Carolyn Ives Gilman at Capclave

David Keener and Carolyn Ives GilmanI had a chance to talk to Carolyn Ives Gilman at Capclave 2013. It’s amazing who you can get a chance to talk to when everyone else is in line to get an autograph from some guy named George R. R. Martin. Anyway, she’s written two of the most interesting novellas that I’ve read in recent years:

  • “The Ice Owl” (2011)
  • “Arkfall” (2008)

The first time I ever saw a story from her was when “The Ice Owl” was nominated for the 2012 Hugo award. As a Hugo voter, I had access to all of the nominated stories in PDF form. I thought at the time: I’ve got to find more stories by this author because I liked the story so much.

She’s one of those writers who tackles ambitious stories with a great deal of quiet but powerful emotional intensity. She’s been writing genre fiction since 1986, but she’s never been very prolific. Nevertheless, a number of her works have been nominated for the SF field’s highest awards, including both of the stories I previously mentioned.

The Ice Owl by Carolyn Ives Gilman“The Ice Owl” is an excellent coming-of-age story about a young girl realizing both the limitations and importance of her family as she inadvertantly stumbles across the lingering ripple effects of a long-ago genocide. It was powerful, evocative and captured the sweep and flow of history excellently. It was nominated for the 2012 Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novella, and is available as an ebook or in a very nice but economical print edition from Phoenix Pick.

I also came across an excellent interview online in which the author discusses the genesis of the story.

Arkfall by Carolyn Ives Gilman“Arkfall” tells the story of Osaji, a young adult who must try to earn a living while taking care of the aging grandmother that nobody else in her family wants. She lives on the planet of Ben, a Europa-like planet covered by massive ice sheets with a liquid water ocean underneath. The planet’s population lives within that internal ocean, far underneath the ice. Osaji’s people have adapted to the close, confined spaces of their undersea existence by developing a culture of deference and cooperation. Her culture and her need to care for her grandmother have limited her opportunities and left her completely frustrated with her life. When a crisis occurs, the ensuing events may change her life completely, as well as having a lasting impact on her entire world.

“Arkfall” was nominated for the 2009 Nebula award for Best Novella. The story is available as an ebook or an economical print edition from Phoenix Pick.

I can’t recommend these stories highly enough. What affects me the most about these stories is how real they make their respective worlds feel and, consequently, how involved you become in the the lives of the young protagonists. Both stories are part of Gilman’s very loosely connected “Twenty Planets” series of stories.

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A Little Inspiration: Ocean House

I’m always either designing things, mostly software programs in one of a couple different languages, or writing. When you spend a lot of time doing the same things, it’s easy to slip into a rut without realizing it. Something that I find useful to combat this is to look at interesting designs in other totally unrelated fields.

Ocean House

This is an architectural concept drawing for an “ocean house” that I found on the web (I have no idea where now, because I saved this image a long time ago). I like the image because it challenges the traditional ideas of what a house on the water should look like.

First, there are no wooden stilts in sight. Second, the house isn’t modeled after a sea shanty, a New England fisherman’s cottage, a native hut or anything else. It’s a large, square, two-story modern building rising out of the water, attached to shore by a wooden dock (probably the only traditional element in the image).

Even there, though, the house isn’t perfectly square. The frame is square, but the living quarters are offset diagonally from the frame, creating some interesting angles and shapes, including a triangular wooden deck. The overall effect creates an interesting and thought-provoking architectural design because it challenges the general concept of what a house on the water should look like.

Now, carry that idea of challenging traditional concepts over to the software realm. What concepts are embodied in a project? Can those concepts be bent or twisted in new ways to create something totally different? Can they be combined with something else to make something entirely new?

For example, when blogging became prevalent, the folks at Twitter came up with the novel idea of “micro-blogging” as a way to make blogging more accessible to people who didn’t have the time or inclination to maintain a full-scale blog.

That’s why I like looking at designs in other realms unrelated to software. It’s a way to inspire myself to come at problems from a different angle, to combine things in different ways or sometimes just to play the “what if” game when trying to conceptualize a new project.

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