Perspective

Living the 1970s dream: A lesson in critical thinking

This is an excellent exercise. I spent my childhood in the 50s, teens in the 60s. Nowadays, even most on “welfare” live in more creature comfort, with many more convenience factors and just flat-out luxuries than we could even have imagined. Whenever I feel a yen for more (of whatever), I still try to ask myself just how much what I desire is really necessary. *shrugs* I still succumb all too often to the siren call of “more,” but recalling just how satisfied I once was with much, much less helps keep things a wee tad more restrained.

Good, Bad and Downright Ugly

I “buy” more than a few free ebooks. Book blurbs, reader reviews, and sample text allow me to filter many unworthy offerings, but some do slip through. And then there are the borderline examples. Well-written, for the most part, interesting stories (again, for the most part) with characters that seem more genuine than not (not that “genuine” is always good, when a young, semi-or-sub-literate writer is genuinely reflecting his/her own cohort *sigh*), etc., but with gaping holes in literacy, research, or understanding of a few basic concepts.

Many of the problems noted here could be easily mended were it not for the frequently overriding problem of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. It seems many writers don’t feel a need to have competent, literate line and copy editors (or are too chintzy to pay for such). After all, they have their attendance certificate (diploma) from some college or university, so that MUST mean they are literate and competent, and do not need to seek out someone who is literate and competent to line/copy edit their “masterwork,” right? Wrong. Even the most literate and competent writer can use literate, competent editing by a third party, preferably an adult. No, a real one.

The worst problems aren’t language or character development or plotting. No, the worst problems in a lot of writing in many of these freebies by millennial “grups” lie in their basic world view, their misunderstandings of human nature formed by living in a morass of media fantasy instead of

An example (I’ll name one author who deserves praise and not name another who tried really, really hard [#gagamaggot] to write a decent story but failed, “deserving” only a “participation trophy”): Many of the freebies I read are introductions to series. Good practice. . . if the intro is a good read. Some of them I read specifically to review for recommendation/disapprobation for my Wonder Woman who is always seeking new writers to appeal to her students, especially her 7th/8th grade students. This practice led me to read (for review) a book by Shelley Adina, “Lady of Devices,” a steampunk “romance” (NOT capitalized), where, for the first book at least, “romance” ~ “adventure,” as it once meant. I was so surprised by the quality of the writing (in all aspects–good use of English, good plotting, character development and descriptive narrative, etc., as well as a really sensible Victorian feel to the book that I have since read everything else Adina has written in the series,* and felt privileged to pay to do so.

Another book I just finished attempted to do what Adina accomplished, in the same genre, but the writer was both not competent in those areas where I praise Shelley Adina and apparently did not see the need (or was too cheap to pay) for competent, literate line/copy editing. On top of that, the writer committed the cardinal sin of placing “message” above story and periodically throughout the text ended up pontificating on points of the society she had designed with which she disagreed, instead of letting the story simply speak for itself. Bad writing, that, really bad writing.

And that was on top of presenting some basic concepts of human nature and relationships in what I have come to expect to be typical of jejune, shallow, millennial crybabies.

Sad. There were moments of sound grade “C” writing, with gusts up to “B+” on occasion, but I had to give the book a “One star that should be zero stars” rating and could NOT recommend it for young adolescents, as I resoundingly recommended the Adina books.

Seriously, most of these young writers really, really need to submit their work for correction and critique to literate, competent adults (NOT something they are likely to find among their circles of acquaintances) before releasing it into the wild.


*She’s also written some contemporary “juvies” directed toward (it seems middle school girls. I’ve not read those, but I did suggest that my Wonder Woman look into them for her libraries, given the quality of Adina’s steampunk books.

Drawbacks of a Long Infancy

Infant product class, that is. eBooks. I read a lot of ’em. So far, very few eBooks seem to take advantage of the medium to expand beyond print format, and many are weaker products than hardcopy books. Here’s a brief blurb of my consumer-of-print viewpoint.

Many books can benefit from maps, tables and other reference materials. With hardcopy books, these are often included, and if not I often have the material to hand (or nearby) to fill the gaps. eBooks that can benefit from such addenda need them even more than print works, because they’re often read in locales where such things are unavailable even to someone like me who has a wide-ranging reference library at hand. Such things should be included in eBooks that would benefit from them, and they should be, at the very least, context sensitive. For example, when maps are called for, scalable, zoomable satellite or aerial maps (with helpful labeling, perhaps) could be included with little more trouble than simple line-drawing maps. Use your imagination to supply supplementary materials lists eBook authors should include. You’ll have to, though, because so far very few authors have used theirs in that manner.

