Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Newsletters I Love

Back in February I posted about how happy I was that I’d been able to maintain “Inbox Zero” for ten days. Two and a half months later, I’m still able to post that I’ve been maintaining Inbox Zero! Well, more or less. I now keep all email that needs to be acted on or replied to sooner rather than later in my inbox, but everything else gets deleted or filed away.

But here’s the funny thing. As part of getting to Inbox Zero, I’d deleted a whole slew of newsletters that were just junking up my inbox and making more work for me. But a month later, I just ended up replacing those newsletters with a new batch of newsletters.

And I’m loving it!

The main difference? These are newsletters I enjoy reading. Some of them are daily, and yes, I read them every morning. Others come once a week and I read those on the mornings they come in. I thought I’d share with you some of my favourites:

Austin Kleon’s weekly newsletter

Austin Kleon newsletter

Every week, Austin Kleon, the author of Show Your Work and Steal Like an Artist, sends out a newsletter containing a list of 10 things he thinks are worth sharing. There is almost always something in his weekly list I want to click on, and often it’s the kind of click where one thing leads to another and I end up learning a whole lot or getting really inspired. Which is why I really love this newsletter. (I also like Austin Kleon’s books, too.)

Now I Know

Now I Know

The Now I Know newsletter by Dan Lewis arrives in my inbox every morning, and I never know what interesting thing I’m going to discover when I open it. And you don’t just get a well-written piece about something interesting—you also get a bonus fact, which is sometimes even more interesting than the piece itself, a link to a quiz, a related piece from the archives and related links. A few weeks ago, for example, I learned that

The phrase “worth fifty-eight points in Scrabble” is worth fifty-eight points in Scrabble.

Which, by the way, I found interesting enough to tweet!

Daily Science Fiction

Daily Science Fiction

If you like short stories and you’re a fan of science fiction or fantasy, you’ll enjoy the Daily Science Fiction newsletter, which gets delivered to your inbox every weekday. Despite its name, the stories are a mix of science fiction and fantasy, and since they’re flash fiction, they’re quick reads. The quality of the stories is high (they’re a paying market, and are on the list of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s markets which qualify writers for membership in SFWA) and opening this newsletter is definitely an enjoyable way to start the weekday.

Do you have a newsletter you can’t wait to receive in your inbox?

The “Mom, I Don’t Like To Read” Quest (and a Mini Review of Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld)

It’s really quite a strange thing.

My older son (who, by the way, would be cranky if he knew I was blogging about him, so please keep this under your hats) has always insisted that he’s not a reader.

“Mom, I don’t like to read” is a recurring refrain around here. We’ve all been hearing some variation of this phrase from the time he learned to read.

But if there’s one thing everyone in this household agrees about, it’s that he does like to read.

I’ll be upfront about this. My mission in life is to get him to one day say, “Okay, okay! I do like to read! Are you happy now?” (or some variation thereof). I call it my “Mom, I don’t like to read” quest.

The Nonfiction Segment – Accomplished

Every Christmas, he tells me at least 9.5 times, “Don’t buy me any books for Christmas this year, okay, Mom?”

Fortunately, I am as practiced at the nuances of selective hearing as my teenagers are.

So, every Christmas, there are always a few books under the tree for him. And every Christmas, you’re guaranteed to find him curled into a corner of the room, a pile of his “big” presents still unwrapped in front of him, and everyone else calling out, “Come on! We’re waiting. Put that book down and unwrap another present!” (because we are semi-organized about unwrapping our presents and like to do it together, in a sort of synchronized manner, thereby eliminating the possibility of one person being done with the unwrapping while another one still has a mound of stuff to get through.)

Somewhere along the way, I also discovered that, 80% of the time, nonfiction reading material left in my son’s vicinity will get picked up by him and yes, read by him. (This is actually a vaguely scientific finding, based on a small experiment I did where I put out ten books or magazines in places around the house where he’s known to frequent, and received the satisfaction of seeing him pick up and read eight of them.)

