chris_gerrib: (Default)
Written in Hamburg Airport, posted in Frankfurt's due to the vagaries of Wi-Fi while traveling. Having said that, herewith are my thoughts on The Cruise That Was.

Business Class


After my literally painful flight to Loncon 2014, I decided to splurge on business class flights across the Atlantic. I am here to tell you it’s expensive, but worth every penny. I flew KLM (which is owned now by Air France) into Amsterdam. First place, business class has a separate, faster, check-in line. Then, one gets to sit in the Business Class lounge while waiting. Said lounge at O’Hare is small, but comes with good seats, free pour-your-own drinks and a decent snack selection.

Then on the plane, drinks are free, the seats are comfortable and have massive leg room, and finally lay completely flat! For the first time ever, I slept on a plane! Let me tell you, that four-hour nap does wonders for fighting jet lag. It allowed me to stay up until 10 PM, which meant that I was 90% over jet lag when we boarded the ship.

In Amsterdam, KLM’s hub and a place I had several hour’s layover, the lounge is massive and the food and drink plentiful. Having said that, several people including a pair of native Dutch folks took the train from Amsterdam to Kiel. Given the amount of sitting around time I had, a train might have been cheaper and just as timely. Oh well, live and learn.

The pre-ship hotel and the ship

The night before the cruise, we all stayed at the Hotel Atlantic in Kiel. Some of that time was used for orientation and related administrative tasks, including outlining the ship boarding process. The Hotel Atlantic is a very typical European hotel – small lobby and small rooms. Like many European hotels, the room lights don’t work unless you put a room key in a slot on the wall. (Actually, we discovered on the ship, which did the same thing in their cabins, that any appropriately-sized piece of cardboard works as well.) Being a German hotel, the water service in our meeting rooms was bottled water, half of which were carbonated and strong-tasting mineral water.

We sailed on the MSC Fantasia, visiting the Baltic Sea ports of Kiel (departure / arrival), Copenhagen, Stockholm, Tallin Estonia and St. Petersburg Russia in that order. I was struck by a number of things. MSC is a European line, and service levels are lower than what you’ll see on Royal Caribbean. Some of this is staffing – it was rare to see all bars open and those that were tended to be short-staffed. The casino never had staff to use more than 50% of their tables. (Oh, BTW, I made over 150 Euros on this trip at the casino.)

The ports were also “interesting.” At Kiel when we left we were docked in town, as we were in Tallin. In Copenhagen, Stockholm and St. Petersburg, we were docked at some distance from the tourist sites at what felt like temporary or seasonal installations. Since the Americans at St. Petersburg couldn’t leave the ship unless on an excursion, this was less of an issue, but at the other sites, it was a pain. Lastly, we debarked at a different terminal in Kiel (the ferry terminal) and the process took place in tents.

Actually, a word on the debarkation “process.” We had the yellow debark group, which was supposed to leave at 9:15. Due to issues with luggage offloading, we didn’t leave until 10. Then, our “process” for getting our luggage was that it was assembled in a tight square and everybody was cut loose to go find their stuff. The mildest term for the “process” would be “group grope.”

Excursions

I signed up for three ship-based excursions. I was generally underwhelmed. All three were whirlwind in nature, and I have taken to referring to the St. Petersburg “walking tour” as the “Saint Pete Deathmarch.” Stopping was verboten. I visited the Vasa Museum in Stockholm (famous sunken ship, raised in the 1950s). All the signs were in English, it was well-laid out, and what she should have done was just say “meet back at place X at time Y, have fun.” Instead I was dismayed to see that the tour guide insisted on marching us through the museum.

At Tallin, I took part in a writing date. One of our instructors led a herd of us into the old town to a very quaint local coffeehouse where we had coffee and wrote. One was then on one’s own to get lunch and/or back to the ship. It was relaxing and much more enjoyable.

