Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author


This is delightful

Oddly, via tor.com:

An animal shelter sorts dogs into Hogwarts houses, thus getting would-be adopters to focus on their personalities and increasing adoptions.

One of the biggest problems with dog adoptions is that people tend to focus on the breed of the dog, rather than the personality of the individual animal. Deciding to tackle this problem head-on, the awesome folks at Pet Alliance in Orlando, Florida had a genius idea—sort them into the Hogwarts Houses from Harry Potter….Here are the the key House traits, as the shelter defines them:

Gryffindor — brave and heroic
Hufflepuff — kind and loyal
Slytherin — determined and resourceful
Ravenclaw — intelligent and witty

According to Pet Alliance, the most common House so far is Hufflepuff, with a fair number of Gryffindors and Slytherins. It’s a bit harder to find Ravenclaw dogs, it would seem.

For intelligence and wit, I would suggest looking at the poodles and poodle mixes. Hardly any breeds are more widely regarded as having a definite sense of humor than poodles. Also I would imagine some terriers would fall into Ravenclaw — those that don’t fall into Slytherin. Possibly some of the pinscher/schnauzer bunch would be Ravenclaw. I have a friend with Standard Schnauzers and I believe she would argue vehemently for their wit.

Cavaliers, of course, are Hufflepuff. No doubt about that. Though I would say “loving” instead of “loyal” — and I would argue that loyalty is a double-edged blade for dogs. The motto of most Cavaliers is: If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with. This is much easier on both dog and people than the sort of one-person commitment conjured up by the word “loyalty.” We’ve all heard of dogs who starved themselves to death when their owner passed away. That’s not what most of us would want for our dogs, no matter how nice “loyal” sounds.

Cavaliers: sweet and loving Hufflepuffers.

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Essential Alternate Histories

Here’s a post by James Nicoll that I happened across last week: Essential Alternate Histories

It caught my eye, not because I’m especially focused on alternate history, but because my brother is. So I glanced over the list to see how many titles I recognized, and I have to say, it’s an interesting list. Nicoll includes quite recent titles like Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown, but completely leaves off extremely well known figures in the subgenre, like Harry Turtledove.

He says he included titles according to two criteria: quality and importance to the field. Well, I would hardly argue that Turtledove writes the smoothest prose or the most compelling stories ever ever ever, but . . . importance to the field? His absence from this list seems hard to justify. I mean “hard to justify” in the sense of “inexplicable ommission.”

And then Nicolls includes DWJ’s The Magicians of Caprona. Which is a nice setting and a thoroughly enjoyable book, but I don’t think it actually is alternate history at all. It’s just a secondary world with the flavor of a historical period, and that’s not the same thing. “On A Red Station, Drifting” is even more definitely not alternate history. It’s science fiction, straight up, even if there are hints at a different history in the backstory. I am utterly baffled by its inclusion.

It all makes me wonder how Nicolls is defining his terms, and not to throw stones, but I think he’s working off the wrong definition, or possibly more than one wrong definition at the same time. Everybody and their cousin writes books set in “alternate” eg “flavor of” historical periods. Practically every SFF story out there counts as “alternate history” if you broaden the definition to the point Nicolls has. You might as well just title your list “20 Essential SFF stories” if you have criteria as broad as this.

True alternate history requires taking our actual history, changing a couple of things or one important thing, and then having those changes echo forward as history progresses. Right? Surely that is what nearly everybody means by the term?

Even supposing Nicolls wanted to mostly focus on books published in the last ten years — which he doesn’t say and I see no reason why one would limit a list of “essential” alternate histories with such a strict criterion, but a lot of his titles seem recent — but in that case, where is, say, the superb Clash of Eagles trilogy by Alan Smale? I just read the last book and the whole trilogy totally belongs to a contemporary list of essential alternate histories, imo.

In that one, the Roman Empire didn’t fall apart. It kept expanding. And now Rome has discovered the Americas and we get this tremendously exciting clash between the Romans and the Cahokians and it’s just an amazingly inventive alternate history, way way way more interesting than yet another Nazis Won WWII story or one of the other totally cliched topics. Really well written, too.

So where’s that one, eh?

Click through and check out Nicoll’s list.

