Not enough time…

I wish I was writing right now. Grrr!!! Freaking life is too busy!

Maybe this is why I write so much when I do sit down and actually do it. All of that creative energy and whatnot pent in for so long, when it comes out, it comes out in a flood.

Maybe. Maybe not.

Good news! I’ve been getting a lot of emails from people interested in the Quark writing group recently. Looks like we’ll have quite a meeting this Saturday! Plenty of new people!

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin

I just today finished this wonderful piece of science fiction.  Ursula Leguin’s The Left Hand of Darkness is a science fiction classic and an excellent piece of writing.  Although it’s pace was much slower than what I’m used to, I enjoyed it very much.

It tells the story of a man named Genly Ai, who is an envoy from the Ekumen, a sort of confederation of planets, to an independent world known as Winter.  His mission is to convince the people of this world to join the Ekumen in alliance.  Because the Ekumen doesn’t want to make mistakes in reaching out to new worlds, he was sent alone and unarmed, the first man from another world to visit this planet.

He finds a very strange race of human beings on this planet.  Apparently, several thousand years ago, the planet was used as a sort of laboratory where experiments were performed on human sexuality.  The result was a colony of people who are neither male nor female, but instead have a periodic sexual cycle, where for one or two days every lunar month, they come into “kemmer” and develop working sexual organs–sometimes male, sometimes female.  After the outside worlds lost interest in the experiment, they left the colony to itself, and over thousands of years of isolation it developed into its own complex civilization.

The planet Winter is in a deep ice age, and everything in the Gethanian’s culture (that’s the name of the people of this world) revolves around both their peculiar reproductive biology and the severe weather in which they live.  Their cities are designed for winters that drop dozens of feet of snow, and their culture is very hospitable and welcoming of strangers.  The people are generally very passive; they never drive their vehicles faster than 10 or 15 miles per hour, people live in the same villages and towns where they were born without really caring much for the outside world, and scientific innovation progresses at a very slow pace.  There are, however, two major countries on this world, and as Genly Ai starts his mission, the leaders of these countries are preparing for war.

It is a tale of a strange, exotic world, with a very deep mystical and religious structure, and many interesting ramifications from the unique biology of its people.  It is also a tale of political intrigue and xenophobia.  The plot is not all that complicated, but there are a couple of interesting twists.  However, towards the beginning, Genly visits a hermitic sect of religious sages who have the ability to foretell the future, and learns how the story will basically end, so you really don’t have to do a lot of guessing.

That ends up to be a good thing, though, because it keeps you from thinking too much about the plot so that you’re free to focus on the beautiful way that LeGuin tells the story.  Her descriptions are wonderful, and paint a very beautiful picture of the world and its culture.  The focus of the book is not so much on the alien technology, or the history of the Ekumen or Winter, or even on Genly as a character, but on the culture of the Gethenians and how Genly interacts with them.  In the end, he comes to feel closer to the alien culture than his own.

The concept of the Gethenian sexual cycle is fascinating, though I don’t necessarily agree with all of LeGuin’s conclusions.  The way she describes it, it’s not obscene at all; in fact, she does a remarkably excellent job discussing sexuality in her work.  Other pieces of Science Fiction tend to use sex and sexuality as a way to thrill or entertain the reader (or, failing that, the writer), and usually it ends up being puerile and shallow.  But LeGuin approaches it entirely from a cultural perspective, to answer “what would a culture of people with this peculiar biological cycle look and feel like?” I found it mostly believable, though I disagreed with the idea that without a constant libido, mankind would not be very aggressive or innovative.  However, that didn’t really take away much from reading her book.

I’d rate this book an eight out of ten.  I loved the journeys that Genly went on, especially towards the end when he and one of the aliens traveled together across the frozen waste to escape to safety.  The descriptions were wonderful and beautiful, and I could feel like I was making the journey myself.  There isn’t a lot of action in this story, but it makes up for it in depth and in the very thorough conceptualization of this wonderfully alien culture.

2,000 words and some thoughts on the characters

I got out of classes today at 3 pm and had this really strange sensation. I wanted to go anywhere but the place where I was. It was very wierd. All through my last class, I’d been watching the clock, counting down the minutes, and when the time finally came, I still felt really cramped. So, naturally, I headed right over to the library and worked on my story.

I think it helped. I made good progress. It took more time than I was expecting, but I spat out about 2,000 words and I’m really excited to keep working on it. I just got through the scene where Leila and Ian meet each other for the first time. Now, Leila gets back at the women who abused her, Ian cluelessly follows her until she takes him back to the kingdom.

I’ve got Leila and Aaron’s character figured out fairly well, I think. They tend to match some archetypes that I’m pretty familiar with. Aaron is kind of like the gritty, reckless fighter pilot / mechanic type guy, the kind who has a magic touch with machines and spaceships, who shoots first and asks questions later, who talks and laughs in a brash, unrestrained way, and who has a fierce loyalty to his friends. He’s kind of like Starbuck from BSG, or maybe Hagrid (in some ways, but not all). Leila is an adventurous, strong, self-willed woman who has a lot of curiousity, an optimistic self-confidence, and a clever mind. She’s kind of like Mulan, or maybe Yuffie (ha, since I’m listening to the new FF7 album from ocremix).

