Old Friends

I think most of us go through periods were we do relatively little reading, and so you fall behind on books and authors you like. As I’ve been moving back into a period where I’m doing a lot more reading again, I’m not only discovering new writers like Patrick Rothfuss (review coming soon) and established writers I never got around to reading for some reason (like Michael Stackpole), I’m also taking the time to go back and spend check out new works (at least, new to me) of some of the authors I’ve enjoyed many times over the years.

So if you will indulge me a bit, today is all about saying hi to some old friends.

My first visit is with Michael Moorcock, who’s been writing fiction almost as long as I’ve been alive, and I’ve been reading his work almost as long as I’ve been able to read. There are three authors that I grew up reading that have defined the classic sword and sorcery style of epic fantasy, and Moorcock is one of them (the other two are Tolkien and Fritz Leiber, who I’m sure I’ll talk about some other day). Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone.

Elric is the last Emperor of Melnibone, a sorceror and an albino. He is the owner of — and owned by — a demon in the shape of a Sword, Stormbringer. If there’s a common theme in the Elric stories, it’s that whatever else happens, “lives happily ever after” is not likely, and not sustained. Elric is far from a noble being and the world around him is dark and bleak, but I don’t believe he’s an evil person. More properly, he’s a survivor in a world that is evil around him.

Del Rey has recently come out with new editions of some of his work, with two collections of his earlier short stories, Elric: The Stealer of Souls and Elric: To Rescue Tanelorn. There’s a third volume, Elric: The Sleeping Sorceress which I haven’t read yet, but which is on my todo list for sometime soon. The universe Elric lives in is rich and complex, Moorcock’s language is powerful — and the imagery he builds in these stories is dark and frequently somewhat disturbing. I find I can only read so much of his work at a time, and then I have to stop before it depresses me too much; it leaves me with a bit of a desire for something light and fluffy for a while to counterbalance it. Any time an author affects me that strongly it’s a good thing, but at the same time, I do suggest if you find yourself reacting that way as well, you might want to take your time and read these volumes in bits and pieces.

But read them you should, and if you haven’t discovered Moorcock yet, you’re in for a treat.

Another flavor of fantasy I love is urban fantasy, where the themes and memes of the fantasy world get interwoven with today’s reality in a way that makes you feel that perhaps you’ll cross the street and find yourself slipping into Faerie by chance. There’s no author who does that better than Charles de Lint and one of his better books at exploring this intersection is The Onion Girl. His characters live in a typical city, and then the walls into the Faerie world start breaking down, and much of the story involves them coming to grips with this as their world turns upside down.

In the Onion Girl, Jill Coppercorn is an artist who has long painted a fantasy land that doesn’t exist, the dark and the shadow that hides within the city. When she’s hit by a car and facing a long recovery while unable to paint, she falls into depression and disappears down into her dreams to escape her reality. Her friends face the challenge of helping her through this time — but when things start happening in this reality that seem tied to the land she visits in the dreams, de Lint calls into question reality in general.

I love de Lints’ characters and how he tells their stories. Their stories are rarely fun — but this isn’t the bleak desolation of Elric, but more the sadness of desperation and isolation. His intertwinining of the real world and the faerie world is fascinating and complex, and he seems to love playing with the concept of which is “the real world” by challenging our assumptions that what is comfortable and familiar is what is real.  He’s another author that if you haven’t discovered you will find a treat. Other works of his I’ll happily recommend include Svaha, Forests of the Heart, and Jack of Kinrowan.

I seem to be on a darkish fantasy kick this week, so let’s continue with one more. Peter David has been in the field for a long time as a writer of comic books and Star Trek novels, and also has a strong set of original fiction works as well. He’s written science fiction and fantasy, light work, dark work. I have to admit that Laurie and once named a pair of bad guys in a story we published after him — and he retaliated by making me the sound effect of one of his superheroes being run over by a tank in one of his comic books. I was honored.

Tigerheart is one of my favorite books that he’s written. It is a retelling of a classic victorian tale that we will all find familiar but which won’t get him in any legal trouble with the J.M Barrie’s estate. It’s the story of The Boy, and Gwenny, and the Bully Boys, and a little fairy that cusses a lot more than she did in the Disney movie.

