Monthly Archives: September 2011

Chainmail (part 3)

With a promise that the next post on this blog, whatever it happens to be about, will be about something other than my twisting into place of little metal rings.

1222! That’s the total number of rings in the image below:

That’s 660 more links than I had before, and means that in the past three days I’ve again added more rings into the pattern than were there in total before that. Not too shabby since that’s only two days of actual knitting. I’ve fallen into a pattern where I’ll spend one day prepping rings, half of them opened and half of them closed (to make it easier to add them to the existing pattern), and spend the next two days adding them to the future-hauberk, while prepping yet more rings. I find this keeps the repetitive movements down a bit, and gives my hands something of a day of rest.

I don’t know how close that will bring me to a finished hauberk in time for Halloween, but it’s again reassuring to see an increase in output. I don’t feel that I’m close to my maximum yet, but at an average of 200 rings per day over the last three days, I don’t think it’s realistically going to be something I can push over 300. Pain may not be an issue but time will certainly become a major constraint.

That’s still going to make for between six and nine thousand rings through the month of October, and I’m hoping to enter the month with 2,000-2,500 rings done. If I can do closer to 350 or even 400 rings a day then I’ll be well into the range of my estimate for the shirt of 12,500-14000 rings, and I’ll have myself a Halloween costume without having to go out at the last minute to buy whatever’s left at the store, or recycle old stuff into an impromptu outfit.

I have hope!

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Chainmail (part 2)

Progress! I’d made a lot of headway but held off because I wanted to compare three days worth of work to my first three days.

My first piece stood at roughly five by three inches, with a total of 171 links. Here’s what I have now:

I expanded the first piece and created a second identical one. these pieces are roughly 5.5 inches by 4.5 inches, and contain a combined total of 562 links.  That means I’ve added, over three days, 391 rings. That more than doubles my pace for the first three days, and since it was done with much less pain in my hands and wrists, it gives me hope that I was right in my initial assessment that I’d be able to do more as time went on.

These two pieces are the start of the shoulder pieces, which means I’m a few days away from working down the chest and absolutely needing to decide on a final shape and pattern. I can put it off for a little longer, but I don’t want to be forced by time constraints into something that I won’t like when all is said and done.


Chainmail

Last weekend I rekindled an old interest which I’d left dormant for a long time, and I got started on a suit of chainmail. I bought a lot of links (about 57 pounds worth) several years ago and never got around to doing anything with them. I figure this is as good a time as any to start, and my goal was to be finished in time to wear it for Halloween.

I was optimistic at first, thinking that roughly 45 days should be plenty of time to knit a simple hauberk, and I thought I might even have the time to knit a coif  as well, but now I’m pretty doubtful. Take a look at the picture below:

That’s exactly 171 rings, and about 5 inches by 3 when the fabric is stretched out. It may look all right but it took me three days to make it. I prep the rings during the day by squeezing them just enough so that they close clean, closing some completely and opening other enough to knit with, and then I grab what I’ve prepped and do my knitting at night. At that rate it’s going to be very difficult to make a complete hauberk in time for Halloween. My biggest obstacle at this point isn’t time, it’s pain.

The rings I’m using are 14 gauge stainless steel, with an inner diameter of 3/8 inches. They’re workable with pliers, but I wouldn’t call it easy, and since it’s not the sort of thing I’m used to doing, my wrists start to burn after a while. I’m trying not to push myself too hard for the time being, with the hope that in the long run my output will increase as my hands and wrists get used to this particular form of torment, but I expect the shirt to clock in between 12,500 and 14,000 links (sleeveless and to the waist, so not a full hauberk but good enough for Halloween and I can finish it later), which means I need to increase my production to much more than my current average of 55 per day.

A less stubborn person would probably give up now, but I’m going to plow ahead for a while. I may still find myself shopping for a costume the day before Halloween, or throwing something together out of spare bits and pieces, but I’ll see how far I can take this in the next 40 days.


