Friday, 30 November 2007

Rainbows End For Free!

Vernor Vinge's sf novel, Rainbows End won a Hugo for Best Novel in Japan this year. I had heard about it even before but haven't really had the time (or even the money) to check it out.

I guess I have no excuse now? Vernor's gone out and released the whole novel for free on the Internet.

Here's the writeup of the book from Pubs Weekly:
Set in San Diego, Calif., this hard SF novel from Hugo-winner Vinge (A Deepness in the Sky) offers dazzling computer technology but lacks dramatic tension. Circa 2025, people use high-tech contact lenses to interface with computers in their clothes. "Silent messaging" is so automatic that it feels like telepathy. Robert Gu, a talented Chinese-American poet, has missed much of this revolution due to Alzheimer's, but now the wonders of modern medicine have rehabilitated his mind. Installed in remedial classes at the local high school, he tries to adjust to this brave new world, but soon finds himself enmeshed in a somewhat quixotic plot by elderly former University of California–San Diego faculty members to protest the destruction of the university library, now rendered superfluous by the ubiquitous online databanks. Unbeknownst to Robert, he's also a pawn in a dark international conspiracy to perfect a deadly biological weapon. The true nature of the superweapon is never made entirely clear, and too much of the book feels like a textbook introduction to Vinge's near-future world.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

NaNoWriMo 07: WON.

Pfft. 50,000 words? Piece of cake. Hah!

Actually though? It was torture. On hindsight, I don't know why I went through it and I wonder how I managed to. But I made it! I made it! Now to actually finish my novel. At 50k words, my story's only half told...

I envy those who can call themselves novelists at 50k. Right. So now December is officially Novel Finishing Month. 31 days for another 50k words! I can't wait!

My heartfelt thanks go to my wife, L, who was patient enough to tolerate my absences (and sometimes, even dogged me to reach my daily word count) as well as Chet and Shark who cheered for me to go on! Woot!

Cartoon by Inkygirl nicked without permission.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Railway-Settings in Fiction.

Almost as much as cities, I also love trains in fiction.

Andrew Martin, author of The Necropolis Railway, writes in the Guardian of the railway settings that have appeared throughout English literature.

What tickled my fancy was this paragraph about Charles Dickens:
Dickens, like many early Victorians, was horrified by trains: there was "even railway time observed in clocks", he wrote, "as if the sun itself had given in". In Dombey and Son, conceived in the second great railway boom of the 1840s, he has the speculator Carker run down by a "red-eyed", monstrous express, which "licked up his stream of life with its fiery heat". In 1865 Dickens was himself involved in a train crash at Staplehurst, in which 10 people were killed. He continued to travel on trains, although he would grip the arms of the seat, and always felt the carriage was "down" on one side.
More railway in literature here.

City-Settings in Fiction.

I love the concept of city as character. China Mieville's New Crobuzon, Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast, Terry Pratchett's Ankh-Morpork, heck, even Xeus's original Dark City. I love 'em all.

So I was delighted to find that Catherynne Valente, author of In the Cities of Coin and Spice, had written an article on Jeff Vandermeer's (creator of Ambergris, another cool fictional urban setting) blog about city-settings in fiction:
The city is the political unit of fantasy literature, probably because of the ostensibly medieval setting. Cities offered protection, shelter, commerce–and ideas about the countries which contained these cities were vague at best for the entry level peasant. When fantasy writers talk about worldbuilding, what they often mean is citybuilding–creating consecutive cities that might be plausibly part of the same region one after the other. But there isn’t a lot of Federalism among dwarves, if you catch my meaning. The city-state is the dominant mode, even in kingmaking dramas, where the capital is the source of power and object of urban longing towards which the kinglet travels with unrelenting focus. The epic fantasy usually bounces between several (cf. George Martin, Tolkien, et al.) with one designated as the capital and a whole lot of flyover country making up the rest of the world.
Read more here.

Is writing short stories first a good way to start ‘breaking into’ writing novels?