To the degree that Peter Pan is darkish and without happy endings, so is this. But it’s a lot of fun and a rip-roaring read, and a lot of fun. Unlike Peter Maguire’s Wicked (which I love, but I love the stage play even more — but the play is a much different telling than the book of the same story. But I digress), where Wicked puts the story into another character’s viewpoint and turns it on its ear, David tells the same story, but tells it very differently. Both retellings have an adult sensibility to them, so don’t plan on using them to read your kid to bed.

One final book for this week, one final old friend to share. I’ve been reading Larry Niven since high school. His classic work Ringworld defines the hard SF genre for many of us, and his Ringworld universe is one I’ve visited many times. But today, let me introduce you The Draco Tavern. It’s a bar —  but it’s a bar that caters to all of the known sentient species with all of their known foibles and vices.

Okay, remember when I was talking about Elric and saying that after a while, I felt like I neede something light and fluffy to read? Well, this is it. Larry Niven gets to invent interesting and weird species and have them walk into the bar (or slither, or fly, or teleport, or…) and then entertainment ensues. They’re fun stories. They’re engaging stories. They are not going to make you rethinking the core of your philosophy, but they’ll leave you with a smile, and like everything Niven writes, they’re well done. Mostly? They’re fun. and sometimes, I don’t know about you, but i don’t want deep, earth shaking fiction, I want to turn off my brain and enjoy myself. And Draco’s Tavern is a wonderful place to do so.

In many ways, Draco’s Tavern is Niven channeling James White’s Sector General, which is the same style and type of stories, only set in a hospital designed to take care of the sick of any species known in the universe (and capable of figuring out ones that get discovered). If you’ve read White, you know what Draco’s Tavern is about. If you haven’t, then when you’re done with this book, go grab a copy of Hospital Station. This stuff is classic mind candy — but sometimes, what you need is mind candy. And these are well worth an evening on the couch.

Until next week, enjoy….

Posted in For Your Consideration Tagged , , , , , , , , |

sharks playoff postmortem

I must admit I’m not happy writing the word “postmortem”. But here we are.

The injury reports are coming in. So far, to the surprise of nobody, Thornton played tonight with a separated shoulder. Can we please put the soft reputation to bed once and for all? What a warrior.

Also, Ryan Clowe played hurt the entire season, and I’ve heard intimations surgery will be necessary but no details yet.

I’m waiting to hear how Heatley was hurt; I’m guessing a pretty bad groin given his lack of power and speed. He gutted it through, too. and I’m wondering whether Setoguchi was playing hurt. I’m sure there are others, but those seemed obviously dinged to me.

We got a “let the boys play” reffing game tonight, especially late and in overtime. The good news is that neither team abused that and focused on playing hockey, but both teams benefitted from non-calls. People who want to whine about the missed icing call that led to the 20 minute goal and overtime should go look at the tape of the Ian White blatant trip that stopped a clear scoring chance that was building. The sharks really benefitted from the reffing tonight, to be honest, and they had opportunities to prevent that goal. Calls happen. Good teams rise to them.

The fact is, the sharks did not deserve to win this series but did deserve to win this game — and didn’t. Luongo was insanely good most of the game, especially early on those first power plays, and gave the Canucks the chance to win. The Sharks had clear chances to win this game, and didn’t. And ultimately it was lost by a faceoff loss, bad coverate that led to the game tying goal, and a bad bounce. None of that involves refs.

And if the sharks took care of their business better, this game would have been over before the canucks got the bounce. So it goes.

The primary cause of the loss of this series was — the Detroit Red Wings. This sharks team was worn out and tired, and the Canucks were a little fresher and a little better.

So the Sharks fall short again, and congrats to the Canucks. If there’s any team i’m not unhappy to lose to, it’s them. they’re damn good.

So, now what?

well, frist up, the offseason.

I expect changes in the team and organization after this loss. This is not a team that you can look at and say “if we keep it together, we’ll be better next year” — there are some fundamental issues that (as good as this team is, and it’s one of four left playing!) aren’t going to be solved without changes.

