The Den of Ubiquity

Thursday, September 11, 2003:

My Work Has Only Begun

I wasn't planning on blogging tonight, but my new Space Empires III registration key has not arrived(yes, I broke down and registered my first piece of shareware ever). My current empire was close to the limit of the technologies available in the unregistered version, so I want to get my registration key before I play further in that one. But in spite of the email saying "Orders are generally fulfilled very quickly, however, please allow up to 24 hours.", it's been close to 48 hours. I don't want to seem importunate, but I don't know how much longer I should be giving the guy(s) at Malfador Machinations to process my order... Surely if there was a problem with my Visa purchase, they would've gotten back to me already.

I have a few other saved(abandoned, really)games of SEIII, but I just can't manage to make myself play any of them. I'm trying to tell myself I shouldn't try to start a new game, even with all of the new alien race and star system names I've added, which won't show up in any of the old games. And somehow nothing else is appealing to me.

So, here I am blogging. Aren't you glad?

Back to Worldcon. Finally, starting with Friday morning.

To try to save a bit of money, we decided to try to bring something for our breakfasts. Something that we didn't have to refrigerate, since our hotel didn't provide us with a fridge. Not to mention something that we could bring on the plane with us. We settled on some "cereal bars". So we broke our fast with those, and then wandered down to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre to see what was going on.

I think I checked for Kaffeeklatsch signup sheets, but they weren't there yet. I hadn't even heard of those, as a Worldcon feature, until B.J. passed us a copy of Mike Resnick's notes on attending one's first Worldcon. Apparently a number of authors are scheduled to have an intimate chat(with or without coffee)with whatever dozen or so people sign up first. Later, reading some Worldcon commentary, I realize that you really have to line up early for some of these ones.

The 10:00 panel we wanted was called "Never Say You Took A Creative Writing Course!", and was on the topic of what to put in, and what to leave out of, cover letters. The panelists were editors and agents, and one of the reasons we went to the panel was because Jim Minz of Tor Books, who had been Nicole's editor for Running On Instinct, was there. The consensus was that magazine editors don't care about cover letters, book publishers might want to get an idea about previous publications and what kind of book you've written, and agents want to know enough to let them decide whether you have a good writing career ahead of you, but never over a page.

Nicole did introduce herself to Jim Minz at the end, and he gave us an invitation to the Tor party that night. This was, we had been told, the reason to go to conventions--to go to the parties and meet authors, agents, and editors. So this was a first step.

After that(as far as I can tell from the pocket schedule, anyway)we went to the first of two George R.R. Martin readings from A Feast For Crows, the fourth book "A Song of Ice And Fire". According to Locus's most recent "forthcoming books" list, it was supposed to be published in September, but given that according to Mr. Martin himself it wasn't even finished yet, that didn't seem likely. I was looking forward to trying to get a signed copy, but oh well. He gave us a choice of four chapters, and we picked the Jon Snow one. It was pretty good.

At noon Nicole had to go up to the signing area, which we eventually found at the back of the dealer's room on the second floor. I grabbed each of us a sandwich from the little cafeteria, brought Nicole's hers and sat down to eat mine. Then I went to get autographs from Nicole's fellow scheduled authors, Suzy McKee Charnas and Eric Raymond. Being forewarned, I had brought Charnas's The Vampire Tapestry(which I hadn't read, but it contained "Unicorn Tapestry", which I had read in an anthology), and Raymond's The New Hacker's Dictionary. ESR was busy typing away on his laptop(Blogging? Hacking? Writing? I wonder), so a minimum of personal contact was made.

I browsed around in the dealer's room, but didn't find anything I couldn't resist buying. I'm very able to resist hardcovers and trade paperbacks, even signed ones, and few of the paperbacks were that tempting. Forget about memorabilia and action figures. I wandered over to the art show(where they made me check my camera at the front desk), didn't see Jim Beveridge's stuff there yet, or much at all, really. I'm not that much into art. So I was back picking up my camera about five minutes later.

After that we split up. I had been very curious about the Alien Languages Workshop, which was supposed to have limited attendance, though I hadn't seen a signup sheet. I went there anyway, and discovered that it wasn't quite that organized. That is, there may have been supposed to be a signup sheet, but there wasn't. There also was supposed to be a flip chart or something, but there wasn't. The panelists were Stanley Schmidt, editor of Analog(and apparently an amateur(?) linguist), and Laurence Schoen, father of the Klingon language. The panel itself was mostly just a primer into linguistics, so I could practically have skipped it, because I was mostly up to speed on that. We eventually got a flip-chart substitute, in the form of a large pad of paper you can tear off and stick to the wall...

