Book Review – Octopus! By Katherine Harmon Courage

Title: Octopus!  (The Most Mysterious Creature in the Sea)
Author: Katherine Harmon Courage
Format: 
Paperback
Published: 
2013

Octopus! is not surprisingly a nonfiction book about octopuses.  (I picked up a free ARC copy.)  Subcategorizing it beyond nonfiction is a little tricky.  It’s sort of a snapshot of our historical, culinary, cultural, fictional, and scientific relationship with the octopus.  Katherine Harmon Courage is a journalist and an associate editor at Scientific American.  So there’s a good portion of the book which focuses on the biology and science of the octopus, but there’s almost as much time spent on what we don’t know about them as what we do.

As a personal preference, I like my nonfiction a bit drier than this book.  I felt there was way too much time spent on Katherine’s traveling misadventures to meet various fishermen and researchers, and I got a little bored with the constant variations on “Isn’t that cool/icky/strange/interesting!?!”

However, for other people this might be a nice break from a textbook rattling off a dry list of facts.  There is something interesting about stepping back from a stack of figures and looking at the messy, imprecise side of trying to gather more precise data.

If you’d like to know more about the octopus (or are just looking for idea fodder for a hard science fiction tale) this may be a good gateway book.  At 220 pages, it’s not a super long or intense read, but it does offer up a lot of stimulating food for thought on everything from our perspective on other species to the weird economics of food exportation to robotics.  And there’s an extensive list of source material in the back if you want some drier reading. Courage certainly did her research.

If you’re a hardcore animal rights advocate, you may feel a bit of outrage at sampling a live octopus meal at a Korean restaurant, and if you’re not, you may still feel a bit squeamish during a few passages.  It’s not a book designed to shock, but neither does it hold back on raw realities of octopus life or octopuses in our lives.  (Yes, she briefly covers hentai.)

I’ll give it a solid 4 out of  5, since I think the book accomplishes what it sets out to do.  I can’t say it’s a must read.  Just kind of nice, kind of interesting, and while there’s a certain deliberate messiness to the presentation, it does cover a lot of fascinating ideas.

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Writer Wednesday – Terri-Lynne Smiles

1. Who are you? (A name would be good here…preferably the one you write under)
Terri-Lynne Smiles

2. What type of stuff do you write? (Besides shopping lists)
Cross-genre novels. Currently, The Rothston Series combines elements of science fiction and contemporary fantasy into a believable explanation for real world events. Next year when the series is finished, I have a number of other novels to be released, including a murder mystery without a murder, a futuristic thriller set on an isolated planet/colony, and a discovery story about a woman who finds herself wrongfully imprisoned. The commonality is that they all involve science in one form or another.

3. What do you want to pimp right now? (May it be your newest, your work-in-progress, your favorite or even your first)
The Rothston Series is what’s hot for me right now. The first book, Foreseen, introduces the college-age characters in an exciting romp into the world of adepts – people who can covertly change the decisions made by those around them. The second novel in the series, Choices, follows the two protagonists on a tense and sometimes terrifying trek around the globe as they flee for their lives. It leans slightly toward horror in some of their encounters but sets the stage for the final two installments of the series. Origins, the third book, will be out later this fall, with Common Ground concluding the series in 2015.

4. What is your favorite book? (Okay, or two or three or… I know how writers are as readers.)
I don’t have a favorite book (unless you count 20 Master Plots by Ronald Tobias), but I have several authors I enjoy for different reasons. I’ll spare your readers my long-winded explanations of the strengths and weaknesses of each and just stick to the list:

  • Edgar Alan Poe
  • Agatha Christie
  • Dean Koontz
  • Ray Bradbury
  • David Baldacci
  • J.K. Rowling

5. What other hats do you wear besides the writer hat?
I was a healthcare lawyer for over 25 years before leaving to pursue writing full-time (meaning almost every waking moment). Writing is much more difficult and absorbing than law. I’m also an active volunteer for a number of charitable organizations and the Board Chair of the Ohio Association of Nonprofit Organizations.

6. What link can we find you at? (One or two please; don’t go overboard here!)
Main Website – www.terrilynnesmiles.com
Facebook – Author Page – https://www.facebook.com/TerriLynneSmiles
The Rothston Series on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Foreseen-The-Rothston-Series/

 

 

 

*****

On Reading…

Reading is important for everyone – writer or not. I can’t say that enough. I read about an hour or two a day but don’t stick to any particular genre – I find that too limiting in terms of voice and style. For example, in the past two months, I finished Veronica Roth’s light YA novel Divergent, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and John C. Brewer’s international thriller The Silla Project. I am three-quarters of the way through Michael Williams’ literary Trajan’s Arch and failed at reading Brandon Sanderson’s high fantasy Elantris. I have also started Malcolm Gladwell’s nonfiction Outliers, and am re-reading from cover-to-cover 20 Master Plots by Ronald Tobias. During this same period, I also read two unpublished manuscripts – one romance, one contemporary fantasy – and portions of two proposed how-to books. I used to give up on novels that didn’t rivet me to my seat, but now force myself to finish if I can because each book I read provides more insight into writing – either by positive or negative lesson. Nonfiction, on the other hand, enhances my understanding of the world, which then informs my writing. That means if I’m not getting anything out of a nonfiction book by the end of the first chapter, I’m unlikely to go further.

