Into the Black

Remember 1981? Yes, it’s a bit fuzzy at this point, but that was the year that manned spaceflight became normal. On the 21st of April, the Space Shuttle Columbia rocketed into orbit. Over the next 30 years, 135 launches were made by the fleet. For the generations who grew up or were born during this era, astronauts traveling to and living in space (on board the International Space Station) became commonplace. This normalcy hid the difficulty and danger that were behind the curtain.

Rowland White‘s Into the Black recounts the epic effort to design and launch the shuttle. It took nearly as long and was every bit as difficult as the Apollo program. In some ways it was more so: Apollo components had to work once; the Shuttles had to survive the rigors of launch and space over and over.

White recounts how the shuttle program was the final project of the Apollo veterans. It was also a fusion of a canceled military space program – complete with astronauts and launch sites – that would be combined with the civilian side.  Technologies such as reusable rocket engines and protection from reentry were beyond state of the art. The drama that unfolded was every bit as exciting as what was told in From Earth to the Moon and Apollo 13.

Danger was never eliminated, but the later losses of the Challenger and Columbia were not, ironically, cause by failures of the orbiters. None of the shuttles ever failed, repeatedly surviving launch stresses and harsh environments that those of us earthbound cannot imagine.

While the shuttles never flew as frequently as envisioned, nor brought the costs of launch down, history will look back on them as making possible what comes next. We are already seeing the turnover of spaceflight to private companies. The International Space Station that the shuttles enabled is an orbital spaceport on the verge of becoming the staging point for new ventures. The government and politics often got in their own way in opening the frontier, but as Into the Black details, the astronauts of the Space Shuttles swung that door wide open.

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Are We Failing Students by Not Turning Them into Readers?

Thanks to Teacher of YA for reblogging this:

Pages Unbound

Discussion Post Stars

The Benefits of Reading

It’s commonly known among teachers that students who read more or who are read to at home are more successful at school and write more successfully than their non-reading peers.  This probably should not surprise us as, of course, not being able to read at grade level would make studying any subject more difficult.  Furthermore, reading extensively can help students gain a larger vocabulary and become more comfortable with more complex syntaxes.  It can also provide students with models for their own writing and provide them with evidence to support their own arguments when they write.  And, of course, we are now exploring the possibility that reading literary fiction can make a person more empathetic, and help socialize children.

The Depressing Statistics

However, despite the widely-known benefits of reading, all of us know plenty of individuals who do not read and do not like to…

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Publishers Hire “sensitivity readers” to Censor – I Mean Edit – Books

Is it just me, or is there a large slice of the population who no longer recognizes censorship when they see it? Read more here.  Between banning books and revising history, seems to be a lot of this going around.

Maybe we’re all busy with our causes, activism and politics, that we are blowing right by the fundamentals?

Being offended doesn’t give one the right to censor.  Censorship itself is what everyone should find offensive.

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Win AtS for your Kindle

Want a free Kindle copy of Among the Shadows? Of course you do! But you have to answer these three questions from classic sci-fi:

  1. What is the name of the Princess of Mars?
  2. Where is Thongor from?
  3. What planet did Carson Napier travel to?

Use the Contact form to send the answers, and I’ll send the first person who answers all three correctly a copy of my book for your Kindle (Hint: All the answers can be found on this website).

Good luck!

Update: We have a winner! TeacherofYA answered all three correctly:

1. Dejah Thoris is the Princess of Mars, from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom tales.
2. Thongor is from Valkarth (or I would have accepted Lemuria) from Lin Carter’s Thongor of Lemuria fantasy series.
3. While John Carter was on Mars, Carson Napier was on Venus in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Carson of Venus adventures.

Congrats to our winner, and watch for more contests coming soon!

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Death of History

It is said that if we ignore history, we will repeat it. How can we follow this quintessential maxim if we allow people to erase or rewrite history?

Recently, Charlottesville City in Virginia, voted to tear down a statue of Robert E. Lee at a cost of $300,000. Once councilman claimed it was “delusional”  to believe anything different than the “Confederate states had as their primary aim the preservation of a way of life in which enslaved humans.”

No, Councilman, your statement is a rewrite of history.

There were those who wanted to preserve slavery, but Lee was not one of them, he wrote before the war (as quoted by H.W. Crocker III): “In this enlightened age…slavery as an institution, is a moral and political evil…” and “emancipation will sooner result from the mild and melting influence of Christianity than from the storms and contests of fiery controversy.”  Lee would also free his inherited slaves before the Emancipation Proclamation and argue for the South to abolish slavery during the war. Lee was loyal to Virginia, and when it seceded he went “to her defence” but still hoped that “wisdom and patriotism of the nation will yet save it.”

He believed in the United States of America, but also the right that every state understood when they joined the Union: The right to leave. To consider Lee a symbol of racism or slavery is what is delusional. Ignoring history also makes it easy to avoid the question that few every want to ask:

Was there not a better way to end slavery and preserve the Union that didn’t result in the deaths of at least 620,000 Americans (and maybe as many as 850,000)? Continue reading

Categories: Critical Thinking, History | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

8 Heroes of Krynn

Always on the lookout for a new fantasy series, I ran across Dragonlance a few weeks ago. It turns out the series isn’t new, but began way back in 1984 with Dragons of Autumn Twilight. This would spawn nearly 200 books in a shared universe. In the book world, a “shared universe” is a series of books written by multiple authors.