As to those eBooks that are weaker products than corresponding print works. *sigh* One of the worst examples I can think of offhand was a novel written by a very good writer before eBooks had really taken off. I read it expecting not great but good fun. The story was OK, as were the characters, descriptive narrative and dialog, but… he’d apparently just scanned it–or had it scanned–and converted to electronic format and apparently had not even had it proof read. Too many obvious scanning errors ruined enjoyment of the book. But that’s just one of the worst. Self-published, author edited or proofread (or author edited AND proofread) eBooks seem to be about 85% POORLY edited and proofread. Good lord, folks! Execrable grammar, spelling and punctuation just barely scratches the surface of many crap-laden plots, dialog, descriptive narrative and characters crudely drawn in crayon from B-movie central casting descriptions!

Yes, there are a lot of well-written, well-edited/proofread “Indie” published books available, but the numbers of well-written “Indie” books is only because so very much chaff is out there to winnow the well-written books out of. It’s a real pain in the neck (although the pain’s really quite a bit further south of there) to be reading along thinking, “Interesting story–OH CRAP! GETCHER SYNTAX OUTA YOUR ASS!” or “SPELLCHECK, DUMBASS, SPELLCHECK!!” or “WTF! YOU DIDN’T JUST ‘THERE’S’ ME AGAIN! over and over again.

I’m sure both the crap writing and the features blocks will work themselves out in time, though. eBooks are still in a development phase, and some writers, at least, seem to be thinking seriously about some of these things. Thank heavens. *sigh*

The Day You Don’t Learn Something New…

…you might as well be dead.

Reading another of David Weber’s (seriously in need of an editor’s bone-deep slashing) hernia-inducing Safehold books is an opportunity to learn new things and refresh old knowledge, especially of nautical terms. So…

From the Department of the Navy, “Origin of Navy Terminology”. I haven’t needed the reference often, but I did need a reminder of some terms’ definitions and learned the main differences between a “boat,” a “cock,” and a “skiff” (which of course led me to look for more definitive descriptions).

But Weber really, really needs to learn that he doesn’t have to write everything that occurs to him all at once… *heh* Oh, the Dickens with that*. Still a good read.

Continue reading “The Day You Don’t Learn Something New…”

Update to “Safehold” Critique

Esther Friesner’s got it right:

Goot eeeevening. Velcome to my eeeentroduction. Enter freely and—

SLAP!!!

Whew. Thanks. I needed that…

…Campy faux Transylvanian is jangly enough to the innocent ear, but when the reader’s eye must wrestle with that dreadfully twisted orthography, it becomes the realm of Cruel and Unusual Punishment.

And we don’t want that. We love our readers. We cherish our readers. We want our readers to be happy.

It’s be nice if David Weber took her advice to rectify his irritating naming convention in his Safehold series.

Granted, Esther Friesner’s humorous series of “Chicks in Chainmail” and “witches, werewolves and vampires in… Suburbia” stories are in a lighter vein, but readability shouldn’t be dependent on genre. (I wish James Joyce could hear that from the grave… even though he’swriting as much now as I wish he ever had *heh*)


BTW, if you think I think (yeh, as little as possible and only when I have to*heh*) readers of this space might enjoy Friesner’s wacky–yet respectful of her readers’ time and sensibilities *cough*, such as they might be–approach to her topics, then you’re right. From the intro to Fangs for the Mammaries*–

As I might have mentioned in the Introductions to previous anthologies, Suburbia has become a very easy target for the Hip, the Hot, the Artsy, and the Artsy-with-a-capital-F. Thus I promise not to yield to the urge to make vampire-slanted puns about how Suburbia bites, sucks, is dead, drains your blood, drives you batty, etc.

It is one thing to shoot fish in a barrel. It is another thing to bring flamethrowers into play against beached guppies.

Except I pretty much just did that, didn’t I? Oops.

*heh*


*Yes, it’s an anthology of (mostly) others’ stories set in Friesner’s unique world, still her vision.

Just Easily Annoyed, I Guess…

I read the latest Safehold novel by David Weber last night. About 700 pages that really needed a good editor to sit the author down and say, “No.”