Then the panel was split into two groups, called "Purple" and "Green" on the program, but which Stanley and Laurence called "Porcupines" and "Squids". I started out as a Squid(Stanley's group), but then a Porcupine came over and said their room was almost deserted, so I moved over there. In the end we both had more than enough people, though.

Then we tried to come up with a "Porcupiny" language, which occasioned much debate. Laurence was adamant that we stick to something we would be able to pronounce, no fancy Klingon-style uvular consonants, no tones, etc. We decided porcupines would talk very circularly, anxious not to offend each other, and wouldn't use sibilants because they would be lost under the sound of rattling quills. We ended up with six consonants(plus two glides)and three vowels, for a very agglutinative language with lots of prefixes. We also had a standard word list which we were supposed to populate, though it seemed a bit artificial to me. We ended up(even with two hours)running a bit short on time, so we just each got assigned two words to create. We dubbed our race the "Kaglapglap", which meant "Those who stay[in one place]". On Saturday there was supposed to be a "First Contact" panel, but we weren't sure what that would involve.

From there(after three hours of alien language immersion), I headed to "Design Issues of Star Systems". That was kind of interesting, with panelists from Larry Niven(who of course was known to make up his own star systems, most famously Ringworld, of course)to people who actually worked on the projects dedicated to discovering extrasolar planets. Apparently they are planning to launch some kind of interferometry device(in a decade or so)to make it easier to detect planet-sized objects, like Earth-sized objects, in other systems. They are aware that up to now there is an observation bias towards large planets, mostly trans-Jovian ones, but they hope to overcome that. They discussed some limitations on planets in multiple star systems, which I found interesting. But, in a nutshell, they don't have any other complete solar systems to compare to our own, so we still can't tell how typical or outlandish ours is.

After that, Nicole and I met up again, and we decided to go out to supper, even though it was only 5:00. None of the programming looked really compelling for the rest of the evening. We walked over to East Side Mario's, which was quite close by(and familiar, because they opened one in Edmonton). (Hey, at least we didn't go to the Planet Hollywood at the base of the CN Tower...) At about 5:45, I suddenly noticed that the signing session for Open Space had been supposed to start at 5:00...oh, well, too late.

We went back to our hotel room and kicked back for a couple of hours--I was trying hard to finish the last book of Tad William's "Otherland" series at the time--and then headed out again close to 9:00, for the Royal York, to check out the parties.

We remembered something about the Tor party starting at 10:00(though I think we were mistaken), so we looked around for something else. I was interested in checking out the Kansas City 2006 Worldcon bid, mostly because I thought I might meet someone there who knew Marie Loughin, an old net.friend. (And I think I saw Glenn Sixbury's name on the programming list, another Kansas writer I remember Marie talking about...) But I chickened out, and instead we wandered into a "Song of Ice And Fire" party. I bought a T-shirt, "Winterfell: Westeros 2005", which I'm still not quite sure what it meant. I guess Winterfell was bidding to host the Westeros SF convention in 2005... It was a bit noisy(though later I would think back on it as blessedly quiet), but we found some chairs, and sat down and chatted with a guy who introduced himself as Ernst, and pressed free copies of "George R.R. Martin's The Hedge Knight" comic adaptation on us. He talked about some of the other comic projects he had lined up, which sounded pretty cool, and we talked about other SF/fantasy series for a while. It turns out that Ernst is Ernst Dable, Editor-In-Chief of Roaring Studios, who are producing the series for Image Comics. Definitely have to check those out next time I'm in Warp 1 Comics.

(I just got around to checking out, which seems to be sort of like "Dragonmount" for ASOIAF.)

At close to 10:00, we thought we'd head up to the Tor party, which was up on the 8th floor of the hotel...out of the "party floor" area, so we thought it might be a little more private/intimate. Ha.

