Author: Lance

Lance Schonberg is an eclectic genre fiction author with more than 20 stories published or on the way, and two e-books coming soon: "Thorvald's Wyrd", and "Turn the World Around". And he needs a more exciting short bio.
Writing Report for 16 October 2017

Writing Report for 16 October 2017

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Quick update for the previous week. I’m not as far along on anything listed below as I might have been if I hadn’t gone to Ottawa to attend CanCon (about which more tomorrow) and visit my parents this past weekend, but I’m still happy with the progress I made where I made it.

I have two stories left at the revision notes level for The Undead. Both of these are edging up against novelette length, and the editing process will probably push them over that edge.

I’m about 20% through the final draft of Draugr Rising. Mostly tiny wording changes although there was a scene where I chopped a couple of paragraphs and another where I twisted things a little for better emotional result.

Closing in on the halfway mark of Shrine, (18.5 chapters drafted out of 40) at least according to the original outline. But I’m at 41000 words into an outline that estimated 60,000 total. Oops.

Haiku selection is done and I’m drafting the opening and closing text for the book.

Fourteen of twenty strips drafted for Star Trek: The Badly Drawn Stick Figure Comic. This is actually only two more than I had, but is still progress.

All in all, not bad.

The NaNoWriMo debate is over. Not doing it. Nothing I’ve plotted or could have ready two weeks from now will come in around 50,000 words when drafted. I have too much going on at the moment and I want to continue to make progress on existing projects without starting some random new one. I do plan to push the word count back into NaNo levels for Shrine if I can, and I certainly have other things to pick up right after it’s done.

Gotta go. More words to smith.

Be well, everyone.

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Book Review: The World Inside

Book Review: The World Inside

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This is an odd little book, less a novel and more a series of interlinked shorts designed to present a strange thought-experiment society. This is a kind of social SF you don’t often see anymore, but the presentation is very “New Wave” which Silverberg drifted in and out of. (My favourite book of his, Across a Billion Years, doesn’t really qualify. I also haven’t read it in at least a couple of decades, so that favoritism may be coloured by nostalgia.)

But it is an odd book, crowded with ideas and sex.

Is it about over population?

Sexual freedom?

Privacy?

Post-scarcity?

Control?

Yes, to all of those.

1000-story buildings with 800,000 or a million people in each, built just far enough apart that their shadows don’t fall on each other and ninety-plus percent of the world is given over to farming and resource extraction to make those buildings possible.

People can have sex with whoever they want, however they want, whenever they want. Men are supposed to bang anyone they like and women are supposed to never refuse. You get married at 12 or 13 and have as many kids as your bodies allow.

There is just this side of no privacy and no one seems concerned, because privacy somehow breeds violence. No locked doors and no separate rooms beyond the one that marks where your living quarters start at the corridor. No barriers other than social constructs. But there’s also almost a complete absence of crime, and people guilty of antisocial behaviours are either corrected with some heavy duty drug therapy or tossed down the chute to provide a few extra watts of power to the urbmon (Urban Monad, i.e. giant skyscraper).

All food, resource, and energy problems appear to have been solved, at least for those who live in the urbmons. There are still a few people who actually have to do the work, though, and they have their own culture outside the walls.

Oh, there’s plenty of control, much of it in social constructs (surprise). In a society that’s supposedly progressive, the gender roles are still pretty rigidly defined, there’s a solid class structure with work you do defined by how high up in the building you live, status is critically important, a variety of min-altering drugs are not just easily available, but encouraged, and people aren’t allowed to leave their own urbmon unless they’re told to move to a new one. Oh, and keep having tons of meaningless sex and making babies.

There are a lot of things in this book.

Overall rating: 3 stars. It’s not a single story and the plot doesn’t hold together because there really isn’t one. The author is painting a picture. This is social SF as thought experiment, a presentation of a conceptual society and what it might mean or do to some of the people who live in it.

Remembering that this is historical SF now, published in 1971, I try to look at it through that lens and find that the concepts presented are really intriguing, but it was still written for a time and consumption and set of social attitudes that isn’t now, so some of the characterization is a little… out of date for me.

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Another Child Driving

Another Child Driving

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It seems like I enter a new era every few weeks lately.

Last month, my oldest daughter (who turned 16 in May) finally wrote and passed her exam to achieve a G1 license in Ontario. She’s held off for the timing to be convenient and she was mentally prepared rather than wanting to rush into the Drivetest Centre the moment she was legally able to. Sets her own pace for her own tasks, my child.

