Well isn’t this a coinky-dink? Here’s to ya, Mr. Bradbury!

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August 22, 2012 would have been Ray Bradbury’s 92 birthday. In 2000, he spoke at the down town Minneapolis Library. In honor of his birthday, Minnesota Public Radio rebroadcast his talk, which you can listen to here. The late Ray Bradbury’s Pen Pals lecture about his life and work

The photo comes from the MPR page. (STEVE CASTILLO/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

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What’s On…

If you’re like me, and suffer from what I assume is a form of literary ADD – where you can’t seem to commit to reading, or writing, one thing at a time – then it helps to take stock once in a while and make a list. At other times, its disconcerting, like whenever I check out my Goodreads account and see that a book I cracked over a year ago is still on my “Currently Reading” list.

But today I thought I’d combine that list with my list of upcoming reviews. As I’m sure I mentioned in a previous post or two, this vacay has been pretty good for scoring new books. I got some long 0verdue ones and managed to find at least one that has come highly recommended. To ensure that they don’t wind up in my pile, partially read and collecting dust, I thought I’d make a definitive list. That oughta help my ADD!

Editor’s Note: The author of this article is not a physician or psychiatrist and has no medical credentials whatsoever. He is thus in no position to diagnose, either in himself or others, any form of ADD or its hyperactive cousin, ADHD.

  1. Mona Lisa Overdrive – the final book in the Sprawl Trilogy by William Gibson. Due to diversions in reading The Hunger Games, Second Foundation and a slew of others, this book has remained opened far longer than it had to have been. I hope to finish it this or next week.
  2. Second Foundation – the third installment in the Foundation series, which I have been meaning to read for some time. As the (sort of) conclusion to the Foundation saga, and after reviewing the first two, it was only fitting that I find and tackle the third book. I say sort of because decades after finishing this third novel in the series, Asimov would finally cave to demands that he return to the series with three more books. Fans and publishers, what can you do?
  3. Martian Chronicles – this book I just picked up last week. After years of hearing great things and wanting to get into it, I finally procured a copy and began devouring it. I got half way through before the wife and I got back to civilization and it was forced to take its place in the queue. It’s a testament to Bradbury’s old school, accessible, yet still high-minded style that you can read through his works quickly and still feel like you’ve digested a lot. I look forward to finishing this one and borrowing freely from it 😉
  4. A Feast for Crows – my reading of this fourth installment in the Game of Thrones series has stalled for a few reasons. One, I got a little tired after the first three books, especially since all the main characters keep dying! Second, after three books of excitement and climactic battles, George RR Martin seemed to think that was needed was a book that contained all the scraps. Not a bad read by any measure, but it’s kind of like a serving of leftovers after three sumptuous banquets.
  5. We – the classic of classic by Yevgeny Zamyatin. Again, I cracked this book a long time ago and haven’t been able to get into it due to the myriad of books that have entered and left my reading pile in the interim.  I want nothing more than to finish it and give it its long overdue due! For crying out loud, this man practically invented the dystopian satire and inspired my heroes – Orwell and Huxley. If that doesn’t warrant a read, I don’t know what does!
  6. The Giver – here’s a book that my wife has been recommending for ages! Considered to be a classic of YA fiction, this novel is certainly a must-read for those looking to stay current on the genre. Having found a copy at my local Coles, right next to City of Ember, I decided it was time to have a looky-loo so that I knew what I was talking about next time I chose to include it in a review of current utopian/dystopian lit.
  7. Red Mars – holy crap has this one been on my shelf for a long time! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked it up and put it down. Which is really too bad. It’s definitely one of the more profound sci-fi books that I’ve ever read, but somehow, the style lends itself to a certain inaccessibility for me. I do enjoy reading it, but find that it doesn’t quite happen easily or organically. In that respect, Kim Stanley Robinson is not unlike William Gibson for me. I know I want to hear from them, and I do get through their books, but not with the ease and grace that I would something by Bradbury or Asimov.
  8. Ready Player One – this one I bought alongside The Giver because I thought it was time to invest in something new. I tend to be reserved about buying the works of new authors, mainly because I don’t invest time and money in something which might prove to be disappointing or a flavor of the month kind of thing. However, I said ‘screw it’ this time around and picked this one up. And lo and behold, I discovered that it is actually a quite famous read, with the entire back of the dust jacket dedicated to the heaps of accolades that have been piled on it. Not only was it a manager’s pick at the Coles, it also comes recommended by my peeps over Io9.com. Them folks know their sci-fi, so I’m glad I went with my gut and checked this one out!
  9. Starfire – this hard sci-fi novel, by Charles Sheffield, is actually one I picked up in a laundry room at the park where my wife and I were staying in Lund. We had just returned from camping, were in the process of returning to civility (with showers and other amenities) and realized we still didn’t have anything to read! So I took a gander at this one, and after seeing that it was endorsed by Kim Stanley Robinson, I gave it a chance. I only got about 70 pages in before we had to leave and I chose not to take it (having nothing to exchange), but I was wrapped up enough in the plot that I decided I’d get a copy as soon as I could. Still looking, might have to go Amazon or Kindle on this bad boy, but I don’t intend to let it slip. The plot, which involves the creation of a massive orbital shield after A/B Centauri goes supernova, is quite interesting, and constructed using the latest in astronomical data. Check it out if you can!