The hallway outside the room was already pretty populated, and we could hear the colourful roar of many conversations going at full blast. Inside the suite itself, it was packed. It was possible to navigate, carefully, from place to place, and we did manage to go over to the food table in just a couple of minutes. But it was just too much. We should've tried to mingle, or maybe even schmooze, but we didn't see anyone there we knew that we could talk to, and neither of us was very good at introducing ourselves to strangers. If Jim Minz was anywhere around, we didn't see him. So we made a strategic withdrawal. So much for the big "publisher's party" opportunity. Maybe for extroverts, but not for us. "Pop" go all the bubbles of talking to authors whose books I like(not like those bubbles contained much in the way of rational conversation on my part anyway).

We made our way down to B.J. & Ann's room instead. The night before, they'd said that Mike Resnick was going to be reading some of his stories there at about 11:00. It was probably closer to 10:30, but there was several people there anyway, so we hung out there. I can't remember who all was there, but some subset of our writer's group complement, at least, so we had people to talk to in a low-pressure kind of way. There were also a couple of women in belly-dancing costumes, whom I had seen around the Con(e.g. in the dealer's room earlier).

Mike arrived in due time, and had three stories to read, two humorous and one serious. One was a Lucifer Jones story, one in another series I forget, with a P.I. in a magic-based world, and the serious one was an African alternate history. They were all pretty good; all recently sold, I believe, too.

And in between the stories there was belly-dancing. They had music, and they obviously had done some practicing. At that point in the evening, it felt highly surreal.

After that, we went back to our hotel(taking the much shorter John Street route, rather than the long, dark and scary Spadina Avenue one)and crashed.

Crawling a little further up the charts:

294. This Mortal Coil: Strength of Strings, from Filigree & Shadow

I have since learned that this song was a cover of a Gene Clark(ex-Byrd)song, but I still like this one better than the original. I've lost my liner notes for this album, so let me do a quick net search to see if I can find out who's singing... Okay, according to this page, it's Dominic Appleton, whoever he is. ...Apparently he's from a band called Breathless, who sounds kind of interesting, have to check them out. Anyway, the song has a wonderful sense of menace, especially from that eerie sound sample at the beginning.

293. Rush: Afterimage, from Grace Under Pressure

A wonderful song about trying to deal with the death of a good friend, and being confronted with memories at every turn. This album is among Rush's best at combining guitars and synthesizers, as evidenced on this song.

When all you've got is lawyers, make lawyerade. --d.

Aaron // 11:33 PM Clix me!

Tuesday, September 09, 2003:

No More Excuses; Decisions Are Final

My morning started off with a bang today.

Well, actually, it started off restful enough. It was Nicole's morning for the children, but I got up at 7:00 as is my wont anyway, to spent a quiet hour at my computer. Mostly making up lists of ship-model-names for
Space Empires III. (For which I've just broken my decade-long ban on shareware game registration.)

For breakfast I had my semi-usual bowl of Quaker-brand Life cereal. I've been eating that for many years now, as a happy medium between the "healthy" cereals and the "sweet" cereals. Every once in a while I get sick of it, but as long as I switch off with something else, I'm usually okay.

Usually, though, I don't see something black floating in my cereal bowl after I've had a few spoonfuls. Even less frequently so I notice that the black thing has little legs, which are moving to keep it from drowning.


I cannot stand bugs. I cannot deal with bugs. A bug that(it occurred to me later)I came close to putting into my mouth... No. I had a major case of the willies in the hallway while Nicole more-or-less calmly disposed of it, and the former contents of my cereal bowl.

I got out a clean bowl, and a clean spoon, and poured myself another bowl. A few unenthusiastic bites into that one, it occurred to me that a)the bug may not have been alone in the cereal box, b)the bug may have laid eggs or something in the box, and/or c)the bug may have polluted the contents of the box with its feces. Another bowl of cereal went in the garbage/down the drain. And the rest of the box, which luckily wasn't too much. (How much of that had I eaten unawares before now?)

I had some nice toaster waffles instead. Which put me a bit behind, but I didn't want to skip breakfast entirely.

Ew. Bugs. <shudder>

I was planning to continue my Worldcon memoirs sometime soon, but it's been low on my time allocation list. I will, however, fill in a couple of things I forgot to mention in my Thursday coverage.

First of all, when we were talking to Jim Beveridge, he told us about growing up in southern Ontario, and spending his summers working at the amusement park on Bob-Lo Island. This was the same Bob-Lo island that I wrote about last summer, which we tried to visit while down there for my brother's wedding. We had to inform him that these days, rather than hosting an amusement park, it is now an upscale gated island community. But it was interesting to run across it again...

