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I love grammar, and here comes a grammar rant. I have seen (no links to protect the guilty) writerly advice about avoiding “to be” as a linking verb.

Actually, you should consider this advice. You want to use strong verbs in your writing. The verb “to be,” when used as a linking or copulative verb, merely connects or couples the subject with the predicate. It’s a weak verb. For example:

• Becky is an expert computer programmer.
• Your dog was well behaved.
• They were zombies.

While these are fine sentences, you might not want to use too many of them in a row. They merely describe things. There’s no action.

So far so good. But what about these sentences?

• Becky is working as an expert computer programmer.
• Your dog has been behaving well this morning.
• They were being eaten by zombies.

None of these sentences uses “to be” as a linking verb. Here, a form of “to be” is acting as a helping or auxiliary verb. Do not avoid using “to be” in these kinds of sentences.

In English, verbs have few forms, but we have many shades of meaning that we want to invoke. To do that, we use a variety of auxiliary verbs to show time, questions, negation, completion, repetition, willingness, possibility, or obligation. If you’re a native speaker, you can do all this without thinking about it – but you might not precisely understand how you’re using the language. You can easily fall prey to mistaken ideas if you don’t know grammar.

In the sentence, “Becky is working as an expert computer programmer,” the main verb is “to work.” The “is” in the sentence makes the verb tense present progressive, also called present continuous. It can be used in a variety of ways. In this case, it shows an ongoing action, what Becky is doing over a period of time.

“Your dog has been behaving well this morning” similarly shows your dog’s ongoing action, but during a specified period of time expressed by the present perfect continuous tense. It says that your dog was behaving well in the past and is continuing to behave well in the present, or at least until right now. English grammar allows us to make complex statements about when things happen.

Notice that both of the above sentences are active voice.

“They were being eaten by zombies” is passive voice and past progressive tense. The eating is being carried out on the subject of the sentence, “they,” and that’s what makes it passive: the subject receives the action. I have an inordinately long rant (a ten-part workshop, in fact) about identifying and properly using passive voice here, so right now I’ll just say that the main verb is “to eat,” and both “were” and “being” are helping verbs, not linking verbs.

So here’s my point: if you see a form of the verb “to be,” this might not indicate a copulative use. If you want to strengthen your writing, look a little deeper before you make any rash decisions. Don’t just circle every form of “to be” as a way to decide whether there are too many of them. There might be just the right amount if you’re trying to say something complex.

— Sue Burke


mount_oregano: and let me translate (translate)
NTM badgeNational Translation Month is September, and #NTM2017 has posted two short stories from the award-winning anthology of science fiction written by women, Spanish Women of Wonder. I translated those stories.

“The Infestation” by Felicidad Martínez offers a humorous and thrilling military space opera involving evolved plants. “Techt” by Sofía Rhei is set in a semiotic dystopia with a touch of cyberpunk, recalling novels such as Fahrenheit 451 or 1984.

National Translation Month says, “The translator, Sue Burke, does a wonderful job of capturing these two distinct voices. We hope you’ll agree and you’ll check out this mesmerizing collection.”

You can get those two stories here:

http://nationaltranslationmonth.org/spanishwomenofwonder

— Sue Burke

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a chart of paper standardsIf you do business internationally – such as, in my case, translating – you soon become aware that the world generally uses two sizes of paper. There are bigger international annoyances than this, such as getting paid across borders, but this petty nuisance deserves some attention. Why do two competing paper sizes even exist?

For those blissfully unaware of the issue, here’s the problem:

• The most frequently used paper size in the world for business purposes is A4, measuring 210 by 297 millimeters (8.27 in × 11.7 in). It originated in Europe.

• Letter, also called US Letter, is the common paper size commercially used in the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. It measures 8.5 by 11.0 inches (215.9 mm by 279.4 mm).

No one knows how Letter size started, but the American Forest & Paper Association believes it goes back to the days of manual paper-making. A paper-maker created a page as long and wide as his arms could reach. The page was later trimmed into quarters, so a page is one-fourth of the span of a man’s arms.

Europeans, however, can explain exactly why A4 paper is that size. In the late 1700s, scientists created an ingenious series of sizes of paper. It starts with a meter-square sheet, which is then cut in half with an aspect ratio involving the square root of 2. It has technical advantages for scaling printed material to make it fit a larger or smaller standard-size sheet.

This discovery was briefly used in France, then forgotten for more than a century, when Germans reinvented the meter-and-√2 system.

What’s interesting is that both A4 and Letter became standards at about the same time. The international zeitgeist was striving for efficiency.

Germany adopted the A4 system in 1922. It slowly began to be adopted by other countries, and in 1975 it became an ISO (International Organization for Standardization) standard.

The Letter size became an industry standard in the United States in 1921. For a time, the federal government used a slightly smaller size, but it adopted the Letter size during the Reagan administration – there’s something to thank him for. In 1992, the American National Standards Institute defined it as an official standard.

Why two standards? Why couldn’t the same standard have been adopted in the early 1920s all over the world?

It’s hard for us now to imagine how isolated Europe and North American remained from each other in the 1920s. Airplanes could barely cross the Atlantic Ocean. Radio operators had just begun to talk to each other. Ships took more than a week to cross the ocean in good weather. The two continents didn’t need the same standard.

