Blue Roses by J A Howe


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Post January 18, 2007, 06:12:40 PM

Blue Roses by J A Howe

Blue Roses is one of the best stories I've read anywhere.  It was well constructed and with no grammar or syntax problems, at all.  The prose flows perfectly through this complex little tale of life and macroevolution.  The plant science is good, though the genetics are a bit foggy.  I could find no glaring incongruities with the possible exception of some of the products of this wild mutation spree.  

Natural plasmid-mediated gene swapping is pretty rare in the plant world.  Poison Ivy itch getting into tomatoes is more than a little unlikely, but it was an interesting exercise in what kind of humor Mother Nature can sport.  You have to wonder why a mosquito would bite the poison ivy plant, to start with.  And exploding pumpkins—hilarious.

Ms. Howe did an excellent job portraying the sadness and nostalgia of those who suddenly find themselves in a different land, where nothing is quite the same.  Her touch was delicate, though.  She didn't find it necessary to beat the reader over the head with it.  She also managed to convey how many of these changes were effecting the population, as a whole.  Too often, with stories like these, the writer will concentrate on just one little corner of the world in order to try to narrow and personalize the effects of whatever the Big Change might be.  Through the clever plot device of her business, the protagonist has a reason to consider how these strange new species are altering the habits and desires of the rest of humanity.  

Very smooth.

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Post January 24, 2007, 08:52:33 PM

Re: Blue Roses by J A Howe

The future might not be too far away? Yes, this story suggests a world adjusting to warmer climates, with the use of Genetic Engineering to create a Unicorn and to attempt to transform the skins of plants into a tough leather like hide. Nice setting for a world that just might be tomorrow!

The introduction gets one’s attention, not by the slam-dunk approach, but subtly as if one sees something out of the corner of one’s eye.

The Greenhouse effect or natural climatic changes? I don’t know, but I’m sure many readers of Aphelion have an opinion.

I became confused at one point: “Kakartoa, Mt. St. Helens, Pompetii, they put out ten times more carbon monoxide than any human vehicles do.”  A big blunder with the math!
Volcanoes would put out more than 10^10 PPB than the sum of all vehicles ever made! The estimate is only a window, but believe me: the outpour of CO from a volcano would be much greater than ten-times!

Putting a known bacteria, Agrobacterium, into the story adds a sense of realism. This bacteria is a serious one and it thrives in warmer climate! Nice!

Maury must be one hell of a big bird my now. I don’t know how one vulture could handle so many dead animals!

Tab begins to paint because of too many wild flowers. Apparently they are colorful --- even if they can kill---and they are abundant over the countryside.

She tries to grow her ancient plant using crushed bones, but feels guilty about it? It think.
So she buries them. Then they  “spread all over the place.”

I’m not sure about some parts of the story--it’s meaning---but then again it is probably just an entertaining narrative and one shouldn’t read too much into it.

The forsythias must symbolize life that goes on. She dreamt about how she trimmed them when she was younger, thought it wrong, so now she lets them grow wild and spread! They must have resisted Crown Gall.

As I said before, it is easy to read more into a story than the author had intended.

Sometimes the author unconsciously puts symbols and figures of speech and describes characters without knowing what they represent to him. He is not aware of his intention!

I found the story very well written. And it held my interest until the end, and opened up questions about our environment, the future, and life that might have to transform itself in order to survive a major climactic occurrence.

With so many flowers around, a little more sensory---fragrant  scents that mixed together--- input might have aided in putting the reader into the story.

And with a warmer climate, I’m sure a warm breeze flirting with Tab’s hair and causing undulating wave in the fields would have been a nice touch.

“She went for walks in the swamp now, watching the changes in the world. Gray and green cats yowled and swung through the bushes near her; white doves sang overhead as she stared into murky pools.”

Green cats would be a strange sight! and I bet their yowls would be even stranger! I can’t see where a mutated cat would sound normal!

White Doves singing overhead? No. Crows chanting “Kar, Kar, Kar ?” Yes, I would buy that because those stupid birds seem to be immune to everything.

I might have nit-picked, but I had a good reason to: J A Howe can write! The story was crafted well, good grammar, good word choices, balanced sentence, and a nice easy flow from sentence to sentence. No abrupt jumps, and the showing and telling complemented each other! Nice Job!!
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Post February 03, 2007, 04:50:22 PM

Re: Blue Roses by J A Howe

As much as Bill is set off when someone uses questionable physics in a story, the out of whack bits of Wisconsin thrown out here are like waving a red flag in front of a bull for me.