Health

Prior to departure, I was fighting my allergies and resultant cough. Said cough was persistently not getting any better, so I finally broke down and saw the ship’s doctor. I was not surprised to get diagnosed with bronchitis. (It happens with me.) I don’t know if it is European medicine or shipboard medicine but the treatment was two ten-minute sessions over as many days with a nebulizer breathing a cortisone concoction. The diagnosing doctor, an Italian woman in her mid-30s, said that “you’re from America and they believe in Z-packs” so she gave me a packet of same. The nurses, all Croatian and fifty-ish, were very helpful. I did have to pay for the treatment, so I will be sending it into my travel insurance.

Writing, Classes and Social

We had two full days at sea, and most of my organized excursions were back in the early afternoon. Thus, I got 5,155 words done on two separate books, facilitated in part by a conversation where I got unstuck and a critique of my older but yet unpublished SF novel. There were several classes which I found useful, and several “writing prompts” sessions which I completely ignored. Although 5,000 words is a very solid week for me, especially since I took the St. Petersburg day off and didn’t even fire up the laptop, several writers turned in 10,000+ word-count weeks.

One of those massive word-crankers was Alexander “Xander” Hacker, my roommate. Due to the fact that I’ve got another week on the Continent, I decided to take a roommate and cut costs. Xander is a nice kid, early 20s, clean-cut Mormon type. He had one irritating trait, namely he didn’t really even attempt to shift his body clock to European time, which meant he was crashed out at times I was up and wanted to move about the cabin and vice versa. Fortunately, I can sleep with a light on so we made it work.

chris_gerrib: (Default)
I've been away from this blog for a while. Once you get out of the habit of posting, you're out of the habit. Herewith, various thoughts.

1) Writing: I have committed writing again, adding nearly 4,000 words to the mystery novel. Based on the comments at my critique session, they were generally good words. More (hopefully) to follow.

2) Marching Morons, Gun Division: Comes news that a Minneapolis cop shot a crime victim through the car door of his squad car. Moreover, the cop was in the passenger side and the victim was talking to his partner through the driver's side window. It seems like the cop had his gun out and finger on the trigger way too soon. Unfortunately, that's called "involuntary manslaughter."

3) Marching Morons, Politics Division: After months of assurances by Donald Trump that nobody from his campaign met with the Russians, we hear that his son, son-in-law and then campaign manager took a meeting with the Russians. Words fail me.

4) Marching Morons, health care division: the wealthy comedian Scott Adams has, in the wake of the failure of the Republican party to repeal Obamacare, been pedaling various solutions to American health care. Conspicuously they all seem to have been conceived in a vacuum, and are completely unaware of the fact that the rest of the world cracked this code a long time ago.
chris_gerrib: (Default)
Guns, Fictional

One of the writers I follow, Tanya Huff, recently released a new book A Peace Divided. It's pseudo Mil-SF, in that the lead characters are ex-military who serve as a SWAT team for the interstellar police. It's an entertaining read.

However, in Huff's fictional world, civilians are completely disarmed. I've had issues with that before, in that a society that can repair toasters can make guns. Here, she's gone to even more extremes - her ex-military types literally do not have the word "pistol" in their vocabulary! All guns are long guns. I like the story, but this I don't buy.

Guns, Real

Readers of this blog know that I recently purchased a Ruger LCR. This "light carry revolver" is, as advertised, light. With full-power .38 ammunition, it's frankly painful to shoot. At my dad's recommendation, I purchased some Hornady Critical Defense bullets. These have lighter recoil and are designed for light carry guns. I shot some last night. My LCR still bounces, but it's gone from painful to unpleasant.
chris_gerrib: (Default)
"Learn Your Craft," or how to show one's ass in public.

I was at a neighborhood restaurant over the weekend, and the lady near me ordered Oysters Rockefeller. They were served with Tabasco sauce, as per the menu. The lady found this highly unacceptable, a manager was called, and when Hollandaise sauce or an (in the mind of the customer) substitute was not immediately available our customer told the manager to "learn your craft."

