Some of Us Are Really Smart!

I think we all knew it, deep down inside: Those of us with desks that look like cyclone hits, who swear “too much,” whatever that is, and who stay up way too late and get up late, too… yeah, we’re smarter than you neatnik clock-watching do-gooders. Arwa Mahdawi says so in The Guardian, and why wouldn’t you trust her?

“I’m very intelligent. I’m also extremely creative and have a vocabulary that could be described as voluminous, venerable or very large. But don’t just take my word for it: science says so…” [read more]

Here’s proof of my own smartness. (I neatened it up some.)

And here’s the inevitable kibitzer:

“Aren’t you supposed to be working?”

Playing Timpani on the Fourth of July!

Here’s a picture of my daughter Lexi and her friend Connor trying out our new timpani (kettle drums) during our Fourth of July cookout. New timpani? In the back yard? Does this require a little explanation?

Last Sunday, Allysen was scanning our town email list, and she came across an unusual item: Things being discarded during clean-out of old school building, including this, that, and two kettle drums. “Do we want kettle drums?” she asked me. “Why not?” I said, and we hopped into the trusty Ranger to go take a look. Sure enough, two old but serviceable-looking copper kettle drums were beside the dumpster. Soon thereafter, they were in our back yard.

I played snare and bass drum (and clarinet) in my high school marching band, but I haven’t played any kind of drum since then. Maybe it’s not too late! These didn’t come with any sticks or mallets, so I popped into our neighborhood drum store. The owner, having worked with the schools, knew all about these drums. He said they were good ones (if in need of some repair to the base of one), and he made a call to confirm for me that they had indeed been put out for anyone to take. He was sold out of mallets, unfortunately, but the local guitar store had some that would do for now.

And so, for the Fourth of July, I called upon our guests to hum the melody of the theme to 2001, while I expertly (?) played the prominent timpani part: Boom boom boom boom boom boom boom boom. Maybe a new career for me?

Next challenge: See if we can fit them through the door into the basement!

More Fine Reading: The Last Good Man

I’m not usually a big reader of military SF, but when a new book by Linda Nagata shows up, I take note. You should, too, and her new novel The Last Good Man has just shown up. It’s a very-near-future novel that takes a close look at warfare as it may soon be fought: in tight, uncomfortable quarters with automated machines taking most of the shots, while humans continue to do the bleeding and dying. You may never look at a drone the same way after you read this book.

The thing is, Linda Nagata is equally proficient at the tech, the action, and the human heart. In this one she takes a gamble, casting as soldier-protagonist a woman past forty, with a yawning hole in her heart where her soldier-son was, before his death under dire circumstances. Not exactly a cheery starting point, but this is a book with passion, one that fights its way toward its own kind of redemption. Linda’s a tough writer, but beneath that toughness lies a powerful compassion.

Don’t miss this one.

Amazon to Swallow Whole Foods Whole?

In this era of daily, mind-boggling reports out of Washington, I sometimes feel as if my mind cannot boggle any further. And yet… taking over Whole Foods?? I thought I was dreaming when I heard it on the radio the other day. I do not like that Amazon is threatening to take over everything.

I have such mixed feelings about Amazon. As a customer, I find them easier and more pleasant to use than just about any other online merchant. As a writer, I am keenly aware that the ebook revolution they kickstarted with Kindle self-publishing is one big reason I have an active and growing readership, and am making more money from my books in backlist than I did when they were new. At the same time, I am keenly aware of their sometimes predatory practices in the publishing industry, and I worry about their growing power in the marketplace. As a viewer, I love some of their TV programming. As a citizen, I am both alarmed by their monopolistic tendencies, and pleased by some of the choices Jeff Bezos has made in spending his billions (keeping The Washington Post going strong, for example, and funding the development of private space-travel technology through Blue Origins). Also, I admire his willingness to take the long view on his investments, going for long-term growth and not just short-term profits. This is something the world needs more of, although not necessarily on such a gargantuan scale.

