This week has been hectic for me. On Tuesday, I handed in my notice. On Thursday, I was told I could leave early if I wanted. On Friday, I left.*
The reason was simple enough. I didn't enjoy my job and I didn't need to keep it. I have enough money saved for a few years (I don't spend much).
Which is about when I realised I was now a full-time writer. It was entirely accidental. I didn't give up to specifically to pursue writing. But the result is the same. I now have a lot of free-time.
So I start my new job on Monday. It might take awhile to get used to writing that much in a day, but this is my chance to see if I'm cut out for it. I intend to start filling up slushpiles everywhere. Somewhere, there's an editor who'll like my stories...
* Then I ate chocolate cake, as a "Yay, I'm unemployed!" celebration.
Saturday, 31 January 2009
This week has been hectic for me. On Tuesday, I handed in my notice. On Thursday, I was told I could leave early if I wanted. On Friday, I left.*
Saturday, 24 January 2009
There are many 100 book lists out there, often claiming to be must read books. Invariably, most people have only read a handful of the list, making them feel like they're bad readers. This is silly. There are far more than 100 good books out in the world. All it really tells you is whether you share reading tastes with the lister.
So this list has no pretence. These are not the best books in the world. Nor do you have to read them to call yourself a reader. They're 100 books I enjoyed reading (with a leaning towards fantasy and science fiction). But if you have read lots of them, chances are you share my reading tastes.*
This is a list of whole stories (fiction and narrative non-fiction). Things published in other books (like short stories and most poems) aren't listed. Where a series is listed (marked with #)**, I make no guarantee that I've read the entire series. The books may be in alphabetical order by author surname, if you're lucky.***
How many of these have you read?
1. By the Light of the Moon - Sheridan Cain
2. The Very Hungry Caterpillar - Eric Carle
3. The Gruffalo - Julia Donaldson
4. Peter Potato and Alice Apple - Jayne Fisher
5. Dinosaurs and All That Rubbish - Michael Foreman
6. There's No Such Thing as a Dragon - Jack Kent
7. # Griffin Reader Series - Sheila K McCullagh
8. Toby Claypot's Wishing Well - John Patience
9. The Lorax - Dr. Seuss
10. Timothy Goes to School - Rosemary Wells
Children's and Young Adult Novels
11. # Chronicles of Prydain - Lloyd Alexander
12. Peter Pan - J.M. Barrie
13. The Dragon Paths - Frena Bloomfield
14. # The Faraway Tree Series - Enid Blyton
15. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
16. The Ghosts of Motley Hall - Richard Carpenter
17. Through the Looking-Glass - Lewis Carroll
18. The Demon Headmaster - Gillian Cross
19. James and the Giant Peach - Roald Dahl
20. Firestorm (Dinotopia Series) - Gene Deweese
21. # The Changes Trilogy - Peter Dickinson
22. A Rag, a Bone and a Hank of Hair - Nicholas Fisk
23. The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman
24. The Weirdstone of Brisingamen - Alan Garner
25. Lord of the Flies - William Golding
26. A Quest for Orion - Rosemary Harris
27. Comet in Moominland - Tove Jansson
28. A Tale of Time City - Diana Wynne Jones
29. The Sheep-Pig - Dick King-Smith
30. Diary of a Wimpy Kid - Jeff Kinney
31. # The Chronicles of Narnia - C. S. Lewis
32. The Voyage of QV66 - Penelope Lively
33. Winter Quarters - William Mayne
34. # Winnie the Pooh Series - A. A. Milne
35. # Anne Series (Anne of Green Gables) - L.M. Montgomery
36. # The Worst Witch Series - Jill Murphy
37. Five Children and It - E. Nesbit
38. Moon of Three Rings - Andre Norton
39. Zahrah the Windseeker - Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu / Nnedi Okorafor
40. Tom's Midnight Garden - Philippa Pearce
41. # Song of the Lioness Series - Tamora Pierce
42. # Harry Potter Series - J.K. Rowling
43. The Silver Sword - Ian Serraillier
44. Black Beauty - Anna Sewell
45. Alpha Centauri - Robert Siegel
46. The Witch of Blackbird Pond - Elizabeth George Speare
47. Ballet Shoes - Noel Streatfeild
48. Charlotte's Web - E.B. White
49. # Little House Books - Laura Ingalls Wilder