To the great relief of all concerned, the customer left shortly thereafter. There are times and places where getting in high dungeon over a meal in a restaurant is appropriate. When a menu item is served in a timely manner and exactly as described on the menu is not such an occasion.

Writing

So, I got some fiction writing done today. I added a new scene in which we get some backstory about a major character and some unanswered questions. Go me!

Hugos

I have cast my final votes for all Hugo categories I care to vote in. I'm not a graphic novel guy, so I didn't vote there, and I had no opinions on the fan artist, so no votes.
chris_gerrib: (Pirates of Mars)
For the first time since March 29th, I've written fiction! On Tuesday, I attended a writing jam with my writer's group and actually put words on computer!
chris_gerrib: (Default)
Somehow, in the process of writing, I became a lucid dreamer. I recognize that I'm dreaming, and edit my dreams on the fly to make more sense. I should say "sense" because I'm still asleep, and so my logic can be a bit wonky.

For example: Last night I was dreaming that I was riding a horse shirtless on a tropical beach. You know, like they do in all those Sandals commercials. My conscious mind jumped in with "if you do that, you'll get redder than a ripe tomato in an hour." That was lucid point #1. Lucid point #2 occurred immediately thereafter, when I said to myself "hey, this is a dream! I can decide not to get red. I can also decide to loose 20 pounds!" Thus mollified, I rode the beach in peace for a while.

Lucid dreaming - it's not just for breakfast any more.
chris_gerrib: (Default)
I wrote earlier this month that I was a bit stuck on the writing front. I have now gotten somewhat unstuck. Part of what makes mysteries work is that multiple characters need to have Something They Want Hidden. For one of the characters, that's the fact that they killed Colonel Mustard in the drawing room with a candlestick (or whatever works for your story).

For the other characters, this hidden thing doesn't have to be a murder. It doesn't even have to be illegal per se, just something that they don't want revealed. It can help even more if that thing which must be hidden also gives them some combination of motive, means and opportunity to kill Colonel Mustard. (Access to the candlestick and a dislike of Mustard's long-winded stories of the Army in India, for example.)

I have come across just such a motivator. Stolen Valor. For those not clicking through, "stolen valor" is when somebody falsely claims to have been a hero in the military. So, in my WIP, I have a character who is something of a lady's man. Well, what if part of his shtick is "I was a Green Beret in Vietnam" or some such lie?

In my story, the first dead body we find is that of a military veteran. Maybe my vet, suspicious, has done some digging and found out that Mister Green Beret never really served? Even better, in my case, we find that one of his (underage) ex-girlfriends was killed and buried under a shed. Maybe she got rummaging around in his stuff and found something incriminating?

Now I just have to find the time to write all this stuff!
chris_gerrib: (Default)
My radio interview on The Author Show is live! Click here then on my name to listen to it!

//Does happy Snoopy dance!//
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
Life is too short to read books you don't want to read.  I have come to this conclusion again after struggling mightily with Ada Palmer's novel Too Like the Lightning.  The book is full of wonderful concepts, including how a militantly irreligious society deals with a genuine miracle, but I found the writing style impenetrable and the plot too glacial.  Tellingly, while on hiatus from the book, I finished both Scalzi's Collapsing Empire and Joe Zieja's Mechanical Failure.  Sometimes, the book is not for you.  So, this one goes on the shelf and I'm moving on to Alex Well's Hunger Makes the Wolf.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
I'm kind of stuck on the writing front. Part of it is that work has become very distracting as of late, but part of it is I just don't know where I'm going. On the mystery novel, I need a subplot to fill out 20,000 words, but I don't have it. On the SF novel, the "easy" parts that came to me in the shower have been written, now I'm muddling in the middle.

