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Darrell Bain's Newsletter

March 2006

 

George, Cookies, E-Book Week, "Experts", Book Report, Blooper, Prejudice, Bookless Times, Winter

This newsletter appears monthly around the first of each month. Past newsletters are archived at the web site where you are now www.darrellbain.com

George
My brother Gary was telling me how great "The Glorious Cause" was, the book about the revolutionary war which I recommended to him and described in the newsletter a few months ago. We were discussing how important George Washington was to the ultimate success of the revolution and how he managed to win it despite the idiocy of the Continental Congress. All of a sudden one of us burst out with "Where's George when we really need him?" We laughed really hard at first, but then the laughter died as we both remembered just how self serving and short sighted our political parties and our congress critters are. No need to go into it. I think everyone is already aware, regardless of whether they're a Democrat, Republican, Independent, apolitical, or a member of one of the smaller parties. So I'll repeat, and I'm being only slightly satirical, "Where's George when we really need him?"

Cookies
When I'm hard at work and don't want to burden the creative process with a big breakfast, my standard fare is milk, a banana and cookies. Not cookies from the store, mind you, but home made cookies. They're best when fresh from Betty's oven, but they're good anytime. It's a quick meal, and since the cookies are made with half sugar and half Splenda and the ones I like best have dried dates and cherries in them, I don't think it's a greatly unhealthy meal. And frankly, I wouldn't care anyway. I love her cookies. In fact, I love just about everything that comes from her kitchen. Betty is a wonderful cook, far surpassing my feeble efforts during the years when I was writing, farming and househusbanding. You've probably guessed that this is leading up to something and it is.

A fellow author asked me to contribute a couple of recipes for some cookbooks she was putting together, and I did. For the dessert cookbook I picked Betty's chocolate pie recipe. I never much cared for chocolate pies until she put one of those on my plate. Her chocolate pies are the smoothest, yummiest and have the best crust of any pie you'll ever eat. And for the soul food recipe I picked one of my househusbandy recipes, Large Onion flavored Lima Beans and Bacon. I don't claim to be a great cook, but put those beans with some cornbread made from muffin mix and it makes a good meal. At least Betty always ate it. What more can I say? The recipes are in the 2nd and 3rd cookbooks at the following url: http://www.kim-robinson.com/mybooks.html but you have to purchase them, like all books. Us authors have to make a living like everyone else, even though I'd love to write just for fun—and wind up doing it sometimes, unintentionally! BTW, the cookbooks come as e-books or on CD but will be available in print later. I might also mention there's a blurb and or reference to a web page of every writer who contributed. See, I had another motive, didn't I?

Read an E-Book Week
Each year, Read an E-Book Week celebrates the fresh voices and fresh choices of electronic literature. There remains no doubt that e-books have gone from oddity to mainstream when the top 10 bestselling list for 2005 includes the Bible, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary and Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith. And, ahem, number 13 on that world wide best selling list is one of my books, Alien Infection.

Book lovers world wide have used their mouse buttons to send e-book sales soaring. Steve Potash, CEO of OverDrive, Inc. and director of International Digital Publishing Forum, the trade and standards association for the digital publishing industry, stated: "E-books represent the fastest growing segment of the publishing industry."

Read An E-Book Week (March 5-11th, 2006) was created four years ago to educate readers about the advantages of electronic books and to promote the fledgling industry. In 2002 publishers were struggling with low sales and libraries reluctant to consider their books. Today many libraries carry e-books and even provide e-book readers to their patrons. E-book topics now range from dance instruction to science fiction, and from repair manuals to romance novels.

Permission to reprint the material regarding E-books was granted by Rita Y. Toews. I paraphrased some of it very slightly.

Experts
A couple of weeks ago I wrote an internet friend of mine, Herb Friedman, a retired Sgt. Major of the army whose web site is a prime source for psychological warfare, especially historical leaflets, with him listed many other places as an expert on the subject. His web site is www.psywarrior.com. I was telling him how it was getting to where I am asked to give my opinion and answers to a lot of questions about science fiction novels, particularly since I had an article published listing some of what I thought were the "most re-readable" ever written (available at www.fictionwise.com and www.ereader.com as "The 100 Most Readable and Re-readable Science Fiction Novels"). I told him it was getting to the point where some people apparently thought I was a real expert on the subject.

