Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Everything has gotten so dark…

… Cover art, at least.

Check out these covers, all pulled off various Most Anticipated SFF of 2018 lists:

I am not familiar with these books, by the way. I just happened to glance at some Most Anticipated lists and this really strong tendency toward DARKNESS leaped out at me. Now that I posed a bunch of covers in a row, I’m seeing there is also a GIANT FULL MOON theme, though not as consistently as just DARK DARK DARK. This is by no means a complete set of all the dark covers I saw; I just got tired of copying them.

It’s not that I think these are bad covers. Anything cartoonish or too stylized usually turns me off, so I am not attracted at all to that Scalzi cover. The super-simple Clair North cover does sort of grab me. The cover with the dragon, well, I am pretty much willing to look at covers that feature dragons. I like that Touch of Iron cover. The Giant Full Moon trope appeals to me, apparently — I like every cover up there with a full moon.

But mostly I find myself longing for a splash of color and light. I think these, also off Most Anticipated lists, are going to stand out from the crowd this year:

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Not really an award

Here’s something kind of fun:

Announcing the 2018 Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards!

Well, actually… it’s just a bit of fun that a group of scifi and fantasy readers, including me, have decided to indulge into by looking at the 2017 published scifi and fantasy stories and trying to pick up our favourite.

From a blog called The Middle Shelf, these … not really awards. I like the lack of seriousness, actually. Beth of Bethan May Books says, “Not really an award. There is no prize. Or a ceremony. I will be drinking though.”

I like the categories:

– Best scifi novel;
– Best fantasy novel;
– Best story that blurs the boundaries;
– Best novella (either scifi or fantasy);
– Best series (either scifi or fantasy).

I like that “blurring the boundaries” category. Here’s the shortlist for that category:

A. Caldecott, Rotherweird.
N. Drayden, The Prey of Gods.
R. Emrys, The Winter Tide.
N. Harkaway, Gnomon.
F. Lee, Jade City.
M. M. Smith, Hannah Green and her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence.
J. Williams, The Ninth Rain.

I am curious to see what each of those books looks like and why it has been included in this category. I will say, I have only tried one of these (The Prey of Gods) and I did not get very far in it. It had too gritty a tone for me. I think it is SF? But maybe it intergrades somehow with fantasy or horror or something, and that is why it’s in this category?

I’ve seen plenty of references to Jade City, but I haven’t looked at it yet.

I think Hannah Green and her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence is a fun title.

Gnomon has the most intriguing cover.

I’m going to try to remember to follow along a bit and see how this “non-award” develops.

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Who needs writing skill? There’s an app for that.

At Quartz, this: Don’t like the way you write? An artificial intelligence app promises to polish your prose

Which is an annoying use of the term “artificial intelligence,” to start with, and sounds pretty iffy in general. Polish your prose, eh? Let’s just see how this is supposed to work:

The Hemingway App … promises to do just that. “Hemingway makes your writing bold and clear,” the site claims, so that “your reader will focus on your message, not your prose.” If you listen to the app’s advice, it will rid your writing of run-on sentences, needless adverbs, passive voice, and opaque words. There’s no guarantee you’ll crank out the next Farewell to Arms — but the goal is to get you closer to Ernest Hemingway’s clear, minimalist style.

Ah! It will rid your writing of the passive voice! How useful! That way instead of writing something like, “Worst morning ever! My poor dog was hit by a car! She ran away crying and limping and it took me four hours to catch her. Thank God she was all right.”

Now you can write: “I had the worst morning ever! Someone hit my dog with their car! I mean, his or her car. Anyway, my poor dog ran away …”

And for all I know, the Hemingway app would also be offended by your exclamation points.

I see it costs $20 to get the app, and I don’t see a way to try it out for free, so the above sentences are just guesses about what the app might do. This is just an example of passive voice that shows how perfectly appropriate it can be when you actually do want to emphasize the object rather than the subject. Who cares about the car or the driver? The dog is obviously the important thing in the sentence. Passive voice allows that to be expressed.

Anyway, it turns out this app is not brand new. Here is an article from The New Yorker, written in 2014: Hemingway Takes the Hemingway Test

Take this description of Romero, the bullfighter, in “The Sun Also Rises”:

Afterward, all that was faked turned bad and gave an unpleasant feeling. Romero’s bull-fighting gave real emotion, because he kept the absolute purity of line in his movements and always quietly and calmly let the horns pass him close each time.

