Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What happened to my blog?

I'm noticing the layout seems to have gotten messed up. The sidebar now drops down until after all the posts. And I didn't do it.



YAY! I solved it. Apparently failed to properly close a tag on the Shot of Tequila post, and as the technical XML terminology goes, "that was messing with stuff".

Fixed it by changing the options to show less posts until the sidebar corrected itself, then looking at the problematic post until I noticed it didn't have a "greater than" sign at the end of a close-tag.


Lots of chattering out there recently on continuity this week. For instance, Laura Anne Gilman at SFNovelists writes about how annoying continuity slips can be to a reader. Deborah Teramis Christian writes about her challenges in keeping her multiverse straight, and her personal wiki for that multiverse. David Weber, who was Writer Guest of Honor at ConDFW this weekend, posted an authorial note regarding his multiple Honor Harrington series [what the heck is the plural of series, series's?] and the fact that an occasional scene is going to have to appear in multiple novels, generally from different points of view, because that is what works for what he's trying to do.

While there are many details that author/creators must remember and control, there are some realistic strategies that you can use to limit the effect of slips.

  • Memory is not perfect: People don't always remember things correctly, so thinking that you met someone on planet A when you really met on station B is par for the course among humans. If you're a subtle author, you can intentionally drop in a few of these mistakes by a POV character, and then the unintentional ones will seem planted. This also allows some really cool effects like getting the reader to anchor characters together and see parallels.

  • History is not perfect: Actually, History is like a mashup collage seen in a funhouse mirror, especially once postmodern academics get through with it. There is no reason that people in a novel will have a clear view of events that happened even five years before - the stories that people have told about the events will have gained more credence than the actual events.

  • Information has a viewpoint : When you are using POV and telling what a character knows or believes, the character doesn't have to be right. That information may be faulty in some basic way, and it definitely should include whatever biases would be natural to that character.

    At best, fiction is an attempt to create understanding about [pseudo-]events that happened in a particular way at a particular time. In order to create fiction, even "creative nonfiction" about real events, we have to delete massive amounts of information. We are collapsing a general superimposed wave form into a single line and then abstracting that line to an aesthetically pleasing abstract presentation in the form of language.

    Get it right if you can, but you can also get it artfully wrong, and please just as many readers.
  • Monday, February 23, 2009

    Life's Sweet Inevitability... and Cons

    I just spent the weekend walking the tightrope, balancing between loving and nurturing my family -- pronounced "seeing" -- and learning, promoting and chatting with friends at ConDFW. I got to the other end of the rope with honor, home life and dignity intact. Well, honor and homelife anyway; it was a con.

    I'll try to blog a little this week about what I learned at the Con, especially at an indie publisher panel I attended. I may point you to some authors I met (and/or I may end up reviewing ARCs for you.) And I'll definitely be reviewing Rosemary Clement-Moore's second book Hell Week as soon as I can clear six hours to read it.

    But that's not what this post is about.

    The private-public balancing act from this weekend reminded me of a post I wanted to point you all to over on Jay Lake's website. Jay is one of the most prolific spec fiction writers of my generation, or at least I'm expecting him to be by the end of the day.

    Both Jay and I think about the "end of the day" a bit, because we are colon cancer survivors, and it does affect how we see the world. This post is one he wrote in January about that awareness, plus Calvin and Hobbes. Enjoy.

    Friday, February 20, 2009

    Join an Experiment, Get a Shot of Tequila

    Action / Mystery writer JA Konrath, author of the Jack Daniels series (Whiskey Sour etc) -- and of the blog A Newbie's Guide to Publishing -- is running a little experiment to try to save his beloved GPS unit "Sheila".

    He's offering a PDF download of an original 75K word novel (a trunk novel he's refurbished, with Jack Daniels and her partner as bit players in someone else's story). The novel is called Shot of Tequila. And it's available for 99 cents by paypal.

    Read his post here.

    Wednesday, February 18, 2009

    Wii Dance Dance Revolution for the Klutz

    All right, so I haven't blogged in a Wiiik.

    Oh, did I just mis-spell something? Nope.

    I got a Wii and some cool accessories as a single big combo present for my birthday and Christmas. It's imminently practical, since it should help me in my goal of losing another thirty pounds this year over the twenty I lost last year. Of course, since the Wii is the hottest thing since stock scams, the console finally arrived in late January, and because our living room television is vintage 1980-something, it took me another two weeks to get it properly hooked up.