Amazon is truly a complex phenomenon, and my mind continues—against all odds—to boggle. I still sort of wish they weren’t buying Whole Foods, but here’s an interesting article on the reasons for his making the move.

Terry Bisson, in his SF novel Pirates of the Universe, depicted a future in which just about everything was owned and run by a corporation called Disney-Windows. Looks like he got the basics right; he just maybe picked the wrong company.

Another New Favorite—Mozart in the Jungle

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Another great show we’ve recently discovered, thanks to a tip from a friend, is Mozart in the Jungle, on Amazon Prime video. It’s been around for several seasons, but is new to us: a hilarious and engaging story of a fictional New York Symphony Orchestra, complete with the inner machinations of the nonprofit arts; Rodrigo, the flamboyant new conductor who steps on toes everywhere he turns; Hailey, a hopeful young oboist caught up in the whirlwind, and lots of funny, soap-opera-worthy characters. Bernadette Peters and Malcolm McDowell headline the cast with Gael García Bernal, but it’s told largely through the eyes of Hailey, the young oboist—played by Lola Kirke, who as it turns out was a classmate (one year removed) of my daughter Lexi at Bard College! Very funny show.

If you have Amazon Prime, it’s free. Give it a try!

Downward Dog—Arf!

Our new favorite comedy is Downward Dog, the story of a dog named Martin and his human, Nan, as narrated by the dog. In a voice that’s somehow a blend of surfer dude and NPR’s This American Life, Martin waxes philosophical about his life with Nan. His philosophy isn’t terrible stable, so his day tends to be filled with insights that contradict his last insight. The writing is witty and funny, the acting is great, and the dog is an adorable rescue mutt adopted from a shelter by the producers. No dog lover should miss this show. On ABC, free on-demand, or streaming.


Time for Some Fine (Silly!) Reading

Temporary Monsters by Craig Shaw GardnerFor something a little lighter, by which I mean utterly silly, try The Temporary Magic Series, by Craig Shaw Gardner. This tale concerns one Lenny Hodge, a young man of peculiar talents—who goes to work for an even more peculiar temp agency, Terrifitemps, which quietly controls the world. Pitted against the evil Fu, Lenny must join forces with the likes of a swami, a vampire, a werevole, and Bob the charming but annoying magic horse. If you liked Craig’s hilarious Ebenezum series about a wizard who’s allergic to magic, you’re sure to like this. Silliness for all ages.

Craig is another of my writer friends who did great with traditional publishing… until everything changed, and suddenly he found himself without support from the big city. Like many of us, he’s been working on bringing out his backlist in various formats, including ebook, audiobook, etc. Rather than going indie, he opted to go small press, and Crossroads Press has been doing a fine job releasing his old work and his new. In fact, this book came out for about one week from a mainstream publisher, who didn’t seem to know what to do with it; and now it’s back, from Crossroads.

It occurs to me that I’ve probably told you about these books before. But that was a while ago, and a good recommendation never gets old!

Time for Still More Fine Reading

Speaking of young adult science fiction, here’s a series you really should read, whether or not YA is your thing, or for that matter, science fiction. It’s a parallel worlds story that treads the boundary between young adult and adult fiction (the way Harry Potter did), which means I can heartily recommend it for both audiences. The Portal Series by Richard Bowker begins with Portal, published a few years ago, about two young men (boys, really) who find themselves in an alternate Earth, and entangled in an American civil war. That’s followed by the more recently published Terra, which takes one of the boys, Larry, to another alternate Earth resembling ancient Rome. Richard is currently writing a third in the series, Barbarica, and it’s even better. Also, I don’t think we’re in YA-land anymore.

Richard Bowker is not as well known to current audiences as he should be. He had a bunch of novels published by New York publishers, to good reviews. But somewhere along the way, traditional publishing failed him and he quit writing for a while. Then he returned, writing better than ever, this time indie publishing. And his new stuff is great! You owe it to yourself to give his books a try! Here are the two current Portal books:


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