Now, the internet unites the world with sometimes distressing immediacy. Would a single standard make sense now? Yes. But I think computers may actually make a single standard less likely. I can type up a document in Letter, then push a button and convert it to A4 instantly with no muss or fuss. (Except for MS Word documents. In that program, altering the least little thing may cause a meltdown.)

So here we are and here we may stay. Seen from space, the world is a single beautiful blue marble in the heavens. On the ground, we can’t even agree on what size a sheet of paper should be. But we needn’t live alike to love alike.

The 20th century faced the challenge of standardization with reasonable success but failed disastrously with the challenge of world peace. The 21st century could make peace a worldwide standard. Translators are standing by to help word by word.

………

Here are some links to learn more about this fascinating subject:

This article delves deep into paper size specifications, including where to punch holes for filing purposes and how big the holes should be. Yes, of course, there are rules about that.

And Now You Know: “A4 versus US Letter - Battle of the paper sizes” is a 4:15-minute YouTube video that praises the A4 size and its mathematics. It closes by addressing President Trump: “Do you want to make America great again? Adopt ISO-216 (and while you're at it, check out the metric system too!).”
My friend, we can barely restrain him from blowing up our health care system or North Korea. You ask for too much.

Ars Technica offers an entertaining but pointless debate – except for the following quote: “Letter is 93.5 square inches of space, while A4 has 96.67 square inches of space. That extra four square inches probably never saved anyone’s ass, but it can’t hurt either.”

As often happens with Wikipedia, this article explains paper sizes in greater detail than you may ever need to know, although the charts are lovely. And here’s everything to know about the US Letter size.

Finally, check out “A4 and Before: Towards a long history of paper sizes,” by Robert Kinross. It is indeed a long history going back to the Middle Ages, although he only explains A4 paper. This 30-page PDF is taken from a lecture given at the National Library of the Netherlands.

— Sue Burke

Cross-posted at my professional writers website.
mount_oregano: novel cover art (Semiosis)
Books on a table

The ARCs of my novel Semiosis have arrived from Tor!

I’ve already sent a few out. The book itself comes out in February, and you can pre-order it at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

(The doily, by the way, was made by my great-grandmother, and is protected by a tabletop plexiglass sheet. The plant is an Oxalis, also called a shamrock plant, although it’s not a real shamrock.)

— Sue Burke
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View of Lake Michigan

The flood in southeast Texas has been described as the size of Lake Michigan. To help visualize that, here’s a picture I took of Lake Michigan this morning at Contemplation Point in Lincoln Park, Chicago. The horizon is 4 or 5 miles away. Lake Michigan is 118 miles across at its widest and 307 miles long.

-- Sue Burke

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movie poster
This weekend I saw the movie Dunkirk. In case you haven’t heard, it depicts the 1940 evacuation of British soldiers from the beach at Dunkirk in France as Nazi troops overran the area. The Nazis attempted to block the evacuation every way they could. Eventually, more than 300,000 men were rescued, but 68,000 were killed, wounded, missing, or captured.

The movie depicts the battle with continuous, terrifying action.

Because so many warships and other vessels were sunk or damaged and the evacuation was so desperate, Britain pressed 850 small civilian craft, such as yachts and motorboats, to help. The movie focuses on the attempt of one soldier to get to safety in Britain, one small craft that comes to the rescue, and two Spitfire airplane pilots fighting to protect the ships.

We see no Nazis in the movie, just the death and destruction they cause. But Nazis are in the news these days, and it may be a good time to remember, as the movie does, what Prime Minister Winston Churchill had to say after Dunkirk:

“Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…”

— Sue Burke
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In 2005, I was living in Madrid, Spain. Here’s my blog post from that year’s eclipse. The map below from the Planetarium of Pamplona, Spain, shows Universal Times, and the Madrid peak time was 10:58 a.m. Luckily, I still have my Eclipse Shades™ to witness next week’s eclipse here in Chicago. Many suppliers are sold out already.



This morning, October 3, was cool and cloudless. My husband and I were sitting on the grass next to some rose bushes at the esplanade of Madrid's Planetarium. More than 2,000 people had come to witness the first annular eclipse of the Sun visible in Spain since April 1, 1764. It was about 10:30 a.m., still 25 minutes away from the big moment, but the Sun already had become a remarkable crescent.

One of the young women sitting behind us looked up. “¡Ay! ¡Qué chulo!” she said to her friend: Wow! It's so neat!

An LED screen in front of the Planetarium offered a live view of the Sun, or from time to time, explanatory videos. The orbit of the Moon placed it a bit far away from the Earth at that moment, so it wouldn’t cover all of the Sun as it does during a total eclipse. People on the ground in a narrow band from Spain to Somalia would see it cover 90% the Sun and create a ring of light in the sky.

Of course, no one should look at the Sun directly, so the Planetarium gave away 1,600 Eclipse Shades™, cardboard glasses with plastic lenses so dark nothing dimmer than the Sun could be seen through them. Someone had put a pair on the statue of the late, beloved Madrid Mayor Enrique Tierno Galván that presides over the esplanade, and groups of friends photographed each other standing beside it, everyone in their Shades.

Other people held the glasses as an improvised filter over the camera lens of their mobile telephones. More professionally minded photographers, there in abundance, used real filters. School groups, retirees, but most of all young people had come out: unemployment is high among young adults in Spain, so they had the time and the proper finances to appreciate a free show.

Refreshments, so to speak, were provided by Wrigley's, which introduced a new brand of chewing gum that day to Spain: Trex Eclipse. Representatives handed out free packs. The advertising campaign called the gum “intensely refreshing.” It tasted very minty.