My friend, never one to pass up a chance to take someone down a notch, wrote back and said, "It's scary when you find yourself an expert, isn't it? It makes you wonder how many other experts are full of crap, too." I had to laugh. By the way, he is the namesake of a character in Alien Infection, one of the best selling e-books in the world last year. He swears it's because one of the characters is modeled on him and has his name (used with his permission). He asked to die gloriously in the novel, and I accommodated him.

Book Report
Last month I read a variety of books, re-reading a lot of them. "Tau Zero" by Poul Anderson. It's a gem, a grand concept rarely equaled. I've read it dozens of times. "Dachshunds For Dummies" was interesting and very informative if you own a weenie dog or are thinking about being owned by one. I re-read "The Mote In God's Eye," by Niven and Pournelle, for about the two dozenth time. I agree with what Heinlein said about it: "Possibly one of the finest science fiction novels ever written." A new one I read was "A Hymn Before Battle," by John Ringo, a fairly new name in military science fiction. Pretty good, but there's still two long sequels to go. Don't know when I'll get to them. I read "Islam Unveiled." It is a non-fiction, also pretty good, but didn't tell me much I hadn't already picked up in bits and pieces elsewhere.

I read a good account of the Tet Offensive, titled "The Battle For Saigon," about fighting in the Saigon area during the Vietnam War. The political aspects of this Tet battle (or several interrelated battles, actually) has been extensively covered, but not much definitive has been written about the actual military operations. A good one for military history buffs. "Mosaic," by John R. Maxim is a great thriller, dealing with the multiple personality syndrome. It's only the second time I've read it. Maxim is a very good writer and does his research. I think I've mentioned "Shadowbox," another by him. Also great!

A really good detective novel, "Lethal City" by Jeffrey Ames was a second read. Great! His first book, I think, but really, really good. And here comes John Varley again with "Mammoth." This guy is as versatile as David Brin. I told you about "Red Thunder" in a previous newsletter. Now "Mammoth." Both books should have wide appeal to the general public, whether they normally read science fiction or not (Betty read "Red Thunder" and is now engrossed in "Mammoth" and she's normally a mystery fan). I sure wish I could write as good as he can.

And right now, I'm re-reading "The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress" by Heinlein. I wanted to get into it while I was doing my collaborative book on revolution in America with Gerry Mills. Anyone planning a revolt should read that book. Heinlein's, not mine, though I invite you to read "The Focus Factor" when it comes out, April or May or thereabouts, as an e-book first and later on in print.

Blooper
I had just finished going over the advance reading copy of Alien Infection (for its print debut), and as I've mentioned, was one of the best selling e-books in the world last year. It's been gone over again and again and I thought we had picked up most typos and inconsistencies. And then came a letter from a fan (and occasional correspondent) who pointed out a major inconsistency everyone, including me, had missed. I'm sure glad he found it before the print copy comes out this year! He's blind and has to read by Braille, and told me he thought the reason he found it where so many others hadn't was that he is forced by his handicap into a slow reading mode. I told him he ought to become an editor!! At any rate, if anyone else finds things like this, please let me know! I really, really appreciate it.

Prejudice
Prejudice is a touchy subject. I personally believe that prejudice is part of the territorial instinct, such as almost all species display, and the expression of it is distorted in various ways by our cultural backgrounds, just like the expression of many other genetic traits are. However, it is no less degrading and upsetting for all that, especially if you're on the bottom end, such as blacks in some countries, Muslims in some countries, Untouchables in India, and on and on. I got into the subject of prejudice against blacks in my novel The Melanin Apocalypse (available now as an ebook at www.fictionwise.com and www.ereader.com ) pretty deeply. It is being rated very high by fans and will be out in Trade Paperback and also as my first Hardcover book later this year. Which leads up to the main subject.

I began wondering what it would be like if whites were a minority and were treated as abominably as blacks have been (and still are sometimes and some places). I just completed that novel and sent it to my publisher. It is a rather dark story but after doing The Melanin Apocalypse, I wanted to write a book showing the other side of the coin. How well I succeeded will be the readers' decision. White Odyssey should be out in late April as an e-book.

As a sidebar, Betty knows far better than I do about prejudice, but it wasn't her skin color, it was because she was a woman. This occurred when we went to work in Saudi Arabia back in 1979 (and of course as a woman she's been subtly prejudiced against in work, and so forth right here in America, particularly as she was growing up and as a young woman. It's not nearly as bad today.) Anyway, she hated the discrimination against women in the Middle East, and I can't say I cared much for it either. I became involved in a contretemps in the laboratory I was running over there, when a Saudi Captain struck one of my techs for hurting him while she was drawing blood. I didn't let him get away with it, nor did the authorities and he wound up having to apologize in the presence of a roomful of friends and observers (which must have seared his soul), pay "blood money" to my female tech and was still busted down to Second Lieutenant as punishment. Had this occurred in a hospital run by Saudis it probably would have never been mentioned.

