Ah September, one of my favorite months. Sure, my birthday is in September, but its not the only reason I love the month. To me, September is about beginnings. School begins in September (in New Jersey anyways, which is all I've ever known.) After a good twenty years or so in school, you get a pattern in your head, and sometimes it just sticks. Often, you'll find the Jewish New Year as well during this month, so in some ways I don't feel alone in thinking of it as a season of fresh starts.
Writing: In keeping with the season, I managed to get a bit more done on the writing front. One new first draft. (Is that redundant to say something is both new and first?) One story revised, and awaiting feedback from some beta readers to see if this revision works better than prior version. A number of new ideas mugged me this month, and I dutifully jotted down enough, so that hopefully, I can go back and get those written once I have the time. Ideas are way outstripping speed and time to write the stories that go with. Shocker.
One story still out on submission. Hopefully I can get at least one more out into rotation before the end of October.
Reading: With a week's vacation early in the month, I made good headway on reading. Four novels, as well as a smattering of short stories. I won't detail all the shorts I read, but I did manage an issue or so of Interzone, Realms of Fantasy, and Paradox. I still have way too many issues of magazines backed up, and it's never easy for me to dig out of that pile as the subscriptions come in.
Orphans of Chaos, by John C. Wright: The immediate thing I noticed about this novel, was a distinct sense of style. That's not to say other books I've been reading lack style, they don't. I just think that much of what I have read recently has a sense of style that goes along with third person point of views, a kind of cinematic approach to the story telling. I'm not sure I can pin down what it is that makes the style of this novel for me, it is linked to the first person point of view, but it's not merely someone telling me what's going on all around them. Perhaps its a sensation of time simultaneously passing and standing still, which I think is rather appropriate to the novel considering the nature of the Orphans of the title. Time is something that was very hard to pin down in the novel. I would say that the events are somewhat contemporary, but I would find it impossible to pin down an exact date the book is meant to take place in. Yet it also feels, perhaps due to the nature of this little British boarding school, to also feel somewhat Edwardian. Of course, perception of time for the main characters is one of the plot points, so I don't think it surprising at all that time's passage is not easy to pin down. I'm amazed at the number of fantasy books these days that have real world mythological characters showing up in the modern era. I think I'm starting to get a touch tired of that, but that's probably luck of the draw, not anything I can lay at the feet of any particular author. At the least, the mythological figures used are handled with new twists, and many appear to be thankfully more obscure characters. Which I happened to enjoy. Not the same old figures from central casting.
I think what I liked best about this book, was how each of the five main characters had a different perception of reality. And as an example of what I meant by style, you really understand this within the first few pages as he introduces each of the orphans, and gives you a sense of who they are and how the world works for them, all the while still through the lens of the first person narrator, Amelia. Quite an interesting feat. If the book can be said to have a flaw, however, it is the fact that it is quite clearly the first of several books. The novel cannot be considered complete and stand alone by any measure, and for some people that can be quite the turn off. If you got drawn in as I did, you might think it a good thing that there are two more books to read.
Old Man's War, by John Scalzi: Such a fascinating concept, to send not our young, but our old off to war. (I shouldn't be surprised if there are people out there wondering if we couldn't adopt that policy now, starting with those very folks who voted for our current entanglement.) There's a long tradition of military fiction within SF. Probably almost as far back as we imagined taking to the stars, have we wondered what warfare might be like when we got there. Perhaps because looking back at history, we see all the warfare and strife of our past, that we can only assume such will continue well into the future. It could be that reading about humans defeating aliens gives us an ability to cheer for the victors without feeling as if we should also sympathize with the losers. Scalzi portrays a remarkable breadth within that simple niche of the genre. Providing not merely warfare among the stars, but intriguing and innovative technologies that arise with it. (I wonder what he thinks, now that some mathematicians have shown it mathematically possible that there are parallel universes much as the way described in this novel.) Definitely an engaging novel, that sucks you right in and through the gimmick of following a recruit into the space military, you get to learn about the way of the universe outside Earth as he does. Action in plenty, as you might expect from a war novel, but beyond that, you see a lot diversity in the types and nature of aliens, the tactics of space warfare, and I dare say even some questioning about the whole nature of war, and these wars in particular. No surprise that this book was nominated for a Hugo. I look forward to the followup novel: The Ghost Brigades.
The Hollower, by Mary SanGiovanni: The story of a creature that slowly torments, and destroys people in small town New Jersey. This supernatural being, a creepy monster with a human-like appearance, stalks its victims, gets inside their heads, and uses their own fears, doubts, and inner weaknesses against them. A seemingly random group of victims of this unearthly horror, are brought to the edge of despair. Yet through what at first seems like failure of one of the victims of this monster, the Hollower, it is perhaps a sacrifice that instead provides some other victims with knowledge of what it is they face. The characters converge into a group that decides to take back their lives, or die trying. The book read like a movie, that is to say, I could see it almost as if on a screen as I went through the novel. The heroes are a diverse group of souls, people who each have their own crises they have had to deal with. The implication is this is why each were chosen, what made them vulnerable to the Hollower. But when you consider it, haven't we all had those moments? Maybe not drugs, or alcohol, or death of a parent at a young age, as some of the characters in the novel. But even those of us, with generally normal lives, can't even we find something that might torment our souls if someone could get within our minds and bend our memories against us? Things we might be glad to have put behind us? Things that we think we've forgotten but perhaps lay just beyond the edge of conscious memory. I think that's what links the reader to the heroes of the novel, what makes us root for their success, because if they can manage to overcome this horror, perhaps then we wouldn't have to be its next victims.
Can Animals and Machines Be Persons?, by Justin Leiber: This work is thought experiment. It was assigned reading many years ago for a Science Fiction course I took, but managed to only really skim through it at the time. I'm a terribly slow reader, and as an English Major, History Minor, my reading load was such that I often had to choose to skim works, or skip some readings altogether. (Some day, I'll actually sit and read Hamlet.) It's a very short work, written in the early-mid 1980's. It's a dialogue, a court proceeding where a UN group is trying to determine the fate of the continued existence of two entities. A computer system known as AL (Model Turing 346). Heh. Al Turing. Get it? Yeah, you probably got, but just in case you don't Alan Turing, and his thought experiments (and counter proofs, etc) are all brought up throughout the course of the dialogue. That really shouldn't be surprising when talking about "thinking machines." The famous "Turing Test" is used, as well as the "Chinese Box" and one I was somewhat less familiar with, the "Cast of Millions." Also discussed were Thomas Paine, Mary Shelley, and her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft. It presents some interesting arguments. Looking back on it, some thirty years later, you can see how the questions asked within, are ones that humanity has still not answered. Interesting from a science fictional point of view, in regards to what makes something a person. Though by design, no real conclusion is reached, and presumably, you are expected to go forth and make your own conclusions from the arguments presented.