The thing most disturbing to me is consistency. This team plays amazingly well with its back against the wall; it doesn’t play that well consistently until its back is against the wall. It squeaked out of the detroit series that way, it’s now going home to golf on a crazy bounce with Vancouver. Say what you will, that has to be fixed. The main difference between the sharks and canucks (or the sharks and the wings) is that consistency. Some might call it killer instinct, but more, it’s mental toughness. This year’s team is a lot tougher mentaly than  last year’s — but not tough enough, and that won’t change by giving them another year to mature.

So expect some restructuring.

Players on my keeper list: Boyle, Demers, Murray, Thornton, Marleau, Heatley, Clowe, Couture, Pavelski, Niemi. That’s a pretty damn deep list if you think about it.

Guys I like (but if we need to, we need to): Vlasic, White, Mitchell, Nitymaki.

Guys I’m on the fence over: Setoguchi,  Wallin.

Guys to look to upgrade: Huskins, Mayers.

Also on my keeper list: doug wilson and coach McLellan. I’ll leave the staff to those two to sort out, but these are the guys I want defining this team. This team is VERY close. It’s not there, but it’s very close. We don’t need to blow up,we just need to find the next piece or two.

I read a suggestion today that the sharks should go after Raffi Torres, if only to put him in a position where he can’t hurt sharks any more. I like the idea, and not just for that. He plays like a bastard, but this team could use a bastard on the third line.

Close, but no cigar. Good, but not good enough. Not a situation where I would stand pat and expect it to get better next year. Improve the core and character, but don’t massively restructure.

Trade one of the big players? I think it’s possible. I have a hard time seeing how that makes us better, it just makes us different. Is that a good thing? I’m unconvinced. But if you only swap the depth players, can you really make a change that matters? That’s the challenge for Wilson.

So now, if you don’t mind, I’m going ot go off and root for the canucks. I like the team and the players and the organization, and if the team that beats the sharks wins the cup, that removes a bit of the sting….

 

Posted in Hockey and Other Sports

Round 3 predictions

The plot so far: I went 7-1 in the first round. And in the second round….

I picked Washington and Boston. Got the Bruins, I still have no idea how the Caps blew that series. Fro that matter, I bet the Caps have no idea how they blew that series, but perhaps we should just plan on not ever betting against an Yzerman team, even if he’s not in detroit. I will give full kudos to St. Louis and Roloson. They really deserved to move on, and Washington did not.

Boy, I’ll bet in January a lot of people were looking forward to a Pittsburgh and Washignton eastern final. Well, that’s why we play the games…

And in the West, I picked Vancouver and San Jose (in 7!) — and we have Vancouver and San Jose. Oh ye of little faith, it’s not the first team to three wins, its the first to four. Although honestly, the San jose andwings deserved one or two overtimes just to extend the season a bit. it was that tight a series, both teams deserved to win.

But only one could, and the Sharks did it.

So I’m 10-2 for the playoffs so far. By far, my best playoff call ever. so far.

So now what?

In the east, having just said not to bet against Yzerman, I will. Boston in 6, on the back of Tim Thomas. I just think the Bruins are a better team. and if Tampa again proves me wrong, that’s awesome. But I expect the Bruins to win through.

And in the west…. wow.

I’m not sure who I prefer between San Jose and Vancouver, to be honest. So I’m going to pick the Sharks in 7, but I’m hoping it’s another barn burner of a series like San Jose and Detroit was. I think Luongo and Niemi cancel each other out in terms of shut-down capability, and so it’s going to come down to 2nd and third lines and how well san jose can contain the Sedins.

So. Boston in 6. San Jose in 7. And I honestly feel I could be wrong in both series and not feel bad about it.

I can’t speak to much in tonight’s game because, honestly, I only saw the first period before we went out to dinner with a friend. We did, however, after taking a vote, pull out a phone and tie it to NHL.com for updates every 15 minutes. I have the game on PVR, but right now I’ll probably look forward, not bad. (for what it’s worth, the restaurant is one we go to about once a quarter, Tigelleria. And it’s awesome. It’s usually worth about $125 a person with wine and tips, and I consider it a great value. The duck breast and carrot soups tonight were out of this world. And we still spent significantly less than our former seats would have cost us to sit in tonight…)

And I’m going to be in Yosemite for game 1 and I may or may not be back from that trip to see game 2. I am, shall we say, crushed.

