Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: December, 2006

Genre Fans Cry: Woe Is Me!

Is this a great coincidence or what? I recently read three blog posts about how it is strange/not strange that there are female science fiction readers and then I came upon this post about the seeming lack of men reading romance. All of these posted today.

(This reminded me of a conversation I had with an actress about a week ago about the biases in the media and society in general. She cited science as an example of lack of bias and I almost laughed my head off. Sure, scientists strive for lack of bias, but they aren’t automatons with the main goal of finding the ultimate truth. Scientists are human and all humans have biases. The trick is to realize that you do have a bias and to not brush off your tainted observations with the lazy thought that it just is.)

In the matter of genre, I find it somewhat sad and amusing that people still refuse to try certain books because they believe that those books are only meant for a particular type of person. The existence of stereotypes like the frustrated housewife sitting on the couch eating bon-bons and watching soap operas or the pimply and bespectacled geek playing D & D in his parents’ basement is utter hogwash. The purpose of the stereotype is to compartmentalize everyone, to divide people into groups of US and THEM. When will anyone realize that in reality people are too complex to be categorized?

Anyways, I find it interesting that fans of any genre are quick to moan about how they’re looked down upon for their “lowbrow” tastes, the lurid covers, and the amount of energy they have to exert sneaking out of bookstores and hiding their guilty pleasures. Is this griping due to society’s pressure to read what’s “good” for you rather than what you want? What’s “good” is only dictated by critics who think they Know It All. Genre is nothing but an arbitrary guideline set by publishers and bookstores trying to organize their product. Look beyond the branding and read a book for the story. Don’t mindlessly believe that a book is only read by some make-believe demographic because some marketing executive somewhere decides that the novel should be pitched to that make-believe demographic.

But that said, I think it will be virtually impossible to dissuade people from their genre prejudices. Unless we start a cross-genre trend! I wonder if there is more gender equity in the reader base of sci-fi romance/romantic sci-fi*….

* Authors off the top of my head: Catherine Asaro, Lois McMaster Bujold, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, Anne McCaffrey, Sharon Shinn–heck, just go to this blog and make your list for the next time you head to the library or bookstore.

Lots O’ Rain

Yeah, it’s been raining quite a bit for the past few days. Which is fine with me. I’d rather be driving in drizzle than fish-tailing around on ice. It’s been somewhat stressful the past few days, too. And I don’t just mean exams. All I can say is that there are certain things in life that are completely out of an individual’s control. I’m not sure I would want to wish my depressing and checkered experiences on even my worst enemy.

Oh, and about those short stories. Of course I sent them out to the next market as soon as I got them back. I don’t give up very easily.

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The Thursday Threesome: Holly Jolly Christmas

Onesome: Holly– Hmmm… Do you have holly where you are? Is it used for decorating? …and if not, what types of greenery are used to show off the season? Inquiring minds and all that…

I have no idea. Here, everyone is talking about pulverized tumbleweeds, 80 mph winds, overturned tractor trailers, and wibbling sign posts. There are pine trees around though. Do those count?

Twosome: Jolly– Jolly Elf or The Grinch? How is your Christmas experience going so far?

Er, is there something in between? I’ve been somewhat oblivious to all the Christmas-y things lately. It’s not that I dislike the holiday or anything. I just find that there are some things that are a bit more important for worrying about.

Threesome: Christmas– Hey, I miss ol’ Burl Ives singing the song in this header: who does your favorite Christmas song? …and which song is that? Yes, yes, you’re allowed more than one…

I’ve avoided the radio station which is playing non-stop Christmas music. I don’t own any Christmas music. I don’t plan on buying any Christmas music. But that said, I don’t hate Christmas songs either. There should be moderation in everything and when I do listen to Christmas songs, there should be a mix. I can’t stand songs (any songs) on infinite looping.

(However, I must say that I completely cracked up when I heard a parody of Winter Wonderland about cross-dressing. Does anyone know who did that song? Maybe Weird Al?)

Random Blah-ness

I’m feeling sort of bummed because I got three rejections all within the space of one week. I guess people are just trying to clear out their slush piles, but it would have been nice if they were a bit more staggered. (But I did get personalized notes on two of the stories, so I guess it’s not a completely lost cause.)

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BlackBerry Orphans. It’s not just a bad habit, it’s an addiction. They should start BlackBerry Anonymous groups.

Literature-Map. Neat stuff. Type in an author and a map will come up with a bunch of other authors writing similar stuff. Great way to find new writers to read.

The TBR Pile Will Never Die

Via an interesting discussion on LibraryThing, what are the top science books that everyone buys but almost no one reads?

Culled from that topic:
Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas R. Hofstadter
A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Daniel C. Dennett
Consilience by Edward O. Wilson
The Road to Reality by Roger Penrose
Quantum Field Theory in a Nutshell by A. Zee
A First Course in String Theory by Barton Zwiebach
The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene
The Structure of Evolutionary Theory by Stephen Jay Gould
Life on Earth by David Attenborough
A New Kind of Science by Stephen Wolfram

I’ve already read The Elegant Universe and The Structure of Evolutionary Theory although I have a biased quibble with the above list–too little biology.