However, I really don’t know very much about Ian’s character. He’s still a mystery to me. That’s not very good, because I really need to know who he is if I’m going to tell his story. He doesn’t seem to fit into any stereotypes that I know of, though in some ways I imagine him to be like myself before my mission. His greatest strength is that he’s got a very strong sense of justice and mercy, of what is right, etc. His greatest weakness is his own self-doubt. He has talents that he doesn’t know anything about.

Here is his story, as I imagine it now: He was born on a beautiful planet that was destroyed by the Naimechs when he was a child. He and his mother escaped and became refugees, while the rest of his family died. Soon afterwards, his mother died, and he was taken in by the government. He went through the military academy and found a home in the military. He was trained as a lower level technician and basically spent most of his late teens and early twenties going from battleship to battleship without anyone noticing him. He’s comfortable with that, and is basically a yes man, content to live in his little sphere without any interruptions or disturbances. However, he gets chosen for this mission to the lost colony world of Nova Salem, which completely throws him out of his comfort zone since he’s the chief navigator. When the ship gets hit by an sort-of EMP and he gets stranded basically alone on the surface, every barrier he’s built to keep his life from falling apart basically breaks down, and the real man emerges. He’s revered by the natives as a powerful religious figure, and eventually comes to be an ambassador for that world. He goes through a number of crises, where his true leadership talent and strong sense of right and wrong help him to find his way through them. He also comes to have a greater capacity to love, to serve others, and basically becomes an uncorrupted hero.

The story is basically about how he grows from being a nobody to a hero, by finding out that he had the capacity the whole time. It’s about more than that, of course, but that’s one of the key parts. The problem is that I don’t really understand him on a gut level–I don’t have this idea in my head of who he is and how he’d respond if we were just hanging out and doing stuff together. I don’t have a real pattern for him, and it’s hard to start from scratch.

Oh well. If you have any suggestions, I’d like to hear it. Other than that, this story is progressing surprisingly well.

Cool writing music

Ocremix came out with a new album.  This time, it’s based on the soundtrack for Final Fantasy VII.  Like all of their music, it’s completely free.

The arrangement for the JENOVA theme has got to be one of the best takes on this excellent piece of Nobuo Uematsu’s work that I’ve seen yet.  Soft, but still retaining the tension of the original, with an excellent techno beat.  Just right for zoning out the outside world when you’re trying to write.

Here’s the link to the album’s website: Final Fantasy VII: Voices of the Lifestream.

Awesome Quark Meeting!

So, we had the first meeting of the Quark writing group yesterday, and it went very well! I was a little bit nervous, since I’m definitely a newcomer to this club (I only joined up with it last winter, whereas most of the core members have been around for four or five years!) and not so sure how to lead things. It went very well, though! I think that just about everyone got some really good feedback, and it didn’t seem that anyone’s feelings were hurt, so that’s good!

Gamila and Jakeson were there, now as a married couple (yeah, the writing group’s marriage statistics are so high they’d make most BYU bishops jealous!), Drek, Dragonswriter and Asyr (who I don’t remember meeting last year, so it was good to meet them), and a new guy named John, who heard about the club through Joel (who showed up a little later). He’s an engineering major, so it looks like he’ll know something about physics and how realistic/unrealistic are the elements of sci fi technology in any given piece. I learned from Jakeson not to mention Ceasar in any of the meetings, but on the flipside if any of us need to know anything about the Roman empire, we have a resident expert. I think that we’ve also got quite a few experts on midieval weaponry, judging from the feedback I got last year from my story The Clearest Vision.

I thought that Drek’s piece in particular was very good. It was the first of three parts in a short story he’s writing for a contest deadline this month. Maybe some of the old timers have read it before. It starts out with a backcountry vet and his goth assistant who get a very strange visitor. The visitor drops off a humanoid/canine creature the size of a man, and asks him to operate on it. It’s got this real sense of mystery and some wonderful tension in it. At one point, the strange creature manipulates the vet’s emotions and makes him feel this intense fear. It was pretty cool to read. I’m looking forward to the rest of the story!

Joel also is a part of Inscape now, and he said they’re looking for submissions. They’re not a paying market, but it sounds like a great way to start getting published! I think I’m going to send out my short story The Clearest Vision to them, since it didn’t win anything in the AML short story contest and I don’t see it having much of a broader appeal beyond the realm of Mormon society (although I could try sending it to some Christian publishers, so long as I can find some that don’t outright reject the doctrine of the pre-existence. Muslim publications, maybe? Dunno. I’ll try with the Mormons first and see how it goes).

The feedback I’ve gotten from the boards is that there are several members of the group who can only do Saturday mornings, so it looks like that’s what we’re going to be doing. I’m thinking about alternating between Tuesdays and Saturdays, since that seems to be what we’ve done in the past. I’ll schedule it tonight and send up the email.

We do need new members, so if anyone out there would like to join us or knows someone who would, send me an email! I’ve put up several fliers around campus, and I’ve gotten a couple of emails with some interested people. We’ll see how it goes.

So, things are going well, and I hope that they only get better!