Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Battle for Terra review

So, here it is, the first ever SF movie review on SFOO. Battle for Terra comes to theaters May 1st.

According to the filmmaker and director, Aristomenis Tsirbas, Battle for Terra is a cautionary tale. Humans have destroyed Earth with a civil war between Earth and two planets we colonized. Their single space-faring ship brings the only survivors to the planet Terra. With their resources almost gone, the desperate Earthlings (I would say Terrans only you'd get confused since they named the alien world Terra and its inhabitants Terrians.) seek to "terraform" (ugh! They really do use that word!) a world that meets their needs even though it's inhabited by an intelligent society.

It's a unique spin on alien invasion with humans being the aliens. The story line and dialog are simple and straightforward, geared to a young audience. Battle for Terra is billed as a "CG-animated science fiction action adventure". The violence and gravity of the theme make me want to say, "Think Pixar war movie".

The characters gained my empathy while drawing me into the drama. I enjoyed the alien landscapes, architecture, animals and "people". The CGI didn't fail to deliver in any respect. I was fascinated by the aliens' form of locomotion. The Terrians live in a helium rich atmosphere in which they float and "swim".

In the Q & A that followed the screening Tsirbas admitted that creating swimming beings with tails is cheaper than animating biped gaits. There's fewer moving parts. I also learned that the small mouths and big eyes characteristic in Japanese animé, which he uses in the film are another economical choice, though he didn't explain why.

The main Terrian character, Mala (Evan Rachel Wood) rescues a fallen soldier from Earth and enlists his help to find her father who was abducted in the first wave of the alien invasion. The soldier (Luke Wilson), in turn, overcomes his prejudices and faces hard choices as his commander orders genocide.

The musical score enhanced the experience without distracting, perfectly complimenting the action. And no animated SF film is complete without a sassy robot for comedy relief. Giddy's character is delivered by actor-comedian David Cross.

Would I see it again? Sure. It's a good flick. Check it out. And see if you can figure out which character Mark Hamill plays.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Glorious rejection and other literary triumphs

Today I received a rejection from Sheila Williams, the editor at Asimov's. It was glorious! Why? Because she said, and I quote, "This story is powerful and well done..." Of course, she went on to say how it didn't work for her, but getting a personal note from the editor at Asimov, rather than the usual form post card was a victory. I'm sending it to another pro market tomorrow. :) I think it was just a bit too fantasy versus science fiction.

And I'm going to drag my half finished novella out, finish it and send it to her ASAP.

Meantime, I trolled the internet to see if any more Awesome Lavratt reviews would pop up and found the following:

A local independent paper, The Bohemian reviewed it. The reviewer, unfortunately doesn't "get" sci-fi, but she was sure those who do would enjoy it. ;)

And thanks to participating in a discussion over on LinkedIn, I was quoted for an article at WOW (Women on Writing). The Fatal 5 Finance Mistakes Writers Make by Allena Tapia.

I received another email, also today, from Megan at Oxford University Press, who thought my readers might enjoy this article by Michael Quinion, author of Gallimaufry: A Hodgepodge of our vanishing vocabulary, in which he discusses the difficulty of writing first contact stories. How do you talk to an alien?

I'm definitely going to browse around on his site, World Wide Words. If your fascinated by language as it relates to science fiction, let me once again plug Juliette Wade's blog, TalkToYoUniverse.

All in all, a very good day, literarily speaking. I think I'm going to have to officially coin that word. You with me?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

New look

Dig my new look? Big thanks to 123RF and photographer, Paul Moore for the cool graphic. I wish I had more template choices, more control over layout within the modules. Oh, well.

This Saturday, I'm heading down to San Francisco for a promotional screening of Battle for Terra (review to follow next week) followed by a California Writers Club meeting at Book Passage in Corte Madera, CA. Busy, busy, busy. :)

Look for another interview soon with one of my fellow authors at Broad Universe, Danielle Ackley-McPhail.

Found and interesting site that I'm going to explore. Come explore it with me. She has lots of marketing ideas and free materials. Fabian Space

Friday, April 17, 2009

Interview with Robert J. Sawyer

Robert J. Sawyer, science fiction author of 19 books, is on tour with the first book of his new trilogy, WWW:Wake. Imagine the internet waking up! Becoming aware of itself. No, this isn't fantasy, this is hard science fiction delivered by a master. My review of Wake will be available over at Mostly Fiction soon.

For now, enjoy the interview below.

