Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Vacationing in SFF Worlds

Here’s a post by Stubby the Rocket at tor.com: The Best Vacation Spots in Science Fiction & Fantasy

Having glanced through the list, I do think the tor.com people are missing several fairly obvious choices, if you were to have your choice of places to visit. Emphasis on “visit,” which is not quite the same as trying to pick places you might want to actually live, such as, say, Arcadia in the Touchstone trilogy. Also, when this topic comes up, I think there is a general tendency to mistake “places that would be fun to visit” with “places that are fun to read about but would be insanely dangerous to visit.”

Can’t argue about Rivendell, though. Gotta grant, Rivendell is an obvious destination for a peaceful getaway: the sort of place you’d go for recuperation or for a retreat. I also agree about Ian Banks’ Culture series as offering some real possibilities. Sanderson’s “Perfect State” virtual worlds are just … so … creepy, they’re right out and possibly the very last vacation spot I would choose. Well, click through and see what else the tor.com people suggest.

Now of course this post made me wander down to my library and gaze at my own shelves. Supposing I were interested in a (safe) (safe-ish) excursion in a more exciting locale than Rivendell and picked the right time, i.e., possibly not a time while the events in the book are actually taking place, here are some places that I think would be particularly wonderful to explore:

1) Beszel and Ul Qoma from The City and the City by China Mieville.

I know Beszel is a bit rundown compared to Ul Quoma, but wouldn’t it be fascinating to visit each in succession? Talk about a great place for people-watching as well as sight-seeing. I would love to get a firsthand look at both cities, take a stab at unseeing one when I was visiting the other, and most of all watch the people who’ve grown up in those cities and try to figure out how the doubling of the city really works and whether it’s actually all in their heads or not. And it would be pretty safe to visit, since tourists aren’t held to quite the same standards of unseeing as natives.

2) Dream Park, in the book of the same name by Larry Nivan and Steven Barnes. I mean, hello, that is a place specifically meant for vacations. Virtual reality all grown up. I’ve never been particularly into gaming, but I’d definitely make an exception for a place like Dream Park.

I will add, this newer cover is pretty good:

Also, I don’t think I knew about 4th book in the series. Hmm. Now I think I need to pick that one up and possibly re-read the whole series from the top.

2. Beta Colony, in the Vorkosigan universe. If you have a significant other, then it’s hard to think of a better tourist destination than The Orb of Unearthly Delights. Even if you don’t, I’m sure there’s lots of other great places to visit on Beta Colony. Not only that, but Beta Colony never seems to be seriously threatened, which is refreshingly different for a location in an SF world.

3. Want a more exotic vacation? How about taking a month (or a year) to explore Gaea’s ring in Varley’s trilogy. Meet the centaurs and attend their concerts; maybe meet the angels; visit a blimp. It would be fabulous. Although a native guide would probably be advisable.

4. If Gaea isn’t exotic enough for you, then how about Larry Niven’s smoke ring? A microgravity gas torus that rotates around a neutron star, every single thing about the smoke ring makes for a fabulous vacation locale for the adventurous. Again, you would want a good long trip in order to give yourself time to explore. You would definitely want to visit an integral tree, but there’s so much else to see. Again, you’d want a native guide. And possibly a moderate arsenal, since you’re likely to run into moderate danger from time to time. That torus is definitely not a landscaped park.

5. Okay, and for the truly adventurous, it would be utterly splendid to visit Tiptree’s Tyree. In the body of one of the Tyreans, of course, and ideally with Tivonel as your guide. She’s so cheerful and good-natured. Naturally this would have to be before the events in Up the Walls of the World, since you would want Tyree in decent shape.

I think those are my top five picks for vacations in SFF worlds. How about you all? Got a great destination to add to a tourist brochure?

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Interesting News Tuesday

Last week I tried to catch up on medical stuff. This week, let’s see what else is going on….

