Free Book Contest

… elsewhere. New SF/F review and news site The Ranting Dragon is giving away a copy each of The Adamantine Palace, Warbreaker and Hunger Games. Check it out over here.


Not done applying yet

I’m quickly coming to the realization that I’m never going to finish applying. High school applications are a long time ago now. Then came college applications, job applications, etc. And there are more to come. Here’s the application I just wrote for Harvey Mudd’s Summer Institute. It seems funny to me at the moment, but that could be because I should really just go to sleep. Hopefully whoever reads it will understand. The gist of it is that I was supposed to write a page long explanation of why I should be among the 40 students selected for Summer Institute, a program which nominally caters especially to those who are ‘underrepresented’ in the fields of science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (STEM).

Looking at my heritage alone, it is difficult to see why I ought to be chosen for a program with an emphasis on students underrepresented in STEM fields. After all, I’m a WASP insofar as religious ambivalence can be considered ‘protestant,’ particularly considering that protesting against the Catholic clergy seems to be very much in vogue at the moment. The fact that I was raised by a single mother does little to distinguish me- there is no box for ‘single mother’ or ‘blended family’ on any application for jobs or schools that I have ever read. The only diversity I can claim is diversity of thought- in my mind, the only kind that truly matters.
So how do I think differently? Perhaps my background is different. I’ve worked in a variety of capacities since the age of fourteen as everything from a landscaper to a small business CIO, a programmer to a tutor. During my freshman year I had the unforgettable schedule of getting up at five am to run to the gym, work out, shower, walk to school, class until three thirty, cross country or track until five thirty, run or walk to work, leave at nine or nine thirty, then look after my dying grandmother until she fell asleep. Somewhere in there were rehearsals for shows and a little practice on the viola, but looking back I don’t know where or when any of that got done.
But let’s say you’ve got forty-one such people.- but that’s too optimistic. There will be women, and people of every conceivable race and creed, all people who are clearly ‘underrepresented.’ In what way do I think so differently from any of these seemingly obvious choices that I, and not they, should be permitted to participate?
Well, I’ve written a novel. How many novelists are found in STEM fields? Isaac Asimov is the obvious nominee, and while others may have degrees in one or more scientific fields, very few others were working scientists during their writing careers. I have a strong interest in creative writing that cannot be explained in rational or scientific terms. Therefore I won’t. QED.
If that horrendous usage of the phrase quod erat demonstrandum made you flinch, I like you better already.
Since I’ve decided to set provable arguments aside, let’s move into speculation. I will get more out of Summer Institute than any heretofore mentioned hypothetical person. They’re hypothetical; I invented them and I can tell you with the utmost candor that set up against me they’re lazy bums, every last one of them. I would be very surprised if, by the end of Summer Institute, I haven’t already scoped out what research I would like to pursue during the school year. Check back to my original application if you want my thoughts on the importance of research. I’ll know every inch of Claremont from my daily runs, as well as which business owners are friendly enough to let a sweaty stranger use their bathrooms without buying anything. The question: does SoCal possess Southern hospitality? I can’t imagine it being worse than here in Maryland. This state is too far south to be properly elite and too far north to be hospitable.
So I’ve said that I’ll work hard, fully exploiting the opportunity granted me. At the very least I can give historical evidence to back that up. I’ve taken more courses than my high school actually allows, even if my transcript only shows one extra course, I’ve audited them every other year whether officially or by special arrangement. This past year, I wrote an eight page long optional paper for Perspectives on American Government. As an auditor, the paper wasn’t graded, but let’s just say that my teacher had a sense of humor and circled one of the vowels in his comment, then drew an arrow labeled ‘what your grade would be.’ But that doesn’t matter, if it hadn’t been amusing I wouldn’t have mentioned it. The key lies in the comment itself, where he suggested that I forget the whole science thing and go to law school.
Sorry, Mr. Steinbach. No can do.
Hopefully that’s proof enough that, given an opportunity, I will not only take it, but steal it, run away with it, then rebuild it using whatever I have lying around into a product that is greater than the sum of its parts.
If that isn’t enough, I can only hope you’ll take pity on me. My poor mother encouraged me to apply, saying “with the amount you eat, you can’t afford to turn down two and a half weeks of free food.”
So forget those hypothetical individuals. Select me, and up to thirty nine other students who are nothing at all like myself, the hypothetical examples, or whatever type of student might be overrepresented in STEM fields. Students who realize there is more to science than doing science, because cold fusion is only useful if you can convince someone to use it, not to mention getting the funding first.
Perhaps that’s how I should have begun.
Step 1. Choose me (and the correct assortment of other, thoroughly non-hypothetical, students)
Step 2. ???
Step 3. Receive funding and PROFIT.

