My Semi-Nano Month

While I'm not inclined to try to do the full Nanowrimo thing -- write 50,000 words during the month of November -- I took the opportunity this year to see if I could manage to write more frequently. My fiction writing has generally been one night per week, with word counts ranging from a low of about 150 words to a high of about 2,000, with about four to six hours time involved.

For November, I tried to set aside a half-hour per day. Didn't completely succeed at that -- weekends, when I work two 12-hour shifts at the day job, were especially difficult -- but I managed to get in 19 writing sessions, getting nearly 9,000 words written. I had started with about 1,000 words previously written on a story, and completed the first draft of "The Return of Dodge Tombstone, Outlaw-At-Large", with a day left to spare in November, at about 9,700 words total.

My general impression of that first draft is that it's noticeably rougher written than the work I've done in the once-a-week writing sessions. For the weekly sessions, I've usually been thinking about the story for the intervening days, so when I actually get words on paper, they're pretty well thought out and clean. (Bumper sticker version: "Write your second drafts first.") The daily-session stuff will need a greater amount of editing and revision.

The story itself is a straight Western, rather pulp-magazine-ish in flavor and feel. (Well, kinda straight; I always try to put some kind of twist or difference or weird shit into my stories.) Since the markets for short Western fiction are rather thin on the ground, I have no idea when or if it will ever see publication. Perhaps appropriately, certainly ironically, I may have shot myself in the foot by writing a Western story.



Hansel Monday is the older Scottish version of England's Boxing Day. But I came across this poem by William Seath, large chunks of which seemed just as suitable for a Thanksgiving celebration. Hope you enjoy it.

The Villager's  Hansel Monday [excerpt]

"Dreary is the forest moaning
Neath dark Winter's angry blast,
But our festive board is groaning
With its load of rich repast.
Here now welcome friends surround us
Laughing gaily, chatting free;
Happy bairnies play around us
Dancing in their childish glee.
Away dull Care and gloomy Sadness
From the happy social throng;
Let us all amid our gladness,
Trip the dance and raise the song.

"Let us drink in boundless measure
From the bowl of pure Delight;
Let the lamp of sinless Pleasure
Light the gloom of Sorrow's night;
Tighten up the bands that bind us
To our friends while we are here,
For to-morrow's sun may find us
Slumb'ring on the silent bier.
Away dull Care and gloomy Sadness
From the happy, social throng
Let us all, amid our gladness,
Trip the dance and raise the song."  
from Rhymes and Lyrics, by William Seath, 1897.


I've Been Busy

That's my explanation for the paucity of recent posts, and I'm sticking to it.

No, really, I've been doing stuff. Some worth doing, some not.

I've been trying to catch up on some of the stuff on my To-Do List. When the number of items on your TDL is getting close to the number of books in your TBR pile, that's... not good. So I've been whittling back on some of the items that have been gathering dust on the TDL for too long. I've made a dent.

Of course, a TDL is an active, living thing that, like the Incredible Hulk, get larger and meaner when you're not paying attention. Which inspired this:

Feel free to copy and print off for your own use.

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Also had more medical appointments than has been usual for a while. And things. And other things. ("Round up the usual excuses!")

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Hilde and I went to the annual TusCon convention in Tucson the last weekend in October. Discovered I'm continuing to get older. (How does that keep happening?!) Packing, travelling, atttending, re-packing, travelling, and unpacking was more wearying and energy-depleting than I'd expected.

It didn't help that trying to sleep Friday night/Saturday morning turned out to be craptastic for both of us. For Hilde because in trying to get to bed in an unusual place, some of the sleeping medication she takes got spaced by both of us, and didn't realize that was the cause until hours of tossing and turning later. I had trouble because 1) I'd taken one of my anti-drowsy meds before the drive down from Phoenix, and it hadn't completely washed out of my system, and 2) I discovered from the program book that one of the Old Guard in Tucson fandom has passed away last April. (That kinda drove in how out-of-the-loop Hilde and I have gotten over the years; once upon a time, we'd have heard about it almost immediately. The local fannish newszine, Connotations, shut down a while back, and I haven't found a suitable replacement; it would almost certainly have carried the news to us faster.)

The deceased person played a pretty important role in The Worldcon That Must Not Be Named. (People get upset when I tell some of the many unpleasant truths about those times.) She was not one of the major initiators of the fanpolitics of that convention, which were brutal, ugly and stupid; she was one of the people who did their job, and got genuinely Screwed Over by a group of those major initiators as her reward. Even after nearly four decades, memories of that Worldcon are upsetting enough I had a hard time getting more than a few hours sleep that night at TusCon. (At least I didn't have actual nightmares about TWTMNBN like I used to.)

(I may write more about this later. Probably not a good idea, but I might anyway.)

At any rate, by the time Hilde and I finally got to sleep Saturday morning, we didn't wake up until mid-afternoon, then several more hours to eat, wash, dress, etc., so it was about five o'clock when we finally got out of our room. Effectively, we'd missed almost an entire day of TusCon. Since we had to leave early Sunday afternoon (I had to get back to Phoenix for one of my 12-hour shifts at work that night), we had a pretty minimal convention. But we met with old friend Curt Stubbs and had dinner with him, and touched base with some of the other long-time attendees at TusCon. It's a convention we always enjoy; I wish we'd been able to spend more actual time at the convention, instead of just at the hotel.

(I was also glad to hear TusCon will be moving to a new hotel next year. The current hotel's been the site for about fifteen years, but predates the Americans with Disabilities Act; several of the meeting rooms used for TusCon's panels and other functions are only accessible via a long steep staircase in the lobby; kind of a problem for a wheelchair-user like Hilde. We were told the new hotel next year will be fully accessible. Yay!)

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One of the other things taking up a bit of time has been trying to spend more time on my fiction writing. I decided to do a kind "Semi-Nano" this November. Rather than trying to reach that 50,000 word goal of a traditional Nanowrimo, I'm just trying to move from my weekly/occasional writing sessions to a short-but-daily session of about 30 minutes. Succeeding fairly well so far, except for the weekends when I'm working those 12-hour shifts (eat, sleep, work; not much else is possible on those days); I try to make up for that lack with longer sessions on Fridays and Mondays. Averaging about 300-400 words per half-hour session, which adds up to about double the wordcount I'd been producing before. I'll have to see if I can continue the practice into December and beyond.

