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November 18, 2009


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I'll sort of be at Philcon this weekend

I'm sort of perplexed by your saying that. Well, have a good time, say hello to Lisa Ashton for me, and have a good time oh wait I already said that, but have a good time anyway.

Me, I'm having some people over tomorrow evening for some Steampunk Cinéma.

I'll sort of be at Philcon this weekend

I'm sort of perplexed by your saying that.

I think I understood. The school was inspected by OFSTED this week, and I also took 28 15 year olds out on a trip (and, most importantly, brought 28 back again). I'm pretty tired after all that as I found myself being the guy running around finding all the documentation everyone needed. In particular I had to sort out what was where for the classes being covered by a supply teacher as we have one out long term sick.

I can't say what happened until December 2nd when the report will be published.

Neil... Of course. The way things have been for Susan, I suppose that she too is experiencing some mental fatigue, with some effect on her short-term memory.

I hope you had/are having/will have fun this weekend, Susan! Don't run yourself too ragged.

The panel on authors who should have quit while they were ahead sounds delightfully snarky to me.

Too bad they set up programming before Harlequin brought out their vanity press and most of the associations have banned them.

Don't work too hard!

I"m perplexed by why my "sort of be at Philcon" comment is confusing people. I'm sort of at the con, which is to say right now I am nowhere near it. I'm in a hotel room in Gettysburg collapsing after running a ball. I'll drive back there tomorrow for a couple of hours. So it's like going to Philcon, except that I spend much of the weekend not going to Philcon.

I'm thinking of a subcategory called "authors who should have quit when they were dead," which would include various authors whose (ghostwritten) works keep appearing even though they've been dead for years. Or for whom people keep writing unnecessary sequels.

Worse than unnecessary sequels are unecessary prequels.

Necessary prequels are rare and mixed in quality; they have to transform the original work(s) in such a way that we 1. never see it coming and 2. say "Of course!" rather than "What? does that make any sense at all?"

Susan... Somehow I managed to miss your explanations for what you meant about the sort-of comment. I feel stupid. Not the first time in my life. Won't be the last. Right now is the morning after the party we gave last night and I feel bleh. Oh, our guests (fans, pros, fans/pros) enjoyed the whole thing, even the steampunk movie I showed. So what's the problem? I had two glasses of wine. Booze leaves me feeling under the weather when I wake up, which I guess is good because it sure is an incentive to do as little imbibing as possible.

Neil... Unnecessary prequels? Like Wolverine and the recent Star Wars stuff?

Some of our guests last night run the local con, aka Bubonicon. I am thinking of proposing a panel titled "Which of these movies best reflectsa great knowledge of written SF? 2001, or Forbidden Planet?"

Prequels have the potential to be good; making an origins movie isn't necessarily a BAD idea. Certainly not necessary, I admit. And Wolverine's back story isn't bad material. But the execution was just silly.

I refuse to acknowledge the existence of any Star Wars prequels. I have my standards and reality must conform.

Also, I woke up feeling really sick. That's not good.

Susan... I hope you get better soon. Is it something you ate, a bug, exhaustion, all of the above? I hope you get better soon.

Regarding the Star Wars prequels, what bummed me is that Lucas could have taken the you-thought-you-knew-what-happened-but-here's-the-REAl-STORY approach and when I saw Liam Neeson show up, I thought HE was going to turn out to be Darth Vader in spite of Ben Kenobi had said in the original movies. That hope quickly got disspelled.

Heh. I can still barely move. I don't think it's that I sat up a lot Friday & Saturday, because that usually happens on bookgroup weekends, but I don't know why every joint and muscle hurts.

In any case, the prequel that I really hate is Darkover Landfall, written by MZB and bringing Earth colonists into a story that's already 14 books long. I was comfortable thinking that the Darkover folk were some other kind of human-like beings, considering their psychic abilities. Then MZB puts in an origin book where they're colonists from Earth and certain elements of the planet turn them into psychic people.

I really need to find a way to pick a random Darkover book, read it, and decide whether I keep them or not. I suspect that I'm not as interested in the stories now -- about 37-40 years later, and the newest books are by other people than MZB and have Earth people back in later when they come to see how the colonists did.

Susan, when I get around to having a will someday, it's going to include orders to destroy all of my unfinished writing. I shudder at the thought of someone deciding to finish one of my book fragments from my teenage years. Of course, it's probably a moot worry because I'll probably never be published, but still.

And... uhm... the planet made them psychic? *adds Darkover to the list of series to not read.* Sometimes origins should be left unexplained. I've honestly never really been a fan of the "Human colonists who have long since forgotten their roots" sci-fi trope, which probably explains why I never got into Pern.

I do hope that you're feeling better soon. You too, Marilee. I've often experienced the "can barely move" sensation lately, but that's because of the gym :P

Some of the early Darkover books have stuff in them about the original earth colonists, I think. There was some interbreeding with quasi-supernatural aliens, and there was stuff with the magic flowers which make you either crazy or telepathic, and somehow out of all of that it ended up with psychic humans in a fairly insane quasi-medieval culture.

The very earliest couple Darkover books are odd, because they have a very different tone and because she took a bunch of tropes out of Robert Chambers' King in Yellow stories, which have become more commonly associated with the Cthulhu Mythos (Hali, Hastur, Lost Carcosa, etc.) Later she wrote those books out of continuity and let them drop out of print, I think, but the names were already worked into too many concepts and stayed.

I hope you get better soon, Marilee.

As for Darkover... I read just one, called Heritage of Hastur, if I remember correctly, and that was long ago so I have to ask. Was the prequel the result of giving in to the pressure of fans who demanded a science-fictional explanation for why that planet's people were the way they were? Why would they have wanted an SF justification? Well, in those days, I think that fantasy wasn't that popular in the field. I think, The bottom line though is that sometimes it's better not to try to shed light on a story's mysteries otherwise you wind up having to tell people to pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

I blame Toto.

