Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Review of Katabasis by Robert Reed

I've started subscribing to Fantasy & Science Fiction again, which always was my premier SF mag. The November/December issue featured a novella by Robert Reed, called "Katabasis." I had to look up this Greek word, which means "a march from the interior of a country to the coast, as that of the 10,000 Greeks after their defeat and the death of Cyrus the Younger at Cunaxa."

Well. This is a story about a painful journey, although not literally the one in the definition. This is the first I've read of Reed's "Great Ship" universe of stories, in which a gigantic multi-world ship wanders the galaxy, picking up civilizations from all over.

Katabasis is one of the last of her species, rescued from extinction to join the many civilizations on the Great Ship by its human owners. Being extremely large and capable, though humanoid, she is employed as a porter for expeditions of humans who want to make the dangerous but memorable hike from one side to another. This is a future where no one dies, physical damage is easily repaired (presumably by nanobots), and if worse comes to worse, clients are carried out by their porters.  Humans can remember infinitely, as long as they have the money to pay for the onboard storage. Nonetheless, few make the journey without needing rescue.

The novella starts off slowly, with Katabasis reluctantly taking on a weak-looking human couple as clients for the trek. Along the way, they all suffer broken bones from the heavy gravity, as well as starvation and deprivation. She finds her clients strange at first, but slowly grows to like them for their spirit. We gradually learn that Katabasis has made this journey many times, but the first was on her home world, which was failing. She feels guilt for being the only survivor of her people's exodus in search of the Great Ship. After an earthquake wipes out several other expeditions, her group allows another human to join them, on condition he becomes a porter willing to carry food and equipment. There are some similarities to "Avatar," but these can be forgiven.

Though Katabasis's clients ultimately fail, the new human helps her bring them to safety and helps her overcome her guilt and sadness by sharing his equally devastating history. This was a lovely story of the value of forgetfulness and self-forgiveness.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Casey Driessen: A Singular Fellow

It was a special treat to see fiddler extraordinaire Casey Dreissen at
Chautauqua Community House in Boulder. He calls his solo tour the
"Singularity Tour," and it is not inaccurate to say that you will be
pulled into his event horizon before you can say, "I like those red
shoes. . ." I'd met Casey at RockyGrass fiddle camp last summer.

Casey introduced his band, composed of three pedal boards that he
kicked and tapped throughout the performance to record and play loops,
vocals, and percussive sounds.

He opened with a medley of my favorite fiddle tunes, starting with
the haunting "Sally in the Garden." Casey has perfected a unique
rhythmic "chop" sound that evokes trains, drums, and even branches
scraping windows in the wind.

Casey's versions of Stevie Wonder's "Living (Just Enough) for the City," and
Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" are big crowd pleasers. There's
nothing like that little spine-tingling fiddle glissando in BJ.

Casey introduced a new composition that he wrote while marooned for
four days during Hurricane Irene. Called "The Heartbeat Kid," it is
based on the sonogram of his infant daughter's rapid heartbeat before she
was born. It is an amazingly gorgeous piece, alternately filled with
Phillip Glass-like frenetic counterpoint, as you "see" the tremendous
activity that is creation and growth, then slow, sentimental passages
filled with love and expectation.

Check out Casey's Drummer Project with Austin, Texas drummers, fiddle/sticks.
It's nice to see the Austin connection, since we just
got back from the AMS annual meeting there and had the opportunity to
walk up and down Sixth Street and fill our ears with good stuff. Hope we'll
be seeing a new album from him soon.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

I Write Too (and Some Resolutions)

As I traipse about, looking at other authors' and publishers' sites and
following dozens of folks on Twitter, I've noticed the plugs springing up for
2012 Nebula and Hugo nominations. I've yet to get a professional-level
acceptance, but I aspire to that, so I can join SFWA and participate
in the voting. And beyond the voting, I'd like to be a nominee,
because I write too.

This year has been quite productive for me. I had several stories and
a novella accepted by semi-pro markets: Sorcery and the Far Frontier, Fresh Blood (May-December Publications), and Hogglepot Journal. My YA novella
has been accepted by World Castle Publishing. I got a definite nibble from
Song Stories as well.

While waiting to see if any of my new stories get a nod, I
participated for the first time in National Novel Writing Month
(NaNoWriMo). It was a lot of fun meeting fellow scribblers in the
Boulder area. NaNoWriMo's emphasis on word count (the goal was to
write 50,000 words in one month, i.e., the first draft of novel) was a
bit of a buzzkill for me, since I consistently underperformed. I
suppose logorrhea is a skill, but it's not necessarily creative.

At any rate, I've now got 15 stories and another YA novella to shop around,
and I plan to continue writing as the inspiration strikes. I discovered a
wonderful resource for writers, James Alan Gardner's Skill List Project, and
have found his insights to be quite helpful.

The resolutions: I plan to apply to the Clarion West Writers' Workshop. I've long dreamed of attending a fiction writing workshop; I still remember reading Kurt Vonnegut's descriptions of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. If I don't get in, I resolve to keep trying.

I like reporting on science (it gives me ideas). I'm currently attending the
American Meteorological Society's annual meeting  (#AMS2013 on Twitter) in Austin,
and I resolve to keep science and science fiction on my radar.

I started a personal author website, julianarew.com, and I resolve to
put more of my stories over there, as well as to log my activities in
a little more detail than I do here in my blog.

Oh, yeah, I should lose weight, drink less, and eat better, too.

