ALL YOU ZOMBIES, ROBERT HEINLEIN

Time travel makes my brain go “eek.” This is a compliment. Not many things make my brain do back flips and somersaults. Time travel is an impossible concept I cannot understand because it is inherently incomprehensible. Therefore, I love it.

This review contains spoilers, so if you’ve never read this, you might want to stop now and allow yourself to be surprised.

I first read this story by Robert Heinlein long ago as part of a compilation of his classic short stories. After all these years, it remains on the top of the heap of time travel tales. I couldn’t remember its title, so it took me a while to find it. It is called “All You Zombies.”

Heinlein All You Zombies

In a strange infinite loop, a baby girl is mysteriously dropped off at an orphanage in Cleveland in 1945. “Jane” grows up lonely and dejected, not knowing who her parents are, until one day in 1963 she is strangely attracted to a drifter. She has a brief passionate relationship with him and becomes pregnant.

The stranger disappears.

During a weird and complicated birthing, Jane’s doctors discover she actually has two complete sets of sex organs. With her life on the line, the doctors change her from female to male. Jane is now a man. Then …. a mysterious stranger kidnaps her baby leaving Jane a man and childless.

Depressed, lost, he becomes a drunk and a drifter. He eventually, meets a young woman in a bar, who he impregnates during a brief affair. The story contains even more complexities, involving the Time Corps and a bartender. Throughout, everything continues moving forward and backward in time.

Read it, and get your own brain in a twist.

The story is a paradox, impossible yet structured with its own internal logic that you can neither reject nor accept. At which point, my brain goes “Eek!!” Jane is everyone. Everyone is Jane. She is her family: tree, trunk, branches and roots.

I found this amazing diagram on the Heinlein Society’s web page. They have lots of other cool stuff too and if you’re a fan, take a look. You won’t be disappointed.

all-you-zombies-heinlein-time-twisterThe circular logic combined with the impossibility of the sequence where the same person is mother, father and child forever in an infinite loop — the snake eating its tail — is deliciously mind-blowing. You can get it for your Kindle from Amazon for $1.25, or as part of an anthology of Heinlein short stories. There are several listed on Amazon, new and used.

Heinlein did much of his most creative writing in these early short stories. His later novels are better known today, especially Stranger In a Strange Land. The short stories have been forgotten by many people, but are well worth your time. Most were written for the science fiction fanzines — newsprint magazines that were the primary outlets for sci fi until the genre broke into mainstream literature in the 1960s. Not only Heinlein, but all the classic great science fiction authors started their careers writing for the fanzines.

I’ve read many hundreds of time travel books and stories over more than 50 years of loving science fiction. But this one, this story, has stuck firmly in my brain as the ultimate paradox where the past, present and future come together.

All You Zombies is my favorite for good reason. It’s unforgettable. I promise you will never forget it either.

NINIANE – THE LADY OF THE LAKE

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TALLHWCH – The pursuit of history

The first mention of either the Lady of the Lake or Ninian (Niniane, Vivian, etc.) is to be found in the late work Prose Merlin.  Her character remains much the same through to Sir Thomas Malory, who simply makes the story more complex.  In all the stories that name her Ninian is a fully developed character.  She is the original owner of Arthur’s second sword and later becomes Merlin’s pupil.

However, as with many aspects of the Arthurian literary world, there are serious gaps in reasoning with her story, and these gaps suggest a very different origin for her.  For instance, Merlin somehow knows she will betray him, but teaches her anyway.  The romances explain that he does so because he loves her, but that sounds like more of a rationalization of something not understood than an historical fact that is.

The end of her story is that Niniane does trap Merlin in a cave the moment her studies are over.  He is left there, alive (again, no serious explanation).  It certainly is not out of malice for Arthur.  Ninian takes over as his counselor for the remainder of his reign and does her best to help him.  She is also one of the four women who takes him to Avalon.  That is the extent of Ninian’s literary career.  Clearly her original character and the transformation have been hidden by chance and misunderstandings.