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I've been meaning to do more book reviews here. Stay tuned.

Our Headless Cat, and other recent photos

Sethra, our Headless Cat
"But what she really wanted to be was a Tribble."

Basil flowers

Night shot - Mexican Bird of Paradise
(this literally required both hands and
a flashlight to photograph)


Get Yer Manly Man Card Here! Free!

Elsewhere on the Internet, an author who's old enough he should know better has been opining about how a man has to EARN a "man card".

Well, that's absurd, since most "man cards" are self-awarded. And through the miracle of modern technology, it's simple to design and print a card you can carry around in your wallet like a desiccated condom:

You're welcome.

(Lest anyone point out that standard business card dimensions are 3½x2 inches, it should go without saying that these are Manly Man Inches, not your old-fashioned, outdated, unreliable Inch Inches.)


AZSF Reading & Drinking Event

Local fan Lee Whiteside and AZSF.org, in conjunction with the Poisoned Pen bookstore, recently organized the first in hopefully a series of events modeled on the KGB Bar writers/readings in NYC and the similar Noir At The Bar events that have been organized in a number of cities. Featured writers give readings and talks at a suitable drinking/dining establishment, adding an extra measure of socialization to the author readings that usually take place at conventions.

Last night's event, held at The Sip, a coffee/beer place in Scottsdale. Readings were given by a trio of New Mexico writers; Jane Lindskold (ARTEMIS INVADED), Vic Milan (THE DINOSAUR LORDS), and Melinda Snodgrass (THE EDGE OF DAWN).

Looked to be about twenty people in attendance, which isn't bad for the first time out. I'm looking forward to future sessions. (Updates and details for future events will be available on the AZSF Blog.)

Jane Lindskold
Vic Milan
Melinda Snodgrass


The Pumpkin Spice Must Flo-- Wait, What?

I like the flavor of "Pumpkin Spice". I look forward to fall, when a variety of products come out with pumpkin spice flavor. Pumpkin cookies, pumpkin shakes, pumpkin applesauce, even the Pumpkin Spice M&Ms that seem to have aroused so much dread and loathing on Twitter.

But I have my limits. There are some things that, goddamit, pumpkin spice flavoring just should not be associated with. And this, I think, is the least suitable of all:

My experience with eating kale, in any form, has been, let us say, underwhelming. I don't want to see perfectly fine cinnamon and nutmeg ruined by adding it to kale chips.

Recommended: GRRM's TUF VOYAGING, in ebook for $2.99

George R.R. Martin has been one of my favorite authors for a long, long time, and one of my favorite among his books is TUF VOYAGING, science fiction about an eccentric cat-loving character who comes into possession of the last remaining seedship of Earth's Ecological Engineering Corps, giving him... well, some pretty awesome power as he travels from planet to planet. Which he doesn't use to declare himself Emperor or some other familiar plot twist you might expect.

The ebook version of TUF VOYAGING, normally 11.99, is available for the bargain price of @2.99 until September 26th from Amazon, B&N, and other ebook retailers.

I will, however, temper my recommendation with a creeb about the cover Bantam put on this 2013 edition. I can understand why someone at Bantam might have thought, "Hey, let's do the cover for this in the same style as George's Song of Ice and Fire books. That will get us extra sales." But I don't understand why no one said, "That idea kinda sucks." The free-floating spacesuit helmet on the new Bantam cover is dreadfully generic for a book that stands out for being non-generic and confounding expectations, and the... thing... behind the helmet looks like a random spatter pattern unless you zoom the image up to actual printed book size, when you can finally tell its made of silhouettes of animals and spaceships.

I thought the cover from an earlier printed edition (Baen, 1987), actually showing Haviland Tuf himself, was much better:

If you do a Google Images search on "Tuf Voyaging", you'll also get to see covers for a lot of other editions, domestic and foreign, almost all of which picture Tuf and are better than the Bantam cover. I especially liked this one, from a Spanish edition:

But regardless of which cover you prefer, it's a damn good book, and $2.99 is a great bargain.


Story Sale! Whoo-Hoo!

Received an email yesterday from Linda Landrigan, editor at Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, saying she wanted to publish "Beks and the Second Note", a short story I'd submitted there.

That put a grin on my face. This is my first sale since starting to write and submit fiction again at the end of 2012.

Sometimes submitting stories to markets feels like yanking on the cord of an old rusty lawnmower. After a while, it starts to feel like that engine is never going to start, no matter how many times you pull on that rope. So, yay, I feel validated. (Yes, I can still write stuff people want to pay me for!)

In the meantime, back to work; I need to send some of my other stories back out again, do edit-and-polish on several first drafts written earlier this year, and finish the last few pages of the current WiP. (Making a sale really helps with motivation, somehow.)

(fireworks photo from Flickr Commons)


Another SF/F Cookbook: Apocalypse Weird: The Last Meal

The recent SFWA Cookbook has been getting a lot of attention, but it was far from the first science-fiction or fantasy themed cookbook. Here's another, that came out at the end of August.

Apocalypse Weird: The Last Meal is the latest brainchild from the people bringing out a shared-worlds series of books called Apocalypse Weird that currently stands at about a dozen volumes. Short version: All The Disasters Happen At Once. (Well, sort of; the over-arcing storyline for the project, explained at somewhat greater length here, isn't that simple.)

The Last Meal looks to provide not only a decent selection of ways to eat well (without eating your neighbors) in the wake of an apocalypse, but also includes some poetry, short fiction, and new clues to the AW master plan. From the sample pages I read, I was especially intrigued by the piece on making Mesquite Coffee; there are zillions of mesquite trees locally, with their seed pods usually just ending up as ground trash, so I may give this an actual tryout. (The Mesquite Coffee piece has also been published separately as a blog post on the AW website.)


Sex and Chocolate, Together Again -- REALLY Together Again -- For The First Time!

