Friday, December 31, 2010

Kata’s 2010 Reflections

2010 was one of the most interesting years of my life, not the best or most successful or happiest, but one of the most interesting. For me interesting is a positive thing, a reason for getting up in the morning, a reason for putting one foot in front of the other and living each day. Almost everything that happened was unexpected. Maybe I just put the interesting vibration out into the universe.

In early spring I sent my cousin a very emotional e-mail about all the things that were going wrong in my life. One of my last sentences was asking whether I could do work for him, any work, just to try to stay sane. Coincidentally, he was in the process of submitting a proposal for a self-paced training course. I’ve been writing training materials for a long time, but I didn’t know anything about federal laws and how industrial air pollution is controlled. In addition, much to my cousin’s chagrin, I managed to earn a master’s degree without every taking a physics course. So, I immersed myself in the content I received from my cousin as well as practically everything I could find on the Internet. Because I love to learn, this was sheer happiness.

In late spring, I was an enumerator for the 2010 Census, not particularly successful financially, but a great way to meet fascinating people. One of my favorites was an 80+ year old owner of a massive apartment complex, who told me her secrets for keeping young. Because the apartments were close to a medical college, I was also able to chat with young adults from various countries.

In June, bored with what I was reading, I decided to begin to read Hugo award winning novels, 50 years worth of novels, a goal that is going to take me well into the middle of 2011. Each novel makes me think, some more than others. Each novel enlarges my view of the world and of how writers express themselves through words. In addition, I have been exposed to more science. Those concepts I learned while working on the air pollution course have reappeared in a number of the novels.

My blogs have been a source of fascination for me. At the beginning of the year, I set out to write 50 entries in Kata Chimes In and 100 entries in Kata’s Cadence. Little did I know that I would have a small religious crisis and have almost no motivation to write in the second blog, which I associated with my participation in a particular church. In autumn I noticed someone had accessed my New Year’s Resolution post, so I reread it. I am not a person who takes goals lightly. For the last three months of the year, I wrote a poem, blessing, prayer or affirmation almost every morning. Who could ask for a better education? I learned about myself, about writing, and about my readers.

In fall, I went back to taking Tai Chi classes after a two year break. This was one of the hardest and most rewarding semesters for me. Because this was an advanced class, the emphasis was on internal awareness, an area that most of us have little training in. Sure, I could do the form, but do the form while trying to feel my heart beat?

Throughout the year, my thoughts about how I perceive people have changed. Enumerating for the Census forced me outside my comfort zone. Books like The Cow In The Parking Lot by Leonard Scheff and Susan Edmiston, Yoga for Anxiety by Mary NurrieStearns and Rick NurrieStearns, The Miracle of Right Thinking by Orison Swett Marden and The Learning to Love Yourself Workbook by Gay Hendricks helped change the way I look at myself and the world.

For Christmas, I decided to make some Christmas ornaments based on a design in the book Diane Fitzgerald's Shaped Beadwork. I loved how my brain twisted in little knots when I tried to think three-dimensionally. Last night I tried a different pattern in preparation for making a gift for myself (and maybe next year’s Christmas presents). I just didn’t get it, and then all of a sudden, later in the evening, it clicked.

The year contained hundreds of other fascinating things, including farmers’ markets I didn’t know about, new recipes, things from my parents and my childhood that I still am finding as I clean out the house. Today my neighbor-sister took me to a Hispanic grocery store, and I didn’t want to leave. This year, I have been like a little kid, filled with wonder.

I am afraid of 2011. I realized that as I debated whether to try my hand at writing a New Year’s blessing. I like small changes, but don’t like major upheavals. This coming year has a high probability for major upheavals. The New Thought writers talk a lot about faith, and I think the coming year will require me to depend upon it more than in recent years.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Snow Queen

Manipulating. Exploiting. Blurring of the Lines Between Friend and Foe. Uncovering Hidden Origins. Losing Naiveté. Redeeming People. Breaking Rules. Enforcing Rules. Questioning Ancient Traditions. Preserving the Past. Channeling Change. Prolonging Life.

In the 1980 Hugo Award winning novel The Snow Queen, Joan D. Vinge creates an intricate world that is on the brink of a massive transition. Tiamat, a planet close to a Stargate, is valued by off-worlders for its waters of life, an extract that can prolong life and that is traded for technology. The planet is situated in such a way that it has a cycle of about 250 years. For about 150 years it is accessible by the Stargate, during which time the Winters, a technology loving people reign. But alternating that is a 100 year period when the Stargate is closed, the off-worlders withdraw their technology and the planet reverts to a relatively primitive state while ruled by the Summers.

The novel tells the story of the period leading up to the transition when the world will again be without technology and ruled by the Summers. The plot includes the Snow Queen who schemes to retain her power, an off-worlder policewoman manipulated by both the queen and the off-worlder government, and two cousins discovering their origins and their destinies.

