Friday, February 29, 2008

Quote of the Week

"I don't know how much he hurt you, but I'll hurt you more than him...and that's why you keep coming."
- Timothy Bracy of The Mendoza Line, from the song "Morbid Craving"

"She holds a cigar in her right hand
You used to hate smoke but now you understand
How it feels to fight an urge."
- Shannon McArdle of The Mendoza Line, from the song "Something Dark"

It's Manga Friday Again!

And Manga Friday means that I review a pile of things over at ComicMix! This week I looked at Andromeda Stories, Volume 3, The Guin Saga Manga: The Seven Magi, Volume 3, Le Chevalier d'Eon, Volume 2, and Princess Resurrection, Volume 2.

I should also note that I'm no longer the only comics reviewer at ComicMix; I've been joined by the perspicacious Van Jensen and the incomparable Mike Gold. Read us now...or hear about us later!

Song Chart Meme

I've succumbed to yet another meme...some days I just can't help myself.

This is the Song Chart Flickr Pool, and I hope they're mildly entertaining.

Possibly The Nerdiest Thing I Have Ever Posted

This keeps popping back into my mind like a bad penny, even a month later, so I expect that I need to write it down to settle it.

In the movie Juno -- which I blogged about last month -- the title character says "Thundercats Are Go!" when her water breaks.

This of course is a conflation of two entirely separate geeky catchphrases:
It is unclear whether Juno herself -- far too young to know either of these minor pop-culture icons in their heyday -- made this error, or if it was a slip on the part of the screenwriter, Diablo Cody. (I suppose it could also be a deliberate mistake.) But now the record has been set straight, and I can stop thinking about this very stupid minor point.

Here Come The Judge(s)!

Two major awards have announced their next set of judges recently -- and by "recently," I mean "I learned about them today, but I could be slow."

From SF Awards Watch: the judges for the 2009 Philip K. Dick Awards (reading books from 2008) are Tobias Buckell, M.M.Buckner, Walter Hunt, Rosemary Kirstein and Bill Senior.

Also from SF Awards Watch: the judges for the 2008 World Fantasy Awards (reading gigantic piles of things from 2007) are Peter Coleborn, Robert Hoge, Dennis L. McKiernan, Mark Morris, Steve Pasechnick.

(And I hope someone on last year's WFA judge panel will be able to pass on the Sekret Judges Memo, which I bequeathed to them last year and which the mighty Jeff Ford had handed down to the equally mighty Jeff VanderMeer in my year. Before that, its origins are lost in the mists of time. But it is truly a puissant and learned document.)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

The somewhat-controversial 2007 Caldecott winner was published as a novel, but it really is an overgrown picture book -- the biggest, longest picture book in history -- which makes the Caldecott win more understandable.

It's just under six hundred pages long, but about half of that is art -- and many of the pages with words on them have only a few lines of text. (Hugo Cabret is quite old-fashioned as a picture book; pages -- spreads, actually -- have either words or pictures on them, but not both.) Some people have compared Hugo Cabret to a graphic novel, but the art is more like a picture book -- large drawings, placed to dominate or fill a page -- there's no panel-to-panel transitions on individual pages. I read it in about an hour and a half; I'd expect even a slow reader wouldn't take more than three hours, unless she intensely dawdled over the art.

Hugo is an orphan in Paris in 1931, living in the walls of a train station, keeping the clocks wound, stealing food and clothing, and avoiding the dreaded Station Inspector. His father was killed in a museum fire, but he's trying to complete his father's last project -- the restoration of a man-shaped automaton at a writing table. Unfortunately, to repair the automaton he needs parts, and to get those parts he steals mechanical toys from a handy shop in the station...until, one day, the proprietor catches him.

The proprietor and his adopted daughter Isabelle get caught up in Hugo's story, and, as one might expect, they have a deep and hidden connection to Hugo. All is revealed eventually, and everything wraps up more neatly than I'd prefer, though it is appropriate for a book for younger readers like this. The story ends up being in large part an excuse for Selznick to get into the history of a person he greatly admires, and to go on about automatons, another subject he's very interested in.

Without giving away important plot points, there's not much more I can say about the story. It's nice, but slightly flattened, the way some stories for younger readers are. The art is more cinematic than graphic-novelish, with obvious tracking shots moving across several pages. I think those effects work decently here, but comics have built up a visual language of their own over the last century or so, which can achieve many of the same effects without taking twenty pages to do so. There's nothing wrong with the way Selznick does it -- and his art is very nice -- but there's something odd and old-fashioned about Hugo Cabret, as if it were a book from 1931 instead of just being about that time.

SFWA Gets It Right

I've been picking on SFWA quite a bit lately, it seems, but they've just made one decision that I can wholeheartedly agree with:

Michael Moorcock will be this year's Grand Master.

(I personally would have picked him before Aldiss -- just to compare apples to apples, not mentioning other GMs of the past decade or so -- but, then, I probably would have picked Ballard before either of them. So what do I know?)


Sometime today, Antick Musings logged its 100,000th visit. That's "logged" rather than "received" because I didn't sign up for statistics for a few weeks at the beginning, and I also lost about a week when switching to New Blogger because the template wasn't carried over exactly as I thought it would be.

