Thursday, March 30, 2006

Today's WFA Reading: 3/29 and 3/30

Catching up after Kong ate all my free time last night...

Yesterday I got the single coolest piece of mail that I have ever seen. Picture if you will a bright blue plastic bag, about three feet high, with some sort of box inside. The top is sealed with two of those plastic zipper strips, each holding a tag. One of the tags declares that this contraption is an M-Bag and that it came from Malmo, Sweden; the other has routing information via JFK airport. Once I got it open -- I'm saving the bag, by the way, and trying to think of something appropriate to do with it -- I found that there was indeed a box inside, from HarperCollins in the UK. They had sent me five books -- one of which I'd read in the US edition already and one which I have been fighting my way through this week (though that's probably not the book's fault).

Today continued the HarperCollinsization of my life, with another big box, this time from the busy folks at HarperCollinsAustralia, who submitted an even dozen books. (And only one of those, interestingly, does not declare itself to be Book Something of the Whatever Chronicles.)

So: in two days, a net addition of fifteen books to the already groaning stacks. Time to stop typing and get reading...

Bad Blogger -- No Cookie

So there was no post from me yesterday, which I'm sure was a heartbreaking event in human history. I spent the afternoon at work moving my office one flight down in the same building (and the morning getting ready to move and trying to do a day's worth of work), which was a thrill.

My new office is better than my old office because: it's closer to the people I work with, it's not in a dead zone, the usable space is larger, it's all my own and has a door only I control.

My new office is worse than my old office because: there is no window (which I could actually open and close), it is one floor lower, I don't have a second desk to use as an extended outbox, and the hooks on the back of the door aren't as big.

All in all, I like the new digs. And it only took an hour or so to move, which was nice.

I had no time to blog in the evening because The Wife and I spent the time watching King Kong. (We had it in our Netflix queue, and I guess we just got lucky -- I don't know why else we would have gotten it first.) My, that's a long movie.

It's also, sadly, a lousy movie. The mixed reviews really didn't do justice to just how deeply lousy it is. The camera does every trick in the book in a failed attempt to keep the viewer's interest. Lots of characters explain their motivation to each other, or directly to the audience, in dialogue that isn't precisely bad so much as vastly boring. Every single scene runs on too long, several of them (the great Dinosaur Avalanche and the Kong-T. Rex battle) ludicrously so. The CGI is laughably bad in spots, especially during the stampede scene. The action runs entirely at the speed of plot, speeding up where necessary and disappearing (like those biplanes at the end, who take very long turns in between strafing runs) where the poignancy meter needs to be jacked up. And Peter Jackson insists on trying to wring huge pockets of tension out of situations where we already know the outcome. (Will Ann take the job? Will Jack get off the ship? Will the ship be smashed? Will Ann die? Will Jack die? Will Ann die? Will Carl die? Will Ann die? Will Ann die? Will Ann die? Will anyone at all die in any way we feel the slightest emotion about?)

The Wife and I gave up taking it seriously and started making fun of it about forty-five minutes in, which made it pleasant to watch for a while. It's quite suitable for the MST3K treatment, especially during the long, long scenes where all you can hear are various sound effects and Naomi Watts running repeatedly through the phonetic alphabet. Still, The Wife was going to give up on the movie during the interminable capturing-Kong sequence, and I could only convince her to stay by reminding her that she couldn't miss Kong on the Empire State Building after already watching for more than two damn hours. We found it particularly fun to make up our own dialogue for the Ann-Kong scenes, where they're clearly trying to talk about the relationship entirely in pantomime.

It's a nice-looking movie (except for the unconvincing CGI), and Jack Black engagingly chews on the scenery, but King Kong either lost something very large when it left the big screen or all of those critics were just being extraordinarily kind. It is a big mess, and it should have been edited down to under two hours.

Not that Peter Jackson would take my advice about anything, but, Peter, baby? For your next movie, pick an existing, original script, about 90-100 pages long, using a single set, no special effects, and no more than five actors. Maybe do a Dogma 95 thing. Big is not your friend right now, Peter; big is killing you. It's time to get small.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Free Reading for Hugo Voters

John Scalzi has announced that Tor is letting him give away for free his Hugo-nominated novel Old Man's War and Robert Charles Wilson's similarly Hugo-nominated Spin as non-DRMed electronic texts. You do need to be a member of LA Con IV, this year's Worldcon, to qualify, though. (That makes sense, since the point is to make the books available to Hugo voters, and only members of the convention can vote.) This means that means three of the five nominated novels are now freely available to Hugo voters, since Charles Stross's Accelerando is available to anyone electronically under a Creative Commons license. (That one is available to anyone -- and, if you haven't read Stross yet for monetary reasons, do yourself a favor and check it out.)

There are also a few of the short fiction nominees available for free; the official page on the LA Con IV website has the links. And I bet some more of them will become available before the voting deadline; it's becoming quite common these days.

I have no idea if any of this affects any of the voting, but it does mean that no one has to pay to read good SF these days. (Though, if you want good SF to continue appearing, you should find a way to pay the writers you like.)

Monday, March 27, 2006

Today's WFA Reading: 3/27

Three packages today: one additional book from Harper (US), two from Overlook, and seven from Del Rey. I've already read two of the Del Rey books, and one of them was already sent by its British publisher, so it's only a net addition of seven books.

On the reading side, I've gotten through a whopping eight pages of a candidate novel. (I'm very sleepy today, as my cold reacts badly with my heart medication. But I am feeling very relaxed.) It's actually not that bad, since I'm trying to finish off Dozois's latest Year's Best for my other hat -- I got through more than half of it yesterday, and I hope I can finish it tomorrow.

Stanislaw Lem, 1921-2006

Boing Boing has linked to a revision of the Wikipedia entry on Lem, which states that he died in Krakow today. Boing Boing also found an obituary on DNA India. He was 84, and strenuously denied to his last breath that he ever wrote any of that sci-fi crap.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Reading Into the Past: Week of 3/26

The dice roll six this week, so I'll be looking at the books I read this week back in 2000:
  • Asimov's Mirage by Mark W. Tiedemann (3/20)
    Um. I'm not precisely sure this one was, though I do remember it was part of a trilogy of novels in the universe of Asimov's robots stories. A little research reveals that it was the first of a trilogy. I didn't like this one as much as Roger Allen's first robot book, but both trilogies (in common with a lot of Byron Preiss projects) start pretty well and peter out a bit. This one's certainly worth reading, as far as my fuzzy brain can recall.
  • Strange Brains and Genius by Clifford A. Pickover (3/22)
    Double um. Not a single memory of this book remains, though I expect it's some kind of popular science. A quick trip to Amazon tells me that it's an examination of the lives of several eccentric geniuses, but that still doesn't bring it to mind.
  • Star Trek: Preserver by William Shatner with Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens (3/25)
    Triple um. I have never been a Trekker, particularly, but I've generally enjoyed the novels professionally (since they were a) guaranteed to sell well, b) generally short and c) never, ever, more difficult to read than an eighth-grade reader). I'm not sure how any of that translates to any other reader, since I doubt any of you have to read Trekbooks for business reasons. But I can say that I thought the Trek Powers That Be let Shatner get away with a lot more oddball stuff than any other Trekwriter (my assumption was that Random Book-Licensing Middle-Management Guy at Paramount wasn't about to annoy Captain Kirk over something as minor as a book, so they just let him do whatever he wanted). His first trilogy was pleasant, dumb dun, with lots and lots of one-line paragraphs. And his third trilogy (just finishing up this year) seemed a bit padded. But the middle three books were chock full of bizarre skiffy ideas, throwing the Mirror Universe, the Secret Homeworld of the Borg, and Alien Plots from Deep Time into a spicy, if not entirely coherent, gumbo. This is the third of that trilogy, and I suspect it's caviar to Trek-geeks.
and that was it. Not a particularly busy, or exciting, week in the world of reading. I'll try to be more interesting next time.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Ro-o-o-o-o-o-han, Where The Wind Comes Sweeping Down the Plain!

Emerald City rounds up the reviews of the Lord of the Rings musical (which recently opened in Toronto).

By all accounts, it's about as good as it was expected to be.

Today's WFA Reading: 3/25

I'm still trying to post at least once a day (as training for the still-in-the-talking-stages, goddamn-do-bureaucracies-move-slowly officially-official SFBC blog), but Saturdays are still the busy days in my life, which makes that goal a problem.

(Today, for example, I had a list of stuff to do on the back of an old business card -- when your company changes names and/or locations once a year, you end up with a massive surplus of small note paper -- that was about a dozen items long, so I was zipping the Things all over North Jersey for the best part of the day.)

So it's thrilling when I get a useless thing to post: viz., that I received one book from Subterranean Press today. There we go: today's duty fulfilled.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Today's WFA Reading: 3/24

I've been getting cocky lately: there were only a few, small packages this week, and I've been working through the backlog pretty well. So I thought I had a handle on this WFA thing.

And then I come home today to two large boxes and one smaller package: three books from Crowswing Books in the UK (yet another small press I hadn't even heard of), eleven from Bantam here in the states, and an even dozen from Penguin Canada. That will take some time to get through. (Luckily, I've already read two of the Bantam books, including one giant doorstop.)

And most of the publishers I mentioned a few days ago have yet to send me books. I think I'm going to stop taunting publicists now.