Rob's signing at Borderlands in San Francisco on April 13th.

April 11, 2009

AW: I read that you knew what you needed to do to make it as a SF novelist as your 30th birthday approached. Can you describe that process and how you knew you could make it as a novelist?

RJS: That was twenty years ago, when I was 28. I’d been talking since I was 15 about being a science-fiction writer, and, indeed, had sold a few stories, starting when I was 19. But I realized at 28 that the big three-oh was about to roll around without me ever having made the time to write a novel; I was just letting other things—mostly the lucrative freelance nonfiction work I was doing back then—distract me from that.

And so, even though my wife and I were saving to buy a home, I made the difficult decision to turn down guaranteed work to clear time to write a novel that I didn’t know for sure would sell. It was a total gamble—and I wasn’t at all sure it was going to pay off. Of course, in retrospect, it was the right thing to do, but it was a very scary move.

The bottom line, though, was that I realized I’d rather try and fail at it than never have tried at all; I’d never forgive myself if I let another decade slip by without taking my shot.

AW: Do some of your books seem to write themselves? Were any of your books a struggle?

RJS: All of my books have been a struggle—because I’m always challenging myself to do something that I consider difficult; if the book is coming too easily or too quickly, it means I’m not being ambitious enough.

Wake was one of the very hardest; it took four years on and off to do. Most of that was because of my own skepticism about the premise: I had a hard time believing the World Wide Web was going to wake up, and finding a scenario that rang true for me was difficult. Also, getting both the nascent consciousness’s voice and the voice of the blind 15-year-old main human character right was a lot of hard, hard work.

AW: How much time do you spend on rewrites?

RJS: Lots—at least as much time as I spend on the first draft, and sometimes twice as much. I find doing the first draft to be excruciatingly hard work, but I love doing revision. I liken it to being a sculptor who first has to make his or her own clay; that’s no fun at all, but once you’ve got the clay, molding it is a blast. I pride myself on handing in very clean copy, and leaving my editors, and even my copyeditors, very little to complain about.

AW: Who is your favorite SF author? Why?

RJS: Sir Arthur C. Clarke. Like me, he was a skeptic, and a rationalist, but he wasn’t afraid to grapple with metaphysical questions, and no one has ever done a better job of generating that sense of wonder science fiction is famous for than him.

AW: Tell me about your most memorable book tour moment.

RJS: In public school in Toronto, one of my best friends was a boy named Rice—but he moved away to Vancouver, British Columbia, in the 1970s and and I never saw him again. Well, two years ago, I was on tour for my novel Rollback in Calgary, Alberta—thousands of kilometers from Toronto and hundreds from Vancouver. The store I was signing at put a large sign out on the sidewalk in front of the store. Rice happened to be in Calgary on business and he literally walked into the sign, almost knocking it over—and he recognized my name, and came in to the store. It was an absolutely wonderful reunion.

AW: Do you ever write free-hand when nothing else is available when you get inspired? If yes, what’s the strangest thing you’ve used for paper?

RJS: I wish I could, but in 1985 I went through a plate-glass window and severed the tendons in my right hand, which is the one I write with. They stitched them back together, but the hand just doesn’t work as well as it should. I can type for hours on end, but I can’t do more than a few lines in longhand, sadly. So, I’m lucky to live in the computer age: I was an early adopter and have always been one of the first to buy the newest, smallest computers, so I can always have one with me to let me write whenever the mood strikes me.

AW: In WWW:Wake, how did you get the teenage girl so authentic? Did you have help with that or a ready model?

RJS: I spent a lot of time reading blog postings and Facebook postings by teenagers, and talking to teenage girls—including my own wonderful nieces and the daughters of friends. I really worked hard to make the voice authentic, and I had a number of teenagers read the novel in manuscript to check to be sure that I got it right.

AW: In WWW:Wake, you tease the reader with snippets from an awakening, an entity discovering consciousness. Did you do any research on human awareness for this?

RJS: I did years of research on that topic. I’ve been researching human consciousness and perception for over a decade now—and using that material in novels such as Factoring Humanity and Mindscan. To me, the single most interesting area of science right now is consciousness studies, and I love the way it combines computer science, neurobiology, quantum physics, and so many other disciplines.

AW: Your characters are so believable and have such depth. Do you model them after real people?