Over loudspeakers, an astronomer described other eclipses as the heavens continued to move above us. By 10:45 the light was noticeably dimmer, like a cloudy day, and, next to us, the light diffracting through the tiny spaces between the leaves of the rose bushes dappled tiny crescent shapes on the ground.

A Telemadrid TV station helicopter began to circle the Planetarium, photographing a sea of people staring through cardboard glasses at the sky. Some people waved.

The moment approached. The crescent shrank into a tiny sliver.

The Planetarium had arranged for a violinist, Ara Malikian, to play his composition, Moon Shadow, during the peak minutes of the eclipse. He was introduced to applause. The work made use of the ability of a violinist to play two strings at once, the two notes representing the two heavenly bodies as they reached harmony — though he was hard to hear over the TV helicopter.

The Moon kept moving, and, finally, to more applause and shouts of “¡Vamos!” All right!, it made a ring out of the Sun.

For 4 minutes and 11 seconds, a beautiful halo of light floated overhead, too brilliant to see without shades, wonderful but weird. The shadows under the rose bushes became rings. The light was dimmer, and shadows sparkled with a new geometry. People looked up and around with delight.

Then, the ring thinned at the bottom, and there was a flash of a Baily's bead, a pearl of light that marked the rays of the Sun passing through a valley on the edge of the surface of the Moon. The Sun became a crescent again, to more applause.

The violinist explored the slow separation of the two spheres, ending with two sustained, simultaneous notes, to yet more applause. The crescent gradually grew, and eventually people began to drift off to the street, pausing for one last observation of the Sun through their souvenir glasses before they entered the subway and returned to their normal Monday routine.

— Sue Burke

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mount_oregano: and let me translate (translate)
You can read my translation of “The Story of Your Heart,” by Josué Ramos, in Steampunk Writers Around the World, Volume I, by Luna Publishing.

In Josué’s short story, people can get transplants to fix or improve themselves, or they can be donors – by force or by choice.

The anthology is bilingual, in English and Spanish. Its eleven stories came out of a project that encouraged writers to engage with each other across borders and to express how steampunk, though global, is born from the unique culture of its setting.

It was a pleasure to translate Josué’s story from Spain. I hope you’ll enjoy it. Other stories come from places as varied as Cuba, Brazil, Germany, Mexico, Hawaii, Africa, and India.

You can also read four poems I translated, with Christian Law, by Vicente Núñez, in
The Northwest Review of Books Issue I: Literature in Translation. Núñez is one of the most daring and important poets of Andalusia, Spain, in the second half of the 20th century. We translated the poems as part of a project with the Vicente Núñez Foundation.

The four poems are “Books,” “Hymn I,” “Hymn III,” and one of his most famous love poems (and my favorite), “Twilight in Poley.” If evening has not touched the divine grace / of your dark eyes gazing at the fading / yielding light....

The issue also contains poetry and prose translated from Chinese, Danish, Farsi, French, Hebrew, Russian, and Yiddish, and commentary on works by Haruki Murakami, Tulsidas, and Diego Zúñiga.

More Núñez, from the poem “Books”: On the soulless scrolls of questionable publishers / I poured out all the yearnings of an unmeasured passion.... From “Hymn to Trees III”: If we are condemned to burn / it will be by divine eternal lightning.

— Sue Burke
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As a writer, I was skeptical. The American Writers Museum, which opened in May here in Chicago, says it’s all about “Celebrating American Writers Past & Present. The first museum of its kind in the nation!” Well, there’s only one exclamation point. They might know punctuation, at least.

This museum is housed on the second floor of the Crain Communications Building downtown, 180 N. Michigan Ave., in an area frequented by tourists. Adult admission is $12; by comparison, the Field Museum costs $36 (but you can see Sue the T. Rex [not named after me]). What would you see at a writer museum? An animatronic guy typing?

Because that’s what we writers do, we sit around and write.

It turns out you can actually do that – write – at the American Writers Museum. There are cushy sofas and chairs, and pencils, pens, paper, and even old typewriters in working order sitting out to be used. And there are shelves of books if you’d rather read. The advertising says that “through dynamic state-of-the-art exhibitions” the museum “educates, provokes, and inspires visitors of all ages.” What it might actually do is encourage dedicated readers and writers to read and write even more.

You enter through glass doors and pay at a desk in the midst of a small gift shop, turn right, and start your visit. When I came in July, a special exhibit called “Palm” celebrated poet W.S. Merwin and his palm garden in Hawaii. It tries to recreate the garden with real potted plants giving off the scent of wet earth and live greenery. Loudspeakers play outdoor sound effects and, if you push a button, you can hear poetry read aloud. Or you can read texts displayed on the walls.

At one end of the long room, a desk with paper invites you to write your own poem, and Mr. Merwin will compost the paper and feed it to the palms: your poetry will have a guaranteed consumer. The museum gives you the sights, smells, and sounds of a garden. And a prompt: if it were the last day of your life, why would you plant a tree?

Another area, the Children’s Literature Gallery, contains playful exhibits about famous books such as Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. It also has comfy sofas and shelves of books. Sit down, read a book – or have your dad read to you if you’re still learning the alphabet. (Kids 12 and younger get in to the museum free.)

