Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Today's WFA Reading: 1/31

I think I'm organized, but I'm a piker compared to Gordon Van Gelder, because today brings me two more issues of F&SF: July and August 2005. Another nice little note with it to point out which stories are fantasy and which SF, too; organized and polite.

On the reading side, I'm now halfway through Alex Irvine's The Narrows, and thus falling farther and farther behind every day. (I live in hope that, one of these days, I'll get a big box filled with all of the fantasy books I already read from 2005, and suddenly I'll be ahead of the game. I know I did read a lot of fantasy last year, so it has to happen sooner or later, right?)

Celebrate Gorilla Suit Day -- Or Else!

The whole twisted tale is here. Don't say that no one warned you.

More Temeraire Fun!

You can't buy Naomi Novik's Temeraire books in the US yet (the first one, however, is just out in the UK this month), but you can play the video game version!

The game isn't quite as much fun as the books, but it does allow you to shoot fire, which the book, sadly, does not.

(In other Temeraire news, Ballantine accepted my offer, so the SFBC will do a 3-in-1 as a Selection in early June. I don't have a title yet, so any ideas would be welcome.)

Monday, January 30, 2006

Today's WFA Reading: 1/30

Two more issues of F&SF: May and June. It will be sad when I hit the end of the year in a couple of days, since I'm getting used to these little packages from Gordon waiting in my mailbox. (Not that I've started to read them yet, but merely piling up more stuff to read is a joy in itself.)

Today I finished Farthing by Jo Walton, which is neither fantasy nor published in 2005 (it's coming this August), but which is excellent, in that chilly, alternate-historical, all-other-possible-worlds-are-worse-than-this-one kind of way. It's an English country-house murder mystery set in a 1949 where Hess's flight to Scotland in 1941 led, fairly quickly, to a negotiated "Peace With Honor" between England and the Third Reich. On the one hand, it's an alternate history that has nothing to do with battles, which is a wonderful relief. But it is yet another book about how horrible the world would be if we didn't lick Hitler, and the world is amply supplied with those. Luckily, that's not the main point of Farthing, which is much more about its characters than about vast movements of history. It's quite an impressive book, but I worry that mystery readers will be put out of joint by the ending.

Arthur C. Clarke Shortlist

The shortlist for this year's Arthur C. Clarke Award has been announced:
  • Never Let Me Go -- Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber)
  • Learning The World -- Ken MacLeod (Orbit)
  • Pushing Ice -- Alastair Reynolds (Gollancz)
  • Air -- Geoff Ryman (Gollancz)
  • Accelerando -- Charles Stross (Orbit)
  • Banner Of Souls -- Liz Williams (Tor)
Speaking personally (and as a big fan of some of Ishiguro's previous books, such as The Remains of the Day and The Unconsoled), one of these things is not like the others; one of these things just doesn't belong. At the moment, I'm rooting for MacLeod, but that may change after I read Pushing Ice.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Reading Into the Past: Week of 1/29

Here's my usual Sunday-night post, looking back at the books I read this equivalent week in a past year. This time we're going back nine years, to 1997:
  • Greg Egan, Axiomatic (1/22)
    Egan's first short-story collection. It's absolutely brilliant, but I have to imagine anyone serious about science fiction has read it by now. This book is the essential summary of what was exciting and new in SF in the early '90s.
  • Sean Stewart, Clouds End (1/23)
    I enjoyed this one, but the plot hasn't stuck in my mind very clearly. I think this was Stewart's take on epic fantasy, though more of a view on what happens after the big quest to save the world.
  • Bob Kahan, editor, Legion of Super-Heroes Archives, Volume 6 (1/24)
    I love quite a lot of the history of the Legion, right up to the mid-90's "let's make them young and stupid again" reboot. I haven't picked up a single issue since then. This collection was from the Silver Age, back when the stories were not quite as random as Superman tales, but still pretty odd by today's standards.
  • David Chelsea, Welcome to the Zone (1/25)
    I have no idea what this was. I'm assuming it's comics, and that it was the same David Chelsea as David Chelsea in Love, but I have no memory of it.
  • Michaela Roessner, The Stars Dispose (1/26)
    A historical fantasy that I didn't think did all that much; the historical world was evoked nicely, but the plot didn't have much fantasy, or anything clearly different from the known past. It all seemed rather pointless, which was a shame, since I'd really liked Roessner's Vanishing Point.
  • John Sladek, Roderick (1/27)
    Sladek is one of the great funny/cruel SF writers (along with Sheckley), and the "Roderick" books are his best sustained work. (Though I sometimes think Tik-Tok is his best work, just on sheer force of malice and anger.)
  • V. Segrelles, The Mercenary: Year 1000, The End of the World (1/28)
    European comics, in a vaguely Heavy Metal style (though I don't recall if it had the requisite random nudity), about a dragon-flying warrior in a world that was probably post-apocalyptic. Nice pictures, but the story was nothing special.
  • John Sladek, Roderick at Random (1/29)
    If I remember right, this is middle third of the "Roderick" saga, as butchered for original US publication. (The whole thing is now available in one volume on both sides of the Atlantic, so the point is now moot.)
A nice week; I generally started a new year with a burst of energy (coming off a long Christmas vacation with a renewed zeal to read a book a day), and 1997 was no exception.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Today's WFA Reading: 1/28

The mail brought another two issues of F&SF, this time January and February. If I had been waiting to read the year through in order, I could start now.

(Actually, today I read 300 manuscript pages of a book for the SFBC -- as much of it as I expect to read -- which isn't bad for a Saturday. Let's see how tomorrow goes; the boys are supposed to go off on a trip with a grandma, which could mean lots of reading time, or could mean no reading time.)

Friday, January 27, 2006

Today's WFA Reading: 1/27

The mail brought the March and April issues of F&SF, but that was it for today. Still, they're coming in faster than I could read them, if I wanted to keep up...

Quote of the Week

"The thing about John Campbell is that he liked things big. He liked big men with big ideas working out big applications of their big theories. And he liked it fast. His big men built big weapons in days..."
-Isaac Asimov

My Political Compass

I see that my colleague and fellow blogger Brad Miner (of the American Compass book club) has recently worked out his own co-ordinates on the Political Compass. I'm a sucker for this kind of thing, so it's now my turn.

And my rank is:
Economic Left/Right: -0.38
(pretty much dead center, which is surprising; I still think of myself as a moderate right-winger)
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -4.10
(well into the Libertarian side without being a loony about it; about what I expected)

The Life and Death of Books

Inspired by Teresa's recent post at Making Light, I went to the Cader Books website to check out some old bestsellers from 100 and 75 years ago, and see how many of them I had heard of.

(Parenthetically, her comments about estates hews very close to my own experience -- deadling with estates is, at the very, very best of times, not all that awkward, difficult and complicated, and usually is less fun than that.)

(Also parenthetically, if anyone wants my ideal copyright length, it would be "life plus five years or fifty years from time of publication, whichever is longer." I might be persuaded to add language adding a little more time to works left unpublished at a writer's death, but maybe not.)

