Thursday, February 20, 2014

Post Script - A Darkling Sea

It feels like it's been ages since I last reviewed anything, and even longer since I last reviewed something new. I've a sizable personal library, but I rarely add to it these days, and so little of what I've acquired could be considered contemporary fiction. Only a few weeks ago, I noticed how much I'd come to miss the influx of newer works that reviewing afforded me. I'd said as much in conversation and, as if my desire to return to reviewing had been broadcast, I found a package had arrived in the mail, courtesy of Tor Books. The timing was surprisingly perfect (and on the verge of suspicious—is one of the earlier review copies bugged?) and, as mentioned in my previous post, I immediately set my reading list aside for this latest addition—James L. Cambias's A Darkling Sea

I've been fortunate to have encountered some of the best modern science fiction through my time as a reviewer. John Scalzi's Redshirts, the first book I reviewed for Tor, was both hilarious and heartfelt. Not only did it go on to win the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Novel, there are now plans to bring the story to television in the form of a miniseries on FX. David Brin's Existence, my second Tor review, was an amazingly rich and rewarding reading experience. Rapture of the Nerds, by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross, read like a delightful exercise in absolute madness. In general, it's been an exciting time to be a scifi fan and, more often than not, Tor has had a hand in releasing some of the best works in the genre. A Darkling Sea is a perfect example of their knack for churning out quality science fiction. 

It was a quick read, in that it was compelling enough to keep the pages turning and turning. I haven't often had that experience, in which putting the book down seemed less and less likely as the story went on. I think it took me all of two days, one reading session each, to finish. It's highly recommendable, especially for the fact that while it touts itself as "hard science fiction", it's not too technical as to ward off those less experienced with that particular subgenre. It'd make for an excellent introduction to hard scifi, in fact, which makes it all the more apt for recommendation. 

Getting the chance to review this book is something for which I'm perhaps inordinately grateful. It gave me an opportunity to get back into reviewing, to blog more, and to add to my still-small list of completed reads for the year. More than that, it was simply a darn good book. Take a look at my complete review over at A Reader's Respite, and see if you might not want to add it to your list of completed reads as well.

Click here to read my review of A Darkling Sea @ A Reader's Respite

Saturday, February 8, 2014

From Resolutions are Revolutions Born—A Look at the Year Ahead

Sure, it's been another frigid week for some of us, and the snow has been a particular drag in general. For all intents and purposes, however, the last 24 hours have been particularly stellar here at the Fane. I was up until well after dawn finishing a recently-published scifi novel for review; I prepared a particularly tasty cheese omelet for "breakfast" when I woke in the early afternoon; I managed to survive shopping like a proper adult, scoring a host of healthy, whole ingredients without any accompanying junk "food"; for dinner, I had my first green smoothie in ages. All in all, a rather responsible and productive day for someone not yet fully accustomed to what most would call "normal life". In fact, while most of this likely seems more or less mundane, commonplace, or downright boring, those who struggle with particular breeds of hardship will understand that it was quite the adventure in accomplishment for me. What better way to cap a day such as this than to head back to the blog for the year's much-delayed first post?

A Quick Recap

The past few months have been anything if not exciting, though admittedly there's been precious little to report in terms of my NaNoWriMo novel. While there's much work yet to be done, the holidays obviously took precedence for much of December. I've expanded upon the outline, made note of a few dozen incidents that should be included, but beyond that I've focused mostly upon fleshing out the protagonist, by way of living his life.  

I'd neglected the previously year's festivities, mired deeply in an existential malaise which swallowed the final months of 2012 and indeed much of 2013, and so endeavored to compensate for those many lost months by embracing the holiday spirit as much as possible. I set my books aside and turned to the television. It's not something I often do, but I think I can be forgiven marathons of Doctor Who, Star Trek: TNG, and a dozen or so science fiction and action blockbusters. 

As Christmas itself approached I shifted to holiday themed films, encountering The Bishop's Wife and It's a Wonderful Life for the first time, both of which were exquisitely delightful, as well as five different versions of A Christmas Carol. I'd decided, having thrown up my decorations only days before Christmas itself, to celebrate the classic Twelve Days of Christmas, meaning my festivities continued well into January. After weeks that included many a feast, the exchange of a few thoughtful gifts, my first Boxing Day celebration, and a truly reflective New Year's Eve, it was time to strike the decorations and prepare in earnest for a year that had already arrived.

