laura were doing some kind of special subscription method for people to buy the book directly from them back then in a clever, hearken back to the original days of fiction publishing by sponsorship, method. But I forget.) Plus, while I hadn’t read much of the Hickman works lately, I lovelovelove the first two Dragonlance trilogies (the second, Twins, trilogy, was the first fantasy novel(s) to make me outright cry).

As for the CD, well, that was an unknown. Never heard of her before, and the song she sang before the Killer Breakfast to promote their Pick-a-Path live musical that weekend, was cute and nice but, well, she sang flat and off key a lot.

But, never look a gift CD in the mouth, as my mother has never said!

I finally got a chance to listen to it this week, and the verdict: It’s cute. Sadly, she still sings somewhat flat and off key, but not nearly as bad as live. She’s a fine guitar player and a decent lyricist… over all, she’s exactly what you’d expect from a talented young local music performer who will do great in her community but will likely never get a Big Break.

As for the songs: They’re mostly gaming/nerdy-themed songs with a humorous bent (in other words, filk music), but there are a few with a sweet or even melancholy sentiment. As a CD, I’m not sure I’m going to listen to it all that much. But if she were performing live at another con, surrounded by people having a good time and singing the chorus with her, I wouldn’t turn that down for a second!

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Happy Stone anniversary to me!

My wife is just the coolest.

First, she knows I love craft beers and microbrews (okay, not hard to know that). But she also seems to have recalled that my favorite type is the IPA. And she’s also noted to herself that one of my favorite breweries is Stone. So, what did she do? She researched some beers and discovered that Stone puts out an anniversary IPA each year with different flavor profiles. They release it on a limited run that can be difficult to get. She ordered half a case for me and it arrived yesterday!

The Stone 16th Anniversary IPA this year has a hoppy, lemony, citrusy flavor that I must say, is very complex and interesting. I’ll admit, at first it caught me a bit off-guard. While it’s not “more lemon than lemon” as they advertise, in fact, I’d say I got more peach from it than lemon, it is very sour (but in a good way, not a “bad beer” way.) I’ll also admit, I wasn’t sure at first if I liked it.

But it paired great with the ribs and pulled pork I had for dinner, so I drank the whole bottle over the evening (they come in large 22-ounce bottle that I usually, when I have a beer that size, drink only half of in a night and wine-stopper the rest until the next day), and by the end of it came to really appreciate its complexity and punch.

One of the reasons I like Stone beers, is they’re generally bold, bitter, rich, and don’t go easy on you. They give you an experience. And this 16th Anniversary IPA is an experience. After you allow your palate to accept the lemony-peach, you can start appreciating the malty spices. The hoppy finish. By the last third of the bottle, the flavors no longer jump out separately but meld nicely into a tapestry that works together.

It’s not a beer for partying with or drinking thoughtlessly (none of the beers I like are like that, actually. Sam Adams Boston Lager is probably the closest I can come to to drinking a beer without “experiencing” it). It’s absolutely one worthy of an annual treat! Sadly, I only have 5 left. I better savor them.

But that my wife thought about this, put study into it, and did just for me–is just the coolest! I want everyone to know that that’s just how cool she is. :)

*PS: It should be obvious by the article but just to clear up any title confusion: No, it’s not our anniversary. She did this just ’cause.

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