Quote of the Week

"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then give up. It's no use being a damn fool over it."
--W.C. Fields

Kids Say the Darndest Things

I'm being too serious this morning, so, to lighten up, let me tell you about how weird Thing 2 is:

A couple of nights ago, Thing 1 and I were building a Lego thing-a-ma-jig on the kitchen table, and Thing 2 was...well, he wasn't really helping, or even trying to help. But he was there, and he was participating, more or less.

I guess watching two people build a Lego ship isn't particularly exciting, especially when you are an exceptionally antsy five-year-old. So Thing 2 started rummaging through the drawer under the table, throwing markers and crayons around, and looking for junk to amuse himself with. He eventually found the perfect combination: scotch tape and safety scissors. He was putting the tape all over the place, and finally decided the best thing to do was tape his mouth shut, which he did several times, for no reason he explained.

And then he started talking about The Scissors of Pain and Darkness. Yes, those little red-handled blunt-tipped scissors were quite ominous. Thing 1 picked up on it as well, and they had a friendly discussion about the proper name for the larger, pointy scissors that they also found. (I believe they eventually settled on The Mega-Scissors of Pain and Darkness.)

I don't know where they get it, but I'm sure I'm responsible, somehow.

Wanna Buy a Slightly Used Highway?

My local paper reports that the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike might be up for sale.

I'm afraid I'm being dense as usual. If these quasi-public entities bring in more revenue than their costs, why would the state want to sell them? And if they don't make a profit, why on earth would any private company want to buy them (and then deal with the legendarily calm, polite and reasonable New Jersey government for all eternity)?

Dubai Ports World: The Lost Savior of American Security

Well, it would have been, according to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff (in a speech to the Council of Foreign Relations yesterday).

How you react to this bit of news I expect will depend on whether you believe Chertoff, and he doesn't have the highest level of credibility these days. But what he says certainly sounds reasonable to me; a large, international, professional organization would do a better job (and be more responsive) than some unspecified, cobbled-together "American entity."

One must wonder, of course, why Chertoff and other Adminstration officials weren't out in public making this point during the hoo-hah. Presumably, they didn't do that because they expected that the American public (as nimble-minded and aware of subtlety as always) wouldn't even understand the argument, let alone agree with it.

And once again I realize that the only good thing about democracy is that it's better than every other political system humans have devised. But that's thin comfort.

Amazing Stories is Dead Again

Locus Online links to a press release from Paizo Publishing announcing that the first real SF magazine, which had been on hiatus, has been officially cancelled. The last issue was #609, cover-dated March 2005.

Amazing has been dead several times before, but in the current gloomy climate for SF magazines, I'd be greatly surprised if it managed another resurrection any time soon.

Robert Jordan Has Amyloidosis

Locus Online has posted a letter from Jim Rigney (who writes as Robert Jordan) about his medical condition. It sounds very serious, but Rigney is upbeat about it (I hope with good reason).

That great sucking sound you hear is several million "Wheel of Time" fans all taking a deep breath at once. I'm no believer in the power of prayer, but if the good wishes of strangers can help anyone, this would be the case.

It doesn't look like there's anything that anyone else can do directly, but I know my best wishes are with Rigney and his friends and family, and I'm sure they're joined by the best wishes of everyone in the SFF world.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The World Is Deeply Weird

When right-wingers create pornographic sculptures for their own propaganda purposes, you can be sure that we aren't in the twentieth century anymore.

I personally am looking forward to the hot new DVD porn series Just Married!: God-Centered Procreative Teen Brides and Their Happy Husbands. It's got to be coming any day now.

Why I'm Raising My Kids in Jersey

From Overheard in New York:

Little boy on cell: ...You're not listening to me! It's not about the snack, it's about the fact that I've had a really hard day and I want to unwind a little.
--University Place Gourmet, 13th and University

John Morressy, 1930-2006

Locus links this morning to an obituary on the SFWA website.

Unlikely Books

I've just had a SFBC member ask the club to offer A Case of Conscience by James Belushi.

That would certainly be an interesting book, I'll grant him that...

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Today's WFA Reading: 3/22

I'm back on another streak, I guess, since there was another package today. Just one book in it -- My Rose & My Glove, a story collection from Harvey Jacobs -- from Darkside Press.

Since I actually finished reading one book for WFA today, that means I'm exactly even for the day.

A Little Lunch-Time Inside Baseball

Anna Louise Genoese has posted a detailed explanation (originally by Teresa Nielsen Hayden) of how to do a real character count on a manuscript, for the benefit of those of you who aren't doing this all of the freaking time already.

I'm always fascinated by publishing minutiae, and desperately want to know how other people are doing the things I do, so this was quite interesting. (I was reminded that my cast-offs tend to be very half-assed, but they're generally good enough for what I need them to do.)

And, for those of you in the business, I'll tell you the secret SFBC numbers, for your amazement. If you've ever wondered how we do so many omnibuses, and just plain big fat books, here's how: Our standard character count for one page of an A-sized book (five and a half inches by eight and a quarter) is 2665. And the character count for a B-sized book page (six and an eighth by nine and a quarter) is 3300. Lots of words on those pages, you betcha.

Your 2006 Hugo Nominees

Charlie Stross linked to what looks like an official announcement in rec.arts.sf.fandom, and I'm sure this is percolating around the web as I type this.

The nominees are:

Best Novel
Learning the World, Ken MacLeod (Orbit; Tor)
A Feast for Crows, George R.R. Martin (Voyager; Bantam Spectra)
Old Man's War, John Scalzi (Tor)
Accelerando, Charles Stross (Ace; Orbit)
Spin, Robert Charles Wilson (Tor)

(Only one of the books I nominated made it, which is a bit disappointing. And now I really do need to read Old Man's War and Spin.)

Best Novella
Burn, James Patrick Kelly (Tachyon)
"Magic for Beginners", Kelly Link (Magic for Beginners, Small Beer Press; F&SF September 2005)
"The Little Goddess", Ian McDonald (Asimov’s June 2005)
"Identity Theft", Robert J. Sawyer (Down These Dark Spaceways, SFBC)
"Inside Job", Connie Willis (Asimov’s January 2005)

(Three of my nominees made it, plus I've heard good things about Burn -- and I'm thrilled for "Identity Theft," which is the first SFBC anything to be nominated for a Hugo.)

Best Novelette
"The Calorie Man", Paolo Bacigalupi (F&SF October/November 2005)
"Two Hearts", Peter S. Beagle (F&SF October/November 2005)
"TelePresence", Michael A. Burstein (Analog July/August 2005)
"I, Robot”, Cory Doctorow (The Infinite Matrix February 15, 2005)
"The King of Where-I-Go", Howard Waldrop (SCI FICTION December 7, 2005)

(Nothing I nominated, but I think most of my "Novelette" nominations were really short stories, anyway. I was really disorganized this year.)

Best Short Story
"Seventy-Five Years", Michael A. Burstein (Analog January/February 2005)
"The Clockwork Atom Bomb", Dominic Green (Interzone May/June 2005)
"Singing My Sister Down", Margo Lanagan (Black Juice, Allen & Unwin; Eos)
"Tk’tk’tk", David D. Levine (Asimov’s March 2005)
"Down Memory Lane", Mike Resnick (Asimov’s April/May 2005)

(Again, nothing. It is a travesty that Alastair Reynolds's "Beyond the Aquila Rift" didn't get nominated in whatever category it actually fits in -- I now think it should have been here, but I nominated it as a novelette. On the other hand, I haven't read any of these yet, so they may all be amazingly brilliant.)

Best Related Book
Transformations: The Story of the Science Fiction Magazines from 1950 to 1970, Mike Ashley (Liverpool)
The SEX Column and Other Misprints, David Langford (Cosmos)
Science Fiction Quotations, edited by Gary Westfahl (Yale)
Storyteller: Writing Lessons and More from 27 Years of the Clarion Writers' Workshop, Kate Wilhelm (Small Beer Press)
Soundings: Reviews 1992-1996, Gary K. Wolfe (Beccon)

(If I'd been more organized, that's the Langford book I would have realized was eligible and nominated, so I'm happy to see it made it without my help.)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
Batman Begins
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit

(I nominated W&G and haven't seen any of the others.)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
Battlestar Galactica “Pegasus”
Doctor Who “Dalek”
Doctor Who “The Empty Child” & “The Doctor Dances”
Doctor Who “Father’s Day”
Jack-Jack Attack
Lucas Back in Anger
Prix Victor Hugo Awards Ceremony

(I don't watch skiffy TV, but I'm happy to see last year's Hugo Awards ceremony got enough support to edge onto the ballot.)

Best Professional Editor
Ellen Datlow (SCI FICTION and anthologies)
David G. Hartwell (Tor Books; Year's Best SF)
Stanley Schmidt (Analog)
Gordon Van Gelder (F&SF)
Sheila Williams (Asimov’s)

(Only one of my nominees survived the cut.)

Best Professional Artist
Jim Burns
Bob Eggleton
Donato Giancola
Stephan Martiniere
John Picacio
Michael Whelan

(Two of my nominees -- and it's nice to see Picacio, last year's WFA winner, nudge in among the familiar names.)

