10 amazing facts that are completely UNtrue

1. The word “Succubus” wasn’t added to the English language until 1975.

2. The Parthenon in Greece is built to the exact measurements of Noah’s Ark, as described in Genesis.

3. The Guillotine is actually a French corruption of the name of its Irish inventor – Gill O’Teen.

4. In the first edition of “Monopoly”, there were no green properties, and the playing pieces were a top hat, a tram car, a bucket and a fishing rod.

5. Thanks to the internet, it is now possible to order a pizza while aboard the International Space Station. And it’s bound to be free, since delivery will almost certainly take more than half an hour.

6. The Inuit have no word for “Eclectic Dimorphism”.

7. As well as the Game of Thrones saga “A Song of Fire and Ice”, George R R Martin has written 47 children’s books about Riffo, the Kung-Fu bunny.

8. Artichokes were originally cultivated because their leaves were used as felting material for the millinery trade.

9. The Leaning Tower of Pisa was actually restored to the vertical on June 13th, 1910, but after a public outcry, it had its lean returned less than a year later. Attempting to “fix” the tower is now a crime punishable by imprisonment.

10. Hoping to ensure its long-term survival, the American Constitution was first written on bits of broken Roman pottery, since those things have survived both time and volcanoes. Later it was transferred to something even more durable – a rich, old white man’s sense of entitlement.

Easy listening.

I’ve always loved audio books. When I was a kid I had cassette tapes of the Star Wars Saga and the Indiana Jones stories, but also an RSC recording of Hamlet (featuring Derek Jacobi in the title role) and an unabridged copy of “Tarka the Otter”.

Being able to experience books when occupied in other tasks is wonderful. Whether it’s ironing, or running, walking the dog or driving to work, it feels like the story fills the space that would otherwise be used for worrying. (As a parent of three kids, there’s always SOMETHING to worry about)

But of course, there’s no more money in the budget for buying new audio books every week than there is for buying regular books every week. SO we signed up for Audible a couple of years ago, paying a modest monthly sum to get a “free” book each month. Generally, it’s a good deal, with the books we choose costing more than the monthly fee, so we save money each time.

But because I listen so much, I get through more than one book a month, which means I have to revisit old favourites again and again. This last month, I’ve been falling back on the novels of John Scalzi.

FUZZY NATION

This is sometimes referred to as a reboot, since it’s Scalzi’s take on an existing novel – “Little Fuzzy” by H. Beam Piper. According to the introduction on the audio book (read by Scalzi himself), Scalzi was a fan of the original work, but felt it was rooted in the time it was written, and he felt the story could be re-written to reflect a more modern sensibility. I really like the story, finding the main character extremely unusual. He’s selfish and occasionally happy to lie and cheat to get what he wants, but exactly what it is that he wants isn’t always clear, even to the reader. Also, there’s a beautiful woman in the story but no romance for the main character.

Primarily, I think I like it because the underdog takes on the big money people and (spoiler alert!) wins. It’s a happy ending. It may not be wildly realistic, but it IS the way things ought to be.

OLD MAN’S WAR

A story I come back to again and again. Set in the far future, it tells the story of John Perry, a widower who has reached the age of seventy five and is therefore entitled to join the Colonial Defence Force. Much mystery surrounds the CDF, since no-one on Earth can explain why they would require old people as soldiers. Clearly, some form of technology exists to make the oldsters into useful fighting machines. John  makes a group of friends in the days following his recruitment, and they form “The Old Farts”, sticking together through their first weeks, then staying in touch once trained and deployed. The fates of the members of the group serve to show the ferocity of the war Mankind is engaged in, and the sometimes arbitrary nature of the Grim Reaper.

However, this book always reminds me of one of my other favourite audio books “Going Postal” by Terry Pratchett, because, like Moist Von Lipwig in that book, John Perry applies his brain and will power to his situation and improves it. He thinks, he learns and he applies those lessons, and his experience and it helps him AND the people around him.

“Old Man’s War” is the first in a series of novels about the CDF and the war between Mankind and the alien races arrayed against them. There are also rumours that a movie is grinding its way through the Hollywood machine.

REDSHIRTS

This is the book that prompted today’s post. Years ago I wrote “Strange New Worlds”, my own silly sketch about the inevitable death of the Security Guy on the alien planet. Scalzi’s take on the Redshirt is much more complex, because his guys discover that the reason the death rate for redshirts on their ship is so high is because a sub-par Sci-Fi TV show from our era is intruding on their reality. When their senior officers are seized by “The Narrative” they can make odd decisions, and unlikely events occur, almost always resulting in death for some lowly crewman. A hardy crew of friends kidnap a bridge officer (because that way, their shuttle won’t explode – main characters don’t die!) and fly through a black hole (physics gets suspended when a main character is involved) to time travel back to our time and persuade the TV show makers to stop killing off characters for dramatic effect.