It's Amazing what shows up on Goodreads giveaways pages sometimes:

This collection of shorter pieces in the "Candy Man Delivery" series has  a pretty simple premise: The hot muscular guys the female leads become involved with are literally made from chocolate.

I have absolutely no idea if these stories are well-written or not, but as "high-concept" goes, sexy guys made from chocolate is sheer genius. Hat tip to Graylin Rane (who also writes as Graylin Fox).


Karen Memory: Ripping Yarn or Message Fiction?

(originally written as a comment posted to Mike Glyer's File 770):

I’m curious if any of the Puppies [Sad Puppies, the group who claimed to have gamed this year's Hugo Awards nominations process because they just want to see good old fashioned entertainment winning awards instead of that artsy-fartsy literary and/or Commie/Marxist/Liberal/Degenerate stuff]  have read or commented on Elizabeth Bear’s KAREN MEMORY.
I bring that up because if you want a “ripping yarn”, Bear delivers in spades. Daring rescues, gunfights, airships, escapes from burning buildings, everything you could want in an adventure story. When I finished the book, my first thought was “Damn, that was a fun read!”
It was only my second thought that “Oh, and most of the cast of characters is GLBT.”
I’d suggest KAREN MEMORY as a litmus test for the people who say they just want entertaining stories. If that’s the case, Bear’s novel should make them happy.
But if you say you want entertaining stories, but your first and primary reaction to KAREN MEMORY is “Gay characters! This is message fiction!“, then I’d like to politely suggest that maybe the problem isn’t with what the author wrote, maybe the problem isn’t with what the publisher published, maybe the problem isn’t with the actual story. Maybe the problem is with you.
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Jim Henley posted a later comment on File 770 I thought drew some insightful distinctions between message and non-message story-telling, with a compare-and-contrast between Larry Niven's "The Jigsaw Man" and John Chu's "Water That Falls On You From Nowhere".

(The comment threads on File 770 can sometimes get harsh or unpleasant when they get into the politics and personalities of people involved in this year's Hugo controversy. Less so than a few months ago; I think Outrage Fatigue is settling in, plus many of the most unpleasant commenters there have flounced off over time. There's been a lot more interesting discussion and commentary about books and reading.)


My Brush With Flame, err, Fame

The other morning I stopped for gas at a station on the corner of a strip mall. Gassed up and started out of the mall's parking lot, when suddenly a pickup truck trailing black smoke zoomed into the entrance and past me, with a police car following closely behind. I figured, Hah, someone's getting a ticket for for a really smoky exhaust. Then I looked in my rearview mirror, and saw there were actual flames starting to leap up from the bed of the pickup truck, and growing.

I turned onto the street, went down to the next mall entrance, and turned back in, stopped, and got out my cell phone and turned on the camera. By now the pickup had stopped, the driver had jumped out and run back towards the police car, and the entire cargo bed was filled with bright flames. I held up my phone, went for a shot and realized my hands were shaking. Took a deep breath, went for a second better shot, then put the phone away and left, figuring the fire department was probably enroute and not wanting to get in their way.

On the way home, I thought about what a great pic the scene had been, and even thought about how I might send it to some of the local news stations and papers.

Then I got home and actually checked out the photos.

Apparently I hadn't pressed the shutter icon hard enough on the second, better, shot and that second shot had never actually been taken at all.

And the first shot... what I actually ended up with was an extreme close-up of my fingertip.

Damn. One of the superheroes I always wanted to be while growing up was Spider-Man. And it turns out not only that I'm never going to be Spider-Man, I'm not even going to be Peter goddamned Parker.


A Literary Meme-Thingie

This, a list of "books literally all white men own", from The Toast, was going around a while ago. Finally got around to it myself.

Bold those you own. Italicize those you have read. Strikeout those you've never heard of would have to be paid to read. Bonus points if you're not a white male.

1. Shogun, James Clavell
2. Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut
3. A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
4. Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace

5. A collection of John Lennon’s drawings.
6. A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
7. The first two volumes of A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin

8. God Is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens
9. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
10. I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell, Tucker Max
11. Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
12. The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, Oliver Sacks
13. The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
14. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
15. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
16. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

17. Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk
18. The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
19. The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown
20. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
21. The Stand, Stephen King
22. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson
23. The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer
24. Tuesdays With Morrie, Mitch Albom
25. It’s Not About the Bike, Lance Armstrong
26. Who Moved My Cheese?, Spencer Johnson

27. Portnoy’s Complaint, Philip Roth
28. Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand
29. John Adams, David McCullough
30. Ragtime, E.L. Doctorow
31. Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis
32. America: The Book, Jon Stewart

33. The World Is Flat, Thomas Friedman
34. The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell
35. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon
36. Exodus, Leon Uris (if Jewish)
37. Trinity, Leon Uris (if Irish-American)
38. The Road, Cormac McCarthy
39. Marley & Me, John Grogan

40. Freakonomics, Steven D. Levitt
41. The Rainmaker, John Grisham
42. Patriot Games, Tom Clancy
43. Dragon, Clive Cussler
44. Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond
45. The Agony and the Ecstasy, Irving Stone
46. The 9/11 Commission Report
47. The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, John le Carre
48. Rising Sun, Michael Crichton
49. A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson
50. Airport, Arthur Hailey
51. Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Robert Kiyosaki
52. Burr, Gore Vidal
53. Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt
54. The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan 
55. Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer
56. Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer
57. Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson
58. Godel, Escher, Bach, Douglas Hofstadter

59. The World According to Garp, John Irving
60. A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking
61. The Tin Drum, Gunter Grass

62. On the Road, Jack Kerouac
63. Lord of the Flies, William Golding
64. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
65. The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe

66. Beowulf, the Seamus Heaney translation
67. Rabbit, Run, John Updike
68. The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie
69. The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
70. The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
71. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey
72. A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess

73. House of Leaves, Mark Danielewski
74. The Call of the Wild, Jack London

75. Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon 
76. I, Claudius, Robert Graves 
77. The Civil War: A Narrative, Shelby Foote
78. American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis
79. Life, Keith Richards

I didn't feel comfortable using the strikeout feature because it uses one attribute for two different categories (unaware of/aware of but don't want to read). That latter part (don't want to read) could also be further subdivided into "public discussion has left me with a negative impression towards reading this" and "ehh, it might be interesting to read, but if I never get around to it, that's okay too".