American Voices, a 60-foot long presentation, is a “multilayered exhibit wall [that] takes visitors on a journey through the literary history of the United States. Trace the development of the American voice with the 100 emblematic and influential authors.” That exhibit faces a wall with 100 boxes showcasing selected works. Context saves this from superficiality: the exhibit details how writers and their works fit into US history, how authors’ inspirations and aspirations changed, and how a truly American approach to writing developed over time.

I spent a while watching short videos about how Edgar Allan Poe’s “urban shock” stories led to a new kind of detective story and a new way to write about city life. I could have spent a lot more time investigating other writing topics with touch screens and moving exhibits. The museum seems small, but it has a lot to share.

A temporary exhibit displayed the brittle, yellowed scroll Jack Kerouac used 60 years ago to type the novel On the Road. You can study his corrections and edits – and margin changes, since apparently the roll shifted sideways a bit as he continuously typed.

The Readers Hall is just that: displays about books, shelves of books, and sofas and chairs.

The Mind of a Writer area contains the aforementioned typewriters, pencils, and paper. You can write, post work on a story wall, and add to an online story of the day.

In other parts of the museum, you can watch and listen to the hypnotic Word Waterfall, study writing techniques, and play writing games, such as an electronic form of poetry magnets. The museum ends with a display showing where writers and readers connected and still connect in Chicago, and information about the city’s iconic writers.

Finally, there’s a small, writing-oriented gift shop. One thing that would make the museum better would be a coffee bar, but a sign warns: “No food and drink in the museum.” However, you can buy an American Writers Museum mug to take home.

My visit held none of the boredom of watching a writer at work. I even learned a thing or two. I bought a little book of writing prompts on my way out, and chose a free bookmark.

The museum holds regular events: a children’s author story time, workshops, and author readings and signings. In August, it will host a reception to induct Roger Ebert into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame. Though small, the museum has a niche it aims to fill.

I think it can do that.

— Sue Burke
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I spent 17 years living in Madrid, Spain, which was long enough to forget what summers in America’s Midwest are like. This is my first full summer in Chicago, and I grew up in Milwaukee, with very similar weather, so none of this should be a surprise. But it is. The contrast is just too great.

When I first arrived back a year ago, I’d forgotten how lush and green things are in this part of the United States. And not just green – lots of flowers, too. There’s a reason for that. I’d forgotten how much it rains, often in the form of thunderstorms.

Chicago’s average rainfall in July is 3.7 inches. Madrid’s average for July is 0.4 inches. In other words, on average in July, Chicago gets nine times the rain of Madrid.

The July average is 3.7 inches, but so far this month, my corner of Chicago has received 4.94 inches, with more rain forecast for tomorrow morning. August tends to be an even wetter month with an average of 4.9 inches of rain. Areas northwest of me in Illinois are already suffering from record floods.

It’s hot, it’s wet, and as a consequence, it’s buggy here. But that’s not all bad. I can watch moisture-loving fireflies sparkling in my back yard – on evenings when it isn’t raining.

— Sue Burke
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“Garbage” is the theme of the current issue of Eye to the Telescope, a quarterly online journal of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association. I’m a member, and as such, I’m pleased to invite you to enjoy the July 2017 issue.

It offers 19 speculative poems dealing with such refuse as socks, landfills, trashy novels, and star dust.

Read it here:
http://eyetothetelescope.com/archives/025issue.html

— Sue Burke
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Voting for the Hugo Awards ends on Saturday, July 15, and the winners will be announced at Worldcon 75 on August 11 in Helsinki. Here are my thoughts on the short fiction finalists. Half of the 18 stories were also nominated for Nebulas, which I wrote about in earlier posts. On the whole, I think the nominees present a good overview of short speculative fiction, despite a couple of works that came from over the horizon and aren’t really appropriate for the Hugos.

Novella

“This Census-Taker,” by China Miéville
A young boy living in an eerie post-war small town believes his father killed his mother, but he can’t prove it. Miéville is one of my favorite writers, but I don’t think this is his best work. While the writing is beautiful at the sentence level, the plot moves slowly and ends with loose ends all over the place. Still, there are moments of slow, pure terror to savor.

“Penrick and the Shaman,” by Lois McMaster Bujold
If you like Bujold, you’ll like this. Penrick, a demon-ridden young man (this is nicer than it sounds), must help solve a murder, and things take a strange turn. It’s set in a medieval-like world of five gods who periodically meddle in human affairs. Much of the story explores the world and the people in it, and if it’s not always fascinating, it’s always fun. As you would expect from Bujold, it all unfolds masterfully. That said, I’m not a big Bujold fan, although many people are, and I can’t fault them. This story is just too gentle for my tastes, but I don’t regret the time I spent reading it. While it won’t rank high on my ballot, I will vote for it and won’t mind if it wins.

In fact, all the novella nominees deserve to win. Three were also on the Nebula ballot: “The Ballad of Black Tom,” by Victor LaValle; “The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe,” by Kij Johnson; “Every Heart a Doorway,” by Seanan McGuire (which won the Nebula); and “A Taste of Honey,” by Kai Ashante Wilson, which won the Nebula. You can read my comments on those three here.

Novelette

“Touring With the Alien,” by Carolyn Ives Gilman
A newly arrived alien takes a secret bus tour of the United States. During the trip, the driver sorts through her own problems as she bonds with the alien’s caretaker and eventually the alien itself. It’s a quiet story exploring how people at the fringes of alien contact get caught up in the intrigue, and it reaches a satisfying conclusion, but perhaps not as big a twist as the author had hoped.