Well, that about does it for me. Nine books in the reading list, not so bad. I could think of some more but… seriously, who the hell wants that kind of responsibility 😉

The Martian Chronicles, Finally!

A funny thing happened to my wife and I while we were vacay-ing on the Sunshine Coast. After our walk in the wilderness – we asked for a Swiss Family Robinson-style vacation, we got the Hunger Games! – we put in at the town of Powell River for a little rest and recoup. In addition to drinking plenty of Townsite beer (brewed locally), we sampled local food, basked in the sun, and waited on the Blackberry Festival, which is celebrated every August.

And of course, on our first afternoon there, we did a little shopping. Our first stop took us to a second hand bookstore where we perused old titles for something to flip through over the course of the next few days. Yes, we both brought a handful of books with us for our vacay, but for some reason decided to leave them with my folks in Comox. I don’t know, I guess we figured we wouldn’t have time. But let me tell you… when you’re between pumping creek water, nursing sore muscles, and cooking dried food in your rocky, buggy campsite, a good book comes in handy. And not just for swatting!

Anyway, one of the fruits of our bookstore search was a copy of the Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. Already I had mentioned this book as part of my tribute to Ray Bradbury, but in truth, I never really read it. And since it’s style and format were part of what got me thinking about my group’s latest anthology, I thought it was high time I read it and saw what all the hub-bub was about. I am now half-way finished and it’s top of my current vacay reading pile, which includes Mona Lisa Overdrive, Second Foundation, and We… ambitious maybe?

I hope to do a full review in the coming weeks and paying this timeless book its due. I also hope to truly adopt some of the themes and stylistic touches to my own work, as they were certainly most effective at capturing the travails of colonization and the settlement on a new world. In the meantime, here is the hilarious video entitled “F*ck me Ray Bradbury”, comedian Rachel Bloom’s own tribute to the venerated author. I hope the master takes no  offense 😛

Ray Bradbury Gives Writing Advice

I recently came across this article, which seems to have been one of many I found when researching the life and works of sci-fi great Ray Bradbury. The source is Open Culture, an online magazine dealing with cultural and educational media. And like many other publications, they chose to honor the passing of Bradbury by publishing a series of articles which dealt with the man’s monumental influence on science fiction and writing in general.

This particular one deals with his 2001 keynote address at Point Loma Nazarene University’s Writer’s Symposium By the Sea, where he treated audiences to the benefit of his accumulated wisdom by boiling it down into 12 tips. As a newbie writer, I can tell you that many of these spoke to me as if they were written with me in mind! That’s the true mark of a great and relatable writer though, isn’t it? Their words somehow seem to transcend the page and all distance between you and get you right at your core.

And even if you’re not an aspiring writer, or an established one, I recommend reading through this list and digesting some of these nuggets. Their value goes beyond mere writing, I tells ya! But don’t take my word for it, read them yourself:

  1. Don’t start out writing novels. They take too long. Begin your writing life instead by cranking out “a hell of a lot of short stories,” as many as one per week. Take a year to do it; he claims that it simply isn’t possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row. He waited until the age of 30 to write his first novel, Fahrenheit 451. “Worth waiting for, huh?”
  2. You may love ‘em, but you can’t be ‘em. Bear that in mind when you inevitably attempt, consciously or unconsciously, to imitate your favorite writers, just as he imitated H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle, and L. Frank Baum.
  3. Examine “quality” short stories. He suggests Roald Dahl, Guy de Maupassant, and the lesser-known Nigel Kneale and John Collier. Anything in the New Yorker today doesn’t make his cut, since he finds that their stories have “no metaphor.”
  4. Stuff your head. To accumulate the intellectual building blocks of these metaphors, he suggests a course of bedtime reading: one short story, one poem (but Pope, Shakespeare, and Frost, not modern “crap”), and one essay. These essays should come from a diversity of fields, including archaeology, zoology, biology, philosophy, politics, and literature. “At the end of a thousand nights,” so he sums it up, “Jesus God, you’ll be full of stuff!”
  5. Get rid of friends who don’t believe in you. Do they make fun of your writerly ambitions? He suggests calling them up to “fire them” without delay.
  6. Live in the library. Don’t live in your “goddamn computers.” He may not have gone to college, but his insatiable reading habits allowed him to “graduate from the library” at age 28.
  7. Fall in love with movies. Preferably old ones.
  8. Write with joy. In his mind, “writing is not a serious business.” If a story starts to feel like work, scrap it and start one that doesn’t. “I want you to envy me my joy,” he tells his audience.
  9. Don’t plan on making money. He and his wife, who “took a vow of poverty” to marry him, hit 37 before they could afford a car (and he still never got around to picking up a license).
  10. List ten things you love, and ten things you hate. Then write about the former, and “kill” the later — also by writing about them. Do the same with your fears.
  11. Just type any old thing that comes into your head. He recommends “word association” to break down any creative blockages, since “you don’t know what’s in you until you test it.”
  12. Remember, with writing, what you’re looking for is just one person to come up and tell you, “I love you for what you do.” Or, failing that, you’re looking for someone to come up and tell you, “You’re not nuts like people say.”