Fiction Bestsellers of 1906:
  • 1. Coniston, Winston Churchill
    I know that this is the American Winston Churchill, and not the British statesman, but that's about all I know about him.
  • 2. Lady Baltimore, Owen Wister
    He wrote The Virginian, which is still read a bit. This one I've never heard of.
  • 3. The Fighting Chance, Robert W. Chambers
    We in skiffy-land remember him for The King in Yellow. No one else remembers him at all.
  • 4. The House of a Thousand Candles, Meredith Nicholson
    Not a clue. Very much an author's name, though.
  • 5. Jane Cable, George Barr McCutcheon
    Again, no clue.
  • 6. The Jungle, Upton Sinclair
    A famous book I've never read, which almost single-handedly cleaned up the meat-packing industry.
  • 7. The Awakening of Helena Ritchie, Margaret Deland
    No idea.
  • 8. The Spoilers, Rex Beach
    If it's not about a gang of ne'er-do-wells who run around, yelling out the plots of the latest hit vaudeville shows in public, then I don't know what it is. (Though I wouldn't mind reading the book I just described. Maybe Howard Waldrop will write it.)
  • 9. The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton
    Wharton is in the canon, and this book is still taught -- probably even read by people who aren't forced to do so. And wasn't it a movie a few years back? I read one Wharton book, back in college, and I think this was it -- I don't remember it very well.
  • 10. The Wheel of Life, Ellen Glasgow
    Another forgotten book.
Fiction Bestsellers of 1931:
  • 1. The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck
    Buck won the Nobel Prize for Literature (though I think she's seen as an embarrassing winner these days, the They'd Rather Be Right of the literary set), and this book was made into a movie. Still, I don't think many people read it these days, though we've heard of it.
  • 2. Shadows on the Rock, Willa Cather
    I know of Willa Cather, but I've never read her. And this isn't one of the titles I've heard of.
  • 3. A White Bird Flying, Bess Streeter Aldrich
  • 4. Grand Hotel, Vicki Baum
    Was this the source of the movie? (I bet it was, but I don't actually know so.)
  • 5. Years of Grace, Margaret Ayer Barnes
    Nothing. Though I will note that, if you wanted to be a female bestseller in the first half of the 20th century, having three names was a big asset. (Perhaps even later than that, as Mary Higgins Clark can attest.)
  • 6. The Road Back, Erich Maria Remarque
    He wrote All Quiet on the Western Front, which I haven't read. And this, which I'd never even heard of.
  • 7. The Bridge of Desire, Warwick Deeping
    The combination of title and author sound very intriguing, but I bet it's a pot-boiler historical novel.
  • 8. Back Street, Fannie Hurst
    No idea.
  • 9. Finch's Fortune, Mazo de la Roche
    I'm surprised someone named "Mazo de la Roche" could be a bestseller in 1931.
  • 10. Maid in Waiting, John Galsworthy
    I have, but haven't read, his "Forsythe Saga." This isn't even part of that.
Non-Fiction Bestsellers of 1931:
  • 1. Education of a Princess, Grand Duchess Marie
    Don't know her, don't know why anyone would care about her education.
  • 2. The Story of San Michele, Axel Munthe
    Never heard of it, but I'd bet it's the story of some miracle or other.
  • 3. Washington Merry-Go-Round, anonymous (Drew Pearson and Robert S. Allen)
    The "those political idiots" books were more gentle-hearted back in those days, but they still existed. I think I've heard of this one, but only very vaguely.
  • 4. Boners: Being a Collection of Schoolboy Wisdom, or Knowledge as It Is Sometimes Written, compiled by Alexander Abingdon; illustrated by Dr. Seuss
    Someone does a book (or TV show, or whatever) like this about every decade -- for most of the 20th century, it was Art Linkletter -- and they're nearly always successes. I've heard of this, through the Dr. Seuss connection, but never read it.
  • 5. Culbertson's Summary, Ely Culbertson
    I wonder what he was summarizing?
  • 6. Contract Bridge Blue Book, Ely Culbertson
    Shades of last year's big poker boom, yes? Americans are always looking for books to tell them how to spend their free time in the same way that all of the other Americans are.
  • 7. Fatal Interview, Edna St. Vincent Millay
    I've heard of her, but I thought she was a poet. I have no idea who was interviewing who, why, or what was fatal about it.
  • 8. The Epic of America, James Truslow Adams
    Big "ain't America grand!" history, I'd expect. But I don't know it.
  • 9. Mexico, Stuart Chase
    I can guess, but I don't know.
  • 10. New Russia's Primer, Mikhail Ilin
    Again, I think I know what it is, but I've never heard of it.
I've read exactly one (The House of Mirth) of these thirty books, and only one other book (The King in Yellow) by any of their authors. Which I think goes to prove Teresa's point: books have a natural life, but even the biggest ones usually die, sooner or later.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Comic Shop Trip!

I'll make this quick, since I should be putting the boys in bed:
  • Two issues of Teen Titans Go! for Thing 1
  • two issues of Sonic the Hedgehog, ditto
  • two small-format Marvel Adventures/Marvel Age (what is the difference, anyway? I have no clue) trade paperbacks, as treats for Thing 1 -- Fantastic Four Vol. 2 and Spider-Man Vol. 2
  • Samurai Executioner Vol. 8
  • Sexy Chix, an anthology of short strips by women cartoonists
  • Mister Monster: Who Watches the Garbagemen?, a special of some kind from the re-formed Atomeka. I can't tell how much of it is reprints, and I didn't buy their similar Bojeffries Saga book because it seemed to be an anthology in disguise (I'm happy with anthologies, but I can't abide disguising them). So I'm not sure if I'll stick around for more books, if there are any.
  • Fables Vol. 6: Homelands by Bill Willingham and various artists
  • Seven Soldiers of Victory Vol. 1 by Grant Morrison and various artists
  • and Ghost World by Dan Clowes, which I read when it was originally serialized in Eightball but which I suddenly wanted to read again as a book after seeing the movie last week.

The First Pebbles of the Avalanche

I got my first WFA package today, and the world was kind enough to make it a small one. (Someone is breaking me in gently, and I appreciate that.) I don't know if I'll manage to list all of the WFA stuff I get, but I'll try. I also think I'm going to start reading it as I get it (or, at least, putting it into a pile and working off the top of the pile).

This first box contained Charles Coleman Finlay's The Prodigal Troll (which, as I recall, my SFBC reader mostly liked) and Michael Blumlein's The Healer (which I'd thought was science fiction, actually). I've liked Blumlein's work in the past, and his first two novels were solidly SF (The Movement of Mountains) and horror (X, Y), so it would be very symmetrical for his third novel to be fantasy. An auspicious beginning, I think -- better than getting a dozen paperback cat anthologies, at least (though I'm sure they will be coming).

The question now is whether I dive into one of those on Monday (I have to finish A Long Way Down first, and then the weekend, as always, is for SFBC reading), or keep to my original plan, which was to try to knock off A Feast For Crows next week. Anyone reading this want to vote one way or the other?

(Other things I already have to read for WFA: Vellum by Hal Duncan, The Narrows by Alexander C. Irvine, The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl by Tim Pratt, The House of Storms by Ian R. MacLeod, Glass Soup by Jonathan Carroll, Gil's All-Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez and Looking for Jake by China Mieville. Votes for any of those may be either heeded or ignored, depending on my whim.)

Reading Guilt

So we World Fantasy judges are beginning to talk amongst ourselves, and figure out how we're going to do this thing. (And that's probably as far as I'm going to describe any of the process here.)

On the one hand, it's exciting to think about being able to pick out gems and bring them to light, and having a really good reason to read lots and lots of good fantasy stories (and, perhaps even better, a really good reason to abandon fantasy stories that aren't really good).

But, on the other hand, I'm beginning to feel guilty. You see, I generally haven't used most of my reading time for genre books (as readers of this blog will probably have noticed by now). I read a lot of stuff, and my "non-work" reading runs across a lot of areas, not predominantly fantasy and SF. That, I think, will have to change for the bulk of this year -- I need to read (or at least read in) all of the fantasy novels and stories published last year, while still keeping up my usual reading for the SFBC (usually I aim for two books a week).

I've read a few things for WFA consideration since I got the nod, but I haven't done it systematically yet (though I do have two dedicated WFA piles already). And, worst of all, I finished a mystery novel (Cinnamon Kiss by Walter Mosley) yesterday and am reading a mainstream novel (A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby) right now. So I'm feeling very very guilty at the moment, and I expect that I'll feel guilty over the next eight months, every time I pick up a book that isn't either a) under serious SFBC consideration or b) a fantasy published in 2005.

Worst of all, if I keep up this blog, you lot can actually monitor me! (Why did I ever think this was a good idea? Oh, yeah, the lure of the soapbox, that was it.)

The Efficiencies of Modern Capitalism

I work in an office in New York City (naturally; it's overwhelmingly the home of American book publishing), on East 26th Street overlooking lovely Madison Square Park. It's not a tiny office -- there are probably 100 of us here, spread across two floors -- but the main office of my company is out on Long Island, in Garden City.

And, just five minutes ago, I learned that all of our USPS mail must first go on our twice-a-day van to Garden City, and only there actually enter the mail stream. I thought this was quite silly for a package going to Houghton Mifflin, but apparently it's the way our mail works here. I'm pretty sure messenger packages go straight out (it would be insane if they didn't), and I think FedEx does as well. I'm not sure about other packages; we use UPS (last I knew), and those may need to be processed out on the Island.

You know, I try to be a good Republican, I really do. I generally do believe that private systems are more efficient than government ones. And then I have to go and find out Dilbert's boss is lurking somewhere in the org chart of my own employer...

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A Quick Blurb about Sean McMullen

Nothing particularly interesting has happened today, so we dig back into the archives for the following paragraph, originally posted to rec.arts.sf.written 1/10/05 in response to a question about McMullen's novel The Voyage of the Shadowmoon:

I'm not Joe, but, yes, there is a sequel, Glass Dragons, in which some of the same people do dissimilar things to stop a different kind of magical mega-death device. One of the things I liked about these books (along with the gleeful, exuberant joy in pure complication) was the way that the giant magical whatzises were perfectly logical, the kind of thing that, after the fact, I expected to remember from a dozen novels. Oh, I also liked the way the magicians were almost all power-hungry assholes, and, more importantly, realistic power-hungry assholes, of the kind we recognize instinctively.

This is 2006, again, saying that there's now a third book in the (very loose) series, Voidfarer, which is a retelling of Wells's War of the Worlds. There's yet more megadeath and mayhem, but the plot is more original (Glass Dragons is a lot of fun, but it's also a lot like a re-run of Shadowmoon), and the characters are very engaging (if completely neurotic in their own ways).

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Greatest Book Title in the History of the Universe

Is Justine Larbalestier's upcoming Magic! Magic! Magic! Oi! Oi! Oi!, and I'm not saying that just because I've met her.

