Sunday, November 30, 2014

Two Weeks' Worth of FREE Books!


Sorry, folks!  The coupons have expired!
But the regular price on all my ebooks is only $2.99
except for Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder,
and it's only $1.99!
and if you buy a paperback, you get a Kindle FREE!
Amazon

I don't want to commit a lot of time to a Christmas promotion because I have no idea what I'll be required to do over the next few weeks, so I'm having a SMASHWORDS COUPON GIVEAWAY.  Starting Monday, December 1, 2014, I'll be publishing coupon codes for different books each day.

I've changed my mind!  I'm going to be tied up for the rest of the week!
So I'm adding all the codes at the end of this post.
 




Back and front cover of v.1

 
Monday and Tuesday, I'm featuring both volumes of
The Termite Queen,
because, since it's a two-volume novel and not a series,
you really need to acquire both volumes of the book.

All coupons will expire on 12/14/14!
 
Codes
 
SC86E
 
LA29P
 
Go to Smashwords, buy the book,
enter the code at checkout,
and voila! 
You are the proud owner of one of my books!

Here are the rest of the codes,
which make all the books free!

You can find all the books in the series
The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head
in the Smashwords series entry:
http://www.smashwords.com/books/byseries/1028

v.1: The War of the Stolen Mother
MJ62Y

v.2: The Storm-Wing
VF99S

v.3: The Valley of Thorns
XA28F

v.4: Beneath the Mountain of Heavy Fear
KM63V

v.5: The Wood Where the Two Moons Shine
EQ75F
v.6: The Revenge of the Dead Enemy
HW33T

Again, offer will expire on 14 December 2014

Download the books, read, enjoy, and review!

 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Curse You, Health Insurance Bureaucracy!

      
http://designstutorial.com/facebook-smileys-winks-and-emoticons/
 
       I decided I wanted to drop my AARP Secure Horizons Advantage Plan and switch back to traditional Medicare plus a supplement.  The only advantage to the first one is that there is no premium; the copays don't make up the difference.  However, it's an HMO so you have to get a referral from your primary care physician to see other doctors.  And that's a hassle and it's easy to forget to do it, and a constant source of annoyance to me at present.
       I used to be in traditional Medicare, so now during the open enrollment period, I decided to switch back.
 
       I just spent two hours on the phone.
 
       First, I had to call a couple of my doctors and verify that they take traditional Medicare; I really had no doubt but I needed to be sure.  So that took about 20 minutes because the oncologist's office didn't open on time and they had a new menu that didn't include an option for Stay on the line for a representative, so I had to call two or three times before I figured out which number I was supposed to punch.
 
       Then I called the AARP Medicare Supplement phone number that I got off their website.  They said they couldn't switch me to regular Medicare; I would have to call a Licensed Healthcare Representative at a different number.  O-o-o-kay.
 
       That person said I couldn't switch at that line and I needed to call Medicare and re-enroll in Medicare.  When I got to that number, the automated thingy said that in order to do that I had to call Social Security.  And Social Security is impossible -- after making me sit through this long lecture on the various benefits of SS, they said they were too busy to answer the phone right now and call back at a less busy time.
 
       You understand, each one of these numbers tortured the listener with a long menu of options and "answer this question" and "answer that question ... " and "Hold for a representative," etc., etc.
 
       So then I was thoroughly confused and tired and out of all options.  So I called Secure Horizons, which has always given me trouble in the past, and lo and behold!  I quickly got a human being who knew what he was talking about!  His name was Ray! 
 
Ray, wherever you are, you're a terrific person! 
 
      He said he would disenroll me from Secure Horizons and when that happens, you automatically revert to traditional Medicare, which is what I thought all along ought to happen -- but not according to all those other imbeciles.  I stay in Secure Horizons through Dec. 31, and in a week or ten days I will get a disenrollment form in the mail to fill out, and I'll fill it out and send it back, and then I can sign up for a Medicare supplement plan, just like I used to have.  There will be plenty of time to do it, and I think it can be done online.  Let's hope so!  I think the websites are less ignorant than the phone representatives.  I know what plan I want, and I really understand traditional Medicare much better than I ever understood the Advantage Plans.
 
