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Category: Reading

Gettin’ My Stroll On

Busy weekend. I had lunch with Nick Mamatas on Saturday, then interviewed him for a future issue of A Certain Magazine. It was my first time interviewing an author (though I’ve sat in on a few interviews), and I think it went all right. Nick doesn’t hesitate to voice strong opinions (I know! You’re shocked!), which helps.

Heather took our son to the circus that morning, so when they got back in the afternoon, I gave her a reprieve from parenting, and the boy and I went for a long walk, stopping for ice cream cones and then trekking to Totland in North Berkeley, where he played with appropriate frenzy. (I realized later that, with the trip to lunch and back, and to Totland and back, I walked seven miles on Saturday. I like walking.)

We went to the Solano Stroll on Sunday. (It’s a fairly epic street fair.) The kid rode lots of rides, and rode his first pony, and we all ate the sort of food that one generally enjoys in the moment and only later comes to regret — garlic fries, Italian sausage, greasy pizza slices, etc. Heather’s Aikido school was there, so she and the kid did a fair amount of flipping around and somersaulting on the mat while I finished reading Hunter S. Thompson’s The Curse of Lono. (I might have to give his Samoan war club a cameo in my next novel.) A pleasant afternoon all ’round.

Didn’t write a ton (obviously, being busy), but I managed to finish chapter four of Grim Tides. This book has my favorite villain ever.

And speaking of: only three days left for the Grim Tides Kickstarter. Prizes, people! You can get prizes!

The Ice Man

Being a big slacker continues to satisfy. I haven’t done much with my evenings but play Alice: Madness Returns, watch the new Avengers cartoon on Netflix, and read the new Charles Stross novel Rule 34 lately. (All recommended.) I am beginning to get a distant itchy urge to write, but so far it hasn’t grown overwhelming. I think I needed this time to recharge.

I got some popsicle molds and have become a popsicle fiend. Besides juice pops for the kid, I’ve also made White Russian popsicles for my wife and myself. (Recipe: make a weak White Russian. Freeze it. EAT.) And I made some mocha coffee popsicles last night; yum. Soon I will experiment with margarita popsicles, cherry cream popsicles, and so on. This is preventing me from eating all the ice cream in the world, which is what I usually want to do in the summer, so it’s good. River likes to help me make the popsicles, though he hates waiting for them to freeze. Today we will go to Berkeley Bowl and consider their vast and mighty juice section. I predict pear nectar ice pops in my son’s future…

Bicycles Excepted

Yesterday, awesomeness was also achieved. Things began a bit inauspiciously: the child woke my wife at around 5 a.m., so rather than the two of them gallivanting off for the morning while I wrote (as planned), my wife went back to bed for a while to catch up on her sleep. What with one thing and another, it was well after 1 p.m. before I had time and quiet for writing, and mid-afternoon is not my best period in which to get work done: mostly, that time of day, I want to nap.

But I managed to get about 2500 words written, in between some housecleaning, a quick trip to the grocery store, and other distractions.

My wife took her shiny new bike out for a ride, with a rented trailer attached to pull the boy along, and they had a fabulous time. Around 5 she biked over to the rental place to return the trailer… but the boy had fallen asleep in it. The prospect of dragging her bike and a cranky, sleep-interrupted child to the bus stop and riding said bus home did not appeal, so she called me for a rescue. I drove over and transferred the boy to the car seat (he didn’t even wake up). My wife kindly took over driving back so I could ride the bike home, as I’d been cooped up inside working for most of the afternoon, and as a result missed a really beautiful summer day.

I haven’t ridden a bicycle in years. So fun! It’s a good bike, too. The journey was only about four miles, so it didn’t take long. I wished for a longer trip. Berkeley is very bicycle-friendly. All the annoying chicanes and circles and weird signs restricting traffic that are so annoying in a car are wonderful on a bicycle. It’s lovely to sail past a big red DO NOT ENTER sign, with its smaller “Emergency Vehicles and Bicycles Excepted” sign underneath.

I mean, I could do without some of the hills, and it’ll be a while before I’m comfortable biking on some of the main streets, but overall, this is a good city to start bicycling in again. (Don’t worry, this won’t become a bike blog. It’s my wife’s bike, and it’s mostly for her new in-town commute, so I won’t be riding it much anyway.) If only I could bike to work… but there’s not a gear low enough to get me to the top of a hill that steep, and riding down would be essentially like falling off a cliff and rapidly reaching terminal velocity. The brakes would be reduced to ash by friction after day one.

