Friday, September 28, 2012

Short story review -- "Iphigenia in Aulis"

If anyone knows of a website where one can post short story reviews, please let me know in the comments -- because I'd like to tell as many people as possible about this wonderful short story by Mike Carey. I found it in the anthology An Apple for the Creature, edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner, subtitled All-New Tales of Unnatural Education. Most of the stories are paranormal fantasy. "Iphigenia in Aulis," on the other hand, is essentially science fiction. I checked Amazon and see no evidence that Carey has written other SF (most of his novels belong to one of two paranormal series) -- but I hope he writes more of it! Ultimately, however, it makes little difference: Carey's beautiful way with characters, plot and language will no doubt be evident whatever his genre.

The title refers to a Greek legend, previously immortalized in a Euripedes play. How the subject matter of that play is woven through the story is just one of Carey's many masterful touches.

I am particularly anxious to avoid spoilers where this story is concerned, so I will say only that it provides an unusual take on a fairly common theme, and that it will break your heart -- "in a good way," as my daughter might say. This is a story that clutches at you and stays with you. I haven't yet finished the anthology; so far, I have enjoyed some of the other stories, and leafed through others. But this one story, at least, is not to be missed.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Input time -- two versions of cover of new novel

Well, I finally picked a title for my upcoming novel -- Wander Home. And I have a cover -- almost.

Here are two versions of the ebook cover. (Neither is totally cleaned up -- my designer and I produced these mockups for discussion and comparison purposes.) Please comment with your preference, if any! (If you hate both of them, you are free to say so -- but I probably won't listen.) Thanks!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Left and Civil Liberties This Week

I grew up in a home where liberal politics and defense of civil liberties were thoroughly intertwined. I like to tell people that I grew up in the ACLU the way some people grow up in the Catholic church. It took some years for me to realize that there are plenty of people on the leftward end of the political spectrum who have either no great attachment to civil liberties, or only a thinly rooted attachment to same, easily dislodged. The events of the last week have provided plenty of examples of liberals and leftists whose commitment to civil liberties is fickle at most.

I'm getting tired of hearing people say that making an offensive anti-Muslim movie is "like yelling 'fire' in a crowded theater.' " Even on its own terms, that example is not exactly an unquestioned ancient legal truism. Most commentators will reluctantly accept that yes, actually using language to cause a panic with immediate physical danger to numerous people is probably something the state can prohibit and punish. Extending this example beyond literal application to the realm of metaphor is inappropriate for anyone who values freedom of speech to any significant extent.

What kind of speech needs protecting? "I love sunshine and flowers"? Only speech with potential to offend, upset, and disturb some listeners requires protection, and allowing a mob-violence version of a heckler's veto would thoroughly undermine the principle.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Why now: Obama and the Muslim protests

Whether the wave of violent Muslim protests around the world, including multiple attacks on American embassies and the murder of our ambassador and several former Seals, is a response to an offensive anti-Muslim video or a coordinated wave of attacks predating the release of that video is really beside the point. Why are these attacks happening now? Is it a coincidence that they're occurring on Obama's watch? I highly doubt it. (And BTW, it is utterly outrageous that a President sworn to uphold our Constitution, including our Bill of Rights, is capitulating in a backhand manner to Muslim demands that we "punish" the maker of that video.)

Quite likely some of the protesters would be happy to be martyrs on behalf of their religion -- but I doubt that every member of all these mobs has that immediate ambition. They're breaching our embassy walls, tearing down and burning our flags (and in some cases replacing them, on September 11th, with the flag of the organization that attacked us on that date), and murdering our people because they believe they can get away with it, without triggering the sort of retaliation that the world might once have expected. They believe that militant Islam's time has come, that Islam is in the ascendancy as a worldwide imperial movement, and that the West is in the process of capitulating.

I wonder why? . . .

P.S. The mobs may have been pleasantly surprised (if they didn't already know) that embassy security consisted of nationals of the host countries plus American security prohibited from carrying live ammunition. Now there's a symbolically telling detail.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Pondering 2008 - Voters Saw Obama as Shortcut to the Future

I've been pondering how Obama got elected in 2008.