“Alien Stripper Boned From Behind by the T-Rex,” by Stix Hiscock
This is yet another Sad Puppy nomination meant to dishonor the Hugo Awards, although it reflects more on the Puppies than it does of the author. An alien with three boobs falls for a customer who is sort of a half-human half-Tyrannosaurus rex. They both have exceptionally long tongues and enjoy each other thoroughly. I won’t be voting for it, but it’s not the worst thing on the Hugo ballot.

“The Tomato Thief,” by Ursula Vernon
An old lady living in the desert catches the shapeshifter stealing her tomatoes and decides to help free the unfortunate young woman from a malevolent spirit. And that’s what happens, pretty much as you might expect. The worldbuilding is impressive, but I don’t think the story ever rises above a harmless young adult tale. By “harmless” I mean that it will not make the reader feel any doubt or unease about the world, fear for the safety or integrity of the protagonist, or wonder whether good and evil might be complicated and complex concepts.

“The Art of Space Travel,” by Nina Allan
A woman who works at a hotel copes with a very ill mother who has never said who her father is. Astronauts are coming to the hotel before a mission to Mars, and the woman starts to think about the mystery of her father again. Essentially, this is literary fiction from the future, a fine story that explores human relationships and how both successful and failed space exploration affects the people who never set foot in a rocket.

Other stories that had also been nominated for the Nebula are: “The Jewel and Her Lapidary,” by Fran Wilde, which I didn’t like; and “You’ll Surely Drown If You Stay Here,” by Alyssa Wong, which I did. I commented further on them here.

Short story

“The City Born Great,” by N. K. Jemisin
This surreal story tells about a city that must be born – New York City, to be precise. In this tale of magic, a young man is recruited to sing it through the birthing process. But the city has enemies. While the telling gets heavy-handed in its treatment of homelessness, race, sexual orientation, and the police, the story’s energy keeps building to the end.

“That Game We Played During The War,” by Carrie Vaughn
Two former enemies had bonded over chess. Now the long, exhausting war has given way to uneasy peace. But the people on one side of the war are telepaths, and the other is not. How can they even play a game together? The way they do that shows how peace will be possible. The story stands out for its careful characterizations and its thought into what telepathy does to telepaths and the people whose thoughts they read.

“An Unimaginable Light,” by John C. Wright
In this story, a robot and human have a debate: “I do not wish my thoughts to house any inappropriate content!” “Human emotion and passion must accord with reality; the self deceptions you claim are innate to all thought and must be eschewed. We robots are meant to serve man, not to destroy them.” (Sic.) This kind of debate continues for many pages. Apparently, it’s what the Sad Puppies consider fine writing. They soil themselves with dishonor yet again. The Stix Hiscock story is genuinely better in many respects.

Other short stories on the ballot are “A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers,” by Alyssa Wong, which I love but don’t think is speculative fiction; “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies,” by Brooke Bolander, which I love and think definitely falls within the genre; and “Seasons of Glass and Iron,” by Amal El-Mohtar, which I think tries too hard to set old fairy tales right – but it won the Nebula. I say a little more about these stories here.

— Sue Burke

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Seriously, don’t try to fool your boss and coworkers. You shouldn’t fight dirty at work (or elsewhere), and you would never sink so low anyway.

Still, you should know how to do it so you can recognize treachery when someone else makes an underhanded move. These tried-and-true techniques (many from the U.S. State Department) can thwart policy changes, dodge direct orders, and reverse decisions.

If you face a new course of action that you don’t like, act fast:


First, insist on a personal hearing and suggest reasons for reconsidering.

  • Say this is the wrong time to implement the change. Perhaps it’s the wrong time of year, the wrong time in the budget process, or the wrong time in light of public opinion as influenced by recent events. In fact, there might never be the right time.

  • Say it has unforseen implications and describe them in gory detail. Be creative and don’t confine yourself to likely events.

  • Say it merits a special task force study. By the time the task force is appointed and finishes its meetings, months will have slipped past. Remember, the more people on a committee, the longer each meeting takes, so think big.

  • Propose something different. If it’s attractive enough, you could create indecision and confusion, paralyzing the whole process.

  • Control the information your superiors receive, and distort the facts if you must. This is dirty and dangerous fighting at its most foul, but if you’ve been following the news lately about the White House, you’ve seen that it works.


If that doesn’t get you what you want, demand a meeting to discuss the change.

  • Win the support of the discussion leader before the meeting – or better yet, suggest an ally as the leader.

  • During or before the meeting, imply that your opponents will suffer negative consequences if they fight for their decision. You can do this by winning the support of their superiors or by making them feel under-informed and out of place at the meeting. They might decide a fight isn’t worth it.

  • Make sure your supporters are a majority at the meeting. If necessary, juggle the overall size of the meeting to make the numbers work.

  • Have them approve your proposal. To clinch the debate, arrange for someone else to introduce the idea so you can back it effectively and selflessly.


If all else fails, stall. Make sure no one ever implements the decision.

  • Define the issue or decision in complete, excruciating detail. You’ll run out of time before you run out of details.

  • Find a problem with the decision and show how the problem cannot be separated from related problems. That way, you can’t solve the problem or implement the decision until you first solve everything else.

  • Look for all the methods to approach the decision. If you draw this out long enough, you might never find the opportunity to approach the decision by any of those methods.

  • Advise against moving “too rapidly.” With luck, you’ll never get moving at all.