Okay, how about this:

Shifting ice on Jupiter’s moon could probe its interior

Tremors on Earth have helped scientists probe the interior of the planet, and shakeups on icy moons could do the same. By simulating icequakes on Jupiter’s icy moons Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede, as well as Saturn’s frozen satellite Enceladus, researchers have concluded that each world would have its own unique sound signature. Including an instrument to track the trembling crust on each world on future missions could reveal insights about the habitability of the icy layers beneath the surface….

Of course what I want to find underneath the ice of Europa is this ecosystem, or something very similar.

Here’s something extremely science-fiction-y:

Who needs film when you can store a movie in bacteria DNA?

You might call it the smallest movie ever made….This week, a team of scientists report that they have successfully embedded a short film into the DNA of living bacteria cells.

The mini-movie, really a GIF, is a five-frame animation of a galloping thoroughbred mare named Annie G. The images were taken by the pioneering photographer Eadweard Muybridge in the late 1800s for his photo series titled “Human and Animal Locomotion.”

This is pretty amazing:

In the end, each frame consisted of 104 DNA sequences that the team inserted into a population of bacteria cells using a process called electroporation. Basically, they zapped the cells with electricity, which caused pores in their membrane to open, allowing the synthesized DNA to pass into them. Once the DNA pieces were in the cells, the researchers relied on the gene editing system known as CRISPR to grab the free-floating pixel codes and insert them into the bacteria’s genome. Using this process, Shipman and his colleagues “uploaded” their movie into the bacteria’s DNA at a rate of one frame each day. After the entire movie had been inserted into the genome, the authors boiled the cells to extract the DNA and then sequenced the regions where they thought the encoded movie frames would be. They ran the extracted sequences through a computer program and found they were able to play back their movie with 90% accuracy.

Really. Amazing.

Okay, here’s something on which you might be able to hang a fantasy novel:

Ancient religious stones hiding secret message only visible at night

Mysterious messages that are only visible at night have been found at an ancient British religious site….The incredible find suggests our Stone Age ancestors left behind hidden carvings designed to be viewed in the darkness….When two pieces of the stone are smashed together, they emit a brief, glowing light. “The smashed quartz at Hendraburnick could have been used as part of night-time activity on the site in order to ‘release’ the luminescent properties of the quartz around the monument and ‘reveal’ the art in a particular way,” the academics wrote.

Interesting and evocative.

Here’s a silly title on an interesting article:

Fronds with benefits: what led to the rise of giant rangeomorphs

Really, “fronds with benefits” is ridiculous. But the rangeomorphs are interesting and I don’t recall having heard of them before:

They lived in the ocean and looked like plants but are believed to have been animals. In a world of micro-organisms they grew to become giants. We call them rangeomorphs, and they dominated their environment for 30 million years, up until about 541 million years ago, when the rest of evolution overtook them during the proliferation of complex plant and animal forms known as the Cambrian Explosion….Rangeomorphs looked a lot like modern ferns, with branching fronds composed of four fractal levels….

Okay, back to current events for one more, and let me note that It’s About Time Someone Did This:

To Shrink Mosquito Population, Scientists Are Releasing 20 Million Mosquitoes

[T]he plan is to release millions of sterile male mosquitoes, which will then mate with wild female mosquitoes. The eggs the females lay won’t hatch, researchers say….Scientists say the goal is to cut the population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes — the species responsible for spreading Zika, dengue and chikungunya. A. aegypti have been present in California’s Central Valley since 2013 and have been a problem in Fresno County.

This is an extremely promising technique for dropping the population of mosquitoes by better than ninety percent practically overnight, without the use of chemicals such as DDT. I have been hoping plans were in the works for this type of control program. Great to see we’re actually trying it. Every single woman who is pregnant or hoping to become so in a zika-affected area should stand up and cheer. It’d be pretty snazzy to get rid of dengue and chikungunya as well.

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Heat might make us both cranky and stupid

This article at the Washington Post caught my eye: Heat doesn’t just make us cranky. It makes us dumb shoppers.

Probably because this past Thursday I drove to Lexington in near-100 degree heat (carrying LOTS of ice water for the three dogs with me, just in case). We stayed at a decent hotel with beautiful grounds, showed on Thursday evening, then again on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and drove home with the temps in the upper nineties nearly all the time.