50. Gobbolino the Witch's Cat - Ursula Moray Williams
51. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
52. Watership Down - Richard Adams
53. # The Helliconia Trilogy - Brian Aldiss
54. # The Foundation Series - Isaac Asimov
55. Nemesis - Isaac Asimov
56. # The World of the Alfar - Elizabeth H. Boyer
57. Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
58. # The Shannara Trilogy - Terry Brooks
59. # Dresden Files - Jim Butcher
60. # Chronicles of an Age of Darkness - Hugh Cook
61. Jurassic Park - Michael Crichton
62. # Miss Marple Stories - Agatha Christie
63. The Lost World - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
64. # The Belgariad - David Eddings
65. # Riftwar Saga - Raymond E. Feist
66. # Spellsinger Series - Alan Dean Foster
67. Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman
68. Legend - David Gemmell
69. King Solomon's Mines - H. Rider Haggard
70. Star Beast - Robert A. Heinlein
71. Dune - Frank Herbert
72. Domain - James Herbert
73. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
74. # The Deverry Cycle - Katharine Kerr
75. To Kill a Mocking Bird - Harper Lee
76. # Earthsea - Ursula K. Le Guin
77. # Brain Ship Series - Anne McCaffrey
78. # The Dragonriders of Pern - Anne McCaffrey
79. Myst: The Book of Atrus - Rand Miller
80. # The Moonshae Trilogy - Douglas Niles
81. # Temeraire Series - Naomi Novik
82. # Cadfael Chronicles - Ellis Peters
83. The Theatrical Tapes of Leonard Thynn - Adrian Plass
84. # Discworld Series - Terry Pratchett
85. Relic - Douglas J. Preston and Lincoln Child
86. Saturn Over the Water - John Boynton Priestley
87. Colditz: The Colditz Story - P.R. Reid
88. The Shadow of Heaven - Bob Shaw
89. Walden Two - B. F. Skinner
90. Journey to the Centre of the Earth - Jules Verne
91. # The Deathgate Cycle - Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
92. The Midwich Cuckoos - John Wyndham
93. Father Christmas - Raymond Briggs
94. When the Wind Blows - Raymond Briggs
95. Dinotopia - James Gurney
Plays and Poetry
96. Beowulf - Anon
97. Percival, the Performing Pig - Dilys Owen
98. Mort - Terry Pratchett and Stephen Briggs
99. Julius Caesar - William Shakespeare
100. A Midsummer Night's Dream - William Shakespeare
* And if you don't share my reading tastes, I won't hold it against you. Stay for the sparklies and mushroom men instead.
** Including series was a cunning way to go over 100 books.
*** Yes, I chickened out of rating them in order of goodness.**** I'm also very bad at putting things into alphabetical order, so don't expect miracles.
**** You might also notice I've avoided listing the same author twice, except in cases where their other works were distinctively different in some way.
Thursday, 15 January 2009
As you know, spiders get a lot of bad press. They're useful* and intelligent** creatures, but people still squish them. So I'm rebranding them as silk kittens, because you wouldn't squish a kitten.
The name makes sense. Quite a few spiders are furry, just like kittens. They have eyes, just like kittens.*** Their leg number is divisible by two, just like kittens. So next time you see one, think of the kittens. Don't squish it.
Save the silk kittens!****
* Apart from the ones that bite you and you die.
** Compared to other similar beasties (like insects), they are pretty smart. Compared to a kitten, not so much.
*** Well, maybe not just like kittens. They have a few more of them than kittens.
**** You may be aware of PETA's attempt to rebrand fish as sea kittens. If not, you do now. You might realise from reading between the lines, I think the sea kittens are hilarious. And also missing the point.*****
***** Most fish don't want hugs. But there are environmental and animal welfare issues surrounding them... which the sea kitten campaign misses. I didn't see a mention of the problems with dyed fish, for example. Don't click that link unless you're prepared for some ickiness. Though I did note that Practical Fishkeeping titled a blog 'It wouldn't happen to a kitten' back in 2006. Their fish kitten idea was stolen!******
****** And I'm being serious about the silk kittens. Don't squish the poor things. Get a glass, catch them and put them outside. Their silk kitten babies will thank you! The germ kittens (flies) won't.