Not. Which is not to say I’m not interested. And won’t be watching closely when I’m in town or grabbing scores when I can. Just taht right now, hockey is not the do-or-die priority of my life. I know. Sacrilege. Given how many years I’ve missed the Yosemite dogwood blooming for the sharks, I hope they understand…..

So now there are four teams left — and all are awesome. The hockey has been awesome. The fan response has been awesome. And have you noticed how the canadian hockey writers, especially out of Toronto, are trying to talk about possible lockouts and seeing what negative things they can write rather than actually accept that maybe the hockey right now is pretty damn good? It’s too damn bad those folks are unable to just enjoy the sport for what it is, and instead try to revel in negativity. Perhaps that’s a reason why the rest of us should stop reading them….

Dear hockey writers: there’s plenty of time in the offseason for you to complain about everything you don’t like about hockey. How about, right now, shutting up and enjoying the damned sport for a few weeks? Nah. never happen, because then, the fans might focus on how good things are right now instead of paying attention to you, as we all know the center of the universe ought to be the toronto hockey writers. and larry brooks. always larry brooks, who’s an honorary ontario hockey whiner…

onward to some damn good hockey, with or without the hockey press! actually, preferably without….

 

 

Posted in Hockey and Other Sports

John Scalzi

 

There aren’t many authors in the SF field where I can claim both of these statements are true:

  • I have read every one of their published novels.
  • I make sure I grab and read their books as soon as they are published.

John Scalzi is one of those authors; in fact, the only other two I can think of are Steven Brust and Terry Goodkind. Mike Resnick would be on the list except he’s written so much stuff over the years I’ll never catch up with the backlog, but I’m trying…

The reality is that there’s more SF and Fantasy published in the US in a month than I could reasonably read in a year; add in horror, historical fiction and spy thriller/mystery fiction as areas I dabble in to a lesser degree and the chance I’ll ever come close to keeping up with the field is ludicrous. In many ways this is a good thing, since choice and diversity are great — but it also means that no matter what, there are going to be books and authors I’ll never get to. To be honest about it — in my years involved with SFWA I got to know way more authors than I could keep up with, so even limiting it to “friends and acquaintances” is a big fail.

So I don’t even try. Back in the days when I was publishing OtherRealms, I set myself the goal of making sure at least every fifth book was by an author I’d never read before. I still try to keep to that today — it forces me to explore the diversity and the new voices of the field, but it means I’m less likely to read deeply within the works of any specific author. It helps that I tend to shy away from pure series authors and long series, unless they’re really extra-ordinary (and note for the record that one of the authors above is Terry Goodkind, who is both, so obviously, it’s not a hard and unbreakable rule. But the why of that’s for some other time.)

Which brings me, in the long way around, to John Scalzi. I don’t remember how I got turned onto Scalzi, but it was probably people sending me pointers to things on his blog, Whatever. I liked the writing, and even better, the attitude behind it. So I gave Old Man’s War, his first novel a try. Halfway through I ordered The Ghost Brigades so I could dive into it immediately. This was 2007, and The Last Colony had just come out in hardcover, so I grabbed it, too. And The Android’s Dream.

This isn’t typical of me. I rarely buy hardcovers any more, more because of space than cost — and the sad realization that my reading backlog is such that I rarely GET to a book before it comes out in paperback. The Kindle and ebooks are changing this for me, since I’ve made a commitment to buy as few dead trees as absolutely necessary and so I now target the electronic edition of a book (and sorry, if you don’t publish an ebook version, I’ll probably not buy it for a long time).

But over a three month period, I read four Scalzi novels. And since then, whenever a new one’s come out, I’ve grabbed it and put it at the front of the line. Why?

