Wednesday, October 30, 2013

When I first heard that a "reboot" of H. Beam Piper's book Little Fuzzy was coming out, my first thought was "Why?" I first read Piper's Fuzzy stories as a young teenager and have come back to them over and over. Yes, the human society they take place in reflects the early 1960s when Piper was writing -- women are nearly all secretaries and nearly everyone smokes. (You get used to that kind of thing when reading a lot of science fiction classics.) But I think characters such as sunstone miner Jack Holloway, and the beings he discovers on the planet Zarathustra and names "Fuzzies" are timeless. At least one review I read compared Holloway to an old West prospector, and I can see a lot of parallels between human exploitation of other planets in these books and colonial exploitation of places inhabited by people with less technology and different skin colors.

Piper himself wrote a second book (Fuzzy Sapiens, originally published as "The Other Human Race") and a third manuscript at the time of his death, which was eventually published in 1984 as Fuzzies and Other People. (All three are now available in one volume, The Complete Fuzzy.) However, before his manuscript was found, Ace Books had published two other authors' works on the Fuzzies: William Tuning's 1981 Fuzzy Bones and Ardath Mayhar's 1982 Golden Dream: A Fuzzy Odyssey. Both of those worked with what had been stated in the first two Piper books but not the third. And then there were two more sequels (which I haven't read yet) by Wolfgang Diehr: 2011's Fuzzy Ergo Sum and 2012's Caveat Fuzzy.

So there were 7 Fuzzy novels, though the timeline sort of divides in two after Fuzzy Sapiens. It seemed really pointless to start from the beginning again, and I didn't think I'd bother to read John Scalzi's 2011 Fuzzy Nation when I first heard of its existence. I hadn't read any of Scalzi's work before, so I didn't originally have an interest in seeing how yet another author would handle the story. This changed a bit after I read bits of Scalzi's blog, specifically entries that some of my Facebook friends linked to in discussions about sexism in science fiction. After that, I felt positively enough about Scalzi that I was willing to try Fuzzy Nation when I happened across it in a library.

It's pretty good. Not as good as Piper's, but I'm aware that I may be taking off mental points for just trying to tell a version of the Fuzzy discovery narrative that isn't Piper's. Still, there were times when I kept the book open against my chest so I could read it while web pages loaded, because I was just that interested in what was happening. I don't like Scalzi's version of Jack Holloway as much as Piper's, but I can see how he's a more complex character in some ways and some readers will prefer that. The basic events are the same; the company exploiting the planet Zara XXIII is still willing to do almost anything to keep the discovery of the Fuzzies from interfering with their profits, but I think the Fuzzies actually come off as more intelligent in Scalzi's version, at least if you're only comparing with Little Fuzzy and not the parts of the sequels that delve into the Fuzzies' points of view. Piper spends more time developing other people besides Holloway, and I prefer that kind of detail, but Scalzi's version is equally readable. I am reasonably pleased to be proved wrong in my original opinion that there was no benefit to this reboot; it was both entertaining and brought me back to the previous Fuzzy stories, a good thing itself.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Also, do you knit toy/stuffed animal type things? If so, can you send me a link to the design? I'm interested in getting some knit monsters for my daughter.


So, after some back-and-forth with my friend about what kind of monster exactly, I started searching online for patterns with pictures of the finished work available. Of the possibilities I submitted, Corvus picked one for Dracula that had been in The Knitter magazine (issue 50) but was more widely available in the 2013 book Knit Your Own Zombie: Over 1,000 Combinations to Rip 'n' Reassemble for Horrifying Results by Fiona Goble.

Goble has written numerous books of patterns for stuffed animals and people, such as Knitivity: Create Your Own Christmas Scene, Fleecie Dolls: 15 Adorable Toys for Children of All Ages, and even Knit Your Own Royal Wedding. I think this book will appeal to a somewhat different audience. What's really fun is that all the figures are knitted in pieces, and you can actually attach arms, legs, heads, etc. with Velcro and snaps instead of permanent sewing. Therefore, you can tear your zombies apart for stress relief, voodoo doll usage, or just to make new combinations. The patterns included are:

  • Classic Zombie -- dangling eye made from a bead, hole in his torso where little red guts can be visible or spill out, a little rat to nibble on him
  • Frankenstein's Monster -- hole in his neck for a nut and bolt
  • Zombie Cop -- blood-spattered uniform, one boot, truncheon made from a knit-covered drinking straw, even little handcuffs that can be made from two toggle rings and a short chain.
  • Zombie Fatale -- bandaged hand, chest pocket for removable heart, dress, hat, even little beads for painted toenails
  • Dracula -- I think the little white beads for fangs really make this pattern, but there's also the cape and the gentleman's cane
  • Zombie Chef -- leg with broken bone sticking out, little knit-over-cardboard cleaver and knife
  • Zombie Grave Digger -- more like a skeleton stitched on a dark gray body, with a rope and shovel accessories
  • Zombie Rock Star -- long hair, hole in the top of the head with removable brain
  • The Mummy -- technically this one is just a very long "bandage" to wrap around any of the figures to make it a mummy
  • There are also "zombie mashups" where elements from the different characters are combined to make additional characters, such as Village Idiot, Mother of the Bride, Biker Chick Zombie, and Yoga Zombie.
If you have done any knitting, these aren't very difficult. The work is small (US size 2 or 3 needles) but not complicated most of the time. (The bit I found hardest was the ragged edge of one of Dracula's pant legs -- knitting something that looks like it's going to come apart but won't involved a sequence of stitches that took me a couple of tries.) I found the instructions pretty easy to follow, and a lot of the supplies can be found in many crafters' leftover supply stashes. I had to buy the pale green yarn for the skin, but clothes and accessories were all done with yarn and beads I already had.

The finished Dracula dissatisfied me slightly because the face didn't look much like that on the photo in the book, but it's recognizably a vampire. What's most important, Corvus and his daughter both like it. While I have the book from the library, I'm making a Frankenstein's monster as well.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

My grandfather died a month and a half ago, at the end of May 2013, at the age of 95. He was a World War II veteran. It's incredible to think about all the things that happened during the span of his lifetime.

And then I read The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War by Richard Rubin. Over the decade or so before this book was published in 2013, Rubin managed to find remaining members of my grandfather's parents' generation, all over 100 years old, and interview them about their service in the military and government during World War I. For Americans, the First World War, at the time "The War to End All Wars," is usually overshadowed by the Second World War, since the U.S. was in WWII a longer time and had American territory directly attacked. The Last of the Doughboys does a very good job of bringing focus back to the earlier world war, fought during the earliest years of modern technology (for example, one of the interviewees recalls delivering belts of ammunition to machine gun emplacements -- using a mule-drawn wagon). It's amazing to get personal perspectives on everything from trench warfare to race relations a century ago from people who were there, and were old enough in 1917-8 to fight or work but still lived into the age of cellphones and the Internet. (Rubin notes that he would never have been able to track down as many living veterans as he did without Internet resources, particularly lists from a French government program started in the 1990s to honor Americans who served on French soil).

There's also a fair amount of non-interview historical material which is also very interesting, particularly the sampling of sheet music art and lyrics for patriotic songs of World War I (and some less patriotic ones from immediately before the war). The book also covers stories such as those of the "Yeomanettes," women who were able to serve as members of the Navy (though doing work on land) during the war, and the treatment of war veterans after the end of the war and particularly during the Depression. In short, it covers a lot of ground, but this does a good job of introducing current readers to times that should not be forgotten, and providing a tribute to the individual people who fought or worked behind the lines in this important juncture of history.