Uinniau was a prominent ecclesiastic of sixth century Britain who may have been Columba’s teacher.  He was known as Ninian in Welsh saints’ lives or Nynia by Bede.  However, much of Scotland has place-names derived from his proper name of Uinniau.  This Uinniau was known for three things mainly.  First, he was one of the most knowledgeable persons of his age.  Second, he was a great teacher who made his monastery of Whithorn was a primary center of learning in Britain.  Finally, it is known that he would occasionally go on a retreat to a nearby cave, known as St. Ninian’s Cave, which was several miles away from his monastery.

Ninian would eventually became the form by which Uinniau was exclusively known.  In fact, the process must have been an early one.  Bede, writing in 725, knew him only by that name.  It was an unfortunate circumstance that Ninian was a Celtic name, and the romance writers who would treat Arthur on the continent spoke Germanic and Latin languages.  The unfamiliarity with Celtic would lead to confusion over his gender, and he became a she there.

Arthur was an attractive figure in the literature of the Middle Ages, gravitating all manner of figures, motifs, and stories to him.  In previous blogs I have mentioned the attraction of the Myrddin (Merlin) legend and the figure of Urien.  The same sort of fate awaited Uinniau.  Long before Arthur had become a figure of romance, Uinniau’s dominant name-form had become to Ninian.  For the Celtic speaker that was still a male name, but for continentals it was female.

That change from male to female, from independent ecclesiastic to intelligent layperson was where Uinniau became a different literary figure.  Once Uinniau was a part of the Arthurian universe, his reputation for intelligence would have drawn him to the already established Merlin; in an irony of history a lunatic (Myrddin) became the teacher of one of the best-read people of the age (Uinniau).  Once that  transformation was accomplished, the latent aspects of Uinniau’s memory easily made their way into Arthurian the tales, and Merlin was trapped in the cave Uinnau had used as a refuge.

I won’t pretend to know how Ninian became the Lady of the Lake.  However, she would not have begun her Arthurian career that way.  She would have started off as Merlin’s pupil and successor with the qualities of her historical precursor intact.  She was associated with a lake only by Robert de Boron, an author that I have discovered in my research was not one to stick with his traditional sources.  It is possible he knew of some Celtic tale which he used to enhance Uinniau’s mythology.  It is equally possible he used something more contemporary.  That part of the history of the Lady of the Lake we may never know.

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

One of my favorite mysteries, leaving enough unanswered questions to hold my interest. If you have never visited TALLWCH, check it out: http://tallhwch.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/niniane-the-lady-of-the-lake/

See on tallhwch.wordpress.com

EARTH STILL ABIDES – GEORGE R. STEWART

Cover of "Earth Abides"

When I first read Earth Abides by George R. Stewart more than 40 years ago, it wasn’t newly published, but it was new to me.

Unlike many other books I have read and forgotten, Earth Abides has stayed with me. I’ve returned to it many times in recent years, but there was a period of almost 30 years when I couldn’t find a copy of the book anywhere. Nonetheless, I could recall it with remarkable clarity. It was especially remarkable considering the thousands of books I read every year. That I could remember this one book — not to be too punny — spoke volumes. It turns out that I was not alone. Many people found the book unforgettable, including many writers. George Stewart’s masterpiece became the jumping off point for an entire genre.

Earth Abides is a “foundation book,” one of a handful of books that you must read if you are a science fiction fan. It is frequently cited as “the original disaster” story. A foundation book it most definitely is, but classing it as the “original disaster story” rather misses the point.

Earth Abides isn’t merely a disaster story or post apocalyptic science fiction. Above all it is a book of rebuilding, renewal and hope. The event that initiates the story is a disaster, a plague resulting from either a natural mutation or something escaped from a lab that runs amok. Whatever its origins, it kills off most of Earth’s human population. As has been true of plagues throughout history, a small percentage of the population is naturally immune. Additionally, anyone who survived a rattlesnake bite is immune.