He’s a very good writer, and a very clear writer. He has a strong voice, he’s not afraid to take a strong position, he’s not afraid to challenge difficult topics, and he’s not afraid to challenge himself — but ultimately, his books are solid, good, entertaining reads. The series starting with Old Man’s War (and also including Zoe’s Tale and The Sagan Diary) is a new take on some classic SF themes — interstellar warfare and galactic politics. Scalzi’s an admitted fan of Heinlein, and this series starts by taking Starship Troopers and re-imagining it and expanding its scope to look at the bigger issues around the conflict and the people involved within the conflict.

Old Man’s War tweaks Starship Troopers in a new direction; take your elderly population and offer them a new life — if they enlist, they get a new young body. If they survive the wars, they go off as colonists to one of the newer outposts within human space. There’s a nod to Joe Haldeman’s Forever War here, in that as you get further into the series, it becomes obvious less obvious what you’re fighting for and why. In Ghost Brigades, Scalzi looks at this body translation from a different direction, where the military uses the DNA of dead people to create soldiers they then raise and teach, rather than transfer the memories of a person. These Ghost Soldiers are human — but not completely humanlike. In some ways it’s almost as if they’ve raised an entire army of functioning autistics and he does a good job of leaving you feeling a bit uncomfortable with the result. In the third book, The Last Colony, Scalzi takes his soldiers and releases them from military duty and sends them off to colonize a world, which gets complicated in various ways that bring forward the real questions of why the war is being fought and who your friends and enemies really are, and what necessary things you do to protect what you care about.

It’s a fast-paced, entertaining read, but it has a quite complex subtext underneath it. I can’t recommend these books highly enough.

And then he went off and did a couple more books in the series — Zoe’s Tale is the story retold, but from the point of view of one of the other characters, who just happens to be a teenaged girl. To be honest, I don’t think there’s an idea that scares most male adult writers than writing a book with a strong and honest female character, much less a teen-aged one. To me, Scalzi pulled it off; more importantly, when I’ve talked or read about the reactions of girls, they seem to think so, too. Circling back into a story is always a risk, because the reader knows how it’s going to turn out, so you have to find other ways to keep then entertained and interested. In this, Scalzi succeeds. In the final book of the series, The Sagan Diary, Scalzi takes a closer look at the Ghost Soldiers with a shorter work written as a series of diary entries by one of the Ghost Soldiers, who realizes she is different than “real” humans and is trying to figure out how to become one. it’s a shorter work published via small press, but it’s a fascinating read.

Along the way, I’ve picked up some of his other works. Android’s Dream is just a weirdly interesting book. If you can imaging Phillip K Dick going off on a long weekend with Keith Laumer’s Retief of the CDT, then you have some idea of what you’re in store for here. If you can’t; well, grab a copy and settle in for a fun and crazy trip.  You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing is aimed at people who think they want to write for a living — and is a book where Scalzi’s sense of humor (we could call it wry, we could call it dry or sardonic, but honestly, the best word for it is snide) comes out in full force. it’s a fun read — and has a lot of really good material on the reality of the writing life. If you are thinking of being a writer, you ought to read it, because it’ll give you a perspective you won’t find in the “work hard and keep trying! and buy my next book!” writing books out there… Another book where his sense of humor is in full swing is Agent to the Stars, which is a pure skiffy romp through a first contact story that both covers some serious issues (how do you think the world would react to real little green men?) without ever taking itself very seriously. Lots of fun.

And finally, his most recent work, The God Engines. Another shorter book, here Scalzi shifts gears completely and writes a darkish fantasy, albeit one with spaceships. Those spaceships are driven not by machines and physics, but by beings, and those beings are not always willing, and so there’s a societal conflict over what is effectively kidnap and torture for the common good — and the implications of what that means to the people (and other things) involved.

I’ve been waiting (somewhat) patiently for his next book, and it hits the stores this week. Fuzzy Nation is based on the classic by H. Beam Piper and is somewhere between a sequel and a re-imagining. I’ve already ordered mine, and it’ll be going with me on my trip next week.