We have subscriptions to the Smithsonian Magazine, Discovery, and National Geographic. Every month, these magazines get left in strategic places around the house, and every month, they get read. Not by me or my husband or my daughter or my younger son, by the way. You get the drift.

So, despite the fact that he hasn’t yet said to me, “Mom, I do like to read nonfiction”, I feel a sense of accomplishment when it comes to my son and nonfiction.

The Fiction Segment – My Ongoing Quest

But I’m not really satisfied with this. I enjoy nonfiction, but to me, there’s no thrill that matches the excitement of immersing myself in a work of fiction. Deep in my heart, I just know that my son likes fiction, too.

One day, back when he was about 12, he happened to pick up an old Piers Antony Xanth novel I had lying around. It was great timing – the pun-filled Xanth universe is perfect for young teenagers.

And then I had another stroke of good luck. My sister Dawn, who is a highly organized and very tidy individual (yes, we are related, despite what you might be thinking), happened to be cleaning out her bookshelves. I mentioned that her nephew seemed to be enjoying the Xanth novel and almost instantly, or so it seemed, she was on my doorstep with a box of her old Xanth novels.

We downplayed the whole thing – I’ve learned that downplaying the whole “this is a book you’ll really enjoy” angle is extremely important, by the way (in case you’re planning on embarking on a similar quest). We put the box of Xanth novels in my son’s room, mentioned what they contained once, and once only, and then left, quietly. (I think we might have tiptoed away.)

Within two weeks, he’d read all the novels in the box.

Score one for Mom!

I’ve since worked with this method to get him reading the Nero Wolfe series by Rex Stout, too. And of course, he couldn’t resist the Harry Potter novels. He also discovered the alternate history novels of Harry Turtledove (the Worldwar and Colonization series). He enjoys these novels so much he’s reread them several times.

He still says, though, that he doesn’t like to read.

My Sookie Stackhouse Triumph

Recently, I scored a major victory in my “Mom, I don’t like to read” quest. I’d signed up for the Sookie Stackhouse challenge, and in anticipation of fulfilling the challenge requirements, I’d bought the boxed set of the first seven Sookie novels.

At the time, my son had just discovered the “True Blood” television series; I told him it was based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels, and waved the boxed set under his nose.

Sure enough, about two weeks later, he ambled into my office and nonchalantly asked where the Sookie books were.

Without hesitation, I gave him the entire set.

He took off with them, and read them all in a week. Yes, a week!

After he finished the first book, I asked him, “So, how do the books compare to the television series?”

He gave a shrug. “The television shows are better.”

When he’d finished the boxed set, I asked him again how the books compared to the television series.

“They’re different. But they’re both good.” Pause. “So, did you say there are some more books in the series? Are you planning to get them soon?”

“Admit it! You like to read, don’t you?”

“No, not really.”

“Do you want those last three books in the series or what?” (I am not adverse to certain levels of bribery, if you really want to know.)

“MOM! That’s not fair!”

A Mini Review(-in-progress): Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld

LeviathanAll of this is my long-winded lead-up to a mini review of Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld. A few days ago I was out shopping and saw the book on display; I’d been hearing about it at various other blogs, so, curious, I picked it up and took a look.

It is the cusp of World War I, and all the European powers are arming up. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The British Darwinists employ fabricated animals as their weaponry. Their Leviathan is a whale airship, and the most masterful beast in the British fleet,” I read from the jacket flap.

Oh my. An alternate history. Revolving around World War I. I don’t often buy newly released books in hard cover but I couldn’t resist this one.

I came home with it and gave it to my son. He glanced at it, then put it on his pillow and returned to his computer game.

“It’s an alternate history,” I piped up helpfully. “About World War I.”

He shrugged. Since I have quite a bit of experience with this kind of thing now, I left him to his game.

Late that evening, when I went to say good night to him, I found him sprawled on his bed, halfway through the book.

The next day, we had the following conversation:

Me: So, how’s Leviathan?

Him: It’s interesting.

Me: You put it down last night. Is it worth picking up to finish reading?

Him: Yeah. I’ve got homework tonight, though. But yeah. It’s pretty good.