Bleh

Montreal Comic Con was a complete bust. A completely aggravating experience.

I wanted to get my ticket early, but that required printing out the ticket and I don’t have a working printer at home. Given that admission was a painless process last year, I figured it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to show up without a pre-paid ticket.

Last year I showed up around opening time on Saturday, waited in a fast-moving line for about fifteen to twenty minutes, and went straight in.

This year I showed up around opening time on Saturday, waited in a fast-moving line for 30 minutes, and then waited in the same line, but at a snail’s pace, for an hour and a half. At that point some Con-employees could be seen and heard wandering the line (not near where I was) telling people the con was sold out. They didn’t come to where I was, and word didn’t spread from the front of the line but from the back, so those of us in the front quarter of the line were left wondering if we were wasting our time or not. I should qualify all this by saying that last year’s line had about 350 people in it by my rough guess. This year’s line easily held 2,500 at an absolute minimum.

Given the fact that after the ticket line, they made you wait in a second line to get into the convention, I’m assuming the change from fast-moving ticket line to slow-moving ticket line came as a result of the hall filling up and preventing them from letting anyone else in. I’d have to talk to someone who did both lines to confirm, but I’m guessing this meant they were selling admission to people but not allowing them entry (I’m guessing for an hour or possibly more) into the event that they’d just paid to access, which is a pretty shitty thing to do.

I gave up. The admission line wasn’t moving. I guessed at this point that they were waiting for people to leave the con so that they could admit other people from the line who had already paid, which would allow them to sell more tickets, which would allow those lucky few to wait in the next line. I’d already wasted two and a half hours of my day, I didn’t feel like wasting two more because that would have put me at the point where I’d have spent more time waiting in line for the con than I spent in the con itself. I cut my losses and went home to spend some time with my kids, which I consider to be time much better spent.

The con organizers went out of their way to bring in a whole pile of marquee guests, they clearly made a huge effort to make the con a much bigger event than it was last year. Having planned all of that, how could they possibly have been surprised when the con turned out to be a much bigger event than last year? I’m absolutely amazed that plans weren’t made LONG ago to get a location capable of handling four or five times the number of attendees from last year.

From what I’ve heard, last year’s con drew 5,000 attendees, though I don’t know if those were all in one day. From what I’ve heard from people who were there today, the con was jam-packed with about 10,000 people, which is nowhere near enough to accommodate properly for growth from last year, they should have planned for 15 to 20 thousand, and if there’s room to breathe then there’s room to breathe. I know halls cost money and they didn’t want to take a loss, but there were 2,500 people at a minimum who didn’t get a chance to pay their $25 today, not to mention others who planned to come later on and simply left. That’s a lot of money to go towards paying for a hall. And there are 2,500+ people today whose only memory of Comic Con is a stupidly long line and a trip back home, word of mouth might hurt this convention in the future, and they’ll need to explain how they plan to do better next year.

All I know is that if I decide to go next year (should they decide to run it again), I’ll make sure to have bought my ticket in advance, and I’ll still show up early enough to make the most of it. I’ll also try and show up with other people. If I do have to wait in a line, having someone there would help pass the time.

What a waste, and I was really looking forward to it.


Serendipity

A writer friend of mine is moving to the west coast, and posted online that he was trying to unload a lot of his books and comics because it was too much to move. Books I have enough of but the comics piqued my interest.

Backstory time…

When I was younger (roughly 11-16 years old), I used to collect a lot of comics. I’d save my allowance, save up my lunch money, scavenge cans and bottles for 5 cents each, and then every Friday I’d go to the comic shop and pick up my haul. Mostly I read Marvel, some Image, and a handful of DC titles.

I’d regularly read Spider-Man, X-Men, Punisher, New Mutants, Wolverine… generally super-hero stuff. Occasionally I’d ask the people behind the counter what was good to read and they’d look me over and point me to more superhero comics. I didn’t have a problem with superheroes per se, but everything was starting to look and feel the same. Comics were starting to feel predictable. I read several series that didn’t last long. I read a lot of stuff that just wasn’t very interesting, and every time I asked what was good I’d get pointed to another series with a guy in tights.

