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Paper Towns

Paper TownsPaper Towns by John Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fairly average high school boy in central Florida lives next to an unbelievably uncommon girl of about the same age. She’s endearingly clever, but she’s also totally self-absorbed, casually inconsiderate, socially domineering, recklessly adventurous, and inexplicably popular. He is, of course, infatuated with her. It surprises no one when she goes missing just before graduation. She’s done that kind of thing before. But there are circumstances that suggest this time may be different. Fearing that she might be emotionally unstable enough to off herself, the average kid recruits a few friends to help him follow clues she’s left behind, seemingly for his benefit, to try to find her… or maybe her body.

I picked this up at my local library mainly because I recognized the author as the guy who did the entertaining and informative Crash Course videos on YouTube. I had no idea at the time: 1. That it had been made into a movie (so the sticker on the cover claims), 2. That it is set very near where I currently reside (a norther suburb of Orlando), or 3. What a paper town was (actually, I did, but I had never heard them called that).

Because of the age of the characters, the story is shelved as YA, but it’s not juvenile. The prose and pacing are both quite good. The crazy girl may not be overly likeable (although she is, in a way, admirable), and her imaginative pranks may be unbelievable, but her story is quite entertaining.

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An Outing with Other Oddballs in Orlando

I just returned from the OASIS 25 Science Fiction Convention in Orlando. I seldom attend conventions, but this is my second in as many years, although the one last year was technically a ‘symposium.’ The only one I ever went to prior to that was a Star Trek convention in Detroit. I don’t recall the year, but it was when cell phones and personal computers were still the stuff of science fiction.

OASIS is one of the smaller annual science fiction conventions and I enjoyed it in large part because of this. It had a close, almost family reunion feel to it. The honored guests were all very approachable, as were the other attendees. Now, I’m wondering if maybe I should try to start a social life. I may even go again next year. Heck, I may consider joining the Orlando Area Science Fiction Society (OASFiS), the group that organizes these.

Obviously, I don’t get out much, and I never heard of either OASIS or OASFiS before this year, as far as I can recall. I found out about them when the president of the writers’ group I ostensibly belong to sent an email telling us that a local editor wanted submissions for a short book of ‘pulp’ style short stories he wanted to publish and provide free to OASIS 25 attendees. Oddly enough, one of the few short stories I had languishing in my files seemed to fit the bill, so I submitted it, thinking, what could it hurt? Imagine my surprise when the editor offered to buy it! This was not a big sale for a lot of money, and the publication is a limited edition ‘freebie,’ but it means a lot to me. I felt honored to have my story appear with one by Jack McDevitt, who has written several books that I have thoroughly enjoyed. Jack, of course, was at the convention. We chatted briefly and he seems like an extremely nice gentleman. Unfortunately, I forgot to take his picture.

Another great author who attended and sat on several panels was L.E. Modesitt Jr. I have read a number of books by him and have enjoyed them. In a talk on world building, I was astonished to discover that he and I have very similar approaches to our writing. We also share a few personality traits. He seems to lack much of a social life, has no hobbies (other than writing and reading), watches little TV, and attends relatively few conferences. What he does is write. He does it well and he does it constantly, as do I — I write constantly, anyway. We agree that golf is a ‘silly’ game and neither of us crave excitement in our personal lives. We seem to have a very similar work ethic and an almost obsessive compulsion for organization. We also share a couple pet peeves about novels. One is that the economic systems portrayed in works of science fiction and fantasy are too often either ignored or unworkable. Another is that the magic systems can be seemingly arbitrary. He emphasized that he takes care to ensure such things are logically consistent and coherent in his books, and that conservation of energy is a basic fact that must be respected. I agree.

An author I am not familiar with, Richard Lee Byers, sat on some panels. One of his short stories also appeared in Strange Pulp. Other than that story, I am not familiar with his work, but after hearing him talk, I will need to check out his books.

Other fiction writers who appeared at OASIS 25 include David Weber, Janny Wurtz, Chris Berman, Adam-Troy Castro, Nick DiChario, Glenda Finkelstein, William Hatfield, Brad Linaweaver, Will Ludwigsen, Sandra McDonald, Peter Rawlik, T.S. Robinson, Gary S. Roen, Elenora Sabin, and Rick Wilber. I can’t say I’m familiar with any of these except David Weber.

There were also several technical people on panels including Jeff Mitchell, author of the textbook Space Power Systems, which my aerospace engineer son says is quite good. I am not qualified to have an opinion for a couple reasons, although I did chat briefly on spacecraft design with Jeff, and he never talked above me, which, for a man as obviously brilliant as he is, says a lot about him.

OASIS 25 was an enjoyable experience for me, although it felt like a guilty pleasure because I did nothing on my current work in progress the last three days. Yes, I feel like I’m shirking if I don’t do something on it every day. This will be my fourth novel, an adult science fiction story set in the same world as my others. I don’t want to say much more about it yet, but I think those who have told me they want to see more of Trixie will especially enjoy it. Tomorrow, I will get back to work on it.

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