Notes from An Alien

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Tag Archives: William Gibson

Ever Read a Sentence You Thought Was a Masterpiece?

Ever read something at Aeon?

You probably know “aeon” means a long period of time; but, among its other meanings is “the personification of an age”.

I’m fairly sure that’s how this online magazine sees its mission

But, here’s some of what Aeon says about itself:

“Aeon is a digital magazine of ideas and culture…some of the most profound and provocative thinking on the web. We ask the big questions and find the freshest, most original answers, provided by leading thinkers on science, philosophy, society and the arts.”

I made sure I signed up for email alerts from them, to feed my general reading needs and to find articles to report on here

Today’s post is my first report from the Aeon-front.

The article is by Jenny Davidson“…professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, where she specialises in 18th-century literature and culture, intellectual history and the contemporary novel in English.”

The article is called, Simplicity or Style: what Makes a Sentence a Masterpiece?

Here are Jenny’s opening sentences:

“A great sentence makes you want to chew it over slowly in your mouth the first time you read it. A great sentence compels you to rehearse it again in your mind’s ear, and then again later on. A sentence must have a certain distinction of style – the words come in an order that couldn’t have been assembled by any other writer.”

Some of you may have wondered if Jenny intended any of those sentences to be “great”

Perhaps not, since one of the examples she uses is this:

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

You might know that’s from George Orwell’s, 1984.

Jenny says this about it:

“The sentence is initially unassuming, simply descriptive, but in the startling final detail Orwell achieves estrangement, establishing the alternate nature of the novel’s historical reality with economy and force.”

Another sentence example she gives is from William Gibson’s debut novel, Neuromancer:

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

If you want to think deeply about sentences, do go read the full article

Here are Jenny’s final sentences:

“If we think of a library as a city and a book as an individual house in that city, each sentence becomes one tiny component of that house. Some are mostly functional – the load-bearing wall, the grout between the bathroom tiles – while others are the details we remember and take away, perhaps recalling their texture and colour when we assemble our own verbal dwelling-place.”

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10 of Literature’s Most Evil Corporations

There’s nothing inherently evil in the basic structure of a corporation.

It’s just a particular type of business organization that’s been too frequently co-opted by folks who just can’t seem to care about their fellow humans

So, it’s no wonder that novelists have crafted some remarkably evil corporations.

I’m fairly sure I don’t need to educate anyone on the ever-present dangers we all face, daily, from real-life corporations.

Yet, I wonder how many of you realize that certain corporations are quite near to completely ruling our world?

I’ll begin the list of 10 literary corporations with FlavorWire‘s, 7 Chillingly Evil Corporations in Literature:

Rachel Cantor’s A Highly Unlikely Scenario — a future where fast food corporations run the world

Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park — a corporation that creates horrifically dangerous beasts

Don DeLillo’s White Noise — a pharmaceutical company that has a pill that makes people lose their fear of death

Any corporation — in any William Gibson book ( making the count more than 10 :-)

Frank Herbert’s Dune — one entity controling the economy of the entire cosmos

Steven King’s Dark Tower series — corporations that produce weapons and/or robots

Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 — corporations that handle defense contracting

Numbers 8 and 9, which I’m rather surprised FlavorWire didn’t mention, are both in David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas — one foisting flawed nuclear plants and another that clones slaves.

The 10th corporation is in my own short novel (though my co-author claims it’s not a novel ), Notes from An Alien, which you can have Free

My corporation is so evil I couldn’t stop writing about it after my novel was finished.

In my special series of posts, Behind The Scenes, where I’ve added material not in the published novel, many of the 38 posts are about various aspects of that astonishingly evil corporate planet.

So, if you know of any other evil corporations from books you’ve read, please share in the Comments
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Author Interview ~ Shalon Sims

Very pleased to have Shalon with us today :-) Let’s get this interview moving…

Shalon, where are you from and how old are you?