The plague is the back story. The front story of Earth Abides is how humankind copes with the tragedy as scattered remnants of people slowly find one another, form groups and gradually create a new civilization. Through marriage and the pressures of survival, groups become tribes. Simultaneously, the earth itself revives and finds a new balance.

Most diseases of old earth are eliminated by depopulation. New generations are wonderfully healthy. Along with physical disease, mental illness, archaic religious and outdated social structures are shed. New human generations have no memory of institutionalized bias and prejudice and the color line becomes non-existent. There is much that needs doing in this new world, but there’s an infinite amount of time in which to do it.

Ultimately, earth will be repopulated. But gently … and hopefully, in peace. The reborn world will contain bits and pieces of what went before, but without its demons.

The book was re-released as a 60th anniversary edition in 2009, including an audio version with an introduction by Connie Willis.

Cover of the 1949 Random House hardcover editi...

Cover of the 1949 Random House hardcover edition of Earth Abides. Cover illustration by H. Lawrence Hoffman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The last time I read it was immediately after it was re-released. Seven years has given me time to be surprised by the book all over again. Be surprised by how much Ish — the main character — changes over the years, how much he grows and matures. How his belief structure adapts to new realities, how much more open his mind becomes. It’s a rare transformation from a literary point of view. Few characters I’ve read have transformed as much as Ish does in Earth Abides.

Earth Abides was published in 1949. In some parts of the U.S. and other countries, the issues with which the book’s characters grapple are still very much alive. They shouldn’t be. We have moved on but only to a point.

The technology stands up surprisingly well because it’s essentially irrelevant. All technology disappears, so it doesn’t matter how advanced it used to be. When the power goes off, it’s over. The world goes back to pre-technological. It has wind, water and sun. Books remain, so knowledge exists, but in stasis, waiting to be rediscovered and deployed. Meanwhile, earth abides.

The world ends, the world begins. Ish and Emma are the “mother” and “father” of the new tribe. Ish, in Hebrew, means “man” and “Eema” means “mother” which I am sure is not coincidental. It’s a wonderful story that suggests the human race has the capacity to not only survive, but reinvent civilization and make a better world.

Earth Abides is timeless. As is the Earth. There’s an entire site dedicated to George R. Stewart — The EARTH ABIDES Project. Definitely check it out!

It’s available for Kindle, Audible download, audiobook (CD and MP3), hardcover and paperback. There was time when it was difficult to find, but it seems to have found its way back into bookstores and libraries.  I’m glad. It remains among my top five all time favorite science fiction novels and if you haven’t read it, there’s no time like the present. I have a spare copy, just in case.

ABIDE | THE DAILY POST

DOG BONE SOUP by BETTE STEVENS – GROWING UP POOR IN RURAL NEW ENGLAND

DOG BONE SOUP Launch Banner

THE REALITY OF RURAL POVERTY 
A RIPPING GREAT TALE OF GROWING UP AND TRIUMPH OF THE SPIRIT!

DOG BONE SOUP is not only the title of Bette A. Stevens’s debut novel; it ranks high among the paltry meals that the book’s protagonist, Shawn Daniels, wants to forget. Plodding through mounting snow and battling howling winds, Shawn is ready to leave it all behind — living in poverty, Dad’s drinking, life in foster care, the divorce, the bullies….

Travel with Shawn Daniels through the guts and the glory of life. It’s all in DOG BONE SOUP, a Boomer’s coming-of-age saga. Available at AMAZON.

From the Reviewers

“Dog Bone Soup is the poignant tale of a dysfunctional family struggling to survive in America in the 50s and 60s, when most others were on the crest of a wave. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry. But most of all it will make you glad you read it.” ~ Charlie Bray, founder of the Indietribe

“In Dog Bone Soup, Bette Stevens captures the feeling and images of growing up in hardscrabble times perfectly.” ~ John Clark, librarian and author

DOG BONE SOUP


READ an opening Excerpt from Chapter One right here…


DOG BONE SOUP BW Border 2015The postcard arrived four days before my eighteenth birthday. All I had to do now was sign the final papers and light out for basic training. I could hardly wait to leave this place behind.