No, you should not be afraid. She’ll be a competent driver in short order and I have every expectation that she’ll actually be a good driver with a little practice.

The point is that my Little One is old enough to drive a car. I remember quite clearly holding her for the first time, bringing her home from the hospital, and so on. It’s hard for me to understand that sixteen years and more have passed since then. It shouldn’t be, since I’ve watched her grow from that infant into a wonderful young woman. But she’s still my Little One, so it is hard.

Be well, everyone.

{This is where I’d insert picture of my oldest daughter holding her license, but photographic imagery is currently forbidden.}

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Book Review: The Snow Queen

Book Review: The Snow Queen

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The world and universe being constructed here are interesting. We have clones, an immortality drug, a computer accessible directly by humans who possess the correct gene sequences, faster than light travel, and a galactic empire that fell a thousand years ago taking a lot of secrets with it. But we also have planetary monocultures, a variety of societal attitudes that are clearly from the 1970s and a pace that’s a little on the slow side with the various character lines taking too long to come together for me.

The minor characters are actually more fun than the majors. Particularly Tor (and her robot sidekick Pollux) and Jerusha. Actually, Jerusha is almost a major character, and noting her among my likes is going to make the beginning of the next paragraph a bit odd.

Her circumstances as police chief are a bit disappointing. Not so much her character (because she’s well written and strong), but the characters around her. I think, in 1981, it was a much bigger deal that she was a woman trying to manage in a “man’s job”, coming from a culture that’s inherently sexist. Thirty-six years on, this rings a little hollow, at least so far as western culture goes (note that I’m not saying true equality has been achieved, but it looks a lot closer than it did when this book was written, at least in most parts of the developed world).

The story borrows heavily from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale of the same name, and there’s definitely a fairy tale feel at times, but there are also lots of similarities to Star Wars: parental issues, collapsed former galactic power, “the force”, hero’s journey, clones, societal control.

There’s a nice twist regarding the mers, which I won’t spoil, but the idea seems a little Dune-like for a while, the harvesting of a supposedly native species for something that basically grants immortality to humans (Water of Life = Spice). Like other things in the book, this feels like Ms. Vinge taking something we might already be familiar with and making it her own.

Overall rating: 3 stars, leaning towards 3.5. I did enjoy the book, but it’s tough, sometimes, reading something so modern and yet so not, which a lot of the now-older Hugo and Nebula winners are.

There are times when I want to give certain things a pass because of when a book was written, but I find it harder and harder to do so because I’m not reading it when it was written but with a gap of years or decades when culture and attitudes have changed. To me, in some ways, this book is railing against a sexism that has shifted considerably, and so the idea that a woman can’t be a police chief (for example) raises an eyebrow now, even if it is still going to be a much tougher slog for her than it would be for an equally qualified man. Still a long way to go, if maybe not quite as long as in 1981. And yet, I recognize that my view is probably narrower than I perceive it to be of how the world really is.

The Snow Queen is a well told, if a little slow-paced, story, but I’m at a point where I have to look at it through an historical lens.

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Writing Report for 09 October 2017

Writing Report for 09 October 2017

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Doing one of these two weeks in a row doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m back to doing one every week, but it does mean I have something to report this week.

I have a lot of in progress projects. Not all of them are fiction (although most are), and one of the ones that isn’t hit a major milestone this week. I finished the selection of 120 haiku (from among something like a thousand) for a slim volume of them I’m planning. That was more work than you might think and probably is the lion’s share of the “standard” creative part of the book. Next, a little bit of introductory text before I teach myself the basics of layout and design. Still not a published book yet, but a step closer.

From a novel standpoint, I generally give myself a breakdown so that each phase is a separate item. I discussed those phases in a blog post last week, but I’ve just completed the first phase, the chapter level rough plot, for the third Troll World book: Palace. Book 1, Arena, is on the slate for 3rd draft shortly, and book two, Shrine, is my current 1st draft project. The final (?) book, Battlefield, isn’t even going to get an outline until late next year.

Feeling productive for a change, I’ve also made some revision notes progress on a number of the short pieces for The Undead and I’ve started the read aloud draft on Draugr Rising.

Oh, and I’m debating NaNoWriMo as I’ve been pleased with the results the last couple of times I’ve tried it and it’s been a couple of years. Trying to decide if it should be something completely fresh or one of the couple of things I could have outlined by November 1st. Thing is, none of those are likely to be merely 50,000 words in the first draft. Something to think about.

