Monday, October 31, 2022

What Deborah's Playing on the Piano

Saturday afternoon, I attended a lovely Hallowe'en student concert at Cabrillo College. Audience was masked, performers masked or PCR tested. So great to hear live music again! One of the pieces was a synthesizer adaptation of Satie's first Gnossienne, which I'm working on. (It was very weird. Very weird on steroids.) That reminded me it's been a while since I posted what I'm working on now. For those new to this journey, I'm an adult piano student who began piano lessons 15 years ago, my first ever formal instruction. I'm a grown up, or so the theory goes, so I get to play what I want.

Satie. Gnossienne #1. It's a hoot. One measure that goes on for pages, with directions like "Postulez en vous-même" (wonder about yourself). Lots of repetition of the motifs with subtle differences of expression.

Gillock. "Silent Snow" from Lyric Preludes in Romantic Style. Gillock was primarily a teacher. These short pieces are beautiful and fun to play as they challenge technique. The one I just started requires exquisite control of dynamics and pedaling. Gillock's pieces are a great prep for composers like Debussy and Satie.

A couple of Schubert waltzes. They're like "bon-bons" or Chopin Lite.

"Warg Scouts" from Howard Shore's music for The Hobbit. The dwarves are running for their lives, Radagast is trying to lure the orcs on their wargs away, and Gandalf is scheming to get his part to Rivendell. Pounding rhythm. Am I nuts? When I looked at the piece, I went, "Ack!! I can't possibly!!!" So I'm tackling it slowly with the metronome under my teacher's guidance. Might take a couple of years to get it up to tempo (quarter note = 180, agitated) but it will do wonders for my technique. And be soooo much fun!

Bach Invention 14. If I skip a day, it falls apart. Otherwise, I'm focusing on the way the motif bounces back from one hand to the other, detached notes in one hand but legato in the other.

Debussy. "Claire de Lune." Be still, my heart. I'm about a page away from playing it straight through and then we get to work on dynamics, speed, and expression.

When I have time, I work on my past repertoire. Current favorites are "May It Be" (Enya), Debussy's "La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin," Satie's 1st and 3rd Gymnopédies, a transcription of Ashokan Farewell, and a bunch of music from LotR.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Very Short Book Reviews: A Delicious Fantasy, a Noir Detective SF Murder Mystery

 The Liar's Knot, by M. A. Carrick (Orbit)

 If you, like me, couldn’t get enough of the Renaissance Venice-like world of The Mask of Mirrors, dive right in! The Liar's Knot picks up the story during a brief pause, a moment of uneasy peace. The evil House Indestor may be finished, but an ancient darkness still weaves through the city’s filthy alleys and jewel-bright gardens. Ren (aka the Black Rose and a bunch of other alter egos), Vargo, and Grey Serrado (aka The Rook) each have their own gifts, weak points, and suspicions as they are drawn together. To say more is to risk spoiling the unfolding of secrets. Take my word for it, though. This sequel is just delicious!

Titanshade, by Dan Stout (DAW)

 Dan Stout’s debut novel is a quirky, gritty cross between noir detective and science fiction. The protagonist, Carter, is a mostly-disgraced homicide cop perpetually on the verge of either a fight or a collapse from ignoring the long-term physical injuries. His beat is the oil town of Titanshade, once booming but now on the break of bankruptcy as the wells run dry. The city's future hangs on an inflow of cash from the reclusive amphibians known as Squibs. The action opens with the murder of the Squib ambassador, there to negotiate for the creation of wind farms to replace the dying oil industry. Lots of conflicting interests here. Carter’s less than thrilled when he’s paired with a junior cop, an alien Mollenkampi with several sets of jaws who is a really nice person.

The real strength of this novel lies in its worldbuilding, the innovative ways in which scarce resources create impoverishment, especially a society that includes a diversity of races. It’s definitely worth checking out, especially if cross-over mysteries appeal to you.




Monday, October 24, 2022

5-Star NetGalley Reviews of The Laran Gambit

ARCs of The Laran Gambit are still available by request on NetGalley. The early reviews give it 5 stars!
"This was such a well-done scifi novel, it had everything that I was hoping for. It does the mind-control technology being used well and was what I was hoping for. "
"The Laran Gambit is science fiction from a master voice. Sure to please fans of this author and genre."