There were six of us ready to become soldiers. The other five guys were headed to Fort Dix. Soon as we were inducted, the sergeant who swore us in started calling us a bunch of lily-assed bastards and worse. When the jerk marched the other five guys off, I was happy as hell I wasn’t one of them.

Lieutenant Richards called me into his office. “You’ll be heading out tomorrow, Private Daniels. Here are your tickets.”

We sat in his office and talked about my future with the U.S. Army. Then he handed me a schedule for the next day’s journey and we went over every detail.

“Now let’s get you home so you can get a good night’s sleep before you fly off to serve Uncle Sam, soldier.”

“Good luck Private,” the lieutenant said when he dropped me off at the house. We saluted and I stood there watching until his car disappeared over the hill.

I’d always liked army people. They called me Mr. Daniels and even sir sometimes. Now I was officially a private in the U.S. Army and I was ready to start a new life. I pictured myself in an officer’s uniform one day—a lieutenant, a captain, maybe even a general.

Mum and I didn’t get much more than a few winks of sleep that night. I don’t know how many pots of coffee she perked while we sat at the kitchen table and talked the night away. Of course, it was Mum did most of the talking. Once she opened her picture books, I felt like I was drinking in the life I wanted to leave.

Mum took all of those pictures with her Brownie—that camera was her pride and joy. None of us kids was allowed to touch it unless she supervised a picture-taking every now and then. If Dad wasn’t around, it was me peeking through the lens. Mum was fussy about taking pictures just so.

Five books were piled on the table and we went through them one page at a time. Mum had a story for every snap shot. Some made me laugh so hard that I doubled over.

It was two minutes shy of three when she closed the last album.

“Thanks for staying up. I’ve got the alarm set for six and I know that won’t give us much sleep.” Mum pulled out her hanky, sniffled and hugged me before we turned in. My leaving would to be hard on her.

Willie was snoring away, likely dreaming about cars. I slipped in next to him and pulled away some puffs and huddled under them.

The minute I closed my eyes I started dreaming about my new life. No more freezing to death up north. I was headed for southern sunshine and I saw myself soaking it all in.

Bzzzzzzz. I jumped out of bed, threw on my clothes, grabbed the suitcase and headed for the kitchen. Mum already had breakfast on the stove, so I ran outside to do my business and came back in to grab a hot biscuit and down it with a cup of steaming coffee.

I was half-frozen and snow was whipping around me in circles when I headed out on the three-mile walk into town to catch that bus.

I shook flakes big as quarters from my jacket when I climbed the steps of the Greyhound. Two hours and I’d be boarding a plane headed to Fort Jackson. South Carolina was sure the place to be, especially in February.

— end of excerpt —

The Countdown’s On—DOG BONE SOUP by Bette A. Stevens ONLY 99¢ through November 28


About the author

BAS Author logo stamp 2015Inspired by nature and human nature, author Bette A. Stevens is a retired elementary and middle school teacher, a wife, mother of two and grandmother of five. Stevens lives in Central Maine with her husband on their 37-acre farmstead where she enjoys writing, gardening, walking and reveling in the beauty of nature. She advocates for children and families, for childhood literacy and for the conservation of monarch butterflies (milkweed is the only plant that monarch caterpillars will eat).

Bette A. Stevens is the author of award-winning picture book AMAZING MATILDA; home/school resource, The Tangram Zoo and Word Puzzles Too!; and PURE TRASH, the short story prequel to DOG BONE SOUP.

A HARD AND ROCKY ROAD: WHY AUTHORING DOESN’T PAY

I probably will never need to buy another book. I’m a popular reviewer. When I worked at Doubleday, I was extremely popular there, too. Probably because I read the books. So many reviewers don’t read the books they review. You can tell when you read their reviews that all they did was skim the first couple of pages and work from the publisher’s summaries. TV critics seem to be doing the same thing these days. Sometimes movie reviewers, too. It’s why we read a book or see a movie, then check reviews and wonder if it’s the same book or movie.

english-writersI remember at Doubleday I would discover that the publisher’s summary was factually wrong. Wrong names for major characters. Wrong relationships between characters. Incorrect plot description. It was clear whoever wrote the summary had not read the book.