Good question. One that author S.L. Farrell tries to answer:
The skills you learn in short fiction don’t necessarily translate into equal skills for writing long fiction. The pacing is different: a short story needs to start as close to the end as possible while a novel may start much further back from the climax. The way you build a novel is often not something that you can duplicate in short fiction, as novels use a more intricate structure (and on the flip side, short stories can often use wildly experimental methods that work within the confinement of a short story, but which would get deadly tiresome to the reader in a novel). Scope is different, since short stories tend to use a microscope while a novel uses a wide-angle lens: you can tell the tale of a battle in short fiction, but you can’t give us the whole five-year long war. Setting is different: you generally have one or two setting in short fiction; in a novel you might have dozens — which means that the worldbuilding has to be much more in depth; you won’t get away with a painted backdrop in a novel. Plotting is different: short fiction tends to have a ’straight-line’ plot; a novel’s plot is generally more complex, and has the added complexity of sub-plots supporting the main plot. Characterization is even different: the character arc in short fiction will usually show the ‘top’ of the arc — that defining moment when the protagonist’s life is changed — while in a novel, the writer can show much more of the arc. Characterization is generally slower and deeper in a novel.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Interview with John Ling.

My pal, John Ling, is interviewed by Xeus on her blog about his short story, Zero Sum, that appears in the new short story collection, Dark City 2:
What are your writing habits? Why do you write?

I tend to write in terms of 'scenes', not necessarily 'chapters'. Once a 'scene' is completed, I'm done for the day, and I will spend the remainder of my time polishing up what I have written. I don't usually find it productive to simply bang out thousands of words at one go, because two-thirds are likely to be eliminated anyway. Admittedly, I am fussy. I tend to under-write, rather than over-write. My reasoning is: it's better to leave readers wanting more, instead of wanting less.

Writing for me has always been less of a choice, and more of an compulsion.
John Ling ends with a quote that sounds like it came out of Galaxy Quest (Shows how much of a nerd I am, huh!):
Keep pushing on, keep persevering, don't give up.
I haven't gotten round to reading Dark City 2 yet but I do have it on my TBR pile. Also, my name appears on the back cover. How cool is that?


But for what reason? Beats me!

Friday, 23 November 2007

NaNoWriMo 07: Day 23

40,000 words!

I never knew I had it in me. I've never seen so many words that I wrote myself in one place at the same time.

How did these words connect together to form a single coherent story*? It's magic, I tell you!

Right, only 10,000 words to go. Listen to me... only 10,000 words to go. Hah! Madness. A month ago, 10,000 words was like a gajillion bajillion words. Writing so much was nigh impossible.

*a matter of one's opinion

Also! Check out Chet's blog where she reflects on what lessons NaNoWriMo taught her this year.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Last Breath for the Hardback.

Not sure what to make of this:
With its creamy paper and embossed fabric covers, the hardback has always been the elite format for literary fiction.

Now Picador, an imprint of Pan MacMillan, the 8th largest publisher in the UK, which has authors such as Helen Fielding, Don DeLillo and Cormac McCarthy on its books, has called time on what it describes as "a moribund market". From next year it will launch almost every new novel as a £7.99 paperback, with other large publishers expected to follow.
I've always preferred buying paperbacks because they're cheaper.

But then again, I have to admit the experience of reading a hardcover book is incomparable to reading a cheap paperback. The smooth, thick paper, the feeling of substantial weight in your hands... holding and smelling the book, carrying it around with the dust cover off... reading a hardcover isn't just about enjoying the actual contents printed within. After all, you're paying a premium for this edition. It's okay to enjoy your book in a perverse way! (I won't tell if you don't...)

I don't buy every book in hardcover of course, but I will miss the format once it's gone. Picador isn't out to banish it forever though. They're planning "limited edition" releases of their future books which are basically tarted up hardcovers--ribbon bookmarks, fabric head and tail bands, the works. But I don't fancy rushing out to buy a copy of a book I want in hardcover before they're gone... forever.