If you haven’t read Scalzi, you should; start with Old Man’s War, his first novel, but he was very much a mature writer when he took this on. I also suggest God Engines as an introduction, and I expect I’ll be recommending Fuzzy Nation once I read it as well. The rest of his Old Man’s War series should be read in sequence, it’s not something you can pick books out at random. And if you like Old Man’s War, you’ll like the rest of the series, because he keeps the quality up throughout, and the story he tells is sustained through the entire series. All of his stuff is recommended; he hasn’t disappointed me yet. And that’s rare.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in For Your Consideration Tagged , , |

2011 Playoff Picks, round 2 edition. And other comments on the playoffs so far.

Round one is done, and how did I do on picks?

In the west, I picked Vancouver in 5, San Jose in 6, Detroit in 6, and Nashville in 6.

In the west, I picked Caps in 5, Flyers in 5, Montreal in 7, Tampa in 6.

So I went seven for 8. the only series I missed was Montreal/Boston, which I picked to go 7, and it was decided in overtime in game 7.

Excuse me for saying this, but that’s pretty darn good picking. So I guess I’ll go 1-3 in round 2, just to even it up again…

In the West, we have:

San Jose and Detroit. Detroit really worries me; the goaltending’s been good, they are mature, crafty and know how to win in key, high stress games. San Jose has shown they’ve finally grown up and seem to have that same ability, but the goaltending’s been less reliable (but Niemi rose to the occasion) and they still are less proven than Detroit. I think it’ll be a hell of a series, and I’ll take San Jose in 7. Very evenly matched, should be a lot of fun. Definitely not easy.

Nashville and Vancouver. I have to congratulate Nashville for getting to the 2nd round. That’s a great progression for them that they’ve earned. But Vancouver is playing really well, and I just can’t see Nashville beating them. As I said earlier, any of the three big teams (San jose, Vancouver, detroit) could come out of the west and I’d not be surprised, and all three are in the second round. nashville is a team moving forward and getting better, but they’re not in that league yet.

San Jose has the hardest progression out of the west, too, because they had to beat the Kings, which was far from easy, and then detroit, and then Vancouver. That’s going to be tough sledding. I think they can. I’m not convinced they will, and if they don’t, I doubt it’ll be San jose’s fault. but we’ll see. I’m still picking them until someone beats them. Unfortunately, both Detroit and Vancouver could.

Over in the east….

Tampa/Washington: I really like the Caps here. Tampa has some nice game to them, but I don’t think they can beat Washington. Caps in 6.

Philly/Boston: going to be a bruiser series. I’m going to pick Boston mostly because of the Tim Thomas factor, because I’m not really sure philly’s goaltending is going to be what they need. And Philly knows that. Again, their goalie situation is chaos, because the flyers simply odn’t seem capable of building and maintaining a solid goaltending system or developing their own goalies without breaking them.  Boston in 7.

I’m REALLY hoping boston/philly goes 7, because I expect the Sharks will need a few days of rest if they beat detroit and need to face vancouver. Otherwise, going in against the canucks tired worries me. I expect Vancouver ot finish their series first and be able to sit an extra day or two.

LA really impressed me. If they can keep the team intact (or mostly) and players mature as expected, they’re going to become a western power. Teemu Selanne really impressed me, and the Ducks impressed me more than I expected. I’m not sure they’ll be able to stay as good next year, though. Has anyone noticed how important Ryan Smith is to the Kings? Ever wonder if Edmonton wishes they still had him? And anyone wonder why anyone bothers to let Dustin Penner out of the press box, because he showed a few flashes of good hockey, but mostly, he left me wondering why anyone handed him a uniform. Slow and plodding and not very physical, with no real offense. He’s way too expensive to be a 4th liner or a pylon.

On to round 2. and I’m glad we aren’t doing playoff tickets; we both wondered if we’d hit a point where we wished we were at games. Maybe in the cup finals if San Jose gets there, but right now, sitting at home means not missing some of this hockey to get ready to go to games — and in my case, allows me more to be a hockey fan again and not mentally turn into a sharks fan. Much as I enjoy rooting for the sharks, I find I’m more able to just sit back and enjoy good hockey — and boy, has there been a lot of good hockey (although if you’re a canadian hockey writer, maybe you’re unable to actually see it, from some of the crap being written… fortunately, I can ignore all of that…)

 

 

Posted in Hockey and Other Sports