Best Semiprozine
Ansible edited by Dave Langford
Emerald City edited by Cheryl Morgan
Interzone edited by Andy Cox
Locus edited by Charles N. Brown, Kirsten Gong-Wong, & Liza Groen Trombi
The New York Review of Science Fiction edited by Kathryn Cramer, David G. Hartwell & Kevin J. Maroney

(All four of the ones I nominated made it, which only proves I don't read very deeply in semiprozines.)

Best Fanzine
Banana Wings edited by Claire Brialey & Mark Plummer
Challenger edited by Guy H. Lillian III
Chunga edited by Andy Hooper, Randy Byers & carl juarez
File 770 edited by Mike Glyer
Plokta edited by Alison Scott, Steve Davies & Mike Scott

(A category that I never know anything about.)

Best Fan Writer
Claire Brialey
John Hertz
Dave Langford
Cheryl Morgan
Steven H Silver

(Three of my four nominees on the final ballot, but, again, probably because I only know about the famous fanwriters to begin with.)

Best Fan Artist
Brad Foster
Teddy Harvia
Sue Mason
Steve Stiles
Frank Wu

(More stuff I don't know about.)

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer of 2004 or 2005 [Not a Hugo]
K.J. Bishop (2nd year of eligibility)
Sarah Monette (2nd year of eligibility)
Chris Roberson (2nd year of eligibility)
Brandon Sanderson (1st year of eligibility)
John Scalzi (1st year of eligibility)
Steph Swainston (2nd year of eligibility)

(Three of my nominees, which is a lot.)

And the proposed Best Interactive Video Game category was dropped due to a lack of interest. Which I suppose proves that SF fans may indeed be geeky, but we're not uniformly geeky.

Now, it's up to the members of LA Con IV to examine the nominees and vote. If you are a member, please do vote. (I plan to.)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Today's WFA Reading: 3/21

One box today, with two books from Golden Gryphon. One of them I was half-planning to read for the SFBC anyway, so now I have two good excuses.

I guess whenever I start wondering if the flow has slowed down, and I might be able to catch up, that's the signal to start burying me all over again. Time to read faster.

Opinions Wanted!

I'm thinking about adding a hit counter to this blog, to find out for sure if I have fifteen readers or only ten. And I also thought that there are probably other tools that can give me useless data to geek out about (I know I've seen charts and bar graphs somewhere!), which is always desirable.

So I wanted to ask those of you out there: do you have hit counters on your blogs? How did you get them, and how did you decide to go with one over another? (It looks like there are a bunch of sites that will do it for free, and I can't tell how they're different.) Anyone getting more detailed statistics? Is this something that can be done quickly and easily, or will it be some big, complicated project? And is it even worth it in the first place?

Hm. Checking Technorati, I see Antick Musings now has 36 links from 15 sites, and is ranked # 189,100. All of those numbers, I think, are substantially up from the last time I looked, and the links seem to be mostly Itzkoff-related. So I guess the conventional wisdom about the blog world is correct: the way to get a higher profile is to be against things as loudly as possible (and preferably in an entertaining manner, but that's optional). I wonder if there's anything I can take a loud -- but principled! -- stand against this week?

The News Comes By Sled-Dog to Alaska

I see (via Jeff VanderMeer) that David Marusek only found out we were all loudly arguing about him last Friday.

Marusek correctly points out that we weren't actually arguing about him, or even about his novel -- we were all pretty much just slinging mud at David Itzkoff. Now that I've realized that, I feel that somebody should defend Counting Heads; it's a fine novel and a great achievement. Unfortunately, I read it long enough ago that I don't remember it all that well. What I remember best about it are the structural issues, and defending a book by saying another critic has completely missed its real flaws is not the tactic I'd prefer to use.

I see in another blog post that Marusek wants to put together a short story collection, and plans to lobby his Tor editor on the subject. It's not my place to butt in, but, in my biased opinion, I think he'd be better off trying to do a collection with a smaller press. (I name no specific names to maintain some slight shred of objectivity.) That wouldn't screw with his Tor sales history and could help with his in-the-field cred. And the small press just seems like the right place for a short-story collection (by anyone but the very hugest names) these days.

But, whoever does it, a Marusek collection would be a great idea. If Tor bites at the idea, good for them. If they don't, I hope someone else does.

Reading Into the Past: Week of 3/19

It's Sunday, so the dice roll again. This time I got a 14, which sends me back to 1992, nearly the beginning of my reading notebook:
  • Unquenchable Fire by Rachel Pollack (3/15)
    An absolutely brilliant fantasy novel by a writer who I wish would write more books like this. (The semi-sequel was also wonderful, but her novel after that left me very cold.)
  • The Names by Don DeLillo (3/16)
    I can't even remember which DeLillo novel this was; I ran through all of them in 1992-1994, as I recall. (Amazons it: oh, this is the one set in Greece. I still don't remember it.)
  • Dave Barry's Only Travel Guide You'll Ever Need (3/17)
    One of the most lightweight of Barry's books, but amusing as always. If you like him, you'll enjoy this (slightly less than some of his stuff). If you can't stand him, this will be essence of chalkboard nails to you.
  • God: The Ultimate Autobiography by the Author of All Creation with Jeremy Pascal, the holy ghostwriter (3/18)
    We sold a ton of these in the SFBC, and had been selling them by the metric shitload for a couple of years when I arrived, so I took a look at it after I'd been with the club about a year. It was pleasant religious humor, on the iconoclastic side, but it wasn't that funny. Of course, this was during the years when Ellen Asher kept saying we should do a "Blasphemy" flyer, with books like this and Jim Morrow's Only Begotten Daughter. (There were more than that, as I recall; we had a tidy little corner on blasphemy in those days.) It also has the distinction of being the only book that was both featured in the SFBC and had questions asked about it in the British House of Commons.
And then on the 20th I finished both Light Elements by Judith Stone and Count Geiger's Blues by Michael Bishop. The latter is one of the better prose super-hero stories; the former has completely escaped from my mind. (One quick trip to Amazon later, I see that it's a collection of short science essays.)

Monday, March 20, 2006

Today's WFA Reading: 3/20

Three packages today: three books from Knopf, one from Prime and three from Aqueduct. Not a lot, but it all looks interesting. (And "a lot" wouldn't necessarily be the best thing, since my stacks are already ominously high.)

The odd thing is that we were empanelled about two months ago, and so far I've only seen one book from Ace, one ineligible book from Del Rey, and none from DAW, Warner, Roc, Night Shade, Subterranean or Bantam. I just hope those houses aren't planning to send in everything right at the June 1st deadline; there's no way we'll be able to read their books that quickly.

(So if any of you lurking out there are the publicists of any of those lines, I for one am looking for your stuff.)

Upcoming Celebrations

I see from the Grumpy Old Bookman that it's nearly time for Buy a Friend a Book Week again.

Itzkoff to Fowler to Schaub to Morgan to Tinker to Evers to Chance

Cheryl Morgan has put out a "Let's you and him fight" APB about Michael Schaub's Bookslut post about Karen Joy Fowler's remembrance of Octavia Butler at Salon. (And if anyone tells you the blog world is incestuous and overly connected, this is exactly what they're talking about.)

I refuse to rise to the bait (he said, while posting on this very subject), and, actually, I find I mostly agree with Schaub. Fowler's last two paragraphs are tacked-on, and don't follow naturally from the rest of her essay. I still don't think the reaction to Itzkoff was "comical rage," but I seem to be parsing emotional states very often, and very finely, in this discussion. (For myself, again, the aim was deliberately comical, but faux-rage at best.)

Come to think of it, I believe Schaub is misreading the reaction of SFnal bloggers (in thinking that we all hate The Times) because he's used to a different segment of the blog world. Blogging is famous for attracting would-be journalists (or pseudo-journalists, or people doing things that are similar to journalism in some ways), but the blog world is much wider than that. The SF blog sub-world that's gotten upset by Itzkoff, for example, is mostly made up of writers and other professionals. We're not frustrated newspapermen; I don't think any of us resent The New York Times for not hiring us to do Itzkoff's job. We're worried because he looks to be dangerously incompetent for the job, and it's a high-profile job that directly affects our end of the book biz.

(On the other hand, Counting Heads surged up Amazon's bestseller list on the Monday after Itzkoff's review, proving once again that even bad publicity is usually good publicity.)

If you asked us six months ago what we'd like to see in a Times SF reviewer, we might possibly have said "I'd like to see a guy who explains what he likes and doesn't like, who take a high profile in the Book Review and the wider world, and who sparks discussions about the books he reviews." So maybe we'd better be a bit more careful with our second wish, or we'll find that the sausage is stuck on our collective nose.

Return to Rikers Island

Another correction:

Locus Online reported Thursday that the previously-announced partnership between Tor Books and Baen's WebScription program was not quite as final as had been thought. If I were a betting man (which I am not), I would still put money that this will happen, but it's still up in the air and any questions of timing are now very premature.

David Feintuch, 1944-2006

Locus Online reported over the weekend that SF/Fantasy writer David Feintuch -- best known for the "Nicholas Seafort" series -- died last week of a heart attack.

The closest thing to an obituary online at this point seems to be this remembrance by fellow writer Michael A. Burstein.

I never met him personally, but he did spontaneously ask to write a new introduction for the book club edition of the first two "Seafort" books, and that kind of enthusiasm and energy (looking for something new and interesting to do, and wanting to keep in touch with his readers) always makes me favorably disposed to an author. He was yet another writer who I expected I'd run into "some day" at a Worldcon or somewhere like that, but now it's too late. My condolences to his family.

