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Below are the most recent 7 friends' journal entries.
|Saturday, January 12th, 2019|
|Book review & online fiction review: The Administration series, by Manna Francis (2002 to present)
The Administration series currently consists of nine volumes in print and in Kindle e-book, as well as a heck of a lot of online fiction. These are three reviews I wrote between 2004 and 2009.
Manna recently swept the awards for original fiction in a zines contest, and I'm not surprised. The best summary of this series that I can offer is the one by the author:
In 2097, Europe is controlled by the totalitarian Administration, which shares political power with powerful corporations. The oppressive government uses torture, violence and the various Divisions of the feared Department of Internal Security to maintain power. The corporations fight amongst themselves, using lethal force under the euphemism of 'corporate sabotage', uniting only to resist attempts by the Administration to extend its control over them.
The inspiration for the Administration series of stories is a maxim of Chris Boucher, script editor of Blakes 7 – There are no bad guys. There are no good guys. There are only better guys, and worse guys.
One of the worse guys is Val Toreth. In a world where torture is a legitimate part of the investigative process, he works for the Investigation and Interrogation Division.
One of the better guys is Keir Warrick, a corporate director. His small corporation, SimTech, is developing a 'sim' system which places users in a fully-immersive virtual reality.
Their world is the dark future dystopia of New London.
The series is long, but each episode forms an individual story. The first novel, Mind Fuck, fits with Dorothy L. Sayers's subtitle of one of her novels: "A Love Story with Detective Interruptions" – provided that one treats the word "love" broadly. It's the tale of a torturer and an opponent to torture trying to best one another and being a little too interested in each other to make for an easy power play. Then fate intervenes in the form of a corpse.
Interrogation is a profession that has certain basic requirements. Primarily, the ability to hurt people, sometimes kill them, and not care.
At the time of the merger with Investigation, Toreth had been at the Interrogation Division for a year and he'd enjoyed his work. However, it hadn't taken him long to see where the brighter future lay. He'd worked hard to win a place in the first round of appointments for the newly created post of para-investigator, a job that theoretically combined the skills of both investigator and interrogator.
Plenty of interrogators had applied for the conversion course, and few had made it. The successful ones were on the more socially adept end of the spectrum – those who could be let near citizens of the Administration without the precaution of a damage waiver. At the time, Toreth had heard the term 'high-functioning' used.
Or, as Sara put it in her less tactful moments, the difference between paras and interrogators was that the former weren't quite so dead behind the eyes.
QUID PRO QUO
This original slash book is the newest volume in a series featuring Val Toreth, a sociopathic investigator/interrogator (yes, that's a euphemism) who becomes a top in a BDSM relationship with a man who's a firm opponent to torture.
Here's Toreth in one of his BDSM sessions:
Toreth fished the new toy of a pocket before he took off his jacket and dropped it on a chair. The paper wrapper crinkled as Toreth opened it. A printed notice warned of the asphyxiation hazard and cautioned against use on unsupervised prisoners in the absence of an appropriate damage waiver. The grey plastic strap had a fastener and a central guard to hold a prisoner's teeth apart and stop them from biting themselves or anyone else. Single use, disposable and sterile. Not many workplaces offered such entertaining opportunities for stealing office supplies. . . .
"You don't want to hear about interrogations, you don't like the idea that they're happening at I&I, right now, and yet you're fucking a trained interrogator. Am I the only one here who thinks that's a bit strange?"
"If the situation bothers you, you are welcome to leave. I believe the terms of the bet have been fulfilled."
The arrogance, the effortless tone of command from someone in such a vulnerable position, made Toreth feel suddenly overdressed and impatient. "No, I don't think so. Just making an observation."
"Good." [The other man] lowered his gaze, waiting, breathing slowly.
I'd already read online all the stories in the collection except the title novella, which is new. As with the other stories in the series, the volume offers a chilling portrayal of the mindset of a sociopath. This is mixed in with dark humor, sex (much of it playful rather than dark), friendship, and family ties, as well as strong feelings by Toreth for his sex partner that are not easily defined (as shown by the endless debates over their nature by the series' readers). In short, this series is unusual and powerful.