Look at it: that is a title. It makes me smile just to see it.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Wonderful Thing About Bombadils

I just spent the last half-hour or so working on a long post (yes, it is a list, if you ask) which still isn't ready to go. Look for that one tomorrow...

But, for now, a silly little thing I originally posted to rec.arts.sf.written 6/1/01:


The wonderful thing about Bombadils
Is I can't tell you what Bombadils are
They're deep and mythic and silly
And they came from a land afar
They're loosey, goosey, wacky, slacky
But the most wonderful thing about Bombadils
Is I'm the only one!
Oh I'mmmmm...the only one! Tom Bombadillo!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Reading Into the Past: Week of 1/22

Every Sunday, I roll some dice and check out my reading notebook for a randomly chosen past year, to see what I was reading this week that year and to find out if I can remember anything of what I read.

This week, I rolled a 6, so we'll be looking at this week in 2000:
  • David Weber, Ashes of Honor (1/16, read portions)
    I'm afraid I don't really get Weber; I've read a few of his books and I think I can detect the stuff his fans enjoy (and so decide which ones they'll like better), but it's not the kind of space opera that does much for me. I'm a post-modernist at heart, I guess, so deliberately old-fashioned adventure stuff in this day and age usually leaves me cold. I'm not even sure which book this is -- maybe the space-prison-break novel?
  • Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs & Steel (1/18)
    Seeing this reminds me that I've wanted to read Diamond's new book Collapse for several months now, but it will probably take more than a week, which is a lot of time to devote to one book. I found this one as intriguing as just about everyone else who read it, and I mostly bought Diamond's arguments. (He struck me as being quite measured in his judgments, too -- he didn't seem to be claiming to have found the One Theory that will Explain Everything, but to have focused on a few factors that underlie a lot of cultural differences.) This is a book anyone who thinks seriously about Big Ideas needs to read.
  • Thomas Mallon, A Book of One's Own (1/21)
    I was annoyed at Mallon for about a decade for a somewhat frivolous reason -- he was supposedly a professor at Vassar (where I went to college), but was never on campus and taught, I think, one class a year on a full professor's salary. So I never saw him, and, even as an English major, didn't know anyone who'd ever had a class with him, and he struck me as a monumental waste of resources that could have gone to actually serving the students -- like me, for example. I've still never read any of his novels, but I did eventually read this book. I think this one was the examination of various literary diaries through the years, but it hasn't remained in the memory (or on my shelf). The book of Mallon's I do remember (and did keep) is his excellent history of plagiarism, Stolen Words, which I'd recommend over this one any day.
  • Larry Niven and Steven Barnes, Saturn's Race (1/22)
    Oh, this is the medium-future-on-Earth book with the genius killer shark with metal hands, right? (Apologies if that's a "spoiler.") If it's the book I'm thinking of, it was a perfectly adequate entertainment that seemed to make sense while reading, but fell apart a bit in retrospect.
Right before that, I read Paul Hoffman's The Man Who Loved Only Numbers (the biography of Paul Erdos) and right afterward I read the two Van Vogt "Weapon Makers" books. And, no, it really doesn't seem weird for me to jump back and forth in my reading like that. I often find after finishing one book that I want to read something as unlike it as possible.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

In Which I Pick On James Blish

I'm now semi-officially admitting that I don't have time to do an original post on Saturdays, and I'm not online enough on Saturdays to reliably do a "respond to something going on" post. So, if I want to post once a day (and I do), it will have to continue to be old RASFW posts, lightly spruced up and shoved back out into the world. I hope no one will mind.

This attempt to slander the name of an author whose boots I am not fit to...etc., etc. was originally posted to rec.arts.sf.written 5/13/01:

Honestly, I don't think there's anyone younger than forty or so who's first knowledge of Blish isn't the Trek story-izations (well, they weren't novels, were they?). I'm sure there are a few people who wandered into A Case of Conscience by accident (or just working their way through the SF section from Asimov), but I'd imagine that they're pretty rare.

I also have to admit that I found Cities In Flight (which I read for the first time last year) a tremendous slog. The first novel (sorry, I've resolutely blanked all the names out of my head) was horrible -- not only was it a future we can't get to anymore, it was a future no one would ever have wanted to get to in the first place. The YA novel was fun (except for the fact that our main character gets judicially murdered off-screen in a later book), but the last two were more dreary nastiness. I wasn't convinced in the slightest by the economics (giant, high-tech traveling space-cities are the equivalent of indigent hobos? they're doing manual labor, roughly speaking?) or politics (New York has had some pretty autocratic mayors in its history, but that guy took the cake) or characterization. And the whole "well, it took ten billion years for the universe to expand to this size, but it's just started collapsing, so it'll all be dead by next Tuesday" was laughable. Only the fact that it was a "Classic" and that I was considering it for the club got me through it in the first place; it would take a CIA-trained torturer to make me dive in again.

While I'm attacking the dead, I'll also say I found Case of Conscience relentlessly talky (though, I suppose, it had to be) but had a genuinely unique and startling SFnal idea at its core. The people also seemed like human beings (sexless, '40s-tough-guy-talking caricatures, but roughly identifiable as human, which I can't say for most of the people in Cities).

So I was actually surprised at how much I liked The Issue at Hand: Blish's fiction hadn't thrilled me, and he was mostly talking about stories I didn't immediately recognize. But it's still an excellent book of SF criticism, and the lessons are just as applicable to today's SF. (Though I wish he'd taken his own words about scientific accuracy to heart with the later "Okie" stories, where I think his cosmology and economics both stink up the joint.)

Friday, January 20, 2006

I Do Believe in Money! I Do! I Do!

With great fanfare, the name of the sharecropped official sequel to Peter and Wendy (itself probably the greatest tie-in novel of the 20th century) has been announced: Peter Pan in Scarlet.

Do I need to unpack that? Right. First, Peter Pan is the title of the play, and the play came first. Peter and Wendy is the title of the novel, though various low publishers and other miscreants have put out editions of it under the play's title over the years. Peter and Wendy is a novelization of a work from another medium, and thus a tie-in. Are we all clear on the backstory, now?

The new title is, quite frankly, a snooze. Yes, it did have to have the words "Peter Pan" in it, but it didn't have to be that boring.

I also note from the BBC article that the trustees of the Great Ormond Street Hospital (who own the copyright to Peter Pan) apparently have never read the book, since they think Captain Hook is still alive at the end of it and available for a sequel.

Yes, raising money for sick children is indisputably a good thing. But I tend to doubt any book written to raise cash, and designed to please the unnumbered trustees, will add anything worth clapping for to the world of the Lost Boys.

I do hope to be proven wrong, of course, but I very much doubt it will happen.

Quote of the Week

"It is morally wrong to allow suckers to keep their money."
-'Canada Bill' Jones

Thursday, January 19, 2006

A Confession

I wrote the last post at about 8:30 this morning (after I got to work and saw the e-mail from Peter Dennis Pautz, the WFA Secret Master). But then I felt weird about being the first person to post the news on the 'net, so I saved it as a draft, and waited until I saw someone else report it. (In my case, I saw Jeff VanderMeer's blog post first, but it seems to have hit DarkEcho, too.)

I'm not exactly sure why I did that, but it didn't feel right to be the first one talking about it. (And it can be quite annoying to not understand your own motivations.)

World Fantasy Award Judges Announced

And the big news (for me, at least) is: I'm one of them. I was asked by John Douglas, one of the vast and cool intellects behind the awards, at last year's WFC, and I immediately agreed. And then immediately afterward wondered what I had gotten myself into. My other silly thought was to wonder if they ask every professional to be a judge during their first WFC, when they're still young and happy and gullible.

My fellow judges are Steve Lockley (whom I don't know, but seems to be a British writer of either YA or horror or both), Barbara Roden (who I also haven't met, but who is one-half of the very well-regarded Canadian small press Ash-Tree Press), Victoria Strauss (yet another person I haven't met, though we did a couple of her novels in the SFBC) and Jeff VanderMeer (our most famous judge this year, a strongly up-and-coming literary fantasy writer/editor/ex-small-publisher who I said hello to very briefly at WFC). I imagine I'll get to know them better over the next nine months; I only hope our tastes turn out to be reasonably compatible.

Now the work of trying to read every fantasy novel, story, collection and anthology published in 2005 begins...

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Staving Off Self-Parody for One More Day

I got a bunch of new CDs today (cheaply, since I hate to spend a lot of money on music), and I was about to post a list of them, with comments.

But then I thought better of it. This blog is already far too close to being a random collection of lists, and I'm teetering on the brink of being the blog version of that guy from the early days of the internet (oh, yes, I know there was more than one of him; that makes it worse) whose website was an annotated inventory of his desk drawers.

So I will resolutely ignore music for now, and stick to being monomaniacal about books.