There are also several books on this list (The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and Airport) that I've "read", but only in old Readers Digest Condensed Books versions. I'm not sure if that counts.

Hilary supporter merchandise - a small stumble

So I get an email from the Hilary for America campaign, with a link to their merchandise shop. I look over the t-shirts and stuff there. I generally don't do shirts or bumper stickers or other merchandise in support of a specific campaign or candidate. But one of the shirts, the "Trailblazer Tee" has a message that's applicable to life in general, not just to Hilary Clinton's Presidential campaign, a message I wouldn't mind purchasing and wearing:

Just one problem, though: It's only available in a "women's fitted" version.

Hmmph. Almost like someone thinks men wouldn't be interested in supporting women's rights.


Judy Blume on Income Disparity

Judy Blume has an interesting interview in the June newsletter from Goodreads, about the release of her newest adult book In The Unlikely Event and questions about her career. I was struck by this section about her early career:
"The women's movement was just coming; we were very slow getting it in New Jersey. One thing I remember is, I was very shy about asking for a larger advance. I only knew what I had read in a magazine called Writer's Digest, which said you should get $1,000 for your book, and I had gotten $800, and I said, "Isn't it supposed to be $1,000? And they said to me, Yes, but we want someplace to go with your next book. I do remember a time when I was more successful. I think my former husband put me up to it, asking for more money, and I was told, "You have a husband who earns a very good living, and so you don't need to do this. Money will come back to you in royalties if the book sells well, but you don't need to do this." And I believe I had an agent at the time." [emphasis added]
So basically she was told, "You have a sugar daddy supporting you, so we shouldn't have to pay you as much money as we pay men." Wow. That just croggles me. (Hard data about authors' advances are hard to come by, but I wonder if anything like this still goes on?)


An Unsuitable Cover For A Classic

It's always good to see an important and influential SF writer's magnum opus get a new printing. But I was really taken aback to see Phoenix Pick had chosen this as the cover for their new edition of Cordwainer Smith's Norstrilia:

What this image says to me is: "This book is Horror. HORROR, HORROR, HORROR."

(The red-glowing eyes also inevitably bring to mind Carly Fiorina's infamously bizarre "Demon Sheep" campaign ad for her failed 2010 Senate campaign.)

While elements in some of Smith's stories are pretty horrifying ("Mother Hitton's Littul Kittons"; "A Planet Named Shayol"), he's not a horror writer. His work is very much science fiction, with far flung space empires, animals uplifted to human intelligence, immortality drugs, and other aspects sheerly in the science fiction camp, written from idiosyncratic angles and perspectives that few other writers have managed to emulate. Smith might be described as the grandfather of the New Weird movement, epitomized by writers such as China Mieville and Jeff VanderMeer, although New Weird tends to frequently mashup horror, fantasy and science fiction (usually with the major emphasis on horror, it seems to me) into its own particular stew.

Googling around, I found this image originates as a piece of vector stock illustration, available from a number of stock-image providers. *sigh* While I can understand why a small press like Phoenix Pick would want to use stock art (they save a lot of money over a commissioned piece), I wish they'd hunted around longer to find something more suitable.


My Day So Far

(The photo comes from Flickr Commons, a Swedish carpenter in 1932. But it's pretty much how the day's been.)


The Brave Free Books -- 2015 edition

I've been winning occasional books on giveaways from Goodreads, tor.com, and other contests. There's a goodly stack of them sitting in a box right over there [points helpfully], and figure it's about time I take a whack at reading and reviewing more of them:

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SUPER BORN: Seduction of Being by Keith Kornell (Harper Landmark Books, 2013).

I'm a pretty easy mark for "ordinary person gets superpowers" story.  This one, ehhh, sorry; it had problems.

There are several PoV characters. They switch back and forth, frequently in the same chapter, with no clear demarcation between the switch. That last is exacerbated by all the PoVs being 1st-person viewpoints, all expressed in similar speech patterns and phraseology. To try and make clear which character is speaking, some particular detail gets inserted into the first paragraph of each switch in PoV; it felt like a forced and clumsy technique. The prose is workmanlike, interrupted by the occasional *clunk* of a poorly written sentence or unnecessary phrase.

None of the characters came across as sympathetic, or engaging, or as possessing any real depth. They were all idiots and cartoons, to one extent or another. (To be fair, part of the plot is that men who live in Scranton, PA are, literally, idiots. There's a reason for this, not just because, y'know, Scranton.) I could never decide if the novel was supposed to be a straight story, or humor. If the latter, I didn't laugh at the jokes. The portions where the "humor" was based on self-destructive behavior (alcoholic blackouts, promiscuous sex, etc.) just made me feel sad. I felt like I was watching an Adam Sandler movie. (There are people who would consider that last a positive attribute. I am not one of those people.) (Spoiler whited out: The major female and male characters end up hooking up because, and almost solely because, they turn out to have *SUPER-ORGASMS!!!!* together.)

I finished the book, but more from a reviewer's obligation than the meager enjoyment I got from the experience. I'd give it two stars.

(Other reviews mostly rate it higher, four or five stars. That sort of thing is why I complain about the "irrational exuberance" of most ratings on Amazon, Goodreads, etc. No one wants to be a meanie, so most reviewers over-rank by at least one or two stars. Five stars? That's something I think should be given only to books that are extraordinarily good. I don't like being a meanie, either, but I try to give criticism that will be useful to the writer as well as the reader.)

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Highfell Grimoires by Langley Hyde (Blind Eye Books, 2014).

This was a lot more satisfying and enjoyable to read than the above-reviewed book.

It's a steampunk story, or more exactly an "aetherpunk" story. "Aether" is a wind-like natural energy source, found more freely at higher elevations. The Dickensian society of the book develops this by dividing society into literal upper and lower classes; the upper classes live on immense airborne ships/platforms that float at aether-rich heights. The lower classes are ground-bound (or work as servants on the flying platforms), and are subject to occasional skyfalls of trash or sewage from the platforms above.