But then again (again) I suppose you could argue that hardcovers have always been a sort of "limited edition" anyway. Except without the fancy add-ons.

Better Haul Out Your Degree.

cash advance

Thursday, 15 November 2007

NaNoWriMo 07: Day 15

So I hit 25k today! What a great feeling it is to reach halfway through the novel! It's true what they say: you begin to start hating the novel, you start to think that the novel is crap.

I've been tempted many times to just give up the whole damned thing. Many a time I stared at the empty page, mocking me with my inability to go on. Many a time there was when I pulled my hair in despair when I wrote my characters into a corner. (Don't be surprised when next you see me, I have less hair!)

I mean, seriously. My protagonist lands up in a hospital after he knocks into an elephant god by mistake when he gets lost in the city. He then proceeds to get the living daylights beaten out of him, but because he's the hero, he survives.

But then no matter how many times I give him a chance to escape from the hospital (so that he can continue the damn plot), he just refuses and stays in the hospital! The nerve! I've finally got him out, but not without some coaxing and navel-gazing.

But on the whole I'm glad I stuck with the novel. To quote a cliche, it may be a piece of crap, but it's my piece of crap.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Happy Deepavali!

I live on a house that's on a hill that overlooks most of Puchong, and on a clear day you can see all the way to Shah Alam and bits of Sunway.

It's midnight. It's clear. Puchong literally exploded. Fireworks blew up all over the place and luckily I have a good view of everything. The crazy thing is I can see even the furthest explosions, ones that I think are all the way in Klang!

The way things are going right now, you'd think the Indians discovered fireworks. It's never this festive during CNY over here.

Happy deepavali, peeps!

Also! 15k words! Wootles!

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

NaNoWriMo 07: Day Six

Whoop! Past the 10,000 mark! I got distracted during the weekend (no thanks to pesky, meddling relatives, grr!) so I'm relieved I managed to catch up.

Friday, 2 November 2007

NaNoWriMo 07: Day Two.

7578 words so far. Added 2501 words today.

I couldn't keep up the pace I had yesterday because I think I zonked out my brain last night. I think it got quite a shock to write so much in so little time! I've had to take it more slowly today; my thought processes don't seem to be matching up or something.

Or maybe I just need more exercise.

Anyway! The story continues and so far it's good. A bit slower paced than yesterday, because the protagonist started reflecting on himself before he got on the train, and then the plot just started to drag slower than molasses stuck on turtles. But at least he got on the damn train to his destiny. Finally.

And now to take this story to The City.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

NaNoWriMo 07: Day One.

The stage is set, the green flag drops!

I've just finished writing my quota of words for today. My mind seems so numb, and my eyes can't seem to focus on anything right now. I managed to finish one chapter of the novel and my word count so far is 5077 words. Yay me! *clap clap*

I'm feeling good about myself right now but this year I don't want to brag about it too much like I did last year. The enthusiasm only lasts for a few days, then it's downhill all the way, until something good happens, which is not often, if ever.

The outline idea seems to have worked for me... so far. Also, unlike last year when I used Google Docs to write my novel, this year my noveling software of choice is the awesome Scrivener. (However, I am using only the free, unsupported and outdated Scrivener Gold.) This particular software is like a project manager for novel writing. It keeps and sorts all your research and data you've collected while researching your novel in one place and makes it easy to access while you're writing the novel. It also helps categorise and label your various drafts and chapters. The most useful feature for me, I think, is the ability to display pictures and notes alongside your draft to help you compose your prose. Unfortunately for Windows users, Scrivener is Mac only. Ah well.

Anyway! Enough hawking products!

Here's a tasty (but unfortunately raw and unedited excerpt of my awesome novel):
It was morning and the window was left intentionally open. The sky was overcast as usual, the day still dim and Simpang Junction’s inhabitants still groggy, evident in the slow way they shuffled along the streets below. Suraya had already been at her desk for one hour but she still felt lazy. She always hated this time of the morning when she could never seem to motivate herself enough to get into gear and start her work. Even though the window was open, the room was insufficiently lit. Suraya took a piece of paper from her “In” tray and read it. There was not enough light in the room, so she got up and walked across to the light switch. The lights flickered into life, and Suraya blinked.