*heh*

Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s still an interesting story, and a pretty good read, but with some judicious editing, I imagine it could have been told just as well in 400-500 pages. And the roadblocks to enjoyment Weber–and his editors–throw up are completely unnecessary, IMO. Imagine a cast of thousands to keep track of. Well, it’s not quite that bad, but there are 22 pages of dramatis personae in the back of the book.

And then there are the, urm, less than useful plot threads. Take for example the one where a central (as in “hub”) character travels thousands of miles clandestinely to “enemy central” to… do weather reports. *sigh* Wasted those pages’ reading. Or the constant rehashing of the same social arguments over and over and over to the point where a reader could, I imagine, say, “Oh, THAT again,” close his eyes and “read” the next few pages by memory.

Then there are the infelicitous word choices that ANY literate editor should have caught. One of the ones that makes me grind my teeth EVERY TIME WEBER USES IT (and he’s done it in other books published by other publishers, so I have to imagine a widespread illiteracy among editors *sigh*) is the phrase, “Lords temporal and secular” to refer to a gathering of religious and secular leaders. *argghhh!!!* “Temporal” in such a context MEANS “secular” so what he’s saying is “Lords secular and secular,” and he and his editors apparently just don’t have a clue, because this is at least fourth different book (released by two different publishers) that includes the phrase–sometimes more than once in a book. There are other baffling word choices (“I do not think that word means what you think it means,” as Inigo Montoya famously said), and those also mar the narrative.

Speaking of “marring the narrative,” remember that “cast of thousands”? They all have names like, Zhaspahr Clyntain (Jasper Clinton), Ahnzelyk Phonda (Angelique Fonda), Zhon Pawl (John Paul–predictably enough a naval officer; could as easily have been “Zhon Pawl Zhones” *heh*)–and those are the easy ones to decipher. Weber might as well just say, “Stop Reading NOW and Decode This Name So You Can Keep My Cast of Thousands Straight” every single timea new character is introduced–about 2-3 times per scene, at least, it seems. *feh* Why are only personal (and sometimes place) names treated this way, whileall the rest of the narrative is in ordinary English? Heck, why didn’t Weber just write the whole series in Old English? It’s wouldn’t be that much more cumbersome to decode.

Irritating.

But, despite these flaws that approach being major issues, I still read the thing for the story, because it’s pretty interesting*. And I’ll likely buy the next book in this series, despite the fact that every one’s at least a wee tad cliff-hanger-ish (like the Honor Harrington books have become), and it irritates me to wait a year or so for the next installment, when twice as much story could be told in half the pages, were judicious editing to enter the fray. (Just tell the frickin story!)


Next time, I’ll probably buy it in two formats: hardcopy and ebook, but only if I can get the ebook in a format I can at least convert to html. Why? Well, one of the good things about an html ebook is that if I run across a term I’m unfamiliar with (frankly a rare occurrence in my normal reading experience but pretty common in this series with all the sailing terminology), I can just right-click on the term and choose the appropriate search for enlightenment. I like that. Or sometimes it’s a “Hmm, this sounds familiar. Let’s see what a review of Jan Sobieski turns up… ” or some other such gem.

Then there’s the Biggie with me and html ebooks: when I find poor editing, I have a tendency to correct the errors in my copy. 😉 Thus, for example, Weber’s “Lords temporal and secular,” referring to a gathering of religious and government leaders would, in my copy, be corrected to, “Lords sacred and secular.” *heh*


*pretty interesting: The whole series hangs on a moderately stale plot device, very nearly a “deus ex machina”/superman thing, but remains interesting nevertheless. Oh, all the characters are from Central Casting in the David Weber political/religious/military multiverse stable, so that’s notsomuch the appeal, either. The intricate political/military/church plots, counterplots and *WTF?!?* plots are all pretty much standard Weber as well. So what, apart from the really, really interesting exploration of archaic naval technology, strategy and tactics (which are very interesting, BTW) makes the Safehold series interesting enough to get me to keep on buying the books when our local library won’t?

Maybe it’s because, with all the flaws, all the “central casting–of thousands!” *heh* and moderately-to-oh-so-predictable plot wists and slow, slow pace, Weber still manages to sell the people and events as at least plausible enough to suspend disbelief… for at least 400 of the 700 pages. 🙂

More Wisdom from the Good Doctor

Jerry Pournelle’s website isn’t a typical blog in many ways, although he does claim to be the “original blog” *heh* One of the ways it differs is that it’s (mostly) divided into two parts, with extra stuff thrown around to the sides. There’s Mail and there’s View. Mail is conversations between Dr. Pournelle and his correspondents. View is simply semi-random thoughts floating about in Dr. Pournelle’s head, posted for the world to see.