RJS: I model them after bunches of people: I take a little bit from person A and a little bit from person B, and so on. If you make a character based on a real person, then you have obligations to that real person—and you can’t turn the character into a murderer or a psycho or whatever, even if that’s what the story calls for. But a composite—well, a composite can do anything.

AW: Have you had any interesting or unusual speaking invitations from the scientific community or elsewhere in response to WWW:Wake?

RJS: Yes, indeed! I’m going to Penn—the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia—on May 6, 2009, to speak to the students and faculty at their new Center for Neuroscience and Society about the book, and when I was writing WWW:Wake, I was invited to the Googleplex—the international headquarters of Google—where I gave a talk on the notion of the World Wide Web gaining consciousness.

AW: Do you have any plans of revisiting the world of Hominids?

RJS: I’d love to. I think Caitlin Decter—the girl in WWW:Wake—is my favorite of all the characters I’ve created, but Ponter Boddit, the Neanderthal quantum physicist in Hominids and its sequels, is a close second. I really like to do social commentary with my science fiction, and those books were an ideal setup for that, a look at how our world might have been if it had been in the hands of a more peaceful, more environmentally aware, and more secular kind of humanity.

AW: What’s next?

RJS: I just finished final revisions on WWW:Watch, the sequel to WWW:Wake. Everyone is saying it’s even better than Wake, which is very gratifying. Although I think Wake tells a complete story, Watch takes things even further in the development of Caitlin and the consciousness on the Web—and it tries to answer the question of why evolution gave us consciousness in the first place.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sci-fi goodies galore!

I attended Robert J. Sawyer's book signing in SF last night at Borderlands books. It was great! I'm really glad I went and had the opportunity to meet him in person. Stay tuned. I've interviewed him and will be posting said interview on Friday with a review of www:Wake to follow.

Here's Rob being expansive.

And here's Rob being precise.

Speaking of interviews, Kim Richards interviewed me over on Beyond the Words and reviewed Awesome Lavratt.

I didn't go to Norwescon, but here is a report from my writer friend, Alma Alexander.

My review of Diamond of Darkhold, which is close to the last Fantasy review you're likely to see from me for a while is up at Mostly Fiction.

From now on, I'm a mostly SF girl. Have lots more reviews coming. Anathem by Neal Stephenson, Wake by Robert Sawyer, The Temporal Void by Peter Hamilton and more. I'm making an exception for my buddy Mark Ferrari, however. His The Book of Joby is sitting on my TBR shelf.

Finally, here's something just because I love robots. (and she nods to Cat Rambo) It's a robot experiment that is truly inspiring.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


I received payment today for my first paid non-fiction piece (not counting the salary from the day job, which is all non-fiction). I think I shall photocopy it before I cash it and file it away with my first check for a short story sale.

I'm looking forward to meeting Robert J. Sawyer in person on Monday at his Wake signing at Borderlands books in San Francisco. If you're local, don't miss it. If you're not, you can at least read my interview with him on Friday.

I'm also very excited about a talk I'm giving at a library in San Ramon. I think it will have to make the rounds. :) "Exploring 'what ifs' to unleash riveting stories"

Here's another first: I saw a great book in the SFBC (Science Fiction Book Club) catalog and asked my editor at Mostly Fiction if she could get it for me. And she did! :) That's my kind of shopping. Oh, did you want to know what the book was? The Temporal Void, by Peter F. Hamilton.

Went clothes shopping today. I'm a disgrace to my gender, I guess. I hate shopping. Any kind. The point was to take my daughter shopping for clothes for her birthday. I ended up with more clothes than she did. Why? Because I knew I wasn't likely to shop for clothes again for another year.

I would like to wish all my readers a very happy Easter and all my fellow Orthodox Christians a wonderful Palm Sunday tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Literary frustrations

I left poor Horace (of Awesome Lavratt fame) about to get surprised by Darantz (a seven-foot lizard with a beak and an atitude) weekend before last. Got no writing done on the sequel this last weekend. And I'm up to my eyeballs in taxes, Redwood Writers and various promotional activities. And this weekend is full. I best make time this week. Can't leave Darantz in mid-step.

I don't know if there are super sunspots or cyber gremlins or what, but the internet both at home and at work has been sluggish. I'm wrapping this one up quick because I'm getting frustrated.

I'm still learning new stuff about the "new" Facebook. I added Goodreads to my profile but now all my tabs don't show because there are too many of them. Grrr! Their layout options (the few that exist) are still mystifying me. I'm doing a workshop on FB, so I have to learn it all, pronto.