I have to admit that the novella "Quid Pro Quo" won't go onto my favorites list, because it's a mystery novella, and I'm not much of a mystery reader, unless the mystery plotline is mixed in with character development or relationship entanglements or something else along those lines. But thanks to Toreth being such an interesting character, the story kept my interest from beginning to end and was more than worth the price of the book.
As a bonus (like those old-time commercials: "And that's not all! In addition to this fabulous novella, we'll also send you . . ."), the volume also has five other stories, all very good reading. If you like m/m stories, and you like reading them in print, I highly recommend Quid Pro Quo, as well as its predecessor, Mind Fuck.
The scary thing about Manna Francis's Administration series is that it's possible to get used to the people in it.
You'll be reading along, and Toreth will be attempting the delicate task of working with a cranky boss, and Sara will be carefully checking computer documents in an efficient manner, and Chevril will be complaining about how much more money he would make if he held a corporate position, and it will all begin to seem very familiar - just a group of white-collar workers doing their jobs under difficult circumstances . . .
And then you'll reach page 85, and you'll be forcefully reminded that you're reading a series about a psychopath who works as a judicial torturer.
Toreth – the psychopath, who works as a para-investigator, investigating crimes and torturing suspects – is, in certain ways, the least scary character in the Administration series. It makes sense that someone as mentally ill as him would do what he does. Far more scary are the other members of the Investigation and Interrogation Division, such as Barret-Connor, an investigator working for Toreth. He is a quiet, competent, nice man who is capable of making the following statement:
"I could never be a para. I've done the introductory interrogation courses, the ones that qualify you for level one and two verbal interrogations, although I got abysmal marks at level two. I've done the interrogation habituation course, and I've chucked up along with everyone else, and been called a gutless wimp by the instructors. I've sat through a few high-level interrogations, and seen recordings and transcripts. I don't like it, at all, but that's not my job. My job is to find the suspects and put them into the interrogation room with enough solid facts to get the waiver the Para or the interrogator in there with them needs to do their job."
The banality of evil has rarely been so well depicted.
Barret-Connor's statement is made in "Coming from America," a previously unreleased novella that takes a few well-placed jabs at Americans, while not letting Europeans off the hook. Barret-Connor's matter-of-fact commentary on how he helped with the Administration's latest atrocity is the darkest story in the book. The story "Helen" shines by comparison, showing the self-doubts afflicting Toreth's lover, who heartily dislikes torture, yet continues to carry on an SM affair with Toreth.
The title novella "Control" is a page-turning thriller. I read it late at night, planning to stop after a few scenes, but that plan was discarded when I reached the scene that began with the words: "Handcuffed to the wall in near darkness, Toreth had plenty of time to reflect on what an idiot he had been."
The crown of this eight-story collection, though, is "Caged," which I consider to be the most moving story in the series. Although far less action-oriented than "Control," it is more hard-hitting, because it probes deeper into the dark recesses of evil than Barret-Connor would ever dare to do.
Though, really, none of us would want to miss Barret-Connor's entertaining account in "Coming to America" of what happened when he was stoned at a party.
Manna Francis's website.
The Administration in print.
The Administration at Goodreads.
|I've started up my Retro Home blog again
Just in case you folks didn't notice last week, I've started up retrohome again, after a long gap in posting. Here's its description:
"This is a blog where I talk about my current daily life at home and in my hometown, comparing it to American homelife during my childhood and college years (1963-1987) and during earlier eras. I also post recommendations of books (nonfiction and fiction) that show the history of American everyday life at home."
My latest post is on my daily schedule, including how writing fits in with my schedule.
Like duskpeterson, retrohome has an e-mail list, if you prefer to receive posts by e-mail.
|Writing life: My first novel
Map from "Robert Lace, Best Soldier/Spy Ever," about age eleven.
Above is my map from the very first "novel" I tried to write. I'm pretty sure that the island on the map is meant to be divided (by the lines you can see) between the territory of the good guys and the territory of the enemy, with a borderland in between where all the really interesting stuff happens. (Not like anything I'd write today, of course.)