Um, okay, wait. The recent Darkover books, by which I include everything that came out since she died and a little before, were all ghostwritten. And they really do rather suck, to the point that I stopped reading them. But I have read the entire series written by Bradley herself, so let me straighten out a few points:

Darkover being a lost colony was written into the history from the very beginning. The first books were Terran Empire-meets-Darkover books about the resultant culture clash, with the Empire basically saying "you're our colony, we're taking over" and the Darkovans saying "the hell you will, we've been doing fine without you, thanks." That argument was properly complicated by conflicting Darkovan movements of "stick with true Darkover tradition" and "oooh, cool, TECHNOLOGY!" with class conflict added in. Darkover novels that take place before the rediscovery by Terra were a later development, which Bradley resisted at first because she thought the high tech/low tech culture clash and the debate over whether the improvements brought by technology are worth paying the price of cultural absorption were essential to the series.

In Darkover Landfall, which is the story of the colonists accidentally getting stranded on the wrong planet, the planet doesn't make people psychic. Drugs (in and later deliberately refined from flower pollen with effects much like LSD) unlock existing psychic powers among some colonists, interbreeding with psychic aliens adds stronger powers, and native technology in the form of matrix crystals enables them to enhance their powers. It had already been established early in the series that the upper-class Darkovans deliberately bred themselves over the generations for stronger psychic powers and developed elaborate technological aids using matrix crystals connected in circuits to further enhance them. They also used this power at the atomic level to develop some pretty nasty unconventional weapons (napalm!) and make gory war for generations before committing to a disarmament treaty that limited everyone to swords and knives, since that at least meant they could only kill each other one-on-one rather than en masse. Part of the conflict with the newly-arrived Terrans is that their high-tech weapons have been legally disallowed and morally disapproved of for centuries. The Terrans think the psychic powers are just superstition and the whole planet just some silly barbarian medievaloid culture, but eventually figure it out the hard way when some Darkovans using matrix technology get over their cultural inhibitions about weapons of mass destruction and turn them against the Terrans.

Usually Darkover Landfall is considered controversial not because of the psychic power element but because of Bradley's blunt approach to the issues of childbearing and abortion, with the latter being outlawed and the former made more or less compulsory (with multiple fathers required for genetic diversity) due to the desperate need to increase numbers for survival. Since Bradley was something of a feminist icon, this "biology is destiny" approach was a big shocker in 1972. She was not apologetic about this.

The earliest books in the series were written when Bradley was a teenager and pulled out of the trunk and published when she had one hit and the publisher said "can you give us more, FAST?" They had their good points, but were pretty clunky overall. When she matured as an author she went back and rewrote two or three of them to bring them up to the level of her mature writing. In doing so, she kept the basic plot outlines, but jettisoned a great deal of juvenile idiocy. That was a conscious choice: in one of her essays, she basically said she made the decision not to be confined by the limits of her teenage imagination and writing ability. She was not apologetic about this either.

If you want to read just one Darkover book, I'd recommend either The Forbidden Tower, which takes place during the Terran/Darkovan culture clash era and has a Terran protagonist trying to make his way in Darkovan society; or Stormqueen, which takes place during the age of the breeding-for-powers program and the unconventional warfare. Heritage of Hastur is not a good place to start.

Thanks for the clarifications, Susan. I thought that Hastur had made it clear that, from the beginning, Darkover was described as a lost colony. I wasn't sure though, what with my having gone thru that book a long time ago (in 1980!), and I might have made that memory up from later reading about the series. As for that novel not being a good starting point... It may be why I never revisited, or it may be that I decided that I preferred other kinds of stories.

Regarding my comment about "...other kinds of stories..." I wasn't referring to the sexuality in the story, but to the medieval setting. At least in those days, my preferences were toward more blatantly-SF settings.

Regarding one of Philcon's programming items listed above...

What are the Janeites?

Serge: Janeites are Jane Austen fans.

Mary Aileen... Of course. Still, the name makes me think of an alien species from Doctor Who. The panel's name even sounds like a Doctor Who episode.

Susan, I don't remember the three books that were published in the '60s having any referral to Earth, but I haven't read these in a long time.

It's not that I want to read just one, it's that I have all of them through her death and that takes up a lot of bookshelf space. I want to pull one randomly to see if I still like it enough to keep them.

So, how was Philcon?

Well, the actuality of Darkover sounds a little better, but probably still not something I'd go out of my way to read.

I imagine a lot of authors must get embarrassed by what they wrote early in their career.

I'll second Serge's question as to how the convention was :)

Especially the panel about "...those wonderful fantasy corsets...", in my case.

Your memory is at fault. The first four books from the 1960s:
Planet Savers: Terran physician joins Darkovan medical expedition. Terra (Earth) is first mentioned on pages eight and nine.
Sword of Aldones: starts with Darkovan exiles returning to the planet from the Terran Empire. Terra is mentioned on the first page as a planet they had visited.
Star of Danger: Terran boy and Darkovan boy become friends. The fourth sentence starts "Hundreds of light years from Earth..."
The Bloody Sun: Terran discovers he's really Darkovan. Third sentence mentions the "big ships of Terra."

Sword of Aldones and Bloody Sun are the two that were rewritten: the first as Sharra's Exile and the second under the same name but substantially expanded. I looked at the original version of Bloody Sun for the quote above.

See my previous post for recommendations for one-shot reads.

Ah, okay. I really don't remember much about them. But I don't want to choose a book to read because I'm likely to choose one I renenber liking well. I want to pull a random book.

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