It’s a more cerebral piece than I expected, but the characters are fresh and interesting, and there are three codas added to the end of the book. Though the actual story is finished, these three pieces do add to the overall tale. I found the last two (“Second Person and Third Person” ) particularly affecting. And the fact that they’re written in the first person, second person and third person is a nifty piece of writing craft in itself.

 

I would not hesitate to recommend any of the above books to you. My only caveat would be that some people find one aspect of Scalzi’s writing to be an irritant, especially in “Fuzzy Nation” – he uses “said” a lot. It may be the way Wil Wheaton reads it, or it may be the construction of the book, but it IS noticeable, particularly now I’ve mentioned it and you’ll be listening for it. Sorry.

Reading recommendations

It’s been a good week for reading. For one thing, I was lucky enough to be chosen as a Beta Reader for Brooke Johnson‘s new novel “The Wizard’s Heart”. A very different style from her steampunk “Clockwork” books, this is a gorgeous fantasy adventure, shot through with action and magic.

I also took a step back in time. I once read Carrie Vaughn’s “After the Golden Age“. It was a time when I was reading a fair amount of superhero fiction and yearning for something new. This was it.

In “After the Golden Age” we are introduced to Celia, the awkward and intransigent daughter of Mr Olympos and Spark, two members of The Olympiad that protect Commerce City. Celia has inherited NO powers, and as a result is kidnapped, repeatedly by bad guy after bad guy. Before long, her rebellious nature and familiarity with bad guy psychology leads her to actually assist the Nemesis of The Olympiad, The Destructor.

The book is about power and the uses of it, but it’s also very much about family and the games they play with one another. It was a great read, with an unexpected and dramatic conclusion, and I was sad that it was over.

When I saw there was a sequel in the library – “Dreams of the Golden Age“, I was tempted but also worried. What could a sequel offer? Everyone knows the problems of sequels – you want the same story over again, but new and different. You can’t have the same excitement of discovery, but having the characters do something new runs the risk of it being…wrong.

In “Dreams of the Golden Age”, Carrie Vaughn sidesteps all these problems neatly. She’s set up Celia’s character in the first book, and this one begins with Celia already the mother of two teenage girls. The eldest is seventeen, the age Celia was at her most rebellious. This book too, then is about family relationships, about trust and secrets, and how understanding your own mistakes of the past doesn’t always prevent you making new and exciting mistakes.

And, of course, there are superpowers too, and crime and rescue and action.

Hey, Random Citizen….

Citizenship.

When we told folks we were emigrating to Canada, many of them asked us if we were going to get Canadian citizenship. At the time it seemed a ludicrously precipitous question. We needed jobs, schools, houses, short scruffy dogs, that sort of thing. But citizenship? No, not really.

That’s not to say we were opposed to the idea, but it wasn’t something we were really prepared to think about. Like asking a twelve year old about their pension plan. Sure, they’re going to think about it sometime , but right now? Nope.

But over the last year or so, it’s been more of an issue. We’ve been here long enough to apply, we’ve met other ex-pats who DID apply, and the question of electing people we actually WANT in government has become more interesting. To vote, we need to be citizens.

So we underwent the gruelling form-filling and document finding, made all the more gruelling by the fact that we were duplicating a lot of the effort we had to make to renew our Permanent Residents Cards (turns out the “permanent” only applied to our residency status, not the life of the cards themselves, which need renewing every five years…)

We’d been told that processing the papers took a good length of time, so we were very surprised to find an invitation to attend our citizenship exam on April 1st. Surprised and, of course, suspicious. April 1st? Really?

But it was true. I can’t go into details about the exam itself, or I’ll invalidate my own application, but I will say that the booklet “Discovering Canada” is a great source of information. Mrs Dim and I learned a lot about our new home country, as well as discovering that learning new facts has become harder now that we are old and set in our ways (by which I mean “used to Googling stuff we don’t know, so we don’t have to remember it”) I was seriously worried about retaining all this information – Canada’s history, political system, cultural icons…. For a young country, it’s been busy!

On the fateful morning we lined up outside the building with a wonderful variety of folks from all ethnic backgrounds. The test itself went by in a whirl, and then we had a brief interview before our details get passed to an immigration judge. Mrs Dim and I took advantage of our mutual time off to walk through Downtown and admire the city that is our home.