       The only thing I didn't like about that last one was at one point, Ray had to go away and get some information, and during that time they played a piece of 18th century chamber music, maybe Hayden or Mozart.  Now, I like 18th century chamber music, but this piece was very short and repeated endlessly, the same thing.  After hearing something fifty times, the most artistic piece of music can drive you crazy! 
 
       The reason I changed in the first place was that my erstwhile PCP sent out this letter saying he was going to drop any patient who didn't transfer to an Advantage Plan.  Even though that didn't seem right to me at the time, I didn't want to have to find a new PCP, so I switched.  Now the same practice, which that doctor has now left, says, no, they take traditional Medicare.  *#$*#@!
 
 
Oh, the joys and conveniences of our contemporary civilization!
 
 
 
 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Ye Olde Grammarian (No. 6): A Hodgepodge, Plus Some E-Book Formatting Tips

Otherwise known as a potpourri, pastiche, melange, mishmash, or gallimaufry!

http://www.copyediting.com/gallimaufry-word-game
(you can find a word game on this website!)
       I recently read somewhere about certain conventions of print books that I realized I had been flagrantly violating.  (I checked a bunch of books that I own and by golly, both these things are true.)
       First, don't use "by" on the cover and title page.  Unfortunately, I have done that consistently, until the last two books in the Ki'shto'ba series, where I dropped the "by" on the cover.  I did, however, retain it on the title page, again for the sake of consistency. 
       The other convention is that the first paragraph of a chapter or chapter section is not indented.  Sometimes they even use a few letters in all caps.  After I learned this, I tried not indenting, but it just didn't look right to me, so again for the sake of consistency I persisted in indenting the first paragraph.
       So I make my mea culpas.  In my next publication, I may amend my ways.  In the meantime, if it really bothers you that I use "by" on the cover and t.p. or that I indent the opening paragraphs, I guess you just can't read my books, or you can read the e-books, where clarity is the only rule that really applies.
 
       I am very much aware that a writer should italicize the names of ships.  I didn't do that in v. 5 and 6 of The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head.  Somehow I thought it seemed artificial.  I think the Shshi consider their ships as something more than inanimate objects, so, since one does not italicize the names of individuals, it seemed wrong not to treat ships the same way.  You'll notice that I did italicize the name of the human ship in v. 6.  And that's saying more than I should.
       So I don't want to hear any complaints that I don't know that rule!
 
       Now I want to talk about backward apostrophes.  In Word, most people use curly apostrophes  and when you type a single apostrophe, it comes out like this: He said, ‘I see you.’  An initial single apostrophe always opens to the right, which is correct for a quotation mark.  But when the apostrophe signifies an omission, it shouldn't open to the right -- it should open to the left.  Wrong: Eat ‘em up!  It should be Eat ’em up!  So how did I make it go the right way?  I type this: Eat ‘’em up! and then go back and delete the first apostrophe.  I get irked every time I read a book formatted by somebody who doesn't know you can do this.
 
       So what's with the word or words "alright" and "all right"?   Here is the Usage Note under "alright" in Dictionary.com:
"The form alright as a one-word spelling of the phrase all right in all of its senses probably arose by analogy with such words as already and altogether. Although alright is a common spelling in written dialogue and in other types of informal writing, all right is used in more formal, edited writing."
       It may be becoming common to spell it "alright," but it still irks me when I encounter it in an otherwise well-edited book.

       I have always had problems knowing whether to use "a while" or "awhile."   Read what Grammar Girl has to say about it -- it's basically what I finally came up with on my own.  "Awhile" is an adverb.  "I stayed awhile."  "He stared at the girl awhile and then approached her." 
       "A while" is simply an article plus a noun, and that construction is required when an object is involved, for example, in prepositional phrases: "I stayed for a while." "He left after a while."  Grammar Girl gives this example, which may confuse some people.  "It's been a while since he visited."  The reason you use the noun form here is that "to be" in a copular, or linking, verb and takes a predicate nominative or a predicate adjective rather than an adverb.  (You wouldn't say, "He's been quietly for a while,' would you?  You would say, "He's been quiet for a while."  "Quiet" is an adjective modifying "he.")  Esoteric, you say?  You should have heard my mother expounding on linking verbs!  Some other linking verbs are "to become," "to feel ," to smell," etc.  If you're interested in pursuing this further, go here.
       