Stuff I've read recently that I still haven't blogged about (posted in an attempt to shame myself into saying something about them):
  • Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link
  • School Days by Robert B. Parker
  • S Is For Silence by Sue Grafton

Notable Quotables

I'm reading The Undercover Economist (by Tim Harford) today, and the following lept out at me so hard I had to share it:

"Any well-run business would seek to charge each customer the maximum price he'd be willing to pay -- and they do."

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Incoming Books: 17 January

A very mixed bag today:
  • The Clumsiest People in Europe, Mrs. Favell Lee Mortimer, edited by Todd Pruzan
  • Old Man's War, John Scalzi
  • James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, Julie Phillips
  • The New Book of Lists, David Wallechinsky and Amy Wallace
Here's my prediction: I'll read Clumsiest within a week, poke through Tiptree off and on but never actually finish it, and use New Book of Lists as a bathroom reader sometime in 2007. Old Man has about a 50/50 chance of being read; if I get to it quickly, it will, but if it languishes on the pile until spring, it'll probably still be there in five years.

The First Stupid Blog Meme I Came Across

Diana Peterfreund was doing it, so I guess I will, too.

What were you doing ten years ago?
Working as an Associate Editor for the SFBC and running the Doubleday Large Print Book Club in my spare time. I had my own office with my own door back then, too. (Not that I'm bitter now, goodness no.) We were working at 1540 Broadway in those days, and I think we'd come down from the 23rd floor to the 16th floor by that point -- which means I probably had my own window, too.

In my personal life, also pretty similar to now -- married, living in the same house, but pre-children.

What were you doing one year ago?
Sitting in an office (at 1271 6th Avenue, that time), working on the SFBC books for spring of 2005. My life, apparently, doesn't change much.

Five Snacks You Enjoy:
What? Only five? I'm not sure I could narrow it down to five categories. How about stuff I really love: Brach Jelly Bird Eggs, Ferrero Rocher chocolates, Cadbury Fruit & Nut bars (the kind you get in the UK, not the USA, by preference), Kidzels pretzels, Frosted Mini-Wheats.

Five songs to which you know all the lyrics:
  • R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" (memorized it because I thought it would be fun, and I hope it's still all there)
  • Elvis Costello's "Battered Old Bird" (I know a lot of EC songs by heart or nearly so, but this one I'm sure of)
  • Oingo Boingo's "No One Lives Forever" (another band I probably know the words to nearly everything)
  • They Might Be Giants' "Don't Let's Start" (again, among others)
  • Pink Floyd's "One of These Days" (because I felt like cheating)
Five things you would do if you were a millionaire:
  • Move into a bigger house, with an actual library, so my books could live above ground.
  • Get The Wife a new car (probably minivan) and myself a car of my own for the first time in my life.
  • Go to Disneyland this summer (which we might manage to do anyway; thank you, Worldcon voters).
  • If the new house didn't already come with one, have a pool put in. Kids love pools. (I do, too.)
  • Hire somebody to cut the grass (and take care of the pool), for as long as the money lasted.
Five Bad Habits:
I have no bad habits. None at all. I don't lie, for example.

Five Things You Like Doing:
Reading, listening to music, walking, making lists and wasting time.

Five Things You Would Never Wear or Buy Again:
This may be terribly male of me, but I don't think I get the point of this one. I don't expect to buy any more infant car seats or wear any more dickies, but I doubt that was what's expected here.

Five Favorite Toys:
iPod, GameCube, new Tungsten E2, Thing 2 (he likes me to flip him onto the bed), and whatever Lego I've built most recently.

Wailing and Rending of Garments

I missed posting yesterday -- bad blogger, no cookie! -- mostly because I was reading like mad all weekend. (And, being an editor, I guess that's understandable.)

I'm not going to do a review of what I was reading (even leaving aside the "I don't do reviews" thing), since I was reading it for work, but I will say this:

Naomi Novik's "Temeraire" series is one of the most purely entertaining, compulsively readable things I've found in a long, long time. I had the first three novels (publishing in the US this April, May and June) to read and just ran through them all over the long weekend. It's a Napoleonic fantasy series -- essentially Patrick O'Brian with dragons -- and damn if she doesn't live up to that description. She might not yet be as smooth and compelling a writer as O'Brian was, but these books are amazingly impressive for a new novelist. I just hope she can get some more of them written really fast...

Anyway, to make up for not posting yesterday, I pledge that I will try the first stupid blog-meme idea I see today, for added content. This I do for you, my devoted reader.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Reading Into the Past: Week of 1/15

Every Sunday, I roll some dice and pull out one of my old reading notebooks, in an attempt to remember what I was reading this very week in some past year. (And thus prove, I hope, that reading actually has some utility, and isn't just a way to waste time.)

This week, the dice read 12, and so we head back to the year 1994:
  • Mary Gentle, Rats and Gargoyles (1/14)
Well, that wasn't very interesting. I mean, Rats and Gargoyles is a great book, and I did take nearly two weeks to read it, but it leaves this post a bit short. So let's look a bit before and after, too:
  • Charles S. Sykes, A Nation of Victims (1/4)
    I don't remember this book specifically, but I must have heard about it in National Review (which I subscribed to for, essentially, Clinton's first term). And I can guess what it was about. I think it was somewhat more thoughtful than the those-guys-are-all-traitors books clogging up the bestseller lists today (from both sides; I don't read any of 'em now), but I'm sure it was a "liberals are responsible for all of the ills of the world" book.
  • Harlan Ellison, Mefisto in Onyx (1/4)
    I'm a big Ellison nut, from way back. So getting to read his stuff professionally -- especially a really strong novella, like this one -- was a thrill. But the publishing situation of this was the usual high drama (I think it was intended for a tribute-to-somebody anthology, but Harlan pulled it for reasons I don't now know, and wrote a very nasty foreword to this edition to criticize anyone who had anything to do with the tribute book), and, as I recall, there was no chance we could buy it for the club. I'm not sure if it's appeared in one of his collections since, though I hope it has -- it's one of his best stories, probably his longest best story, and one of his later best stories, too. Oh, and if anyone has a spare dustjacket for this, e-mail me: Thing 1 went through a period of using a letter opener on my books, and this was one of the ones he chose to attack.
  • G.B. Trudeau, Welcome to Club Scud! (1/16)
    A Doonesbury collection, of which I have the entire set. (It took a few years of looking to find Doonesbury: The Musical, and it wasn't really worth it, but I've got it.) I've found that the funniest stuff, to me, was the cartoons from before I knew anything about politics -- which probably just means that he's goring my ox some of the time these days, and I don't like it -- but it's always readable and I love the way he has handled the very large cast over the years.
  • George Alec Effinger, Maureen Birnbaum, Barbarian Swordsperson: The Complete Stories (1/17)
    Silly fluff, though quite well-written and satirical silly fluff, which we sold like gangbusters in the club for a number of years. I wish Effinger had done enough for a second volume, but, then, I wish Effinger had been able to do a lot of things, this last decade. I wish he was still around and writing now. This isn't a bad place to start with Effinger, actually, and I hope some of the SFBC hordes moved on from this to What Entropy Means to Me or the Marid Audran novels.
  • Martin Amis, Visiting Mrs. Nabokov and Other Excursions (1/17)
    I was still in my utterly worshipful Amis phase at this point (until the dreadful "I am a police" book came out a few years later), so I devoured this whole, trying to impress Amis's literary prejudices onto my brain to supplant my own. I'm not sure if they all (or any of them) took, but he's an engaging, thorny writer, and I've always loved reading the occasional nonfiction of novelists, for no good reason I've been able to figure out.
  • Mitch O'Connell, Good Taste Gone Bad (1/17)
    Retro-fab-o-50's-esque art from a guy I think I first saw doing comics covers. I like me my art books, yes I do.
That stretches the period to thirteen days (from my usual eight -- I'm always cheating, actually, since I'm inclusive on both ends of the "week"), but at least gets us more than one book. The good news, from 2006's perspective, is that even as a younger, less encumbered guy, I still got stuck in one book for ten days at a time. So there's hope for me even now, and thus hope for all of us.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

How An Omnibus Is Made

Another Saturday, another post culled from the archives. It almost sounds like a plan, when I put it that way. This one was originally posted to rec.arts.sf.written 1/3/01, in response to a specific question from one person. I actually do get people asking me about this every so often (even people in the business), so it might be of interest to five or six folks out there:

The workflow goes vaguely like this (I'm simplifying, since I don't think anyone wants a mind-numbing explanation of my paperwork):

1) Decide a series might work as an omnibus -- this is relatively straightforward in the case of classics (such as The Compleat Dying Earth or the more recent John Grimes: Lieutenant of the Survey Service by A. Bertram Chandler) and sometimes more complicated if it's an ongoing series (since then we also have to consider how the series might break into several omnibuses).

2) Figure out how many books are in the series and what order they should go in (this is sometimes not as simple as it seems -- I had to repeatedly consult The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction when trying to figure out what should go in the aforementioned John Grimes book).

