Reviews

A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Disaster at Lunacon!

TOF was "special guest" at Lunacon this past weekend, and very special he was. He got to wear a ribbon like unto a prize steer at the stock show and had melons placed under his arms. In return, he sat upon certain Panels, picked a Winner at the Art Show, and started a presentation on THE GREAT PTOLEMAIC SMACKDOWN. 


"Started" because about halfway through the cord on his microphone knocked over a cup of water onto the keyboard of his laptop. Ah, that it would have been his lap instead! Alas! TOF watched in horror as his screen did Unpleasant Things before going dark. Taking with it all of TOF's ouevre, including WIP. 

Hence, he is at this very moment appearing courtesy of the Incomparable Marge and her desktop, somewhat awkwardly channeling though alternative channels and sitting upon a less comfortable chair, clacking upon a differently spaced keyboard.

The bad news is that TOF must share this space with Others. The good news is that he backed up his SKIFFY folder about a week ago, and so his ouevre is recouevred. In a few days he expects the Geek Squad to contact with the autopsy results. Can Mr. Laptop be resuscitated? Inquiring minds want to know.  There was a slideshow on the desktop, and there were a host of reference tabs bookmarked for his various WIPs that are missing from his backup. 
+ + +
In judging the Art Show, TOF has never seen so many paintings of cats in his life. There were also dragons and Stuart Little-like mice. Only one work had an SF theme, and so received TOF's accolade. Ah, science fiction, how ye have fallen!
+ + +
Passing by a room in which filk was being committed, TOF heard someone singing to the tune of the old IRA ballad "A Nation Once Again" lyrics with the tag line: "a pagan once again." TOF hurried past lest the Wicker Man or some similar pagan revival be in the offing.
+ + +
TOF had dinner with his Secret Agent, who passed on some good news regarding the Russian edition of THE JANUARY DANCER.
+ + +
Most of the panels were in their usual anarchist/con mode, meaning that little of substance was said. Everyone was mounted on their individual hobby horses, ready to gallop. Now some of the horses were fine steeds indeed, don't take TOF wrong, but a con panel+audience is very much like a communal example of ADHD.
+ + +
Alternate histories not based on battles. Greg Feeley took the stance that battle-based alt hist is morally repugnant since it most usually takes the form of the Confederates or the Nazis winning their respective wars. TOF can certainly see where he's coming from, and Greg made his case well, but I think in many cases such alternaties are cautionary tales rather than wallowing in a sort of para-nostalgia. The real problem is that battles or wars are the historical events that most readily lend themselves to developing alternatives, and the Civil War and WW2 are the ones that "need no introduction" to most readers.

While it is straightforward to pick a point at which a battle was won or lost (though less easy than some writers seem to think) it is less straightforward to alter some other, less specific thing than a battle. History happens for a reason, so when I tried to generate a 14th century scientific revolution in Quaestiones super caelo et mundo, I ran into the problem that there was no particular event that I could tweak to do so. Can we hasten the tide or hold it back?
+ + +
Character building. There was a nice discussion on how to construct characters. Do you use your friends? Is a well-constructed character the same as a "memorable" character? Does giving the character a "tic" (like Nero Wolfe's agoraphobia or his love of orchid-culture) constitute characterization? Discussion was diffuse and wandering, but mostly useful and on-topic.
+ + +
Rule??? What Rules???  It is a conceit of the Late Modern Age that there are no "rules" for writing. This is a great comfort to those who don't know them. It does no good to point to those who violate the rules successfully, for it was precisely their mastery of the rules that allow them to break them successfully. Playing tennis is not actually breaking the rules of golf, TOF pointed out, and many of the great transgressions are actually examples of writers playing a different game. Nor must we confuse genre conventions with rules of good writing.  How many times has George RR Martin killed off a main character? Yet no one can say he does not follow the rules of writing a story of accomplishment. TOF suggested that "rules" in the context of writing be thought of not in the sense of laws and regulations but in the sense of carpenters' rules and straightedges. These are guides to keep the writing straight.
+ + +
Magic and Religion. This was a complete mish-mosh and consisted mainly of a couple of panelists demonstrating their mastery of the technical terms of heterodox religions and making much of superficial similarities among different traditions. TOF pointed out that A and B might perform act X with totally different intentions, so the survival of practice X does not mean a survival of A's worldview.