Friday, October 21, 2022

Short Book Reviews: A Great New Supernatural Mystery Series

 Uncanny Times, by Laura Anne Gilman (Saga)

This new turn-of-the-20th-Century supernatural hunter series boasts engaging characters, a gigantic magical hound, and a murder mystery. Siblings Rosemary and Aaron Harker come from a long tradition of hunting monsters. When an elderly cousin dies under mysterious circumstances, they journey to a small town, along with their oversized hound, Botheration. On the surface, the death appears to be natural, but as Hunters of the uncanny, the Harkers know something sinister is at work. At every turn, their investigation leads nowhere, even when one corpse after another turns up.

That’s the setup, but it falls short of conveying my experience of reading the book. Gilman’s a skillful writer, and here she perfectly balances the tension of a murder mystery with exploring a world that’s just enough skewed from the mundane to be endlessly fascinating, and best of all, to hang out with three really interesting characters (I definitely include the dog in this category!) Even the minor characters bring vivid quirks that deepen the journey through this town and its mysteries.

Despite the dramatic elements, plot twists, and escalating danger, the pacing is measured rather than thriller-taut, yet I found myself turning page after page, reluctant to put the book down. If the opening of a novel is an invitation to the reader, Uncanny Times provides superb hospitality, chapter after chapter. I hope this is only the beginning of a long-running series of the Huntsmen adventures.


Monday, October 17, 2022

Proofreading The Children of Kings

Here's an image from late 2012. Cleopatra left us the next year at the ripe old age of 20.

Here I am, complete with Cat Muse, working my way through page proofs of The Children of Kings.

Cleopatra is almost 20 years old, and I've had her since she was 8 weeks. She's moving very slowly these days but still loves to curl up with me while I work. She's so thin, I've covered her with the edge of the afghan for extra warmth.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Short Book Reviews: Domestic Revenge Thriller

 The Violence, by Delilah S. Dawson (Del Rey)

 What a powerful, disturbing, exhilarating novel! In the beginning, three generations of women are struggling with domestic violence and oppression in different ways, with Chelsea in the middle generation. Her husband terrorizes her, sometimes choking her into unconsciousness and keeping her isolated and financially dependent on him. Her mother, once a destitute teen mother, has sought security in a loveless but wealthy marriage and become obsessed with conformity and her own survival. Now her teenage daughter is about to fall into the same trap when her once adoring boyfriend shows a dark, possessive side. Chelsea knows her chances of making a successful break for freedom are slim to none with her husband’s law enforcement and lawyer buddies to corroborate his side of the story. Her life seems hopeless until The Violence strikes, a viral epidemic that causes bursts of unprovoked, deadly rage that leave no memory of their deeds. In a scenario eerily reminiscent of the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, the rich wall themselves into enclaves while lawlessness takes hold. Soon Chelsea finds herself separated from her family, on the run in a landscape of senseless carnage. Then she stumbles on the Violence Fight circuit, successor to pro wrestling with its vivid persona, costumes, and choreographed moves, and she begins reclaiming her life.

Part revenge-wish-fulfillment, part allegory of what happens when the downtrodden revolt, part examination of society-wide misogyny, The Violence delivers a breath-taking page-turner.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Cat Rambo on Writing Euphoria and Multitasking

Cat Rambo is a wonderful writer and teacher. I reviewed her space opera, You Sexy Thing, here. She runs the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers, which offers live and on-demand classes. And she's a nifty person. Best of all, I love the way she talks about the writing process. Here, in an article on multitasking from the SFWA blog, she nails the description of the mental state when everything comes together and the world flow like silken fire. Whenever I see a depiction of a blocked writer (last night I watched the "Calliope" episode of the Netflix "The Sandman" series), I cringe. Yes, we go through fallow periods, frustration, and emptiness. But most working writers find strategies to get around, over, or through those blocks because there's nothing like a writer's high.

Here's Cat's description:
You start putting words on the page, and if you’re lucky, you hit the flow, that happy stream of words where you are writing and simultaneously entertaining yourself, discovering what happens next, where the world falls away and all you are doing and thinking about is writing. A state of intense, focused concentration that feels wonderful, because you are simultaneously challenged and exercising competency, constantly rising to that challenge and succeeding. [bold mine]

That’s one of the happiest states for a writer, and one that we chase. And if we want to hit it, we need to get rid of distractions. Multitasking is such a distraction, taking up a little bit of bandwidth in order to keep tabs on that task or other tasks and tracking time. Multitasking is not compatible with things that require concentration and time.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Short Book Reviews: A Sweet M/M Historical Romance

 Resurrection Men, by Steven Harper (Darwin Press)

Life in the late 1800s wasn’t easy for medical students from poor backgrounds like Arthur, and one of the few ways to pay tuition was through the illegal “resurrection” of buried corpses for use in anatomy laboratories. Life wasn’t much easier for Jesse, who fled his ultra-controlling, wealthy socialite family and ended up as a grave-digger. Now a vengeful judge is looking for a reason to throw Arthur in jail, and Arthur’s budding romance with Jesse might provide just the excuse.

