Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Reading to a (small) audience

Here’s a post by Madeleine E. Robins at Book View Cafe: Crickets: The Art of Reading to an Audience

One last thing about reading to an audience: bring a big box of graceful resignation. Because sometimes, no matter how wonderful your work is, no one shows up. Or, perhaps worse, three people show up and you’re reading to a room set up with chairs for thirty, and you can’t say “I’m sorry, this is below my threshold of audience numbers, so I’m not reading today,” because that’s unfair to the three people who did show up. Even if two of them are your parents.

Look: this happens to everyone. Odds are that even the Gods of Successful Writing, early in their careers, had author appearances where the author outnumbered the audience. Don’t despair. The fact that you are not yet the sort of household name that drives audiences to leave their homes and forsake a nice walk in the sunshine, or a game of D&D, or the kid’s softball game, or a myriad of other leisure activities, means… well, just that. And you knew that coming in, right? So, how to prepare and what to do.

This post is actually good for me. I mean, it’s undoubtedly good advice for me personally.

First: if you are asked if you want to do a signing at a bookstore, ask if you can do a reading instead. There is nothing so demoralizing as sitting a table with a stack of your books and people walking by, ignoring you. If you read, there’s a good chance that your voice will draw people, that a phrase will catch the ear and bring an auditor from the Philately section.

See? I should probably see if I can arrange readings at local bookstores for November, after Winter comes out. The big issue for me is that by “local” I mean “within 100 miles” because the nearest bookstores are about that far away. And the other big issue is I really don’t like doing readings.

But I should probably try it a few times and see whether I can learn to like it better.

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Origami

Here is a post by Ken Liu with some really fabulous pictures, so I strongly encourage you to click through: The Magic and Mathematics of Paper-Folding.

The origamist-mathematician may be unique in exploring a contemporary branch of mathematics that is as tangible and physical as the geometry of the ancient Greeks. As anyone who has folded a paper crane knows, there is a unique pleasure in working with a flat sheet of paper and through folding, creasing, tucking, and other manipulation, transforming it into something quite magical. The material, at once pliant and rigid, allows the mind to reason with abstract geometry in a way that cannot be replicated through other means.

I’m willing to believe it, given the origami sea turtle, dragon, eagle, horse, katydid, and … get this … T. rex skeleton.

A skeleton. An origami skeleton. I wouldn’t have believed it, honestly.

I admit I skimmed lightly past the math in the post. But wow, those pictures.

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The theoretical maximum weight for a flying animal, and why many animals have broken it

Here’s a great post which Elaine T pointed out:

How Dragons Fly: When Biology Trumps Physics

I particularly like this diagram:

And the associated comment:

Behold! Above you’ll see some of the largest known fliers of past, present, and fantasy. See if you can spot the dragons. And take special note of the “theoretical flight limit,” which we’ll get to in a few minutes.

See if you can spot the dragons! Ha!

Then the rest of the post explains why so many real animals can fly even though they weigh lots more than 41 kg. And so we spiral downwards into a black hole of theoretical biomechanics. So we do, and it’s fun to read about.

Now, as far as I’m concerned, it’s also irrelevant because, you know, dragons are *magical,* so who cares about biomechanics? But this is still a fun post. Click through and read the whole thing if you’re interested.

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Happy 4th of July!

Given that today is a holiday for the US, I thought I would look around for good news about America for today’s post — news that is not necessarily broadly important, but heartwarming. Thus:

This Water Park for People With Disabilities Is the First of Its Kind

The “ultra-accessible” park was designed by Gordon Hartman and his 23-year-old daughter, Morgan, who has cognitive and physical disabilities. “We decided to call it ‘Morgan’s Inspiration Island’ because Morgan truly has been the catalyst for every project we’ve pursued to help the special-needs community,” Hartman said. They worked tirelessly with doctors, special education teachers and water park consultants to produce an all-inclusive design down to every detail — and it really seems like they thought of everything.

Here’s one that makes me roll my eyes, even though it is good news:

Utah Legalizes Lemonade Stands and Other Businesses Run by Kids

I should think so. All states should do the same.

Kids in Utah will no longer have to worry about the police shutting down their lemonade stands. Under a new state law (SB 81) that passed with overwhelming, bipartisan support, cities and counties cannot require a license or permit for any occasional business operated by a minor.

Here’s something impressive:

Quadruple Amputee Vet Opening Retreat for Wounded Warriors & Their Families

This one is a video clip.

Had you heard about this next one?

Police officer adopts 8-year-old boy he saved from severe child abuse

He and his wife are also fostering this boy’s baby sister.