The aether's energy is accessed via spells written in magical grimoires. There had been some kind of worldwide magical disaster long ago that left society in disarray for centuries, and many of the grimoires surviving from before are either magically locked or written in dead or obscure languages.

Neil Franklin, the upper-class protagonist, is proficient in languages. But his fortunes have fallen, hard, and he ends up having to take a lowly teacher's position at a charity school high in the sky.

All Is Not As It Seems, of course. There are a great many secrets being held, and the plot develops as these secrets are revealed one by one, with significant consequences for both individuals and society.

And Neil himself has a secret: He's a deeply closeted and self-denying homosexual, in a society where gay men are still considered deviant and perverted. Only to feel a frightening attraction to the rugged Leofa (who has secrets of his own), workman on the school's sky-platform.

Langley Hyde does a nice job combining elements of fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction. I thought the romance arc between Neil and Leofa was a bit predictable, but otherwise it's a fine debut novel. I note Langley Hyde is a Clarion graduate; you don't have to attend the Clarion workshop to become a better sf/fantasy writer, but, goddamn, it sure seems to help.

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Burn The Orphanage, Daniel Freedman & Sina Grace (Image Comics, 2014)

Collected edition of BTO comics #1-3. Streetfighters Rock, Bear and Lex vs. corporate thugs and villains, an alien deathmatch contest, and a giant monster.

The intent of this comic series seems to be to take typical scenarios from video games and give the main fighter characters some depth of background and character. (Rock was the sole survivor of an orphanage fire, Bear is a big gay guy, and Lex has commitment issues and can't seem to find guys who don't want a serious relationship with her.)

I thought this was an interesting challenge. Alas, I don't think this succeeded very well. The fight sequences were too video-gamey -- sometimes blatantly so -- to keep my interest. (Full disclosure: Over the years, I've found very, very, very few videogames that haven't bored me after a short period. I'm missing the Gamer gene, or whatever it is that attracts so many gameplayers so deeply.) The characterization, while not as cardboard or one-note as found in videogames, seemed rather strained and forced to me. In the end, my impression was that BTO was trying to have both the kind of characterization found in prose fiction and the kind of action found in videogames, and failed to fully succeed in either.

- - - - -

Project Superhero, E. Paul Zehr, illustrations by Kris Pearn (ECW Press, 2014)

Paul Zehr is best known for Becoming Batman, a non-fiction examination of how someone might train and educate themselves to try and match Batman's abilities.

Project Superhero covers a lot of the same ground, but slanted towards a middle-school audience, and with a fictional story to overlay the educational aspects of the book.

13-year old comics fan Jessie is thrilled when her school announces a year-long cross-class project about superheroes. Students are to choose an individual superhero to represent as being the best. At the end of the year, a series of elimination debates will decide which superhero is the best superhero. Jessie chooses Batgirl.

Along the way, life continues. Family, friends, enemies, with complications and misunderstandings and young-teenager confusion. Jessie's work on her superhero project ties into those life and family issues.

It's a... nice... story. The problems and complications that arise get resolved, but I never felt any sense of urgency about Jessie's story. I think I'm probably too old for this book. Some YA and middle-school books can be read and enjoyed with no problems by adults, but this particular one feels really targeted for that middle-school-age audience.  For adults, Zehr's Becoming Batman would probably be the better choice. But this would make a good gift book for any middle-schoolers interested in comics or superheroes.

(As part of Jessie's project, she writes to real-life people who've done heroic or extraordinary things. The actual replies to those letters are included as part of Project Superhero.)

- - - - -

I think that's it for this round of "Brave Free Books". More reviews, hopefully, as I work my way through the box.


File 770 - Some statistics

Mike Glyer, over at FILE 770, has been providing daily or almost-daily posts collecting links to commentary on the Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies controversy over the Hugo awards.

I dropped out of reading the comments to the linkposts there about a month ago. (Why make myself feel sick or angry? Yeah, some of the commentators are that bad.I reached my limit with the guy who feels mass-murderer Anders Brievik was admirable for slaughtering dozens of the children of liberals.) But I still browse the front page of F770, and it seemed to me the topic isn't sloping off (like most topics eventually do), but actually increasing.

So, because I have absolutely nothing better to do with my life (AIEEE! THE GUILT! THE GUILT IS GNAWING AT MY INSIDES LIKE CRAZED WEASELS ON PCP!), I gathered data on the number of comments noted at the top of each F770 linkpost. The results, through 5/21, are shown below.

Yeep. I'll leave any actual interpretation of this data to others, those with the stomach to try and make a correlation to the contents of comments on the linkposts.

(The gap in early April is from several days when Mike posted single-subject topics related to SP/RP, but didn't post link collections. I also left data out from later single-subject posts.)

I sent Mike an advance copy of this post. He responded: "Wow, that's interesting. I've been too busy to notice a new record was set this week. And the new record is 9X as many comments as the record set by any F770 post having nothing to do with the puppies  had 88."


Mad Libs: Sad Puppies Edition

The Wall Street Journal published a recent story about the Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies gaming a vulnerability in the Hugo Awards nomination procedure to almost completely dominate the 2015 ballot with their own, ah, particular point of view.

I was reading the comments (yes, I should know better than to read comments on posts about this subject by now; doing so mostly just raises my blood pressure) and came across this paragraph from one John Hardy:

Personally, I don't like progressive sf because it is too predictable and I've read different variations of the stories over and over... underestimated ___ is harassed by powerful ___, yet through superior intelligence/emotional maturity/etc. supposedly unique to ___'s persecuted group, manages to humiliate/destroy ___  With that first bout of morally superior dialogue, I know what's coming and I'm just not interested anymore. 

Hmmm. Somehow that sounded familiar. It sounded very familiar. And giving it some thought, I realized why.