So … who did read the book? Did anyone read it? That was in the mid 1970s, when most people did read, at least sometimes. Now? Does anyone read books before they are published, and have reviewers read the books they are praising or panning?

Until this year, I was a judge for a major book award. I did it for more than a decade. It started out as fun. You’d get a bunch of books, read, review, and rate them, picking a few to move on to the finals. A few years ago, they started sending me more books … so many I could not possibly read even half of them in the allotted time. Last year, I think I had almost 100 books to judge with an average of more than 300 pages per book. And just five weeks to read them all.

It was hopeless. A couple of books were more than 500  pages. These were books that needed considerable stage-setting before the story began. Depending on genre, authors may devote a couple of hundred pages to explaining how their world works. If there’s magic. Rules of the physical world. Some geography. Who and what gods are extant — or were. What languages are spoken. A bit of history, so characters don’t walk onto an empty stage.

Tolkien was a genius at world-building, which is why he remains the gold standard for the fantasy genre.

mugar_library

If you only have an hour to give each book you’re judging, how can you, in good faith, even get a sense of what the book is about, much less if it’s good? Were you to put J.R.R. Tolkien to this test, you’d never get out of Hobbiton. More than 300 pages of Lord of the Rings is geography, language, history, and demographics.

All history books require substantial background, as do historical novels and time-travel books that are historical novels in science fiction garb. A lot of writers use “the wormhole in time” to get readers to be “in the time” rather than looking back at it. It’s been a popular ploy for generations.

quill penSo this year, I said no to judging. It wasn’t fair to the authors to judge them without giving them a proper reading. I have to wonder how many other “awards” are done this way, with over-burdened judges who have too many books or whatever to review without adequate time in which to do it. I’m sure I was not the only one who got down to the wire and was unable to even skim several books before “judging them.” I wouldn’t do it again.

For all of these reasons, I’m diligent about reviewing books — or anything else. I’m not getting paid and reviews won’t make me famous or rich. They won’t even buy me a quick meal at Mickey D’s. But it is a big deal to authors. Reviews make or break books, even for established authors.

I suspect all authors are perpetually being judged. Reviewed. Each book is a trial by fire. A book doesn’t sell and suddenly, your publisher forgets your name. The industry wants nothing to do with a failing author. Even if you have written a string of major best-sellers, you are only as good as the sales figures of your most recently published volume.

I doubt any of the great authors of the past would thrive under these conditions. Can you imagine Hemingway doing his own PR? Or Capone? Can you imagine Shakespeare dealing with focus groups and fighting for his contract to be renewed?

75-BookStory HPCR-1

So I do my bit. Not for money or glory, or even for the authors, who I love. I do it because if no one cares about the quality of books being published, eventually it will all be pulp and garbage. There will be classics from days of yore and nothing new worth reading.

I have had people tell me I’m stupid for doing so much work for free, but authors don’t have money — and publishers won’t pay. Even successful authors — unless Hollywood has bought their books — aren’t financially secure. Maybe Stephen King and Michael Crichton don’t have to worry about where the next check will come from, but every other author I know — and at this point, I know more than a few — are scraping by. Many still keep their day jobs because there are mortgages to pay and kids to feed.

You have to love writing for its own sake. As a profession, authoring is a hard and rocky road. Glory and riches come to few.  Maybe publishers get rich. I hope someone is making money, because as far as I can tell, most authors don’t.

WHY I WRITE WHILE YOU PLAY GOLF

A friend asked me why I do this, why I blog. So I asked her why she plays golf.

This is an evergreen post for me. I’ve modified a bit with each iteration, but it says something that’s fundamentally true about the creative process and certainly about my personal creative process. Writing (and also photography) are my version of sports. They really have always been, throughout my  life. With a little bit of luck, they always will be. So here it is again because sometimes, I need to remind myself of things I already know.

