Saturday, May 30, 2015

Literally, this is hard to write

Just a brief note.
I'm typing this on one of my broken laptops. The keyboard on this one is erratic, and sometimes other things happen.
My last laptop went out of service with a broken fan. Might be repairable, don't know. At least this one boots.
I ordered TWO laptops, which were on sale, 9 days ago from Tiger Direct. I've gotten LOTS of stuff from them in the past, never had a problem. After several days, I checked order status, and discovered the order hadn't shipped. A live-chat session informed me that they had so many orders for that model (Lenovo B50 for $299) they were sold out and back-ordered. After a couple of days, I cancelled the order. They told me at the time that they were going to put a hold on my funds for five days (I don't know why), but I didn't realize the implications of that until I went to pick up some prescriptions today and my card was denied.
I went home and checked, and had more than enough money in my account, PLUS that account is linked to my savings and a line of credit, so it will NEVER be overdrawn. The hold, though, froze things.
Oh, well. I didn't NEED two more laptops anyway. Maybe I'll just buy another Mac. Or maybe I'll see if one of these keyboards will work with this laptop. Or maybe I'll take apart the bad-fan laptop and replace the fan. And I think there is another laptop under the bed.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

"Lost Boy." by Pam Uphoff

I took a look at my output the other day, and according to that, I'd only read two books in May. I knew THAT wasn't right. I checked further, and found I'd done some reviews on Amazon, but for various reasons, had not posted them on my blog. Here's one of them

I'm a Neanderthal. Nobody takes us seriously. The Geico commercials made fun of us and pretended to get caught. Ha ha. Big whoop. About 40 years ago, Asimov wrote a story about one of us, called 'The Ugly Little Boy,' and it made kids cry. Ha ha. We are ugly by your standards. You guys are so frippen pathetic about stuff like that. You spend more on cosmetics than you do on every kind of useful research combined. Idiots, every dang last one of you. I had to watch this stupid movie about a night at a museum, and the big joke there was that we would eat styrofoam peanuts. Idiots. One of the basic requirements for survival in a resource-poor environment is the ability to determine which items are nutrient rich; styrofoam peanuts, forsooth!
So, finally someone gets MOST of it right. It's about time. You people are so SLOW! And BORING! Did you never consider that the bones you found were of an old person with bad arthritis? That was Henry. He got lost on a field trip, must have smashed his commo gear somehow, and missed his treatments in the Autodoc. So, yeah, he was bent over, but that was a disease process, morons, not the way we usually look.
Eh, fagidaboudit.You lumps just keep doing what yer doing, and we'll try to keep you from stabbing yer dumb selves in the eye with the cutlery.

Monday, May 18, 2015

"Dirty Money: Memoirs of a Stripper," by Erin Louis

This is a huge departure for me; never thought I would be reviewing a book about strippers. Here's how it happened, starting from the beginning (The names have been changed to protect the innocent):

Thirteen years ago, long before we met, my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant foxy praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, was a single mom and legal parapro, living with her four daughters in a house in East Point, GA. (A few years prior to this time, she had divorced their father, who was then promptly deported to Nigeria.) Next door to her lived Sylvia and her husband Arnold, and their two sons John And Leonard. Sylvia's teen-aged daughter Karen lived part-time with her, and part-time with Sylvia's mother, Esther, due to reasons unknown to me.
During the periods she lived with her mother, Karen spent a great deal of time at Vanessa's house, since she was close in age to two of Vanessa's four daughters. They ate meals together, had parties and sleep-overs together, and in general did all the fun stuff that teen-age girls can do that doesn't result in the police being called. After a few years, Vanessa and her girls moved, and their contact with Sylvia and Karen was reduced, although they kept in touch on social media. Karen became pregnant as a senior in high school, and delivered a beautiful baby girl, Katherine. She graduated with her high school class, and then started the process of finding a job that would support her and her daughter. She enrolled in college.
Here, the trail goes faint. No one seems to know precisely when it happened, because it was not accompanied by an announcement, but at some point, the pictures of Karen and Katherine she posted on Facebook had a plush, well-appointed background. Karen was living in an upscale apartment. At first, there was no hint as to the source of this prosperity. All of her pictures showed her with beautiful hair, nails, and clothes, and soon there was an additional feature that Karen bragged about: she had her body surgically enhanced.
I don't know if there was a direct, person to person reveal of her employment, or if someone just read between the lines and asked her about it, but the truth was that Karen was working as a stripper.