14 comments:

  1. Re: your Secret Agent passing on good news about a Russian edition of The January Dancer - if the news is that there are now more of your readers in Russia, that's not a secret. It hasn't made our Great Leader happy, but the last I saw, he isn't a Great Leader over Russia.

    Sorry about the laptop.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Even if your laptop is toast, I'd be surprised if the hard drive is irrecoverable.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm glad "The Incomparable" has lent her computer to you. Glad to read more of your writing.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Every time I work on any file even associated with my writing (notes, etc.), I back it up on several different flash drives. It's not too difficult to get into the habit of backing up whatever you worked on, as the closing act of a writing-session. There's also online "cloud" storage services like Carbonite.com, although that charges fees.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Dropbox offers 5 gigabytes for free, which should hold a lot of wordprocessor files...

    ReplyDelete
  6. Out of curiosity, what would you consider to be a sound methodology for becoming acquainted with the rules of writing? Are there guides or resources that establish conventional writing tactics, or are these rules more intuitively gleamed from reading other great works of literature? Or both?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You cannot learn to ride a bicycle by reading a book. Mentoring helps. But there are also any number of excellent books that can summarize lessons learned. They do help to crystallize one's own inchoate thoughts. Writers Digest had a series of good basic books: Card, IIRC, wrote one on characterization; Kress on "beginnings, middles, and ends."

      Delete
    2. Take a book by your favorite author and transcribe it.

      You'll see what the author did and didn't do, and learn from those choices.

      Also read a lot, write a lot. If you're new to writing, just write and screw the rules. Eventually you'll realize there's a method, and from there you can hone the craft.

      Delete
  7. m not TOF, but I'll offer input to The Fez' question. To learn the rules of writing, read the genre you want to write in. Mystery, romance, sci-fi, all have certain conventions, and a person can only learn them by reading them. As for resources for conventional writing tactics, I'm fond of Dwight Swain's "Techniques for selling writers". (If you want a summary of the book, Jim Butcher offers several posts on his blog that amount to a free condensed version). Now after demonstrating the sci-fi fan's habit of showing off what he thinks he knows, I'll await to see what Mr Flynn says.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Alt History. WW1. Censorship. What if a time traveler arranged for publication of number of casualties of every battle as they happened, instead of at the end of war?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Considering sensibilities, the "how" would be either hard to imagine or an easy source of conflict. Most likely it would soon devolve into an early version of Schenck v. United States instead of a triumphant derailing of The Great War.

      Delete
  9. The hard drive is almost certainly recoverable. There are specialty mail services that can extract data off the hard drive platters themselves even if the electronics for the hard drive are toast. These services are expensive, though; probably in the hundreds of dollars range.

    As others have mentioned, you should look into dropbox or MS OneDrive for backing up documents. They automatically sync so you don't have to worry about forgetting to back things up.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Your laptop incident reminded me of one that happened to me. I gave a talk at an engineering conference in Finland, and took a post-conference tour of St. Petersburg, that included the graves of the last Romanovs. Back home, at the Engineers Club, it's customary that when a member makes a trip like that, he has to report on it at a lunch meeting. I prepared a Power Point presentation. My wife Nan had developed an interest in the Romanovs, so we agreed she'd present that part of the trip, but she wouldn't be using Power Point. My good laptop was in the shop for some reason I can't remember, so I used an old one. Battery wouldn't hold a charge, but it worked as long as it was plugged in. I was going through my talk when a latecomer tripped over the power cord and shut me down. I hadn't reached the Romanovs yet, but I told Nan to go ahead with her part of the show while I got plugged in, rebooted, and got back to where I was. The switch went smoothly, and I'm glad she could take over while I recovered. However, I'd just as soon not have something like that happen again.

    ReplyDelete
  11. >>> In judging the Art Show, TOF has never seen so many paintings of cats in his life. There were also dragons and Stuart Little-like mice. Only one work had an SF theme, and so received TOF's accolade.

    Ah, science fiction, how ye have felined!

    ReplyDelete