Several Awards Announced at ICFA

Emerald City reports the following awards were announced Saturday night at a gala banquet at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts:

The Lord Ruthven Award for best vampire novel went to The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, with Octavia Butler's Fledgling as the runner-up.

The Dell Magazines Award for best short fiction by a student went to Meghan Sinoff, apparently for a body of work rather than a single story.

And the very complicated Crawford Award (which goes to a writer who has published a debut book in the past eighteen months, but is emphatically not given to the specific book that made that writer eligible) went to Joe Hill, due to his collection 20th Century Ghosts.

Congratulations to all, and I hope this means I'll enjoy The Historian and 20th Century Ghosts when I get to them.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Today's WFA Reading: 3/17

As we were all bundling into the car to take me to Lunacon on Friday (to set the scene: the characters are Yr. Humble Narrator, The Wife and Thing 2, in a supporting role in his car seat; Thing 1 was at school), the mail truck pulled up and the guy handed me a pile of small packages rubber-banded together. Besides something for a neighbor and a Pottery Barn-related missive for The Wife, the rest were WFA packages for me.

And thus I opened them in the car on the way (in and around eating lunch in the car, since we didn't have time to stop and eat -- it would have been bad if The Wife had not made it back to pick up Thing 1 from school on time on his birthday, after all).

Damn, my sentences are convoluted today. If I had more time, I'd rewrite that into some semblance of sense. But, anyway...

So I got: a British YA novel via its US importer, Mothers and Other Monsters and two issues of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet from Small Beer, two issues of Paradox magazine, and Elizabeth Moon's excellent space opera Engaging the Enemy from Del Rey. (I think I need to call their publicist and make sure there's no confusion over there about what is and isn't eligible for the World Fantasy Awards...)

Which meant I found myself putting more books into my bags on the way to a convention, which is earlier than ever for me, and is a bad precedent. I hope not to do it again.

At the convention, I got two things: The Separation by Christopher Priest (for WFA-related reasons) and a nifty book called How to Keep Dinosaurs by Robert Mash (which is exactly what it sounds like: a book for people thinking about keeping a dinosaur as a pet, with lots of descriptions of different species and wonderfully Photoshopped illustrations).

Friday, March 17, 2006

Off to Lunacon

I'll be leaving in an hour or so, and I don't expect to be connected at any time while I'm there. (I don't have a laptop, and the days of convention Internet rooms seems to have passed.) So the next time you hear from me will, I expect, be on Sunday night for the weekly "Reading Into the Past" memory-stretcher. Also, if anyone out there tries to e-mail me after about noon, I probably won't see it for two days.

In other news, Thing 1 turns eight years old today. Go him.

Quote of the Week

"Sure, there are dishonest men in local government. But there are dishonest men in national government too."
--Richard M. Nixon

Thursday, March 16, 2006

More News: Dutch Demand Tolerance! (Please)

This is my day for news-blogging, I guess. I still haven't made it through the first section of the newspaper.

The Netherlands has rolled out a new compulsory exam for some immigrants (it doesn't apply to EU nationals, asylum-seekers, skilled workers above a set income threshold, or citizens of the US, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland -- just about anybody who might possibly be reading this, actually).

As part of the exam process, applicants have to watch a movie about Dutch life, along with the usual studying of random historical facts and points of national pride. The article mentions that the film shows a gay kiss and a topless bather, but not whether legal drug use and prostitution is also depicted -- I'd guess not, since those would be nice shocking things to dismay Americans with, and so would have certainly been included in the article. Apparently, some of the questions on the exam are based on the movie.

I imagine the movie is like all tourist films anywhere: bland, pleasant-looking but boring puffery about how wonderful everything is. But I do wonder about that exam now. I wonder if the questions are like those on-line hentai quizzes?

Q1: The naked girl's hair was what color?
A: Green
B: Purple
C: Orange
D: She had a shaved head.

Q2: The gay man to the left was pierced where?
A: Eyebrow
B: Nose
C: Left Testicle
D: Behind the Knee

Of course, this is an official government form, so it's probably more like this:

Q396: The Netherlands believes in toleration of sexual relations of what type?
A: Between a man and his wife only after Allah has blessed their marriage
B: Between any two consenting people above sixteen years of age
C: Among any number of consenting people above sixteen years of age
D: Among any carbon-based lifeforms, as long as the sheep consents

Survey Says: Americans Get Equally Mediocre Health Care

I do try to stay out of politics here (since Ghod knows the world doesn't need more political blogs), but I have a soft spot for studies that contradict the received wisdom.

So this new story hitting the AP wire this morning intrigued me. A survey of 7,000 patients (all people living in urban areas who sought treatment), reported in today's New England Journal of Medicine, indicated that all Americans get roughly equal medical treatment. Unfortunately, they all got between 51% and 58% of the recommended steps for top-quality care, which the doctors conducting the study found unencouraging.

The optimistic assessment is that our system, while clearly deficient in some areas, does deliver care at a consistent standard across all types of patients. I myself am usually a pessimist, though, so I see that we can waste vast amounts of money to barely reach adequacy.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Today's WFA Reading: 3/15

Two packages today: a small one from Tachyon containing Strange Itineraries by Tim Powers (which I blogged about nearly six months ago; it's wonderful and essential) and a larger one from Harcourt (who are actually just a few stories upstairs from me at the office) with a half-dozen interesting YA books.

Nothing's fallen over and killed me yet, so I think I'm doing OK.

My Lunacon Schedule

On the off-chance that anyone out there both reads this blog and wants to say hi to me at Lunacon this weekend, here's what I'm supposed to be doing there:
  • Driving the Snakes from Hasbrouck Heights, a panel on snakes in SFF (yes, I know -- I hope it will wander off topic quickly) on Friday at 4
  • Children's Fantasy, an obvious panel, on Saturday at 10.
  • Post-Apocalyptic SF, another obvious panel, Saturday at 6
  • Urban Fantasy, Sunday at noon
Otherwise, I'll probably be wandering aimlessly through the dealer's room or sitting in a semi-public comfy chair reading (either Glasshouse or The Year's Best Science Fiction, 23rd Annual, I hope).

Hope to see all you loonies sometime over the weekend -- and this hotel can't possibly be as hard to get to as last year's.

Science Fiction Hall of Fame Inductees for 2006 Widely Leaked

I can't really say this has been "announced," since there's still nothing on the official web site of the Seattle Science Fiction Museum.

But Locus is now the seventh site I've seen to list the same four presumed inductees to the Hall of Fame this year, so it looks pretty official at this point. (Also, some of those stories run the same piece from the UPI wire, so it looks like the museum just put it out as a press release and forgot to announce it themselves.)

Your Hall-of-Famers for 2006 sadly do not include Black Sabbath and the Sex Pistols, but do include George Lucas, Frank Herbert, Anne McCaffrey and Frank Kelly Freas. The official ceremony will be held June 17th, and reportedly will be hosted by Neil Gaiman.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Today's WFA Reading: 3/13

One slim package today, with one slim book inside: Dr. Black and the Guerrillia by Brendan Connell. It was published by Grafitisk, in Slovenia, which is deeply cool. So I hope it's good.

What's the Opposite of Schadenfreude?

I'm hitting the point in my life (late thirties) where people I know are getting the Big Jobs and getting to do the Cool Stuff. And it's exciting and thrilling, especially since I'm not particularly being left behind. (I do have the word "Senior" in my title, and I'm judging a literary award this year, so I'm getting my fair share of the Cool Stuff.)

A few weeks ago I learned that an ex-colleague (whom I haven't seen in a few years) was named a vice president, and now Craig Engler (a good guy and convention friend) is now a Senior VP at, and I couldn't be happier for either of them. All of my friends and acquaintances should run the world; that's just the natural order of things.

Now, if I can just get my Death Ray working, I'll have an announcement of my own to make...

The Clarke Shortlist, Dissected

I learn from Emerald City that Adam Roberts casts his beady eye on the shortlist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award every year for Infinity Plus, and this year's effort is available online. I don't know how I've managed to miss this in past years, but it is a wonder and a joy. Roberts is both a very incisive reader and a persuasive, clear writer, and he's willing to criticize major novels without descending into personal attacks. (Which is very rare in the SFF world.)

In particular, Roberts is so right about Never Let Me Go that I almost found myself pumping my fist in the air while reading his review.

Knowing that Roberts is out there looking this closely at the best novels in the field also makes me quite happy that I'm not now, and don't intend to become, a fiction writer. But he's a great treasure for readers, which is the point of a critic.

Just Keep Banging Those Rocks Together

Ian McFayden explains everything you need to know to write that bestselling epic fantasy novel you've been dreaming about. (Seen via Paperback Writer.)