Vanessa dropped contact with Karen after she began to brag about how sexy her new rear end was. Her daughters kept her somewhat up-to-date on Karen's life, mostly mentioning the beautiful pictures Karen had posted of her and her growing daughter Katherine. When Katherine was diagnosed with diabetes, Vanessa reached out to both Karen and Sylvia, asking them to let her know if there was anything she could do. From time to time, she would mention Karen to me, usually to show me a picture of this beautiful young woman posed with her daughter.
In April, Karen began to report feeling ill on her Facebook page. After a couple of weeks of posts, describing a cold or flu that just would not go away, She made a final Facebook post: "I'm going to go to the hospital, to see if they can fix whatever is wrong with me. Lord, help me!"
Through Vanessa's daughters and Karen's mother, Vanessa kept track of her progress; or, to be more accurate, her lack of progress. After numerous tests, Karen was put to sleep for an examination of her lungs, and she never woke up from the anesthesia. She lingered for several days; the end came last week.
In the aftermath, Vanessa discovered some disturbing facts from Karen's mother. Karen had been known to use a drug called 'molly;' I wasn't familiar with that name, but discovered it's another name for ecstasy. What came as the biggest shock to me personally was the discovery that the cosmetic surgery and the fancy apartment were all paid for by the strip club where Karen worked.
Her funeral was attended to overflow capacity; the seats were packed by beautiful young women, with flawless hair, nails, and clothes. Vanessa and I drew our own conclusion that these were her co-workers; Vanessa commented that probably some of them would be leaving the service to go straight to the club to work their next shift.
That's what prompted me to read "Dirty Money." I needed to know if Karen's story was common, or the exception.
Erin Louis story is quite different, in many aspects, but brutally similar in others. Unlike Karen, Erin is married to a supportive husband, and has totally rejected the use of any drugs (other than pot) to help her get through the day. Erin also attempted to develop other skills, so that she would be able to leave the strip clubs forever. She became certified as a pastry chef, and obtained employment with restaurants and also had a brief home business making specialty 'exotic' cakes.
However, here's the point at which Erin's story and Karen's story are the same, and I suspect the same is true for every exotic dancer: the money they can make doing ANY conventional job can't begin to equal the money they can make taking their clothes off for money. The result is the same: when they contemplate change, they have to forfeit a paycheck, and it's just too hard to do.
Erin, at age 36, still has a place among the top dancers in her area. She knows that won't last; she has seen the women who have stayed past their prime, and vows not to become one of them. I hope she makes it. If she does, though, it will be without any sort of assistance, other than her very supportive husband, because there are no retirement programs for exotic dancers. No unions. No regulatory agencies. The only applicable laws are there to prevent stripping from crossing the line over into hooking, and Erin's experience is that line is crossed so regularly that it might as well not even exist. She has personally avoided that route, but from what she says, most don't.
Confession: going to a strip club makes zero sense to me, a belief that Erin echoes in her book. Why would anyone want to pay to get an erection, without the prospect of relief? I don't get it. Admittedly, my single experience in a strip club was in New Orleans, on my way home from medic training at Ft Sam for Christmas leave, 1972, and NOTHING I saw then was erotic in the least, but even under the best of circumstances, it seems that frustration is the only outcome for the customer.
I have a great deal of compassion for women like Erin and Karen who find a way to make money, and then can't find a way out again. I have zero compassion with the owners and operators of the clubs, and my rage upon hearing of Karen's death would like to find an outlet in burning every single club in Atlanta to the ground. I won't do it; in fact, I don't really know what to do. Perhaps reading the book, thereby providing Erin with a small amount of money, and publishing this on my blog, will help her to achieve success as a writer, and she can leave the stage for good. She is an adult, and can make her own choices; what I hate is that the next generation of strippers is on the way, and they DON'T have any good alternatives available.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Queen of Chaos, by Sabrina Chase