3) Get copies of the books (again, mostly a matter of haunting con dealers' rooms and second-hand booksellers for classics but usually more simple for new works -- we would then just call the publisher and ask to see the series).

4) Have somebody (one of our crack staff of freelance readers) read the books and tell us if they hold up in the first place and would work together as a single volume.

5) Read the proposed omnibus in order ourselves ("us" being in this case either me or Ellen Asher, the Editor-in-Chief and Ranking Poo-Bah of the SFBC) to see if we like it.

6) Assuming we did like it, do quick wordcounts to work out how big the proposed omnibus would be (this can get done earlier, especially if there's a concern about whether the omnibus would even fit between two covers at all -- though we can do some pretty immense books in the SFBC), and use that to work out rough ideas of costs, pricing, royalties earned, etc.

7) Call up whoever holds the rights (sometimes there can be an additional step of just tracking down the person who does) and make an offer. Dicker until both sides are basically satisfied with the deal.

8) Get extra copies of the books for the copywriter (who has to write about the books for the jacket flaps and the club magazine) and for the art director (who needs to send them to an artist to get new cover art done). Working with the art director to figure out what artist(s) would be best for the book -- and then dealing with sketches and other art concepts -- is probably my favorite part of the whole process.

9) Get yet more copies of the books to mark up for my book production folks (to say things like: "The ad pages in the back come out, I've got a new copyright page enclosed, and the acknowledgements pages need to be treated thusly").

10) A few months later, a book emerges.

I'm not sure if that's exactly what you wanted to know (well, it's probably more than you wanted to know, anyway), but there it is.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Library Run: Kids' Books

I don't get books for myself out of the library these days, since I've got an entire bookcase of things I haven't read yet. (I intend to take some pictures of all of my "to be read" piles, some time soon. Maybe over the long weekend?)

But I do take the Things to the library regularly, and we take out great piles of books. (Mostly ones I choose, while Thing 1 is reading Yu-Gi-Oh collections and Nintendo Power magazine; and Thing 2 is hiding under gigantic stuffed animals, trying to get other kids to play with him, and playing computer games.) I've also thought about writing about kid's books here for some time; I read four books a night to the kids, and we've got an immense number of books in the house. So I've read lots of 'em, and I'm certainly opinionated. I have no idea if there's anyone reading this who will care, but, then again, that's not why I'm doing this to begin with.

So: we went to the library on Saturday, and this is what we got:
  • Felix Feels Better by Rosemary Wells
    In the great Kids' Book Schism, Wells is definitely on the Girl side, so my very boyish boys shouldn't like her all that much. But she's done so many great picture books (especially the three "Voyage to the Bunny Planet" books and the many "Max & Ruby" titles -- Max's Chocolate Chicken is, to my mind, the great Easter book), and is so funny, that they love her nearly as much as I do. This is one of the few we don't own, which is odd, since we have the other Felix book (Felix and the Worrier), which isn't quite as good.
  • Dump Trucks by Jean Eick
    One of a series of books with pictures of large machinery and informative text about said pictures (lots of arrows pointing to parts of the machines, too). I mostly got this for Thing 2, who just turned five and thus is quite fond of trucks.
  • More Parts by Tedd Arnold
    Second of three books (after Parts, before Even More Parts) that my boys adore, about a boy who keeps taking rhetorical phrases like "losing your head" and "stretch your legs" literally. Nice cartoony art, too. I haven't seen anything else by this guy, but I keep looking; he has a sensibility the Things like a lot (and I do, too).
  • I Am A Droid by "C-3P0"
    We found a copy of I Am A Jedi at a garage sale a year or two ago, and we've read it a lot. (It was a tie-in to Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.) It got pulled back out the last few months, after we started playing Lego Star Wars (quite possibly the most fun game ever) on the GameCube together. This is another book from the same batch; its picture is on the back of I Am A Jedi. Now the boys think it'll be no problem for me to find the other two books...
  • Once Upon a Time, The End by Geoffrey Kloske
    The library check-out slip didn't list the illustrator, who I recall was a New Yorker guy. (See! I can't get away from them!) Aha, Amazon tells me it's Barry Blitt. This wasn't quite as laugh-out-loud as I had hoped, but the art is fun and nicely detailed, and the story (about a father reading increasingly shorter stories to his won't-fall-asleep kid) is familiar. We've only read it once so far, though, and it looks like the kind of book that might get better with familiarity.
  • The Dot by Peter Reynolds
    A book about art, which I got because we own his similar Ish. Both are books with nice lessons that manage not to bang you over the head with them, and the boys like both books quite a bit. I can only hope they become internationally famous artists and support me in palatial majesty in my old age.
  • Peanut Butter and Jelly by somebody
    If Amazon and my memory are to be trusted, this is by Nadine Bernard Westcott (who did another book called something like Farmer Brown Shears His Sheep that the boys like a lot; very zippy, energetic art). It illustrates a rhyme I didn't previously know myself, with lots of things little boys will like, such as elephants rolling on giant sandwiches to smoosh out the jelly.
  • There's Something in My Attic by Mercer Mayer
    I'm a huge Mercer Mayer fan, so one of the things having kids has meant to me has been a chance to revisit great books of my youth, and to buy a lot of Mercer Mayer books along the way. This is another take on the idea from one of his first books, There's A Nightmare in My Closet (and which he also remade again, just last year, in There Are Monsters Everywhere) -- a kid is scared of a monster, and comes not to be afraid of it, in various ways. I like this one best of the three -- the art is the most lavish and detailed, and the story is the cutest -- so it's weird that I think we have the other two but not this one. Or do I have Nightmare at all? I'm not sure. (Oh, and the "Little Critter" books are the best 4x4 series ever. Everyone with boys should own at least a dozen of them.)
  • How Much Is a Million? by David M. Schwartz and Steven Kellogg
    We've gotten this one out a couple of times, and it's a favorite. A magician shows kids how big a million, billion, and trillion really are, in visual terms kids can understand. Kellogg has a really luminous art style that's a pleasure to look at, though it seems like many of his best books can only be found as dusty thirty-year-old library books. Somebody reprint him!
  • I Was Born About 10,000 Years Ago by Steven Kellogg
    I think this one's more recent; Thing 1 picked it. It's sort of a tall-tale contest (Kellogg has done a number of books based on legends and tall tales; we haven't read any of the others that I recall), and I'm not sure if the boys got the point of it all. (Not being all that up on bible stories and history.) Still, I think this is the second time we've gotten it, so Thing 1 must like something about it.
  • I Am Papa Snap And These Are My No Such Stories by Toni Ungerer
    I took this out once a few months back and only got to read it once. I wanted to do it again, since it seemed like fun, so I got it again. I'm the Daddy, I can do things like that.
  • The Book That Jack Wrote by Jon Scieszka and Daniel Adel
    Scieszka is one of the two Boy Book Gods that I know of (the other is Dav Pilkey), and the Things and I love all of his stuff that we've found. (We went to the Pixar exhibit at MoMA last weekend, and they enjoyed it even more from having read Seen Art? a thousand times.)
  • Kitten Red, Yellow, Blue by Peter Catalanotto
    Haven't read this one yet, but it looked cute.
  • My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss
    Minor Seuss, but we've already read pretty much everything else of his at this point. (And, reading them out loud, I find the earliest books are in prose -- and way too much of it -- and so not as much fun as the good middle-period books.)
  • Perfectly Martha by Susan Meddaugh
    Fourth or fifth in a series about a talking dog, which the boys like a lot. One of the things I think they particularly enjoy in picture books is density, especially of words -- if there's a lot of little comments going on around the sides of everything, they'll love it to death. If the comments are funny and sarcastic, even better. (Probably the best example of this is Arnie the Doughnut by Laurie Keller, which is probably their favorite book of all time but which I try not to read too often, simply because it takes about half an hour to run through it all. It's a great book, but some nights I want bedtime to be now.)
  • The Z Was Zapped by Chris Van Allsburg
    This is an alphabet book, as you might guess. Thing 1 is really too old for books like this, but he loves little kid stuff a lot of the time, and this book is mostly the letters of the alphabet getting mangled in interesting ways. Again, prime boy book territory. We've only just discovered this one, though we have tried a couple of Van Allsburg's other books before.
And now it looks like we'll be going back to the library tomorrow, at least for a quick drop-off, since we also got a video (Pokemon Something-Or-Other, for last week's Boys Movie Saturday) and a CD (The Incredibles Soundtrack, for yours truly), which can only be checked out for a week. So I might be doing this again, unless I can find a way to get them in and out quickly...

Quote of the Week

"I'm not sure what I want, but that's not the point -- it's that I want it now."
-Elvis Costello

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Quote of the Week

"Sometimes too much to drink is barely enough."
- Mark Twain

More Than You Want To Know About Why Posts Have Been Short Lately

I was the victim of major intestinal distress yesterday, which had run through my family in the previous week. (Every three days, one of us is throwing up -- it's The Aristocrats: The Home Game!)