I know the chronology of my writing of this story from a remarkable, handwritten document I found alongside the map. The document starts in late 1973, when I was ten years old; it finishes in mid-1974, when I was eleven. Here's what it says:
November - Wrote to Mrs. Konigsburg.
December - Got information about Mrs. Konisburg from publishers.
January (20?) - Got letter from Mrs. Konisburg.
March or April - Had Dream and made a book.
April or May - Decided to be a writer while still a child.
June - Wrote to Mrs. Konisburg.
July - Got letter from Mrs. K.
July 14 - Made letter to publishers.
July 15 - Made note to parents. Made Dedication. Finished taping book.
July 16 - Made Word List. Made "The Idea . . .".
July 17 - Made Questionnaire, Illustrations, List of Illustrations, The Parts of my Book, and copied down the publishers address. Mother listened to tape.
July 20 - Wrote information on book and me.
July 30 - Mother started typing book.
Mrs. Konigsburg was of course E. L. Konigsburg, who graciously answered not one but two enquiries from me on how to be a writer; she even illustrated her letters to me. I had the opportunity to meet her briefly during my college years, when she spoke at the Library of Congress. I will forever regret that I didn't tell her what those letters meant to me.
The references to taping and typing come from the fact that my mother - clearly concerned that I would spend my entire life talking about writing rather than actually writing - suggested that I dictate my story onto tape so that she could type it up. I still have both the tape and her transcript, though they're in storage currently.
What I find both amusing and eye-opening is that, at age eleven, I was already a self-publisher, fully prepared to provide, not merely the fiction manuscript, but the front matter and end matter as well, right down to the author's bio and a listing of "The Parts of My Book." I can only ascribe this interest in publishing to my parents, who were on their way to starting their own small press at that time. Impressively, I had even grasped (maybe through E. L. Konigsburg's guidance?) the essence of the admissions process.
Also, I figured out how to spell "questionnaire." Man.
It was around this time that I learned to type. I begged my mother for lessons. In response, she loaned me the Smith-Corona typewriter that she and my father shared. (I still own that typewriter; it survived being hit by lightning, so I'm sure not throwing it out.) She managed to get her hands on a typing manual, and I proceeded to teach myself to touch-type. I polished off my skills through a formal typing class in high school. For years, an ability to type wasn't of much use to me; we were required to hand-print our assignments at school, and I soon found that it's nearly impossible on the typewriter to edit oneself, which was and is part of my creative process. But still, I knew that professional writers should know how to type. I sometimes think that writers were among the few people fully prepared for the computer revolution.
Oh, and about the novel: I thought I was writing twentieth-century war fiction, but I knew next to nothing about war (I think I was probably taking my cues from Hogan's Heroes), and I made up the location, so it worked out to be an AU. The level of writing was about what you'd expect from an eleven-year-old, but I rather like the names I picked for some of the characters: Robert Lace, Percy Fancy, and General George Pockets. Oh, and on the map there's a Slingshot River that actually looks like a slingshot. Nice.
My outline gives a sense of the plot (and shows that I'd even mastered apostrophes at that age):
When it all started.
How it all started.
Trip to General Snow.
The next morning.
The trip to the general's.
Mom and Dad's letter.
The talk with the triplets.
The triplets' excape.
It's pretty obvious which tropes I'd determined to spend my life writing about, isn't it?
( This week's writing and editing of those tropes )
|Sunday, January 6th, 2019|
|2018 recommendations: books, online fiction, audio, videos, fanvids, DW comms, blogs
New-to-me fiction: Westmark trilogy, by Lloyd Alexander. YA historical fantasy, set in an imaginary 18th-century society, about an alliance between commoners, rebels, and royalty, and the ethical challenges they all face.
Older fiction: Oh god, must I choose between Rosemary Sutcliff's historical novels? Okay, Frontier Wolf, because it's my favorite. My review.
History (narrative): Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938, by R. A. Scott. I read this for research, but the prose and construction are so superb that I've added it to my very short list of favorite nonfiction.