Another of the ways his site is atypical of most blogs is that its content is so very often much more interesting and his contributors–all via email only–are often the most thoughtful and thought-provoking to be found on blogs.

Here’re some excerpts from a recent exchange:

Sue: “…American educators spend so much time re-inventing and re-naming educational paradigms that they forget that there are important, basic skills we all need to know in order to run our lives and survive….”

J.E.P.: “The purpose of the school system is to pay its employees. A second purpose seems to be to provide a primary hamper to the children of citizens not part of the ruling class. Most of the teachers don’t know that’s the purpose, but if that were the goal how might it be better done and still manage to pay all the employees and not merely be abolished in rage by the taxpayers?”

That was yesterday. On Tuesday we have a glimpse at a different topic in this snippet:

“…The real disaster would be a Republican Congress that becomes tax collectors for Democratic programs. That would not quite be as great a disaster as we are experiencing at present.

We got rid of the Creeps. We need to get rid of the Nuts, and return to the notion of a Republic that provides rules and order and does not attempt to ‘solve all problems.’

God is not willing to do everything, and thus take away our free will and that share of glory which belongs to us. –Niccolo Machiavelli

We need a Federal Government which understands that applies to them, too. It isn’t God.”

And from yesterday’ View”

The big flap on this particular day of the silly season remains the threat of the Florida clergyman to burn a Koran.

I also note from what I saw of his collection of books to be burned, none is a Koran. The Koran is explicit: it cannot be translated, and any copy in any language other than the original Arabic is not a Koran and must not be considered a Koran by any Islamic scholar. None of the books I saw in his collection are Arabic. Now he intends to be insulting and insulting he can be by burning a translation, but blasphemous against Islam (which I presume is his intent) he cannot be without an Arabic copy. Actually one wonders whether any such overt action of an infidel is any more sacrilegious than the existence of the infidel who has not submitted to Islam nor submitted to dhimmitude by paying tribute.

Of course, those who aren’t familiar with the teachings of Islam can go ahead and allow disingenuous Muslims to mislead them, as usual.

Kindle for PC? Notsomuch. But I Do Like the Book Pricing

OK, so Kindle for PC works. Reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest now, and the app just works. Barely.

*sigh* I guess I’ve just been spoiled all these years reading all my eBooks in my browser where I can set the text size to whatever I want, but the Kindle for PC app’s inability to change text size is really irksome. Do Not Like!!!

Oh, well. At least the $10 for the book was a good price (for me; and the author doesn’t care, since he’s both Swedish and dead. *heh*)

BTW, the book’s the culmination of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire— both very good reads. If Stieg Larson had lived and written more books, I’d certainly have bought and read ’em. Strong writing. The Sweden he describes isn’t appealing to me at all* (Mace is an “illegal weapon” for example), but I would certainly have enjoyed reading more of his work anyway.


*On further reflection, there is one appealing aspect of the Sweden Larsen describes: his view that a constitutional crisis, brought about by government abuse of one person’s rights, could bring down a (parliamentary style) democratic government. I’d wish the same for our country.

Take Back Your Government

What would you pay to get the tools to take back our government and save our country?

From the author’s preface to Take Back Your Government:

HOW TO SAVE YOUR COUNTRY

This is intended to be a practical manual of instruction for the American layman who has taken no regular part in politics, has no personal political ambitions, and no desire to make money out of politics, but who, nevertheless, would like to do something to make his or her chosen form of government work better. If you have a gnawing, uneasy feeling that you should be doing something to preserve our freedoms and to protect and improve our way of life but have been held back by lack of time, lack of money, or the helpless feeling that you individually could not do enough to make the effort worthwhile, then this book was written for you.

Take Back Your Government (Click for larger image)

The book is currently being sold by Baen Books in a bundle with Taxpayer’s Tea Party by Sharon Cooper and Chuck Asay. The cost for both books bundled together in any of a wide range of eBook formats is just $8. I’m currently reading my copy of Take Back Your Government in my web browser in the html version.

Taxpayer's Tea Party Manual