By the time I graduated high school in 1993 I’d pretty much stopped collecting, only buying the occasional issue that caught my eye. I’d basically given up on comics because I thought that they were all the same.

Fast forward several years. I’d read a book called Good Omens, written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, because I  was (and still am) a huge Pratchett fan. Over time I heard Neil’s name come up fairly often, and picked up another book of his called Neverwhere, a novelization of a TV series that he’d written. I loved it. When I asked a friend about him, he said Gaiman was one of his favourites, at which point I brought up the fact that he hadn’t written very much. My friend said “Not novels, no, but there’s Sandman.”

I’m so glad I asked him,”What’s Sandman?”

Sandman blew my mind. I picked up the first collection grumbling about how expensive it was (I almost put it back on the shelf), because I knew I could get two new novels for the same price. I expected it to suck. I expected it to meet absolutely none of my expectations. I expected to hate my friend for encouraging me to spend so much money on something I couldn’t possibly enjoy. I never expected that I’d be going back the next day (having stayed up until 3am reading the entirety of the first volume) for the second collection in the series, or that I’d be going back two days later with my credit card so that I could buy the rest. I did my best to make them last but I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I’d never before seen such an incredible story told with pictures.

I learned over the following years that I’d missed a lot while I was reading the comics I was reading as a young teen. I learned, way too late, that comics aren’t just about the title or the character on the cover, that comics have writers, and that some are more to my taste than others. I’ve spent the last few years trying to give myself an education in comics, learning that there are writers who consistently impress me (Gaiman, Moore, Ellis, and some newer faces) but there’s a lot to catch up on.

I can’t believe that I gave up on comics having never read Watchmen. I can’t believe I gave up on comics while Sandman was in it’s prime. I’m not surprised that nobody pointed the twelve-year-old me in the direction of those titles, but I’m upset that the fifteen year old me didn’t ask better questions, or that I didn’t find them for myself. I’m very happily learning that some of the greatest stories told have been told in monthly issues with art on every page.

So…

/EndBackstory

I was happy to go to my friend’s house and look over his comics and get more suggestions as to what was worth reading. We seem to have similar tastes in a lot of ways, and it was great to have someone around who could point me in the direction of what would interest me, and it didn’t hurt to get it for much less than it would have cost me to get them all new at a store. I came away with a huge pile of stuff, some continuations of series I’ve already started (Transmetropolitan), some I’d heard of and have been looking to pick up (Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing, some Batman), and a whole lot of stuff I’ve never heard of at all (Finder, Zot!, Wormwood).

I’m looking forward to all of them, especially now that I have two weeks off to make the most of it. And all this just in time for Comic Con this weekend, which should be lots of fun. It looks like it’s going to be much bigger than last year’s edition.


The Editors Strike Back

I wrote about Nascence by Tobias Buckell a few months ago, and mentioned how useful it was to me. Here’s a book which, in design, is Nascence’s polar opposite but which is just as valuable.

The book is On Writing Science Fiction: The Editors Strike Back! from the editors of Asimov’s (edited by George H. Scithers, Darrell Schweitzer, and John M. Ford).
It’s an old book, about 30 years old now, but it still stands as a useful read for novice writers of speculative fiction.
In Nascence, Buckell provided his own old failed stories, and explained why they failed and what he could have done better. In On Writing Science Fiction, the editors present good stories, all of which are first sales by unestablished writers, and explain what it was that made those stories good enough to buy.