I won't go into details, but it wasn't pretty. And I was pretty well wiped out last night. I'm feeling a bit better now, though. In fact, I feel a long, strange, book-related post coming on right now...

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

James Frey, Comic Character!

Patricia Storms occasionally does really funny comics, usually when something appalling is going on the book world. Is it nasty of me to wish for many more scandals, so we get more comics like this one?

(I'm particularly fond of Oprah's killer eyebeams -- you know she has something like that.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

My Only Comment on the James Frey Affair

In Medialand, the only crime is to lie, and the worst possible crime is to lie in a way that fools the people of Medialand.

Thus it's worse that Frey lied about being a criminal drug addict than if he was a criminal drug addict.

See, first, The Smoking Gun, and, then, well, just about every blog in existence.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Nebula Preliminary Ballot

It's gargantuan as usual, and most of the works on it won't make it to the Final Ballot. (But we all know that.)

I'm just amazed to discover that there is an award that Jonathan Strange didn't win yet.

Things that make me happy:
  • Novels I liked by Bujold, Clarke, Mieville and Pratchett are nominated.
  • Novels I still want to read by Haldeman, McDevitt, Ryman, Stevenson and Williams are also nominated.
  • Robert Sawyer's "Identity Theft," a story from an original SFBC anthology (Down These Dark Spaceways, edited by Mike Resnick), was nominated. Go us!
  • There are only two items in the "Script" category, and one of them has disputed eligibility; maybe SFWA can kill this very silly category.

Raw Numbers Geekery!

Thanks to Paperback Writer, where I saw this link.

Bookwire has a table of U.S. Trade Book Production (i.e., books meant to be sold in stores, not including the various education markets), showing that title count has jumped by about 33% since 1993.

This is why people in the business perennially say that there are too many books being published -- of course, what they generally mean is that other people are publishing too many books, so our own, clearly superior, books are not getting the attention they need and deserve.

PW also linked to a similar table of all book production (trade, elhi, primary and secondary, etc.), which covers a slightly different period. The difference is stunning; for 2001, the last year both charts are final, there were 23,265 trade books and 141,703 total books. I suspect Bookwire is using a restrictive definition of "trade" here (probably excluding the Christian Booksellers of America, which is a large distribution channel of its own), but that's still a huge discrepancy. Education publishing makes up a lot of the difference, but I'd thought it was only two to three times as big as trade publishing, and that would only get us up to about 100,000 titles at most.

There are a lot of books out there. The next time I hear someone whining that the evil forces of publishing are keeping them from getting published, I'll be able to point to the 141,703 arguments against that.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Reading Into the Past: Week of 1/8

Every Sunday, I dig out one of my old reading notebooks and try to make sense of what I was reading this week in some randomly-chosen year of the past. This time the dice read 9, so I'll be heading back to the year 1997:
  • David Hood, Beggar's Banquet (1/1)
    This would, I think, be the third in the "Fanuilh" series, a fun sequence of essentially PI novels in a fantasy world. Once there were three of them, I read 'em, liked 'em, and did a 3-in-1 for the club. Then we were waiting around for three more; there were two, eventually, but a third never appeared. (I think I remember hearing that his publisher, Ace, rejected what would have been book #6.) These were another example of something I think Ace does better than anyone else, and has done for a couple of decades now: a series of decently-written, usually fantasy books with plot spines borrowed from mysteries.
  • David Mack, Kabuki: Circle of Blood (1/1)
  • David Mack, Kabuki Compilation (1/1)
    If you asked me yesterday, I would have told you that I'd never touched a Kabuki book (and thought it was the truth). Now I can vaguely recall the moody, muddy art, though I think they didn't have as much nudity as you'd expect. Not something I really remember well, though.
  • Paul Fussell, Abroad (1/2)
    This read like an academic work spruced up just a bit for publication (and it might have been), but it was interesting -- an examination of "travel books," mostly written by Brits, between the two World Wars, and what they showed about contemporary society and the British view of the wider world. I came to this from two directions: from reading better Fussell books like the essay collection Thank God for the Atom Bomb and the jeremiads Bad and Class, on the one hand, and from hitting the grumpy, fascinating, and very-of-its-time travel compilation When the Going Was Good during my run through most of the works of Evelyn Waugh.
  • Harlan Ellison, Spider Kiss (1/3)
    There still are a couple of Harlan's books that I've never read (The Other Glass Teat is probably the one I'm most interested in digging up), but, by this point, I don't think I'd read an old Ellison book for the first time in about a decade. This is the Rock 'n' Roll novel, if I remember it rightly.
  • John Barnes, Patton's Spaceship (1/4)
  • John Barnes, Washington's Dirigible (1/5)
  • Wayne Douglas Barlowe, Barlowe's Guide to Fantasy (1/6)
    A perfectly pleasant, well-researched and put-together book by an excellent illustrator, that only served to prove that lightning never does strike twice. (His original Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials was a massive hit for the club -- I have no idea how it sold in the trade -- moving thousands of copies a year, mostly to new members, over about twenty years.) This book is just as good as Extraterrestrials, and the creatures are chosen somewhat better (i.e., they're not just a bunch of random aliens from books that someone had read recently, but specifically chosen to illustrate most of the most important books and writers in the field). But it only sold mildly well, and went out of print before Extraterrestrials did, at least through the SFBC. (Though the latter is gone from our ranks now too.)
  • Anthony F. Smith and Eric Vincent, Alien Fire: Pass in Thunder (1/7)
    Some kind of SF comic. I didn't keep it, so I can't say much more than that. Though I guess not keeping it is a comment of its own.
  • Robert H. Bork, Slouching Towards Gomorrah (1/8)
    I don't recall the exact policy suggestions Bork brought down from the mountain here, but this book was like Das Capital in at least one way: I thought both books combined a very interesting close analysis of their subjects with unreasonable conclusions that really didn't follow from the analysis. I tend to be a curmudgeon anyway, and Bork has a great curmudgeonly voice; anyone who's not doctrinairely leftist and thinks the world is all going to hell would probably find a lot to chew on in this book.
  • John Barnes, Caesar's Bicycle (1/8)
    Barnes is a sneaky writer who is very good at eliciting reader identification with his characters and then twisting things around unmercifully. I don't really read to identify with characters, so this never bothers me, but I've seen others complain endlessly about him. These three books were a fluffy time-travel trilogy poised uncomfortably somewhere between "men's adventure" and SF proper. They were splendid entertainments that I stuck into one volume for the club, and the thing I remember best about them (and enjoyed a lot at the time of reading) is the deliberate, careful de-escalation of violence as the trilogy went on, from an even-bloodier-than-the-original WWII in the first book down to just some minor skirmishes in this one. Barnes strikes me as a writer who never does anything without thinking it through at least twice, and that's the kind of author I really appreciate.
I'm stunned that I managed to read something as massive and dense as Slouching over the course of about a week (since I'm sure I read it on my commute, and started it after finishing Spider Kiss), and still got through a skiffy trilogy and other stuff at the same time.

Once again, I must curse my children and the Internet for stealing all of my time these days...

Saturday, January 07, 2006

An Examination of the Legal Disclaimer in Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon

Since I don't have time to write a real post today, I thought I'd give you something amazingly random. It was originally posted to rec.arts.sf.written 6/20/00, but, no, I don't have a clue what the context was. I can only assume it made some kind of sense at the time.

Well, let's see what the actual disclaimer in Cryptonomicon is, shall we?

"This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or publisher."

Some thoughts:
1) Avon prefers the serial comma. Don't know why that annoys me, but it does.

2) The third sentence is clearly a big stretch applied to this book (and, indeed, to any historical fiction with real named characters and events).

3) The critical phrase is at the end of sentence 2: "or used fictitiously." Though I doubt I could define quite what that means, it's clear that this is the legal foundation of the whole claim, in the case of this book. I imagine News Corp. has quite a slew of lawyers who could bury us all in paper pertaining to fictitious usages if they wanted to. The central point, though, is fairly clear: one is not to take the representations in this book of anything with the same name as a thing in the real world as direct reportage of those things.

4) The whole thing is a roundabout legal way of saying "We don't mean any of it, so don't sue us."

5) Avon has one of the longer and more convoluted disclaimers that I've come across. (Coincidentally, this is the second time today I've had to type up an Avon disclaimer, so the comparison of it with other publishers' language is fresh in the mind.)

6) Alan Turing is dead, and so can not be slandered. (Not that this has anything directly to do with the disclaimer, but it needed to be said.)

7) Numbered lists are inordinately fun, and quite difficult to stop once started.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Bestselling Books of 2005

Via The Book Standard.

