Shipstar by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven

Last year I read Bowl of Heaven by Benford and Niven, and really enjoyed it. The book had lots going for it, and my biggest complaint was that it ended pretty much in the middle of the story. Sure, local threads got wrapped up, but the overarching crisis had not been resolved.

Shipstar resolves it nicely. 

This is science fiction like the kind I grew up loving, in which the scale of engineering evokes sense of wonder, and the setting is a critical player in the story being told. The second volume adds of detail the setting and depth to the characters, and of course it finishes the story much more satisfactorily.

Thanks to Writing Excuses I'm pretty interested in the process of creating the things that I like, and I was delighted to find afterwords by both authors. These essays by Benford and Niven were fascinating, not only for what they said (lots of cool things about designing BDOs, B-"Smart"-Os, and eon-spanning civilizations), but for what they didn't say. In particular, they made no mention to specifics in designing characters. I'm sure that's something that the authors did, but for some reason that's not what they thought would interest us in the essays.

I wish they had, because the alien characters were interesting and distinct, and the human characters got a lot deeper with the second volume. I'd love to know what went into making that happen.

At the end of Bowl of Heaven I was pretty sure I knew what Shipstar's big reveal was going to be. I got the reveal right, but it wasn't the big one. I'm quite happy to have been mostly wrong. Shipstar had a bunch of new things in it (something to shop for in a new book, obviously,) and I found the reveals very satisfactory, right down to the surprising-yet-inevitable bits.

(cross-posted from howardtayler.com)

Find me at Salt Lake Comic Con!

I'm at Salt Lake Comic Con this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday!

Schlock Mercenary merchandise will be in booth 1600, but that number is misleading. We're at the west end of Aisle 700, right across from The Pie Pizzeria booth. My full schedule is below, but the booth will be staffed the whole time the expo hall is open. 

THURSDAY

  • 1:00pm-5:30pm: Expo Hall, Booth 1600 - I'll sign and sketch in books at no charge. If it gets slow, I'll be penciling and inking strips. Come watch me work!
  • 6:00pm-6:50pm: Room 251 - Choose Your Own Apocalypse! It's an audience-participation game show type thing in which each of the panelists tries to woo the audience over to their point of view.
  • 7:00pm-8:00pm: Expo Hall, Booth 1600 - signing, sketching, and working on the comic.

FRIDAY

  • 10:00am-noon: Booth 1600
  • 12:00pm-12:50pm: Room 150G - XDM: Xtreme Dungeon Mastery and the Xtreme Player Codex, with Tracy and Curtis Hickman
  • 1:00pm-1:50pm: Expo Hall, Booth 1600
  • 2:00pm-2:50pm: Room 255C - Inside Schlock Mercenary! All that behind-the-scenes stuff... ask me anything! 
  • 3:00pm-4:00pm: Expo Hall, Booth 1600 
  • 5:00pm-5:50pm: Room 251a - Writing and Mental Health with Robison Wells.
  • 6:00pm-8:00pm: Expo Hall, Booth 1600
  • 8:00pm-8:50pm: Room250a - Guardians of the Galaxy: Post-Mortem (I guess my movie reviewing makes me an expert?)

SATURDAY

  • 10:00am-11:00am: Expo Hall, Booth 1600
  • 11:00am-11:50am: Publishing, Marketing, and Making a Living from a Digital Comic Book
  • 12:00pm-3:00pm: Expo Hall, Booth 1600
  • 4:00pm-4:50pm: Room 255F - Writing Humor: Learning to be Funny on the Page
  • 5:00pm-6:00pm: Expo Hall, Booth 1600
  • 7:00pm-7:50pm: Room 255F - Writing Excuses Unplugged, with Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells. 

It's going to be a very busy show for me. I'm sharing booth space with Brian McClellan, so even when I'm not on stage I'll probably be goofing off in entertaining ways. 

I probably shouldn't promise that. But come see us!

Me and Rob: Mental Health Panel at SLCC

Salt Lake Comic Con is less than a week way. I still don't know my actual booth number, mostly because Sandra handles that stuff and I wasn't paying attention, but it's not the booth I want to call your attention to.

Robison Wells and I will be doing a panel together called "Writing and Mental Health." We did this at SLCC Fan Experience in April with Peter Wacks and Bree Despain, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. I did a reading from "No. I'm Fine." which was not yet publicly available.

It's publicly available now.  Whether or not you're going to be at Salt Lake Comic Con, you can find all the ebook versions right here. And if you are going to be at Salt Lake Comic Con, you should consider attending Writing and Mental Health at 5pm on Friday in room 251a.

This will be a very open discussion. The Q&A we had in April was an amazing experience--definitely the sort of thing we want to have happen again. We'd love to see you there.

(cross-posted from howardtayler.com)

Massively Parallel will be massive...