Tuesday, 13 January 2009
The humble fungus is often misunderstood. It gets labelled as a plant, when it's no such thing. This leads to a strange situation, where realistic fictional fungus is labelled as unreal. Whilst unrealistic fungus is considered plausible and accurate. Here are some things to consider for fantasy/science fiction fungi...
Forests of giant mushrooms are considered whimsical, unreal and otherwise in the realms of children's stories. They're not. The Prototaxites were a group of fungi from the Devonian era on Earth. Fossils show them getting to around eight meters tall. That's one big fungus.
They didn't look quite like modern fungi, but the principle is there. Fungi can evolve to be giant, if they're given half a chance.
Important to note (as you'll see in the next section), these forests still have sunlight and plants.
Fungi as Producers
A common "hey, I had this cool idea" is the idea of a race of cave dwellers living on fungi. Nothing wrong with that. It's plausible. The trouble is the other ideas attached to it. Often, everyone is underground because of some nasty happenings. The sun has been blocked out and all plant life has died, along with most animals. So humans go underground and eat mushrooms.
I've seen this idea discussed many times, so the first thing to know is it isn't original. But you could give it an original twist by getting the science right. The second thing to know was hinted in the last sentence - the science is a bit off... yet people tend to think their idea is highly scientific and will give the story a believable edge*.
The problem is, fungi get their energy by eating (consuming) things. This makes them (along with animals) consumers**. Some of the energy in the food is lost when it's eaten, so there is an energy drain on the system. Consumers can eat other consumers for awhile, but eventually all the energy is lost.
That's where producers come in. Plants are producers. They take energy from raw energy sources (the sun) and turn it into tasty plant material. Then the consumers eat them. It's tough being a plant.
The diagram below shows it in a simple way. Sunlight turns into carrots. People and mushrooms eat the carrots (and each other). Take away the carrots and everyone dies. There's a hole in the chain.
Without producers, consumers quickly run out of energy. So what do these cave fungi eat? They'll starve to death without plants, just like the human survivors. Some ponder points are:
- Start with some adapted plant life, which uses another energy source***. Perhaps these plants grow somewhere dangerous or aren't edible, so people gather them and bring them back. They use the plants as food for the fungi, then eat the fungi.
- Growing fungi on dead people. It's dangerous to eat members of your own species. Not so dangerous if you get something else to eat them first (like a fungus), then eat that something. You'll still need some sort of energy coming in, but it would reduce the need. This would work well with the above idea.
- Symbiotic fungi, similar to lichens. Perhaps the producer is an algae living inside the fungus. This still means an alternative energy source is needed, but I'm sure you'll figure out something. A downside is that lichens grow very, very slowly. For a food supply, that isn't good news. They would make nifty delicacies though.
Fungi aren't known for their movement abilities, so it's hard to make mushroom men sound real. A good realism point is to give them motivation. Why do they need to move? If they've lived in the same damp cave forever, they might as well be rooted to the spot.
Perhaps their homes are temporary. They have to move to follow food and water supplies. Perhaps they spend most of their life rooted down, but occasionally get up and migrate to new colony sites.
No More Mushrooms
So far, I've been talking about the tip of the iceberg. Or the fruiting body of the fungus. The mushroom, sticky out bit, or whatever form it takes, is just the fruiting body. The rest of the fungus is elsewhere, having a snack.
What could the fungus get up to before fruiting? It might be eating its way through the last food reserves on an isolated spaceship. Or it could be a deadly fungal plague. One of the things making it deadly is that normal anti-bacterial and anti-viral agents wouldn't work. Would someone realise it was a fungus in time?
On the positive side, some forest fungi are known to be very old and large. In extreme cases, all the mushrooms in a forest may come from the same fungus. It's been lurking there under the ground for centuries. Is it sentient? What is it thinking?
* Which is the whole point of these inspired by nature posts... getting some of the details sounding realistic gives you more leeway for your awesome magic system, faster-than-light spaceship and physics-defying dragons.
** Getting technical, fungi are often referred to as decomposers, because they eat dead people (and other dead stuff). But I'm simplifying a bit here, because decomposers are a type of consumer.
*** Possibilities could include heat, electricity and magic. These don't all exist in the real world, but they sound sensible. It's much more plausible to see a plant with an alternative energy source than a fungus making the leap into planthood. The latter is like you turning into a radish. It could happen, but only if you really annoy a pixie.