Then compare to my brother’s list — I asked him for his picks, and here they are:

A huge proportion of AH is about WWII. The acknowledged classic is Philip K. Dick’s THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, which largely deserves its reputation. Is position is even more secure after the Amazon original series, which I haven’t seen. I stopped paying attention to WWII AHs a while back, so I don’t know what the cool new stuff is.

The second most popular divergence point (some way back) is the American Civil War. It doesn’t have a true classic: the closest is Ward Moore’s BRING THE JUBILEE, and I’m not a huge fan. Harry Turtledove’s THE GUNS OF THE SOUTH is a time-travel based alternate history that owes its existence to a sneering comment about “as anachronistic as Robert E. Lee with an AK-47”: if you don’t mind time travel in your AH, it’s a good place to start.

Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol stories are pretty definitive of their type: most of them don’t involve alternate history but the early one that does, “Delenda Est,” was my first introduction to the AH concept, and I probably like it even more it deserves. The last Time Patrol stories written are a fix-up/collection THE SHIELD OF TIME, which has a pair of alternate histories included.

There are also AH fantasies, set in an alternate timeline in which history is different and magic works, but the magic isn’t the reason for the historical divergence (if it were, history would be much more altered). JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR. NORRELL is more recent than my other classics, but it has probably become the central example of the type.

If there were a guild of alternate history writers, Harry Turtledove would be the guildmaster. He mostly writes very long series, often transposing real history into an alternate. Besides THE GUNS OF THE SOUTH, my personal recommendation of his wouldn’t be one of his long series but the singleton RULED BRITANNIA, which is Shakespeare in a world where the Spanish Armada conquered England.

FOR WANT OF A NAIL is actual historian Robert Sobel’s history of a world in which the American Revolution failed, written as a history text book with a full apparatus of footnotes: in the tiny field of “nonfiction alternate history,” it has never been equaled.

Since 1995 a committee of fans has given out an annual Sidewise Award for the best novel and short story in the field, usually from a small group of finalists. Their tastes in AH don’t agree with mine, but they seem pretty good at selecting worthwhile nominees — and they’ve attained some influence just by dint of spending more than 20 years at it.

Finally, I personally consider the first two volumes of Stirling’s Draka series to be classics, but I don’t think my opinion is widely shared. MARCHING THROUGH GEORGIA is a solid war novel in an AH version of WWII; UNDER THE YOKE, set in the (much worse) Cold War resulting, is a meditation on evil disguised as spy novel.

Yeah, I don’t think the Draka books would be my thing. Actually I read them a long time ago and certainly would never re-read them.

I will add that the comments to Nicholl’s post include several the titles Craig listed when I asked him for essentials — and at least one commenter over there also points at The Magicians of Caprona. and “On a Red Station” as odd choices, just as I did. So I’m certainly not alone in wondering about Nicholl’s criteria.

Interesting question:

Defining Alternate History according to the more usual and stricter definition, what, written in the last or fifteen years, could be considered essential?

My pick, obviously:

Clash of Eagles trilogy by Alan Smale

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Provocative assertion

At tor.com, a post from Emily Asher-Perrin: We Can Safely Say That Sarek of Vulcan is Sci-fi’s Worst Dad

I bet he’s not. I bet we could think of a top ten list of dads who are much worse, starting with Denethor and Jaime Lannister and Darth Vader and going on from there. But sure, I’m intrigued. Lay out your case, Emily:

…Okay, it’s a long post, with spoilers for Discovery (Which I haven’t watched yet but probably will eventually). But I must admit, Emily does lay out quite a few points where Sarek fails as a father. I guess I’d forgotten those eighteen years where he refused to talk to Spock. And then there’s this:

The best part? Sarek was in the room (again, according to the alternate Kelvin timeline, which has no particular reason to diverge from the main timeline in this instance) when Spock turned down his spot at the Vulcan Science Academy. And the reason why he walked out and straight into a Starfleet recruitment office? It was because he could not accept the outright bigotry that the Vulcan elite displayed toward his human heritage—particularly the fact that they referred to his human mother as a “disadvantage.” Spock did a very brave and loving thing that day, making the choice to separate himself from people who viewed himself and his mother as far beneath their regard. And Sarek still chooses to express disappointment that his son wouldn’t shrug off Vulcan prejudice and direct insults to his own wife, all for the sake of following in his footsteps and making good on a bad decision he already made on behalf of his children….And the sad part is, it never really gets any better. Whether Sarek ever makes good regarding Michael remains to be seen, but his relationship with Spock is permanently damaged.