I posted this on one of the forums I frequent, because it amazed me at the time, and still does: Sabrina Chase invents languages. At least two, maybe three. The biggest stretch is the language she invents for the crabs, because they don't share anything in common with humans. I suppose you could really count that as two separate inventions; she has one section where we get a direct quote from a crab, and then there are numerous episodes of what passes for a translator; the word choices require the language equivalent of a Sherlock Holmes, in my opinion. Then, there are the human specialized dialects. I'm not certain if criminal speak and tech speak are the same form, not being a linguist, but the dialect varies enough that it requires either context or translation to be intelligible to the naive character.

It's been a long, long journey for Moire. She's lost her original crew friends and her ship, and spent a lot of time on the run. She has become the stand-in mother for a batch of children in the bodies of adults. And she has stumbled into a monstrous conspiracy or two, plus getting involved with the worst criminals in known space.
I don't think she gets a single nap, either. Maybe one after smooching, but I think the smooching took place during her regular sleep period.
I'm finding that avoiding spoilers becomes more difficult the further along in a series you go. That may not be true for George R R Martin, because he NEVER resolves plot points; he just kills characters off and writes another thousand pages. Sabrina doesn't do that. She actually gets resolution for her people, and that's a big plus. However: how do you keep your readers, when they KNOW what the plot issues are from the previous books, and they KNOW you are going to resolve them in the final book?
Here's how Sabrina does it: she's a great writer. She puts in little details, and makes them just as involving as the broad strokes. And she uses the viewpoint of minor characters to let us observe the changes in the main characters.
Here are some things you want to know about:
1. Why are the crabs and the humans fighting?
2. What happens to the evil corporation Toren?
3. What happens with the paradise planet Sequoyah?
4. Do Moire and Ennis get to hook up long-term, or will duty keep them apart?
5. Does Moire get back the last artifact of her past life, the NASA pin?

And here are the answers: SPOILER ALERT!
1. I'm not going to tell you.
2. Ditto.
3. Same here.
4. Read the book and find out.
5. Yes, of course she does.

You are going to want to put the books in the Sequoyah series on a shelf you can reach without stretching. You will be re-reading them within a year. Make sure to write your name inside the cover, in case, in your enthusiasm, you lend them out. That way, you will have at least a small chance of getting them back.
And fortunately for us all, Sabrina has other books and stories available. Buy several copies of each, please; the lady needs to feed her cats.