Secondly, I forgot what it was we had been doing between registration and going up to B.J. & Ann's hotel room. A look at the "pocket schedule" would have enlightened me, but I didn't think we'd gone to anything... We had, though, gone to the Spider & Jeanne Robinson musical performance in the ballroom of the Royal York.

I'd seen Spider before, briefly, at ConText '91 in Edmonton. He'd been scheduled for a musical performance then, in one of the con rooms, but decided at some point to sing in the bar, instead. This proved to be a mistake, because the bar was full of people who were not expecting Con programming, and were drinking and smoking and talking instead. And Spider was insufficiently amplified, if at all. So after trying for a few songs to hear him over the roar, we gave up.

This was somewhat better, at least soundwise. Spider is a passable musician, sings pretty well, plays the guitar not too badly. His songwriting skills are also passable. I'm trying not to damn too much with faint praise, but let's face it, Spider is a better SF writer than he is a musician. He's a good SF writer, he's a fair musician. That's all there is to it. His musical tastes also do not intersect with my own that strongly, being more into folk and blues.

But it was an enjoyable session, and the patter was witty--Spider is, admittedly, a pretty good comedian. The seating was a little haphazard--people moved their chairs out onto the dance floor from the tables along the sides. So if you wanted to sit down, then generally you had to get your own chair, then find somewhere to put it in the rough semicircle around the platform Spider was performing from.

I don't think we stayed for the whole performance, either, because Nicole was getting restless by that point...and I was, as I said, less than entranced.

Friday later, I promise.

Racing up the charts:

296. Tragically Hip: New Orleans Is Sinking, from Up To Here

I've always found the Tragically Hip a bit uneven. They are(or were)huge here in Canada, if apparently more of a cult phenomenon elsewhere. This was one of the few songs of theirs that I actually liked right off the bat. The lyrics are, like most of their songs, a little impenetrable, but dark and blurred enough to go with the music of the song.

295. Go Four 3: Death of Love, from Go Four 3

Another song from my favourite obscure independent band of the 80's, this one from their six-song debut EP. It has a brooding feel to it as well, and would probably go nicely with "New Orleans Is Sinking".

We promptly judged antique ivory buckles for the next prize.

Aaron // 11:38 PM Clix me!

Sunday, September 07, 2003:

Tie Another One To The Mast

Before I lose my momentum utterly, let me try to capture my Worldcon experiences. In writing, as I generally failed to do on film. I think we took a whole two pictures of the thing.

Starting with day 1, which would be Thursday the 28th. (I haven't turned my calendar page yet, because that way it's easier to look up the dates for this. Yeah, that's it.)

We got up, and got the kids up, early, and took them down to Nicole's parents' house in Beaumont. I'd taken Wednesday afternoon off(it would've been the whole day, but we were working on a big data conversation at work, and I thought the extra half-day would be appreciated), so most of our packing had been done then. Then Nicole's dad drove us to the airport, so that we could leave our car in the garage and not pay for parking. Beaumont is halfway to the Edmonton airport anyway, so we didn't lose much time there. And the boys didn't seem heartbroken at our departure.

There was a big lineup at the Westjet counters, extending around the corner, but it moved pretty fast, because they had about twenty wickets open, and generally each group of passengers took up more room than a single person. We ended up behind the wing, and on the aisle, but together, at least. We went through security, which seemed a little bit more thorough than it had been for our last plane trip, last summer, but not tremendously annoying. Of course, we weren't crossing the border or anything. Then we sat down in our departure lounge.

Soon we saw Ann from our writer's group, who came and sat with us for a bit. She was sitting further back, unfortunately, and told us there was some trouble with her Worldcon membership. She was on the programming schedule, but they couldn't find her actual Con membership...

On the plane, our window-seat companion was a guy in a cowboy hat, which didn't fill me with much confidence. He also kept talking to us--mostly to Nicole, who was sitting next to him. But later, seeing that I was reading Tad Williams and Nicole had a clipboard(where she kept the notes for the panel she was going to be on), he asked if we were going to Torcon too. It turned out that he was Jim Beveridge, an artist who has done a number of illustrations for OnSpec magazine, doubtless among others. Not being good with art in general, I don't know which were his, but I definitely recognized his name. So we chatted intermittently and amiably.