Anyone who writes fiction has heard over and over that reading is essential to writing. This is one of the few “truths” for authors. If you’re short on time, don’t abandon your reading. If you don’t have time to read, your writing will stagnate.

 

imaginarium

Writer Wednesday – Stephanie Osborn

Most people familiar with the con circuit of the southeast have seen Stephanie Osborn and her husband, Darrell (the Chief Mad Scientist at Doctor Osborn’s Magic and Balloons), and those outside of it are probably familiar with her in some way.  As the writer of several dozen books of various types, she’s got her tendrils (hey, she’s a sci-fi writer) in many different areas…

Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
I’m Stephanie Osborn, and I write science, science fiction, and science fiction mystery.

Tell us (briefly) about you…
I am a former payload flight controller, a veteran of over twenty years of working in the civilian and military space programs. I worked on numerous Space Shuttle flights and the International Space Station, and trained astronauts too. I’m currently retired from space work and happily “pass it forward,” teaching math and science via numerous media, and working with SIGMA, the science fiction think tank, while writing science fiction mysteries based on my knowledge, experience, and travels. So I really am one of those rocket scientists you hear about.

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
I’ve written Burnout: The mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281; co-authored several of the Cresperian Saga books; am co-authoring the Point series with Travis S. Taylor; am the author of the critically-acclaimed Displaced Detective series; and Travis and I recently wrote the top-selling science book, A New American Space Plan.

…and what you’re working on right now.
I’m working on the 4th Cresperian book, Heritage; the sequel to Burnout, Escape Velocity; books 5-7 of the Displaced Detective series (well, book 7 is actually finished, I’m just polishing it). I have a steampunk book, the first of The Adventures of Aemelia Gearheart, that’s being shopped around. Travis and I are tossing around ideas and trying to get time in our schedules for writing the next Point book. So I’m keeping pretty busy.

What are your earliest book-related memories?
You mean other than Little Golden Books, and things like that? I guess discovering science fiction in mid-elementary school and launching into Bradbury and Asimov and the like. I read my first Sherlock Holmes novel about then too – somebody gave me a copy of Hound of the Baskervilles – but it scared me pretty badly, and actually probably delayed my entry into Holmesiana. I have a very vivid imagination, and have always dreamed in color. That, in a young child, is not always a great combo.

What are your three favorite books?
Ouch. You mean I have to choose? In what genre(s)?

I guess I would have to say the complete collection of Sherlock Holmes, The War of the Worlds, and…Lord of the Rings maybe. That’s closer to a dozen books really, or a couple really honkin’ big ones. And I could still list more.

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
Oh, pretty much as many as I feel like. I can swap up books readily enough.

Right now I’m reading a lot of reference materials. Celtic history, a biography and research notes for Nikola Tesla, rereading some Holmes stuff, Victorian – I found an electronic copy of Mrs. Beeton’s on a website, for Kindle no less! Now for those that don’t know, this was a mammoth text that was the Martha Stewart AND Oprah Winfrey combined, of the Victorian era. Plus Emily Post thrown in for good measure. It’s great reference material for someone writing steampunk and Sherlock Holmes!

Oh, and cookbooks. Because I just like ’em.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
…lose track of my own spacetime and subsume into the world in the book.

If I have a cup of hot tea with cream, a snackie-something, and my cat purring in my lap, I’m gone. For a long time. Stomp when you come into the room, it won’t matter. I won’t know you’re there. Just don’t put your hand on my shoulder without yelling in my ear first or you’ll be peeling me off the ceiling fan!

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
If it’s a book I really like, I read it until it’s worn out and then buy another copy. Ebook readers sort of help in that respect now…

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
If it’s a book I like the sound of, I’ll read it as soon as I find time – provided it isn’t in my own genre. I tend to avoid books in my fiction genres because I don’t want to inadvertently pull someone else’s idea into my own work.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
If it’s a book I think is worthy, most definitely I’ll recommend it. I do some free-lance editing in addition to writing, and have encountered several books that I consider noteworthy through that.