Here is a thing that we hope to have ready in time for everybody's Christmas shopping:


As indicated by the sharpie marks, this is a draft of the cover. We also have proofs of the interiors, and are *this close* to shipping the final files to our printer. Massively Parallel is going to weigh in at 256 pages, and will retail for $25. It's our longest book yet, and will probably be the longest one ever because this is about as big as we want to go with these.

We're also working on the slipcase for books 6-11. No photos for that yet.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to edit some images while Sandra nudges some names around.

The New Doctor's New Clothes

So, the emperor is basically naked.
 
It took me two seasons of on-again, off-again viewing to figure it out, and it pains me greatly to say it because he's been such a fun emperor in times past (and times future!) but, oh my, that's pretty naked.
 
Further stretching the metaphor, his outfits have ranged from simple-yet-serviceable to extravagant-and-exhilarating, I have adored many of them, and envied not a few! Lately, however they seem to run somewhere between threadbare and last-year's-fashion. Very recently I began to worry that the Emperor's Clothier might have a supply-side problem.
 
Nope. Or rather, yes, the clothier has a problem. He's not supplying any clothing at all. The Emperor is, in point of fact, stark naked. And in case you haven't closed the loop already, what I'm saying is that the season 8 premiere episode of Doctor Who, "Draw Breath," starring the brilliant and versatile Peter Capaldi as the latest incarnation of the nigh-immortal, eponymous time lord, was awful.
 
I don't mean to imply that those who loved it are somehow blind to the emperor's nakedness, but let's crank up the A/C a bit and see whether this supposedly well-appointed fellow shivers, and okay, maybe I AM implying something.
 
Also, I'm declaring this metaphor broken. I don't have an A/C knob to turn up, and I don't know what Doctor Who would look like with the metaphorical shivers.
 
I can, however, list some of my complaints:
 
SPOILER ALERT
 
(and with that out of the way...)
 
The conceit of "Deep Breath," (Season 8 Episode 1) was that the Doctor experiences emotional distress when he regenerates, because all of his friends can no longer see him, the real him, through the new skin. This is a GREAT IDEA. And then it got told in the most ham-handed way possible, so that this truly touching bit of human truth gets lost as it knocks about in re-hashed robots, other people's trademarks, and the requisite eye-candy dinosaur.
 
In short, the episode squandered a brilliant character insight that can ONLY be executed on when  a new Doctor arrives.
 
I knew I was in trouble when the Doctor was ranting about the bedroom, and I thought to myself "sleeping in a bed would be more enjoyable than this." Sure, I was tired, but I've stayed up late watching recorded programming on many a night.  That, by the way, was about the time that Sandra stopped sitting up straight, and opted to lie down on the rest of the couch. Wise woman.
 
There was clever dialog scattered here and there throughout the episode, but it felt like shiny bits of pretty wrapping paper taped haphazardly to an anvil--the anvil being the cluttered, confused plot and its numerous call-backs to episodes I have enjoyed. Being reminded of a fun thing is not the same as delivering a new fun thing.
 
Back to the new metaphor: with enough of the shiny bits you can convince folks to admire the wrapping, but when this bundle gets launched from the satellite on its way to my TV screen it is supposed to glide in, not lithobrake into the Yucatan and kill off the dinosaurs.
 
(It was a big anvil. Made of old stuff. And there WAS a dinosaur. And another metaphor snaps from over-extension.)
 
The dinosaur! It featured prominently in the adverts and teasers, but it was too big to be believable. Sure, it HAD to be too big because Moffat needed it to cough up a Tardis, but if you're going to blow the CG budget on something that shiny, you should at least use it to good effect. The dinosaur coughs up the Tardis, bemoans its lonely fate (as translated by The Doctor, who speaks the language of grossly oversized tyrannosaurs), and then burns to death. End of dino.
 
Another squandered opportunity. The dinosaur could have been used to point up the "see beneath the skin" conceit, but only if it did more for the plot than deliver the Tardis and then turn into a greasy, burned clue.
 
On to the trio of Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint, and Strax (aka lizard lady, the maidservant, and the Sontaran): I like these characters. Strax delivered some of the best comic relief in the episode, even if doing so did ding his character a bit. Using the relationship between Vastra and Jenny to discuss non-traditional familial relationships was clever, but felt really forced. Maybe that's the sort of thing that they'll do better in future episodes, but I don't think I have any future episodes in me.
 
Why not?
 
One word: Daleks.
 
The teaser for the next episode showed Daleks. Honestly, I don't care about Daleks. I understand that it might be too expensive for them to just discard a bunch of props because the writers have moved on to new things, but every time they come back to Daleks I feel like I'm supposed to be surprised and terrified and thrilled, but all I really am is bored. Very bored. And disappointed.
 
So I'm done. At least until someone who is NOT a hard-core fan comes to me and says "hey, you know what? This one episode from the middle of Season 8 is huge fun. Capaldi chews scenery like an Eeetabrox, and oh, the Eeetabrox are these really cool, brand new aliens...." and then I'll tune the person out while making a note to myself of the episode number.
 
(cross-posted from howardtayler.com)
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