Ugh, heat. The puppies didn’t mind it and Pippa doesn’t seem to, but we sure could do with a whole lot of rain and a break from the high temperatures, neither of which is in the forecast.

I don’t think the heat made me a dump shopper, though. I would have gotten two scoops of ice cream at that neat little store in downtown Lexington even if it had been much cooler, because who could turn down coconut chocolate almond or habanero banana? (The latter was my favorite, btw).

The linked article is okay, though the author provides no evidence whatsoever that shopping habits change during hot weather. That’s plausible, of course, but all the evidence she cites regards changes in shopping behavior based on other factors, and changes in grumpiness in regard to heat. The thing with heat influencing shopping is just speculation:

While this study focused on unseasonably cold weather, the same patterns would be expected in the summer. On an extra hot day, I’m betting online retailers see a spike in sales for sun hats, portable fans, cooling towels and mist spray bottles, and that these goods are also returned (unused) at a higher-than-usual rate than when those orders arrive on a normal summer day.

Perhaps hot weather makes us less able to produce well-reasoned arguments with appropriate supporting evidence. Not that I think the author is wrong. Probably she is right.

Anyway, luckily no sign of road rage, though I imagine everyone stuck in the traffic jam by Mt Vernon felt a certain amount of irritation. Also no grumpiness evident at the show, I’m glad to say. Everyone seemed cheerful enough except the people who won majors, who quite reasonably seemed ecstatic.

Conner got third in his class (Junior Puppy Dog) three times, and second once. Two different people, one a breeder-judge, stopped me to tell me they thought he should have gotten first. That was nice to hear because I do think he is a very good puppy. I will be interested in reading the judges’ critiques when the bulletin arrives. Kim got third in her (bigger) class once, second once, and nothing twice — highly disparate opinions. She is such a little thing; I think that probably hurt her. We’ll see how she does as she grows up a little.

So that was my weekend. I took my laptop along, but I admit I didn’t even turn it on.

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Believing in aliens

Here’s a post by David Levine at tor.com: The One Book That Made Me Believe In Aliens, which reminds me of a series of linked stories I rather liked back in the day:

I do believe in aliens as people—as complex beings with knowable, if not immediately comprehensible, motives, who can be as good and bad as we can, and not just monsters who want to eat us or steal our water or our breeding stock. And I can date this belief to a specific book.

I was twelve or thirteen when my older cousin Bill came from California to live with us for a summer. At one point during his stay he had a box of old paperbacks to get rid of, and he offered me my choice before taking them to the used book store. One of the books I snagged that day was Hospital Station by James White. It was the cover that grabbed me, I think: a realistic painting of a space hospital—a clear ripoff of Discovery from 2001, but adorned with red crosses. The concept of a hospital in space promised drama, excitement, and tension, and the book did not disappoint. But better than that, it changed my mind and my life in some important ways.

I think I encountered complex aliens who were people in CJ Cherryh’s work so early that this conception of aliens didn’t stand out to me. But I have always liked the intersection of SFF and medicine. You can’t beat Nick O’Donohoe’s The Magic and the Healing in that respect (The current cover is SO BAD, but the book is excellent). But I think Hospital Station might have been the first story I read where I saw this particular medicine/SFF combination. I agree with Levine: it also seems dated today. But I still have fond memories of the series, though I might not press it on modern readers.

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Best 100 Graphic Novels and Comics

Via File 770, this post: Let’s Get Graphic: 100 Favorite Comics And Graphic Novels caught my eye.

Ordinarily it probably wouldn’t have, because I’m not all that familiar with the graphic novel / comics world. But Mike Glyer pulled out this one on File 770:

As it happens, ages ago I borrowed the first couple collections of Astro City from my brother and loved them.

Gosh, checking at Amazon, I see there are a lot of Astro City things out now. Hmm. Maybe I will start collecting at least this one comic…

Here is one of those extremely useful posts detailing what’s out there for Astro City and what order the books go in. Thank you to all fans who put things like this together, for those of us who might be interested and have no clear notion where to start.