On my personal list (which I always keep putting off), I have yet to finish Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene (although I did finish The Ancestor’s Tale!), Matt Ridley’s The Red Queen, and a whole slew of “Best Science Writing” collections stacked forlornly on my bookshelf. Does anyone else own some must-have science books which (somewhat embarassingly) have been left unread?

“A Little Book About Writing”

It doesn’t matter what you think about Stephen King‘s fiction (heck, I couldn’t even get past the first couple chapters of Pet Cemetery), but On Writing is brilliant in its execution and intent. Who else can encapsulate the essence of being a writer with a wry, almost self-deprecating tone yet dish out sensible advice with very little BS? After reading this, I felt like gathering up all my rejection slips and staking them through the wall too (except I don’t have a stake and my landlord probably wouldn’t appreciate the hole in the wall).

The Thursday Threesome: Christmas is Coming

Onesome: Christmas– shopping: done deal? Haven’t started? “Oh, man! Yeah, I need to make a list!” (I’m thinking this one may sort out by gender…)

Well, if you think all the women have a jumpstart on all this holiday shopping mess while the men have done nothing–count me as an anomaly. I haven’t even thought about Christmas shopping yet.

Twosome: is– it time to decorate yet? …or do you still have another week or two to go?

Ugh. Too early to decorate.

Threesome: Coming– or going? …or staying home? Are you visiting or hosting this Christmas? …or both?

I’m visiting my parents.

Tangled Bank #68

Hey, get your science blog fix over at Down to Earth which is hosting the latest Tangled Bank, “The Voyage of Discovery” edition.

Review: Fantasy Lite

I’ve been remiss in reviewing some things from the past several weeks. So for the next couple of days, I’ll probably be doing some posts with seemingly random topics.

The Smoke Thief by Shana Abé. How can I describe this? Romance junkies would call this a fantasy. Fantasy fanatics would call this a romance. I’d say it’s a romance written with a fantasy writer’s sensibility. But what struck me at the get-go was the style: very lyrical yet verging on the purple. And there are the standard plot devices inherent in both genres (the addition of monkeys and crocodiles was a humorous touch, but it was too little, too late)–kleptomania, dragons, magic rocks, bad childhoods, bullies, orphans, a rich lord, and cross dressing among other things.

In an alternate 18th century England, a clan of dragon shapeshifters who call themselves the drákon live secretly among unsuspecting humans. Clarissa Rue Hawthorne is a halfling, and after years of torment from other full-bloods, she fakes her own death and reinvents herself as the eponymous Smoke Thief by stealing valuable jewels from the aristocracy. However, her unusual methods used in these heists threaten to reveal the existence of the her kind to the population at large. Thus it’s up to the drákon leader, Christoff the Marquess of Langford, to rein her in by using the clan’s own diamond as bait.

I appreciated the fact that Abé’s dragons are not telepathic. Now that is a refreshing change. However with all the other clichés, one wonders how on earth such a story can work, but surprisingly, it does. Clarissa is no doormat heroine–despite the fact that she’s been in love with the hero since she was a child, she doesn’t automatically fall in line when her affections are returned. Freedom is important to her and she makes no bones about the fact that she has no use for the stifling insularity of drákon traditions. Christoff understands Clarissa’s quandry although he has his own agenda to pursue. But some of the time, I found him the irritatingly stereotypical stock romance hero. There was no depth or unpredictability to him, and I found myself wondering why Clarissa didn’t run off with the other crazy drákon thief instead.

Killing Bad Grammar And Bad Covers

New pet peeve: People who think the past tense of “drag” is “drug”. It’s “dragged”, dang it!

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Uber cool: Penguin is experimenting with do-it-yourself covers. See some examples here. I think all books should have DIY covers or none at all. This would level the playing field for authors who have the misfortune of getting an atrocious cover. And random people wouldn’t go around assuming things just because there’s a weird picture on the book you’re reading.

Head Rattling

I was reading this post on Dustbury on the differences between blogging and journaling and thinking, “I really don’t keep a journal these days anymore.” The only introspective writings I’ve done the past year are in the occasional post on this blog and in random travel journals. My writing energy has been diverted elsewhere. This does not mean that I’m no longer drawn to a blank journal. I’m always drawn to a blank notebook–but I don’t want to write about my thoughts about my life in there. I want to write stories. The kind of crazy genre stories that would make literary snobs cringe.

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Yesterday afternoon, I hiked up a steep hill again. It was somewhat treacherous–snow covered the surface so there was a bit of traction, but there wasn’t enough snow to conceal the fact that the ground below was a solid sheet of ice. I trudged along, watching my feet, when some guy whizzed past me. A couple seconds later, he reached the top of the hill.

This threw me into a black mood. The entire non-incident was like a metaphor of my life. Other people get to places with seemingly little effort while I have to tread carefully, hoping I wouldn’t slip on some hidden patch of ice and fall flat on my face.