She thought she had noticed something at the window and looked again closely. There was nothing there now. She shrugged, decided she needed a coffee and walked over to the coffee-maker that was skulking in the corner of the room. The coffee-maker sensed her approaching and nervously tried to sneak away. Suraya knew it couldn’t go too far. It was still plugged in to the electric socket on the wall but the coffee-maker never gave up trying to escape. As she was pouring the foul-smelling liquid into her mug, she noticed something moving in the corner of her eye. She didn’t think much of it at first because she thought that maybe it was the smell affecting her. But before she could turn around to make sure, there was a loud, crunching thud, like a table landing upside-down after being dropped from a great height.

Suraya almost dropped her mug of foul-smelling coffee, but quickly regained her senses when she remembered why she had left the window open in the first place. She placed down her mug on her desk and walked over to the window where there was dark, black heap on the floor, groaning. She was right. It was a Recruiter. This particular Recruiter happened to be an Orangminyak, a little man, no bigger than a 10-year-old boy, who’s skin was covered in slippery, thick, black oil. It was said that the oil exuded from tiny pores in the Orangminyak’s skin and was the result of a curse many, many generations ago. Suraya had not met many Orangminyak, and this was the first time she saw one as a Recruiter.

“Can’t you people walk in through the door like everyone else?” Suraya said with a little annoyance. “Look at this mess.”

When the Orangminyak Recruiter had jumped in through the window, he must have slipped on his own oily feet and crash-landed on the floor. There was a pile of scattered papers on the floor. The Orangminyak Recruiter quickly righted himself up and gathered the papers, getting smudged and oily in the process.

“Very sorry, miss,” he said miserably, “I’m new at this. Here are the latest reports for the Administrator.” He handed over the oily stack of papers to Suraya. “Well, best I’d be going now.” He grinned sheepishly and Suraya baulked at seeing the bright red innards of his mouth. It contrasted with the blackness of the Orangminyak’s skin, his eyes, even his lips. The Orangminyak scrambled up on to the window sill without much grace as his feet kept slipping here and there, leaving oily marks everywhere. Then it jumped out and disappeared out into the hustle bustle of the town.

Suraya took a look at the papers she had just been given. Usually there was nothing interesting about the reports that the Recruiters dutifully handed in every week or so. Suraya leafed through the papers, glancing at the contents as she made her way back to her desk. She made a minor mental note to ask the janitor to clean up the mess made by the Orangminyak Recruiter then promptly forgot about it. She continued leafing through the papers absentmindedly when she got to her desk and started to drink her coffee. The foul smell must have woken her up to something. She turned back to the first page and began reading the report more carefully. She turned the pages slowly this time, reading every each word. She gasped. Could it be?

Suraya got up from her desk, the stack of papers firmly in her hands and walked to the far wall, to knock on the door of the Administrator’s office. She waited a few moments, then ventured to open the door a bit, and poked her head in. The Administrator was at his desk, the window with the whole view of Simpang Junction behind him. He seemed to be signing some documents when he noticed Suraya peeking in through the gap of the door. He raised his left hand and waved her in. When Suraya came up to his desk, he eyed the oily and smudged stack of papers she had in her hands.

“Recruiter reports, is it? Don’t tell me an Orangminyak delivered this in,” he said, a little incredulously.

“Yes, but that’s not the most interesting part,” Suraya said, handing over the papers to the Administrator. “I think you should really read this immediately.”

The Administrator merely raised an eyebrow at Suraya, then began to read the first page. Suraya stood waiting while he continued reading the other pages.

“I see. I should say this is good news,” the Administrator said without much enthusiasm. “We have found a better candidate for my replacement.”

“And he is your son.”

“He is my son.”

“I never knew you had a son.”

“It was a long time ago.”
Lame. But fun! This excerpt is only 1/5th of what I wrote today.

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