Yeah, I’m diving in as deep as I can.

Be well, everyone.

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A Little Verse for a Friday

A Little Verse for a Friday

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Thought maybe we’d try a sonnet this week. Shakespearean, more or less, but the subject is a little less traditional.

 

There is a place for each of you, and more

In the depth of my ever-growing heart

Away from prying eyes, I’ll keep you for

My memories. Nostalgic, and apart

From living life, each moment as I may,

I will recall the times that brought me joy

As well savour heartache, clutch cherished pain

Each artistic scrawl and forgotten toy

An instant on the path from then to now

An on into the dreams and years ahead

The paths you’ll take, the choices showing how

You’ll walk a winding path of thrill and dread.

To lives and families you’ll build. I’ll see,

With bursting heart, just what you’ll come to be.

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Book Review: Seveneves

Book Review: Seveneves

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Seveneves is actually two stories.

The first is a sort of end of the world, death by raining moon fragments and saving of the human race by going into space kind of tale. Saving is relative, and by dint of a technology not quite indistinguishable from magic.

The second picks up 5000 years later, when the human race has recovered, and very nearly speciated in several directions.

It’s the second one I really wanted, the exploration of the cultures that resulted from such a difficult beginning. Unfortunately, that was the shorter of the two stories, and a little drier.

Not that the first story was bad, but I would have enjoyed a lot more expansion of the second. Never mind that this was already a 900-page book. I would have been okay with splitting the second story out into a novel of its own.

The first story is a classic pattern of success and setback, rinse and repeat, with victory barely snatched from the jaws of defeat each time, right up until the last “victory”, and that victory is tenuous in the moment. It’s not in the long term, as we move into the second story, but it sure doesn’t feel like a victory at the time. It’s hard to see how the species can possibly recover from such a winnowing down, but we only get the basic intention of how that’s going to happen, not the how itself.

The second story is a little more politically oriented, but the action and the plot are both still there and both still working. After 5000 years of change and growth and history and culture, we still come up with a bit of “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”. As long as there are people, there will be politics and conflict.

There’s a lot of infodump through the course of the book. Granted there’s a lot of science present, much of it speculative or extrapolative, and needing a lot of explanation. But sometimes, it’s too much. Especially when we’re talking orbital mechanics.

Most stories live or die with their characters, no matter how good the ideas or science might be, and Seveneves has a lot of them to choose from, some I loved, a couple I loved to hate, and a lot of whom just seemed to be there to serve the plot without getting a lot of detail of their own. The ones who got the detail, got a lot of it which was nice, and sometimes came through the eyes of other characters.

The cast is fairly inclusive but mostly on a geek scale, especially in the first half, and in both stories, there are a lot of people who work like hell to be good at their jobs in the ordinary course of events and then work even harder when everything is on the line.

There’s a lot of good balance here, gender-wise, and even some hints beyond just straight binary sexuality, but it never got in the way of the story and Mr. Stephenson was careful to make sure the characters he wanted us to care about were fleshed out. Most of these were women, as one might guess from the title.

Text density sometimes (often) slowed down the action. I know this is one of the things Mr. Stephenson is known for, but a paragraph that goes on for a page or more doesn’t always make me want to press through to the end of the chapter before I have to go do something else or turn out the light.

Overall rating: 3 stars. I enjoyed the book, though, like I said, wish I’d gotten more of the second story than I did. Based on where the first story ended, there was so much that could have been explored both culturally and politically and most of it was barely touched on in the course of the narrative. New things were coming to us almost to the very end of the tale.

If Mr. Stephenson ever returns to this setting, I hope it’s to the later time frame for a deeper look at the cultures that grew up after the hard rain, or maybe to some point critical in that growth.

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The Stages of Writing a Novel… For Me

The Stages of Writing a Novel… For Me

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No jokes, no bad puns or exaggerations. This is the basic process of writing a novel for me.