I do notice that occasionally the collections have issues out of order, though. Anybody know why that happens? Cause it seems weird to me.

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Have you seen the Wrinkle In Time trailer yet?

I must say, this movie looks really neat, even though for me A Wrinkle in Time hasn’t necessarily worn all that well as a novel.

I’ve linked the trailer from a post titled: The best part of A Wrinkle in Time’s first trailer is Oprah’s brilliant, celestial costumes. Because that could be true! Those are amazing outfits.

Also, the boys-bouncing-balls thing is veeeery creepy, no doubt about it.

Movies I haven’t quite got around to seeing this year: all of them. Eventually I do want to catch some of them, especially Logan and Wonder Woman, though the angsty teenage spiderman has never much appealed to me. Based on past performance, who knows whether I’ll see A Wrinkle in Time when it actually hits theaters, versus maybe later via DVD. But it does look like it has wonderful special effects. The voiceover in the trailer is seductive, too.

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Good News Tuesday

Here’s something interesting:

Why CAR T-cell immunotherapy is such a big deal for cancer treatment

The treatment is known in the medical community as CAR T-cell therapy. It involves removing some T-cells—a type of white blood cell—from a patient’s blood. Then researchers tweak the outside of each cell in the lab by adding a receptor called CAR (chimeric antigen receptor). When the altered T-cells are infused back into the body, these receptors help them find and kill cancer cells…. CAR T-cell therapy was invented by a group of scientists, including Carl June from the University of Pennsylvania, about a half decade ago. It hit the public eye when doctors used it on a young girl named Emily Whitehead, a then six-year-old with a relapsed and aggressive form of ALL. The experimental treatment worked—Emily is now 12 and cancer-free

Impressive!

Another approach: vaccines. This is a new use of vaccines — I mean, using them on cancer, and AFTER the patient already has developed tumors? But apparently so:

Cancer vaccines help patients get tumor-free in 2 studieshttp://www.foxnews.com/health/2017/07/10/cancer-vaccines-help-patients-get-tumor-free-in-2-studies.html

In both studies, researchers used experimental cancer vaccines to treat patients who had the deadly skin cancer melanoma . And in both studies, tumors completely disappeared in more than half of the patients after they were given their cancer vaccines. The other patients were given another type of treatment that was aimed at further boosting the ability of the individuals’ immune systems ‘ ability to fight cancer, and in some of those cases, these patients’ tumors also disappeared.

Researchers are developing similar vaccines against other cancers as well, including a type of brain cancer called glioblastoma, kidney cancer, blood cell cancers and ovarian cancer, said Dr. Catherine Wu, a physician-scientist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, who led one of the new studies. “Many other cancers might benefit from this approach,” Wu said.

Onward! We probably all know someone who’s died of melanoma. Plus the current treatment for melanoma tends to cause intolerable depression in some patients, so something completely different would be good. Also, I think glioblastomas are those super-deadly brain cancers, aren’t they? PLUS, I myself am at enhanced risk of ovarian cancer because I’ve never had a baby and that drops you in the higher risk group. Faster, please!

Targeting a different disease:

A Common Epilepsy Drug Can Fix Abnormal Brain Activity in Alzheimer’s Disease

For the first time, researchers have shown that a common epilepsy drug can normalise disrupted brain activity in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

The incurable condition already affects one in ten people over the age of 65, so in the widespread scientific search for new therapies this research result is a highly promising development.

Again, faster, please!

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It’s only July and I’m already thinking about 2018

It somehow seems like every time I turn around, I trip over some title or other that I want to read NOW that won’t be out till sometime in 2018. Honestly, it’s frustrating. Why can’t authors write faster / publishers publish faster?

Top Three Books I Want Now That Won’t Be Out Till Next Year

1) Obsidio by Kaufman and Kristoff.

Illuminae and Gemina were such pulse-pounding adventure stories. If a tiny bit cluttered. Anyway, I am dying to read the third book, and it won’t be out till March 2018! Somehow it already has over 100 reviews on Goodreads? Ah, looking at them I see they are not reviews, they are just called reviews. They are merely statements of anticipation.

