Got home from the beach to find these bad boys waiting for me at the front door.
Got home from the beach to find these bad boys waiting for me at the front door.
Still without internet. Probably won't be back online until Thursday arvo now. One upside, it's forced me to ponder my reading habits. I've been using the new waterproof Kobo for a review when it comes out, but I had a few thoughts about the nature of electronic reading I wanted to think out loud here.
Beeso and I have previously discussed the distracted nature of reading on an iPad. Or rather, my problems with distraction, which he doesn't share.
Back story. I made a decision to stop buying books from Amazon about a year ago. Specifically, to stop buying Kindle titles. I never really used the Beast of Bezos for hard copy titles. I did like the Kindle app, however, and thought the Paperwhite was a good ereader. But my issues with Amazon's business model grew to the point where I couldn't keep supporting them; a decision made easier when they broke their own system with the launch of their com.au site.
I've been using iBooks for about a year. It's not as cheap, and the overall selection is undeniably poor compared to all of the other online bookstores, not just Amazon. But for me, the range of choice in fiction is more than adequate, and the app is a lot more elegant than the Kindle's.
Still, I always had the same problem reading on an iPad. No, not screen glare. I don't read outside. Distraction. Whenever I was in iBooks, there was almost small, remnant part of my attention which was not focussed on the book I was reading. Instead it was flitting over the dozens of apps I knew to be a simple swipe away. Magazines and news sites I could be reading. Aggregators I might profitably trawl. Games I might play. Music to listen to.
A dedicated e-reader (or an old fashioned paperback) render this problem irrelevant of course, and at times I've banned the iPad from my bedside with that in mind. Having the net cut off for the last fortnight, and having the review to write of the Kobo Aura really forced the issue. And raised another one.
A couple of months, maybe even a year ago, I wrote a po-faced retort to Josephine Tovey's essay about her inability to finish any of the books she started reading. I suggested she needed MOAR SPLODEY and less thinky in her reading list. But I think there's more to it than that.
I think distraction is a problem even when the whole world isn't a finger swipe away. Having most of my entertainment options taken from me by those two lightning strikes has not just given me a lot more time to read, it has forced me to spend more time reading. The book I chose to test out the Kobo was Monster Hunter International, by Larry Correia. I picked that up on Murph's recommendation and when I'm finished I'll give it a review too. It's the sort of quality B-List pulp I find hugely enjoyable and usually consume like M&Ms, ie. in lots of short bites.
I've been reading it as I used to read, however, when I had time, in my teens and twenties. Not just a page or two every now and then, but a chapter or three in one sitting.
(Even that's not how I really used to binge read books. I was capable of plowing through hundreds of pages a day. A couple of titles a week. But I was a free man in those days).
Because I've been thinking about the reading experience – remember, Kobo review –
I've been pondering how I might have read this book differently on my iPad. I'd have squeezed in a page or two, here and there, usually late at night when my eyelids were already drooping, with the words skimming across the surface of my mind like dead leaves on a frozen pond, leaving very little trace the next day. Instead, I've been biting off thirty and forty page chunks to chew over in one sitting, often at lunch while I try the Kobo out in a variety of settings.
I honestly believe it's helped me appreciate and enjoy Correia's story more than I would have otherwise. Books are not blogs. They are composed in scenes, and chapters and longer, slower narrative arcs. Not just two hundred word brain farts. To really appreciate a story, we have to let the author tell it at his or her own pace, and if that means you need an hour to fight off the giant stone gargolyes attacking the secret insane asylum for survivors of previous monter attacks, then you need to invest an hour doing just that.
It makes me think I have to find some serious reading time a couple of days each week, and quarantine it from anything that might draw my attention away. And I don't mean the time I already spend reading for work either. That can be up to two hours a day, but it is work, not fun. Study, not relaxation. And unless I'm reading for work, it probably shouldn't be on the iPad anymore.
I was organizing my work files when I came across a series of character work ups for The Disappearance series. Tusk Musso was in there, still carrying all of the baggage we loaded him up with in that 'Build Me a Marine' entry back at JSpace.
And Caitlin. My beloved Caitlin. It was fascinating to read the bio I wrote her before I wrote even a single word of Without Warning. Before I got anywhere near that first line:
The killer awoke, surrounded by strangers.
In my early planning she was more of a 'bionic woman' type, loaded up with inserts and biomods. I stripped all that out, along with a lot of the family history you see here. Her father and siblings, you might remember were much more conventional. Nonetheless, whenever I needed to understand how she might respond to an extreme situation, such as her imprisonment and sexual assault by al Banna, I would return to this document and read it through.