The plot is fresh. The world is fascinating. I am glad I found the book. It is part of a series, which I hope to finish reading at some point.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Fountains of Paradise

Textural. Multi-layered. Just as a painter creates using layers of color and texture and a composer creates using multiple instruments, Arthur C. Clarke used thin chapters to create an experience in the 1980 Hugo Award and 1979 Nebula Award winning novel The Fountains of Paradise. I wish I had known that when I began reading the novel; for days I could not get into it. Finally I read a chapter that involved yellow butterflies, and the novel seemed to click for me.

The melody of the novel is the plot of an engineer who wants to build a type of space elevator. Some of the other layers include: first contact with aliens, the legacy of the fountains, a monastery built on the very mountain on which the engineer wants to build the elevator.

The science was interesting for me. Although the novel contained an appealing childhood back-story, there was not as much character development as I prefer. I am glad I read The Foundations of Paradise because it showed me yet another way of writing a novel.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Miracle of Right Thought

Time fascinates me. To be able to hold in my hand a book that was published exactly a century ago is sheer magic to me. {I wish I could hold in my hand a book that would be published exactly a hundred years from now, but I guess that one is a bit far fetched.} It is as though a teacher from the past has traveled to the present and is gently and lovingly guiding me. The Miracle of Right Thought by Orison Swett Marden was published in December of 1910—when the New Thought movement was in full swing--and is still very relevant:

What you allow to live in your heart, harbor in your mind, dwell in your thoughts, are seeds which will develop in your life and produce things like themselves.
Most people do not face life in the right way. They neutralize a large part of their effort because their mental attitude does not correspond with their endeavor, so that while working for one thing they are really expecting something else. They discourage, drive away, the very thing they are pursuing by holding the wrong attitude towards it.
Think life, live it; think youth, live it; feel it, express it from every pore of your being!
Instead of trying to root out a defect or a vicious quality directly, cultivate the opposite quality.
Keep constantly in your mind the ideal of the man or woman you would like to become.

After taking pages and pages of notes on the book and renewing it once, I reluctantly am going to return it to the library this week.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


The enjoyable 1979 Hugo and 1978 Nebula award winning novel Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre is post-apocalyptic science fiction written in a style I associate with fantasy. It has a strong, benevolent, somewhat mysterious heroine who goes on a quest to find something that has been lost.

Snake is a healer who has decided to go out among the desert people in her proving year—a time near the end of a student’s regular training. The primary tools of the healing profession are live snakes, whose venom provides the basis for vaccines, helps with infection, shrinks tumors, and performs various other functions. The most vital and rare snake is the dreamsnake, which provides a type of narcotic. Early in the story Snake’s dreamsnake is killed. The rest of the plot centers on her attempt to deal with the loss and possibly find a replacement. Of course, she meets interesting people along the way. The novel is not for those squeamish about snakes!!!

Near the last hundred pages, the story took a stronger science fiction turn, but until that point I thought it could well have been a storyline that would go on for several novels. Snake is likable. While she describes herself as arrogant, she seems to be only slightly more risk taking than her fellow healers and has a touch of naiveté to her. I forgot that I was on my mission to read Hugo award winning novels and felt more like I was reading a current novel. I was sad to see the story end.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Human Psychology. Risk. Gambling. Half of the chapters in the 1978 Hugo Award and 1977 Nebula Award winning novel Gateway by Frederick Pohl take place in the office of a computerized psychologist named Sigfrid. What happened to Robinette that compels him to continue to return for therapy? At the hub of the question is Gateway.

Briefly, Gateway is an asteroid where an unknown alien culture left hundreds of spacecrafts. The humans know almost nothing about the how the spacecrafts work. They do know that they can board them and go to some destination that had earlier—perhaps centuries ago--been programmed by the aliens.

We’re going into a ship that we don’t know if it’s going to go where it’s supposed to go, and we don’t even know where it’s supposed to go. We go faster than light, nobody knows how. We don’t know how long we’ll be gone, even if we knew where we were going. So we could be traveling the rest of our lives and die before we got there, even if we didn’t run into something that would kill us in two seconds…And not only that. We don’t anything about who built these things.

This causes a type of Russian roulette/gambling situation. The destination may bring the “prospectors” to a place where the aliens have left some wonderful technology or that has some great scientific value. In which case, the prospectors could earn millions of dollars. On the other hand, they could come back empty handed, injured, or not come back at all. In general the novel explores what type of person would sign up for such an assignment. In particular, it explores Robinette, who is caught between his fears and his desire for the big payoff.

This would have been an interesting book to read as part of a book club. At the end, I would have liked to know how other readers felt about Robinette. Could they relate to his fears? Did they find him a good, bad, or an in between type of person? This is the first novel a series, and at some point I would like to read the other books.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang

Haunting. Not your typical post-apocalyptic novel. I stayed up way, way too late last night/this morning reading the 1977 Hugo award winning novel Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm. In some ways it is reminiscent of A Choice of Gods and Way Station by Clifford D. Simak; it takes place in the future in an isolated rural setting and a family homestead plays a significant role in the plot. In Wilhelm’s novel, some events, which aren’t elaborated on, cause a global catastrophe. Before the disasters, the patriarch of a large group realizes what is going on and builds genetic facilities and a huge shelter for his extended family into the caves of a mountain. While the family survives the immediate disaster, they, like all other mammals, have been rendered infertile. The geneticists believe that by using a specific cloning technique the offspring will eventually become fertile again after a few generations.