He had a digital camera, which he used to take a number of pictures of cloudscapes, since it was pretty cloudy throughout the trip. I can't help wondering if any of those will turn up in his art anytime soon. The flight attendants discouraged him from taking them during takeoff and landing, because while a digital camera is not a cell phone, it might still fall into the category of "suspect electronic device that may interfere with cockpit instruments somehow". Maybe they'll clear that up in future.

The plane trip passed quite peacefully, probably due to the lack of children accompanying us. Even debarking was, by comparison, a delight. Only one piece of checked luggage, and one real carry-on. We also had a lunchbag containing, well, our lunch, since Westjet does not serve more than a few in-flight snacks, but my backpack, stuffed with books for reading(always more than I will ever get to)and signing(I really restrained myself here, mostly to those who would actually be in the signing area at the same time as Nicole).

At the terminal, we decided to opt for the shuttle bus to the downtown hotels, rather than springing for a cab. I can't remember whose idea that was, whether Jim's or Ann's(who we rendezvoused with at the baggage carousel). We bought tickets for it, and then waited a little while until it came. It had the most annoying beeping going on while the baggage compartments were open, I recall(being more like a Greyhound bus than a transit bus), which really wore on us after a while. Jim sat ahead of us, and Ann across the aisle.

We started at Terminal 3 of Pearson Airport, and the shuttle bus apparently went from there to Terminal 2, where more passengers got on and more baggage was loaded to more infernal beeping. Then we got out into a desolate land of highways and interchanges, which reminded me of, well, the airport scene near the end of "Speed". Although we did not have speed. We crept along a construction-riddled road until, finally, we reached Terminal 1. Somehow we thought we'd skipped it and were already heading to downtown, but no such luck. It was, by this point, half an hour at least since our arrival at Pearson.

Finally we headed towards Toronto, where the Holiday Inn was by no means the first stop. It was probably an hour after our plane touched down before we were in our hotel room.

Con scheduling for Thursday had seemed pretty light, so we'd decided to meet up with my brother Steve and his wife Kelly for supper. Steve having been laid off a few months earlier, his original plans to obtain a Con membership too were doubtful. Just as we were about to phone him, though, having found no messages at checkin, he phoned us. Kelly had a doctor's appointment at a hospital near downtown, and Steve was still waiting for her. He'd call us when she was done, and then we could get together for supper.

This didn't really leave us enough time to go down to the Royal York hotel, where the Thursday Con activities were set, to pick up our membership packages or anything. So we waited in our hotel room, until Steve called to say they were in the lobby. They came up to our room, and then we realized that was silly and we went down to the lobby.

It was close to 7:00 by this time, which was only 5:00 Alberta time so we weren't that hungry, but we wanted to get adjusted to Toronto time. Steve had apparently managed to talk to someone at NOW Magazine, a Toronto arts weekly or something, and get a press membership in the Con. Sweeeet. He wanted to catch the opening ceremonies at 8:00. Kelly said she knew a place called "The Marché" or something like that, which had fast service.

It was a few blocks walk away, and then when we got there we kept walking past windows of the restaurant, and doors which told us to keep going. Finally we had to go into a weird shopping centre, which seemed to have been constructed over two existing buildings, and into the restaurant that way. The way the restaurant was set up was that you got your tray and wandered between the various food kiosks within it, and picked out what you wanted. Which, it seems to me, might have been fast service at each individual kiosk, but as newbies we wasted a lot of time wandering around, trying to find something we wanted to eat, that didn't have too long a lineup(as it seemed to be a trendy place), it didn't end up being that fast. We just ended up doing most of the service ourself, like we could be our own waiters or something.

I found my food first and finished it first. Steve took a long time to get back--probably had a long line. So by the time we were done(and we chose the slow lineup at the cashier, too), it was much past 8:00. We bid our farewells to Kelly, who was not partaking in the Con, and made our way to the Royal York, by which time the ceremony was pretty much over. We stood in what seemed like a long line, stretching all the way down the hallway, for our memberships, but soon I realized that there were actually two lines, which met in the middle at the membership office.