During a crucial portion of the campaign, he presented himself as a trans-racial candidate. That idea had such appeal that voters overlooked the way he pivoted and started scolding people about their supposed racism (not to mention his association with Rev. Wright). Obama became a symbol of what people of good will wanted this country to become. More than a symbol, voters tried to use him as a shortcut to the future: a future in which Americans would indeed, as Martin Luther King Jr. foresaw, be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. But shortcuts have their shortcomings.

Ironically, Obama's success proved that we had not, in fact, attained that admirable national state of mind. I certainly could be wrong, but I very much doubt that a white man Obama's age, and with his very limited experience, would have had much of a chance. As I know others have said before me, he became our first affirmative action president.

I had hoped that four years would be long enough for this symbolic appeal to decline in importance. But I'm not sure it has. And if we pay for our impatience with four more years of fumbling, then God help us.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Tag, I'm It -- Answering Eleven Questions

Well, Danusha Goska of the blog Save Save Send Delete tagged me to answer the following questions, and I'm doing it. . . .

1.) If you could not be a writer, and you had to be some other artist – a singer, a painter, a mime, a puppeteer – what kind of artist would you be and why? (For Kim and anyone else who is primarily a visual artist who also writes: reverse the question. If you could not be a visual artist, what other art would you choose?) 

--I would probably choose to be a singer, if I had that talent. I've always liked singing, and loved listening to good singers. I have a range that allows me to sing about two songs well, and I sing them in the shower with great enjoyment. It's also an easy talent to share with others.

2.) Who would be the dream interviewer to quiz you about your work? Sixty Minutes' Mike Wallace? Fresh Air's Terry Gross? Johnny Carson? Larry King? Entertainment Tonight?

--I'll go with Terry Gross. I enjoy her interviews, and I actually listen to her occasionally, unlike the other choices.
3.) Your favorite childhood fictional hero or heroine.
--Probably Sara Crewe in Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess.
4.) Have you lived up to what you dreamed when you read about your favorite childhood fictional hero or heroine?
--I don't think I would ever have dreamed up my own rather hodge-podge conglomeration of careers and accomplishments.
5.) Your happiest moment as a writer.
--I'm not good at picking favorites in anything, including moments, but candidates include "winning" National Novel Writing Month (by completing the rough draft of my novel) for the first time, actually publishing my first novel, and getting my first rave review.
6.) Are you a tuxedo / evening gown writer, a broken-in jeans writer, a nude writer, a flowing caftan writer … ?
--Broken-in jeans on the weekends, more businesslike slacks during the week; or (in summer) comfortable skirts.
7.) Your personal writing deity?
--I'm not the worshipful sort, but I admire many authors, including Mary Doria Russell and Elizabeth Moon (current), and Jane Austen and George Eliot (deceased).
8.) Hard copy, screen, handwritten in ink, typewriter & whiteout?
Screen, followed by hard copy at the umpteenth-edit stage.
9.) If you had to choose between your writing moving people deeply, or your writing educating people factually, which would it be?
--I feel I should prefer the latter, but I actually would choose the former.
10.) Has being a writer helped or hurt your romantic life?
--Given that I first quit writing as an unattached college student, and resumed it when I'd been married for decades, it hasn't had much effect.
11.) How do you reward yourself? 

--By reading, or by modest amounts of dark chocolate.

I'm also supposed to post eleven facts about myself:
1.) I'm getting shorter as I get older.
2.) I'm getting heavier as I get older, which I should be able to control, but am not controlling very successfully.
3.) My politics have become very different than those of my very political parents, which makes for some awkwardness all round.
4.) I could eat breakfast food for almost every meal without tiring of it.
5.) I enjoy and admire historical fiction, but am intimidated at the thought of tackling it myself.
6.) My most serious and abiding character flaw is impatience, which manages to creep into many aspects of my life.
7.) I'm a first-generation American. (My parents were born in Poland and Germany, and left Europe just in time to escape the Holocaust.)
8.) I'm delighted when one of my daughters masters some skill I never had.
9.) I've read science fiction for so much of my life that I have trouble keeping track of what's actually been invented.
10.) I took sign language (both ASL and Signed English) in college, and might have become a sign language interpreter if I'd been more talented at it.
11.) When I'm bored or irritated, I mumble to myself in fingerspelling (aka the manual alphabet).

And finally, I'm supposed to tag eleven other people. This is the tough part, for me -- tough enough that I'm going to stall, and try to come up with a list in a separate post. (I also break chain letters. So it goes.)