I am from Canada and I am 33–the magic age where you begin to question “WHAT am I doing with my life?” and more importantly, “is it meaningful?”  It’s an exciting and challenging limbo land, where I’m no longer young enough to feel like I have tons of time to fulfill my dreams, but not confident enough to feel like I have all of the skills that I will need in order to fulfill them!  On my 33rd birthday last year, it really hit me hard that I’m not a young person anymore.  Growing up is weird, isn’t it?

Being very near my 65th birthday, I can, indeed, affirm that growing up is weird :-)

When did you begin writing and can you remember how it felt inside, back then?

I began writing before I can actually remember.  I remember feeling as a very young child that it was my ‘special skill’ and that it was the one thing that I could do well.  I had troubles with math and reading clocks and making friends, and I think my teachers noticed that and really encouraged my writing and artistic abilities. I remember being very proud of my writing skills and the first story I remember putting effort into was about a young dolphin that had to swim under an oil spill with its entire pod.  It was full of tension from start to finish–like one big climax!  I hadn’t (of course) learned about plot-lines at that age.  I must have been about 7 or 8 and I was watching too much national geographic at the time–secretly, might I add, because my mother knew it gave me nightmares and forbid me to watch it.

You remind me of my absolute horror at seeing whales breach on TV when I was a kid

Was there any certain date or time you remember when you began to either think of yourself as or call yourself a “writer”?

That was definitely not very long ago–maybe 5 years ago, at the most.  My friend Rebecca Chaperon (, a painter, was a real inspiration to me in that regard; she said, “a painter is someone who paints, even when they don’t feel like it.  And a writer is someone who writes, even when they don’t feel like it.”  She was admonishing me, telling me that if I ever wanted to be a ‘writer’ then I should get off my butt and write.  I did heed her advice and today I can seriously call myself a writer.  I think what she meant is that calling yourself a writer, or an artist, means that you have dedicated yourself, to the extent that you have become disciplined.

Just a few echoes reverberating now from my post on the 18th :-)

Have you had any “formal” training in the art of writing?

Yes, classes at university, and have a minor in English, which should actually be titled a minor in creative writing & rhetoric, because I abhor literature classes and avoided them at all costs.

I must insert, from your blog, the schools you’ve attended:
Simon Fraser University, BC
The University of the Fraser Valley, BC
The Universiteit van Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Kwantlen University College, BC

What do you feel has taught you the most about “how to write”?

The answer is simply: writing and reading.  I think that in all my years in university, the classes that I took were really only valuable insomuch as they forced me to read and write more than I might have naturally.  I found critique groups and teachers, books on how to write, etc. all a waste of time, except where they led me to reading or writing more.  Everyone has a different style, different ideas of what is ‘good’, so I often found classes and books about ‘how to write’ depressing and demotivating.


What authors inspire you as a writer?

Well, one of my favourites is Ursula Le Guin. Her book, The Dispossessed, was the first Sci-fi written by a woman that I ever read, and it just blew my mind–so much so that it made me decide to follow my childhood dream to write sci-fi.  I watched Star Trek as a child and was inspired by those ‘What If’ scenarios, but as I grew and became a more discerning reader, I found that most sci-fi disappointed me, in terms of *quality* of writing.  Le Guin’s writing is absolutely flawless–she has a mastery of the language that even the worst English teacher would admire, but more than that, her stories are truly meaningful and entertaining.  She deals with taboo topics in such subtle and ingenious ways and her prose is so clean and clear, which is definitely something I aspire to: to say what I mean, and know what I mean to say.