Reading it now makes me want to go back to that series:
Caitlyn awakes in a hospital bed in Paris. She has been taken there along with other protesters who were set up. She sustained a head injury and was scanned. A lesion appears to have formed on her hippocampus, leading to memory problems. The lesion is not related to her head injury.
Name: Caitlyn Monroe
DOB: Sept 1. 1976
Current Appearance: Blonde hair. Grey/green eyes. 5"9. 71kg. Surfer's physique. Long, well muscled legs, unusually powerful arms and shoulders. Calloused hands and sides of feet. Some scarring on left upper thigh. Lower back. Old entry and exit wound right shoulder. Some faded, old defensive scarring on her forearms. Small chip set scar within larger scar tissue mass. She moves with a low centre of gravity and a noticeably feline flow of her limbs. Her resting state is still, almost unnaturally so.
Parents: Father Unknown. Mother. Tamsyn Ozorio. Monroe's mother, a Honolulu hotel cleaner died during childbirth. Turned out by her Brethren family for having sex as a teenager, she won a trip to Hawaii in a Wal-Mart store promotion and stayed there. With no known relatives willing to claim the baby, Monroe became a ward of the state. She was fostered out to a series of homes, staying in none longer than six months. She was a problem child and many of the homes were themselves problematic. At the age of six she was 'adopted' by Echelon and raised by them to become a weapon. She had carers and tutors rather than parents, but the Echelon staff were kind and, with four other Echelon babies, they became her family.
The Echelon Parents, Monroe Cohort: Mary Jane Monroe. 'Mother'. DOB Jul 25, 1970. US Army Lt-Colonel. Psychologist. 'Father' Dave Monroe. US Navy Commander. Psychologist.
Echelon children, Monroe Cohort: Michael, born Aug 2 1996(actual); James. born Feb 3 1998 (actual). Trish. born March 12 1997 (actual). Julianne. born October 3 2000 (actual).
The Echelon Program.
First mooted in the late 1990s, but not activated until late 2002, the Echelon Program took a small number of state wards from a young age and 'adopted' them into Echelon families. They were to be raised, as the children of Sparta were once raised, to be weapons. In their early years the Monroe Family were 'home schooled' near two military bases where Dave Monroe worked as an Army psyops specialist. The Monroe children grew up around the children of other military personnel, forming friendships with them, playing with them, leading otherwise normal lives. They were told from an early age that they were adopted, explaining their age cross overs and physical dissimilarities. James and Julianne, for instance were olive skinned and dark haired, where Caitlyn blonde and fair.
In addition to their normal schooling however, they received much additional tuition. Firstly in foreign languages. After school, five days a week, tutors would train them in Arabic (Mondays), Chinese (Tuesdays), Spanish (Wednesdays), Russian (Thursdays), French (Fridays). On Saturdays all conversation took place in one of those languages, on a rotating basis. When the children started high school, German and Japanese were added to their curriculum.
They also received intense physical training, although it was never sold to them as 'training'. They were simply raised to believe that everyone should play a lot of sport. Their sports included swimming, cross country orienteering, martial arts, gymnastics, pistol and rifle shooting. From as early as they could recall, their father and his army friends would take all of the children hunting. They were encouraged to stalk, kill, and butcher their prey. Occasionally they even traveled overseas to hunt. Foxes in England. Wild boar in Australia. Bears in Canada. One these trips they would occasionally meet other Echelon children, often described as 'cousins' with very similar backgrounds and skills to their own. Caitlyn had a winter hat made out of white seal fur from a pup she had clubbed and stripped herself on one such trip.
As the children grew they came to socialise increasingly with their 'cousins' and less and less frequently with anyone else. Their training became harder and more dangerous. Their academic lessons more challenging. From the age of ten, they began formal instruction in civics, with an emphasis on the idea of public service. At fifteen they were told the meaning of their lives and what was intended for them. They were shown a video of the Twin Towers attack, and later atrocities. They were asked if they wanted to help stop that sort of thing ever happening again. Of course they did. Their conditioning was akin to that of a suicide bomber, but it was life long and conducted with the full resources of a hyper power, and under the tutelage of psyops experts. From the age of sixteen to nineteen the Echelon children undertook the equivalent of an undergrad degree in espionage. They were assessed and their various strengths analysed by the programs administrators. In spite of their unusual upbringing the children, or young adults by now, were not automatons. They were individuals with their own foibles, strengths and weaknesses. Their controllers gradually came to assign them different roles based on their individual talents and inclinations.