Unlike many science fiction stories, this one centers on the people, in this case the clones, and how they evolve as a society. In the beginning, like normal teenagers, they take on an identity separate from their elders and create a society different from what the elders intended. While in some ways they are greater than the people they were cloned from, in other ways they are less. They all have a telepathic/empathetic connection and can’t bear to be alone. Slowly they lose their ability to see abstractions, to create new ideas, to adjust to unexpected events. Of course, even a cloned society has its rebels.

I need a few more days for the book to work its way into my psyche. I keep thinking about a conversation with a friend last week. We were talking about how teenagers were constantly texting one another. “They can’t bear to be alone!” she exclaimed, irritated. Each generation gains some things and loses others—and has its rebels who don’t go along with the wave.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Gods Themselves

Parallel Universes. Academic Politics. Alternative Energy. Interesting Science. Fascinating Aliens. The 1973 Hugo award winning novel The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov is a story about an energy technology created by the interaction of a parallel universe—one with different physical laws— and our own. I liked the novel, despite the slow moving plots and emphasis on politics in scientific circles.

The book is divided into three main sections. The middle section contains a story about life forms in a parallel universe. This section made the book memorable and worthwhile. The life forms were interesting and unique. I even found myself getting emotionally attached to the little fellows. The ending of the section was satisfying and surprising.

Some of the discussion in the book is timeless. A major part of the plot deals with the safety of the energy technology. If I hadn’t known that the book was written in the early 70’s, I would have thought it was inspired by the politics of Climate Change and Global Warming:

"It is a mistake,” he said, “to suppose that the public wants the environment protected or their lives saved and that they will be grateful to any idealist who will fight for such ends. What the public wants is their own individual comfort."
Asimov also offers wisdom on how to counteract some of those arguments. I think the Hugo voters got this one right.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

To Your Scattered Bodies Go

The opening episode in a series. An interesting premise. The day after I finished reading the 1972 Hugo Award Winning Novel To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip Jose Farmer I am still not sure what I think about it. I know that it is part of a longer series, Riverworld. I feel very much the way I did when I watched the opening episodes of Lost and The Event on TV. The opening is spectacular, but am I emotionally and intellectually committed to it? Is it compelling enough for me to continue on? Maybe. Maybe not.

The opening few chapters are amazing. After dying, Sir Richard Francis Burton wakes up suspended in a void as he rotates around a pole and surrounded by naked bodies also rotating around poles. The next time he wakes up, he is on the ground. Naked, hairless bodies of men and women are all around him. Slowly, they wake up. Where are they? Is this heaven, hell, purgatory, or some place else? Slowly, they learn that all the people who have ever lived and died on earth are on this planet, which consists of one long river and its banks. There are people from all parts of the earth and from all time periods. To help with their daily needs, they each have a grail that they can use at set times of the day to give them food and some basic supplies.

The main plot seems to be focusing on why they are all there in the first place and who has brought them there. Burton, the main character, makes it his mission to figure this out. But there are also other layers of plot. What is human nature? How do people from different periods of time and different cultures interact with one another to create a society? What role does a person’s past play in their radically different present? Are they the same people as those who died on earth? Do they have souls? Burton keeps on encountering Hermann Goring, the Nazi war criminal. Is this a coincidence or does it have a deeper meaning?

The beginning was spectacular enough that I was glad I read the book. On the other hand I didn’t feel emotionally attached enough to the rest of the story to want to continue reading the series right now. Maybe later. This is more a matter of my tastes and not a reflection on the writing. I am not convinced that the series is going to explore the ideas that am most interested in.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Troubled Waters

Blessings. Elements. Uncovering the Truth. The recently released fantasy novel Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn is beautifully woven together with the concept of blessings. “Blessing” is used both in the traditional sense and in the second sense of being elements—air, wood, fire, water, and earth—similar to the elements used in Eastern medicine.

Temples contain barrels filled with small metal tokens with a blessing on them, such as courage (a wood blessing) or patience (an earth blessing). These might be drawn for guidance or inspiration. The father of a newborn child goes out and asks three strangers to bestow a blessing on his child, usually drawn from the temple barrel, but sometimes given from a token already in the stranger’s possession. These three blessings become a sort of identity and inspiration throughout the child’s life.

In the story, individuals and families are also defined by particular blessings/elements. The blessings influence their occupations and shape their temperaments. They have an affinity for that blessing/element in nature. Rare individuals called “primes” can even control their element.

This world of blessings is the setting for the story of Zoe, a young woman who slowly uncovers the truth about who she is. In the beginning she is a lost young woman who is dealing with the death of her father, a man who has lived with her in exile the past ten years. As the story progresses, Zoe also uncovers the truth about intrigues in the royal palace. Zoe has the blessing of water, and the plot moves like water, sometimes slow and gentle, sometimes fast and racing.

This is the first book I have read by Shinn, and I had an enjoyable experience. I was fascinated by the blessings. Even though Zoe is a strong female character, the book has a gentle, feminine feel to it, which is a nice change of pace for me. I am hoping that Troubled Waters is the first in a series.