The stories are grouped into sections. The editors will introduce each section with an aspect of writing which, when well executed,  distinguishes the good speculative fiction from the ordinary (Idea, Conflict, Background, etc.) and they’ll go into as much detail as they can, giving examples when possible. Next comes the story or stories that the editors feel exhibit that particular quality. Following the stories is a response by the authors to a short series of questions, and then another segment by the editors where they explain what is is that made them buy those story, and how those stories exemplify the topic of the section. Most of the sections deal with elements that carry across all genres, but they are examined with an eye towards science fiction. There’s a lot of information here, a lot of very good information, but it’s more than can be fully absorbed in one pass.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think I’ve ever read anything else by any of these first-time writers. I certainly didn’t know them by name at the time I read this book, so my initial assumption was that none of them went on to blockbuster careers though it would take some research to confirm. (EDIT: Of course, having thought that, I HAD to go and research it… more further down…) For the stories in this particular book, all are good. Some are excellent. It’s worth reading this book for the stories as much as it is for the writing advice, and my standout favourite is The Tryouts, by Barry B. Longyear (EDIT: With a bit of a search, it appears he won the John W. Campbell, the Hugo, and the Nebula all in the same year, so there goes my statement about these people not making something of themselves. It looks like this story formed the seed of later novels. And of course I HAD to google the rest and it looks like Steve Perry, at the very least, has also published quite a few titles).
As a side note, one author in the book defends their story and says they wished they’d kept in a part which the editor had asked them to remove. Having read both the story and the bit about what was suggested to be removed, the editor was right. Let that be a lesson to all amateurs, especially those with no or few sales. The editor is not always some monster looking to shave your story down so they can pay you less. The editor is probably not someone who is so stubborn that they can’t see how utterly brilliant you are. The editor is, in all likelihood, someone who has been entrusted with the content of the magazine or anthology (and with their money) because someone else trusts their judgement, trusts that they know what makes a story good. It doesn’t mean that the scene isn’t a good one or that the scene isn’t well written, it just means that it isn’t helping the story out, and in some cases it’s keeping it down (This author who wanted to revise back in what the editor wanted out? Not a blip on Google, unless they’ve been using a pseudonym).

The final section gave me a good chuckle, and dates the book somewhat (originally published in 1981). It’s largely about formatting, and though some of it holds true today, the complete focus on skills with a typewriter detracts from it’s helpfulness. The book is still in print today but I haven’t looked into it (I borrowed the one I read from my local library), so possibly the newer editions deal with writing in the digital age.

In the end, this is a good book for any genre writer, but it didn’t have the same immediate punch as Nascence did for me (for being a book in a similar format where complete stories are analyzed). What I learned from Buckell hits me immediately whenever I outline a story now, and whenever I edit. Maybe I only learned a handful of lessons, but I learned them well and I find it easier to keep a few major mistakes in mind and to avoid them than to keep five or ten or one hundred things in mind that need to be done right. This is the sort of book that needs to be read, and re-read, and have notes scribbled upon it, and re-read again until it becomes second nature. It’s not a fast way to learn the craft, but anybody who said learning to write was fast or easy was lying.

On Writing Science Fiction: The Editors Strike Back! is available at Chapters, Amazon, Barnes & Noble.

Also, you can still get Nascence as an ebook, DRM-free directly from Buckell’s website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble.


Crash

Sad day for hockey fans.

News of the plane crash in Russia this morning that killed most of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team from the KHL is making the rounds in the media, but especially so on sports sites and hockey blogs. Plane crashes often feel like one of those things that happens to other people, but this one went down with a lot of names I’m familiar with so it feels more real.

The majority of the 43 dead weren’t people I would have known about, but there are players I remember watching: Skrastins, Salei, Vasicek, Rachunek… All played for rival teams, but the names still ring a bell. The one I remember most clearly is Pavol Demitra. He was very good in his prime, less so towards the end of his NHL career, but playing for his home country of Slovakia he was terrifying if you were cheering for a different set of colours. I remember him being one of the best men on the ice during the last Winter Olympics in Vancouver, and almost tying the Semifinal match against Canada with the game almost over. He was about an inch away from robbing the Canadian team of it’s spot in the finals. I don’t know if it should be written off to fate, luck, or goaltending, but something smiled down on the hometown boys that day.

My condolences go out to all the families mourning tonight.