Caitlyn Monroe stood out for a number of reasons. She was unusually intelligent, with a tendency to grow bored if not continually challenged. She had been accelerated at least eighteen months ahead of her age cohort in the Echelon academic program because of this. Program controllers speculated that her unknown father may have been the source of her academic abilities. She had a natural acuity for languages beyond even the norm in the Echelon cohort, which was itself a statistical outlier because of the way the children had been trained so intensively in languages from an early age.
She was off the scale in a number of physical indicators. Again, the Echelon children were stronger, faster and had much grater endurance than the norm, because of their life long training. But within this group, Caitlyn also stood out. Her strength, her fast twitch musculature, her cardio vascular health, her eye hand coordination, pain thresholds etc were all significantly greater than her peers. She could have competed for a men's gold medal in the Olympic Decathlon.
Psychologically she returned high scores along both empathic and competitive axes of personality matrices from an early age. In sports and games she exhibited high drives towards dominating opponents, but without objectifying them. Indeed, as she grew older, her ability to empathise with opponents became an advantage she deployed with great effect. Whether playing chess, paintball or judo, she was better able to 'read' an opponent than anyone else in the progam. In later role playing exercises, she demonstrated a unusual willingness and ability to blend into any group, to establish trust, and to betray it, without a qualm if necessary.
She was emotionally self-contained, not nearly as giving as her 'bothers and sisters', and not needing physical or emotional contact to the same extent. Nevertheless, her empathic nature allowed her to understand others needs in this regard, and although she was naturally happiest with her own company, she was able to 'swtich on' with friends, family members, targets etc.
At the end of her 'undergrad' period she was allocated to a specialist training cadre for assassins.
Job: Killer. Caitlyn Monroe is an employee of the Office of Special Clearances and Research (OSCAR), an executive unit of the Echelon Program. Her pay and conditions are equivalent to a US Ambassador. She specialises in deep penetration and multiple target preperation. Rather than individual targets, she is assigned to target clusters, such as independent cells or leadership cadres. She penetrates the target group, gains their trust, and sets them up for sanction by OSCAR. Her operations are deniable. She sets up cells to be wiped out by rival factions. Money handlers can be sold out to criminal interests. Recruiters from radical mosques set upon by neofascist street thugs. Sometimes however, she is required to take direct action herself, and on those occasions she will simply 'disappear' entire clusters. Killing them all and organising for disposal.
Home: Her only home is in the Echelon reserve, five thousand acres of woodland in northern California, at the centre of which is a small compound a little like Camp David where the Echelon cohorts can gather for family events. Other than that she moves from one safe house to the next, or lives wherever her 'cover' might take her.
Interests: Caitlyn surfs, a legacy of her time in California. She keeps three short boards at the compound and when on vacation (six weeks a year) travels to surf breaks with her brother Michael. She has an extensive memorystick library of surfing videos, going right back to Endless Summer and OSCAR subscribes to three surfing magazines on her behalf. She wants desperately to take on the big wave riders at Mavericks etc, but is restrained from doing so by OSCAR, because very few women have ever ridden those breaks, and she would quickly find herself on the cover of half the surfing mags in the world if she did.
She cooks. As part of her language training, she was frequently exposed to the cuisines of the country's whose languages she was learning. She took French cooking lessons in French. She worked as a kitchen hand in an Italian restaurant. Through learning about the cuisines she also learned about the histories and culture of the subject countries. She can relax when cooking and at family gatherings she has become the kitchen boss, taking over from her father, Dave. Mary-Jane was a woeful cook. The children's meals were often prepared by their language tutors, as part of the training.
Fears: Abandonment. Does this gel with her self contained lonesomeness? Or does it explain it? Perhaps she cuts herself off as an insulation against abandonment.
In her early years in the program both tendencies were noted. Caitlyn was content to be on her own, and spent much of her free time reading or playing by herself. But twice, when she thought she had been lost by the family she displayed neither fear, nor paralysis, but rage. Observed by program analysts, she was later questioned about the incidents, one at shopping mall, the other at a fair ground. They concluded that in fact she had suffered an intense fear reaction to being 'lost', but had referred the emotion into a furious rage. All of the Echelon children display understandable sensitivity to abandonment issues, but when tested most of them exhibited normal 'fear' responses, rather than intense anger.
Prejudices: No known prejudices. The Echelon children were raised to judge people and situations on the merits.
Desires: Autonomy. Like all of the Echelon cohort, Caitlyn has a strong desire to please her adoptive mother and father, a programmed urge which was later transferred to her controllers, without lessening any attachment he felt to her parents. Unlike her siblings and other Echelon cohorts in both the US and partner countries, Caitlyn displayed a notable desire for personal autonomy from her earliest days in the program. Translated into adult behavior this manifested itself in such mundane ways as a stated preference for living alone during her college years, and individual leisure activities such as surfing. More significantly she tested high for an ability to work alone, under extreme duress, as long as she had confidence in her controllers.