(Here he launched into an explanation of the various Austro-Hungarian and German forces and their weapony, and the British Darwinists’ whale airship. Alternate histories really aren’t my thing, but I listened, rapt.)

Him: But it’s not really very practical, you know. I mean, really. A flying whale?

Me: You’re still going to finish reading it?

Him: Of course. It’s a good story.

So there you go. A mini review of Leviathan from someone who insists he doesn’t like to read.

By the way, if you want to help me out in my quest, I’d love to discover more alternate histories/science fiction novels that involve either of the two World Wars!

Update: Margot gave the most brilliant suggestion in her comment. She said, “He’s a reader; he just doesn’t want to have to fit your idea of a reader.” I never thought of it like this before, but I think now that’s it exactly! So … maybe my quest isn’t as ongoing as I’d thought; just maybe, it’s already accomplished …

Review: The City and The City, by China Miéville

The City and the City

In the European city of Beszel, the body of a murdered woman is found. Inspector Tyador Borlú is assigned the case, but further investigation leads him to believe that the murder is not as routine as it looks at first glance: the woman appears to have connections with the city of Ul Qoma.

This complicates matters considerably. Beszel and Ul Qoma uneasily occupy the same physical location, a feat that is accomplished through both the willingness of the denizens of the two worlds to “unsee” each other, and the powerful and mysterious force known as “Breach”. Strict laws enforce the illusive boundaries between the two cities, and penalties for breaking these laws are severe.

I’m going to cut to the chase here: The City & The City was one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. It was a book that carried me deep into its pages and never cut me loose until the very end; it was a book I closed with a sigh, reluctantly detaching myself from immersion into its world and back into my own reality.

In The City & The City, China Miéville has created a world that is both incredible and realistic. He has placed his world of sister cities, nestled together on the same physical terrain but with very different cultures, into our current world. The melding of the things we know – cell phones, the United Nations, television, airplanes, Google, email – with the concept of a place physically occupied by two cities whose citizens accomplish the feat of maintaining the separateness of each by “unseeing” any signs of the other, produces a setting that feels so tangibly real, one is tempted to pull out an atlas and search for signs of Beszel and Ul Qoma.

The language Miéville uses gives credence to this illusion: the words read as if they have been translated into English from a rich and foreign tongue. There is a lushness to the writing that takes you straight into exotic streets:

Laced by the shadows of girdered towers that would loom over it if they were there, Ascension Church is at the end of VulkovStrász, its windows protected by wire grilles, but some of its stained panes broken. A fish market is there every few days. Regularly I would eat my breakfast to the shouts of vendors by their ice buckets and racks of live molluscs. Even the young women who worked there dressed like their grandmothers while behind their stalls, nostalgically photogenic, their hair tied up in dishcloth-coloured scarves, their filleting aprons in patterns of grey and red to minimise the stains of gutting. The men looked, misleadingly or not, straight off their boats, as if they had not put their catches down since they emerged from the sea, until they reached the cobbles below me. The punters in Beszel lingered and smelled and prodded the goods.

The mystery itself is a complex and intricate one, with the tension as we edge towards denouement building relentlessly until we discover the identity of the murderer, the motive, the how, the why.

Finishing the book, I was dazzled by Miéville’s skill in creating such a realistic world, impossible though it may be; it was a world that stayed with me, a world so credible even now it seems to me that perhaps the impossible is not really so improbable. Miéville also stays committed to the mystery, never letting that slide by the wayside, and wrapping it in the layers of the world of Beszel and Ul Qoma so that it merges seamlessly with his worldbuilding.

The City & The City vividly demonstrates that separation and boundaries can, indeed, be fashioned from nothingness. Perhaps even more disturbing, it shows us the role we ourselves play in the maintenance of such illusions.

Whether you enjoy science fiction and fantasy, or are a mystery lover, or simply enjoy a well-written book with language that reaches out and grabs hold of you, I highly recommend The City & The City.

Where to buy The City & The City:

U.S. (Amazon.com) | Indiebound | Canada (Chapters) | UK (Amazon.co.uk)

Review copy details: published by Ballantine Books, 2009, Hardcover, 312 pages