Here’s something nice:

Total strangers surprise man who walks 6 miles to work with new car

A restaurant employee who thought he was just getting a ride to work has ended up with a ride of his own thanks to the generosity of strangers…Within less than 30 hours of his Facebook post on June 21, strangers donated $5,500 toward getting Korva a car.

A good Samaritan:

Watch this man dive into a moving car to help driver having a seizure

The car wasn’t moving all that fast, but leaping into any moving car means you’re risking being involved in an accident — plus this guy, Randy Tompkins, had to decide and move really fast. I think most of us would dither till it was too late to take effective action. Good for Tompkins.

And one more: about country music stars stepping up in surprising ways:

Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood Stage Deep Space Surprise for U.S. Astronauts

Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood helped make the upcoming 4th of July holiday extra special for a pair of U.S. astronauts who are currently living and working on the International Space Station….The superstar country couple broadcast a special episode of Inside Studio G on Facebook Live from NASA’s Mission Control in Houston to talk to astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer. Brooks has a longtime interest in space exploration, and he was moved to tears when Fischer recounted the story of how Brooks’ “The River” was played for him the first time he was on the launch pad. Brooks co-wrote the song with Victoria Shaw, and it scored him his ninth No. 1 hit …

“I’ll never reach my destination if I never try / So I will sail my vessel ’til the river runs dry.”

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Recent Reading: Jumper, Reflex, Impulse, and Exo, by Steven Gould

Recent Reading: Steven Gould, Jumper, Reflex, Impulse, and Exo

So, waaaaay back in the day, I read and really enjoyed Jumper by Steven Gould. It came out in 1992. Well, I liked it a lot. It’s not a flawless story by any means, but it’s a near-perfect revenge fantasy where the kid getting revenge is basically just really nice, except to people who don’t deserve it.

In an extreme moment of stress, Davy jumps – teleports – to a place of safety. Then the rest of the story is about him gaining far more control over his new teleportation superpower. He reconnects with his estranged mother and deals with his abusive father and falls in love and brings various nefarious types to justice and it’s all very satisfying to the reader, even though it depends on Davy being a tiny bit more socially competent than seems entirely plausible for a kid with his background. Or maybe I should say “because” instead of “even though.” If you, as the reader, want to project yourself onto the protagonist, then of course a protagonist who’s extra competent and extra nice and extra moral and extra socially competent (even though that makes no sense whatsoever) can be juuuust the right protagonist.

So, yeah, really fun book. I read it a bunch of times and then many years later found out (I think from a commenter here) that Gould had gone on to write three more books in the series. Not counting the movie by the same name which was based loosely (very loosely) on the book, and which I never saw because who wants to watch a movie that goes off in wildly different directions from the book you already like?

Anyway, I finally got around to reading the whole series, which I liked a lot.

Gould wrote these other books years and years after the initial publication of Jumper. I’m guessing the movie nudged the publisher (Tor, I see) into suggesting Gould go on with the series, but I don’t know. Anyway, Reflex, Impulse, and Exo. The second book takes place ten or so years after the first. Gould believes in true love, or at least he does in this series, because Davy and Millie have a rock-solid relationship that’s really a pleasure to read about, even though they spend most of the book separated. Lots of solid, long-term relationships in this series, some more central than others, some quite peripheral, but plenty of them and all solid. It’s a great antidote to the more gritty worldview that sometimes seems so prevalent.

Davy spends essentially the whole of Reflex a prisoner, but really, even though the bad guys are definitely Evil and he does not have a good time, the book offers a fairly low-stress reading experience because the reader never doubts for a second that Davy and Millie will prevail in the end. I will add that for most of the book, I could not see how in the world Good was going to triumph. Gould did a bang-up job designing a great scenario for holding a teleporter prisoner. Davy has to be extremely smart and resourceful to escape and defeat the bad guys, not to mention extremely lucky to be married to Millie. Who (mild spoiler, this comes right at the beginning) has also developed the ability to teleport. It turns out that if you get carried on enough jumps by someone, you may find, if faced with a dire life-threatening situation, that you’ve picked up the knack. That would sure be cool; also, it’s intrinsic to the story in Reflex, which is just about as much Millie’s story as Davy’s.

Okay, then in Impulse, we leap forward another sixteen years. Impulse is primarily the story of Cent, Davy’s and Millie’s daughter (real name Millicent, so you see where the nickname came from). We do get brief sections from Davy’s pov, and Millie’s, but mostly it’s Cent. She jumps for the first time (in a dire life-threatening situation, which I guess would slow down discovering you’ve also got the knack, but I can tell you right now I’d be figuring out ways to fake it if it were me). And once she can also teleport, what does Cent want more than anything in the world? That’s right: to go to high school like a normal kid.