And here's something from a follower at Oxford University Press: Nine Words You Might Think Came from Science but Which Are Really from Science Fiction

But the really exciting thing for me is that I have readers at Oxford!

Friday, April 3, 2009

A chat with Alma Alexander, fantasy author

Alma Alexander was born in what was then Yugoslavia and lived there to age 10. She spent the rest of her childhood and teenage years in various African countries because her father worked for international aid organizations. Her education was in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

Although her degree was in microbiology, she returned to her passion: writing. Her first fantasy novels, The Hidden Queen and Changer of Days were published in New Zealand, where she moved in 1994. The Secrets of Jin Shei has been published in eleven languages (and counting). She now lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, R. A. "Deck" Deckert. The final book in her Worldweavers trilogy came out in February of this year.

Alma is also a member of Broad Universe (see previous post or link on the right), Mythopoeic Society and SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America -See link on right).

Alma, thank you so much for allowing me this opportunity to share some insights from an imaginative, talented fantasy author with my readers who comprise speculative fiction fans, writers and aspiring writers of all genres.

When did you first know that you wanted to be a fantasy

I've always been a writer. The fantasy angle probably came in from a very early involvement with the mythology of a bunch of different cultures (I had a set of wonderful books when I was a kid - the mythology of the Greeks and the Romans, of the Celts, of the Norse, of the Slavs, of the Arabs, of the Americas - I cut my teeth on Loki and the Coyote, on Zeus and the Dagda, on Scheherezade's stories, on the Wild Hunt) as well as the original and unadulterated fairy tales by Andersen, and the Grimm brothers, various unnamed Russian tale-tellers, Oscar Wilde.

I liked it dark, even then, and the purely saccharine happy ending never quite cut it for me (I kept on asking, yes, but what happened then? It was never enough for me to leave the story in the middle. Nobody lives completely happily ever after. Even as a child I had an instinct for that.) When I started writing, seriously writing, these worlds that had been stored away inside my head all came alive and clamoured for attention. I have written other things, apart from fantasy - but I keep returning to that well because that was always the purest draft for me, the greatest joy. The strange worlds. The worlds where the fae walked, and stones could talk. A part of me has always lived there, will never leave.

Who were your early influences?

Apart from the ones already [mentioned] above, the myths and legends and fairy tales, there were CS Lewis, Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander and Madeleine L'Engle. After, there were (and remain) Mary Stewart (in her Hollow Hills persona), Ursula le Guin, Guy Gavriel Kay, Michael Moorcock, and others too numerous to mention. I have far too many books in my house.

I know you love interacting with teenagers. Do you ever mentor any?

That's only just starting to happen. I have a couple of candidates who might well be taken under wing soon. But yes, I do - somewhat unexpectedly - love the teen scene. There's no gift as precious as a young reader's unbridled enthusiasm; some of the smiles I've taken away from school visits stayed with me for a very, very long time.

Did someone help you either with your writing or with the process of getting published early on?

That's a hard one, because I come off as ungrateful if I say not really, no - I never went to a writing workshop like Clarion or Odyssey, I didn't have a mentor who held my hand and told me everything would be all right. I had a lot of luck along the way, and I did meet people who occasionally offered me a helping hand - but
that was only after I had already met them in a writerish capacity. I went to a writer's workshop at a convention, once, and got wonderful and valuable crits and insights - but that was once. I was part of a writing group of people as novice as myself for a few years, but they were all novices just like myself. I didn't go to classes, I didn't do anything to "learn" writing other than... write.

There were people who inspired me or did or said things that pointed me in certain directions - but I never had a "mentor" in the industry, not as such. Nobody except my immediate family (my parents and my grandparents) and then, later, my husband "nurtured" me as a writer. I won my stripes the hard way, joining the writer army as the rankest private and camping out in the muddy fields with the rest of the tribe, and muddled through as best I knew how.

Yes, there were a few individuals whose presence in the right place at the right time turned out to be a blessing - and my current agent is also my friend, and has sold five books for me, in thirteen languages, within the six years we've been in partnership. But these are business relationships which were built when I was already in the field.

From where do you draw most of your inspiration?