I feel I should point out that writing isn’t only an art. “Real writing” can also be a craft, or “non-fiction.” Books about science or technology are no less “real writing” than a novel. I know we who toil as wordsmiths who tell others how things work or how to accomplish tasks, rarely win prizes or make a best-seller list. Nonetheless, we do not need to hang our heads because we aren’t don’t create characters and plots. I doubt most fiction writers would be good at technical or science writing. Or, for that matter, news writing. It’s not something less, just something different.

If one kind of writing doesn’t work for you, try something else. If you are good with words, somewhere, there’s a place for you in the big world of writing and writers.

One last point. “Professional” means you get paid to do it. If you’d like to get paid, but haven’t yet, you aren’t a professional. It doesn’t mean you aren’t good, just that you don’t (yet) earn a living at it. It’s not a judgement; it’s a distinction.


We do what we do because we love it, need to do it, or both. For me, writing is like breathing. If I don’t write, I strangle on words never used. My friend needs to compete, to be active. To play golf or she will suffocate.

I can’t begin to count the number of people who have told me they want to be writers, but don’t know how. They want me to tell them how. That they asked the question makes me reasonably sure they aren’t writers.

If you are a writer, you write. You will write and will keep writing because it is not what you do, it is what you are. It is as much a part of you as your nose or stomach.

75-FadedBooksFloatingWordsNK-004

I started writing as soon as I learned to read, which was about 45 minutes after someone handed me a reading primer. It was as if a switch had been thrown in my brain. Words felt like home.

Writing was (is) exactly the same as speaking, but takes longer. I have never minded spending the extra time. I love crafting sentences until they are just right. I love that I can go back and fix written words, that unlike words you say, you can take them back.

Raison d’être? I write because I’m a writer. Writing is how I express myself, how I interact with the world. It’s my window, my doorway, my handshake, my dreams.

If you are going to be a writer, you probably already know it. Practice will make you a better writer, can help you understand the techniques you need to build a plot and create books that publishers will buy — but writing itself is a gift. If you have it, you know it — and most of us know it pretty young.

computer gargoyle

Writers have words. They collect in your mind, waiting to be written. We have heads full of words, sentences, pronouns, adjectives, and dependent clauses.

My advice to everyone who aspires to be a writer is to write. Don’t talk about it. Do it. Whatever medium works for you. Blogging, novels, short stories, poetry. Whatever. I’d also advise you to not talk about your work until you’ve done a significant amount of writing. I can’t count the number of great ideas left on barroom floors, talked away until there was nothing left but a vague memory and a lot of empty wine glasses. Save your words to a better purpose.

Write a lot even if it’s mostly not very good. Sooner or later, you’ll find your thing. If you don’t write, it is your personal loss, but maybe it’s the world’s loss, too.

You will never know how good you can be if you don’t try.

Source: WHY I WRITE WHILE YOU PLAY GOLF

TWINKLE, TWINKLE IN WONDERLAND AND ELSEWHERE

There’s “Twinkle, twinkle little star.” It’s a nursery rhyme known to virtually every child who grew up speaking English. We know it by heart.

Then, there’s the Lewis Carroll version.

The Mad Hatter reciting "Twinke, twinkle Little Bat," as illustrated by John Tenniel

The Mad Hatter reciting “Twinke, twinkle Little Bat,” as illustrated by John Tenniel in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat” is a poem recited by the Mad Hatter in chapter seven of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It is a parody of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star“. Walt Disney used it in his movie version (but has the Dormouse reciting it rather than the Mad Hatter). It has always made me laugh. That’s me, laughing. For more than fifty years.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat,
How I wonder what you’re at:
Up above the world you fly
Like a tea tray in the sky,
Up above the world you fly
Like at tea tray in the sky.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat,
How I wonder what you’re at:
Up above the world you fly
Like a tea tray in the sky.

TWINKLE | THE DAILY POST