Just a house in Downtown Vancouver...With the most amazing Magnolia tree.

Just a house in Downtown Vancouver…With the most amazing Magnolia tree.

Whatever the final result of the test, I’m happy to be living here, to have the chance to walk through Vancouver, or over Burnaby Mountain. Most of all, I’m happy that my Weasels have the chance to do these things.

When people ask me “Why did you emigrate?”

WP_002610San diego 6 060Me and the weasels eat lunchThe view from the Yacht ClubWP_000331Viewty spaghetti and doors 017 095 Viewty Victoria ferry trip 015 Deep Cove 011 007 Katie Lily Doughnut Skating and fireworks 117Rocky Point November WP_000713 WP_000753 026 036 (2) Bloedel conservatory 165Any questions?

How things change.

My Fire was featured on the cover of my first e-book, "Coffee Time Tales" (Now re-covered)

This was the first cover I designed myself. And it shows. The book now has a better one.

Just over two years ago I published my first e-book, “Coffee Time Tales” (http://amzn.to/16z6R9y ). It was a bit of a joke, a bit of fun, just throwing together some old short stories into a single volume and knocking up a cover pic. There was no marketing plan, just telling people I knew online about it, and doing the obligatory free five day giveaway.

Yesterday I found the blog post where I discussed the publishing of the book. A friend asked how it had gone in the comments section, and I replied that I was pleased with the modest 150 downloads.

150.

Not so long ago I re-worked “Troubled Souls” (http://amzn.to/17RZzOH), to tie in with the newly-released “Eddie and the Kingdom” ( http://amzn.to/18mSF2w) . I blogged about the re-release, went on Twitter, alerted people to the upcoming giveaway and haunted several publicity blogs, logging in to them to post details of the launch. I actually worked quite hard. Just quite hard, not actually hard.

“Troubled Souls” just about topped fifty downloads. Worldwide.

I know I’m not good at pushing my books. I know I don’t do all the right things, because this is a fun venture and I just can’t take it seriously – I get paid for my playwriting and reviewing – but I think this story does illustrate how saturated the e-book market has become. My book of drivel could garner 150 downloads with no effort two years ago. Now a book I worked on promoting sinks almost without trace (It did get a couple of great reviews, thank you!)

You don’t just need a great book, a great plot, proper formatting and an eye-catching and professional cover. You need determination, marketing, planning and the will to be in it for the long haul.

Two book recommendations

Since I stopped keeping count of my monthly book reading, I’ve occasionally found myself composing short reviews of books I’m reading, only to remember that I’m not doing that anymore. Then I realised I COULD still do that if I wanted to.

The world is my oyster. The internet is my hamster ball. The Pompidou Centre was a ghastly mistake that had nothing to do with me.

So, in that spirit, here are two books I have read recently that are worth a look:

Moonwalking with Einstein

Journalism is often writing about something that other people are doing. Josh Foer went a step further when he covered the National Memory Championships in America – he accepted the challenge to train for the following year and compete. Along the way he investigates what memory is, how it works, whether it really can be improved, how it intersects with education, the historical memory versus the modern view, savantism… There’s really so much to this book it’s hard to nail it down.

I got my copy through Audible, which is great because it prevents me skipping paragraphs (something I’m prone to with non-fiction), but it makes it harder to bookmark great passages for later investigation. There are some hints and tips in the book for improving your own memory, but mostly it is a fascinating ride through the history of memory and Josh’s personal journey from reporting on the National Memory Championships to competing in them.

Whispers Under Ground

Whispers Under Ground (Peter Grant)

I picked the first of this series (Midnight Riot) from the paperback stand at my local library. It was great to find an Urban Fantasy book that wasn’t set in America and wasn’t fascinated by vampires or werewolves. Instead, these books follow Peter Grant, a young Detective Constable in the Metropolitan Police, as he stumbles across the arcane branch of the Met that deals with the Supernatural. Well, I say “branch”, but really it’s just Detective Inspector Nightingale. Nightingale takes Grant under his wing (ha! See what I did there?) and introduces him to the other side of London, while slowly coaching him in the art of magic. What’s refreshing about Grant is that he’s a modern guy who feels that doing magic is cool and fun, and he’s also a little bit scientific about the whole thing. When he discovers magic has a devastating effect on microchips, for example, he sets up a simple experiment to establish the range of the effect. He learns from mistakes, and he pushes at the boundaries placed on him by Nightingale. In short, he feels like a real person.

“Whispers” is the third in the series, and again I got it through Audible. The performance is excellent and the story manages to stay logical while still scampering through magic and legend. I just picked up the fourth one this week.