Let me fill in the blanks in Mr. Hardy's template:

I've read different variations of the stories over and over... underestimated WHITE MALE AMERICAN HUMAN is harassed by powerful ALIENS, yet through superior intelligence/emotional maturity/etc. supposedly unique to WHITE MALE AMERICAN HUMAN's persecuted group, manages to humiliate/destroy ALIENS  With that first bout of morally superior dialogue, I know what's coming and I'm just not interested anymore.  

That is an almost perfect template for much of the fiction John W. Campbell (in particular; but many other science fiction magazine editors as well) published in ASTOUNDING/ANALOG magazine back around the last mid-century.  Christopher Anvil, Eric Frank Russell, and Keith Laumer come to mind as authors who frequently wrote to the Campbellian template. (Sometimes to great effect. Russell's WASP is a heck of a lot of fun, even today.) This is also the template some of the SP/RP supporters seem to want to see return to current science fiction.

But I'm having a hard time thinking of any obvious modern-day authors who regularly invert that template, to have the ALIENS (aka women/gays/minorities) humiliate or destroy WHITE MALE AMERICAN HUMANS, as Mr. Hardy seems to be objecting to.

I can think of a few particular works that might fit such an inverted template. Spider Robinson's NIGHT OF POWER, about a black revolt that takes over New York City and declares it a separate nation. (It's also Robinson's worst book, imho.) Several books that eliminate males from the git-go and are about all-female societies. And, umm, not much else that comes immediately to mind.

But I think the best writing, the writing that might deserve a Hugo or other awards, is writing that tries to avoid templates, and formulas, and cliches. (I noted above that Russell's WASP is still a fun read. But, boy, after more than a half-century reading SF, it's hard to not see that template in action when trying to re-read WASP.)

And the best way to avoid those templates, those formulas, those cliches, is to try new approaches, new viewpoints, new techniques, new contents and characters.

In short... whoa, dirty word (for some people) coming up... I want science fiction to cast a wide net, to be open to possibilities, to be daring, to be unpredictable, to be... diverse.


Grace of Kings arrives

Grace of Kings, a first novel by Ken Liu, arrived in the mail today. Liu's been producing an extremely impressive string of shorter fiction in recent years (he's one of my "must-read" authors), as well as translating works of Chinese sf authors. (He did the English translation for the recent US publication of The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu.) Grace of Kings, an epic fantasy influenced by classic Chinese literature, has been garnering outstanding reviews and recommendations; it'll almost certainly be a major award-contender next year.

I've also seen a lot of appreciations for the striking cover of the book, but I'm surprised no one seems to have mentioned the gorgeous endpapers, with a map of Liu's fantasy archipelago. How about we fix that right now?

(The Grace of Kings cover is by Sam Weber. There doesn't seem to be an internal credit for the endpapers. Were they by Weber as well?)


Sad Puppies: Some brief thoughts, and a link-back.

If you haven't been following the Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies mess over this year's Hugo Awards, or don't care, count yourself lucky. (Boy, are you lucky!) But a lot of people care, and thousands (no exaggeration) of posts and comments have been written. I've made a few brief comments myself on sites like File 770, but haven't gotten into the ugly (again, no exaggeration) back-and-forth to the extent some people have.

I'm thinking of writing some extended commentary, though. Probably two posts: One in which to allow my inner Rude Pundit out to vent (hope them Sad Puppies have a sense of humor!, though I expect not), and one with a more serious reasoned response.

In the meantime, my post about the same issue from 2014, before it went nuclear this year,  Some Points Re: Recent Matters, is just as (or more) applicable to the ongoing kerfuffle/fracas/debate/argument/Holy-War (choose one, or several, as you deem applicable). The takeaway line: "Some people are proud of being a prick."


Iggy the Easter Iguana

Sure, it may look like something only Satan could hug and cuddle,
but at least it actually lays eggs, for Christ's sake!

The local Wildlife World Zoo decided to put bunny ears on its resident iguana for a recent publicity appearance on local tv. Because why would you not?


Coconut-Pineapple-Ginger Smoothie

I've been making fruit smoothies at bedtime to take my daily pills and supplements with. Besides being good for that, drinking the smoothies (essentially fruit salads in pureed form) means I indulge in a lot less ice cream and other high-sugar, high-fat snacks than I used to.

I use a wide variety of ingredients. This combination worked particularly well, so I thought I'd preserve the recipe.

Coconut-Pineapple-Ginger Smoothie

11/ C. coconut milk
1/2 C. Del Monte pineapple in coconut-flavored light syrup (these come in lunchbox-size plastic cups with a half-cup in each)
1/2 tsp. ginger paste (or more, if you like ginger)
1 scoop whey protein powder (about 34 grams, or slightly over 1 ounce by weight, or about 3 ounces by volume; it's fluffy stuff)

Blend until smooth. Enjoy. About 300 calories.

(My carton of coconut milk came out of the fridge in slushy form. You might want to add several ice cubes to chill the mixture.)

A Few Words About Obamacare

From bankrate.com: What If Obamacare Never Happened? A chilling look at the world Republicans want to resurrect.

For another reminder of what the Working Poor had to do before the Affordable Care Act. here's one of my own posts from 2006, New Millennium, Old Style Medicine.

Until the ACA went into effect, one of our friends had to try and make do with with herbal and folk remedies to treat her asthma and other problems. Under ACA provisions, she finally qualified for AHCCS (Arizona's equivalent for Medicaid) and has been able to see actual medical professionals and get prescription medications.

One of the dire predictions Republicans made about the ACA was that people would have to pay more for insurance under ACA. That's turned out to be mostly untrue. There's a small number that fall into various qualification cracks, but most of those increases in premiums are small. (I checked the ACA website to see what coverage matching what I get through my USPS retirement would cost. It was about $40 more a month than what I currently pay. That would be annoying, but it would be something I could afford without much trouble; most people who complain about increased premiums seem to be in a similar financial niche as I am, and could similarly afford such an increase if  ACA coverage was their only option.)

I actually met someone recently complaining about ACA premiums being unaffordable, though. It was a new co-worker, who had been on AHCCS during a long period of unemployment. When he finally re-entered the workforce, that AHCCS coverage ended, so he went to the ACA website to see what he could get. He complained that he ended up with a figure of $490 a month. Since he's one of our temporary contract workers at $9.00/hour, that would be over a third of his monthly income.