The pacing of this historical novel is perfectly balanced, from desperate action to the sweet, slowing unfolding of a deep connection between the two men. Historical details create a vivid setting that heightens the stakes, drawing the reader ever deeper into this compelling story.

Monday, October 3, 2022

Let's Build a World: New Astronomical Finds for Your SF Stories

I've got a file (actually a dozen files) of cool science stories that I might use in science fictional world-building. What sf author doesn't? Even fantasy stories need good science. For instance, an urban fantasy involving werewolves really should depict the phases of the moon accurately. This week, images and data from the Hubble and James Webb Space Telescopes have furnished a treasure trove of research ideas. Rather than post them separately, I've gathered a few that I find particularly exciting.

There Could be Many Water Worlds in the Milky Way

Astronomers are curious about how many terrestrial planets in our galaxy are actually “water worlds.” 
These are rocky planets that are larger than Earth but have a lower density, which suggests that volatiles like water make up a significant amount (up to half) of their mass-fraction. According to a recent study by researchers from the University of Chicago and the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC), water worlds may be just as common as “Earth-like” rocky planets. These findings bolster the case for exoplanets that are similar to icy moons in the Solar System (like Europa) and could have significant implications for future exoplanet studies and the search for life in our Universe.

“We have discovered the first experimental proof that there is a population of water worlds, and that they are in fact almost as abundant as Earth-like planets. We found that it is the density of a planet and not its radius, as was previously thought, which separates dry planets from wet ones. The Earth is a dry planet, even though its surface is mostly covered in water, which gives it a very wet appearance. The water on Earth is only 0.02% of its total mass, while in these water worlds it is 50% of the mass of the planet.”

However, planets around M-type stars typically orbit so closely that they are tidally locked, where one side is constantly facing toward its sun. At this distance, any water on the planet’s surface would likely exist in a supercritical gas phase, increasing their sizes. As a result, Luque and Pallé theorized that in this population, water is bound to the rock or in closed volumes below the surface, not in the form of oceans, lakes, and rivers on the surface. These conditions are similar to what scientists have observed with icy moons in the outer Solar System, such as Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Titan.

Given that they are tidally locked to their suns, these planets may also have liquid oceans on their sun-facing side but frozen surfaces everywhere else – colloquially known as “eyeball planets.” While astronomers have speculated about the existence of this class of exoplanet, these findings constitute the first confirmation for this new type of exoplanet. They also bolster the growing case for water worlds that form beyond the so-called “snow line” in star systems (the boundary beyond which volatile elements freeze solid), then migrate closer to their star.

In the past, glaciers may have existed on the surface of Mars, providing meltwater during the summer to create the features we see today. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA

Mars Had Moving Glaciers, but They Behaved Differently in the Planet's Lower Gravity

On Earth, shifts in our climate have caused glaciers to advance and recede throughout our geological history (known as glacial and inter-glacial periods). The movement of these glaciers has carved features on the surface, including U-shaped valleys, hanging valleys, and fjords. These features are missing on Mars, leading scientists to conclude that any glaciers on its surface in the distant past were stationary. However, new research by a team of U.S. and French planetary scientists suggests that Martian glaciers did move more slowly than those on Earth.
These findings demonstrate how glacial ice on Mars would drain meltwater much more efficiently than glaciers on Earth. This would largely prevent lubrication at the base of the ice sheets, which would lead to faster sliding rates and enhanced glacial-driven erosion. In short, their study demonstrated that lineated landforms on Earth associated with glacial activity would not have had time to develop on Mars.

In addition to explaining why Mars lacks certain glacial features, the work also has implications for the possibility of life on Mars and whether that life could survive the transition to a global cryosphere we see today. According to the authors, an ice sheet could provide a steady water supply, protection, and stability to any subglacial bodies of water where life could have emerged. They would also protect against solar and cosmic radiation (in the absence of a magnetic field) and insulation against extreme variations in temperature.