Steve had already picked up his press pass at a different hotel, which he tried to steer us to, but I was confident of the Royal York, and was proven right. (Ha!) So Steve mingled and started gathering material. After we had our materials, we sat down on one of the many comfortable seats available on the Royal York mezzanine and reviewed it. Nicole saw a promising-looking panel on "R&D In Magic" which there was still ten minutes or so left in. Then we saw Ann and Barb(well, one of the Barbs from our writer's group; hereafter, I will call her B.J. to minimize confusion)at the elevators, got their room number, and promised to stop by later.

Nicole did stop in for the last bit of that panel, and apart from that I can't remember much until we went up to B.J.'s room. Ann had said that Barb(the other Barb, Ann's niece, I think)had thought she was booking a suite, but instead they just had a room with two double beds, for four of them(Barb's girlfriend Elizabeth was there too). B.J. and Ann were good friends of Mike Resnick, from CompuServe originally and also from many previous Cons. Mike Resnick(a.k.a. Bwana)has a whole email list of his friends, and many of them were at the Con as well.

When we went up to the room, B.J., Ann, Barb and Elizabeth were there, as well as Josepha Sherman, a writer friend of Ann and B.J.'s, Mike, and a couple of other people I don't remember being introduced to(or have forgotten being introduced to, one or the other). I haven't read any Josepha Sherman books--maybe a short story or two, I don't know--so I wasn't intimidated at talking to her. One of my first experiences with a real live New York Jewish accent(I don't know how else to characterize it--Brooklyn?). We hung out for a little bit, I showed off my copy of the Open Space anthology, and then we wandered back to our hotel.

We had gone to Mapquest and mapped out a few sites before we left home, but somehow the Royal York was not one of them. We passed the Convention Centre on our way, so we knew more or less where we were, but we couldn't remember where we needed to turn.

Oddly enough, even with my penchant for naming things, I like numbered streets. We had them in Grande Prairie and we have them in Edmonton. There's never any ambiguity. Addresses identify which street and avenue they are on, and even which side of the street if you can remember which is odd and which even. Streets go north-south, and avenues go east-west. It all works. Places like Toronto, and Vancouver, with their plethora of named streets and avenues, with no convention as to which go which way, are as impenetrable to me as suburbia. That is, they need time to learn.

We knew that our hotel was on King Street, but King Street and Front Street didn't intersect. We crossed a number of streets, and finally hit Spadina Avenue, which I remembered specifically from our map. It was pretty dark, and we were, well, a bit nervous at the last block we'd been walking through. It was also hard to spot the street names sometimes. Also, crossing Spadina, it seemed like Front Street would curve southward or something. So we turned up Spadina, hoping that at least we'd spot King Street. And we did, after a couple of blocks. We even saw our hotel...which we had overshot by a block or two. So at least we wouldn't have to pass through the darkened area of Front & Spadina.

By the time we got back to our room our feet were tired. Little did they know it was only the beginning.

Surging upward toward the top spot on the countdown:

298. Dave Stewart & The Spiritual Cowboys: R.U. Satisfied, from Dave Stewart & The Spiritual Cowboys

The best song to come out of Dave Stewart's uneven "Spiritual Cowboys" album. It has a bit of a sense of menace to it, from the bassline ostinato during the verses, and Dave Stewart's lyrics and singing aren't embarrassing, though I wouldn't say they were profound.

297. REM: Drive, from Automatic For The People

I always think of the video for this song, with its extended stage-dives and flashing spotlights. The song itself is fairly abstract, but the guitar and bass carry it along quite well, with Michael Stipe's vocals furthering the mood. Exquisite.

And a great whirling and a bashing of keys arose

Aaron // 10:06 PM Clix me!

Saturday, September 06, 2003:

I Dim The Lights And Think About You

Hey, long time no blog. Of course.

I admit that skipping an entire month was extreme even for me, so let me just say that I decided to celebrate, in an odd fashion, the second anniversary of my blog(on August 31st)by not posting at all in the month of August. I came to this decision on about...oh, August 26th. I mean, I was going to head to Worldcon in a couple of days, so I thought, why bother?

I'm curious to see whether I will have an empty "August 2003" entry in my archive list or not, too, but that's just lagniappe.

I really do want to do some posts on Worldcon(which was last weekend--we were in Toronto from Thursday through to Monday), while it's still fresh in my mind, but first I want to get caught up on what I've been reading for the past month-plus...