If just thinking about The Tough Guide to Fantasyland depresses you, you won't want to click on that link.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Reading Into the Past: Week of 3/12

Another Sunday night, another dice-roll. This time I got a 10, so I'll be looking at the books I read this week in 1996, to see what I can remember about them:
  • Lord Emsworth and Others by P.G. Wodehouse (3/5)
    A collection of stories by the master -- they're not his best work, as I recall, but they were greatly entertaining.
  • The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold by Evelyn Waugh (3/6)
    A minor Waugh novel, chiefly interesting since it was a thinly-veiled fictionalization of the breakdown that happened to him just a few years before.
  • Remembering Denny by Calvin Trillin (3/6)
    I'm a big Trillin fan, but this is not one of my favorites of his -- it's a look at the life of one of his (Yale?) classmates, a golden boy who everyone expected to do great things but who didn't and died young. Maybe I'll read it again in ten years, but I really didn't care about the unfulfilled dreams of baby boomers, and their yearning to have even more of the world revolve around them. (Yes, that is unnecessarily harsh, but the boomers will always deserve it.)
  • The Nutmeg of Consolation by Patrick O'Brian (3/8)
    I have no idea which one this is, or any clue what the title referred to. I guess I'll have to re-read them all, one of these decades.
  • Fox Trot en masse by Bill Amend (3/9)
    A treasury-sized (roughly 8x11, with color inserts) collection of the comic strip.
  • The Year's Best Science Fiction, Thirteenth Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois (3/10)
    The best short SF of 1995, preserved in amber for all to see. I don't recall if I thought it was a particularly good or bad year then.
  • The Goblin Companion by Brian Froud and Terry Jones (3/10)
    This would have been during the "Lady Cottington" peak years, I think, so I imagine this was an attempt to make lightning strike again. I don't remember it well, and I don't think I was terribly impressed. (But, then, I didn't like any of the squashed faeries books, so I'm not reliable on this point.)
  • Stephen E. Fabian's Women and Wonders (3/10)
    A very nice book of art from Underwood-Miller, by a great black and white artist whose work I haven't seen for ages. (Possibly because b&w work is very rarely wanted these days.)
  • The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss (3/11)
    This is probably a collection of his advertising art and other early work. [goes to the shelf to check] Nope; this collects Geisel's personal works -- watercolors and sculptures, mostly -- the pieces that he did for himself, not for the books.
  • Spectrum 2: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art, Second Annual Collection (3/12)
    The best fantastic art of 1995. I've found these books indispensable over the past decade or so; I keep a second set in my office so that I can pull down the last year or three whenever we're talking about illustrators.
And the big book I was reading most of that week (since I finished it on the 13th) was Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World. I imagine I started that right after the O'Brian, and knocked off the art books to keep that pile from getting too tall. (Then as now -- nothing ever really changes.)

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Today's WFA Reading: 3/10

I got two small packages yesterday of WFA-bound goodness, both sent par avion (I love those little blue stickers; they make me feel so cosmopolitan) from the UK. And I forgot to blog about them then.

In one was the small magazine Supernatural Tales, issue #9. (Yet another magazine I'd never heard of, which is par for the course with me.) And the other one had three novels (or possibly novellas-published-as-books; further examination is required) from Telos Publishing.

Since I react to nearly every new situation by making lists, I plan to make a list of the publishing companies that have sent materials for the awards. (And then, of the companies I expect to see things from, but haven't yet.) I'm not sure what my next step will be after that (besides reading more), but making a list always helped in the past...

Spectrum Award Winners Are Announced

Someday soon (I hope), the official SFBC blog will happen, and I'll post awards news there. (Unless I have something in particular to say about the works or the award itself, I don't plan to also post about it here.)

Until that day, though, I'm trying to remember to do it here, so that stimulus: award announcement, response: blog it! becomes utterly ingrained in my psyche.

Anyway, Locus Online lists the winners of the annual Spectrum competition for fantasy art (you know, the one that results in the cool book every year?). The judges this year included such way-cool artists as Brom, Bruce Jensen, Stephan Martiniere and the comics journalist Heidi "Ace" MacDonald. (They also included two previously-unfamiliar-to-me people: Christopher Klein, art director of National Geographic, and Meg Walsh, an artist whose work I've never seen but which I'm sure is also way-cool.)

Congratulations to all of the winners, thanks to the judges, and I look forward to seeing this year's book.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Incoming Books: 10 March

I took the day off from work today, for various reasons (one of them being that I have 20 vacation days a year now, so I need to take random days here and there to use 'em up). And, of course, what's there to do on the first warm, sunny Friday of the year?

That's right: go to the bookstore. Once again I went to the Montclair Book Center and got a pile of things I shouldn't read until WFA judging is over. I was hoping to get a copy of The Complete Calvin & Hobbes, but they didn't have one in stock. So, instead, I found:
  • Happily Ever After, a new collection of Charles Addams cartoons (loosely about love, so I bet it was published last month). I wish someone would do his complete cartoons, but this looks to have a bunch of things I don't recognize, so that's pretty good.
  • Dave Barry's Money Secrets: Dave Barry is one of my guilty pleasures. His books are very funny, and I usually read one of them in less than two hours (which I, unlike most people, think is a good thing).
  • Code of Arms by Lawrence Block and Harold King: one of vanishingly few Larry Block books I don't have and haven't read; I'm sure this is minor but I got a hardcover in good shape for under ten bucks, so I'm happy.
  • What Would Satan Do? by Pat Byrnes: another collection of single-panel cartoons. I haven't seen lots of Byrnes's work yet, but it looks pretty good, and I love cartoon books.
  • One King, One Soldier by Alexander C. Irvine: I really liked A Scattering of Jades a few years back, and I just loved The Narrows last month. Now I just hope I can find some time to read the book in between -- someday.
  • "Nice Guys Finish Seventh": False Phrases, Spurious Sayings, and Familiar Misquotations by Ralph Keyes: a book on misquotations.
  • Work and Other Sins: Life in New York and Thereabouts by Charlie LeDuff: a book of New York Times reportage, focusing on profiles of ordinary people.
  • Pearls Before Swine: The Ratvolution Will Not Be Televised by Stephan Pastis: a collection of the newspaper strip
  • Expletive Deleted: A Good Look at Bad Language by Ruth Wajnryb: a short book on swear words by an Australian linguist with a last name that looks like a bad Scrabble hand.
The good news is that there's only two novels there; the rest are books I can read in bits and pieces (which is what I'll end up doing). Still, I should be reading something for WFA right now.

Hugo Nomination Deadline is Tonight

If you haven't nominated yet, today is your last chance. You don't have to nominate in all categories (I didn't, and I bet most people don't), but if you'd like to give your favorite works and people of 2005 a boost, the time to do it is now. As I write this, there's a little over ten hours to the deadline.

Just go to the online form, type in your information (have your Interthingy or LA Con IV ID number and PIN handy) and go to town on it. Wait until your boss is on the other side of the floor if you have to...

Thursday, March 09, 2006

It's My Babelfish, and it's Freaking Me Out!

Diana Peterfreund thought up a bizarre and fun new way to waste time and create blog posts: take the lyrics of a song, run them through Babelfish (English to German to French and back to English) and post the results.

So here we have:
As I by this ordinary world of
Searchin ' for the light in the blackening of the psychosis go.
I wonder, all the lost hope that is?
There is only one pain and hatred and misery?
And I feel each time am if towards the interior, there a thing which I would like to know: What is the love of peace of so merry period and a comprehension?
Ohhhh what the love of peace of so merry period and comprehension?

And since I went by at worrying times,
Does my spirit receive downhearted sometimes so thus,
Where the forts are and that which is intimate?
And where is the harmony? Soft harmony.
You cause each one at time that I believe him far slippin,
Right types me to cry would like.
What is the love of peace of so merry period and a comprehension?
Ohhhh what the love of peace of so merry period and comprehension?
Thus, where the forts are? And that which is intimate?
And where is the harmony? Soft harmony.

You cause each one at time that I believe him far slippin,
Right types me to cry would like.
What is the love of peace of so merry period and a comprehension?
Ohhhh what the love of peace of so merry period and comprehension?
Are Ohhhh what ' the love of peace of so merry period and comprehension?

Any Book Reviewers Out There?

This is a brief, semi-professional announcement, and I promise we'll get back to frivolity and Itzkoff-bashing immediately thereafter.

I've recently gotten e-mails from two book reviewers, asking to see SFBC titles, and apologizing for bothering the editor on a publicity matter. Well, the SFBC doesn't really have a publicist (our parent company just hired one publicity person, but she's going to be very busy, and not doing the boring minor stuff like sticking books in envelopes). So I am actually the guy you want.

If you review SFF relatively professionally, and would like to see our originals for review, please e-mail me at my work address (above, in my profile). If you review online, give me a link to the site; otherwise, I'll give you my snail-mail address so you can send me clips.

I'm of the "reviews are free publicity" school, so I'd like to get our books out to as many places as I can. So let me know, if this applies to you. I haven't turned anyone down yet, but I suppose there is a certain level of professionalism I'm looking for, and I'll know it when I (don't) see it.

Quote of the Week

"Always run from a knife and rush a gun."
--Jimmy Hoffa

Edit: Apparently, I either don't know what day it is, or have forgotten that I usually post these on Friday. I'm going to pretend this quote is early because I'm taking tomorrow off from work -- though what that has to do with my personal blog, I'd be hard-pressed to explain.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

My Hugo Nominations

First, the disclaimers: I usually try to read Dozois's Year's Best Science Fiction before nominating, since I don't get to read much short fiction otherwise, and I do like to nominate across as many categories as I can. This year, however, St. Martin's hasn't gotten it to me yet, so I've read less short stuff than usual. Also, I can only nominate things I've read and liked -- I can't read everything, and I tend to be grumpy, so I don't like some things that are probably perfectly wonderful.