That figure sounded WAY too high to me, especially for someone who'd just come off of AHCCS, so I suggested he contact one of the person-to-person ACA counselors to see if that amount was accurate. Surprisingly, he actually took my advice (he must have missed the memo everyone else in the world has apparently read, because no one EVER takes my advice). As it turned out, the counselor was able to figure out that in the process of filling out the online questionnaire, the guy's grandchildren had somehow gotten listed as dependents, so that $490 figure had been for the fellow employee AND several grandchildren. The actual cost for solo coverage equivalent to what he'd had under AHCCS would only be about $200 a month. That's something he can afford, so he was a LOT happier the next time I talked with him.

Here's the short version of this post: THANKS, OBAMA! No, really, thank you. I mean that.


Modern Mysteries: Living In The Past?

Besides science fiction and fantasy, I try to maintain a general impression of the state of the mystery genre.

It's seemed to me that a lot of newly-published mysteries over the last several or more years have been set, not in the present day, but back in the 1970's, 80's, or earlier decades.

I wonder if that might be because those earlier times were pre-cellphones, pre-Internet, pre-Surveillance-Society?

In a society where everything is known, or has the potential to become known, has the traditional mystery story become impossible (or at least damn difficult) to write?

- - - - -

Along the line of mysteries, I only recently realized science fiction blog Tor.com has a sister site, Criminal Element, covering the mystery and thrillers beat. One of their regular columns is "Noir's Goon Squad", profiling some of the actors and actresses who regularly portrayed thugs and goons and femme fatales in films of the mid-20th century. "Noir's Goon Squad: Barton MacLane" covers the career of a man who "just had a face you wanted to punch", "was the king of the assholes", and portrayed characters "like he was born in a bad mood."  Apparently he was a pretty good actor; outside his film work, MacLane was a playwright and musician.


Library Update, and other stuff

Ack, it's been a busy last few weeks, and I've kept running out of time to make new posts here.

The Foothills Library "expansion" (as in gut, downsize and relocate to smaller quarters in a different facility) proposal I've been writing about recently came before the Glendale City Council on March 17th. In the face of an overwhelming public response against the proposal, the council voted unanimously to remove the proposal from consideration. So Foothills Library is safe for now. The question still remains, why was this awful proposal ever given any consideration in the first place? (I may write more about that when I get time.)

- - - - -

I'm going to admit defeat on the idea of making a regular "Weekly Links"post. I'll go back to making irregular posts and links to things that catch my interest. I have a stack of notes and URL's, so some posts will probably appear in the next few days.


The Uninvited Guest

"That's right, I've come into your backyard, I'm lounging around on your back porch,
in front of your patio door. Excuse me, did I say YOUR back porch? Sorry, I meant to say
MY back porch. Because possession is nine points of the claw, sucker,


The Twitter So Far

So, after having been on Twitter for a couple of weeks, how do I like it?

My primary use, and initial reason for joining, was to follow and support some of the grass-roots opposition to the Foothills Library relocation proposal, the subject of most of the recent posts here. (Never my intent for UF to become a one-issue blog; the Foothills issue should reach a resolve when it finally gets voted on by City Council, probably sometime in mid-March. Posts here should get back to their regular varied mix after that.)

It's been useful for that. Bit of a learning curve, but the Twitter Help pages are pretty useful. (Not always the case with other sites and apps.)

I've added some non-library sites to follow, but it's something I'm doing slowly. A lot of chatter and small talk, a lot of interesting links. Fun, but also another time-sink, of which I always have too many. Even with following less than a dozen Twitter feeds, it's been hard to keep up sometimes. (That Scalzi fellow posts so often I sometimes suspect he Tweets in his sleep, or keeps clones chained to keyboards in his basement or something.)

I see some people on Twitter who are "Following" hundreds or even thousands of others. That seems... unsustainable. How many of those Twitter feeds do they actually read, and how do they pick and sort and choose?

If the fiction I've got out for submission to various markets starts selling, or if I ever get off my butt and finish prepping a couple of self-publishing projects I've had in mind, Twitter will probably be very useful for promotion and publicity.

In the meantime, I'll stick with it, with a bit of caution and an eye on the clock.


Foothills Library: Open Letter to Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers & City Council Members

TO: GlendaleMayor Jerry Weiers and City Council members
Re: Foothills Library relocation proposal

What is a building worth?

A building is not just the land it stands on, and the materials it's built from. The worth of a building comes from the use to which it's put, and how well it serves that use.

In the 2nd appraisal of the Foothills Branch Library building, buried deep in the 150 pages, one line stood out for me:

"Functional obsolescence = $0"

What that line means is that the Foothills Branch Library building is as capable of fulfilling its function as the day it opened. It was designed to serve as a public library, it has functioned as a public library since 1999, and according to the appraiser's report, it is capable of continuing to serve as a public library for many more years.

I submit that, with no loss of function, there has been no true loss of value. The functional value of the building is the same as when it first opened. The financial value should, at a minimum, be the same as when it was first built for 7.8 million. The low market value in the appraisals is a function of a still-incomplete economic recovery, and a large glut of business properties on the current market.

And even that original cost doesn't reflect it's complete value. A truer value might be the replacement value, the cost of building an identical or similar library structure today. That cost would be around 17 million dollars.

But that replacement value isn't the complete value, either. Good libraries (and I consider the Foothills Branch a very good library) provide a public value to cities and their residents. That's a figure hard to put a dollar amount to, but its a large figure, much larger than even the 17 million dollar replacement value for the building.

Accepting an offer of a mere 5 million dollars for a building of such high value would be very, very foolish.

How much is a book worth?

Eviscerating Foothills Library's collection of printed books by eighty percent, one hundred forty thousand books, and moving the remainder into one-quarter the space at the Aquatics Center would also be very, very foolish.