When last I wrote, I was reading Alien Embassy by Ian Watson. It was interesting, if a bit bizarre, and it takes some time before we find out what is really going on. It hasn't aged well, I'd have to say.

The Ted Chiang story collection, Stories of Your Life And Others, was wonderful. Every story in the book was as good as "Understand", the one that first turned me on to the guy. I highly recommend it to everybody who can read English(and anyone else who can read it in translation, if the translation's any good).

After that I went on to Steven Brust's The Paths of The Dead. This is the third book in his "Phoenix Guards" series, and also the first book in the "Viscount of Adrilankha" series. "VoA" is a subseries within "PG", the same way that its model, "The Viscount of Bragelonne", was a subseries within Alexandre Dumas's "Musketeers" books. The last part of "Bragelonne" is famous as "The Man In The Iron Mask"; I often wonder why nobody ever talks about the rest of it. Not even Twenty Years After, the direct sequel to The Three Musketeers. Must be something about that iron mask.

Whether Brust will hold to a strict allegory, I don't know. This book does a lot of important stuff that is hearkened back to in the Vlad Taltos books, like restoring the Phoenix Heir, establishing some crucial history of Morrolan(the titular Viscount, if I recall correctly), and tons of other stuff. It is an all-around fun read, though of course it makes more sense if you have at least read the previous two "Phoenix Guards" books, and ideally you'd have read all the Vlad Taltos books as well, but since they come afterwards they're not necessary. The "Paths of The Dead" sequence itself is pretty cool, though it comes quite late in the book.

Then I had the urge to read Look To Windward by Iain M. Banks. I haven't read much Banks--The Wasp Factory, one of his mainstream books that was delightfully twisted, and one of his SF books set in the "Culture" universe, Consider Phlebas. Phlebas was perhaps uneven, but it had some amazing scenes, and a climactic conflict sequence that I still think back on with delight. I was given to understand that not only was Look To Windward also a "Culture" book, but that it was directly related, in some way, to Phlebas, because both titles come from the same stanza of T.S. Eliot.

If so, I was unable to discern it. Phlebas takes place almost entirely outside the Culture, a fairly hedonistic civilization living off the high technology of its day. Windward is mostly inside it, though the main plot comes from conflict between the Culture and one of the civilizations it meddled in. It is very slow-moving, and has nowhere near as good scenes as Phlebas. Well, maybe the human in chimp-form diving through a gigantic air bubble for his fallen stylus was pretty cool... Maybe I need to read some of the intervening Culture books--The Use of Weapons, The Player of Games, etc. But I was a bit disappointed in this one.

By then I decided it was time to move forward in Tad Williams's "Otherland" series. The first book, City of Golden Shadow, I read a few years ago, and it was okay, but a bit confusing and slow. The second book, River of Blue Fire, was still pretty slow, introducing a number of characters whose relevance seemed questionable, but by the end things were moving a bit faster. So I decided to read the third book, Mountain of Black Glass. That one had such an exciting whiz-bang ending that I decided to go straight on to the final volume, Sea of Silver Light, which I finished in Toronto.

"Otherland" is SF, but almost all of it takes place in a massive virtual-reality setting whose underpinnings are not truly explained until the very end. We follow a group of characters from a number of sources, who of course get to do heroic things by the end. Most of the characters introduced in the second book do have crucial importance to the climax, and by the end I don't begrudge the time spent on them. Sometimes I think that the characters spent too much time complaining about not being able to figure out what was going on, pointing out the glaring inconsistencies in the theories they tried to come up with to explain what was happening to them. By the end, the explanation was pretty outlandish, and basically so far from what we could have figured out from reading it that the few truly knowledgeable characters have to spent a large chunk of time explaining it. I imagine that Mr. Williams knew what was behind everything from the start, though most of it seems to have been rigged so that things would work the way he wanted them to. It was fitfully entertaining, but in the end it seemed mind-numbingly improbable.

By then I had a copy of
Open Space, the anthology my story "The New Paranoia Album" was published in. I had heard some of the authors read from their stories at Worldcon, and I actually started reading the book at one of our mass signings. I finished it on the plane trip home. It was pretty good, though I'd have to say that I don't know if I would have picked all the stories that Claude Lalumière, the editor, did. (It'd be fun to edit my own anthology, or magazine, someday, if someone else would do the hard work of actually publishing it.)