  1. Basic Concept. I’ve got too many of these. Really. There are around three dozen novels I want to write at the moment. Actually, probably closer to twice that, but three-ish dozen where I’ve got a basic, solid concept in mind, and probably a couple of hundred words in a file somewhere describing what I want, including probably a sentence to describe each POV character.
  2. Rough Plot. Start with the beginning and the end and figure out a rough sequence of events, possibly even at the chapter level.
  3. An expansion of the Rough Plot to the scene level, more or less, with a hundred or so words of description of each significant scene and a couple of sentences to summarize shorter bursts of action or activity.
  4. 1st The brain dump, getting the story out of my skull. This is raw, filled with issues and problems and inconsistences. I’ll come back for those later. My 1st draft is often very bare bones, not a lot of description beyond the immediate action. That comes later.
  5. Put the first draft away for long enough that the story isn’t fresh in my mind. Write something else, or more than one something, to help that process along. Could be months.
  6. Revision Notes. With fresh eyes, read the story, making a note of every single problem, issue, continuity error, or anything else that bugs me.
  7. 2nd The fix what’s broken draft. All of those notes from the last step get addressed here. Every single one of them. Plus whatever else jumps out. This usually adds length to the story, on average about 8% on the novels I’ve gotten to this stage, even though there’s often stuff that gets cut out, too. This is also where I clean up a lot of dictation errors if it’s something I wrote while commuting.
  8. 3rd The make it pretty draft. This is all about word choices and making sure every scene, paragraph, and sentence says what I want it to. The story usually gets longer here, too. More dictation cleaning, probably, but this is also where a lot of the description I didn’t put in when doing the initial draft appears.
  9. Final Draft. I usually call this the “read it aloud” draft, because that’s the primary focus here, reading it aloud to see if I’ve missed anything. Hearing the words sometimes catches things my eyes just gloss over. If my tongue trips, it probably doesn’t work and I need to fix something, even if it’s just a single word.

And remember how I said my initial draft is usually pretty bare bones? The distance between the last sentence of the first draft and allowing other human eyes to see the story is, based on a sample of 4, roughly 20-25% of the original length. Sixty thousand words probably becomes 72-75. 80 might break 100. That said, a novel I’m going to take from 3rd to final sometimes soon may be a whole lot less than that; Scattered on the Wind has had less than 10% growth between 1st and 3rd drafts, and I don’t think it’s going to add much in the final.

Going through all this for this post, I discovered I’m even farther behind where I wanted to be at this point in the year than I thought. I have eight different novels somewhere between the rough plot and third draft, never mind the dozens of others I’d like to write.

Probably, I should get to work.

Be well, everyone.

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Book Review: Existence

Book Review: Existence

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I haven’t read much by David Brin in the past decade or so, which is weird. In my 20s, I loved the Uplift books and pretty much everything else of his I could get my hands on, at least until Earth which I needed two attempts to get through, but did enjoy the second.

Existence is a different kind of book than the Uplift novels, or really anything else I’ve read of his. The idea of Uplift was mentioned in the book, so maybe it could be counted as an alternate future history to his previous work, but the notion of Uplift wasn’t pursued in this reality beyond initial stages. Still, the results of those initial stages helped things work out pretty well for one of the characters.

Fundamentally, this is a theoretical answer to the Fermi Paradox seen through a particular science fictional lens. It’s a minor spoiler to use the phrase “interstellar chain letter”, but how we arrive at that and where the story takes us from there are both fun in the reading.

The inclusion of spectrum characters was cool, though felt a little incomplete to me. Granted that these were mostly extreme examples to draw attention to differences, I think Mr. Brin was effective in showing that the neurotypical way of looking at objective reality is not always the only way.

On the subject of inclusion, it was also nice to see that not just western characters and countries affected by the events in the story. How well those other nationalities were drawn is a question that’s hard to answer, but every character came across as distinct and believable to me. Your mileage may vary, particularly based on personal experience.

Still on the subject of inclusion, I don’t think there were as many female characters as I might have liked, but still more than I may be used to in similar higher concept SF.

And there are other themes present than just the Fermi Paradox, notably a taste of one flavor of what transhumanism might look like, at least in this version of the future, and the idea that technology conquers all.

For the first of these, it’s always interesting to me to see what other people thing the future of human evolution might hold. For the second, the answer to the problems created by misusing one set of technologies isn’t always be answered by another set, though it can be. Sometimes, learning how to use (or not misuse) what you’ve got might be a better initial solution.

Overall rating: 3.5 stars. I’d like to go four, because I really enjoyed big parts of the book, but I also feel like there are big chunks of story missing, huge jumps in time where interesting stuff must have happened but got glossed over or written off in a sentence or two.

And there are older stories and essays used as building blocks here, which may explain certain things not being followed up on as much as I’d have liked and characters whose stories ended without quite giving me the satisfaction of a completed story with them.

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