Attitudes: Caitlyn consider 99% of men to be undate-able, but acknowledges that she herself falls into this category. She has an almost naïve faith in the idea of one true love, but a realistic appraisal of the chances of meeting him. About three billion to one.
She hates commercial television, but loves romantic comedies and maintains a large collection of them on stick.
She reads cookbooks, popular histories and biography.
She hates exercise classes but loves training on her own in a gym.
Her favorite city is Florence.
Her favorite season is autumn.
She loves airport lounges because there’s nothing to do but relax and wait.
Her favorite snack is coffee and a Spanish donut, which she indulges in once a month.
Otherwise she tries to eat only organic foods when not on a job.
She has a contraceptive subdermal insert.
She hates cigarette smoke, but quite likes the smell of pipe tobacco.
She does not vote.
When at home with her family she likes to play board games and cards.
She describes her religion as frisbeetarian, but she is quietly Catholic, mostly non-practicing.
Her room at the compound still contains many of her childhood toys and she is prone to tantrums if it is disturbed while she is away.
Friends: Caitlyn has no friends outside of Echelon. She surfs with an Australian girl, from another Ecehlon cohort. And when in London she always catches up with a financial analyst, another woman, from the UK program. She has no close male friends among her contemporaries, but her unarmed combat instructor, a former marine, is something akin to a favorite uncle. Now retired, he lives in Florida, and she sends him emails and cards via Echelon. He is a friend of her fathers and sometimes travels out to the compound for holidays. A football fan, she has taken him to a couple of games, including a rugby world cup in France in which the American team was beaten 113 to 6 by Scotland.
Enemies: Her enemies are mostly dead.
I saw Le G had been gonged this week for contributuions to American Letters, and that she'd given some sort of kick arse acceptance speech. But I didn't realise how kick arse until I read it.
She gives Amazon a kicking, champions SF and Fantasy writing, and makes you think you really wouldn't want to go up against her in a dark alley without a lot of fire support:
Thank you Neil, and to the givers of this beautiful reward, my thanks from the heart. My family, my agent, editors, know that my being here is their doing as well as mine, and that the beautiful reward is theirs as much as mine. And I rejoice at accepting it for, and sharing it with, all the writers who were excluded from literature for so long, my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction—writers of the imagination, who for the last 50 years watched the beautiful rewards go to the so-called realists.
I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality.
Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship. (Thank you, brave applauders.)
Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial; I see my own publishers in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an ebook six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience and writers threatened by corporate fatwa, and I see a lot of us, the producers who write the books, and make the books, accepting this. Letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish and what to write. (Well, I love you too, darling.)
Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.
I have had a long career and a good one. In good company. Now here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want—and should demand—our fair share of the proceeds. But the name of our beautiful reward is not profit. It’s name is freedom.
Little help here? My mother's Bookclub is doing a modern classic for their next pick, and Mum needs to choose the book. She asked me, but I only read books that go BOOM, or nonfiction titles for work. So I'm of no use.
I did think Evelyn Waugh's Scoop would be a good choice. But Mum would like a few more.
So, something published in the last, say, 100 years, that's a recognised classic, and a bit humorous.
Anyone got anything?
Haven't read this one yet but like Three Body Problem, it's on my Xmas list. Military Sci-Fi doesn't get much lovin' from the genre community, outside of the Baen lounges and a few outposts such as the Burger.
War Stories looks a solid anthology, with some of the contributers having served in one military branch or another. I'm not sure if there's an Australian distributor for the hardback, which comes from Apex in the US. (Note, I earlier identified Apex as a UK company, but Murph put me to rights). If not, the ebook is definitely the way to go. Five bucks, instead of thirty.
It's got a near perfect score on GoodReads and a nice write up here:
Norwich University's Andrew Liptak has pulled together — along with his coeditor, Jaym Gates — a collection of lean, absorbing and well-executed prose that was authored, in part, by those who have experienced war firsthand or have a working familiarity with military life.
Accordingly, War Stories places the emphasis less on alien battlegrounds and futuristic military gadgets than on very human, or humanlike, soldiers who wage war, and the toll it exacts on their psyches.
Escapist fiction it's not.
"The point of this anthology was not to champion war but to stand back and look at it on a broad canvas, and do so in a way that people find interesting and entertaining," explains Liptak, a 2007 Norwich grad who currently works as student-services adviser for the military university's online graduate program.
War Stories is divided into four sections: "Wartime Systems," "Combat," "Armored Force" and "Aftermath."