New Year, New You?

My approach to New Year's resolutions has always been much like the old cliched experience—make a list of new rules for oneself, maintain for a week or three, slip up once and abandon the effort for having failed perfection. It is—in my case, at any rate—as if resolutions were meant to be broken. They're almost intentionally trivial, and while the notion of resolutions (and the New Year itself) is a contrivance, I still feel I've been wasting an opportunity for yearly renewal, transformation, transcendence to the next stage of my personal evolution. It seemed to me that the crux of the problem lay in viewing resolutions as hard-and-fast rules which I must suddenly and unfailingly follow. Obviously, this just isn't the way to go about affecting change. As someone who's made a habit of taking progressive strides away from the chaotic existence of his past, I decided I ought to rectify this annual flailing, by trying a more balanced approach to the new year—one with a far better chance of succeeding. 

Resolutions Done Right

Rather than a new set of rules aimed at instantly correcting my behavior, I came up with a manageable list of gradual changes that will hopefully enable me to affect new habits over time. If, by year's end, I'm living my life differently as planned, I'll consider my resolutions successful. The first—and most obvious—problem to address is my writing.

  • Though participating in NaNoWriMo has in both successful cases contributed greatly to my ability to write consistently, it's a discipline I've done little to maintain. In each instance, by the time the new year rolled around I'd already let myself slip back into the habit of writing only when the mood struck me, rather than in a disciplined, daily fashion. Still working with my old approach to resolutions, I'd at first thought I'd just make myself write daily, and that would be that. Having made that promise to myself numerous times in the past, I quickly realized how meaningless it had become. Instead, I'm easing myself into the practice, with only enough pressure to nudge myself from an inert state on a regular basis. If I write, I make a note of it on my calendar. If I don't, I'll try again tomorrow. The goal is to end the year writing daily, and there are still eleven months to work with.
  • As far as reading is concerned, I'd found myself most often gripped by task paralysis whenever I so much as glanced at my reading pile, which had grown to roughly sixty or so titles piled high and wide atop my coffee table. In order to make the list less daunting, I reduced it to only five or six select titles. In order to ensure the reading of those particular books, I'm not allowing myself to add anything new to the pile until each of them has been read. While I have recently thrown a review title into the mix, I think that's an acceptable skirting of the rule, as it encourages me to continue writing for the blog, which is my next order of business.
  • I had a good run during the fall last year, but blogging daily—or even weekly—is still sometimes a struggle. Hopefully, this post will be the first of many, but again my goal here isn't to suddenly exhibit the discipline required to produce on a regular basis, but rather develop the habit over time. I'd like to follow through with my original intent, continuing to post personal progress and musings, as well as returning to review work, adding original films and music to new book reviews and further analyses of page-to-screen adaptations. If, by year's end, I've managed to at least double last year's output, I'll consider the overall effort a success.
  • One last resolution, set apart from those described above, is actually a daily practice which I've imposed upon myself, though with little difficulty and to tremendous immediate effect: Along with notes for having written, I've made a point of marking the calendar with a star for each solidly fulfilling or particularly enjoyable day. It may not seem like much, but that little record has enabled me to see just how much better I have it than I might sometimes think. Everyone has their down days, and on those days it's often difficult to keep in mind just how rare they are. With the visual aid of the calendar, I can keep things in perspective, and can honestly say that the practice has helped boost more than a few mediocre days back into star-worthy territory.

While it may have taken me a while to institute these resolutions, I'm still remarkably confident about my ability to continue striving to achieve their aims. In fact, I'm feeling remarkably confident about the year in general. I have a long-standing habit of tackling each year, regardless of circumstance, by boasting "This is gonna be my year!" And, truth be told, I haven't been wrong yet—though last year did seem as if it might finally buck the trend. But something about 2014 feels different; there's a surety which I can't quite explain. Maybe I'm just more prepared, maybe I'm in a better place, maybe the stars have finally aligned to agree with me more than previous years. All I know is, it's a very exciting time to be alive, and I can't wait to see how much more exciting it gets as my year stretches on.