The Aquatics Center was not designed as a library. Moving the downsized library into those spaces at the Aquatics Center would be a kluge, a fix-up, a make-do. The functional value of the smaller space would be less than the functional value of the same square footage in the current, designed-as-a-library, building. The library space at the Aquatics Center would be a degraded version of what we currently have. Foothills Library is a first-class library. At the Aquatics Center, the best we could hope for would be a second-class library.

And, lest we forget, the Aquatics Center would be losing some its current space, taken over by the downsized library. Its own functional value, as an Aquatics and Recreation Center, would be degraded. It too would suffer a functional downgrade, from a first-class facility to a second-class facility.

No, no, no, we are told. The new library space will be as good as ever, we are told, because the library will be going digital. The library of the future, we are told, won't need printed books, or the shelves to hold them, or the square-feet of floor to put the shelves on.

There are many problems, though, with what we have been told about the digital future of libraries. Problems practical, aesthetic and economic.

The practice of "browsing the stacks" is a common one among library users. If you need a particular book, by a particular author, about a particular subject, you can go straight to that spot. But sometimes what you want is just a good book, an interesting book, a well-written book. How do you find those books?

Sometimes you just walk slowly past the rows and shelves of books, scanning spines and covers, titles and authors' names. Something catches your attention. Maybe it's a brightly-colored spine among a run of dull ones. Maybe it's an intriguing title. Maybe it's an author's name you've heard of, but never read before. Maybe you're even looking for a particular author's books, but the books by adjacent authors on that shelf catch your interest, too.

Think of it as a bibliophile's version of window-shopping. There's luck, and serendipity, and coincidence involved. Sometimes it seems like a little bit of magic, too. I've found wonderful books and writers by such browsing, books and writers I'd never have had reason to specifically seek out. It is one of the joys and treasures of a good library, particularly a good-sized library with depth and breadth to its inventory. (Foothills' current inventory of 175,000 books seems about ideal to me.)

In a digital library, or at Amazon and other online booksellers, the experience of that simple footloose wandering is largely lost. Over and over again, a leading complaint about digital catalogs is the inability to browse easily and casually. If you know what you're looking for, if you have a particular title or author or subject, if you can guess the right keywords to search on, digital catalogs can probably take you there. But you can only view a fraction of a fraction of a digital catalog at a time if your search is just for "something interesting". It's slow, and frustrating, and unsatisfying.

With printed books, stacked on shelves, I can browse hundreds of titles in just a few minutes. That's why I, and many others, hope digital books never completely supplant printed books.

I said above that there are economic problems regarding the idea of an all-digital library. Let's crunch some numbers.

Under the relocation proposal, some 140,000 books would be culled from Foothills' current inventory. At first, the public was told those books would be "sent to Main and Velma Teague branch libraries." This turned out to be – let us use a polite phrase – non-factual, and was later revised to state that only a portion would go to Main and Teague, with the remainder to be either sold or donated.

I'd estimate that Main and Teague would probably only be able to absorb about 20,000 of those books, mostly titles Main and Teague don't already duplicate in their own holdings. But let's be generous and say they could take 40,000. That leaves 100,000 titles, a nice even number to work with.

For the new library space at the Aquatics Center to provide a selection with the same depth and breadth as the current printed inventory at Foothills, the new library space would have to replace those 100,000 titles (or a similar selection) with digital versions. This wouldn't be the "expansion of library services" promised in the proposal, it would just provide a digital equivalent to Foothills' current physical holdings.

How much would that cost?

Researching the topic, I found 2013 data that libraries pay pretty close to retail price for printed books. On average, about seven dollars ($7) for mass market paperbacks and about twenty-seven dollars ($27) for hardcovers.

The average cost, to libraries, for a digital book, also in 2013, was... sixty-three dollars ($63).

Does that surprise you, Mayor Weiers, Council members? Those numbers surprise a lot of people.

When a library buys a printed book, they buy an object. They own that book, and they can keep loaning it out until it literally falls to pieces if they want.

When a library pays for a digital book, they're buying a licensing fee, permission to download that book's file to library patrons' devices. Not only does that licensing fee cost more than a printed book, but usually that digital file can only be loaned out to one patron at a time (as if it were a physical book) and only for a limited number of total lend-outs (as if it was accumulating wear and tear like a printed book).

Let's crunch a few more numbers:

If the library space at the Aquatics Center were to match the depth and breadth of the current Foothills Library, to be as good as what the city already owns, they would have to increase their digital holdings by at least 100,000 titles.

The cost for that would add up to... lemme see...

Six Million, Three Hundred Thousand Dollars ($6,300,000).

The City of Glendale would have to spend every penny of the five million dollars offered by Midwestern for the Foothills building, plus over a million dollars more, just to digitally replace the Foothills materials they seem so casually intent on disposing of. But somehow we're also supposed to pay for remodeling the Aquatics Center, and moving the remnants of Foothills there, and buy shiny new computers and other tech, and somehow still have over four million dollars left to pay down a small fraction of the city's debt.

The numbers simply don't add up. The promises aren't believable.

What is a city's reputation worth?

This proposal has brought Glendale into the media spotlight, both locally and nationally. It's not a very flattering light. Glendale is becoming a laughing stock. Not only did previous city administrations toss the city into a black hole of massive debt, but the current administration wants to sell one of its most-appreciated and socially valuable assets at a loss, and tries to pass it off as a good deal. Glendale's government looks like a pack of clowns.

This relocation proposal is one of the shoddiest and most incompetent sales campaigns I've ever seen. From the first day it went public, the flaws and bad data, the spin and half-truths, the misleading promises and lack of timetables, and especially the sheer audacity of trying to pass off the evisceration of a well-stocked, well-housed full-service library as an "expansion", have been pointed out and criticized.

This proposal is a train wreck. As more and more of the true background of how this proposal came to be conceived and presented comes out, the sleazier and more deeply dishonest it appears.

The only clear lesson in this entire affair so far is this: The Glendale city government cannot be trusted to tell its citizens the truth.

Cut your losses, Mayor Weiers and council members. Kick this proposal to the curb, as quickly as you can. Because a lot of people are angry and disgusted over this. And I can make this personal promise: If any council member votes to approve this so-called "expansion", I will do everything I can to see they are not elected to another term.


Bruce Arthurs