       I'm going to reiterate what I said in an earlier post about using commas in terms of address.  It's the old "Let's eat, Grampa" vs. "Let's eat Grampa" dichotomy.  In my earlier post I said this: "The use of the vocative (i.e., an instance where you are addressing someone) is related to this.  ...  Here is another [example] as to why you should set off the name of the person addressed with a comma:
       What don't you want to tell John?
       What don't you want to tell, John?
       I recently read a book where the language got really confused because of the omission of commas.  I was always having to stop and go back and figure out what the author meant.  I think it's a British tendency to omit commas in this sort of construction, but I do wish people would return to the old rule.

To read my other Olde Grammarian posts, go to
 

Summary of how to do ToC links on Smashwords

       Now I'm going to add a bit on e-book formatting using Word -- how to easily create a linked Table of Contents.  Smashwords insists that you do this, but Kindle doesn't care.  I get irritated when an e-book doesn't have a ToC linked to the chapters and also chapters linked back to the ToC, because it's so easy to lose your place in an e-book and this way you can always skip through by chapter.  I recommend that everybody do this on all their e-books.  It takes a little time, but it's not difficult and your readers (or at least I) will thank you.
       Make your Table of Contents (remove all links based on style, e.g., Heading 1 or ToC1, etc.)
       Select each chapter heading in the text and create Insert Bookmark (on Insert menu).  Remember, no spaces in bookmark names; abbreviate as much as you like as long as it’s clear (e.g., Ch1 for Chapter One or Note for Note to the Smashwords Edition).
       Go to ToC list and select each Chapter designation.  Then add a Hyperlink, using the Insert menu or the right-click menu.  Click on “Place in this document.”  Select the corresponding bookmark and then click on OK.
       Then make a bookmark for the heading “Table of Contents.”  Smashwords suggests using “ref_ToC” 
       Go one more time through the document text, selecting each chapter heading and making a hyperlink using “ref_ToC.”  This will link each chapter back to the top of the Table of Contents.
       Double check to make sure the ToC entries link to the correct chapters.
 


Sunday, November 2, 2014

“So the whole war is because we can’t talk to each other.” - Ender's Game

THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THIS ESSAY!
 