The Sword of Arelion, by Amanda S Green

The latest entry in my run-up-to-the-Hugos is also the latest work by 2015 nominee for Best Fan Writer Amanda S. Green. I've hit all but one of these writers in the past month, and I've got to tell you, excellence abounds.
Amanda just published "The Sword of Arelion" on May 4, so when you get your copy, it still may be a bit warm and have that new book sell. It's the first of a series, and I'm contemplating pounding on the table and chanting "More More More!" Here's how it starts (this is paraphrase, not plagiarism):
The old man sat in the corner of the tavern. His days of greatness were past, and his strength was gone, but his honor kept him intact. It was there to see, for those who had eyes; but somehow, the only eyes that found this hero of the past were those of the mousy servant girl. She had been warned not to encourage the old man to take a place by the fire, and especially not to feed him, but she saved the scant soup she was given for her mid-day meal, and tried to force them on the old man. His pride refused to allow him to take the meal; her desire to honor the old warhorse in the winter of his years required her to keep trying. Sooner or later, they would have reached agreement, but they argued too long. The tavern-owner returned, shouting and knocking the food off the table. His rage mounted, and he was working himself up to a point where he could easily kill the girl and the old man. The girl knew she was as good as dead. If he did not kill her then, he would soon, and then, perhaps, her long torment would be over. She closes her eyes, huddles on the floor, and accepts the blows from the heavy metal belt-buckle the tavern-owner used. She tries to take herself away.
And then, a miracle happens.
In her confused state, she is not clear about what is going on. She sees a man with a badge of authority hold Giaros, her owner, at bay, but she has no expectation that things will change for her. After all, she has served in this tavern day after day, and all of these people have seen what she must submit to, and no one has given her any help.
The man with the badge is Fallon, a Knight of Arelion . He has been drawn away from a courier mission to this tavern, to this girl, and he can sense the power of the Lord and Lady on her. He knows very little of his purpose in the tavern, just that he must rescue the girl. And he does.
There is red-tape, a lapsed relationship between the town and the Order of Arelion, and some minor healing to be done before they leave, The young duke orders Giaros executed when he refuses to disclose where he obtained the girl. Longbow, the old man, is given the tavern and the girl, who takes the name Cait (for 'cat'), is granted all of the money in the late Giaros' estate.
And it begins. Cait, it seems, is an essential part of the Lord and Lady's plans to overcome evil influences. All this is new to her, as she has no memory of her life before waking up in a slave tent, followed by her time of rape and beatings at the hands of Giaros. However, some of her prior training shows through; her handling of weapons, and her uncanny ability to detect danger on the trail show she has received intensive instruction in warrior arts, as well as in uses of magic. Cait and Fallon resolve to get to the bottom of this, and that's the nature of the story. People change, places change, and training changes, but this is the core of the story: who is this woman? What is her mission?
It's all very well told. There are evil wicked bad guys, and moderately bad bad guys, and good guys who don't act as promptly as they should, and this adds to Cait's troubles. Whatever else she is, though, she is as tough and determined as any character you have seen. She forms friendships, she begins to hope, great things are just around the corner....and the book ends.
Dear, dear Amanda, Do Not Make Us Wait. Please?
I have one final praise for this book, and it's personal. I read FAST. I rip through page after page, in search of the story. Now, because I do that, I often devote only the tiniest nano-span of attention to proper names. What WERE the names of those dwarves in The Hobbit? Bombur Bofur Dasher Prancer, Huey Dewey and Louie? No idea. If you tell me, right now, I'll smile with appreciation and ignore it. So, until about half-way through this book, I'm reading The Sword of Amlrner. Or maybe it's The Sword of Angleiron. Starts with and A, it's a Sword, that's all I got. And then, an awareness with the sweetness of my grandmother as a little girl bearing a candle to her bedside table, I can see the light: Amanda has given me: ARE...and LION!!!! Don't care how it's supposed to be pronounced, it's Are-lion in my head, and I can remember it! So: write more books about Are-Lion, Amanda!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Laura Mixon Gets It Right