Cent is just as competent and resourceful as her parents, in a fairly believable way, although she runs into trouble a little more extreme than, say, your standard high school bully. She makes friends and has her first romantic entanglements and gets her heart broken and meets a better guy and did I mention high school bullies? Because this is a great superpowered-teen-in-high-school fantasy.

Toward the end her parents’ old enemies turn up, briefly. Davy really is a very competent guy, and his daughter has thought up some interesting new applications of the teleportation skill that also turn out to be handy . . .

. . . and in the fourth book Gould puts it all together. I mean, all the different related aspects of the teleportation talent that Davy and Cent have come up with. Gould plainly asked himself what he would do with all those skills, came up with a neat idea, and worked it out in great detail.

Exo is also primarily Cent’s story. I must say, I didn’t see her, um, choice of careers coming. I’m not nearly as technologically oriented; I’m sure I would have come up with something a whole lot different in her place. It’s neat, but lot of the book involves fairly detailed descriptions of the technological development of Cent’s ideas, and I admit I skimmed over a lot of this. I found I was more interested after Cent really starts her new career. I liked the new minor characters that were introduced, but all of them remained quite peripheral while the technology took a more central role. Gould does finally tie off the continuing arc involving the bad guys, but this seems like something of an afterthought compared to the loving detail with which he treats every aspect of Cent’s new career. This is definitely a lower-stress, slower-paced story than any of the previous books.

If you like:

Honestly, the feel of each book in this series is pretty distinctive, substantially more so than I normally expect from one series.

Jumper was written ages ago and I do think if you read all the books in a row, you can see Gould’s skill as a writer develop from the first to the second book, both in plotting – this one is choppy – and in developing characters and character relationships within each story. I still find it engaging now, but I liked it better as a younger reader. I suspect if you like it, you might well like Quartershare by Nathan Lowell; also very likely Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card. For different reasons, Jumper reminds me of both of those. It’s the highly competent young protagonist and also, for the latter series, the focused superpower, although Card’s protagonist is not a teleporter.

Reflex is a far more intense reading experience. It’s an interesting contrast in lots of ways, because today Jumper would clearly be categorized as YA and Reflexis a way out if you’re clever and determined and lucky. Anybody got a suggestion for a story of that type? I feel like I have one in the back of my mind, but I can’t seem to pull it out.

Impulse is a school story that again steps down in intensity but offers an engaging YA story. If you like school stories, this is the one for you.

And Exo is once again an adult story, less compelling but a decent finish to the overall series. Its emphasis on detailed technology reminds me of Seveneves, though of course without the end of the world stuff. It’s a much “harder” SF type of story, even though everything is made possible by magical (well, totally unexplained) teleportation.

And the whole thing is a fun and worthwhile series, likely to appeal to quite a lot of readers, I think, different as the books are from one another. For one, I think it would appeal to my dad – probably the more adult installments more than the YA ones. Luckily I have the whole series in paper, so it’ll be easy to pass his way.

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Very good news

This one practically made me stand up and cheer:

Scientists come up with neural mechanism—and possible fix—for chronic pain

Chronic, aching pain after an injury or operation may be all in your head. Researchers now think they’ve figured out exactly how brain wiring goes haywire to cause persistent pain—and how to fix it.

In mice with peripheral nerve damage and chronic pain from a leg surgery, a broken circuit in a pain-processing region of mammalian brains caused hyperactive pain signals that persisted for more than a month. Specifically, the peripheral nerve damage seemed to deactivate a type of interconnected brain cells, called somatostatin (SOM) interneurons, which normally dampen pain signals. Without the restraints, neurons that fire off pain signals—cortical pyramidal neurons—went wild, researchers report in Nature Neuroscience.

But the circuitry could be repaired, the researchers found. Just by manually activating those pain-stifling SOM interneurons, the researchers could shut down the rodents’ chronic pain and keep the system working properly—preventing centralized, chronic pain from ever developing.

The idea that chronic pain is “all in your head” is immediately plausible because (a) phantom limb pain, and (b) it’s hard to see what else could cause chronic headache conditions other than misinterpretation of normal nerve signals by the brain.

I’m not sure I can think of any other medical breakthrough I want to see more. Faster, please! MUCH MUCH FASTER would be nice. And let’s not limit this to pain after an injury, unless we define injury very broadly indeed: for example, to include all back and neck pain. Neurogenic pain is SO hard to treat — I’m sure I’m not the only one who knows this from experience — so let’s move this along.

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The Incredibles

Mari Ness has a post up at tor.com: An Animated Superfamily: The Incredibles

Basic conclusion:

But for most viewers, I think, The Incredibles works not because of any of these deep issues, but because it’s just plain fun—particularly the second half, which switches from an introspective yet funny meditation on middle aged life and the need for superheroes to a fast paced action film that uses the characters’ superpowers in often surprisingly entertaining ways—for instance, the way Elastigirl manages to create a speedboat in the open ocean. It’s great.