Anyway, here's what I'm nominating this year:

Best Novel:
Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
The Narrows by Alexander C. Irvine
Counting Heads by David Marusek
Learning the World by Ken MacLeod
Thud! by Terry Pratchett

Best Novella:
"Magic for Beginners" by Kelly Link
"The Little Goddess" by Ian McDonald
"Audubon in Atlantis" by Harry Turtledove
"Inside Job" by Connie Willis

Best Novelette:
"The Gist Hunter" by Matthew Hughes
"Rats of the System" by Paul McAuley
"The Policeman's Daughter" by Wil McCarthy
"Written in the Stars" by Ian McDonald
"Beyond the Aquila Rift" by Alastair Reynolds

Best Short Story:
"Second Person, First Tense" by Darryl Gregory
"Third Day Lights" by Alaya Johnson
"Monster" by Kelly Link
"Sheila" by Lauren McLaughlin
"Girls and Boys, Come Out To Play" by Michael Swanwick

Best Related Book:
Raw Spirit by Iain Banks
Spectrum 12 edited by Cathy & Arnie Fenner
Up Through an Empty House of Stars by David Langford
The Lord of the Rings Sketchbook by Alan Lee
The Disappointment Artist by Jonathan Lethem

Best Professional Editor:
Ellen Asher
Ginjer Buchanan
Anne Groell
David G. Hartwell
Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Best Professional Artist:
Donato Giancola
Bruce Jensen
Todd Lockwood
Stephan Martiniere
John Jude Palencar

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form:
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form:
Prix Victor Hugo Award Ceremonies at Interaction

Best Semiprozine:
Emerald City
The New York Review of Science Fiction

Best Fanzine:
no nominations

Best Fan Writer:
David Langford
Cheryl Morgan
James Nicoll
Steven H. Silver

Best Fan Artist:
no nominations

Best Interactive Video Game:
The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction
Lego Star Wars

John W. Campbell (Not a Hugo) Award for Best New Writer:
K.J. Bishop
Alaya Johnson
Justine Larbalestier
Chris Roberson
John Scalzi

If anyone reading this is a member of this year's or last year's Worldcon, and hasn't nominated yet -- do it now.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Today's WFA Reading: 3/7

I hadn't gotten anything for WFA consideration for quite a while -- long enough that I was beginning to wonder if I needed to confront my mailman. But the drought broke yesterday, with three issues of a 'zine called Dreams and Nightmares. I haven't looked at them closely, but they seem to be all poetry. (I'm not sure where that fits into the WFA categories, so it's time to scrutinize the instructions once again.)

Today's mail was one book, from FSG: Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham. I've heard absolutely glowing reports of this novel from several widely separated sources, so I'm looking forward to it.

Also arriving today, but not for WFA consideration (or to be read any time soon) is a new book from the Library of America: James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, A Death in the Family, & Shorter Fiction.

This is a Public Service Announcement...With Guitar

The deadline for Hugo Nominations is this Friday. Unless you have very dependable and quick mail service, your best bet at this point is to nominate online. If you're a member of LA Con IV, or were a member of Interthingy, please do take some time to think about what you read and nominate the stuff you liked best -- the Hugos are supposed to be our awards, and they work better the more people nominate and vote.

At this point I should shill for things I was involved in. I'm not a writer, so there's nothing of my own to mention. I did edit Off the Main Sequence last year, but that's not eligible for anything as far as I can figure. (I can't say I entirely understand the rules governing Best Related Book, but I'm pretty sure a short story collection is right out.) So let me instead suggest that if you liked any of the stories in SFBC's original anthologies last year (Marvin Kaye's The Fair Folk and Mike Resnick's Down These Dark Spaceways), please remember them when filling out your Hugo Nomination form.

I intend to nominate tonight -- my notes are at home -- and probably post what I nominated here, in case anyone is so blinded by my brilliant Editorial Glow (TM) as to follow me slavishly.

Welcome to Rikers Island

This is the Department of Corrections:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden notes that Adam Stemple is not a "young musician," but instead a musician, once young but now probably older than this reporter. Antick Musings regrets the error, and bemoans the lost youth of Mr. Stemple.

John DeNardo comments that Doris Lessing can also be cited as a SF writer already listed as part of Book Magazine's poll for the Greatest Living British Writer. Rich Horton further adds some more names that have written works in the SFF field. Antick Musings at first planned to insist that his aim was to point out the self-identified SFF writers, but then he remembered that Ms. Rowling was utterly shocked to find out she was writing the stuff. The Antick Musings Public Editor is investigating the situation, and will report at length sometime after everyone has forgotten all about it.

Finally, Antick Musings is rethinking its Master Plan for the Novel Hugo, and does not now intend to present a proposal at this year's Worldcon. This is in no way a capitulation to threats of violence, nor is Antick Musings giving up its goal of emulating the fecundity of awards enjoyed by our much more successful compatriots in Romance. A full manifesto may be forthcoming.

Monday, March 06, 2006

My New Comics Metric

Inspired by Comics Should Be Good, I have a new test for comics.

If a given comic is not as much fun as a picture of Batman in a fake-seagull-diving-helmet, then I shouldn't be reading it.

(I'm working on a similar test for WFA reading, but that one cannot be revealed to the public.)

A SF Reviewer Who Hates SF

The New York Times has found itself a new reviewer for science fiction: Dave Itzkoff. Itzkoff has so far written two pieces on SF, one in which he lists his favorite books in the field and his first review, of David Marusek's Counting Heads.

This has already caused quite a bit of comment: two letters to Locus so far, by Elizabeth Hand and Lucius Sorrentino; a post in Matthew Cheney's blog; a post on Emerald City; and one by Nick Mamatas (who can always be counted on to detest, in very strong language, whatever is going on). There's probably more commentary that I haven't seen yet.

Let's take Itzkoff's Top 10 Sci-Fi Books first:
  • A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959) by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
  • Cat's Cradle (1963) by Kurt Vonnegut
  • A Clockwork Orange (1962) by Anthony Burgess
  • The Crying of Lot 49 (1965) by Thomas Pynchon
  • Gun, With Occasional Music: A Novel (1994) by Jonathan Lethem
  • Looking for Jake (2005) by China Mieville
  • The Man in the High Castle (1962) by Philip K. Dick
  • R is for Rocket (1962) by Ray Bradbury
  • The Twilight Zone Companion (1982) by Marc Scott Zicree
  • Watchmen (1987) by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
We have three books by non-SF writers (Vonnegut, Burgess and Pynchon), all with moderate literary and huge undergraduate credibility. We have three solidly SF books that are already accepted by at least the Popular Culture departments of major universities, in Miller, Dick and Bradbury. We have a non-fiction book about a TV show. [Editorial Comment suppressed.] We have Watchmen, which has become "the good comic book" and seems to be doing double pop-culture duty here. And then we have two relatively recent books, neither of them the best of its author's work, by literarily respectable writers. (Mieville, though is actually much more of a fantasy or horror writer -- and Itzkoff doesn't seem to see or realize the difference.)

What's missing here? Everything. This is the "best of" list of the guy who read some SF in college, and didn't engage in it terribly deeply. Some people are jumping on his use of the dreaded "sci-fi," but that's common among those not indoctrinated by fandom. That doesn't, by itself, show that he's not a serious reader of the stuff -- the books he chooses to explain his taste do that.

And look at those dates: the bulk of the list is from 1959-1965. (But what's missing from those dates? No Dune, no Stranger in a Strange Land or Starship Troopers, no Delany, nobody that you would have to read deeply in SF to encounter.) Again, this is the college bull session reading list; the books that all the English majors in the dorm read in their spare time.

So, already we know this guy is going to be trouble. Gerald Jonas, the old Times SF reviewer, might have only had a little bit of space a few times a year (and he might have been overly fond of the most literary, experimental side of the field, at least in my opinion), but he knew the SFF world intimately, and he was a great reviewer (when the Times deigned to give him space.) But this new guy starts off by blowing smoke in our faces.

His first full-scale review, of Counting Heads (a wonderful book with a couple of major flaws of structure), is a masterpiece of wrong-headedness. He starts off by insisting that all contemporary SF is "so geeky," which will come as a surprise to the readers making David Weber, Anne McCaffrey, Harry Turtledove, John Ringo, Orson Scott Card and S.M. Stirling among the most popular writers in the field. His straw man hastily assembled, he then reminds us that he's the guy who still reads his college favorites on the subway (because he can't find any new good SF, presumably), and that this makes him a social outcast. Pity poor Itzkoff; Oprah-book readers look down on him.

(Cue choral version of "It's a proud and lonely thing to be a fan.")

Itzkoff wants to say that Counting Heads is worth reading, really he does. But, sadly, it is more like "a biology textbook or a stereo manual." Now, there are writers who lovingly catalog obsessive tiny details -- either to explain the specific science like the Analog crowd, to show off their geek-fu like Stephenson, or to revel in military techo-porn like [insert insult here] -- but Marusek doesn't write like that at all. Perhaps Itzkoff has not read enough SF to understand the process of incluing, so the details of the world (which are, of course, different from the world he lives in, since SF is a literature of change) confuse and sadden him.