It was a powerful rumor bomb with a burning fuse. By August 2014, the sparks were coming stronger and faster, with hints of a Campbell nominee being the person responsible for the slash blog Requires Only That You Hate. By September, the names were on the table, for all to see. Even so, the final explosion was held off until October , when author and editor Nick Mamatas confirmed the identity of an online blogger and SFF forum participant. Using a number of screen names, including RequiresHate and Winterfox, this person was known on a number of special interest forums, primarily for posts and Tweets which ferociously attacked both works she did not like, and those who disagreed with her assessment. Mamatas revealed that RH/WF was none other than up-and-coming, 2014 Campbell nominee Benjanun Sriduangkaew .
The reaction was immediate and extreme. In a bizarre deviation from the tone and content of the rest of his blog, , Mamatas wrote on October 9th “Watch Your Mouth,” finishing his blog with this:
“ Certain words and phrases with violence embedded or implicit within them can be much more confrontational than you know them to be in more elevated social circles. But the Internet is the great leveler, and you can still never be quite sure to whom you are speaking. So, if you want to talk tough, be sure you're ready to play tough too.”
On October 13th, he writes:
“Did you know that yesterday was "First violent hyperbolic wish for death free!" day? Sorry you missed it, but it only applied when the person you wanted killed was me. However, it was a never-ending coupon, so if you already made such a comment, you also got to renew it yesterday.”
Closing out the Mamatas connection: when BS/RH posted apologies (October 15 as RH, October 20 as BS), Mamatas posted the links, labeled “One” and Two,” and the simple comment “You're welcome.”
Elsewhere, the discussion raged on. There was so much heat, and so little light generated, that it was nigh impossible to determine what had actually taken place. Even the acknowledgments by BS/RH did little, if anything, to resolve the issue.
At the end, it took two people to clarify the picture: an engineer, to define the problem and gather the data; and a writer, to explain the results. Enter Laura J. Mixon, who is both. She is a chemical and environmental engineer, with boots-on-the-ground experience in Africa, among other places; and she's a writer, with at least six novels and numerous shorter works published since 1987.
Most importantly, she is a brave and resilient human being of integrity, with a demonstrated track record of advocacy for disenfranchised groups. When she first heard of the controversy, she began the process of gathering hard data to determine just what had happened. She did her research, wrote her report, and offered her support. When Tade Thompson created a forum specifically designed for people of color to express themselves about the fallout from RH/BS, she respected that, and got out of the way.
Laura is a long-term member of the progressive community, and therefore found it much easier to win the trust of those who had been targeted by RH/BS. As they began to open up to her, she began the exhaustive four week process of collecting their stories, and formatting the data for analysis. She published her report on November 6.
**LATE EDIT**Since I posted this a few hours ago, something happened with the above link to Laura's blog. HOWEVER!! The report is still available; you can find the PDF version right here.
If you have not read the report, you should. While this particular event primarily hurt women of color who were writers, the methods used by RH/BS could appear in any forum, and it is well to have some idea about what Plan B looks like. Her work speaks for itself, and if you do NOT read her report and examine the graphs which explicitly delineate the damage done by RH/BS, you do not have the complete picture. And if you do not have the complete picture, it would be well for you to refrain from commenting on the subject.
I am not a reviewer of investigative journalism; I review books. When I review books, I try to communicate the 'feel' of the book; I describe main characters, and I give the plot outline, avoiding spoilers. When it's an Amazon review, I also give it a star rating. None of that applies here. Instead, everything I have to say is in the 'spoiler' category, because it is the outcome which is important, rather than plot, pacing, and characterization. I am also not a member of the progressive element in science fiction. In doing this review, I found it necessary to use terminology not familiar to me. I did my best to use it as accurately as possible, and to refrain from terms that others might find offensive. Any failures are my own, and I will accept correction from those who can see places where I wandered from the path. However, it was ESSENTIAL that I write this review; not to do so would be willfully ignoring a great bit of research and writing, simply because it was unfamiliar to me. And that is, I believe, the exact opposite of learning.
So, based on Laura's primary report, her February 14 follow-up, her May 1 reply to criticism, and the evidence and testimony supporting her report, here are my comments:
1. It seems clear to me that prior to October 2014, RH/BS was entirely unknown to the SFF community at large. This is likely due to the fact that she was most active in small settings, and that she had effectively separated her online identities from her real world identity. Laura herself reports being unaware of RH/BS prior to October 2, and of the 462 replies to her November 6 report, the most common was "I didn't know this was going on," or "I didn't realize it was so bad because I only saw a couple of posts." These comments popped up immediately when the report was first published, but they occurred as late as November 10; shortly after that, the comments section was closed.
2. I have heard the criticism that RH/BS behavior was condoned as long as she only attacked white males or conservatives, but that as soon as she began to attack the Social Justice population, she was confronted. The data do not support this conclusion. The majority of her targets have been women, and people of color were attacked at a rate four times that of whites. The earliest attack included as data in Laura's report is from December, 2010; other attacks against her 'own' community resulted in the closure of at least two Live Journal communities, with activities going back AT LEAST as far as four years ago. Hence, the theory that her behavior became problematic only when it targeted 'her own' doesn't match up with the facts.
I am tempted to list more of the conclusions from Laura's exhaustive research, but I will not. I hope that by only revealing a portion of her findings, I will whet your appetite to read her report for yourself. You can even download a PDF of her work here, but do not fail to read her February 14 and May 1 follow-up reports.
Again: if you have not read Laura's report, do so. I do not know whether she will win the Hugo in the "Best Fan Writer" or not; she is competing against four other respected fan writers, three of whom I consider to be personal friends. I plan to vote for Nunaya Bidness, but if I were on the slate against her, I would consider that to be an honor-by-association.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Vulcan's Kittens, by Cedar Sanderson