Sunday, 11 January 2009
Want to reduce your friends/followers on social networks? Want to be universally hated? Just follow my three step programme, and you'll soon be friendless.
A lot of people think you can alienate people with your beliefs. You can certainly get some hate for having a radical opinion, but this is missing the gate blocking your way, because you're too busy admiring the novelty fenceposts. Though some people will take offence at what you believe, they are the minority. If you want to get the majority to hate you for your opinion, you have to work on how you express it.
Below are some handy tips for how to alienate people with your beliefs. Remember, the topic doesn't matter*. Anything will do, as long as it's an opinion. Got an opinion ready? Let's go...**
Step One - Spread the Word: Write a blog-post length piece on your opinion. Ranty and convoluted sentences are a must. Now open Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. Broadcast it on your Facebook status updates and Twitter one line at a time. It will mean you send a new message every few seconds for two minutes, but your opinion is important, so your real friends won't mind.
Send out twenty MySpace bulletins with the same information, just in case anyone missed it on Twitter and Facebook.
Step one isn't enough on its own. Some people will forgive you, especially long-term friends. They'll assume you're going to let it drop now it's out of your system.
Step Two - Expand on the Topic: Now you're ready to make a blog post. Don't worry if it goes against your blog topic. Keep posting new posts about your opinion topic. Remember, you mustn't mix it up with on-topic posts for your blog. Otherwise, your blog readers might miss your opinion. Telling people once is never enough. It's like adverts... they only sink in after the seventh time. Something like that anyway.
Step Three - Smite the Elitists: Anyone who has just un-friended you is intolerant, elitist and not worthy of your time. So unworthy of your time that you should spent some time ranting about it. They obviously can't take opposing points of view. Why else would they remove you?
Your blog readers have vanished. The elitist scum couldn't take your opposing point of view either. Be sure to blog about it, so they know how much you hate them.
Anyone who calls you a spammer or says you've become obsessed is lying. They don't want to admit their real motivations. Remember to name and shame the main offenders, especially if you've been friends with them for awhile.
Optional Step - I Dare You: Dare people to delete you from their friends for disliking your opinion. Guilt trips are also great. Let people know that you know they hate you. If you have to post about an unrelated topic, make it clear you're only doing it because your friends are hating on your opinions.
Thank a few people for sticking by you. You might be able to persuade them to send out some links to your blog or retweet one of your messages. That way, you can reach people outside your network. Don't worry. You'll upset your remaining friends on the next cycle round.
This step can be inserted after any of the other steps. Some people like to send out their fifty Twitter messages first, then tell people to delete them if they don't like it. Others wait until they've reached step three.
Repeat: Go back to step one with a new opinion. Keep going till you run out of friends.
* You can't predict what will press those angry buttons. I had someone send me a nasty email because my dragon site includes myths where the dragon dies. I lost a bunch of Twitter followers (and got my first 'icky' rating) for posting my favourite old sci fi programmes.*** You could start an argument on which Teletubby was coolest. It doesn't have to be religion and politics.
** If you do follow these guidelines, I take no responsibility.****
*** I admit it, I failed in both of these examples. I didn't rant about it or send out multiple messages. I have mentioned it here, but note my unsuitable use of language. Where are the all caps sentences? The abundant exclamation marks?
**** These steps are taken from observing people on social networks. The credit goes to them. The best users of these steps can alienate anyone, even someone who agrees with their opinion.
Monday, 5 January 2009
I could mention that 'The Graveyard Book' (Neil Gaiman) is a classic example of what I was talking about with my bear ramblings. Dark things happen, but in an implied way.
Instead, I'll talk about graveyards. I've always liked graveyards. They're calm places and often full of life. Not the people under the ground of course. It's the plants and animals that colonise them. For them, the graveyard is a safe place. Many graveyards have endured for hundreds of years. The newer ones will do, because no one likes building over them.
It's also a place with free food, as humans regularly bring tasty flowers for the animals*. Possibly not intentionally, but a free lunch is a free lunch.
The idea of a graveyard as a nature reserve, as it is in the book, mirrors my experiences of graveyards. It's worth spending some time in a graveyard when you're not there for sad reasons. You might be surprised at what you'll see.
* If you've been assuming that vandals are removing the tops of your flowers left for the dearly departed, think again. A quiet person can watch as the mourners leave... and the squirrels arrive. Among others. The solution is to keep trying different types of flower, as some are tastier than others.