Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Racing the Wind

I was tempted to call this post "For the glory of the skies," which is the next line of the hymn "For the beauty of the earth" that I used two posts back. But although the skies--or at least the wind--are a large part of my subject, the sea is almost as important. Normally I would say as important, but when I see a sailboat zipping along at almost 50 miles per hour with only three small points of contact with the water, I think the wind has a greater influence on it.

The America's Cup, a sailing race started in 1851 in England, is being held in San Francisco this year. It has changed a lot since 1851. The race isn't held at regular intervals; it's held whenever another country issues a challenge to the country that won the previous race and currently holds the cup. The yacht America won the first race in 1851, taking home what was then called the "100 Guinea Cup." The cup was renamed "America's Cup" after the yacht that had won it. The US won 25 challenges before losing the cup to Australia in 1983, and by then the name was pretty well established.

If horse racing is "the sport of kings," the America's cup is the sport of billionaires and/or large corporations. The current defender is referred to as Oracle Team USA, and the other teams are Artemis Racing (Sweden), Luna Rossa (Italy), and Emirates Team New Zealand.

An interesting feature of this competition is that the defender, subject to agreement from the official challenger, gets to make a lot of the rules. One of the major things covered by the rules is boat design, and the boats they're using now are not traditional yachts. A yacht used to have only one hull. The Oracle boat that won in 2010 had three. This time they're down to two hulls (a catamaran), but instead of regular sails, they have a wing, something like an airplane wing pointing up. There is a smaller sail called a jib in front of the wing, but New Zealand beat Italy on July 21, despite losing their jib in the third of seven legs of the race, so it is possible to handle the boat without it. The boats are beautiful to watch, especially when their speed gets above 20 knots, both hulls come up out of the water, and it's hard to say whether the crew is sailing the boat or flying it. Check out their YouTube channel. Not only do they have beautiful video clips, but they also broadcast the races live.

The really interesting thing about the design is that these boats can sail faster than the wind when they're sailing upwind. Downwind, they can go about twice as fast as the wind behind them.

They're racing the wind, and they're winning the race.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Serial Writing

I'm currently reading my first Kindle Serial: INDEXING, by Seanan McGuire. I'm enjoying it tremendously. The Index of the title is the Aarne-Thompson Folktale Types and Motif Index, which I remember well from a folklore class I took some years ago (about the time I wrote the short story Shadowlands, my version of the Orpheus myth). It's surprising how many variations there are for  the common fairy tales we grew up with--and that's before Disney gets hold of them.

So far I've received five out of an estimated twelves episodes (I can always hope that she'll write more). I love what she's doing with the story; the biggest problem is that I reach the end of each episode asking "what happens next?" and have to wait two weeks for the answer.

I wrote my first novel, CHANGING FATE, as a serial, but it was nothing this formal. I had a short story that I wrote for Marion Zimmer Bradley's anthology SWORD AND SORCERESS 3,  and I was writing "what happens next" in the hopes of turning it into a decent novel. I'm better at short stories, but I had a reason to write a new chapter each week. Madeline L'Engle was a friend of mine, and this was the summer that her husband was dying. So I mailed her a chapter every week, hoping they would serve as a pleasant distraction from her daily life. By the time he died, I had a novel. DAW Books published it in 1994, and I dedicated it to Madeleine and Hugh. Since then I have written and sold 29 short stories and edited 11 anthologies, but I am still trying to finish MENDING FATE, the second novel in the series. I think I'm on my sixth draft. I wonder if it would work better if I wrote it as a series of short stories....

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

For the Beauty of the Earth

I'm currently re-reading Nalini Singh's Psy-Changeling books (I'm on at least my fourth reading of the latest, Heart of Obsidian). In her books she credits the Changelings with saving the earth's environment, while the humans are the ones who produce art and music. In our world, unfortunately, humans are going to have to save the environment--unless the dolphins are ready to take over the job.

There's a lot of news these days about climate change, there's a holiday called Earth Day, and in church I keep hearing about responsible stewardship of the earth (the idea that God gave us dominion over it seems to be out of date). There's talk of the damage to the ozone layer and the garbage patch floating somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. I live in San Francisco, so I'm expected to sort things into recycling, compost, and garbage almost everywhere I go: home, museums, movie theatres, and even McDonald's. (It would be nice if all those places could agree on exactly what constitutes compost and/or recycling, but I suppose it's a work in progress.)

The America's Cup, being held in San Francisco this summer, is deeply concerned not only with the earth but also with the ocean. It has a Healthy Ocean Project and is committed to "Sustainability." My first encounter with their notion of sustainability, as enforced by Security at the entrance to the America's Cup Park on opening day, convinced me that somebody should be committed. There are items that they refer to as "single-use plastic bottles." I have a plastic Coke bottle into which I pour the contents of an aluminum can of Coke before I put it in my tote bag or if I'm using it next to a computer. I spilled soda on a computer keyboard once. That was more than enough. This is most emphatically not a single-use bottle, but the security guard told me I would have to throw it out before I entered the venue. This meant discarding a perfectly good plastic bottle (after I had chugged down its contents) into the unsorted trash can on the city sidewalk outside the venue, from whence it might conceivably migrate to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Then, of course, I needed to buy a new plastic bottle of  Coke on my way home to replace the one he had made me throw away. This did not strike me as ecologically sound at all. Apparently other people felt the same way, because now there are large blue recycling bins at the entrance where you recycle the bottle after they make you give it up. I suppose every little bit of progress helps.

Humanity, however, has a long way to go. I was reminded of this when I stopped at the market on the way home today and saw what the man in front of me was buying: a pack of cigarettes, a bottle of vodka, and a large plastic bottle labelled "Smart Water." As my research tells me that this is filtered tap water with small amounts of minerals (electrolytes) added to improve the taste, I wouldn't call it smart. Now if somebody came up with bottled water that made you smart enough to pay attention to what you were doing to the earth.... I think there may be a story idea there.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

From Real Life to Fiction

I believe that all ideas for fiction come from real life. After all, where else would we get them? Real life is what we know. One can, of course, argue in favor of divine inspiration, but that's included in my view of real life: "all things visible and invisible." Some ideas are drawn deliberately from real life, but most are filtered through the writer's subconscious, which can produce some very strange stories indeed.

The fact that something resembles a real person or entity, however, does not mean that particular reality was necessarily the source. Correlation is not the same as cause and effect. Sometimes ideas just seem to be in the air, and different writers will write about the same idea at approximately the same time.

For an example of cause and effect: I once contributed to an anthology, In Celebration of Lammas Night, based on Mercedes Lackey's filk song Lammas Night. Nineteen writers started from the same place, but the stories were as individual as the writers. Misty's story, Hallowmas Night, and mine, Midsummer Folly, are both available as eBooks, if you want to see how much two people can diverge from a single idea. The song serves as the cause, and the stories are the effect.

An example of correlation would be the Free Amazon/Renunciate Guild Houses in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover novels The Saga of the Renunciates (The Shattered ChainThendara House, and City of Sorcery) and the Beguines. Somebody once sent Marion a copy of a paper which referred to "Marion Zimmer Bradley's unacknowledged debt to the Beguines." The reason this "debt" was unacknowledged was that Marion had never heard of the Beguines. She derived her Guild House rules from the Rules used in Christian convents. If you are looking for a way for a large group of women to live together in relative harmony, convents provide a model that has worked for many centuries.

In fiction, especially science fiction and fantasy, something may walk like a duck and quack like a duck without actually being a duck.