It's the future, and it's fiction, so I really should relax... but I live here, so it bothers me. People who have been to some of these places (and they are very popular attractions) will notice. The Dells are mentioned in the story. Yes, on a map, it's called Wisconsin Dells, but, although I haven't seen every inch of the place, any semblance to dells you've seen anywhere else are mostly lost in this modern era. I've only ever seen one herd of sheep anywhere I've ever been in this state, and the idea that the herd could wander past the busy highways and thick lines of tourist traps like Tommy Bartlett's Robot World or Noah's Ark waterpark (biggest in the world) to get to the cliffs along the Wisconsin River without someone noticing is pretty silly. Then, even if they did, what are they going to do, fall 20 feet into the river and just swim to the other side? At least, I never saw one that was more than 20-30 feet. Heck, there are so many tour boats on the water (because it is darn pretty to see), it's possible that someone would catch them.

Stockbridge is also mentioned. Assuming this is the same Stockbridge on the east shore of Lake Winnebago (it's maybe 40 minutes from my house to there), it's population is only 1300+. Nothing against the nice people there, but I have to guess this was a name picked off a map, because if someone considers this a really notable destination... they have bigger issues, if you know what I mean.

No offense to JA Howe, but I think it's a writer's responsibility to research settings--even if it's only for a mention as part of the world building. One little pulled thread can unravel a big weave.

There. I'm finished being petty about my beloved, frozen state (-35°F wind chill today--Brr!).


Obviously, I had a problem with the setting in this story, but that wasn't the only thing that kept it from feeling real to me. I have to admit, I don't know my flowers very well, so the frequent mention of species did nothing for me. I can barely tell heliotrope from Creeping Charlie, so the magic nostalgia 'the ancients' should trigger in me never happened.

Nevertheless, I have been in a few greenhouses. I've always found them to be really magical places full of smells. The odor of earth, of all the different flowers, of the fertilizer, even sweaty gardeners straining to keep the hanging baskets watered... these places overflow with the smell of life. The colors, textures, and above all smell, should almost send your senses into overload when you're in one. Smell isn't even mentioned in this story until almost the end, for the poison narcissus. That didn't fly for me. If this woman is hung up on life, preserving and creating new life, how she perceives the world should match, I think.

I have a narrow view of plot construction. To me, stories (except for flash, which obeys different rules) follow either a comic or tragic arch. Things start out normal, go good or bad, become more complicated, reach a climax, and then things go back to some kind of normal. Romance, horror, whatever. The climax resolves a character's problem, usually through character growth based on an experience that happened in the story prior to the climax. Everything else for me isn't really a story. Not really. Without those items, to me, it doesn't qualify. Everything else is just an extended narration, in essence a newspaper article, telling what happened.

This story has no climax that I could see. There is no great moment which solves the major conundrum, unless I missed it. That conundrum was that she wanted to save the old species, especially the roses, as told by the first sentence of the text. She doesn't do that. I thought when she decided to make her own flowers was going to be that point, but she gives it up soon afterward and changes to painting the dead flowers. This left me wondering what the point of this story really was. Everything changes, get used to it?

There have been some narrations that have reached stardom without a real climax. I'm thinking of the short version of "Flowers for Algernon" as I write this. In that, Charlie could decide to fight the fading effects, but he just gives up. The narration continues to show his decline. However, according to my (most likely unpopular) definition, it isn't a story. Just like in Blue Flowers here.


Whatever the magic Bill saw in this story, I couldn't find it. I'm not vain enough to insist that it can't be there, but I don't know where to look. Is this literary fiction? If so, I'm hopelessly a genre writer, and might not ever get it.

Perhaps someone can tell me what I'm missing. Bill?

Nate
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Post February 06, 2007, 12:30:28 PM

Re: Blue Roses by J A Howe

There's a scene in 'Enter the Dragon' where Lee, a Shaolin monk, is trying to get a student to go beyond perfection of form by adding 'emotional content'. He says (more or less)

Lee: "It is like a finger pointing at the moon ..."
(student looks at Lee's finger, and Lee slaps him on the top of the head).
Lee: "Concentrate on the finger, and you will miss all that heavenly glory."

Sometimes I think Nate is concentrating on the finger, and on a finger with a particular style of manicure at that...

Ms. Howe's story was not meant to be a travelogue (although she might well have chosen a locale more familiar to her), so anyone NOT from Wisconsin is unlikely to feel shortchanged by errors in detail.