Dragonlance is set in the mythical land of Krynn. Like many “classic” fantasy tales, it is populated with races of humans and other creatures, battles between good and evil, and those who must rise up and decide the fate of the world. I know there are some who look down upon such stories as a “trope” — and I’m sure whatever they are reading is high-level, amazing literature — but the rise of heroes to battle evil is a timeless theme that crosses genres and speaks to our own existence.

What often makes or breaks a story is its characters. Dragons of Autumn Twilight introduces readers to Kyrnn’s most memorable band of friends, whom have already been trough much together before we drop in their world, only to be faced with far greater threats. Book 1 finds the heroes in one dangerous encounter after another — probably reflective of the authors being involved in creating Dungeons & Dragons games. As the series progresses, the epic scope expands across Krynn. Continue reading

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Is Quality in Art Subjective?

Let’s leave writing for a moment and head into the visual arts. Is whether or not a piece of art “good” or “amazing” purely subjective? To a point, perhaps, but particularly in visual and musical arts, there is a clear objective component in their quality. This shouldn’t be surprising: Music is rooted in acoustical physics, art in geometry and the physics of light and color.

How can art be objectively measured? Artist Robert Florczak explains in this entertaining video. What do you think, art or rubbish?

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The End of Shannara

For four decades now, Terry Brooks has penned his epic Shannara fantasy series. Now, he has decided to bring it to a close.

More or less.

Recently announced, he will write the chronicological end of his creation in a series of books. Then he may — or may not — go back and write some books to fill in gaps in the series.

With nearly 30 books in the series thus far, Shannara has become a staple world in the fantasy genre. It emerged at a time when high fantasy fans didn’t have much to choose from. When I had read everything Tolkien had written (which, unfortunately, wasn’t a lot), a friend recommenced Terry Brooks. While some argued his first book, The Sword of Shannara was too much like LotR, the series quickly established itself as an original world. So for Tolkien fans, Brooks provided a land of humans, elves and other creatures that filled the post-Tolkien void.

As a series goes, some of the books are self-contained standalones, though most are trilogies. This makes it easy for new fans to drop into Shannara without necessarily going back to the first book. The books, or groups of books, usually are separated by decades, if not centuries of time. One issue fans of the epic Wheel of Time series have, is that if you started it as a kid, you didn’t finish it until you had kids. Plus, you can’t start at, say, volume 12. On the other hand, I’m sure many Shannara fans have hoped for Brooks to go back and revisit their favorite characters.

I recommend starting with the first book, but regardless where you begin, Shannara is a land that will endure for ages to come.

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Distant Lands and Fantastic Places

One of the main goals of any novel is sending readers to locations real or imagined. What of the real ones, though? Does a writer have to travel to those places before writing an authentic story?

Many writers love traveling the world for research, and this certainly not a bad idea. Fusing your novelist career with that of a world travel would be fun, but isn’t always a feasible option. Especially if you’re writing about some dangerous region or perhaps a real, yet inaccessible place, such as Mars.

The truth is that a writer needs to be able to make a reader believe he or she is somewhere they have never been — whether or not the writer theirself has. In the Information Age where you can learn of any place — though I have learned that other books are often just as, if not more, valuable — any writer should be able to quickly drop a reader into another world.

You always run the risk of a reader who has been to your chosen locales finding a inaccuracy or omission. While a writer should strive for realism, part of writing well is picking the right, and enough, details to paint the mental picture. Going to a historic location in a novel shouldn’t read like a history lesson. Nor should it be a simple laundry list of descriptors.

Stonehenge and Glastonbury Tor are among the places that figure into Among the Shadows, anchoring the fantasy adventure in the real world. One of the opening scenes in Book 2, Awakening, unfolds on Nan Madol, a mysterious and ancient, ruined city in the Western Pacific. While visiting these places would be a fun way to write, not visiting them is a welcome challenge in creation, as much as is the world-building that fantasy and sci-fi genres are known for.

A writer explores to write, a reader reads to explore. Or is it a writer writes what he wants to read, and a reader reads what she wants to write? In either case, a great book should be like that looking glass or wardrobe and send you to another place and time.

Categories: Books, Writing | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Orwell’s Revenge

After President Trump’s advisor, Kellyanne Conway, made an odd comment about “alternative facts,” others quickly noted the similarity to the concept of “newspeak” in George Orwell’s classic, dystopian novel 1984. Newspeak was the language used to control and shape the thoughts of people. To be fair, terms like “fake news” and “alt-right” are also Orwellian, as well as how many in the media and Washington (from both sides) try to manipulate people and thoughts. Thanks to all of this, Orwell’s book, along with similar classics like A Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451, went to the top of bestseller lists.

And that made me laugh.

These are books on how governments, politicians and the media manipulate, control and monitor (Big Brother) the thoughts, beliefs and actions of the people.

Do the politicians and media really want the people reading these books? Do they want you to realize, that on a daily basis, that they have become what the Orwells of the world warned us about?

They may just have opened Pandora’s Box and there’s no closing that.

P.S. I had wondered if people even read these books in school anymore; perhaps these sales show they have not. It is also amusing to see the media and politicians lecturing us on truth, such as Dan Rather, who got himself in trouble for pushing “fake but accurate” news (talk about Orwellian). The media and politics are riddled with truthtwisters – perhaps Orwell will help more people realize this.

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