This breaks several of the Hemingway rules. The passive voice loses points, as do the two adverbs at the end. But “quietly” and “calmly,” are, of course, essential to the point. Bullfighters, masterly or not, avoid the horns most of the time. Only the artists like Romero manage it quietly and calmly. And that word, “quietly,” which is not quite literal, is a little surprise. Regarding the passive voice, it injects emotional uncertainty into the scene. “All that was faked turned bad,” scans like a melody, and in its passivity and slightly odd tense, feels like an elegy. It is not exactly clear. But it’s bold.

Amusing example! Also, an apt observation: I think we can assume that any app that zealously applies rigorous rules is going to produce text that lacks poetry.

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Fun with statistics: If I Didn’t Have You

So, have you seen this YouTube video of Tim Minchin’s version of “If I Didn’t Have You”?

It has lyrics like this:

So I trust it would go without saying
That I would feel really very sad
If tomorrow you were to fall off something high
Or catch something bad
But I’m just saying
I don’t think you’re special
I-I mean, I think you’re special
But you fall within a bell curve
I mean, I’m just saying I
(Really think that I would)
Probably
(Have somebody else)

Also, it reminds me of this analysis of “soul mates” from xkcd. Which I see now actually refers to the Minchin song, so how about that. I had forgotten about that.

From xkcd:

The odds of running into your soul mate are incredibly small. The number of strangers we make eye contact with each day is hard to estimate. It can vary from almost none (shut-ins or people in small towns) to many thousands (a police officer in Times Square). Let’s suppose you lock eyes with an average of a few dozen new strangers each day. (I’m pretty introverted, so for me that’s definitely a generous estimate.) If 10% of them are close to your age, that’s around 50,000 people in a lifetime. Given that you have 500,000,000 potential soul mates, it means you’ll only find true love in one lifetime out of ten thousand….

Anyway, fun song! If you’re at all math geeky, you should click over and watch the video.

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Not sure why anyone is surprised: Colorful dinosaurs

This article recently caught my eye: Chinese ‘rainbow dinosaur’ had iridescent feathers like hummingbirds

Scientists on Monday announced the discovery of a crow-sized, bird-like dinosaur with colorful feathers from northeastern China that lived 161 million years ago during the Jurassic Period.

They named it Caihong, the Mandarin word for rainbow. Microscopic structures in the exquisitely preserved, nearly complete fossil unearthed in Hebei Province indicated that it boasted iridescent feathers, particularly on its head, neck and chest, with colors that shimmered and shifted in the light, like those of hummingbirds…

Look, I get that most mammals don’t see color all that well, and thus mammals are by and large rather boringly colored. But this is because mammals are descended from nocturnal ancestors that had secondarily lost color vision, not because color vision is unusual. We are use to thinking (I guess?) that humans are special because of our pretty decent color vision. But practically all vertebrates see lots of colors just fine.

Birds see lots of colors, including colors we humans can’t see.

Lizards can see colors, many of them better than humans.

Fish can see plenty of colors, including some we can’t.

And you know what fish, lizards, and birds all have in common? Yes, they are often VERY COLORFUL.

Of course the default assumption should be that dinosaurs could see color. Why wouldn’t they? That’s true of most vertebrates. Camouflage is all very well and good, but display is also fundamental and very often the need for display completely overwhelms the need to stay out of sight — peacock’s tails come to mind here.

All those drab reconstructions of dinosaurs were always implausible, and obviously so.

It Must Have Been Colored Like an Elephant Because it Was Really Big

Even when authors and artists try to do better, they keep getting hung up on the idea that Big Animals Should Look Like Mammals, and thus be boringly colored.

This one is better, but still shows a limited palette.

While no doubt many dinosaurs, like many of today’s birds, WERE drab, there were surely plenty that were VERY BRIGHTLY COLORED. If I were an artist and called upon to envision realistic dinosaurs, while I’d pattern and color some like, oh, killdeer (I have always been very fond of killdeer), I would also base many colors and patterns on tanagers, trogons, hummingbirds, rollers, parrots, pheasants, kingfishers, and so on and so forth.

Maybe this “rainbow dinosaur” with its obvious pigmentation will start to urge artists in that direction…

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We live in a science fiction world

Here’s something that isn’t as cool as the title makes it seem, but still possesses a high Wow Quotient:

Woman receives bionic hand with sense of touch

Almerina Mascarello, who lost her left hand nearly 25 years ago, said: “It’s almost like it’s back again.”

The BBC reports that an international team that includes engineers, neuroscientists, surgeons, electronics and robotics specialists developed the bionic hand in 2014 — but the sensory and computer equipment it was linked to was too large to leave the laboratory.

However, the technology is now small enough to fit inside a backpack, making it portable.

The prosthetic hand has sensors that detect information about whether an object is soft or hard. Those messages are linked to the backpack computer that converts them into a language the brain can comprehend.