Unsurprisingly, Mr. Potter is at #1. Other books of interest to us grubby genre types include:
  • Eldest by Christopher Paolini (at an amazing #10)
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (one of the best depictions of an "alien" I've seen in years) at #17
  • Maguire's Wicked at #21
  • The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket, #25
  • what appears to be a one-volume Chronicles of Narnia, #26
  • another Harry Potter book in paperback, #34
  • similarly, Eragon comes in at #37
  • The Time Traveler's Wife, #51
  • yet another Harry Potter, #63
  • State of Fear by Crichton, #65
  • Artemis Fowl, #83
  • The Taking, Dean Koontz, #90
  • another Lemony Snicket at #94
  • another Harry Potter at #96
  • Knife of Dreams by Jordan, #98 -- the first adult genre title on the list
  • Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, #111 (the first SF book, for those of you counting)
  • Dragonology, #121
  • more Lemony Snicket, #125
  • another state of State of Fear, #131
  • Son of a Witch, #132
  • more Harry, #133
  • more Lemony, #140
  • Narnia again at #151
  • Harry Harry Harry, #154
  • Lemony #184
  • Lemony #186
  • Harry #195
  • Lemony rounding us out at #200
Please note: the closest things to SF are a Star Wars novel and Mr. Crichton (who has now suddenly discovered that scaring people with science is wrong). Not that it ever was much different, of course. But even the big, popular skiffy is a minority taste.

Edited 9:25 PM January 7, 2006:
The link at the top of this post, due to a bizarre cut-and-paste accident, originally led to a page describing an upcoming David Weber book. I'm going to pretend this was a test that you've all failed. {gives stern look}

As long as I'm editing, let me note that I missed at least two SFnal-related books, 1984 and Lord of the Flies, at numbers 193 and 194.

This has been a test of the emergency blog repair system. If this had been an actual blog emergency, you would have heard about it somewhere far more high-profile than Antick Musings. This is only a test.

Quote of the Week

"There are few things I enjoy so much as talking to people about books which I have read and they haven't, and making them wish they had -- preferably a book that is hard to get or in a language that they do not know."
-Edmund Wilson

Bookslut on Andre Norton

In a short post, the usually interesting Bookslut manages to be silly twice.

One: millions of people assume "Andre Norton" is a man because "Andre" is a man's name. The whole point of a pseudonym is to mislead people. This one worked quite well. I'm not sure what Adrienne Martini wanted; did she think Miss Norton was going to change her by-line in mid-career as some sort of feminist self-empowering statement? (If so, she greatly misunderstands Norton, both as a professional and as a woman.)

Two: oh, yes, let's pick on that horrible science fiction cover art again. Why on earth do books with dragons in them have to stick dragons all over the cover? And people with swords -- God, why can't they just have some tasteful photo of leaves and grass, like a real book? Feh. Jessa, you might not like those covers, but "millions of people" do, because they show what those books are about. And that's what a cover is supposed to do.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

More Clueless than a Speeding Bullet!

So I'm reading Magic for Beginners today (only six months after everyone else; I'm getting better), and I was reminded of an amusingly dumb thought process that I wanted to share with you.

I read Kelly Link's first short story collection, Stranger Things Happen, a few months back. And I noticed the cover, which seemed to illustrate the story "The Girl Detective," was credited to Shelley Jackson.

Wow, I thought, the things you don't know about literary icons. I never knew Jackson was a painter, too. I wonder if Link wrote the story because of the painting? That would be really interesting.

A day or two later, I looked at the book again, and apparently I was awake that time, because I suddenly realized that "Shelly" is not the same as "Shirley."

The moral of this little tale is that editors (well, this editor, to be sure) can be just as dumb and oblivious as any other reader...

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Not a Resolution

All over the blogoverse, people have been making resolutions. Read this, don't read that, do more of this and less of the other.

I'm not a fan of New Year's Eve to begin with -- it's the world's most pointless holiday, you all know that, right? -- so I've never been one for the whole soul-searching, making-huge-plans-for-the-rest-of-my-life kind of resolution. But it is the time of year to think about life and tinker a bit with it, and I'm nothing if not self-obsessive.

So I've been thinking about this blog, and how I keep talking about books I've read but insisting that I'm not "reviewing" them. I haven't changed my mind; reviewers should be unbiased and disinterested, and I'm very rarely either. I'm never going to start calling these things reviews (except maybe by accident). But I'm also going to keep writing about the books I read, and what I think of them.

I worry equally about being too tough on books (because they're not exactly what I thought they would be, or because they're not as ambitious as they could be, or just because I've read so damn much of the stuff that Just Another Decent Epic Fantasy looks like crap from here) and too easy on books (because I don't want to offend anyone unnecessarily, or because I like the author personally, or just because I'm in the business of getting people to read books). And I'll keep worrying, since I do that.

I used to love the magazine SF Eye, in my younger and more callow days, because it would run long, well-thought-out, solidly written reviews that utterly trashed books. The SF field, and the book world in general, does need more reviewers who are willing to stand up and say "this book is not good at all, for the reasons I will delineate hereafter." I'm not going to be that person, though: I'm not nearly arrogant enough to trust my own taste that strongly, and I also hope to continue working in this field. But I think I can talk about books that didn't work for me -- and books that have problems -- without being insulting or nasty. (Goodness knows, on rasfw there are probably people who still think of me as the Guy Who Wants to Punch Up the Beginning of The Lord of the Rings.)

So that's all a very long-winded way of getting to my new mantra: Honest and Fair.

I might not talk about some books I read, or not talk in detail about them, but if I do write about a book, I'll tell the truth as I see it. Whatever I say will be my real reaction to that book. (And not talking about a book doesn't mean anything in particular -- sometimes I can't talk about a book for legal reasons and sometimes I just don't have anything in particular to say.)

And I'll try to be fair to all books; not everything is to my taste, but that doesn't make them bad. (And, on the other side, just because a book plays to my prejudices doesn't make it good, but that's harder to keep in mind.)

There's my gauntlet; let's see how it goes in practice.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Page 123 Meme

I saw this one at Miss Snark, a literary agent who not only has a great blog, but just spent Christmas vacation reading and critiquing, in public, nearly a hundred book synopses. So you need to watch out for her; she'll do anything.

The rules:
1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
5. Don't search around and look for the coolest book you can find. Do what's actually next to you.

Unfortunately, everything in arm's length here at the computer at home is either a) comics, b) poetry, or c) quotation books. Oh, wait, I can reach something else on the top of this pile behind me...

So the instruction ceased, but Douglass convinced his young white acquaintances to explain the ABCs.

I think that's the fifth sentence, officially; the page starts in the middle of a sentence and has a multi-sentence quote that I didn't want to pick up in the middle of. If I just pick the words that end with the fifth period on the page, I get this:

When Frederick Douglass was a child, his mistress began to teach him to read.

Not sure what this proves or does, but, hell! it's a meme, and it's about books, so I felt compelled to continue it.

Explaining an In-Joke

I just finished reading Bonjour Laziness: Jumping Off the Corporate Ladder by Corinne Maier, which was a big bestseller in France but hasn't made much of a splash here (possibly because Scott Adams has been saying all of the same things, in more entertaining and American ways, for the past decade and we're all starting to get tired of him).

I'm not going to give it a serious once-over treatment; it's too slight for that, and I don't feel like it anyway. But I did want some mysterious Pantheon editor-person to know that I got her in-joke on p.61, and I found it very amusing.

The passage reads:
If he's lucky, he can restrict his mobility to changes in skyscrapers or transfers from one floor to another: you can begin your career on the twenty-first floor of 201 East Fiftieth Street, then get sent over to the fourth floor of 299 Park Avenue, before being transferred to the twenty-first floor of 1745 Broadway, then move back to headquarters at 1540 Broadway, before taking your well-earned retirement. Mobility is tiring!
Since I don't know who the person is, I can't say if this is anyone's specific career path, but I do know that those are all locations that Random House (parent company of Pantheon, the publisher of this book) has had offices in the last decade. I suspect that this traces the offices of the American editor of this book, whoever he or she is (though I thought Random all went from 1540 Broadway to 1745 Broadway, not the reverse).