It's Itzkoff's right to say that the people in Counting Heads didn't come alive for him (and he does finally get to that, after wandering off down a few rhetorical cul-de-sacs and having to cut his way free). I completely disagree with him, though, and I don't think anyone else who has read Counting Heads has had that criticism of it. I think he's saying that the people didn't come alive for him because he couldn't place them in their world; he couldn't figure out how things worked (he's massively misread this near-utopia as a satire), so these people, who fit so well into their world, don't seem real to him.

All in all, then, from the evidence of this review he just doesn't know how to read SF. That would usually be a fatal flaw for a dedicated SF reviewer, but not for the Times. Their book review section, under relatively new leadership, has been seemingly pursuing a policy of assigning a few books each week to the most biased or unqualified reviewers possible, with the aim of creating controversy. I guess it's possible that this seeming policy is purely the result of incompetence, but there seems to be a method behind it. Some of the results so far have been very funny, so perhaps I'm only complaining now because it's my ox being gored. But I don't think so: I think Itzkoff isn't quite right for the job either way. He's not outrageous enough to be the anti-SF reviewer, and he's clearly not qualified to actually review it straight.

Cheryl at Emerald City thinks Itzkoff was under orders not to say that SF can ever be worthy, but I don't buy that. It sounds like Cheryl is just engaging in our own SFnal cultural cringe -- God knows we've had reason for it, over the years, but I don't think the Times works that way.

Nick Mamatas, predictably, goes off on a rant about class. I think he's on to something in general, but blows it out of proportion. This isn't primarily about class; it's mostly about knowing how to read a SF text.

Matt Cheney also found Counting Heads geeky, which I didn't, so I may have unrealistically high standards for geekiness. (Stephenson is geeky, yes. Egan gets geeky sometimes, sure. But Counting Heads is an immersive novel -- none of the tech is paraded around to show off its coolness; it just exists and everyone in the world of the book takes it for granted. That's not geeky at all to me; geekiness is concentrating on the intrinsic cool-stuff-ness of the invented world.)

Elizabeth Hand's letter in Locus seems radically beside the point to me: Itzkoff, whatever he is, is not a committee, nor is he the Czar of Political Correctness. He likes the books he likes. We can infer things from that about him, but deploring that list because it is not Representative of the Diversity of Wimmin and Other Small Furry Woodland Creatures is just silly.

Lucius Sorrentino's letter to Locus is longer and better argued. I don't have any real problems with it, nor any snarky comments to make about it.

So, to sum up: the Grey Lady has a new sci-fi gun. And he doesn't know his territory at all. It might be interesting to see him flail around for a while, but having him reviewing SF won't be at all helpful for the genre.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Reading Into the Past: Week of 3/5

As I do every Sunday evening, I roll a few dice to choose a random year in the past decade-and-a-half, dig out my list of what I read this week in that year, and see if I can remember anything at all about those books. This week I rolled a 13, so we're going back to the heady days of grunge and Clinton I:
  • Medusa by Chris Achilleos (2/26)
    Art book by a Greek-born British artist, with a lot of "fighting fantasy" and various media ties. I never warmed up to his style as much I'd have liked, but he does very good warrior women, and we sold lots of copies of this book in the SFBC for many years.
  • The Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta, Book Three edited by Betty Ballantine (2/26)
    As far as I can remember, this had no text, or maybe just a short into by Ballantine. The art is swell, of course, but this and the others in the series have since been superseded by the three big Underwood collections.
  • The Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta, Book Four edited by Betty Ballantine (2/26)
    Just like the above, with different pieces of art.
  • Let's Go 1993: The Budget Guide to Britain & Ireland edited by Carolyn McKee (2/26)
    I was preparing for my honeymoon, which we spent in London and Edinburgh. (There were vague plans for day trips from London, but we didn't even see everything there that we wanted to get to.) I think this book was useful, so if you are also planning a trip to London in mid-1993, I recommend this guidebook.
  • Fodor's Scotland '92 (2/26)
    Ditto. Note that I read five books in one day. Men were capable of that in those pre-Web days. Oh for the glory of our youth!
  • Heroic Dreams by Nigel Suckling (2/27)
    It's possible that this should really be cited as edited by Suckling, but that's how I wrote it down back then. I know he wrote the text for a collection of fantasy art, mostly featuring women in shiny metal trinkets that only barely cover their assets. I don't remember it well, but I'm pretty sure it's still on my shelves. (But, then, I've only gotten rid of art books if they're really lousy.)
  • Golden Trillium by Andre Norton (2/27)
    Does anyone remember the "Trillium" series these days? It started with Black Trillium, which was quite a big seller in 1990 or so, and had the novelty of being a three-way collaboration between Marion Zimmer Bradley, Julian May and Norton. Then each of the individual writers wrote their own sequels -- as I recall, Bradley was first, and changed everything, then May tried to write a sequel to Bradley's book (even though Bradley may have killed off or completely changed her viewpoint character), then Norton wrote this book, which ignored the first two sequels. Further sequels followed, proving that each author was writing an entirely separate series that were only joined in origin. As I remember it, a decade and more later, May's was the best of the bunch, but none of them seemed terribly inspired.
  • Dream Makers edited by Martyn Dean (2/28)
    More various SF/Fantasy art. Mostly British artists, as I recall.
  • "...And Then We'll Get Him!" by Gahan Wilson (3/1)
    Great, great cartoons by the true heir to Gorey and Addams. This book has some of his best stuff, too.
  • The Book of the Damned by Tanith Lee (3/1)
    Probably book three of "The Secret Books of Paradys." Various unpleasant things happen in brooding, ominous ways to damaged characters in an odd city. I've liked the Lee books I've read, but none of them have really compelled me to read more, for whatever reason.
  • Ultraterranium by Bruce Pennington (3/1)
    Art book by a British artist, part of my general haul of Paper Tiger books that you may have noticed I was working through.
  • The Book of the Beast by Tanith Lee (3/2)
    The last of the "Secret Books of Paradys," with more as above.
  • The Unconquered Country by Geoff Ryman (3/2)
    The award-winning novella, something like an allegory of the Vietnam War, as published as a book. I am generally allergic to allegory, and tend to be a mild right-winger, so this must be awfully damn good for me to have liked it as much as I did.
  • British English A To Zed by Norman W. Schur (3/2)
    A great reference and dictionary (probably now superseded by a dozen websites) of the idiosyncrasies of the language as spoken by British people, with particular emphasis on the words mostly likely to cause trouble or distress for Americans.
  • The Fantastic World of Gervasio Callardo edited by Betty Ballantine (3/2)
    I remember this being very '60s surrealism, and that it felt like the visual equivalent of magical realism. I appreciated it, but didn't particularly like it.
  • Perfume by Patrick Suskind (3/3)
    A literary horror novel, loosely based on the legend of Bluebeard, that I think won the World Fantasy Award. It's quite good, and very creepy, and I don't think the author has ever been heard from in our parts since.
  • The Silver Arm by Jim Fitzpatrick (3/3)
    An art book, by an artist from somewhere in the British Isles (I want to say Ireland, but I'm not sure), that re-told some myths reasonably well. I think it was mostly Cu Chullain.
  • Jeeves in the Morning by P.G. Wodehouse (3/4)
    An absolutely sublime book, though these days it's more easily found under the British title, Joy in the Morning. Rural policemen's lives have never been the same. It also features one of the greatest first sentences in all of literature:
    After the thing was all done, when peril had ceased to loom and happy endings had been distributed in heaping handfuls and we were driving home with our hats on the sides of our heads, having shaken the dust of Steeple Bumpleigh from our tyres, I confessed to Jeeves that there had been moments during the recent proceedings when Bertram Wooster, though no weakling, had come very near to despair.
    If you've never read it, turn off your computer right now and go find a copy.
  • Howard Pyle
    This is an art book, and it was probably edited by someone, but I didn't note that at the time. I don't remember it well, and I don't think I still have it, so it's safe to say I didn't love Pyle's work.
Nineteen books in seven days! Yes, there were only five novels, and (on the other side) nine art books, but that was still a lot of stuff.

That was the start of a streak of at least two books a days from 2/26 (except the 28th) through 3/17. I only read one book on 3/18, 3/20, 3/25, and 3/28, but otherwise read at least two a day through 4/1. I didn't hit a day without finishing at least one book until 4/17. (And that was before my modern tricks; I was pretty much just reading things straight through then.)