Oh, and then in the evening I did some more writing, and managed about 5,300 words total. So now instead of being 16,000 words behind schedule, I’m only 11,000 words behind! A few more good days and I’ll be in an excellent position.

And I finished The Heroes (pretty good, but Best Served Cold is still my favorite), and am now well into A Dance with Dragons. (It is good.) Also watched some Doctor Who with my wife, the one where a character gets his entire existence retroactively erased. Ouch. What a way to go. I made a joke about balefire, which my wife did not understand. I am too geeky even for my own true love. Oh well.

Bite-Sized Stories

I’m experimenting with selling some individual short stories as e-books for 99 cents, starting with my Hugo Award winner “Impossible Dreams”. I’ll try to put more up, once or twice a week, for Kindle and the Nook. (The Nook version of “Impossible Dreams” isn’t ready yet; I’ll link when it is.)

My friend Tobias S. Buckell is doing the same thing (here, go buy his “Aerophilia”), as is Sarah Prineas (now go buy her “The Red Cross Knight”). So that’s 3 great stories (well, two great stories, and one of mine) for under three bucks.

Better than a small latte, I bet, and more nourishing.

First Laws First

This weekend, I have… a few things to do. I need to write a short story. (I am telling myself I will keep it short. 3K-5K words. Brevity is not my strength, but I am going to try.) I also need to get some momentum going on this novel that’s due in August, as so far I’ve just been plinking away at it in a distracted way. It has a pretty extensive outline, at least, so I should be able to get a goodly number of words down. I’ve been absorbed in reading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy in every spare moment, so I haven’t been writing as much as I should. But I finished reading that last night, and now I can devote my full attention to my own fictional world. (Or rather, my contribution to the fictional world of the Pathfinder Tales.)

Speaking of the First Law: wow, is that a bleak series. There’s some nice camaraderie among the protagonists (not, mostly, “heroes”) earlier, especially in the second book, but those rays of sunshine largely vanish in book three, and things get harsh. I mean, George Martin is famous for ruthlessly murdering characters you care about, but Abercrombie doesn’t even always give his characters the sweet release of death — they just get trapped in horrible ongoing situations that they can only bear by going to great lengths of self-deception. (Then again, they’re better off than all the little people who just get shot with arrows or eaten by cannibals or crushed by falling rocks.) That’s not to say I didn’t like the series — I did, immensely — but wow. Nice guys finish last and evil guys don’t do much better.

I especially like Abercrombie’s inversion of the “wise old wizard” trope. Powerful immortals would almost certainly be vicious uncaring bastards, after all. And he really plays with notions of “good” and “evil,” especially in the follow-up standalone Best Served Cold (which I read first, though I don’t recommend doing so, as it provides some spoilers for the trilogy, being set a few years afterward). The powerful oppositional figures pulling the strings in his world aren’t “good” and “bad,” any more than two chess players are. But it sure sucks to be a pawn… Nothing left to read now but The Heroes, then I’ll be stuck like everyone who’s been reading him from the beginning, waiting 18 months between books. Long may he write.

Sunday is Mother’s Day, so I won’t be working too much then. I’ll take my wife to get some brunch and then we’ll do something fun as a family (as per my wife’s request). It’ll be a nice break from writing about my own crew of vicious fantasy bastards. (Actually, only one is really vicious. Another is a self-absorbed know-it-all, and the last has a certain flexible morality.)

If I May

Compared to the brutal brutality of endless work I wrote about last time, the past few days have been quite mellow. Worked a bit on my novel City of the Fallen Sky, wrote a review of Mira Grant’s Deadline for A Certain Magazine (short form: go read it, after you read the first book in the series, Feed), and did a personal essay about why I’m so excited to be in Welcome to Bordertown which will appear, uh, somewhere, at some point. I also got a mental handle on the story that’s due May 15, so I should be able to draft it soon.

Got a good chunk of money from France for the first two Marla Mason books. Used it to pay down credit card debt. We’re broke again, now — but the hole we’re in is just that much shallower. The goal for the next couple of years is to murder debt. Every book I write is a step in that direction.