History (reference): Daily Life in Roman Britain, by Lindsay Allason-Jones. An absorbing account. What I especially appreciate is the author's attempt to recreate the psychological states of the various inhabitants of Roman Britain - for example, the emotional trauma that some of the native British might have undergone when moving from the countryside to towns.
(The other books I read this year, except for picture books.)
ONLINE FICTION (original and fan)
Science fiction: Two stories by songofsunset, Six the Alien (gen; original) and Meeting for Robots (gen; includes queer references; "Fandom for Robots" fanfic). Both stories are about outsiders coming to terms with the weirdness that is humanity. Bonus: The second story is a fanfic of a story about fandom!
Science fiction prisonfic: Exchange Trip (gen; includes queer characters; crossover of Deep Space Nine [fanfic] / The Administration [original]), by Manna. The author's blurb: "Garak ends up in New London, and things do not go well for him. But then it's Garak, so they wouldn't." I will read every little driblet issued by this author, and this science fiction story was well worth the reading.
The odd stuff: Texts from Cephalopods, by volta arovet (gen; RPF of various YouTube videos that are linked within the story itself). No, seriously - Real Person Fiction of octopuses. Look, any story with a title like that just has to be clicked on.
AUDIO (drama and comedy)
Fantasy: Earthsea (BBC Radio). An excellent adaptation of Ursula K. Le Guin's classic series about a young wizard and a young woman whose identity has been stripped from her. The variety of accents gives added depth to the work.
Comedy: Stan Freberg Presents The United States of America. Satire of American history. This has aged better than most 1960s comedy. If you listen to nothing else, listen to "Washington Crosses the Delaware." I can somehow imagine that dialogue taking place in today's White House.
Movie: The Railway Children (1970). Heartwarming adaptation of the 1906 E. Nesbit novel about a family of middle-class children who must cope with poverty after the unexpected disappearance of their father. The 2000 television film adaptation is darker but well done; the actor who played the older girl in the 1970 version is the mother in the 2000 version.
TV series: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Video; 2017-present). Trailer. Comedy-drama set in 1950s New York City. Jewish families. Jewish couples. Jewish comedians (male and female). A leather-clad butch lesbian. What more do you need?
Romance: Suddenly I See, by elipie (f/f; Riverdale). Can't really say why I like this except . . . Okay, light/dark character contrast. That hits my button. Plus, I want to send a time machine back to my 1970s self to say, "Keep reading Archie Comics. You have no idea what's coming next."
Revolution: She's a Rebel, by bessieboo (gen; tribute to Carrie Fisher). A wonderful mixture of images.
A few recently started comms that might interest some of you:
classiclitclub - Discussions of classic literature. They've just begun The Iliad.
findoriginalfiction - A directory to help original fiction readers and writers find one another.
historium - Historical fandoms.
slavefics - "For slavefic and servant-fic, original or AU. Fic, art, manips, recs, picspam, queries, discussions." [CW: NSFW non-con header.]
Politics: What The Fuck Just Happened Today? Daily digest of US government news. Doesn't pretend to be unbiased, but it links to mainstream news sources.
Writing: Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I'm recommending this blog of an SF/F author and editor again because of articles like this and this. We all need encouragement in these dark times.
Recommendations related to home life at my Retro Home blog.
|Writing and reading in 2018: a roundup WRITING
My annual fiction roundup
gives the picture of my publishing this year: I brought out (or in three cases, started serializing) four novels. One of those novels - "Breached Boundaries," which will be 250,000 words long when I finish serializing it - has been hanging around my hard drive since I started the novel in 1996. "Wizard of the Sun" is even older: it dates from 1995, based on a story I wrote at age sixteen in 1979, based on a dream I had at age fourteen. It feels good to finally get those two novels released.
I also brought out a Dark Light e-book, "Danger," collecting more stories from Turn-of-the-Century Toughs.
