Booking Through Thursday: What I’m reading now

Here is this week’s Booking Through Thursday:

What are you reading right now? What made you choose it? Are you enjoying it? Would you recommend it? (And, by all means, discuss everything, if you’re reading more than one thing!)

Two books. The first is China Mieville’s The City & The City, which tied for best novel in this year’s Hugo Awards.

You may or may not know that I’m trying my hand at  writing science fiction, and I’ve been reading and rereading in that genre extensively for the past several months. My first attempts as a fledgling writer were in science fiction and fantasy, and I kind of abandoned these nurturing forms in grad school — a bad case of becoming a snobby reader — and tried to pass myself off as a “literary” writer, whatever that is, even though my published — and recently submitted —short fiction has  fantastic elements in it.

Anyhow, I decided to read Mieville’s novel to see what some of the currents of the genre are. I’m not far into the novel enough to give it an evaluation, although it’s clear from this novel, and from others I’ve recently read, that there is no reason to sneer at the actual writing. Stylistically, Mieville’s talented. He’s writing in the voice of a detective investigating a murder in a fictional Balkans city. I haven’t hit on the elements that make the novel science fiction, yet. Although, I understand there’s some hidden mystery within the mystery of an unsolved crime.

The second book, also science fiction, is Nancy Kress’s short story collection Nano Comes to Clifford Falls. Again initial interest comes in getting in touch with currents in a particular genre. That said, I recently read Kress’s novel Steal Across the Sky, a comic look at what might happen if the aliens really did meddle in our lives and then came here to make amends for meddling. I had read her columns in Writer’s Digest for years, but had not read any of her fiction.

What I’ve read of her short stories so far, I’ve liked. The title story portrays what might happen if nanotechnology were to invade a small Midwestern town, without the town fully understanding this cutting edge technology. The second story in the collection is a humor piece dealing with an argument over who owns genes donated to a pharmaceutical company to develop a flu vaccine.

Again, I’m not far enough into the story collection to give it a full evaluation, but I like what I’m reading so far.

I can say that both books are giving me a wide perspective into a open-ended genre. It’s clear science fiction isn’t just about blasting through the stars—but has it ever really been just about that?


Book Review: Steal Across the Sky

Steal Across the SkySteal Across the Sky by Nancy Kress

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you’ve paid any attention to the History Channel lately, you’ve seen (or have skipped over it puzzling why such a show is on the History Channel) the series Ancient Aliens. Its premise is that aliens have meddled in humanity’s past, influening history, religion, technology and perhaps even DNA. It’s the stuff of science fiction.

Nancy Kress’s Steal Across the Sky takes up a similar premise. The aliens have come. They have meddled in humanity’s past. They have returned and have established a base on the moon.

These elements have the makings of an alien invasion novel. The aliens, calling themselves the Atoners, however, have other purposes in mind, at least according the ad they’ve posted online. Acoording to the ad, they are here to apologize to human species for interfering with its past stealing off with humans at various times as part of their unfathomable experiment. Now they have come to atone for their sins.

To do this, they recruit 21 humans to serve as Witnesses to their crime. They send the Witnesses to various planet to see how these experiments with the species have turned out.

The Witnesses come back with extraordinary information, species-changing information. At the same time, in what seems a just-in-case measure, the Atoners continue with their experiment.

The novel isn’t hard science fiction, it’s speculative science fiction satire, somewhat in the tradition of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It plays with a great “what if”? premises, and pokes gentle fun at ancient alien theories, while at the same time poking fun at human reactions to the unfamiliar. The reactions vary from a teen suicide cult that evolves once the Atoners’s secret is revealed, to a fundamentalist Christian group bent on convincing humanity there is only one Atoner and that Atoner is the Anti-Christ.

View all my reviews

What Star Trek Can Teach Us About Writing (via Kristen Lamb’s Blog)

An insightful post about writing and the importance of storytelling. Why do writers forget storytelling? Also pay attention to the bit on the importance of the protagonist being a flawed character. Enjoy.

What Star Trek Can Teach Us About Writing Last night I watched the new Star Trek movie directed by J.J. Abrams for the second time. As a writer, stories are my business, so I study them in all forms. Film is a favorite in that it takes far less time and allows me to study the written form in a visual way. I don’t watch movies like most people, much to my husband’s chagrin (he would put tape over my mouth if he could get away with it). This recent version of Star Trek did very well at the … Read More

via Kristen Lamb's Blog

Get busy writing your novel

Most of Walter Mosley’s advice in This Year You Write Your Novel is standard to almost every book on writing or writing class, explaining point of view, going over dialogue and description, and expounding the merits of showing versus telling.

The bulk of the book covers these elements of fiction in brief but useful segments, perfect for reference and reminders. Though brief, they are insightful.

His segment on showing versus telling, for instance, is one of the better ones that I’ve read. Mosley concisely explains why showing is preferable, in most instances, to telling.

I know that there are the sticklers out there among you who will say that everything expressed in words is told, not shown. After all telling is a function of speaking, and writing is nothing but an extension of speech. This is true. But there’s a difference between explanation and verbal action.

For instance, “Call me Ishmael” is the well-known first line of the American classic Moby Dick. Contrast this sentence with “His name was Ishmael.”

. . . .

“His name was Ishmael” is a flat statement that does not, on its own, draw us in. It is merely a piece of information.

The first example shows something to the reader, or, more accurately, it attempts to include the reader by engaging the reader on a personal level.

Besides drawing the reader into the novel’s world, Mosley explains, narrative that shows adds a “human aspect to its repertoire and, in doing so, includes the reader either emotionally or physically.”

Mosley’s book is also one of the first I’ve read that encourages fiction writers — or any prose writer for that matter — to study poetry seriously. Poetry teaches the writer, Mosley says, to appreciate the subtleties of language.

“Of all writing,” he says, “poetry is the most demanding . . . .In poetry you have to see language as both music and content.”

I was also impressed by Mosley’s differentiating between intuitive writers — those who basically plunge in and discover the story as they write —-and structure writers, who know the whole story from beginning to end, and don’t plunge in until they know it.

Some writing books, as Robert Olen Butler’s From Where You Dream, favor one method over the other. Butler suggests to some extent that the intuitive approach is the only approach that will allow a writer to tap into the creative zone necessary to write without restraint and create art.

“The intuitive and structured methods are equally valid,” Mosley says.

Truthfully, Mosley says, there are probably few writers who are strictly intuitive or structured.

One of my favorite sections of the book is a digression on genre. Mosley doesn’t stash any genre into the literary suburbs. It’s a refreshing outlook—in a refreshing book on writing — not always present in other books on writing, which seem to encourage writers to aspire only to literary writing, whatever that is.

“A novel is a novel is a novel,” he writes. “A crime story is a novel. A romance is a novel. . . .No one who is serious about literature would dismiss One Hundred Years of Solitude for being a fantasy. No one would write off The Stranger because of its courtroom or crime details.”

Booking Through Thursday: Movies and books

Here is this week’s Booking Through Thursday:

Even though it’s usually a mistake (grin) … do movies made out of books make you want to read the original?

Several movies from books have made me want to read the book. In fact, I’ve discovered writers like Michael Chabon after I’ve seen movies made from their books. I saw the film version of Wonder Boys before I read the novel. Both are equally good, and neither disappoints. On the other hand, Sideways — another novel I read after seeing the film — disappointed me. The novel isn’t horrible, but gets derailed by some contrived plot points that are rehashed or deleted in the film, making the film an excellent adaptation.