Just a few days after I finished Ender’s Game, I ran across an article in the Colorado Springs newspaper (The Gazette) about how some people were trying to get the book banned from use in a Mesa County school district language arts program.  They didn’t succeed, but the reason a particular parent wanted the book banned was that she “was appalled to read swear words and passages about characters renouncing religion and killing each other.”  (Where has this parent been all her life?) 
The article goes on to state that the book is “an anti-bullying tale.”  I found this a little befuddling; I would have never characterized the book in that way.  It oversimplifies the themes to a really na├»ve level.  For one thing, when the book was written in the 1970s and ’80s, bullying wasn’t a big topic of interest, and in any case, I don’t think murdering the bully is a valid way to deal with the problem.  The article does also go on to say “Reviewers also called it a message about tolerance, empathy and coping under pressure.”
Some of those statements are true, but I think they miss the point.  And honestly I don’t think the book is particularly appropriate for 10 or 11 year olds, not because of the reasons the parent gave above but because I think it would terminally bore them.  
For me the essential point of the book is how terrible things can happen when communication is non-existent.  People seem to have little interest in the buggers, who are an intelligent species looking for a new place to nest and not nearly as evil as they are portrayed in Earth’s future social context.  The irony is that the buggers weren’t even intending to attack again, and the lengths Earthers went to in order to destroy them says something about humanity – paints a really bleak picture, actually.  Perhaps this point gets de-emphasized because it is made so late in the book.
Most of the book deals with the training of the six-to-eleven-year-old Ender to be the commander who is going to save the world from the next bugger attack.  Personally, I have trouble suspending disbelief that young children could do what Ender and his siblings did, no matter how carefully genetically engineered they were.  This training consists of game-playing.  I am not a game player, so I found the endless dwelling on the “game” of warfare to be quite tedious at times.  I can imagine, however, that this would appeal to inveterate game players.  It’s a very masculine book – it has only three female characters (not counting the bugger Queens, of course) and of those only Ender’s sister filled an important role (a kind of token female).  I think if you’re a guy and you’re a gamer and you think warfare is cool, then you would eat up all those training sequences.  The view and use of gaming was amazingly modern to have been written in the ’70s and ’80s – I thought the use of the “desk” (like a modern laptop computer or tablet) and the sophistication of the games held up well against the evolution of modern technology. 
The one part of the gaming sequences that I found fascinating was the psychological game that Ender played for “recreation.”  This was totally a computer game, not the physical workouts of the Battle Room.  I’m always interested in psychological interpretations of character, and the way this fed into the conclusion of the book was brilliant. 
On the whole, however, I found the story to be gloomy and downbeat, with almost no humor or comic relief.  (I do like some humor in my science fiction.)  To me, it feels unbalanced and depressing.  And the pace of the story is uneven – we have all those endless training sessions and then at the very end of the book we suddenly accelerate into covering several years all packed into that final chapter.  I think the author lapsed into telling and not showing at this point because he had a lot he needed to cover.  The plot suddenly becomes filled with exalted idealism as major revelations are rapidly detailed.  I’m sure Card was preparing the way for the second volume.  In spite of the change of style and pace, however, I found the sequence revealed on p. 321 (where Ender speaks for the annihilated buggers) to be most satisfying and exhilarating part of the book.  It wouldn’t have hurt to shorten the earlier parts by about half.
I did have a couple of other problems with the end of the book.  It seemed all the Queens of the buggers were on one planet, and all of them were killed.  Now even though the buggers could read Ender’s mind, I don’t think they could read the future, so how did they know which planet he would colonize and so where to leave the game recreation and the egg?  Maybe they left a recreation and an egg on all their planets?) Also, it’s stated that the buggers cared for their offspring as they were working their farms.  But if the Queens were all on one planet, why were the offspring on different planets?  I would think they would be kept in nurseries near the Mother until they matured.  I don’t think Card thought this out totally.  However, I was reading the end pretty fast and I might have missed something.
I want to remark on the use of the term “ansible” for a device that allows for rapid communication across light years.  I thought it was pretty neat that he borrowed the word from Ursula K. LeGuin, who invented it.  Here is how the term is explained to Ender: “Somebody dredged the name ansible out of an old book somewhere and it caught on.” (p.249)  Isn’t it nice to know your books will still be around a number of centuries from now?  In fact, LeGuin coined the word ansible in her 1966 novel Rocannon's World, and her 1974 novel The Dispossessed narrates how the technology happened to be invented.  According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ansible Le Guin states she derived the name from "answerable," as the device would allow its users to receive answers to their messages in a reasonable amount of time even over interstellar distances.  Fascinating stuff!
Of course, since I write about giant insects, I’m especially interested in the buggers, and the way things turned out only makes me more interested in them.  My purpose in my books is not only to show that giant insects don’t have to be evil – my purpose is also to show the importance of learning how to communicate with the extraterrestrial lifeforms we are sure to encounter one day.  And of course that’s the most important theme of Ender’s Game as well, even though it seems to get lost in the shuffle.  One of the most important pages of the book is p. 253, where Col. Graff finally tells Ender how the buggers communicate mind-to-mind instantaneously, in a way we can never hope to de-code.  And Ender says, “So the whole war is because we can’t talk to each other.”  That sums up the theme of the book in one sentence.
 
         [References above are to the mass market paperback edition, published by Tor Books in 1994.]

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Are You a Social Coward?



If you have to tell somebody something that you believe they aren't going to like or will react badly to, do it to their face like a civilized human being!