This year's wordage
110587 / 240000 (46.08%)
As far as writing is concerned, it could have been a worse year, given the disruptions in my life during 2018. I managed to get 110,587 words done, which is about what I get written on an average year, though a far cry from what I'd like to get written annually. Here are my word counts for 2018
. Among other things, I finished another Three Lands mega-novel ("Empty Dagger Hand"), wrote a Three Lands novella ("The Night Watch"), and wrote four shorter pieces in the Chronicles of the Great Peninsula.
In other good news this year, I started a Patreon account
- a big thank you to my donors there
- and I streamlined my writing process. But the really big news is that NaNoWriMo got me into the habit of writing for an hour each day. Daily writing is a habit I've been trying to achieve for decades. So I hope that I'll be able to get more wordage done next year.READINGHere are the books I read in 2018
, other than picture books. I've come to realize that the only way in which to find time for reading is to make
time for reading. My reading time is still largely confined to meal breaks and bathroom breaks, but I've deliberately cut back on the number of meals I spend editing rather than reading.
I read more than the usual amount of nonfiction this year because I spent part of the year weeding the nonfiction section of my personal library This meant reading a lot of books on my long list of "Gosh, has it really been forty years since I acquired this book? Guess I'd better read it."YOU FOLKS
I just want to say that one of my great delights this year has been connecting with folks with Dreamwidth. I was seriously at the point of giving up altogether on social media, since it has been nearly a decade since I had any sort of online social group. (Since I haven't had an offline social group for over a decade, this has left me pretty lonely.)
But I thought, "Maybe I've just been spreading myself too thin and not devoting enough attention to the people I'm talking to. Maybe I should concentrate on getting to know folks at one social media site, and throw my heart into it." The choice of a site was easy. So I shuttered my other social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr) and began to spend forty-five minutes a day on Dreamwidth. I wanted to get to know people here and to try to become better at being supportive to other people.
And suddenly my inbox is filled every day with comments from Dreamwidth folks, talking to me! I can't thank you all enough. You've made me incredibly happy, these last few months.Roundup of my home life in 2018
at my Retro Home blog.
|The stories I released in 2018, and the stories I've scheduled to release in the future
I've finished writing all of the titled stories below, but because of the uncertainties of editing time, future release dates remain tentative. If it turns out that I can bump The Awakening
up to an earlier time slot, I certainly will.
Except for short stories, holiday gift stories, and e-books, all works are serialized weekly.
=== 2018 releases ===
Death Mask (The Three Lands novel; beginning of serialization). For eighteen years, he has survived in an army unit where few soldiers live more than two or three years. Now he finds himself in circumstances where his life is a living hell. Will the soldier who defied death find that life is too great a challenge? ¶ Soldiers, spies, slaves, rebels, assassins, gods, and men who set out to break him . . . The Lieutenant of the Border Mountain Patrol will learn that his greatest test is himself.
Hell's Messenger (Life Prison novel; beginning of serialization). In Mip's most notorious life prison, Death appears in a strange disguise. ¶ It had seemed for a while that the plan would work: a bold conspiracy by a group of idealistic prisoners and sympathetic guards to stop abuse at Mercy Prison. Then betrayal occurs, and Tyrrell finds himself in a new life prison, with new rules to be learned. No longer is he in a position of leadership; now he is surrounded by men who question his most fundamental values. ¶ He has new allies as well: fellow prisoners who like what they see in him, a healer who refuses to accept current conditions, and guards who may or may not provide the help that the prisoners desperately need. But Hell's messenger, Death, visits Compassion Prison, keeping his face hidden until it is almost too late for Tyrrell to recognize his touch.
Wizard of the Sun (Darkling Plain novel) [holiday gift story]. When Tyne's father makes plans to rid himself of his dull-witted son, Tyne climbs the wizards' mountain, hoping to find there an answer to his troubles. The power he receives there brings him joy beyond measure. Gradually, however, he comes to realize that the land of his people lies in danger. Tyne sets out to fight the danger, though he knows that in doing so, he risks losing the power he has gained and returning to the lonely life he led as a boy.