Cedar Sanderson has been nominated for a "Best Fan Writer" Hugo, against some pretty strong competition. It makes me smile to think she will be able to stamp her works "from Hugo nominee Cedar Sanderson" from now on.
The story is about Linn, a 12 year old girl who goes to visit her grandfather for the summer. As a special treat, she discovers the farm cat has just given birth to four kittens, and she will be able to help with their care. Looks to be a quiet, peaceful summer.
However, that first night, she wakes up to overhear a disturbing conversation. There is a war pending, and (fanfare) THE FATE OF THE WORLD IS IN THE BALANCE!
Her grandfather, who happens to be one of the ancient gods known as Vulcan, is really aggravated by the whole thing, and wishes the gods arguing for war would just get over it. The farm cat, who happens to be the goddess Sekhmet, agrees with her grandfather.
And since the kittens in the barn, which Linn has been assigned to as caretaker, are Sekhmet's children, they also are gods; and finally, Linn is told that she is half-god herself, and that she will begin to manifest special powers.
NOTE: If you should happen to read this book in paperback, you will really need to have resource material nearby. I fortunately have the Kindle-for-PC version, so look-ups are only a click away. A very few of the gods mentioned were familiar to me from my sixth grade year (1965) when we read mythology, but the Kindle-for-PC made it wondrously easy to find the history of all the other non-humans in the book, and that was a delightful experience for my ADD mind. I'd read the story, come on another character, click to learn more, and happily pursue whatever rabbit trails followed.
Linn gets to meet and hang out with some insanely wonderful people. I'm rather glad I came on this book 50 years late, because I would have been jealous of her experiences if I had read about them at her age. Even without becoming totally enmeshed in a daydream about living in this fantasy world, I still enjoyed the book. Characters like the coblyns were amusing without being silly, and there is just enough in the way of fight scenes to engage me without terrifying my 9 year old daughter Alicia.
Now, without a doubt, I loved the book. HOWEVER!!! I loved the story BEHIND the book better. It starts sometime in 2011, with Cedar's oldest daughter, Gladiana, becoming wildly excited about a book. Cedar helped her track down the subsequent books in the series, and in doing so, she and Gladiana built some really great memories, including Gladiana forcing Cedar to actually read the book herself. And Cedar got mildly hooked on the possibilities of the story, to the point that she wrote a series of letters to Gladiana who was away at summer camp telling the story of Linn and the kittens.
And then the plot thickened.
In October, Gladiana brings CEDAR a homework assignment. Seems there is something called National Novel Writing Month , held in November, a contest in which you attempt to write a novel of at least 50,000 words, all in the month of November. It seemed impossible to Cedar; but she DID it! And thereby had the completed manuscript for her first published book.
A tiny caveat: it's not her first WRITTEN book. That honor goes to "Eternity Symbiote," which evidently sat in a drawer for a decade. That's the only bit of her work I haven't read; she hooked me with her short story 'Plant Life,' but REALLY won me as a fan with her series "Pixie For Hire" (Pixie Noir, Trickster Noir, and Dragon Noir). I can HIGHLY recommend all of the works I've read; The Pixie For Hire series offers great adventure, and is definitely the sort of book that adult readers would appreciate, although there is nothing in any of her work I've seen that would make it off-limits to a reader of any age.
But this book makes me happy, because of the mother/daughter bond in making it happen. I happen to love my family, featuring my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant foxy praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, our 12 children and five grandchildren. (Of course, I did have to shoot several less worthy elements and bury their bodies deep in the compost heap to get the degree of quality we now experience, but that's just the cost of doing business.) So, a story that not only entertains, but makes for happy family memories, while creating a revenue stream for mom: HEY! I'm all over that one.