Readingwise, I’m almost done with Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy. Then all I’ll have left of his to read is The Heroes. Sob! What gritty-fantasy-with-minimal-magic should I read next? (I asked the same thing on twitter yesterday and got some good suggestions.) I’ve read K.J. Parker’s oeuvre, and await the next George R.R. Martin, but beyond that, I’m looking for more.

My nephew (8 years old) stayed with us for a couple of days. We took him and River to Adventure Playground over by the marina: a fenced-in lot full of scrap wood, bits of metal, barrels, broken rowboats, old tires, sheet metal, rope, and other stuff, where the kids build their own play structures. Pretty awesome. My nephew adores the zipline. River is too young to do any building, but he painted a bit and climbed on some of the multi-story kid-built edifices and generally marveled at everything. We had a picnic and splashed a bit in the waters of the bay too. A nice afternoon out. It’s pretty much summertime here. Oh, May, you’re very welcome after all that rain. Loveliness abounds.

Books (Pictures Optional)

I’ve been reading. (I’m pretty much always reading.) Caught up on the trade collections of Kirkman’s Invincible comic, which I still enjoy, though it can be rather mind-blowingly gory — dudes getting their internal organs punched out through their backs, etc. And there was a bit where a cute little kid dies that was rough for me. Used to be, when I read stories where cute kids died, I’d think, “Okay, plot manipulation lever activated, whatever.” But now that I have a cute kid of my own, I find them hard to read.

Also read the first volume of the complete Peanuts, and — besides being a beautiful book — what an amazing achievement. Schulz was so good, from the very beginning. Wow. I think Peanuts contains the entirety of the human condition. The first volume of Bloom County (also beautiful) was a lot rougher going to start, but it settled into the comic strip I so loved in my youth pretty quickly, irreverent and wacky and energetic and biting.

In truth I’ve read a zillion other comics this year — Batman stuff, Superman stuff, Marvel Zombies, the lovely Good Neighbors graphic novels by Holly Black, The Tale of One Bad Rat — whatever looks interesting on the shelf at the library really.

I’ve also been reading books that don’t have pictures. The Serialist by David Gordon was fun and amusingly meta, about a hack writer who stumbles into a murder mystery and half-assedly solves it. As someone who’s written both porn and pseudonymous horror/paranormal novels, the narrator’s experiences with such things didn’t quite ring true for me, but I don’t wanna be one of those readers — like the military history buff who complains that the buttons on the uniforms of the soldiers in a novel were made of the wrong material or whatever — so I’ll leave it at that.

K.J. Parker’s Scavenger trilogy was good. Brutal, of course, and rough going at times, but I liked it, and it prefigured a lot of things Parker did better later (in the Engineer trilogy in particular). Parker is famed as a writer of “fantasies without magic,” but the early books (Fencer trilogy, Scavenger trilogy) actually do have a fair bit of magical (or magic-ish) elements, from reality-altering dream-states to telepathy, with hints of vaster supernatural machinations as well. Those elements are always treated very grittily and realistically, though, and magic is never really a solution to anything — magic either makes things worse, or operates more like a natural disaster than like a system people can manipulate.

I also liked Expiration Date by Duane Swierczynski, a mystery with time travel elements and a likable loser protagonist. (I’m fond of those in novels.) The time travel system wasn’t intricately worked-out enough to delight hardcore science fiction readers, I don’t think — it was pretty weird and idiosyncratic — but I enjoyed it.

Now I’m reading Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, and it’s interesting and quirkily written, but I hope some events start to transpire soon. It’s a bit too much musing, philosophy, cute sci-fi and ontology jokes, and sitting in a time machine not doing much in particular for my taste. I’m always more fond of novels in which there are events.

Also reading Bill Bryson’s Home (mostly because I’m going to be writing a book that’s largely about a house sometime next year), and as always his voice is very pleasant and it’s crammed with interesting anecdotes and snippets of history, prompting me to annoy my wife by reading sections aloud.

Let me praise the Berkeley library system, and in particular their LINK system, which is essentially interlibrary loan for a bunch of neighboring library systems — but unlike the Oakland system’s interlibrary loan, LINK is free. It’s enabled me to get all sorts of nice things, and just wander a few blocks to my local branch to pick them up.