Breached Boundaries (The Three Lands novel; beginning of serialization). The boundaries of rank declare that Serva can be a princess or she can be a slave. But for the bastard daughter of the King of Daxis, life is not that simple. ¶ Forced to be a tool in a battle waged by her land's unstable King and his dangerously devious heir, Serva cannot even find refuge among her fellow slaves. Instead, she secretly explores the hidden portions of the palace. In this way, she meets an imprisoned spy who is scheduled for execution. ¶ But when a simmering war bubbles to the surface, Serva must choose where her loyalties lie. She must also solve the mystery of the spy's past, and of her own future.
Danger (Dark Light collection). Soon after they were born, they were tattooed with the signs of their ranks: master or servant. Now, in the time between past and future, the youths of the Midcoast nations find themselves in predicaments and even high danger. Unable to flee their troubles, they face a thick, unyielding barrier .. . until the power of friendship breaks through.
=== 2019 releases ===
Death Mask (The Three Lands novel; end of serialization).
Hell's Messenger (Life Prison novel; end of serialization).
If I have time, more of my backlist.
Holiday gift story.
Breached Boundaries (The Three Lands novel; end of serialization).
Free-man's Blade (The Three Lands short story). Free-men are the backbone of Emor: the men who run and protect the empire. But when a young servant finds himself unexpectedly vaulted into manhood, he must decide how he will use his power, and who will pay the price of his decision.
In the Spirit (The Three Lands novelette). Prince Richard has a high office in the army, a ruler who trusts him, and a loyal subordinate. ¶ He also has a murderer who is likely to kill him one of these days. Amidst the many uncertainties of his life, can Richard count on love, or will that become yet another treachery?
Hidden Blade (The Three Lands novella). His father is a dull farmer. His mother is a dull farmer's wife. He seems destined for a similarly dull life. ¶ But then a stranger appears in their village, and suddenly the talk is of soldiers and spies and secrets and gods. Will he be able to break free of his father's legacy and make a bold dash to a life of his own?
Death Mask (The Three Lands novel).
Hell's Messenger (Life Prison novel).
Breached Boundaries (The Three Lands novel).
Darkling Plain omnibus.
=== 2020 releases ===
More of my backlist.
Holiday gift story.
The Fire Before (The Three Lands novella). The god's fire is fierce, but not as fierce as the god's wrath if you turn away. ¶ Tristan is the King's heir, destined to rule the Kingdom of Koretia. His nephew Robin has taken Tristan's place as baron of their town. Now both men are about to face the worst crisis their land has ever known. And neither of them understands what the true crisis is. ¶ As Tristan struggles to find the courage to follow his god's command, and Robin tries to find a middle ground between piety and disloyalty to his uncle, the two noblemen will be forced to confront the consequences of war . . . and the consequences of their own inaction.
Empty Dagger Hand (The Three Lands novel). Dolan is a quiet young man who spends his days working as a scribe. So why does he have a dagger hidden under his tunic? ¶ When Dolan's hidden life turns to disaster, he must make his way through a warring world of many enemies and few allies. Figuring out which men are his allies will take time, and not much time is left. ¶ As an empire crumbles and civilization is threatened, Dolan must use all his wits to survive, for only he can bring to safety the greatest treasure in the Three Lands.
The Night Watch (The Three Lands novella). They are the elite unit of the Northern Army, and their power is growing. But what they need is more than power: they need wisdom. ¶ Xylon is the conscience of the Home Division Patrol. Everyone says so. But when his conscience fails him, Xylon must find the courage to help his fellow patrol guards through the worst crisis that the Great Peninsula has ever faced.
Empty Dagger Hand (The Three Lands novel).
A Blade Tales collection.
=== 2021 releases ===
More of my backlist.
Holiday gift story.
The Awakening (Dungeon Guards novel). Barrett Boyd has awakened from death to a new and baffling life. He knows that he is a guard in the queendom's royal prison, the Eternal Dungeon. But why do the prisoners matters so much to him? Who are these other guards who appear to have claims over him? And how will he survive while he finds his new place in this world? ¶ As Barrett seeks to make sense of his surroundings, he must contend with a would-be love-mate, a grumbling rebel, deadly enemies, and the challenge of how to wield his expanded skills.
The Awakening (Dungeon Guards novel).