Another author that I have recently come to truly admire is C. S. Lewis.  I never really enjoyed his fantasy, and I’m a bit of a religion sceptic, so I had kind of grouped Lewis into the category “one of those Christian writers.”  But recently I read Out of the Silent Planet and I have to say that I have still not recovered.  The sequel, Perelandria, is also breathtakingly beautiful.  Now, I don’t want to make you think they are perfect novels, but they inspire me mainly because he captures the inner struggle of his main character so well.  The struggle I’m talking about is the struggle that all of us cognizant humans have, between the parts of ourselves that believes we can, and the part that tells us we’re incapable.  He is a master at capturing the little monster (inside of all of us) that whispers, “Are you kidding, you would be a fool to believe/do/say/think that.”  I believe that this is the main theme of Lewis’ work in general, because he deals with this concept in his novel Til We Have Faces, which is probably on my list of top 3 all-time favourite books, and is, in my opinion, a perfect novel.  In terms of writing quality, I am inspired by Lewis’ imagery, especially in the Cosmic Trilogy series: the worlds he creates are so vivid that you really feel like you’re on another planet–you could reach out and touch one of his fantastic creatures or plants.  And he does this with barely any exposition or description; the world comes to life mainly through the character’s actions–and THAT is good writing.

Another writer that inspires me in terms of challenging my writing skills is William Gibson, especially his novel, Neuromancer.  I won’t get into it here–if readers want to know, they can go to my blog post about this–but suffice it to say that Bill has helped me to learn that conventions and rules of writing are negotiable.

Gibson, I feel, has something to teach all writers

How do you incorporate your writing into your daily life?

My fiction writing has always been a private thing for me, which is something I am in the process of changing. That’s the little monster in me that tells me that I would be a fool to think that someone would pay money for my writing.  In support of sharing my writing, I recently joined an online critique group called Critters, which has been amazing!  I highly recommend joining something like that, if you are at the phase in your writing where you are ready to take the heat (!).

My non-fiction writing is very public and an active part of my daily life: I work as a technical writer and project assistant, and I also work freelance as a writer, editor and even English teacher, and I have a blog and other online projects, so writing is what I live and breathe these days.  The technical writing job and the blog are new elements in my life and are part of my 33-year-old commitment to living my dreams and being ‘a writer’.  I wish I had started my blog years ago, when all my friends were telling me to!  I guess I had this erroneous belief that I should only start a blog if I was willing to compete with other bloggers (you know, be a ‘professional blogger’), but since starting my blog, I realize that, for me, it’s a place to store my ideas (the gems) and share them publicly.  Simple.  It’s also a great online public presence or portfolio that gives people a sense of who I am.  As a freelancer, I’ve found it invaluable (that’s how I got my job as a technical writer!), so that’s why I focus on quality, rather than quantity, in my blogging.

And, here, folks, is the link to Shalon’s blog.

What are the other online projects you’re working on?

I have a real fascination for social media, and its potential to help transform society in positive ways (democratizing and educating people).  I’ve had my @shalonsims account since October (there’s that 33-year-old popping up again), but I soon felt limited by it, so I started a new one, as a kind of experiment, called @EmFems, which is for Empowered Female Artists (writers, painters, musicians, poets, etc.).  I tweet about female artists and their projects and I love it–it’s so much more gratifying than my @shalonsims account–I get thank-yous all day long!  We’ve already got almost 400 followers in 6 weeks!   I think this account has so much potential to transform women’s lives, and society, so I am also working right now on the website and a blog, to get that up and running soon.

Wow! Very much looking forward to those!!

Is there anything else you’d like to add, perhaps some advice for aspiring writers?

I guess I’d just like to say that learning to write is a skill, and it takes time and dedication.  But the power is not in the skill, it’s in you. Just like a guitar player’s magic is not in his skill in playing a guitar, it’s in the inspiration that flows out from him, through his skill.  That’s the same for writing.  The inspiration is in you, as a writer.  I meet many writers who say that they are demoralized by rejections, or by English teachers who give them poor grades, or critiques that point out all the flaws, and I would say that it’s essential as a writer to develop the sense that a rejection is a positive thing–a challenge to hone your skill in order to direct that inspiration that’s inside you.

Shalon, thank you, ever so much, for taking the time for this interview. Extremely fascinating and you elucidated so many aspects of the writer’s life!
So, dear readers, it’s time to ask Shalon questions or give her a bit of feedback :-)
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