The information then gets relayed to Mascarello’s brain via tiny electrodes implanted in nerves of her upper arm.

One can see the day coming when the technology will be small enough to fit inside the hand itself. And perceive more than “hard” vs “soft.”

But it’s pretty amazing already.

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Emily Dickinson’s Herbarium

Here’s a delightful article by Maria Popova I stumbled across: Emily Dickinson’s Herbarium: A Forgotten Treasure at the Intersection of Science and Poetry

Long before she began writing poems, Dickinson undertook a rather different yet unexpectedly parallel art of contemplation and composition — the gathering, growing, classification, and pressing of flowers, which she saw as manifestations of the Muse not that dissimilar to poems.

I had no idea.

Although the original herbarium survives in the Emily Dickinson Room at Harvard’s Houghton Rare Book Library, it is so fragile that even scholars are prohibited from examining it and the out-of-print facsimile book is so prohibitively expensive that this miraculous masterpiece at the intersection of poetry and science has practically vanished from the popular imagination. But in a heartening testament to the digital humanities as a force of cultural stewardship, Harvard has digitized Dickinson’s herbarium in its totality…

There are many pictures at the link, including this one, which makes me think of spring:

This poem also makes me think of spring:

Whose are the little beds, I asked
Whose are the little beds, I asked
Which in the valleys lie?
Some shook their heads, and others smiled—
And no one made reply.

Perhaps they did not hear, I said,
I will inquire again—
Whose are the beds—the tiny beds
So thick upon the plain?

‘Tis Daisy, in the shortest—
A little further on—
Nearest the door—to wake the Ist—
Little Leontoden.

‘Tis Iris, Sir, and Aster—
Anemone, and Bell—
Bartsia, in the blanket red—
And chubby Daffodil.

Meanwhile, at many cradles
Her busy foot she plied—
Humming the quaintest lullaby
That ever rocked a child.

Hush! Epigea wakens!
The Crocus stirs her lids—
Rhodora’s cheek is crimson,
She’s dreaming of the woods!

Then turning from them reverent—
Their bedtime ’tis, she said—
The Bumble bees will wake them
When April woods are red.

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Beowulf, in thirteen rhyming couplets

Over at tor.com, this: Beowulf on the Big Screen: Good, Bad, and Even Worse

I don’t want to make you jealous or anything, but at least once a year I get to teach Beowulf, says Michael Livingston, and then goes on:

…[T]here are some great works of literature that are actively helped by having terrific film adaptations: the immediacy of visual presentation, along with its unpacking of action and character development, can at times serve as a bridge for people to access the text. I’m thinking at the moment of Ang Lee’s 1996 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet) or Oliver Parker’s 1995 adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Othello (starring Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh)—movies that are equal to the task of representing the magnificent words from which they were fashioned.

For Beowulf, no such film exists.

This caught my eye because in fact I only started reading Jane Austen because I saw that version of Sense and Sensibility. So I definitely can’t argue with Livingston here.

Also, we do have Beowulf presented in a baker’s dozen rhyming couplets. It starts thus:

Monster Grendel’s tastes are plainish.
Breakfast? Just a couple Danish.

…. which pretty much gives you the flavor, eh?

Livingston then goes on to kind of eviscerate the moves. I can’t say that I would rush right out to see a Beowulf film even if Livingston wholeheartedly approved of it, but I do enjoy his blistering comments. Also this tidbit:

Unfortunately, this [the 2007 version] seems to be the go-to movie for students who inexplicably don’t want to read the poem—probably because it has, as noted, a gilded naked Angelina Jolie. It’s only classroom usefulness, though, is as a good answer to students who question whether the sword can really be a phallic symbol.

(Also, you can be sure that I write test questions to deliberately trip-up students who watched this poem-in-a-blender.)

That so reminds me of Your Homework Done for Free. Which you should totally read, if you aren’t already familiar with it.

Oh, also this Free Term Paper, which I had never seen before but found when googling Your Homework Done for Free.

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You all probably know about the new edition of the Touchstone trilogy, right?

You may be aware that the Book Smugglers have gone into publishing in a small way, yes? Did you all know that they’ve brought out a new edition of AKH’s Touchstone Trilogy? Here are the new covers — what do you think?

I like them, but I believe they might push my “probably horror” buttons if I saw them without actually having read the books first. Not sure.

Here is Estara’s post about this trilogy, slightly revised from when she posted it on this site.

Looks like the first book is free for Kindle on Amazon.

If you have not, by some chance, read the Touchstone trilogy yet, here are all the ANDREA K HÖST WEEK posts, gathered together. If that doesn’t persuade you to try them, nothing will!

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