183. To an Inconstant One. Sir Robert Ayton. The Oxford Book of English Verse

(Note: Nothing whatsoever to do with me, I just really enjoyed the poem)

183. To an Inconstant One
I LOVED thee once; I’ll love no more—
Thine be the grief as is the blame;
Thou art not what thou wast before,
What reason I should be the same?
He that can love unloved again,
Hath better store of love than brain:
God send me love my debts to pay,
While unthrifts fool their love away!
Nothing could have my love o’erthrown
If thou hadst still continued mine;
Yea, if thou hadst remain’d thy own,
I might perchance have yet been thine.
But thou thy freedom didst recall
That it thou might elsewhere enthral:
And then how could I but disdain
A captive’s captive to remain?
When new desires had conquer’d thee
And changed the object of thy will,
It had been lethargy in me,
Not constancy, to love thee still.
Yea, it had been a sin to go
And prostitute affection so:
Since we are taught no prayers to say
To such as must to others pray.
Yet do thou glory in thy choice—
Thy choice of his good fortune boast;
I’ll neither grieve nor yet rejoice
To see him gain what I have lost:
The height of my disdain shall be
To laugh at him, to blush for thee;
To love thee still, but go no more
A-begging at a beggar’s door.


I can’t understand people who say “I’m just waiting until MM/DD/YYYY, then I can [verb phrase- relax, have fun again, be with you, etc.]” Why are they doing whatever they’re doing until then if they’d rather be doing something else? A friend of mine recently advocated the Gap Year- a year off to work (or do other things) between high school and college in order that people might figure out why they’re going to college. Why wouldn’t someone know? Why would anyone do something just because “that’s what’s next.” The notion that someone might go to high school just to go to college, and to college just because they don’t have any better ideas repulses me.

For the Gamer Geeks

I’ve been over indulging in time wasting activities lately. While I haven’t re-read The Dresden Files (an old standby for when the creative portion of my brain develops narcolepsy) yet, I have been watching The Guild, considering re-reading The Name of the Wind, and generally failing to get things done.

It’s too hot to go for a run, I tell myself. Wait until the sun goes down. Hopefully I’ll actually get that done.

In any case, while Facebook stalking Patrick Rothfuss, which I don’t usually do, but I was seeking pictures of GenCon, which I missed again this year, I discovered the greatest thing ever to happen to gaming kind.

I’m not actually a gamer, I do like to pretend sometimes.


I’ve just finished Quicksilver, Book 1 of Neal Stephenson’s The Baroque Cycle. This requires clarification. I have not finished the collection which was published as Quicksilver that contains three novels (Quicksilver, The King of the Vagabonds, and Odalisque) but only the first of these three.

Thus far it would appear that The Baroque Cycle is significantly less action packed than most of Stephenson’s work, including the interminably long Anathem. This is in no way a criticism of Stephenson, from my perspective. Perhaps this is largely my opinion only because the first of Stephenson’s books I ever read was Snow Crash, which has very little to do with anything else he has written. It was originally intended to be a graphic novel and it reads like one, only with words. I’ve misplaced or loaned out my copy and will soon endeavor to replace it, probably digitally. This will further mix my collection of Stephenson- I own Crytonomicon in paperback, have only borrowed the hard cover Anathem from the library (and since returned it upon finishing) and will have the entire Baroque Cycle on Kindle shortly.

Back to the book; with Stephenson a lack of action is perfectly acceptable for the regions in which he most excels involve character and world building. Mostly world building, because his characters evolve believably largely as a consequence of this. One thing many other readers don’t much like about Stephenson is his tendency to explain things. When you finish Cryptonomicon, you will have learned a surprising amount about basic cryptography. Having finished only the first book of the Baroque Cycle, I already know far more about the Baroque period in Europe than I did before.
If textbooks were written like this we would not have nearly so much trouble with reluctant students. I have always believed that historical fiction and period fiction ought to play a larger role in the teaching of history than they do. Ah well.
Now, I have a good deal of writing and other work I must do before continuing with The Baroque Cycle, but there was one notable weakness in the work. The main character is a Puritan most of the time, but I don’t believe it. When we first meet him he’s an atheist, but most of the story takes place while he’s a Puritan, but while I can’t pin down why, I don’t buy it. He doesn’t seem to think Puritanically. Sure, he is appropriately guilty (usually) when he thinks particularly un-Puritanically, but the point remains. He seems to occupy the same middle ground as the majority of humanity.
Perhaps this says something about the point Stephenson would like to make about Puritans, but I still believe a more demonstrable change should have taken place over time. How, I don’t know. Stephenson’s plenty impressive enough as it is, I leave it up to his fantastic skills.