  • Redirect the issue. For example, everyone wants more efficient administrative work, but right now you especially need to get the billings out quicker, so stay focussed on the small picture.

  • Wait until some expert can be consulted. Try to pick someone far away and very busy.

  • Conclude that everyone has the same problems, so it’s just the normal way of doing business and you don’t have to change anything.

  • Focus on personalities. Suggest that the person who made the original suggestion is unhappy with her job, so if her job can be improved, the problem will be solved.

  • Start the search for the perfect answer. Since nothing will ever be perfect, you’ll never find it.

  • Search for scapegoats. You’ll find plenty. You can blame sales; sales can blame management; management can blame the lawyers; and you can all blame the daily excess of email messages that require immediate attention.


— Sue Burke
mount_oregano: Let me see (Default)

Today is my birthday. Rather than wishing me well – enough people will do that already – wish someone in your life well and, perhaps, give them a little gift.

By way of celebration, here’s the Mindset List for my generation: I was born at the height of the Baby Boom. The Mindset List was first created in 1998 at Beloit College to reflect the experiences and world view of that year’s entering freshmen.

Students graduating in 2002 did not remember the Cold War. MTV had always existed for them, roller skates had always been in-line, and they couldn’t imagine hard contact lenses.

For this year’s freshmen, Google has always existed, The Lion King has always been playing on Broadway, and First Responders have always been heroes.

Us Boomers were the first generation to be explicitly marketed to. We survived the Cuban Missile Crisis. For us, spaceflight was thrilling rather than routine, and Ed Sullivan’s TV variety show was iconic. For me, Elizabeth II has always been Queen of the United Kingdom.

I learned to type on a manual typewriter, to drive with manual steering, and to make telephone calls by manually entering the numbers on a rotary dial. As a result, I’ve had to learn new skills, large and small, throughout my life.

When I was born, women could legally be discriminated against in the workplace and be paid less than men. Even married couples could be denied access to birth control. Women had limited access to sports and military service. African Americans could legally be required to sit in the back of the bus. They could be refused homes in any neighborhood that wished to keep them out, work in jobs where they weren’t welcome, attendance at some schools and universities, and use of Whites-only water fountains, among many other legal restrictions. Being gay was outright illegal.

For my generation, some of us haven’t always enjoyed basic freedoms. At least in a few ways, the world has improved over the years.

— Sue Burke
mount_oregano: Let me see (Default)
I wrote this report for the Alexiad fanzine, and just finished it in time for the ‘zine’s deadline. Here it is for your enjoyment:

Wiscon 41
May 26-29 in Madison, Wisconsin, at the Concourse Hotel

Friday, May 26
Chicago to Madison

The last time I attended a Wiscon was 2008, then 2003, and before that, the 1990s. It was the first sf convention I ever attended, and it’s remained one of my favorites for its ambitious programming and friendly atmosphere.

My husband and I left Chicago on Friday morning and, after a three-hour trip with moderate construction and traffic, we arrived a little after noon, checked in, and registered.

Friday afternoon’s programming included The Gathering: a ballroom filled with welcoming activities such as lock-picking lessons, a chance to test various gadgets, a nail polish swap, hair braiding, and a clothing swap. I brought two dresses for the clothing swap and took a blouse and a little black dress – and I began to say hello to old friends and meet new ones. I tested out a Kindle Voyage at the gadgets table since I’m thinking of upgrading, spun a Fidget Spinner and was unimpressed, and then left for a panel on “What Makes a Fun Story.”

Dinner was a kielbasa at a bar on State Street with my husband. In the dealer’s room, I bought a used book, The World of Null-A by A.E. Van Vogt, and my husband was disappointed to see no tee-shirts for sale. A tour of the art show was delightful, and later in the weekend I returned for a small purchase. The opening ceremony largely dealt with logistics, announcements, and the crowning of The Tiptree Award winner, Anna-Marie McLemore. Among other honors, she received a gold and pearl tiara to wear during the weekend.

After that, the evening was largely beer, parties, more old and new friends – and I met and got all fan girl over Naomi Kritzer, author of “Cat Pictures, Please,” which won the 2016 Short Story Hugo. I loved that story. Now she knows I did.

Saturday, May 27
Concourse Hotel

Saturday was more friends and panels. I also wore a diadem I’d picked up the night before at the Carl Brandon Society Party. Tiaras were fashionable that weekend.

“The Future of Genetic Engineering” explained why we can’t get scorpion tails. (Damn!) I went to another panel on “Direct Payment and the Creator,” but it seemed to be going to focus on how unfairly money is distributed, which I already knew, so I went to “Stay in Your Lane.” It was billed as a discussion of power, privilege and oppression, but it really dealt more with people arguing on the internet, and despite a brief attempt to consider when listening might be more worthwhile than making noise, some panelists seemed to present themselves as awfully noisy.

I had lunch at the Tiptree Award bake sale (rhubarb is a vegetable, so a rhubarb bar counts as a salad, right?) and chatted with a librarian and a friend from my church in Chicago. The afternoon included my participation in the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading. I read an essay about how Miguel de Cervantes remained poor despite writing one of the world’s most famous books. (He made about $3,700 in current value from Don Quixote). I attended some other panels, had dinner at a Chinese restaurant with friends, enjoyed the always-funny Tiptree Auction, and then it was party time.