       I never have liked the idea of using a blog for the purposes of venting one's sour feelings, but I simply have to get this off my chest.  I have a lot of arthritis; that's why I quit driving.  I was getting to where I couldn't turn the wheel or even pull the seat belt around to fasten it, because it started in my shoulders. Maybe four years ago, the orthopedist said I had no cartilage left in the shoulder joints and the only answer is joint replacements.  I can't see doing that -- I am not going to spend the rest of my life doing nothing but therapy and maybe have it be less than successful, anyway.  I also have arthritis in my hands, my feet, and now in my right knee., and it's starting in the left hip.  So, after I got rid of my car (which happened in February of 2013, when I broke my rib), a friend volunteered to take me the grocery store, to medical appointments, etc.  She was firm in her commitment, although I'm always skeptical about whether you can be entirely sure of anybody's help, no matter what they say.  My mother always said, never count on anybody to do anything for you.
       Lately I've developed a medical problem that will require some outpatient surgery.  And I've been thinking that my friend didn't seem herself lately -- she seemed kind of edgy and taciturn, and she's been tied up a lot, so scheduling the things that I needed to do was becoming difficult.  So I asked her if she was going to be able to keep on helping me, and she said firmly, "Oh, yes, I want to," and we made some arrangements and I thought everything was hunky-dory.
       Then yesterday morning I had an email from her (and we never exchange emails -- we talk on the phone).  She told me very formally that she had family problems and she couldn't help me any longer.  A very cold, businesslike note, like we were business partners breaking off a contract or something.  I've called her twice and she won't pick up.  Now what do you think of that? 
       It's not the fact that she can no longer help me that bugs me because I understand that family has to come first -- it's just that I think she should have talked to me directly instead of wimping out with an email, like I was somebody she barely knew.  I would like to still be friends, but now I don't think we're going to be.   She'll probably never talk to me again. 
       It's like getting a "Dear John" letter.
 
       That's what I call social cowardice. 
 
       This isn't the first time I've encountered this phenomenon.  My mother and I lived in a duplex at one point and the landlady and her husband lived on the other side.  We were quite friendly; they had cats and two Great Danes, and I enjoyed being around them.  One day in summer, we were sitting there with the front door open for air and the woman suddenly appeared at the door.  I called, "Hello!" but she just dumped a note in the mailbox and bolted around the corner.  She was raising the rent and didn't have the guts to face us.  Now isn't that something?  We continued to be friends, but she never said a word about the rent raise and we didn't either -- we just paid it out.  Social cowardice!  
       And one more example.  I had a handyman whom I really liked.  He would always do anything I asked, from remortaring bricks in a retaining wall to repairing the till of an old trunk.  And he agreed to install new vinyl flooring in the kitchen.  I picked out the flooring and had it delivered, and then he broke off contact.  He never told me he changed his mind and didn't want (or maybe didn't know how) to put in the floor -- he simply stopped answering my calls and disappeared off the face of the earth.  I wrote him a straightforward letter of complaint, but I never heard a word from him again.  The man did not know how to say no!  Most handymen will say, "I don't paint" or "I don't do flooring," etc.  But for some reason he couldn't do that!  I found somebody else to put in the flooring, but still, I counted on him to do little things for me, like fix light switches and toilets.  And he just dropped me like a hot potato.  If he didn't want to work for me any longer, he should have said so!
       Face people, for goodness sake -- take responsibility for your actions  and maintain a civilized attitude!  You're not going to lose a friend or a business associate just because circumstances won't let you do everything you may have promised! 
      
Don't be a social coward!
And learn how to say no gracefully!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Can a Humanist Write Fantasy in Good Conscience?