And I have just explained an in-joke, making whoever is reading this slightly more glamorous, exciting, and in-touch with the wonderful world of publishing.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Other Books Read in December

I was trying to work down the pile of comics/art books/assorted large-format stuff, so there were a lot this month. This is a massive list, so let's just dive into it:
  • New York Girls by Richard Kern
  • Go, Dork, Go! by John Kovalic
    I'm not a gamer, and haven't been for ages and ages, so I shouldn't enjoy the Dork Tower comic as much as I do. But Kovalic is a great cartoonist (yes, his art style is simplified and sometimes grotesque; that's what "cartoon" means), and his comics just make me laugh.
  • B.P.R.D.: The Dead by Mike Mignola, et. al.
    Hellboy is cool. Even Hellboy comics without him in them are cool. Even ones that Mignola didn't really have all that much to do with.
  • In the Eye of Heaven by David Keck
    I've already mentioned this in my "Best of the Year" post; it's a major fantasy novel for 2006 and probably the first novel to beat in the genre.
  • The Cat That Changed My Life by Bruce Eric Kaplan
    A weird book by a New Yorker cartoonist; there are drawings of fifty cats, accompanied by what's supposed to be an excerpt from an interview of each cat, about the other cat that was most influential on the subject's life. I really can't tell if it's a tone-perfect parody of this kind of Po Bronson/Dr. Phil blathering or if it means to be serious. It actually works either way, which is quite odd.
  • Ex Machina: Tag by Brian K. Vaughan, et. al.
    I don't know if I've ever seen a really successful SF comic before this one. Fantasy, sure -- but nothing has really felt science-fictional in any way that could compare with even mediocre prose works. This, on the other hand, is damn good. (So good that I'm afraid I might have to check out that stupid Y: The Last Man comic by the same writer, even though I can't stand the premise.)
  • Women by Stefan May
  • I Can't Believe It's Not the Justice League by Keith Giffen, et. al.
    Sue Dibny is alive (but not pregnant!) Maxwell Lord is silly. DC Comics cannot convince me otherwise. This is a wonderfully funny comic, with gorgeous art; it's the kind of superhero comic functional adults can actually enjoy. Take a stand against women in refrigerators and buy a thousand copies.
  • River of Gods by Ian McDonald
    The kind of big, ambitious SF novel, with lots of intersecting plots, that supposedly nobody does anymore. Really impressive.
  • Smax by Alan Moore, et. al.
    Moore isn't slumming quite as much as you might think, but he does seem to have drifted into doing two-finger exercises this decade. And I really wish the economics of comics would let Zander Cannon continue his excellent comic The Replacement God rather than pencilling someone else's stuff (no matter how good). Sigh.
  • The Gist Hunter and Other Stories by Matthew Hughes
    I've loved Hughes's three novels to date (although I've heard, from another editor, that the most recent one was a severe disappointment sales-wise, which is really depressing). This is his first story collection, and it's divided into three sections. The third is "Other Stories," and it's the least impressive; they're all solid stories with nothing wrong with them, but any one of a hundred writers could have written them. The second group of stories are about the noonaut Guth Bandar, and are set in the same "penultimate age of the earth" milieu as his novels. They're overly philosophical and Jungian for my taste, but Hughes's Vancian prose is wonderful as usual. The first section of the book is the longest, and has the best stuff (which is why I left it for last): here are the first few adventures of that great detective, Hengis Hapthorn. The Hollywood description of these would be "Jack Vance writes Sherlock Holmes," and I loved them.
  • Doom Patrol, Vol.3: Down Paradise Way by Grant Morrison, et. al.
    Morrison was starting to repeat himself here (how many times can a bizarre pseudo-artistic secret society try to destroy the world, anyway?), but the stories were still fun.
  • Dahmane by Dahmane
  • Red Lightning by John Varley
    It's the sequel to Red Thunder, set a generation later, and is Varley again trying to write a Heinlein juvenile for the modern era. It's just as breezy as the first book, though the plot is a bit disjointed and Varley seems to picked up Stan Robinson's Mars Trilogy-era idea that the people of Earth are irredeemably corrupt and bad. Varley's prose is as supple and engaging as always, though I wish he was still writing books like Steel Beach and Golden Globe.
  • The Lord of the Rings Sketchbook by Alan Lee
    Gorgeous art related either to the Centennial Edition of The Lord of the Rings (which Lee illustrated about a decade ago) or that movie trilogy. I didn't used to like Lee's art all that much -- I found it all atmosphere and no subject -- but watching a million DVD documentaries over the past five years have made me a fan of his work. It's still a lot of light pencil sketches and moody watercolors, but now I like it.
  • Dilbert: Thriving on Vague Objectives by Scott Adams
  • Samurai Executioner, Vol.6: Shinko the Kappa by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima
  • Flashman on the March by George MacDonald Fraser
    If I can be half as cool as Fraser when I'm 80, life will be more than worth living.
  • Doonesbury: The Long Road Home by G.B. Trudeau
  • Black Hole by Charles Burns
    Burns is the only comics artist who can come close to Chris Ware in the depressing sweepstakes. I missed the first issue or two of this ten years ago, and ended up waiting for the "trade" (though this is actually a hardcover). That was a good decision; this is one of those books that seems to be a mood piece (because not all that much happens), but it all comes together at the end.
  • Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi
    I haven't read Scalzi's other two novels, but this is a light but fun first contact novel about alien blobs and Hollywood agents.
  • Mad Night by Richard Sala
    Sala does neat creepy comics about cute barefoot girls and hideous deformed ghouls. They're all pretty similar, and this is a good representation of his stuff. If he put out books more often, it would probably pale, but one a year or so is just about right.
  • Astro City: Local Heroes by Kurt Busiek, et. al.
    This is the only meant-to-be-taken-seriously superhero book I can still read, but even it gives me agida now and then. Anything that's too obviously someone else's characters done right (as in this book's not-Lois and not-Clark story) is particularly annoying, since those end up being mostly realistic stories about mostly realistic people acting in utterly stupid Mort-Weisinger ways. I like stories about realistic people in worlds that contain super-powered folks; what I don't like is attempts to make the standard generic superhero furniture make serious dramatic sense. That works so rarely that it's not worth trying anymore; you either need to accept superheroes as non-humans with their own idiosyncratic motivations and psychology, or think up believable ways for super-humans to act and interact with society.
  • The ACME Novelty Library Final Report to Stockholders and Saturday Afternoon Rainy Day Fun Book by F.C. Ware
    I have to admit that I didn't manage to read every single teeny-tiny printed-sideways, faux-advertising word in this book. But I don't think anyone ever does; we all read the comics and skim the text features. Ware's world is, as always, utterly devoid of happiness and even the illusion of happiness. At some point in his career, he's going to have to develop another tone; his art is exquisite and his stories are heart-wrenching, but it's all exquisite and heart-wrenching in exactly the same way as everything else, and that, eventually, won't be enough anymore. I don't think he's quite hit that point yet, but it's starting to loom on the horizon.
  • The Flash: The Secret of Barry Allen by Geoff Johns, et. al.
    If this is what good "mainstream" comics looks like these days, I'm glad I'm not reading them. The art isn't as silly as the mid-90s heyday of Liefeld and his ilk, but this is relentlessly talky (both in captions and dialogue) and just dull; the people have very little in common with human beings besides a general body plan.
  • The Armies of Memory by John Barnes
    A really good SF novel by a writer I tend to forget about between books, though he impresses me each time (and I'm usually very happy to read his books when I see he has a new one).
  • The Stardragons by Bob Eggleton and John Grant
    Love Bob's art, as usual, but the story seemed to mostly be there just to keep the book from being too short. On the other hand, I did mostly just skim it.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Blogger Dating Idiosyncrasies

Blogger allows posts to be dated by hand by the poster (presumably the point isn't to aid nefarious purposes, but those are the ones that come first to mind).

I've found this slightly annoying, since I have to remember to change the time-stamp, and sometimes the date-stamp, every time I post. (I have the kind of excessively fussy mind that insists that a post should be stamped at precisely the time I finished it and sent it off into the ether.)

Today, I had to change the year of a post for the first time (the one just below was started yesterday, which was, of course, last year). And I discovered that the date options run from 1990 through 2006.

1990? Why on earth would anyone need or want to date a post several years before the web existed, and nearly a decade before Blogger started? That's just silly. It almost makes me want to start a fake blog as if it were 1990, and go forward, one day per day, from there. (On second thought: I'm sure someone is already doing that, somewhere out there.)

Reading Into the Past: Week of 1/1

Rolling three dice for the second time, and I get a 4. The dice gods, they toy with me, but I will get even...somehow.

So this week, we'll take a look at what I was reading this week at the start of that amazing year 2002:
  • China Mieville, The Scar (12/27)
  • John Marco, The Eye of God (12/28, only the first half)
  • Sara Douglass, Starman (12/30, skimmed)
  • Tony Millionaire, The Adventures of Sock Monkey (1/1)
My, I was lazy that week, wasn't I? I read four books (one of them a comics collection), and didn't even bother to finish two of them.

The Scar is a great novel; I still think it's Mieville's best to date.

I liked what I read of The Eye of God but it was really long and nothing jumped out at me as particularly salable about it (I was reading it for work). If I'd been reading it for myself, I probably would have finished it, but, then again, I very rarely read epic fantasy for myself, so that's a pretty unlikely possibility,

I lost touch with Sara Douglass's "Wayfarer Redemption" series (of which I think this was the third) somehow -- the first was a perfectly pleasant epic fantasy, and there were things I liked a lot about the second one. But apparently I didn't manage to finish the third, and I've only skimmed bits of the second trilogy (and not really connected with it). There's just too much epic fantasy out there, and it's all too long; I can't even keep up with the series I've been more-or-less reading.

I've read a couple of Tony Millionaire's comics here and there; I love the way he draws, and they're the kind of thing that looks like I should love it. But I just don't, quite, and I'm not sure why. I enjoy it, usually, but it doesn't hit me the way I think it should. (And he publishes a lot of short books, so I miss most of them; that might be part of the problem.)