It’s a fun post. Click through and read the whole thing.

But still. Worst ever? Not even close.

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Friday puppy cuteness

The puppies are three weeks old! They now stay awake for about a minute after nursing, but then they collapse again. They are up, but very wobbly. It’s quite typical for a puppy to growl, wobble, attempt a pounce, fall over on top of a littermate, give up the whole idea, and go to sleep.

Their lives will be completely ruled by eating and sleeping for another week or so. Here is Puppy Girl 2, just a second before she fell asleep on her mother, thus offering this adorable shot:

The other three are down by Honey’s tummy, asleep in a row like little piglets.

Both girls are now sampling real food. Those hippo boys have really been too much competition all along, so I have been supplementing by tube feeding formula almost every day. I’ve been feeding the girls about 8 percent to nearly 20 percent of their calories, depending on how much they seemed to be gaining on their own.

Well, by three weeks, tube feeding is a real nuisance. The puppies are aware of what you’re doing and they aren’t too keen on it as a rule, though a puppy reared completely by tube can have a much more positive feeling about the procedure — that would be puppies with cleft palates or some other issue that completely prevents nursing. But for my girls, it was getting to be a disagreeable experience for us all. So the day they turned three weeks (Wednesday), I suggested they try soaked kibble dowsed in formula. They were very enthusiastic and extremely messy!

By now any girl that hasn’t gained enough in the past eight to twelve hours is noticeably more eager to eat real food. That was Girl 2 last night and Girl 1 this morning. If they’ve been gaining on their own, they are equally noticeably not interested. I offer food only after they nurse so they will encourage Honey’s milk production to keep up with their needs.

I haven’t even suggested food to the boys yet. Those little hippos will almost certainly be unimpressed by the idea for at least another week.

Some books recommend weaning at five weeks. I think that’s ridiculous. Why add unnecessary stress for either the puppies or the mother? I let the mother wean them on her own schedule. Honey isn’t nearly as tolerant as some mothers, but even so, the puppies will be nursing at least a little for at least six or seven weeks.

The important thing is that by the time I fly to San Antonio for World Fantasy, those little girls will definitely be independent of the tube. Whew! I had some people in mind I could ask to help my mother if tube feeding was still necessary, but as it is, I am certain that won’t be necessary, barring some kind of weird setback.

The boys are about 2 lbs, by the way, and the girls about 1 1/2 lbs.

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Have you seen this picture?

How’d you like to walk through this store? It’s a real store, in France.

I love it, personally. I’d expect it to drive sales because people who came by the store to buy stuff would go get their friends and come back. At least, I would.

Not that I’d want to live with it every day in my very own home.

Apparently not everyone feels that way, though. Check this out:

That’s from this site.

What furniture would you place in that room? And where would you put it? Around the edges, or around the fake edges, or smack dab over empty air?

If you start googling around, you might find more variations on this theme than you’d expect! I sure did.

Here’s one of my favorite sites featuring a wide variety of crazy (and crazy cool) ideas for decor. I don’t know if I’d feel comfortable actually *living* with any of them. Maybe the rainbow floor? Click through and see what you think!

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I’m trying to understand the reasoning here, but

I happened across this news tidbit:

Soylent Banned in Canada for Not Actually Being a Meal

And it gave me pause.

Had you heard about solyent? It’s this, um, food product that is supposed to relieve you of the need to actually plan, prepare, or even eat an actual meal:

If you’ve ever skipped breakfast after rolling out of bed too late…if you’ve ever missed a lunch because of a busy schedule…if you’ve ever had a guilty conscience over a midnight microwave burrito…Soylent is made for you.

Protein, carbohydrates, lipids, and micronutrients: each Soylent product contains a complete blend of everything the body needs to thrive. It turns a full meal into a one-step process. It makes things a lot less complicated. And when you’re busy, it takes eating off your plate.

This strikes me as one hundred percent strange. Who in the world would rather drink “bland goop” than eat tasty food?

But Canada’s reason for banning solyent strikes me as even stranger:

In a major blow to Canadians who love bland on-the-go meal replacement goop, The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has blocked all shipments of Soylent into the country….According to a statement from Rob Rhinehart, the CEO of Rosa Foods and the former software engineer who created Soylent, CFIA told the company in early October that their “products do not meet a select few of the CFIA requirements for a ‘meal replacement.’”