The criticism re: the lack of sensory (in particular olfactory) detail is somewhat apt in this case -- at the very least, there could have been some commentary on how different the 'new' species SMELL as compared to there nontransgenic ancestors, and someone who spends a lot of time in greenhouses might well find the scents of moist earth, water, fertilizer (especially 'organic' fertilizer!), etc., familiar and comforting in a time of unsettling change.

As for the whole 'it isn't a story' thing -- some of the worst violators of the formula / structure Nate uses to define 'story' are 'literary' pieces that turn out to be About Nothing in the Seinfeldian sense that no one learns or changes. (For that matter, what is the 'arch' in 'Another Sarah'? Nobody here but us henpecked husbands and surrogate revenge victims.)

The science behind the story was -- well, probably not intended to be entirely realistic. Then on the other hand, genetically-modified plants (viz. Round-Up resistant wheat) do tend to stray off the reservation; and bacteria, among other simple organisms, have shown the ability to exchange genes (spreading and combining drug-resistance between strains). All we have to believe here is that some factor applied to facilitate exchange of genetic material between plant (and eventually animal?) species has itself been incorporated into some of the gone-wild species, and has then spread out of control.

Once you have introduced rabbits to Australia, try to get rid of them. Setting something loose is easy; controlling it or eliminating it is often impossible. (This is the way the world ends -- or at least changes -- not with a bang, but a 'Honey, the rosebush just ate the cat!')

Robert M.
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Post February 06, 2007, 03:27:21 PM

Re: Blue Roses by J A Howe

Sometimes I think Nate is concentrating on the finger, and on a finger with a particular style of manicure at that...

Come to think of it, my nails could be a lot less ragged... :)

I will say, though, that sitting by the side of the river and marveling at the beauty of a story isn't my bit. I'm the troll under the bridge who exacts a heavy toll to pass. I'm the hard to please critic, trying to apply the same rules against every story I review.

As for the whole 'it isn't a story' thing -- some of the worst violators of the formula / structure Nate uses to define 'story' are 'literary' pieces that turn out to be About Nothing in the Seinfeldian sense that no one learns or changes. (For that matter, what is the 'arch' in 'Another Sarah'? Nobody here but us henpecked husbands and surrogate revenge victims.)

I've always said that I'm not a literary-style writer, and I never will be. You can't make me.  :P

You recall when I said that I think flash obeys different rules? 'Another Sarah' is flash. Flash is more than word count distinction, in my view. It could be 2 or 3 thousand words, but normally is 1000 or less. Good flash to me is all about setting up a situation, then giving a surprise reveal. Reality changes in a "flash". If you can manage an arc for the character and plot, more's the better, but it's not mandatory in flash IMO.

Nate
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Post February 06, 2007, 04:30:26 PM

Re: Blue Roses by J A Howe

So 'Sarah' is 'flash' because of the big reveal (the one I spoiled with the overlong blurb) that we weren't seeing an ogre slaughtering women, but a frustrated farmer taking his resentment out on the chickens? (And I just spoiled it again, for anyone who hadn't read it yet!)

'kay, now I think you're cheating by redefining 'flash' to accommodate 'Sarah'. ;)

If a story has TWO arches, and they're, you know, GOLDEN, I guess you could count on it to be consistent, if nothing else. And tasty, although bad for you if consumed too frequently. ;D

Robert 'Poking the wolf with a stick to see what happens' M.
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Post February 06, 2007, 09:07:46 PM

Re: Blue Roses by J A Howe

So 'Sarah' is 'flash' because of the big reveal (the one I spoiled with the overlong blurb) that we weren't seeing an ogre slaughtering women, but a frustrated farmer taking his resentment out on the chickens? (And I just spoiled it again, for anyone who hadn't read it yet!)

Robert 'Poking the wolf with a stick to see what happens' M.

To further digress from Blue Roses (sorry, Ms. Howe), I think 'Sarah' had 3 flashes: That it's not a serial killer, it's a farmer killing chickens. That he kills them because he's projecting his wife onto each one, fantasizing about killing her (which kinda does make him a serial killer, come to think of it). Then finally, that he's really a giant, killing humans after all (but they're raised in a pen for food just like chickens). That is, unless that's just how he sees them in his mind...

And all that without the 'Adult Content' label... :)

Nate
Last edited by kailhofer on February 06, 2007, 09:08:21 PM, edited 1 time in total.
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