Of course, as you can see from the selection above, these were mostly short books, and there were a lot of art books (which don't take much time). The SFBC and our sister clubs were preparing to move offices for the second time in a year (and, this time, it wasn't just up a floor in the same building but across town to the newly christened Bertelsmann Building). So there was a lot of house-cleaning, and giant piles of books that had been kept for years for various odd reasons were being disposed of. I grabbed them with both hands and lugged them home in bulk, complicated slightly by the fact that I was also moving, into my first (and, so far, only) apartment, in Lodi, NJ. I lived alone there in bachelor splendor for about a month and a half, from the beginning of April until my wedding day, May 22nd. And it looks like I prepared for marriage in the way I prepared for just about everything in the early '90s: I read a whole lot of completely unrelated books. There's probably a lesson there, but I'm damned if I can figure out what it is.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Other Books Read in February

I'm running a few days late on this -- I forgot about it until yesterday, actually -- and it's a long list, so let's dive right into what I read last month:
  • The Narrows by Alexander C. Irvine
    Reading for WFA is letting me catch up on writers whose work I liked in the past but I've missed (for one reason or another) recently. I really liked Irvine's first novel, A Scattering of Jades, but couldn't persuade many SFBC member to buy it (the ingrates). So I ended up missing One King, One Soldier (which I'll have to go back and read some day) and only just got to this excellent novel. It's about a young married guy in Detroit during WWII -- oh, and he works on Henry Ford's secret golem assembly line. If that description just made you say, "Wow, cool!" you won't be disappointed by this book.
  • The Mammoth Book of Illustrated Erotic Women edited by Maxim Jakubowski
    An odd, convoluted title for what is essentially the sequel to The Mammoth Book of Illustrated Erotica. The first book should have been called ...Erotic Photography, and this one ...Erotic Female Photography. Maybe "photography" is a sales-killer at Mammoth World Headquarters these days, but "illustrated" implies paint and/or ink, and these are books of photographs. (Tasteful, arty photos of naked people, but you probably guessed that by now.)
  • The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl by Tim Pratt
    First novel by a noted short-story writer (though I don't think I've read any of his stuff before) and Locus staffer. The plot wasn't as surprising as I'd hoped, especially in the end, but it is a nice literate modern-chick-saves-the-world-from-magical-evil book.
  • The Complete Peanuts: 1957 to 1958 by Charles M. Schulz
    God, Schulz was good. I know at some point Peanuts descended into blandness, but I don't really know when that was, and the early years were so good (and so in tune, in retrospect, with the Zeitgeist of the late '50s) that I can't wait for the next volume to come out.
  • The Joys of Engrish by Steven Caires
    A very small book of photos of Japanese consumer goods (and a few signs) that humorously mangle the English language. Some of the sayings have potential as Zen koans, and a large number of them are hilarious.
  • Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds
    I've liked Reynolds's books from the beginning (and his short fiction is excellent as well), but this is his most energetic novel. It's about as long as his other books, but it seems to move much faster. In this one, Saturn's moon Janus suddenly powers up and heads off out of the solar system -- and only one human ship is in a position to fly-by and see what the hell is going on. I have to admit a weakness for Enigmatic Alien Artifact stories, and this one pushed a lot of my buttons.
  • Mommy Knows Worst by James Lileks
    I've tried reading Lileks's blog, but he has the born newspaperman's ability to spin out copy endlessly even when nothing is happening. (Today! Ten thousand words on driving his daughter to school in a light rain!) But his books are another story. I've read this one and The Gallery of Regrettable Food, both of which are broad, satirical looks at mid-century lifestyle books (cooking in the latter, parenting in the former). He's funny in himself, and he's good at unearthing appalling things that people used to do or believe.
  • Looking for Jake by China Mieville
    This seems to be Mieville's complete stories to date, and I'm afraid it's a bit of a mixed bag. Some of it is very good and some of it is...less good.
  • Conrad's Fate by Diana Wynne Jones
    A late entry into the Chrestomanci series, this has atmosphere and setting to spare but the story isn't particularly surprising. (On the other hand, I've been poking through a giant stack of YA novels over the past week, and this is vastly better than today's average YA novel.)
  • Singer of Souls by Adam Stemple
    First novel by a young musician, about a young musician. (No, it's not as bad as you fear; it's pretty good, actually.) He's a semi-reformed junkie who goes off to Scotland and discovers the Fey Folk, which causes problems. It has an interesting, non-typical ending that my SFBC reader loathed but which I liked, probably because it was untypical.
  • Frazz: Life at Bryson Elementary by Jef Mallett
    I still look askance at the author for mislaying one of the letters in his first name, and this occasionally gets too cutesy for its own good, but it general it's a solid gag-a-day strip, with regular moments of thoughtful humor. (And nearly-as-regular moments of deliberate, middle-America "thoughtfulness" that doesn't rise to the level of humor.)
  • Star Wars: Legacy of the Force: Betrayal by Aaron Allston
    First in a new series set way at the far end of the timeline, and which I enjoyed more than I expected.
  • Samurai Executioner, Vol.8: The Death Sign of Spring by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima
    These aren't quite as good as Lone Wolf and Cub (28 volumes by the same creators; run out and get the first one now), but this comics series about Edo-era samurai is as close to stories written by aliens as we're likely to get.
  • Fables, Vol.6: Homelands by Bill Willingham and various artists
    More of the backstory is revealed in the latest collection of the popular fairy-tale-characters-hiding-in-the-modern-world comics series. Willingham has been doing interesting stuff around the edges of comics for about two decades now, so I'm glad he finally got himself a big, juicy hit.
  • The Hedge Knight by George R.R. Martin and various comics-adaptation writers and artists
    All of the characters look too clean and pretty, but that's what comics do. And I found it hard to keep track of the characters and their familial relationships (though that's sometimes an issue with the "Song of Ice and Fire" novels, too, though I've never had to do the Russian-names thing and just hum over a list of fiefdoms). It's an unnecessary thing -- the novella didn't need to be adapted into comics, and being adapted into comics didn't add much to it -- but it's a pretty thing, and a solid retelling of a good story.
  • The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
    First in my boys' favorite book series. I'm now reading longer books to them at night (these have been taking three nights apiece to go through), and I hope to transition to books without pictures sometime soon. (I'd been doing separate bedtimes for the two boys up to about six months ago, and had been reading long books to Thing 1 before then, but this is the first time Thing 2 is getting serialized fiction.) If you have, or know, boys aged about 6 to 10, you already know this series. If not, you'll probably never have heard of it. They're very fun, and very silly, for that audience, and for men who remember when the word "wedgie" all by itself could raise a big laugh.
  • Powers, Vol.1: Who Killed Retro Girl? by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming
    Somehow I avoided reading this comics series about cops in a world of superheroes until now, despite all of the acclaim. (Probably because I have a very low tolerance for long-underwear types these days.) The dialogue is of the aggressively "realistic" type, with people talking in fragments and across each other -- yes, that's how people talk in real life, but that works better in filmed media than in written media (like comics). Everyone repeat after me: a comic is not a movie. But the story is interesting, and I've already bought and read Vol.2, which is some kind of recommendation.
  • Queen & Country Vol.7: Operation: Saddlebags by Greg Rucka and various artists
    This collects one short story arc, in which our main character is berated at the end for not being an uber-competent James Bond and killing three men with a toothpick while cutting the red wire and foiling the plans of SMERSH (I may be altering the details slightly). Yes, the guy doing the berating is a jerk, and it's in character, but this series has always been about how those kinds of neat-o keen-o super-agent heroics never actually happen and don't work, so I found it a bit jarring. Even worse is that this book also collects a sidebar issue, which is told mostly in untranslated French and German. I often complain that comics underestimate my intelligence, but going the other way can be just as bad: one should not have to be trilingual to understand why our heroine just walked into an orgy. Translate it, paraphrase it; do something. If there are lots of words we can't even read in our comics, we might not keep coming back.
  • Ethel & Ernest: A True Story by Raymond Briggs
    The story of the author's parent's marriage, told in comics form. Touching and real, but a bit sketchy, since it covers fifty years or so in less than a hundred pages.
  • Year's Best SF 11 edited by David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer
    Another good round-up of the previous year in skiffy; if you like SF and (like me) can't keep up with the magazines, you should be reading books like this one to know what's going on in short fiction. Besides, this one has a story by my colleague Alaya Johnson in it!
  • Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets by Dav Pilkey
    Book two.
  • A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin
    It's huge, and still only half of the book Martin was writing (and doesn't have most of the fan-favorite characters in it, to boot). He's still a mesmerizing writer, but parts of this feel like side-shows to the main story -- for example, I wish that Brienne's story was important to the series, since I love her character, but I don't believe that it is, right now. Even given all of everyone's grumbles, this is still as good as epic fantasy ever gets (and I'm saying that as a compliment!)
  • Skizz by Alan Moore and Jim Baikie
    One of Moore's first comics works, originally serialized in 2000 A.D.. An alien gets stranded in early '80s Birmingham, and is saved by a teenage punkette and her friends. It's minor Moore, and pretty obvious, but a pleasant read while it lasts.
  • Captain Underpants and the Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman by Dav Pilkey
    Book five; the boys decided to jump out of order.
  • Electric Girl, Vol.3 by Michael Brennan
    A YAish comics series that I remembered (after reading this one) that I wasn't enjoying all that much. Oh, well. I think this was the end of it. A teenage girl has electrical powers and a trickster-figure imp who causes trouble for her. That's the problem, really -- either one of those would be a good premise, but having both of them feels like too much to me.
  • Best Short Novels: 2006 edited by Jonathan Strahan
    It's gigantic, it's full of good stuff, and I'm not at all objective about it. It has both Kelly Link's "Magic for Beginners" and Connie Willis's "Inside Job," so how can you avoid buying it?
  • Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants by Dav Pilkey
    Book four; we're now working backwards.
  • The Extraordinary Voyage of Jules Verne by Eric Brown
    A novella published as a book in which Verne is dragged into the future to witness wonders, save the world, and fall in love with a hot freedom-fighter babe. I didn't love it, but it's written in a distanced style, and I don't think it was meant to be loved.
It's late, and I've gotten very little real work done today. So it's time to go.