    We've worked our way through Wii Sports, Wii Play, and a week of WiiFit, which is a totally awesome -- if a bit too partonizing and cutesy -- way of working your muscles and balance. We are all losing weight.

    Then today I started trying to get Dance Dance Revolution Hottest Party 2 (DDR2) to work.

    Okay, so I open the box, and there's a big pad and the game disk. So far so good. Now I look at the cord coming out of the pad. It doesn't fit any of the visible slots on the Wii. Check the box. Yep, this is the Wii version. Check the instructions in the box. No explanation.

    Google the problem. It turns out, there's a whole bunch of hidden slots on top of the Wii. Flip open the concealed lid, doesn't look right. Flip open the other concealed lid. Plugs in perfectly. Yay!

    Start DDR2. Pad seems to be working; it does allow selections on the screen. Yay.
    Play with the options. Choose beginner. Start it up.

    Booo x 14. Unable to hit a single beat. Three full games. Oh, and by the way, it cuts you off after fourteen mistakes. Rack and Ruin!

    Try again. Try to hit in advance of the beats. No change. Try to hit after the beats. No change. Really, just at random I ought to be able to get some beats right. Nope.

    Google this problem. No one else on the planet seems to think that DDR2 beginner is too hard.

    Now, I've been doing step-dancing on the WiiFit games, and getting good scores, so I know I'm not totally a klutz. (My wife would graciously decline to comment, and luckily, she isn't around...) Is this thing just set ridiculously tight on the beginner level?

    All right. Play with the options more. Find the one that lets you dance to the end of the song even if you muff it egregiously. (Those words clash, don't they? How about "muff it spewfully"?) There's a whole screen of stuff you can turn on and off in the learner levels. Metronome, claps, and so on. You can even turn off the song itself and slow down the beats.

    Still zero points.

    Finally, being the technical wiz I am, I decide that there are a couple assumptions I can just check at random. I switch the pad's plug from the Wii's back controller slot to the front one.

    Bingo. I get points! I break a sweat. Maybe I can learn to dance on this thing.

    But first, I'll post this in case someone else runs into the problem. The first pad cable on DDR2 for the Wii plugs into the farthest front slot.

    Probably everyone with a modern console already knew that, but there are those of us late adopters who might need to know.

    And, by the way, Nintendo and/or Konami - really stupid to have the Wii reading that back controller slot for the controls, but not for the dancing itself. Kinda confuses things for us N00bs.

    Monday, February 9, 2009

    Strengths and Weaknesses

    It's a fundamental precept both of real life and of good fiction that a person's greatest strengths are also their greatest weaknesses and often vice versa.

    For example, the character who has an indomitable will, that allows him to persist against incredible odds, generally is also pigheaded when he is wrong. (Something DC failed to do with silver age Green Lantern Hal Jordan -- who is almost preternaturally reasonable in applying his strength of will -- but, if I recall correctly, used properly with Kyle whatshisname.)

    Well, this principle is being tested now in biology, where scientists are using HIV's fast mutation rate against it. They have done trials with a new drug called KP-1461, which takes the place of the cytosine and thymine base pairs during reproduction, quickly mucking up the genetic machinery.

    It's certainly an interesting idea, but I'm not sure it's a good one. Sure, given that mutations are overwhelmingly nonpositive for the mutated organism, an increased mutation rate in HIV should lead to a decreased viral load. However, given that there are billions of HIV virus "cells" in any given patient, aren't we giving them a pretty high aggregate chance to win the genetic lottery with a really good mutation? Especially if we use this on thousands or millions of patients?

    One thing you have to remember: sometimes a strength is just a strength.

    Sunday, February 8, 2009

    A Set of Testes looking for...

    According to this story on AP, two species have just been eliminated from the scientific lexicon.

    One of the eliminated species?

    "This thing was basically a set of testes looking for the female," Johnson said.

    Yeah, we've all met a few of those.

    New Review Up: Modern Magic by Anne Cordwainer

    I just posted a new review for the book Modern Magic over at Abandoned Towers.

    It's a series of twelve to fifteen linked short stories (depending upon how you count them) by debut author Anne Cordwainer, which together paint a novel (or "story cycle") of a family of powerful mages, one of whom... um... isn't.

    Oh, and by the way, there's a launch party!