Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas in Arizona

Me on Christmas Day in the Arizona Desert.  NOT a white Christmas.
Me with a saguaro, short sleeves, and a Christmas present

Near Lake Pleasant, north of Phoenix, Arizona
Teddy Bear Cholla, Arizona

Saturday, December 24, 2011

My Czech Christmas Tree

I'm not in the Czech Republic now, but Christmas always brings back good memories of my time there.  This was my "tree" from Christmas 2009.

All ornaments are from nearby Christmas markets, made of gingerbread, wood, honeycomb, dough, cloth, and straw.

Veselé Vánoce!

Friday, December 16, 2011

This is what winter should look like

Mid December in the beautiful Czech Republic

The River Bečva, Vsetín, Czech Republic
The lake in the park, under a layer of snow, Vsetín
The view from my apartment, Vsetín, Czech Republic

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Elixir, by Hilary Duff

Elixir wasn't bad, but I'm pretty sure it was only published because of the author's ready-made fan base.  That's rather a kick in the gut to all those non-famous but much better writers out there collecting rejection after rejection. 

The banter wasn't as clever as intended.  Repetition and over-drama weakened the prose.  The rather superhuman characters felt flat.  And why on Earth would a senator's daughter be so easily recognizable in places like Japan and Brazil?  SPOILER ALERT:  The ending felt very "Empire Strikes Back":  the romantic lead kidnapped, the other two members of the love triangle wounded and waiting on the space station (airplane) for the next installment.  Unanswered questions about the father.  The big difference, however? I was dying to see "The Return of the Jedi."  Hilary Duff's next book?  Not so much.     

I really liked the creepy bit about this mysterious guy showing up in the background of all her best photos.  My favorite part of the book was when she discovered this, and tested it by snapping photos around her bedroom.  It gave me chills when she found his image in her closet, staring out at her.  However, it never really explained how this happened.  Nor did it explain (SPOILER ALERT) why Clea and Ben are reincarnated over and over again.  We don't need full explanations of these type of plot elements, but when so much hinges on them, and we have no explanation at all, it feels a little too convenient.  

I'm not the biggest fan of supernatural. I like fantasy better.  Many elements that would be right at home in fantasy just strike me as corny in supernatural.  I suppose that's because fantasy is NOT our world, but supernatural's pretending to be.  Terms like the "Elixir of Life" and a secret society called "Cursed Vengeance" almost made me laugh.  But that may not be Duff's writing.  It may be the genre in general, and my own personal bias.    

Like many other reviewers, I don't really like the message, so common today in YA paranormal, that if you meet a dark, mysterious, handsome, and rather dangerous stranger, who may or may not be trying to kill you, and you decide for some reason that he's your soul mate, you should immediately sleep with him.

The plot was interesting enough, with some really nice details here and there.  It kept my attention.  Like I said, it was an OK book. 

But Hilary Duff, you've already had more than your 15 minutes of fame.  I think it's great that you're trying your hand at writing.  The rest of us, however, have to practice and polish and write and rewrite—for years, sometimes—and then pray that anyone will even look at more than five words of our query.  And we do this all without a co-author.  So if you're really passionate about it, keep writing, but never take for granted the advantage of your name in this highly competitive market. 

My rating:  3

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Isaac Asimov Short Stories

I recently discovered Isaac Asimov.  Now I wonder why I haven't been reading his stories all along.  Conceptual, and not very action-oriented, I often wonder what my critique group would say about all these characters sitting around and talking.  But what I've read has fascinated me, intrigued me, made me wonder—all the things science fiction is supposed to do.  What makes them even more interesting is that all the stories in the collection I'm reading were written in the 40s and 50s, and they reveal a whole lot about the science, culture, and mindset of the time.  From his preoccupation with WWII to his idea that computers of the future will get bigger and bigger, from his lack of strong and intelligent female characters to his dead-on predictions about planned obsolescence in the computer industry, it provides a fascinating peek into my grandparents' world. 

From Isaac Asimov, the Complete Stories; Volume I, here are the stories I most recommend, whether you're an Asimov novice or a die-hard sci fi fan. 

--"The Feeling of Power"—In a computer-dependent future, someone re-discovers how to do math on paper, leading to terrifying military consequences.  Very good commentary on Einstein.

--"The Dead Past"—An emotionally damaged historian tries to develop a chronoscope to look back in time, giving rise to an intriguing exploration of governmental suppression of the sciences.

--"Living Space"—Earth's too crowded, so they figure out how to transport to alternate universes (probability patterns) where each person has their own alternate Earth.  This is quite a popular idea, until one planet-owner hears noises on his supposedly empty planet.  Creepy and fun.     

--"Profession"— People have forgotten how to learn from books and experience.  Instead, all the knowledge for their indicated profession is zapped into their brain at age 18.  This turns out to be a problem for the clever main character, who makes the mistake of studying for his dream profession before his 18th birthday. 

--"The Gentle Vultures"—A race of non-aggressive aliens has been camping out on the moon, waiting for nuclear war on Earth, so they can go in, clean up, and restore a more peaceful society—for a fee, of course.  They've been waiting and waiting, not understanding why nuclear war hasn't broken out, like it has on every other planet that reaches this level of development.  Finally they decide they'd better start it themselves.  One of my very favorite Asimov stories.

--"All the Troubles of the World"—Multivac—the mile-long computer—gets fed so much data constantly that it now predicts all crime that will happen, so the police can arrest people before they do the crimes.  Now, for the first time, Multivac predicts an attempt on itself, and the Central Board of Directors races to neutralize the threat.  Fascinating.  Great ending. 
--"The Ugly Little Boy"­—Scientists pull a cave boy out of the past and study him.  He, however, becomes more than just a test subject, which causes problems when they have to send him back to make space for other subjects.  Touching, with interesting ethical debates. 

--"Nightfall"—on a planet with so many suns it's never dark, scientists and sociologists predict a total eclipse, which will plunge the planet into a darkness which will drive the population mad. 

--"Hostess"—A biologist—one of this collection's few strong female protagonists—discovers a sinister conspiracy involving Earth's relationship with the few known intelligent alien races.  Rather ethically terrifying.

My rating:  overall a 4 (some poems a 2, some stories a 5)

Discover this imaginative collection for yourself.  Available here.