Everywhere. Sometimes I dream things. Sometimes I overhear a fragment of a sentence from a conversation on a plane or a bus and I'm off and running. Sometimes I miss entire panels at conventions because one of the panelists said something that set me off - that was largely how the Worldweavers trilogy came into being, when I wandered almost by accident into a YA writing panel because it had writers I liked on it and emerged from it ignorant of anything they might have said on the panel topic but with an entire story and fully fleshed characters in my head. One of my university professors once stopped talking in mid-sentence, glared at me, and said to the person he had been talking to, "You'd better be careful what you say around her, it'll end up in a novel somewhere, sometime."

I am observant, particularly of things that seem odd or off-kilter or can be interpreted as such. I love people-watching. I can drown my senses in a scene or a place and come up for air with the sort of details that people don't normally notice. I travel, and can write 40,000 words of travelogue when I return from a ten-day trip (no kidding, I've done it) and the travelogue will have the sort of detail that the people who had been traveling with me will suddenly recall with
preternatural clarity only after they have read it in my descriptions. I'm sensitive to the atmosphere in houses and on haunted old battlefields. I can talk to ghosts. I can talk to butterflies.

Did you want to ask me again why I write fantasy....? [grin]

Do you outline, make lists and notes?

I make notes, yes, but they are usually chaotic and completely unintelligible to anyone but me. Not only do I not outline, I can't outline - outlining a story kills it for me, stone dead. I sold at least one novel on the strength of an outline, though - but that was dragged out of me word by bloody word by my agent and my editors who kept on wanting to know what happened next and I kept on telling them
that I didn't know what happened next, I hadn't written that part yet. I am a completely organic writer who puts a story seed into the soil of inspiration and waters it with an initial dose of dream - and then watches with interest as great as any outsider's to see what comes up out of the ground, a sequoia or a cabbage.

People who outline their works scene-by-scene tend to hate me when I tell them this.

Do you know how the story will end when you're still working on chapter 3?

I often don't know how the story will end when I'm working on the final chapter...

Do you always write linearly?

No. It very much depends on the book. Some books came together rather more like a jigsaw puzzle than a linear development. But I have written linearly in the past, and no doubt will again. When the story wants to be approached in that wise.

Which of your books are you most proud of?

When I reach for the The Secrets of Jin Shei these days, years after having written it, the book still sometimes feels to me as though someone else might have produced it, not me - I could not possibly have written anything this layered, this complex. There are moments when you're writing something that you sit back from the
screen or the page and you feel the hair standing up on the back of your neck at something you've just written down, something that you have no clue where it came from, a fragment of sentence or even just an image of such profound and world-altering power that it is hard to believe that it just came out of your own brain - there were at least two such moments in Jin Shei for me, that was the book written with all of me, mind heart and spirit, and I remain astonished by its

Having said that... I'm working on something new right now. And that has the potential to be something really good. Time will tell.

Do you have any publishing horror stories?

Of course. Doesn't everybody? But I'll let the bodies stay buried...

Funniest book signing moment?

Not signing, but I can use a reading event for this one. One time when I was giving a reading in my local independent bookstore - this was for the release of the paperback edition of Jin Shei - a bunch of teenage boys, perhaps fifteen, sixteen years of age, came filing in with notebooks and pens in hand, and parked themselves in the second row. They even drove away another patron or so, saying "Someone's sitting there," when someone else attempted to crash their row. I
said to my husband, "This is so not my demographic. I wonder why they're here?"

I started the reading. Within less than three minutes my lost boys had scrambled up with indecent speed and practically fled the place, which was suddenly too full of girl cooties for them to bear. I don't know what they were expecting, but perhaps they thought that The Secrets of Jin Shei would tell them how to practice a new and deadly martial art or something like that...

Most poignant signing moment? When a (white) woman brought a copy of Jin shei to me to sign and asked me to sign it to a person with a Chinese name. When I did so, she hugged the book to her chest and said, "Thank you. This is for my daughter who was adopted from China. I will give it to her to read so that she can know her culture, where she came from."

"How old is she?" I asked.

The woman smiled, "Four," she said. "And I will keep this for her until she is ready for it."

I cried.

What advice can you give to the novice?

Read. Read. Write. Write. Write. Write Write. Read some more.

Know what others have written, and keep writing your own stuff. You really do need to give yourself permission to write badly before you can write well - that's what the practice is for, and, later, your first drafts. Anything is allowed to suck as long as you can get to a point of knowing that it sucks and having an inkling as to how the suckage can be fixed.

And for that... you need to read. Read. Read. And then write. And then write some more.

And then read again. Never stop reading. Reading is your friend and your classroom; you would be astonished at how much you already know, if you've been reading lots of books thus far.