It’s been a long while since I read much fantasy or science fiction. Bad attitude is mainly to blame. But this week I’ve developed a serious craving to renew my familiarity with the Dark Arts. Ordered a stack of novels online, mainly classics that I missed the first time around (not having been born yet).

While waiting for them to arrive, I finished organizing my existing collection. It had been in storage for a few years. When I moved into this house I got it out and put it on shelves, but higgledy-piggledy. So now it’s more or less alphabetized.

Aside: I gave away a lot of books last year. Terrible idea. Never give away books! Kept a lot, though. Kept the Philip Dick, the Sheri Tepper, Read more

Lessons in How to Be Offensive

The Internet is a strange place. I got an email from one Russell Moran, who apparently operates a teaching studio for budding musicians in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. He wanted to exchange links with one of my cello teaching pages.

The email was addressed not to Jim Aikin but to Webmaster. It was very unclear to me what the benefit would be of my cross-linking with a teaching site in Dallas, since I’m in Northern California. So I ignored it.

A couple of days later (tonight, in fact) I got a follow-up email from Russell. Still addressing me as Webmaster. So I figured it wasn’t just spam, so I checked out his site. I found it a little over the top. Read more

Teaching Writing

A friend is encouraging me to teach an eight-week workshop in writing science fiction and fantasy. Since I have some modest credentials in that field and could use a little extra money, it’s natural to consider the idea.

I already teach classical cello, to an assortment of youngsters and adults. So I’ve observed how people learn stuff (or fail to). The question I’m asking myself this morning is, would an eight-week class actually do anybody any good?

I mean, I could lecture about cello playing for eight weeks (or more realistically, for about three weeks — I could cover the subject very adequately in six hours, including questions and answers), but it’s real clear the lectures would produce Read more

On Rails

I’ve been thinking about (sketching, actually) a rewrite of a fantasy novel I wrote a couple of years ago. At the time, my agent wasn’t interested in marketing it, and I trust his judgment. I think I’ve figured out how to make the story a whole lot stronger.

Last night, though, I fell to reading the column by Barry Malzberg and Mike Resnick in the latest issue of the SFWA Bulletin. At the risk of oversimplifying, their message amounts to this: Read more

Boring Sports

Sunday morning, and I’m on the treadmill at 24 Hour Fitness. Bank of TV screens up there. Always lots of sports on the screens, maybe not surprising. Sunday mornings seem to be the bottom of the sports barrel, though: Today one of the channels was televising pro bowling.

Bowling has got to be the most boring sport on TV, bar none. There is only one strategy: Knock ’em all down. And the tactics are at entirely the level of the bowler’s grip on the ball, which is invisible.

Golf on TV is almost as bad. They have to keep cutting away to about four different foursomes because there’s so little action, and the players never interact with one another, and the ball is almost too small to see.

A nine-ball tournament is pretty boring on TV, too — unless you happen to play pool, as I do. If you know what’s going on on the table, you understand that every shot is different. The players’ ability to control where the cue ball ends up after the shot is consistently jaw-dropping, and that’s the essence of the game. It isn’t just about putting the other ball in the pocket; it’s what happens after that, as the cue ball slows down and stops. A good nine-ball player can stop the cue ball within the diameter of a silver dollar, starting from almost any shot on the table.

Maybe there are subtleties like that in bowling, too. But I kind of doubt it.

The Future of Keyboard Magazine

Email arrived tonight from Ernie Rideout tonight saying he has been laid off as editor-in-chief of Keyboard. Without disparaging in any way the awesome talents and unflagging energy of Steve Fortner, Michael Gallant, and Debbie Greenberg, it’s not easy for me to see how they’re going to be able to keep the wheels turning with such a shrunken head count.

A bit of history: I was laid off from Keyboard in 2002, after 26 years on the editorial staff, so I have at least a vague idea both what it takes to produce a magazine and what may be going on behind the scenes in a publishing house of this sort. Personally, I was grateful to be out of there. It was already pretty much a pressure cooker ten years ago.

But we had more editorial staff than that in 1978. We had Tom Darter (editor), Dominic Milano (half-time editor, half-time art director), me, and Bob Doerschuk. That’s 3-1/2 editors. Today, Debbie is half-time Keyboard and half-time EQ, so they have 2-1/2 editors left. Read more

Here Come Da Judge

I’ve joined a weekly Artist’s Way group. We’re going through the chapters in the book one by one. Even after the first meeting, I could see changes happening in my approach to creativity — good changes.

But you can’t always take the book’s statements at face value. This assertion, from “Rules of the Road” (on p. 55) set off alarm bells for me:

“Remember that it is my job to do the work, not judge the work.”

Excuse me? As an artist, I am constantly, unceasingly judging my work. It would be literally impossible to do any work at all without judging. Even if you’re fingerpainting, there will come a moment when you’ll have to decide whether to grab the yellow paint or the red paint. Read more

Great Expectations

As my latest interactive fiction nears completion, I think I may not start another one right away. Getting everything right is just too darn complicated!

Every beta-tester tries different commands, and most of the commands are reasonable, which means I need to implement, at the very least, a sensible, non-default “you can’t do that” message. That’s one of the things testing is for — to give me a peek at what players may try. Armed with this information, I can enrich the experience of the folks who will download the final version.

But consider: If there are 300 objects in the game, including scenery, and 50 different commands, to give an appropriate response to each command with each object I would have to write 15,000 messages. The default messages generated by Inform make sense for many of these, but not for others. For instance: Read more


I hate Tuesday mornings. Tuesday mornings are when the garbage trucks come. I live on a corner in a residential neighborhood, and we have three pickups — garbage, recycling, and green waste. So I get three trucks, times two sides of the street, times two streets (N/S and E/W). That makes twelve passes by noisy, rumbling trucks, not counting the extra times when they just swing by on their way to some other block.

I’m a musician. I hate obtrusive background noise in any circumstances whatever. When I was a little kid I hated the vacuum cleaner! But when I’m trying to practice piano, the grinding rumble of a dozen garbage trucks is maybe slightly less unpleasant than having someone drive nails through my hands. It’s a nightmare.

To add to the fun, there’s some street repair going on over on the next street. From time to time dump trucks, which are evidently too big to make U-turns, swing around the block past my house. And I’m only a block from a major residential thoroughfare, so at unpredictable intervals I’m serenaded by fire engines.

Short of living on a ten-acre country estate (yeah, I wish), there’s no escaping this stuff. It’s just awful. I doubt even John Cage would like it, and he was reputed to accept any sort of unintended noise as musical.

Here comes another one.

Too Many Temptations

As usual, the buffet of life is overstocked with mouth-watering treats. I’ve just downloaded and installed a new synthesizer, Camel Audio Alchemy, which is quite tasty. Look for a review of it within a couple of months in one of the magazines I write for. I’m finishing up the testing phase of my next game, “A Flustered Duck,” which will be entered in the Spring Thing competition. Playing the piano is, of course, a perennial fascination. And I’m starting to contemplate, in a vague sort of way, whether I might want to do a rewrite of my most recent (unpublished) novel. Some interesting ideas are surfacing there.

A friend was giving away books, so I picked up a few old murder mysteries I haven’t read. Started one last night. And I’m participating in an Artist’s Way group on Wednesday nights, so every day I need to write a thousand words or so in my Morning Pages. (Actually, I’m doing Bedtime Pages, but don’t tell anybody.)

Yard work? Ironing? Sweeping the kitchen floor? Hell, I barely have time to bathe!