Vegas, baby!

Only a few words today, and those with pencil. (bonus points to anyone who gets the reference).

As you may know, I’m in Vegas for a writing retreat organized by my friend E.F. Kelley.  We’re heading into Day Two and, so far, I have to say: Yes.  Though several of us have not met before in person, the group dynamic is clicking very well, the feedback provided on previously submitted works has been substantive and insightful…and, of course, it’s Vegas.  So, there’s good food and plenty of inspiration to be found on what is (let’s face it) essentially an alien planet.

In addition to crits of work by Lou Berger, George Galuschak, and Hallie Rulnick, we had a rousing discussion of the difference between paranormal romance and urban fantasy.  Underdevelopment of villains came up a lot, and we talked about the five writing cards, two of which every writer is given and three of which they must learn (plot, character, setting, prose, and dialogue).  Also, we stuffed ourselves full of tasty food (Bouchon Bistro for an obscene breakfast that included pastries AND pomme frites, Earl of Sandwich for yummy lunch, and Sage restaurant for fancy dinner).

I’m up for critique this morning on an excerpt and synopsis of my novel Absent.  I’m really looking forward to getting help on shaping up the characterizations (especially my protagonist’s motivations and needs/wants) and the direction of the second half of the plot. We’ll also take a look at Catherine Schaff-Stump’s novella excerpt “Were-Humans,” a short story from Danielle LeFevre, and – time permitting – do a plot session on E.F.’s novel.  Tonight: Cirque du Soleil.

I’ll try to pop in for a an update on Sunday when things wrap themselves up.  Till then, have a great weekend!  I know I will.

Book Review: A Fire Upon the Deep

I’m hitting the road again; this time I’m headed to Vegas (for a writers retreat) and then Phoenix (for a family getaway).  I’ll try to be good about posting while I’m gone, but no promises!  In the meantime, here’s a book review of A Fire Upon the Deep.

A Fire Upon the Deep, by Vernor Vinge (534 pages, Science Fiction)

This book was the one that made me want to write science fiction and fantasy.  Round about 2002, I was on a 6-month excavation project in Honduras and I found a battered copy of Fire Upon the Deep stuffed into the project book shelf.  I picked it up, and within minutes was totally engrossed.  Fast forward to 2011, when I spotted a copy on a markdown shelf at Borders (poor, sad, dying Borders) and grabbed it for a re-read.  Man had I forgotten how good it is.  There is much genius in this book – genius in plot, structure, and story, and genius in world-building, too.

On the surface, the coolest thing about Fire Upon the Deep are the Tines, the group-mind species Vinge creates to inhabit a wild, ferocious back-water planet at the Bottom of the Beyond.  They’re like dogs, but “individuals” are created by combining several members into a pack.  Each member performs different functions or brings different personality traits or types of intelligence to the whole, and they think and operate as one.  Though the Tines are truly alien, they are also deeply familiar to us humans in terms of their hopes, dreams, fears, and desires.  Into this world come two children fleeing an interstellar terror set on destroying the entire galaxy (called The Blight).

The deeper genius of the book is how it structurally juxtaposes the plight of these kids as they attempt to survive on the Tines world with the malicious plans of the Blight.  A third plot line involves a group of humans – one of whom may actually be a puppet for a god-like intelligence – and Skroderiders (another fabulously ingenious alien species Vinge dreamed up) as they attempt to rescue the marooned children.

The pace is brisk, yet Vinge still manages to find a way to world-build and exposit without weighing the story down.  As he switches between story lines (and eventually brings them all together), the reader is treated to the full scope of this incredible universe – from the great powers that shape interstellar events all the way down to the tiny individuals caught up in those events.  Honestly, it’s completely masterful.

If you haven’t read this classic, do it now.