At least I'm not under a contract deadline...
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)

It’s a Monday, and alas I have many things to do today, so in lieu of content have some links:



  1. Ellie Maloney, a writer of my acquaintance, has a new magazine out.  Details by clicking on the link.




  1. Presented without comment – lies my doctor told me: it’s because you’re fat.

  2. You can buy an Irish pub-in-a-box. Read about it here.

  3. Where do you put garbage in paradise? On an island.

chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
Elizabeth Bear being wise on plot.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
In an effort to give Trump a rest, let's talk about another subject of mine - military history. Specifically, why countries build a military. I developed an interest in how a military came to be back when I was in grade school and read (and re-read) a book on how air combat evolved during the First World War. I was (and am) fascinated by the concept of in 4 years going from waving at opposing aircraft to one man shooting down 80 of them.

Then I started reading science fiction, and I noticed that most fictional planets had fairly robust military establishments, which tended to look a lot like either the US military (the good guys) or the Soviet military (the bad guys). At some point, I put the WWI book and these fiction books together, and started to wonder how all these militaries came to be.

The short answer, I discovered, was that a military was built to protect against a specific threat. So, for example, New Zealand, 900 miles from the nearest continent, that being closely-allied Australia, has a tiny military, which just over 11,000 people in it out of a population of 4.7 million. Simply put, they don't need a large military. There is no major threat.

Other nations make a similar decision. Take Mexico, for example. They are the 11th most-populous country in the world, and have the 11th largest economy. They are just ahead of #12, Italy. Yet Mexico spends .677% of its GDP on defense, while Italy spends 1.27 of GDP. Italy, with half Mexico's population, has 350,000 people in the military, vs. Mexico's 280,000. Mexico has three (3) (!!!) fighter aircraft, all ageing F-5s. Italy has 209 fighters.

Here history and strategy play a part. Historically, the Mexican Army has been used to put down internal dissent and support military dictators, from Santa Ana to Porfirio Diaz, so there's a bias against a large military. Second, the chief threat to Mexico is the United States, which since WWII has been the 800 pound guerrilla of militaries as well as an ally. Bottom line - no real reason for a large military.

What I find in most science fiction (John Scalzi and Jack Campbell being notable exceptions) is that the military is the size it is largely for authorial convenience. I also find that it is organized along the principles of whichever military the author is most immediately familiar with.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
I'm back at work after an uneventful weekend. I finished a first draft of a short story for a potential anthology. Also, I broke down and called Allied Garage Door for my defunct opener. They said Saturday that they could if I wanted to fix the opener. I said no, get a new one, which will be installed Wednesday. In the meantime, we're having relatively dry and warm weather, so the car can sit out front.

I lead an exciting life.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
I just finished reading the novel Outlander. In it, a British woman from 1945, a recently-discharged Army nurse, is magically transported back to Scotland of 1743. Adventures ensue, she hooks up with a hunky Scottish guy, nearly gets burnt as a witch, then has the opportunity to go back to her time and her husband - and doesn't.

That was at about the 3/4ths point of the book, and that's where I set it down. Mine is obviously a minority viewpoint - the book and its seven sequels and various tie-ins hit all the bestseller lists and the series is now on TV, so a whole lot of somebodies liked the story.

In fairness, Outlander is well-written and unstinting on the Badde Olde Dayes, but I think the author (and her character) fall victim to nostalgia. Tying this into Brexit and Trump, supporters of both are audibly nostalgic for The Good Old Days that will be brought back.

Two problems. First, the Good Old Days weren't good! Well, unless you were a straight white Protestant male. Second, much of what made the Good Old Days good for those WASPs were things like strong unions, regulation, and in the case of the USA, the fact that the rest of the world had just gotten the snot bombed out of them, leaving the USA untouched. So, it's a nostalgia for a time that Never Was and can't be again.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
There's a type of story where, if the characters involved would have just talked to each other, the problem(s) would have been resolved. I hate those types of stories. Then yesterday In Real Life I resolved a situation in which, had the people involved just talked to each other, my help would not have been needed.