Rules one and two are especially important to me right now. I began trying to write novels and found the process overwhelming. Today, full-length novels constitute the majority of my unfinished works, cluttering up my inbox folder and making me feel like I’m a slow writer. Bah! Who needs that? Rule two is like gospel; though you may have writer’s you wish to emulate, do not try to be better than them. It will only lead to unfair comparisons and rob your work of originality. It put’s me in mind of what the poet Basho Mastsuo said: “Do not follow in the footsteps of the masters, but seek what they sought”. That’s right, I read a poem, try not to faint!

The rest all blend together for me in that they all ring true. If they could be boiled down into one simple rule, I’d say it would be “do what you love, and screw the rest!” Best advice I ever got, from J.M. Straczynski of all people (creator of Babylon 5). As long as you’re doing that, you can do no wrong, and your natural passion and dedication will yield results, sooner or later. And if it doesn’t, who cares? For in the end, its about you and not what others think, right? Thought money, fame and recognition are kind of sweet…

Until next time, RIP Mr. Bradbury and here’s hoping myself and my colleagues can acheive a small iota of the respect and recognition you did in your lifetime. I promise that we will stick to short stories for the time being, and that we won’t try to beat you, even if we do try to emulate you 😉

Upcoming Mars Landing

I recently came across this story on CBC’s Quirks and Quarks, a science show dealing with all things science and tech related. Somehow, with the recent passing of Bradbury, Canada’s 145th birthday, and my obsession with colonization, this story just spoke to me on so many levels. For those who’ve been monitoring the news or NASA’s regular updates on their website, the Curiosity rover is on its way to Mars and is schedules to land on August 5th.This Martian rover is slated to roam the surface for years, looking for signs of life. And it just so happens that this vehicle carries a special Canadian instrument.

Curiosity’s position and distance to Mars as of July 4th, 2012 (NASA)

The Curiosity spacecraft, artists rendition (NASA)

Once it arrives, the Curiosity, the largest rover ever sent to Mars, will execute the most complicated powered landing, in the roughest area, that a robotic lander has ever attempted on Mars. The landing site is the Gale Crater, 155 kilometres across, with a mountain rising 5 km from its centre. Curiosity is aiming for a pinpoint landing on the crater floor, right at the base of the mountain. Once there, it will begin by exploring the lower slopes of the mountain (named Mt. Sharp after a NASA geologist) and spend the next two years looking for signs of ancient water activity and possible Martian life.

The Gale Crater, the landing point indicated with a black oval (NASA)

Here’s where the Canadian technology comes in. In the course of conducting its analyses of the surface, one of the instruments that it will use is a an Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer. This device was built by a team of scientists at the University of Guelph, Ontario, with Dr.Ralf Gellert acting as the principle investigator. With the help of this an other instruments and on-board mini-laboratory, the Curiosity will analyze soil samples to look for chemical signatures of past or present life.

As many people know, this elusive search has been ongoing, ever since astronomers first looked at Mars through telescopes and thought they saw artificial canals. Those hopes were quickly dashed when more detailed analyses indicated that the planet was sterile and the atmosphere too thin to support life as we know it. But once rovers began to be sent and soil samples examined, the hope of finding life once again became a matter of hard science. Though there might not be little green men dwelling on the surface, or in underground facilities, life of a sort does appear to exist within the Red Planet’s oxidized soil.

On top of all that, this information will prove useful in helping scientists to determine whether or not Mars could be terraformed to suit human needs. If that should prove to be the case, then Mars may very well become our home away from home in the not too distant future. Bradbury certainly thought as much, and look how popular he became 😉

The landing, and results it produces over the next two years, are sure to be exciting! In the meantime, check out this computer-simulation of Curiosity’s landing, as produced by NASA:

Another G5N Anthology in the works!