My Heart (Third Flatiron) Will Go On

I started a small SF e-publishing venture, Third Flatiron Anthologies,
and edited three books by authors from all over. I'm looking forward
to producing four more books in 2013, and maybe, fingers crossed,
being able to pay a little more for stories, starting this summer. It
is a genuine pleasure reading all the stories from beginning and
established SF writers, and I love being able to contribute in some
small way to their successes by publishing their work. So far I've
been able to provide at least minimal critiques of every submission I
receive and have been declared by Duotrope to be "among the 25 most
approachable fiction markets" in their database. I follow a basic review
checklist written by Maureen McHugh on onlinewritingworkshop.com.

Monday, January 7, 2013

T. Boone Pickens Holds Forth at AMS

The 2013 annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society in
Austin kicked off with an interview of T. Boone Pickens, the famous Texas oil
billionaire and Swift Boater.

I'd seen Pickens before on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and he
appeared to be a big booster of wind energy. The energetic 84-year-old
is funny, self-deprecating, and passionate about energy, but he
certainly is no knee-jerk liberal, so some of his message is hard to
take for the likes of moi. But you have to give credit to a guy who
grew up poor in Oklahoma during the Depression, eked out a college
degree, and started his own oil business. He even tweets. He chafes at
the idea that as a super-richie he hasn't paid his fair share of

Boone's pet project is his energy plan, called the Pickens Plan, which
he introduced in 2008. He notes that all major countries in the world
have energy plans, except the United States. As we all know, America
with 4% of the population uses 20% of the world's oil production (90
million barrels/day). Pickens criticized American presidents dating
back to Nixon for harping on "energy independence" while doing nothing
to achieve it. Pickens worried that the U.S. had reached its limits on
production in the late 1980s, but notes that recent improvements
(especially horizontal drilling) have let us stay abreast of the 1980s

A bright spot is that most of the new oil discovery has returned to
the U.S. and North America, so Pickens advocates a North American
alliance as the best way to assure our supply. He also favors clean
energy ("who wouldn't?"), as long as it is profitable. For
example, converting all the big diesel trucks to natural gas is a
win-win. Right now, he says, wind energy is just not competitive, and
it's still not feasible to replace 90 million barrels of oil and coal
with today's solar and wind. He still supports the safety of nuclear
energy, citing a recent report saying they just need to stop building
plants over fault lines and on the ocean.

Pickens believes in the evidence for human-caused climate change,
so wants to do what he can to reduce the impacts or to ameliorate
them. Pickens didn't seem totally in command of his scientific facts
("we shouldn't be putting pollutants in the ozone"), but at least he
is heading in the right direction.

A question from the audience came regarding the safety of natural gas
fracking. Boone believes it is safe when the bores are concrete lined,
as is being done now in the 800,000 wells in the Ogallala
Aquifer. That's a lot of wells already.

Pickens says he includes the services of a weather forecaster for his
weekly analysis and projections. Sounds about right. If it's going to
be cold this week, we're going to buy more oil. Asked what AMS members
could do for him, Pickens stated he has had to
learn a lot about other people's businesses, and asked them to do the
same for his. If you want to get on his train and ride, you can join up
at his www.pickensplan.com site.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Review of "Burn" by James Patrick Kelly

I'm a long-time fan of James Patrick Kelly, but have only been exposed
in the past to his shorter works, such as the Nebula-winning short
story, "Mr. Boy." Kelly podcasts actively, and I thought I'd look for
the print version of his book, "Burn," which won a Nebula in 2006.

What distinguishes Kelly is his ability to create worlds that are
*different* from the ordinary. Of course, that is natural for science
fiction, and world-building is expected. Kelly's skillful at it, of
course, but it is his imagination that takes it to the next level.

Burn is set on a planet 400 years in the future that has decided to
simplify life and drop out of the thousand-planet human community. The
founders of this Darwin-like society have purchased Morobe's Pea, a
planet ruined by its native human inhabitants, and shut out all outside

But what would you do if you were a native, and the new owners came
in and told you to get lost/relocate/disappear? Does this sound like
certain events in our own world?

Rebellious natives have taken to burning the forests the Darwinians
have planted to reclaim the environment. The protagonist, Prosper
"Spur" Leung, is a volunteer firefighter pledged to stamp out the
suicide burnings in order to preserve his family and community's
old-fashioned farming way of life.

Spur has been badly burned in the latest fire and out of boredom plays
with a computer at the hospital. He discovers the Upside,
the thousand linked human worlds his society has rejected. In
particular, he accidentally meets a child on the network, who turns
out to be the powerful equivalent of the Dalai Lama of the galaxy.

I especially enjoyed the entourage of wise children accompanying
Leung's new benefactor. They reminded me of the Lylmik in Julian May's
Galactic Milieu Series, who have been shepherded into "coadunation" by
the entity known as Atoning Unifex.

As this child tours Spur's society, another giant fire threatens to
take all they have built. Kelly paints a realistic portrait of the
fearsome destruction fire can cause, one many of us in Colorado
can readily identify with.

Spur is torn between preserving his pledged lifestyle and
understanding the despair of the original inhabitants. The child asks:
Is man really capable of living alone? Spur can't say.

Did the Upside meddle in their affairs, or leave them to their own
self-destructive war? The answer is both startling and regenerative.

I had a hard time finding this book, and had to get it hardcover from
a reseller in the UK. I hope Kelly has better luck with future
publishers. It's sobering when a famous star like him can't get his
books out there in paperback.