Incidentally, are the publishers quite, quite sure that the authors are okay with not having their names on the cover? I wonder if that detail will be changed before the release date.

2) Artificial Condition, the second of the Murderbot novellas by Martha Wells.

I was briefly alarmed because I preordered the Kindle version of this right after reading the first novella, and then Amazon canceled the preorder. It turns out the ISBN was pulled because Tor is doing something or other. The novella is still scheduled for release on time. But not until 2018, which makes me sad.

Apparently there are going to be four of these eventually. I sort of expect an omnibus version to eventually be released, though by the time that happens I suppose I will have all four separate stories.

3) Infernal Battalion by Django Wexler

I really expected the fifth and last Shadow Campaigns novel to be out this year! Well, almost. January isn’t so bad, if you’re forced to wait till 2018. I guess.

There are a handful of other 2018 releases I’ve heard of . . . Patricia Briggs has a new Alpha and Omega novel coming out, I hear; and a new one by Ilona Andrews would not surprise me, and Steven Brust has a standalone novel (which is good, although I admit I would probably rather have a Vlad Taltos novel). Of course CJC will have yet another Foreigner novel hit the shelves — that has been such a familiar event for the past, what, eighteen years, I will probably go into shock when she finally stops.

And by the way, Andrea K Höst evidently expects to release a new book this year (Snug Ship) and continue that series in 2018, so I’ll be looking forward to that.

But the above are currently the top three on my wish-it-were-already-2018 list so far.

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Unsucking the classics

Here’s a post by Sherwood Smith at Book View Cafe: Unsucking the Classics. I’m sure you can immediately guess what this post is about:

I got into yet another of those conversations about how Books Were Ruined By School. Various classics got mentioned, to universal groans or sick faces. There’s always a certain comfort in solidarity-suffering. So you had to read Of Mice and Men four times in four years? So did I, and hated it even more each time!

Yeah, for me that was Madame Bovary. It only got assigned twice, but I’m sorry I was dutiful enough to actually read it twice. Uuuuugh.

For some of us, it was the way the book was taught (there are very few books that hold up when there are tests on the chapters, especially multiple choice questions!) but most often, when I ask a few questions, it turns out that the teacher did the best they could, but couldn’t get around the fact that the book should have waited until the reader was ready for it.

I don’t think it really matters how the book is taught. Or I suppose bad teaching can make a bad experience worse. But I don’t think there is anything in the world that can make a kid enjoy a book that a) he or she is not ready for; and/or that b) is just not the sort of book that student would ever be able to stand no matter when it was presented.

The lack of choice is thus an inextricable part of the problem when it comes to taking literature classes. There is no point in life at which everyone hit with the assignment is going to enjoy Madame Bovary. It’s not a question of being ready for it. It’s a question of enjoying a book that is about a passive, ennui-ridden protagonist surrounded by awful people.

Sherwood Smith asserts that it’s a terrible disservice to Jane Austen to make teenagers read her books. This is no doubt true, though I wish someone had assigned Austen to me instead of Madame Bovary; but I think you could say the same about any classics.

She also says, “Shakespeare should be first experienced on stage,” and THAT IS SO TRUE. I could not believe how stupid “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” seemed when I read it, or how much I loved it when I saw it on the stage the next day. (I read it because I was going to go see it and wanted a preview.) Lit teachers really, truly ought never to assign the plays to be read; these days you can get a DVD of any play, surely. Get one of those and show it. That would be so much better.

And start with a comedy, for heaven’s sake. Not a tragedy. Or show one of each if you must, but do you REALIZE you are teaching students that ALL CLASSICS ARE AWFUL TRAGEDIES when you design your curricula? That was sure the basic lesson *I* learned in lit classes, which is why I avoided classics most of my life and still have a huge disinclination to try anything that could remotely be called a classic.

Sherwood Smith adds, “At this point in my life, it’s probably safe to say I’ll never enjoy a depressing story about despicable people…” Yeah, that. If lit teachers stopped assuming that depressing = deep and acting as though enjoying reading about despicable people shows you have elevated taste, I imagine far more students would actually enjoy lit classes.

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