It is indeed, and now I want to go re-watch the film.

The whole post is well worth reading; Mari Ness does her usual bang-up job of analysis, which imo is always most fun when the movie she’s discussing is (a) really good, or (b) really bad. Obviously “The Incredibles” falls into the first category. The tough part for me is deciding which I love most: “The Incredibles” or “Up.”

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The human sacrifice diet: interesting in an appalling way

How did anyone even think of doing this study?

Scientists explore the lives of ancient human sacrifice victims by analyzing what they ate.

During the final two centuries of the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BCE) in China, thousands of people were sacrificed at the state capital of Yinxu. Some were dispatched with great fanfare, buried with rich grave goods, while others appear to have been sacrificed with extreme prejudice and mutilated after death. Now, a new study sheds some light on these victims. Simon Fraser University bioarchaeologist Christina Cheung and her colleagues reconstructed these ancient people’s’ lives by discovering what they ate and when, based on chemical signatures left in their bones.

Human sacrifice was a common ritual among the people of almost every ancient civilization, from China and Europe, to Mesopotamia and the Americas. Though archaeologists have analyzed the graves of these sacrifices, they have many questions about the victims’ lives. Were they revered and celebrated before death, or were they outcasts? Were they prisoners from far away, or were they the sons and daughters of their executioners?

Cheung and her team answered a number of these questions with a chemical analysis of the bones of 68 sacrificial victims at Yinxu, which were compared with the bones of 39 locals.

So, okay, this *is* interesting. In a fairly disturbing way.

I knew human sacrifice was not really rare, but I wonder if it’s fair to say: common among almost every ancient civilization. If you’re up on ancient history, please weigh in.

Archaeologists typically find rensheng in mass graves that they divide into “skull pits,” “headless pits,” and “mutilated pits.” As you might guess, these are pits full of skulls, decapitated bodies, and partial bodies, respectively. … We can’t say for sure what was happening in Yinxu that made human sacrifice seem appealing. Were these early leaders of China trying to build a new state, based on their ruthless strength? Or were they worried that their control was slipping and offering sacrifices to regain an earlier greatness?

All we know is that the Shang Dynasty kept a prison full of outcasts readily available so that at any time the public could be witness to the public sacrifices of people their leaders called foes.

Well, I’m happier and happier to have given that particular society a miss. Along with basically all other ancient societies.

I can tell you that if mass human sacrifice takes place in one of my books, it’ll be just the bad guys doing it and they will ultimately be crushed by the good guys. Too bad the real world doesn’t follow the conventions of heroic fantasy.

Well, it is an interesting article, although after reading it you may want to check out something warm and fuzzy, like these police rescuing ducklings or these fishermen rescuing a dog from a freezing river.

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Good News Tuesday

Today, one tidbit that’s good and one that’s interesting.

Let’s start with the good news:

Gray seals are making a huge comeback

For nearly a hundred years, New England’s gray seals had a bounty on their heads. Maine and Massachusetts paid people to kill them, because they depleted fishing stocks. They were also hunted for their meat and pelts. By 1973—a year after the Marine Mammal Protection Act made it illegal to systematically kill the animals—a census estimated there were only 30 gray seals left along the entire coast of Maine….”Past surveys based on traditional methods of counting … counted about 15,000 seals off the southeastern Massachusetts coast,” David Johnston, a marine conservation ecologist at Duke University, said in a statement. “Our technology-aided aerial survey, which used Google Earth imagery in conjunction with telemetry data from tagged animals, suggests the number is much larger—between 30,000 and 50,000.”

I will add, this post should say “…paid people to kill them because they were suspected of depleting fishing stocks.” It’s so typical to find out after you’ve poisoned a lot of wolves / trapped a lot of otters / shot a lot of seals that actually the species in question never did have that great an impact on the prey species you cared about. This article makes that point too: “We know almost nothing about what gray seals eat, how and where they forage, and whether they interact in an ecological way with fisheries,” he says. “There is very little evidence that culling seals will increase fishery yields or provide positive effects on the local ecosystem.”

Which doesn’t mean they don’t, but let’s find out before leaping in with guns and clubs, eh?

Meanwhile, for something completely different:

Eerie sounds and new pictures prove Jupiter is completely different than assumed

Well, not completely different, I assume. Still really big. Still got a really big storm called the Great Red Spot. Still got lots of moons.

Apparently it’s got some surprises other than that, though:

…when you look from the pole, it looks totally different … I don’t think anybody would have guessed this is Jupiter.

Cool pictures at the link.

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