Monday, January 26, 2015

Glass Half Full?

Good morning, gentle readers.
Money, they say, is the root of all evil.
Well, I don't know about that, but it can certainly lead to a great deal of stress.
I just got hit with a bill. It was not unexpected, but it isn't one of my ordinary ones and the timing on it could have been better. It's the end of the year. Taxes are due. I have to pay an accountant to help file them because I've got some stuff on this year's tax returns that I've never had before and want to make sure I do it right.
It's a stressful time for yours truly, ladies and gents, but the stress is mainly my own fault.
On Facebook there's this great meme going around. Some of you have probably seen it, but I'm going to share it here because I think it's relevant and truthful.

A psychologist walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they'd be asked the 'half empty or half full' question. Instead, with a smile on her face, she inquired: "How heavy is this glass of water?"

Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.

She replied, "The absolute weight doesn't matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, It's not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I'll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a
day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn't change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes."

"The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed - Incapable of doing anything."

Remember to put the glass down.

By all means, please, put the glass down.
Unfortunately, some of us have a harder time of letting go than others.
Still, I'm making the effort.
Slowly, but surely, I'm prying my fingers away from that damned glass.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Review of Koko Takes A Holiday!

There aren't many books these days that suck me in and demand to be read, but I can safely count Kieran Shea's Koko Takes a Holiday in that number.
A fast-paced, blunt instrument of a read, KTH is set on a futuristic Earth.  The protagonist (I hesitate to use the word hero) is Koko Martstellar.  She's a retired mercenary managing a bar/whorehouse in a pleasure resort known as the Sixty Islands.  Her life seems to be chugging along just fine until a security team shows up and tries to kill her.  Forced to run, Koko flees to the Second Free Zone, a sort of orbital free-trade zone, where she has to figure out who wants her dead and why, all the while dodging a trio of assassins.  However, all is not lost, as Koko encounters an unlikely ally in the form of Jedidiah Flynn, a lawman afflicted with a depressive disorder who's ready to join a suicide ritual before he meets Koko.
The book moves along at a brisk pace, the chapters are wittily titled and the glimpse we get of 26th century Earth culture is tantalizing.
If there's a flaw with the book it's that the title character, Koko, isn't particularly sympathetic.  She starts out as a blank slate but as the book progresses and more of her background is revealed, you don't exactly feel any sympathy for her or her situation.
The villain in the book, Portial Delacompte, isn't much different.
The only person I found likable was Jedidah Flynn and he's there specifically to act as moral foil and potential love interest.
The big reveal as to why all this is happening does change things a bit, polarizing Portia and Koko, but it still fails to make either of them likable.
Another reviewer described the book as 'a cyberpunk headkick' but there isn't much of a cyberpunk feel to the story.  I would classify it more as a post-dystopian adventure yarn.
If it sounds like I didn't enjoy the book, that's not true.  It was a fun read, entertaining as hell and it did draw me in and demand to be finished.  I just wish the main character had been presented as more than a stereotypical bad ass for most of the story.
On a scale of 1 to 5, I'd give Koko Takes a Holiday a solid 3.  It's good, escapist fun and, even though I've no desire to reread it at present, I probably will pick up the sequel being released later this year, Koko Takes a Walk.

Monday, January 12, 2015

TASOTI

A while back I wrote a book called Dawnwind: Last Man Standing.  It's the story of a solitary human who goes to live among an alien race, the Junians.  I'm still working on the follow-up book, which has been proceeding at a glacial pace.  Nevertheless, it does continue to grow by lines and paragraphs.
One of the most interesting things about writing in this setting is the background, the world-building. Junian culture is different from our own. Conflict among them is very rare. That doesn't mean that there aren't differences among them, but they almost never come to blows over these differences.
Thinking about their culture, trying to pin down their mindset, has led me to consider how the Junians might view aspects of our culture.
For example, if you were to show them Les Miserables, they would quite enjoy the musical bits, but the Inspector's vendetta against Valjean would leave them completely baffled. Likewise, Fantine's treatment and fate would mystify them and they would be repulsed by the Thenardiers.
In Dawnwind, my protagonist has to explain what a 'murder mystery' is to one of his hosts.  The idea of a violent, antisocial act being used as fodder for entertainment mystifies him.  He remarks, quite frankly, that he would prefer a good comedy or a romance.
Agatha Christie, alas, would not find many admirers among the Junians.
Which, by a circuitious route, led me to consider the matter of fairytales.  Fairytales can reflect the core values of a culture.  Most of our fairytales would probably leave the Junians cold.  They would be the fodder of nightmares among them.  Hansel & Gretel, alone, would be enough to convince a typical Junian that humans probably deserved their fate.
But what would a Junian fairytale be like?  What morals or cultural lessons would a Junain fairytale strive to impart to a child?
Below, is an example of one such story.


TASOTI
Once there were a man and a woman who loved each other very much. They married and set up their house, but try as they might, they could not conceive a child.  They consulted physicians and sorcerers but none could help them. Finally, they spoke to a priest who told them to pray for a child, which they did.

One day, after bathing in a blue lake, the childless couple discovered a redfruit tree.  It was tall and slim, its limbs weighted down by succulent fruit.  The husband climbed the tree with his knife and began to cut the fruit, dropping it into his wife’s waiting arms.  