At the bar, I discovered a Madison beer, Fantasy Factory, an IPA whose label features a fire-breathing unicorn being ridden by a ninja cat with a ray gun, all this against a background of a rainbow and a castle. It seemed perfect for a con. At the Haiku Earring Party, dozens of us wannabe poets were able to select earrings in exchange for writing a haiku. I chose a pair of lovely blue and black bead earrings and was assigned the title “the lotus after midnight.” After a little pondering, I wrote: black sky and bright stars / white flowers floating in a pond / these sleeping colors. Not my best work, but I tried.

Sunday, May 28
Concourse Hotel

More panels. The funniest one of my weekend was “How Lazy Writing Recreates Oppression”: for example, in J. K. Rowling’s “History of Magic in North America,” she seemed unaware that Native Americans have many tribes and nations, all with very different beliefs and customs. (In my experience, Europeans in general don’t know this.) Other examples showed even more lamentably how a lack of research led to unfortunate and easily ridiculed consequences.

Next was “Speculative Fiction in Translation” featuring Rachel S. Cordasco, Arrate Hidalgo, and me. We three had known each other for some time by internet, and I’d gotten to meet Arrate, who’s from Spain, in Chicago during the week before the convention, but this was the first chance we three had to meet in person. The audience seemed fascinated when Arrate and I talked about sticky details of translating, such as how to deal with puns, and they were delighted by the M&Ms and books that we gave away.

In the evening, right before the Guest of Honor speeches, we lined up (hundreds of us!) for the Dessert Salon. Each of us could take two desserts and enter the main ballroom. I got an excellent piece of Key Lime Pie and a slab of decadently dense chocolate espresso mousse. I also made new friends at the dining table.

Kelly Sue DeConnick, guest of honor and comic author, gave a speech touching on what had been suppressed in comics for many year. Amal El-Mohtar spoke about her sources of inspiration, including the children’s television show Steven Universe. The Tiptree Award winner, Anna-Marie McLemore, said she had been afraid to publish the winning novel, When the Moon Was Ours, a magical realism transgender romance. (It did well and received other awards.)

Then I went to a panel on “Science Fiction and the Role of Violence” where panel members expressed concerns about the sad fate of bystanders of superhero-supervillain battles. The rest of the night was parties, and at one we debated which member of the Three Stooges most closely resembled each president, and what narwhale tusks are for (sensing the water).

Monday, May 29
Madison to Chicago

On Monday, we checked out, attended a panel of “Canon vs. Fandom,” then went to The SignOut, where authors sign works for fans. I found Naomi Kritzer there. In my morning email, I’d learned that she’d been nominated for an Ignotus Award for Translated Short Story, Spain’s equivalent to a Hugo, for “Fotos de gatitos, por favor” (Cat Pictures, Please). I belong to the organization that presents the award, so I could tell her all about it. Total fangirl, as I said. I hope I didn’t annoy her.

The ride back to Chicago took less than three hours, and we encountered surprisingly light traffic. In addition to the Van Vogt book, I brought back two anthologies plucked from freebie tables: After The Apocalypse by Maureen F. McHugh and The Arbitrary Placement of Walls by Martha Soukup. I also bought issue 31 of Tales of the Unanticipated, an anthology published by SF Minnesota.

Next year’s Wiscon’s guests of honor will be Saladin Ahmed and Tananarive Due.

— Sue Burke
mount_oregano: Let me see (Default)
A Ming Dynasty vase and an ancient Greek urn share beauty but not aesthetics. The artisans of the different styles might have appreciated each other’s work if they had known about it – and yet they might have stuck to their own ways, perhaps because they saw no reason to change or because they lacked the material and equipment to produce anything else.
Two vases
Likewise, languages have different rules for beautiful prose based both on cultural inheritance and on the possibilities and limits of each language within its grammar and vocabulary. I translate Spanish to English, and I often face the delightful task of transforming beautiful Spanish prose into beautiful English prose. To do that, I’ve had to learn to appreciate the standards of beauty for each language, which share little in common due to different historical trajectories.

Spanish emerged from a local dialect of Latin. King Alfonso X the Wise, who reigned from 1252 to 1284, made Spanish (Castilian, to be precise) the official language of his realm. To cement that decree, he assembled scholars in Toledo to translate literature from other languages into Spanish and to create new books, and he himself wrote a few. He knew that a language must have literature.

Fine writing style in Spanish still echoes its scholarly roots: a bit formal and elaborated. Above all, good style rejects repetition. Vocabulary and syntax should be richly varied. Spanish grammar permits long, ornate sentences, because the verbs are fully conjugated and the nouns and adjectives are gendered, so subordinate clauses can easily be looped together like tatted lace.

English has suffered a more checkered history. After the Norman invasion in 1066, Norman French became the dominant language in Britain, and English was shattered into regional dialects. As modern English eventually began to emerge, it was shaped by two literary landmarks: Shakespeare and the King James Bible.

The Bard of Avon began writing plays in about 1592, adding lively new words and expressions we still use today. We all speak “the language of Shakespeare” – which is how Spaniards often refer to English (to avoid repeating the word English).

But even more importantly for the development of English, the King James Bible was published in 1611, and its constant use as the single major work of literature readily available to the ordinary person made it the standard and model for their language. Its translators had produced direct, unornamented prose meant for ordinary people, not scholars, and they stuck close to the syntax of the original languages, notably Hebrew in the Old Testament.