When I got home, I pulled out the book Invoking Darkness, third in the "Passing of the Techno-Mages" series. Babylon 5 is the only tie-in fiction I read these days. Jeanne Cavelos's series is nowhere near as good as Peter David's "Centauri" series, or J. Gregory Keyes's "Psi Corps" series, but not too bad. A large chunk of this book, though, comes off as a bit forced when it intersects actual Babylon 5 episodes, and has to match the script while having many more things go on in the background. I can't even remember which bits actually were in real episodes. I also wonder if J. Michael Straczynski had all this stuff figured out when he was writing Season 3 of B5, when much of it might have only come to light during "Crusade". Galen the techno-mage from that series is the main character of these books, you see, and the main climax of this book takes place on Z'ha'dum at the end of Season 3 when Sheridan goes there to face the Shadow. But it's nice to be able to tie off yet another series.

I've spent years trying to relax my reading habits, and I think I've finally succeeded. I used to read books in strict chronological order, then I shifted some up into a "priority" queue, and then I created a number of slots which I read in rotation. Most recently, I've had a system of slots, where one or more books from each slot were on my shelf at any given time, plus some others I felt like reading, and I alternated between reading whatever I wanted in one month and reading the slots I was furthest behind on in the next month.

But with all the Hugo and Aurora reading I've been doing in the last few months, it's all fallen by the wayside, and I find myself in the position of reading more or less what I feel like. Case in point--after the Techno-Mage book, I picked up Lois McMaster Bujold's Komarr. Since Mirror Dance, I've gotten increasingly hooked on Bujold, and the last time I read her, I read Cetaganda and Memory right in a row. Nicole, who's even more into Bujold than I am, has told me more or less what happens in each book.

There's a SF plot in each book, but it's increasingly becoming a backseat to the interpersonal relationships. Komarr, for instance, had a plot involving high-tech sabotage and terrorist plots, but what we were really interested in was Ekaterina Vorsoisson, a newly introduced character who shared POV with Miles Vorkosigan(our hero). Miles has had trouble with his love life for several books now, and I imagine even if I hadn't gotten some spoilers from Nicole, I would've realized quickly that she and Miles had some kind of shared destiny. It was also clear that this would not be resolved in Komarr.

So after I finished that, I went right into the next book, A Civil Campaign. I don't even know if this one has a big SF plot, though there are some signs. The major plot, the campaign of the title, seems to be Miles's campaign to win the hand of Ekaterina, despite her horrible first marriage and recent widowing. But it is enriched by multiple viewpoints--not only Miles and Ekaterina, but also Miles's clone-brother Mark, who is a much edgier character; Mark's girlfriend Kareen Koudelka; Miles's feckless cousin Ivan Vorpatril; and possibly others still to come. There are so many plot elements active right now, it's hard to tell--one of them could push to the forefront. "Intrigue" is the term, I guess. But I know there is a certain amount of happily-ever-after due.

I also just finished going through The Great Hunt, second volume in Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" series, for my concordance. I might hold off on going straight into The Dragon Reborn. It is fun to reread them, but I'm also chafing at the slow pace. Most of the good stuff starts in Book Four, The Shadow Rising, and let's face it, we're up to ten books now. Of course, I may be finished it before Book Eleven comes out. There are those prequels due next year, though...just to complicate matters.

Back to the ever-faithful countdown entry, waiting patiently for its eventual conclusion:

300. Pete Townshend: Behind Blue Eyes, from Scoop

I like this version much better than the Who version, but then in general I seem to like Pete Townshend better than The Who. Maybe Daltrey's vocals are better suited to the character in the song, who seems to be stuck somewhere between autism and sociopathy, but somehow I like the sparer guitar sound on the Townshend version.

299. Side By Side By Sondheim: Losing My Mind, from Side By Side By Sondheim

This song is from a revue of songs from Stephen Sondheim musicals. At the close of the show, each of the three singers does one solo number, and this is one of those. I don't know the dramatic context, but it seems fairly self-contained, with a housewife wrestling with a passion that doesn't mesh with her domestic life. As a result, it is carried almost entirely by the force of the singer's vocals(I can't remember her name right now, unfortunately--Julie something?), and is nearly transcendent in the way such a song can be.

Can you help me at the center of the three bodies.

Aaron // 10:43 PM Clix me!

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