Then, near the top of the tree, the husband discovered a fruit redder than blood and much bigger than any of the others.  When he cut it free from the limb, the husband heard a wailing cry coming from the fruit.  He was so shocked that he almost dropped it.  Instead, clinging to the strange fruit, he quickly climbed down the tree.

On the ground, husband and wife examined the fruit.  They could both still hear the sound of a babe crying. Finally, the wife said, “Husband, cut the fruit open.”

The husband cut the fruit open and beneath the rind, they found a beautiful baby girl.

The wife immediately gathered the weeping infant into her arms.  No sooner had the child been clasped to the woman’s breast than its cries ended, replaced by gurgles of delight.

“We have found our daughter,” said the woman.

“Yes, we have,” agreed the man.

They took the baby home with them and named her Tasoti.

Tasoti grew into a loving, friendly child.  Everyone who met her loved her and she had many, many friends.

Then, one day, Tasoti came to her parents and said, “I must go home.”

“You are home, child,” said her mother.

“No,” said Tasoti. “I must go home to the tree where you found me.”

Now, this caused great alarm to boil in the hearts of her parents, for they had never told Tasoti her origin.

“Why must you go?” asked her father.

“It is time,” said Tasoti. “I must go home.”

At first her parents refused to let her leave, but every day Tasoti would come up to them and say, “I must go home.”

And every day her loving parents said, “No.”

Time passed and Tasoti began to look tired and worn.  Her lush red hair grew thin and brittle, she lost weight and would not eat.  Every night she would cry herself to sleep.

Her parents’ hearts were torn by her suffering, until, one day, when Tasoti told them she must go home, they nodded in solemn accordance and said, “Yes. We will take you home.”

Tasoti smiled and her parents rose and took her hands and led her to the blue lake and the redfruit tree where they had discovered her so many years ago.

At the tree, Tasoti turned and hugged her mother and father, then walked up to the redfruit tree.  She wrapped her arms around its slender trunk and sighed.

“I am home.”

And, as her parents watched, Tasoti melted into the tree and was gone.

Her parents returned to their house, where they mourned her loss, and then celebrated her life.  And every year, on the anniversary of her birth, they would go to the redruit tree. There, they would hang garlands of flowers on its slender limbs, to remember their loving daughter and to thank the gods for sending her to them, even if she could not stay.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

SOME DAYS

Some days are bad.
Those are the days,
I want to take off my skin
and look down,
to see what new thing
I have become.

Some days are worse.
Those are the days,
I want to open my head,
and rummage around,
taking the bad thoughts
out of my brain,
leaving only the good.

Some days are indescribable.
Those are the days
when no change will make
any difference,
so I sit and am still.

Some days are good.
Those are the days,
I close my eyes and look
inside myself and all I
see is the promise of light.

Some days are better than good.
Those are the days,
when it feels like I could sprout feathers,
grow wings, and ride the light breezes
up beyond the moon and behind the stars.

Some days just are.
Those are the days, gray as snails,
when I am unremarkable,
plodding along,
foggy headed,
just another piece in the machine.

Some day is today.

Monday, December 29, 2014

New Year's Eve

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
It's Monday afternoon and I'm lying in bed, my laptop propped up on my legs, laundry tumbling in the dryer.  It is an idyllic scene, I suppose.
Lying here, I've been thinking about New Year's Eve and what it all means.  The end of an era? A time to consider second chances? To make resolutions that most of us have no intention of ever keeping?
At the moment, the media is full of Year in Review stories.  A lot of them are surprised that 2014 wasn't as horrible as the 'experts' were predicting.  Too many of them sound disappointed by that fact, that the world didn't spin off its axis.
Of course, there were troubles in 2014.  There are always troubles.  Just as there are always good things happening too.
Sometimes, I think we give New Year's Eve an artificial sense of importance.  It's just another date. Right?  Just another secular holiday to mark the passing of time.
It doesn't actually mean anything.
Or does it?
There are a lot of people who probably wouldn't look back at the past year, their choices, their lives, if not for New Year's Eve.  There are a lot of people who wouldn't take stock of what they've got and decide that they've either (a) got too little or (b) not enough.
Self-reflection can be useful, but I'm not a big advocate of wallowing in the past.  Too often the past is like quicksand, it can trap us in its grip and pull us down.  We don't push ahead, we don't forge new paths because we look at what we've done and lose heart.
"I wasn't able to accomplish anything last year, so why should I try this year?"
But maybe that's because we're too busy looking at the negatives.  When was the last time you sat down and looked at the good things in your life? Not just the things that have happened to you, like surprise birthday parties and job promotions, but the things you've done for others? Buying that homeless guy a dinner or stopping to ask that lady burdened with bags if she needed help?
Those were good things, nice things, but we never seem to remember them.
If you're going to take inventory, make it a complete inventory. Don't gloss over the little things because, let's be honest, most of life is made up of little things. Seconds and moments where we decide whether or not to hold the door open for the person behind us.
New Year's Eve is coming.  Whether it happens that night, before it, or after it, we'll all take a look at ourselves and what's happened this past year.
Just remember, ladies and gentlemen, to look at everything when you do.
Maybe you'll realize this past year has been better than you realized.
So, what comes next?
A happy New Year.
I hope.
^_^