Many of those Bible verses were poetry, and Hebrew poetry does not rhyme; instead, it uses parallel, balanced structures of phrases or ideas, and repetition of words or rhythms. The second half of a parallel may paraphrase the first half, it may give a consequence, it may contradict the first half, or it may add stronger and stronger clauses or sentences that lead to an apex. Rhythm can make the prose musical.

Because of that, repetition strikes the English-language ear as beautiful. The two most famous speeches of the 20th century, “I Have a Dream” by Martin Luther King Jr., and “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” by Winston Churchill, demonstrate the power and melody of repetition.

Beautiful Spanish should be ornate and enriched, avoiding repetition. Beautiful English should be direct and plain, seeking balanced repetition of words and structures.

With that in mind, I translated the novel Prodigios (Prodigies) by Angélica Gorodischer for Small Beer Press. Hers was a dense, very Spanish prose, without a doubt beautiful. I had to bring it into English. Here is an example from Chapter 15:

“...en algunas casas se cerraron púdicas las cortinas no fuera que ese sol desmesurado y lejos de lugar y medida, como despanzurrando sobre los parquets y los tapices, fuera a desteñir los tapizados y peor, a dar que de los lóbulos de las orejas a las niñas vigiladas y obedientes que cambiaban, también en esa época como el sol...”

“...in some houses the curtains were chastely closed because this sun, excessive, out of place and propriety, might burst on parquet floors and tapestries, might fade the fabric, and worse, might strike the skin on forearms and behind earlobes of protected and obedient girls, inciting their thoughts, girls who also transformed in that season like the sun...”

With a little repetition, I sought to set new words to the original tune and make them sing as sweetly. The changes were slight, almost automatic, guided by some knowledge of how to make the transformation, and with it, I hope I did the original words justice.

There were alternatives, of course. One problem – or possibility, depending on how you look at it – involves the translation of the word fuera, which is the past tense third person singular subjunctive form of “to be.” Spanish subjunctive can be translated in many ways, often with difficulty because the use of subjunctive in English is much more limited than in Spanish. There are various ways to render it, and each requires other changes in the syntax. One possible way, and a more literal translation, is:

“…in some houses the chaste curtains were closed to prevent this sun, excessive and out of place and propriety, as it was bursting on parquets and tapestries, from fading fabric and worse, inciting thoughts as it was striking skin on the forearms and behind the earlobes of the protected and obedient girls who also changed in this season like the sun.”

Although this is perfectly acceptable, to my ear it sounds ordinary, unlike the original prose, which sounds extraordinary. I hear too many present participles, and while repetition of grammatical forms is good, these do not all fulfill the exact same grammatical role: they’re not parallel.

Instead, in my final version, I tried to find a way to unite as many verbs as I could under the modal might. It expresses weak probability, which at times can convey the sense imparted by Spanish subjunctive. I got might burst, might fade, might strike, and deliberately chose to repeat might to make sure the reader understood the relationship between the verbs.

The excerpt also focuses on the girls of the households, who must be kept chaste and unchanged. So rather than say who toward the end of the sentence, I found a way to repeat girls and thus place a bit more emphasis on them.

The rest, with a little tweaking, fell into place, and to me it sounds better – although matters of style are always open to debate, which is good. Dialogue strengthens literature, and literature strengthens language.

………

Also posted at The Tiff, Asymptote magazine’s blog, and at my professinal website.

— Sue Burke
mount_oregano: Let me see (judgemental)
I was asked by an unhappy movie producer why a writer could turn in a fine script, but the next one by the same writer would be bad. Here’s my answer:

We writers ask ourselves the same thing. Why is one piece of writing successful, and the next one isn’t? We worked on it the same way, just as hard, with the same excitement and love, and no one liked it. Why?

Well, among other reasons, unless we’re rewriting the same thing over and over, or following a formula as if creative works were McDonald’s hamburgers, every story is an experiment. Sometimes experiments fail.

"You write a hit the same way you write a flop," said Alan Jay Lerner of the writing team Lerner and Loewe. Lerner won three Oscars, among many other awards, and everyone in the world has heard his hits, which include My Fair Lady, Camelot, and Gigi. He also wrote 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with none other than Leonard Bernstein as a collaborator, and it’s perhaps the worst flop in the history of Broadway.

What went wrong? Nothing. The creative process went as normal. There are no guarantees. Martin Amis called bestsellers a “ridiculous accident”.

This is why writers drink. We can, perhaps, accept the inevitability of random failure, but those around us don’t always understand.

— Sue Burke
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mount_oregano: Let me see (Default)
I’ll be on two panels and one reading this weekend at Wiscon 41, a feminist-focused SF convention:

Saturday, May 27, 1 to 2:15 p.m., Conference 4, Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading. Eight members (including me) of Broad Universe, an organization for women writers and editors of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, will read brief works. I’ll read an essay about how much money Miguel de Cervantes earned for one of the greatest novels of all time, Don Quixote de la Mancha. You’ll be horrified by how little.

Saturday, May 27, 4 to 5:15 p.m., Conference 5, Women of Atheism. Four of us will speak on not believing in the existence of deities and how that affects our perspectives and lived experiences. Come and talk about what you believe and don’t believe.

Sunday, May 28, 1 to 2:15 p.m., University C, Speculative Fiction in Translation. Rachel S. Cordasco, Arrate Hidalgo, and I will talk about who gets translated, why, and what you might enjoy reading. If you come, you’ll receive a reading list, maybe some M&Ms, and even a free book (supplies are limited).

— Sue Burke

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