The Goddess Durga
 
The Highest-Mother-Who-Has-No-Name
with her star nurseries
       When I first started this self-publishing effort, I happened to make the acquaintance of an indie author who was a convinced atheist.  This writer abjured fantasy in all forms because of the underlying premise of magic, which assumes a spiritual foundation not grounded in science.  This writer would read science fiction, but  only if it omitted all non-material assumptions.  Since then, I've encountered other atheists who seem to feel the same way.  The most convinced atheist is a fullblown materialist and simply can't allow for anything unexplainable by science.
        Those of you who may have followed this blog since its early days will remember that I'm a humanist. Humanists are by definition supposed to be atheists, but I reject that appellation because my view is more that of the agnostic -- I reject the notion that it's possible to know anything about god or gods, but I leave the possibility open that something beyond the explanatory ability of science might exist.  
       So how does one define belief?  I define it as conviction without proof.  A convinced religionist "believes" that he/she knows the truth, but the fact is that there is no way to prove if that person is right.  A convinced atheist "believes" there is nothing spiritual anywhere, but he/she has no proof, either.  That's why I reject dogmatism (of either the religious or the atheistic variety) and view it as the source of countable wars and evil acts committed against the best principles of right behavior (what I call the Right Way) that are embedded (along with the capacity for evil) in the human consciousness.
       I see humanity as having the capacity to fix things on their own without the intervention of gods, and that is what I mean by humanist. However, while many humanists are atheists, I call myself a spiritual humanist.  I simply state that you cannot know the truth about what might be beyond the ken of science.  Therefore, I have no problem with belief in itself.  My problem is  with those who believe so strongly in their rectitude that they want to force their belief on the whole world,  either through conversion (under corecion if necessary) or by  eliminating those damned recalcitrant sinners, individually or through warfare.
       Consequently, I can enjoy fantasy -- stories with spiritual or magic elements in them -- and I can write such stories.  (And I want to add parenthetically that I realize not all atheists reject fantasy; some simply accept the role of the imagination in human endeavors, suspend disbelief, and enjoy themselves.)  All of my books include some spiritual elements.  I can write in The Termite Queen about a future history of Earth that has rejected religion and lives by the humanist Mythmaker principles, but in the same book I can write about a termite planet that has Seers who are in touch with a Mother Goddess who lives among the stars.  And I can conclude that book with references to Christianity, which I think not everybody who has read the book has recognized.  Kwi'ga'ga'tei the Seer takes the sins of the universe on herself (TheWound That Will Not Heal) and atones for them.  The myths of all religions can be adapted for many purposes.
       Similarly, in the series The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head, I retell (among other epics) the Song of Roland.  When I was rereading it in preparation for adapting it, I was struck by how in medieval times both the Christians and the Saracens called each other infidel and how we're still fighting that useless war today -- a war over disparate "truths" neither of which can ever be proven.  So I made the Marcher Shshi and the People of the Cave to be at war with each other over the "truth" of whether the Highest Mother lives in the sky or in the ground.  In the beginning Di'fa'kro'mi the Remembrancer is rather shocked, because he has never encountered any form of worship other than of the Sky Mother, but as time passes, he comes to realize that it doesn't matter which way you perceive the Goddess -- what matters is the way you behave toward your fellow "humans" and how you honor the principle for which the Goddess stands -- in a termite context, the rare and beautiful procreative principle.  I think all this is quite pertinent to our own sad times. 
       My WIP The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars is much more a work of literary science fiction than it is a fantasy and it explores the nature of the humanist future of Earth more fully than I had space to do in The Termite Queen.  But even in MWFB there are elements of fantasy.  We see how religion has evolved into remnant communities that are sanctioned by EarthGov as long as they keep their worship private and don't proselytize.  In some cases Enclaves are chartered by EarthGov, in which communities of religionist believers can operate openly, again as long as they remain within the Enclave boundaries and keep the rules established in their charters. 
       However, I also investigate what might exist in the unexplored reaches of space.  Could there be something unexplainable out there, something that might not want us entering its domain?  Or is the entity only a figment of a disturbed mind?  This is mostly developed much later in the book, but I do have one reader of my unfinished opus who really likes the book but who, as an atheist, has complained that he would perfer I stuck to the scientific, no matter how fanciful my science is, and omit anything spiritual.  Well, I can't do that.  The concept of the spiritual is deeply embedded in the psychology of the intelligent being, and much of the wonder that exists in our lives comes from things we can't explain. 
       I constructed my future history around a group of 20 ethical precepts called the Mythmaker Precepts.  You can read my earlier posts on the topic here under the label Mythmakers in the sidebar, but it's best to start with the first one, Who Are the Mythmakers and Why Do They Matter? and then proceed through the series. The instinctive impulse toward belief  is embodied in the myths that humans devised to explain the world in a time less versed in scientific methodology.  I see fantasy as modern myth (I've stated elsewhere that most significant fiction has an element of fantasy within it [see Defining Fantasy according to TermiteWriter]).  Those myths become metaphors for important moral and ethical considerations; they clothe the deepest insights of modern man in wonder and give those insights a psychological and emotional foundation.  They can teach us and move us and appeal to our deepest selves.

Virgin Mary, Folk Art, Peru
19th century
http://www.arttoartpalettejournal.com/2011/04/exhibit-is-a-us-first/