Another time, I became ill while we were vacationing in Jordan. Women can drive there and Betty helped with it, but I had to drive the whole way back from the border to our place while sick as a dog and with the air conditioning in our car broken. Women still can't drive in Saudi Arabia to this day!

We also saw Saudi men with their sons riding in the cab of their pickups while their wives and daughters were in back with the goats, where the men thought they belonged. Betty had to deal with male assumed superiority every day while supervising Middle Eastern hospital workers and she got thoroughly sick of it and I got…well annoyed is too mild a term so I won't get into how I felt. We finally broke our contract and came home after only one year over there and have never been sorry, despite what it cost us.

By our lights, the way Muslims treat women is crazy, but it's justified by their religion. And guess what? So was prejudice against blacks based on religion if you dig into it very deeply. And once established, it became part of our culture for many years. The remnants (or in many cases not remnants but whole garments) are still around, despite all our laws to the contrary. I really don't expect it to disappear until most of us have some of the characteristics of blacks and vice versa, by which time some other form of prejudice will have appeared. Perhaps against Caucasians in countries with a white minority still extant, as I wrote about in White Odyssey.

It's a sad world sometimes, isn't it?

Bookless Times
While I'm on the subject of Saudi Arabia, I have to mention this. Everyone who reads this newsletter and/or my books must be a reader. So am I and so is Betty. That's probably one of the reasons we get along so well. Anyway, about a year after we were married we headed off to Saudi Arabia. Of course we took a few of our favorite books with us, about a hundred each, and we bought a few more at that giant bookstore in London on the way.

Had we known what we were getting into, most of our luggage would have consisted of books, I do believe. Why? Because when we got to where we were going, a military base in the northern part of the country, we found there was absolutely no reading material to be had. No bookstores (that sold books in English, anyway). No library. There were movies we could watch but they were censored down to about the level of Disney's creations for kids, and we're not movie goers anyway. There was no television. We like to read, and had nothing new at all. It was a trying time. We read our prized books over and over and actually made neighbors who came nosing around for reading material sign out anything they borrowed—and we only let one book go at a time per person. No more until it came back.

On vacations in Jordan and Thailand, we spent a lot of time searching for reading material rather than doing the usual touristy things, without much success.

This went on for six months or so, then finally, a library of sorts opened. Of sorts. It contained old paperbacks, none with garish covers, and mostly old mysteries or mainstream fiction years old. But we read it avidly. I can't think of another period in my life, other than the two years in Vietnam when I was so bereft of books. I think the worst punishment anyone could ever devise for Betty or I would be to lock us up in a room with nothing to read. We'd soon go batty.

All this is just to remind you of how well we have it in this country, with such a plethora of reading material, so much that it's almost overwhelming in a way, because you know there's simply not enough time or years to read all the good stuff out there!

Winter
The groundhog sure got a glimpse of his shadow this year! What had been a mild winter just about everywhere suddenly turned topsy turvey and Jack Frost went crazy making up for lost time. I sure do love our Franklin stove. There's nothing like an open wood fire to warm you right down to your toes. The weenie doggies like it, too! Unfortunately, the weather has delayed our garden. We usually plant potatoes and broccoli on Valentine's Day, give or take a day or two, but we sure missed it this year.

And as a sidebar here, too, this will be the first time I'll have to hire someone to till the garden for me. My back just isn't up to the job any more. Rats. I hate the aging process. With a passion. My theory is that we should have come with a maintenance manual and a spare parts bin. My, wouldn't that make life easier? Or we could just have the sex gates, as in my novel of the same name that has turned into a science fiction cult classic. Unfortunately both are fictional concepts. Rats.

Oh yes, one more comment about the weather. The two weenie dogs spend most of their time napping on their mats, and occasionally look mournfully up at us. We know what they're thinking. We're responsible for everything else, so why are we doing such a lousy job with the weather? Poor little furry people, I feel bad that I can't explain that it's not our fault.

That's all for this month. Thanks for reading.

Darrell Bain
Shepherd, Texas
March 2006

 

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