I get that solyent is advertised as a meal replacement. I get that. But you know what else is advertised as a meal replacement that does not in any way meet the actual nutrient requirements for human beings?

Doughnuts. To take one random example.

Ever eat a doughnut for breakfast? Ever meet someone who has? Because in what possible nutritional world can that be considered an adequate substitute for a real breakfast? And yet I don’t recall any calls for banning doughnuts on the grounds that they do not constitute a complete, nutritionally balanced meal. Without looking up the nutritional profile of solyent, would anybody care to lay down money on a bet that doughnuts are better for you?

Canada is seeming a little crazy to me here. But hey, maybe to protect their citizens, the Canadian nutritional police will next ban doughnuts.

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Fantasy openings to avoid

Ah, interesting! A post at Pub Rants about openings to avoid if you are writing a fantasy novel. I am instantly curious to see what Kristen Nelson has to say about this.

Your fantasy opening pages might be in trouble if…

#1) Your novel opens with an easily recognizable fantasy genre trope.

Hmm. What do you suppose Kristen and Angie have in mind here? I am trying to imagine what kind of “fantasy genre trope” would not work as an opening. Any kind of incident involving a dragon works everywhere, doesn’t it? In any part of the story. So they can’t mean to refer to things like that. Let’s see… okay, here’s the list:

Gathering herbs
Walking into an inn or tavern, noting all the patrons, ordering a tankard of ale
Leaving an inn or tavern, immediately saddling or mounting a horse
Escaping/sneaking through a castle
Tracking/hunting, or otherwise carefully aiming a crossbow at something/someone
Training for combat, often with swords
Being summoned to appear before the council or the queen/king
Confiding in a servant, your one and only friend
Defying your parent, who just so happens to be the queen/king
Fighting in a massive battle scene, about which the reader knows nothing
Tending a sick sibling or parent
Tending an injured stranger, who even in their fevered, half-conscious state, is undeniably alluring

Ah ha. Well, I’ve opened with the first of these. Then griffins immediately fly overhead, which is probably why no one suggested gathering herbs might be a cliched opening. I’ve almost sort-of-kind-of used the last one on this list as well, though not quite at the exact beginning and without the “alluring” element.

I should add here that this post is not arguing you should never open with any of these, just that you should think carefully about it. Of course anything can work if it’s done well enough.

The tracking/hunting thing does certainly seem very common, but I don’t know that it bothers me at all. Walk on Earth a Stranger opens this way, and it’s fine. Partly because the scene is short, partly because it’s used to introduce certain important elements of characterization and worldbuilding.

Sneaking into or out of anywhere generally works for me as an opening. I mean, if the book is otherwise well written, this is an element that will probably appeal to me wherever it appears in the book, including at the beginning. I ought to be able to think of examples, although at the moment not so much.

The post gives a detailed example of pulling off the inn scene as an opening. Sharon Shinn also does that in one of her Twelve Houses books; not sure which one, but I remember the scene.

I believe my personal least favorite is the third from the bottom: massive battle about which the reader knows nothing. I find that kind of opening deeply boring and probably will just put the book down. It’s a little hard to imagine any author pulling this off well enough for the scene to be engaging, though probably somebody has at some point.

Any of those tropes strike you as especially common and also especially unappealing to you?

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Omniscient pov in Sherwood Smith’s Inda series

Here’s an interview with Sherwood Smith, over at Cat Rambo’s blog, about omniscient pov in the wonderful Inda series, with the first book of the same name.

Recently the question of omniscient POV has come up in several classes, so I started reading some examples of it. One of the best I hit was Sherwood Smith’s Inda series. I figured, why not go to Sherwood and ask some questions about how she pulled that off.

What drew you to using omniscient point of view for the Inda series? What sorts of stories work particularly well with that POV? Were there any models that you looked when working with it?

I had always written in omni. I’m a visual writer (with all its pluses and pitfalls), which means I see a movie in my head—not just dialogue but characters’ inner lives. Omni always seemed the easiest way to get that movie down…But when I started selling, I was told to switch to limited third, which I had to learn.

This is the most interesting part to me:

I came to the conclusion that every novel, actually, has a narrator. Including those written in limited third or even camera-eye view. But many writers don’t recognize that. Maybe they don’t need to. Everybody’s process is different. For me, it’s a helpful rule or reminder for handling diegesis as well as mimesis, and how to incorporate elements like public, private, and intimate space (each with its discrete focus), how to slide into free indirect discourse, etc.