Don’t you just love it when things come together, and by things I mean talented people and a good concept? Well that seems to be happening once again. A few months back, I joined Writer’s Worth over at Goodreads, a writer’s group dedicated to promoting new talent and aspiring authors. We have since morphed into Grim5Next, an online community with its own site and members all over the world. Our first anthology, World’s Undone, is coming together nicely and should be finished in a few months.

But more recently, a couple of Grim5Next people got together and decided we wanted to get to work on another anthology. Maybe we’re all a little driven, but somehow, we just couldn’t wait for the first to be released. And with the departure of the master-singer of sci-fi, Ray Bradbury, and the news of the Venus transit, we felt ourselves inspired. In fact, it all began with a single conversation between Mrs. Khaalidah Muhammed-Ali and myself:

Khaal­i­dah: Four nerds verg­ing on geeks live in my house, of which I am one. One of our nerdi­est but fun con­ver­sa­tions cen­tered around the ques­tion “Would you rather go to space or the bot­tom of the ocean?” Hands down the answer was space. I once dreamed that my son, now 21, would one day go to space and walk on Mars. He is no longer a child who dreams of space, although it still intrigues, and space seems a dis­tant child­hood dream of his. But even for myself, at the ripe old age of 41, the idea of going to space is a bright hope, even though I know it is unat­tain­able and unre­al­is­tic. But, given the chance, I would go. This post reminds me of the awe­some­ness of our great uni­verse, of the chaotic ran­dom­ness, of the beauty of this world and the things we have to be grate­ful for, and of how utterly minus­cule we peo­ple really are in the grand scheme of things.

Me: Okay, you need to write this down. I fore­see you doing a story where a fam­ily does go into space. Ho boy, I smell another anthology here!

Khaalidah: An anthol­ogy about space, going to space or any­thing related sounds awe­some. I vote for you to be the edi­tor. What do we need to do to get started?

That’s how it all got started. After some initial brainstorming, we plotted out what we wanted this all to be about. Space and Colonization! In the near future, such endeavors might just become a reality. In fact, they might have to be if we want to survive as a species. And inspired by the dearly departed Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, I thought we ought to tackle some of the same issues he did, taking into account some more recent historical developments. Like Bradbury’s chronicles, it will be a series of interlinked stories, but told from different points of view in different time frames.

After some astrological research, your humble editor selected a location. 61 Cygni, the star system that sits roughly 11 and a half light years away from Earth. Though there’s no hard evidence to support the theory, it has been ventured that there may be a system of planets in the system, including three small objects, two gas giants, and one mega-planet. At right, you will see the little map I prepared for our, and your, viewing pleasure.

And in time, we picked up some more dedicated souls, William J Joel and Goran Zidar, who you may remember from Story Time fame (he’s the inventor). Already, these two have signed up for slots in the opening part of the anthology. Divided into four stories, Part I will tell the tale of how colonization is getting underway here at Earth in the not too distant future. And before it ends, it will address the issues of converting the new world over to human needs, and how the local flora and fauna are not too happy about it!

And of course, I got a few more people who’ve volunteered to help just as soon as they have the time. Courtney, Jinn and Doremy, I’m looking in your direction. You’re initiative is most appreciated and there’s still plenty of stories to be written and slots to be filled. And of course, Parts II and III are still in development, and slots remain open for more writers. Though it’s still in development, I know it’s going to be inspired, thanks to the people we got working on it. I also know we are going to have fun doing it.

Wired Tribute to Ray Bradbury

Here we see Bradbury seated in the NASA control center back in the 1960’s. Apparently, it was his contention, prior to the Moon Landing, that the United States was headed for spiritual ruin unless “dumb politicians” got out of the way and let Americans reach for the stars. Well, he certainly got his wish, didn’t he?

Unfortunately, this science fiction great did not live long enough to see the colonization of Mars, which was a recurring theme of his writing. But given the current state of the world economy and the space race, I wonder if any of us will.

But I didn’t start this post to be gloomy. Mainly I want to share an article which I came across today from Wired magazine. It contains Bradbury’s thoughts on a multiplicity of subjects, as expressed in his most famous quotes. It was a lucky coincidence that I found it, since my wife shared one of his oft-quoted lines with me once I told her the sad news.

Riding home in the car together, she turned to me and said: “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” Since she’s always encouraged my writing, I couldn’t help but feel that she thought I could draw some inspiration from this. Mission accomplished.

These and other quotes can be found in the article, just click on the link below. And remember, you got any cool thoughts, be sure to write them down. You never know, someday, somebody could be quoting you!

http://www.wired.com/underwire/2012/06/ray-bradbury-big-ideas/