Life is not the same as fiction.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
I hang out a lot with other writers, and in that company the fact that I've written a few books is not particularly noteworthy. But this past week, two "regular people" (a co-worker and my personal trainer's wife) both became aware of my writing habit. They both then expressed surprise, thought it was a big deal, and in one case promised to Buy My Books. (Thanks!)

In order to ease into the new year, herewith are a few links of interest:

1) Heart attack, cardiac arrest, and heart failure are often used interchangeably, but they’re distinct entities.

2) This article based on a book argues that blacks became concentrated in urban areas due to white action in the form of "sundown towns." (Blacks passing through had to be out by sundown.) Although this obviously happened, I also suspect there was a lot of assimilation. There are many Americans who claim "Indian" blood, but that was really "black" blood.

3) Max Gladstone liked Rogue One, but thought it could be better.

4) This Giant Furry Dog Playing With A Kid Will Make Your Day.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
There has been a great disturbance in The Force a recent discussion about the famous SF short story The Cold Equations. You can read it at the link, but the gist of the story is due to a lack of fuel and massive authorial manipulations, a stowaway on a spaceship has to die. Alex Acks thinks its morally reprehensible and shitty writing. Camestros Felapton doesn't like it much either.

I'm willing to concede that the story is flawed, but I want to defend John Campbell's attempt. The story was written in 1954, when SF was in full Space Is Good mode. Campbell wanted a story in which, as in life, bad things happen to good people. He wanted a space version of Jack London's To Build a Fire. (read at the link)

In "To Build a Fire" an unnamed man decides to walk to a different camp in Alaska in the winter. He sets out alone, knowing that its cold but not knowing that it is negative 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The man is told it's too cold to be traveling, but he goes anyway. He gets accidentally wet, tries and fails to start a fire, and dies.

It's a great story, one of the classics of literature. Campbell (I think) wanted something similar. He almost got it with "The Cold Equations." Now, both stories had a ton of authorial manipulations. In "Equations" it's lack of fuel and redundancy. In "Fire" it is the decision to travel and where the man builds his first fire. But because Alaska is a real place, some of those manipulations we as a reader either don't see or are okay with. "Equations" happens in a completely made-up world.

The other big difference, and where "Equations" fails most badly, is moral. In "Fire" the only person that dies is the Man. He made a mistake, one that he had explicitly been warned by the "old-timers" that could be fatal, and paid the price. In "Equations" the "girl" stowaway has no idea she's made a fatal mistake. All she did was ignore one (1) (!) sign that said "Keep Out." What the sign didn't say was "Keep Out or Die."

So there's an opening for us writers - a "To Build A Fire" in space.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
Stuff I found of interest.

A) Jim Wright on Trump's cabinet: "So far we've got The Idle Rich, Billionaires and Bankers, a couple of Evil Doctors, the Soap Queen sister of a mercenary, a Grand Wizard, Mad Dog Mattis, and Caribou Barbie

It's less like Donald Trump building a cabinet ...

... and more like Lex Luthor assembling a League of Super Villains."


B) The title says it all: Democrats, skip the civil war.

C) On stopping gun violence: Ya gotta go after the shooters.

D) I've met the author and I've pre-ordered the book.

chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
Thought #1 - Trump

It seems that many of Trump's opponents assumed he would do what he said he would do, and many of Trump's supporters assumed Trump was exaggerating for effect. Given some of his staff appointments so far, I think the opponents were more correct.

Thought #2 - Grocery Stores

When I first moved up to Chicago, I took to doing my grocery shopping at Jewel's. It was close, cheap and nicer than what I was used to downstate. Well, a couple of months ago a new grocery store, Mariano's, opened up near me. It's much nicer, equally cheap, and has better selection. It's my new grocery store.

Thought #3 - Writing

On Sunday, the plot of a new book came to me as if via dictation. Unfortunately, it's a sequel to a book I haven't found a home for yet.

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