Sometime, I would like to see Sherwood expand a little on that. Or a lot, actually.

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I am shocked, shocked

A new study shows that students learn way more effectively from print textbooks than screens

As researchers in learning and text comprehension, our recent work has focused on the differences between reading print and digital media. While new forms of classroom technology like digital textbooks are more accessible and portable, it would be wrong to assume that students will automatically be better served by digital reading simply because they prefer it….Nonetheless, some key findings emerged that shed new light on the differences between reading printed and digital content:

Students overwhelming preferred to read digitally.

Reading was significantly faster online than in print.

Students judged their comprehension as better online than in print.

Paradoxically, overall comprehension was better for print versus digital reading.

The medium didn’t matter for general questions (like understanding the main idea of the text).

But when it came to specific questions, comprehension was significantly better when participants read printed texts.

Having for years watched students completely fail to use online resources to actually understand math, and having had a front-row seat at the total inability of online resources to even remotely equal the usability of a textbook, I am 100% unsurprised by these results. (There is an exception: for rapidly looking up some detail, it’s hard to beat google.)

I am also completely unsurprised that this effect is visible outside of math.

Offhand I would suggest that “reading significantly faster online” translates smoothly to “lower comprehension of material.” Speed is not the point when wading through General Physics, or even a Sociology text. Speed is actually detrimental. Is that not obvious? How is that not obvious?

In non-math classes, I do my best to encourage struggling students to take notes out of the book. Because this will SLOW THEM DOWN and help them PAY ATTENTION, as well as encouraging a focus on what is actually important.

If required to take written notes from an online text, my strong suspicion is that students’ comprehension would go way up.

Anyway, if you find this sort of thing relevant and / or interesting, by all means click through and read the whole thing.

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Interesting News Tuesday

Sometimes we do definitely live in a science fiction universe.

As evidence, this: TastyFloats: A Levitating Food Delivery System

Two phased arrays of low-cost ultrasonic transducers opposite each other form a standing wave of ultrasound between them, and very small amounts of liquids and solids can be suspended in the nodes of the wave. Changing the phase can move these nodes in three dimensions, pulling the contents along with it, and allowing the materials to be transported in 3D space as long as they stay between the arrays.

Doing this with food is surprisingly tricky, because food is so variable. The ultrasound will impart heat to whatever it’s levitating, causing alcohols to begin to evaporate. High density foods (like cheeses) require more power than low density foods. And the overall system has to be tuned to adapt to foods of different weights to be able to properly control their respective exit trajectories so that they land on just the right spot on your tongue.

What could possibly be more worthwhile than technology that lets you sit on your hands while food is levitated to your mouth? Right?

Meanwhile, elucidating the history of living things: Scientists track the brain-skull transition from dinosaurs to birds

The dramatic, dinosaur-to-bird transition that occurred in reptiles millions of years ago was accompanied by profound changes in the skull roof of those animals — and holds important clues about the way the skull forms in response to changes in the brain… “What this implies is that the brain produces molecular signals that instruct the skeleton to form around it, although we understand relatively little about the precise nature of that patterning.”

Bhullar added: “Ultimately, one of the important messages here is that evolution is simpler and more elegant than it seems. Multiple seemingly disparate changes — for instance to the brain and skull — could actually have one underlying cause and represent only a single, manifold transformation.”

Quite wonderful. I’ve always had a special fondness for the feathered dinosaurs and early birds. Transitional stages are so fascinating.

On a much broader scale: Half of the universe’s missing normal matter has been found

Astronomers have a problem when it comes to the mass in the universe; a lot of it is missing. You may know about dark matter, the enigmatic substance thought to make up 27% of the universe, but this isn’t the only mysterious absence. When it comes to normal matter; the stuff we are made of including protons, neutrons and electrons, there’s also a chunk missing. In fact, models of the universe hint there should be about twice as much matter as we can see. This is called the missing baryons problem.

Now, two papers have come out suggesting we may have found half of this missing chunk, in huge stretches of hot, diffuse gas that hold galaxies together.

I have no opinion on astrophysical problems, since I have no background in anything related, but this is interesting. I do wonder how “hot diffuse gas” can “hold galaxies together.” Maybe this be gravitational, even though these clouds of gas are so diffuse?

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