What do you look for in a good book?
A good plot (realistic if it’s that sort of fiction, though I do fantasy also), characters that make me forget they’re not real people. Something that sucks me in. It might make me think, it might be light reading. But it has to have enough depth for me to be THERE instead of HERE.

Why do you write?
I don’t know. I think if I could answer this, I’d win some major awards or something, because then I’d know what to do and how to grab my audience and wring every last emotion out of ’em. I just know that it’s something I have to do. I have things to be said and stories to be told. And I have to say ’em, I have to tell ’em.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
Heh, I’ve already been them. I started off as a rocket scientist – for real. I worked for NASA and DoD for a couple decades. (I trained astronauts and worked on crew procedures and timelines, aka schedules.) I’ve also taught at university, tutored, substitute taught. I’m a licensed minister. A NWS-certified storm spotter. I was a reserve police officer. An ACE-certified personal trainer. I’ve been called Renaissance woman and polymath. I guess in some respects, I am.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
That’s another “I don’t know.” Sometimes it just seems to be there. In my Displaced Detective series, I postulate alternate realities (and science recently provided support for the concept of alternate realities!), and speculate that somehow writers like Arthur Conan Doyle unwittingly access these alternate universes when they write – so that what they are doing is not really writing fiction, but setting down the histories of these other spacetimes. It’s as good a theory as any, I suppose.

What has writing taught you about yourself?
That there’s a whole lot more crammed into my cranium – more worlds, more people, more concepts, more adventures – than I ever dreamed. And that not only do I have the ability to write an entire book, I can write dozens of books!

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
They’re very proud of me. My husband is a graphic artist and illustrator, and he’s become the go-to guy for most of my book cover art. I’d asked him for a piece of artwork for my first book, to put on my then-new website (www.stephanie-osborn.com), and my publisher liked it and it became the cover for the book, which was Burnout: The mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281. The title of the art is, “Matchstick.”

My parents are very proud. I think my Mom got a Kindle just so she could get the works I have out that are ebook-only, frankly! Daddy likes to read the print versions.

My mentor, Travis Taylor, says I’m awesome and he likes my stuff. (I include him here because he’s kind of like a brother I wanted but never had.) I dunno about the awesome part, but I’m glad he likes it.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
Ha! So far I haven’t encountered any! If you can come up with a stereotype, I can probably find it in myself or one of my writer friends!

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
The economy. It’s really hard to break into the business when everything is changing – print, ebooks, both, what formats – and when people have less disposable income than they did only a few years ago.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
Oh, a few technical things here and there. I cringe at some of those when I read them. Most people probably don’t recognize them, but I do, having learned from Travis. Eventually I’ll have to go back and tidy up the earlier works and issue new editions, I think.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
I have two film projects that are stalled at the funding stage, what with the current economy. We have people lined up to direct, act, do SFX, all that sort of stuff. We just need “angels.” I’m excited about them, and want to get them off the ground and rolling. One is a short – we want to enter it into some film festivals, and maybe use it as the pilot for an anthology series. We only need $7000 – but people either want to do big stuff, or not at all. The other one is a feature film version of Burnout, and that is more like $50 million. A bit bigger. If anybody is interested in being the producer for the short, contact me. My email is steph-osborn@sff.net.

How do you deal with your fan base?
Oh, I think my fans are cool! For all that I’ve been doing this for a few years now, it still surprises me to find I have a hardcore fan base. I love it!

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
Well, I’m actually a very shy and sensitive person. Everybody thinks I’m really outgoing and an extrovert, but when I take the psych tests, I’m borderline extrovert/introvert. I get stage fright.

But years ago I sort of developed a character – like acting – that was a facet of my personality, that I used when I had to talk in public, to help me through the stage fright. Over time that character just developed more and more until I was comfortable with it, and now it really is me. It’s just like, I flip a switch and go from this homebody sitting at her computer to this vivacious, outgoing person at a convention. I still get stage fright, but I’ve learned to channel the adrenaline in more productive ways, like being energetic and upbeat, and thinking fast on my feet.

But I pay for it after. It’s not uncommon for me to come home from a convention and sleep for the better part of a day because the effort to be “on” for an entire weekend has worn me out. So if you come up to me and I look tired, I really am. If I seem absent-minded or slightly frazzled, I am.

Anything else we should know?
Um, let’s see. My first children’s book, StarSong, is out, through Chromosphere Press, and it’s available in paperback and ebook. I’ve gotten my second EPIC Award Finalist designation, the first one having been for book 2 of the Cresperian Saga, The Y Factor in 2010; my second is for the short story, The Fetish. (It’s set in the Burnout universe.) A New American Space Plan is doing really really well in sales! Book 4 of the Displaced Detective series, Endings and Beginnings, is being released this next week in print.
And I’m still going!

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