This means absolutely nothing, but it's a nice round number, so it gets a blog post all of its own.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Why Not Holiday in Sunderland This Year?

Today I reviewed Bryan Talbot's interestingly odd graphic novel Alice In Sunderland at ComicMix.

(Also of interest: Niall Harrison's take on it.)

Rumpole Misbehaves by John Mortimer

John Mortimer is quite old -- he'll be 85 in April -- and still writing. That's worth something. Rumpole Misbehaves is light and comic, with sparkling prose and Rumpole himself as irascible as ever. That's pretty good, too.

But the mystery plot of Misbehaves, and its shape as a novel, leave much to be desired. Misbehaves only makes sense if it is set in a world in which every single person other than Rumpole himself (and possibly She Who Must Be Obeyed, his wife) is utterly incompetent, and most of them are also completely corrupt.

Back when Rumpole's adventures were of novelette-length, the plots were streamlined and the time sequence condensed; there wasn't time or space to wonder why the police in Rumpole's world were either incompetent or corrupt (since they invariably arrested innocent people and then tried to frame them). And the judges and prosecutors were generally seen as unpleasant individuals, people with perhaps differing views on the likelihood of innocence than Rumpole himself, but not as fools or bastards. But, now, in the era of Rumpole novels, even the fellow barristers in Rumpole's chambers are nasty, and he alone upholds the standards and ideals of British Jurisprudence.

Luckily, Mortimer still has a deft hand for dialogue and his playwright's instinct for keeping the action moving, so the flaws are not fatal. Rumpole's world is ever more caricatured, and thus his morals are less likely to be projected by the reader back into the real world, but his stories are nearly as pleasant as ever.

In the course of Rumpole Misbehaves, Rumpole attempts to defend both a young Timson (scion of the large and larcenous South London family that has kept him in work for his entire career) from an ASBO -- a particularly Orwellian invention of the panopticon that is modern Britain -- and a young man from a charge of murder.

The ABSO plot does tie in to the murder eventually, but it's mainly there for Mortimer to rail against the very idea of an "anti-social behavior order." I suspect he's stacking the deck horribly in his favor, but I'm inclined to dislike the idea to begin with, so I went along with him.

But even the most cursory of readers of mystery fiction will note that there is absolutely no evidence presented against the supposed murderer: he went to visit a Russian prostitute in London on his lunch hour, found her dead in her room, and was locked in by her maid/procuress until the police arrived. The prostitute was strangled -- was there any matching of her wounds to his hands? (No.) Was there any fingerprint evidence? (No.) Was the time of death determined? (Mortimer tries to bury this, but, no, it wasn't, in yet another example of the amazing incompetence of authority.) And so on; in any world not containing Rumpole, this guy wouldn't even come to trial; there simply isn't enough evidence.

Luckily, Rumpole's voice is still pleasant, and She Who Must Be Obeyed is not nearly as terrible as she used to be. Rumpole Misbehaves is a fine waste of a few hours, but it's not meant to be read with any critical facility engaged. If I'm capable of as much when I'm eighty-four, I'll be more than happy.

Movie Log: Keeping Mum

Keeping Mum is, I venture to say without double-checking, the only British black comedy to prominently feature Patrick Swayze. (And he's actually pretty good in it: the script calls for him to be a lecherous, overly-tanned American stereotype of a golf pro, and he nails that.)

The movie opens forty-three years ago, with Emilia Fox as a young woman on a train who is soon confronted by the authorities about the large quantities of blood seeping out of her trunk. It seems that she has killed and dismembered her husband and his lover, who were about to run away together. So she's packed off to a briefly-glimpsed home for the criminally insane.

Fast-forward to now. Rowan Atkinson is the distracted Rev. Walter Goodfellow; Kristin Scott Thomas is his (still quite attractive) wife Gloria, with whom he has not been intimate in far too long. They have two children: teenage sexpot Holly and bullied schoolboy Petey. And they also have a new housekeeper, Grace Hawkins (Maggie Smith), just about to join their family.

(No points on connecting those dots; the movie doesn't try to conceal it.)

Grace -- and, yes, her name is commented upon by our local vicar -- proceeds to help her new family in ways that bear some similarity to the way she helped herself all those years ago. She also encourages Walter to show more attention to his wife, gets Holly interested in cooking, and helps Petey out with some bullies (without actually dismembering them).

Keeping Mum is a fairly gentle black comedy -- it's a family black comedy, if that categorization makes any sense. The plot does have some holes in it; one, in particular, must be large enough to drive the golf pro's car through. And the ending falls flat -- it's intended to say something humorously cutting about family, but it's staged badly, and events could not have worked that way. But it's a movie that means well, and is easy to believe in most of the way. The actors playing the two children are decent, and the major players all nicely underplay what could have been very broad. If you go into it not expecting greatness, I expect you'll be adequately entertained.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Movie Log: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

As everyone and his Great-Aunt Matilda have already said, the longest book became the shortest movie -- but, even then, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is solidly over two hours, so it's not as if this is some breezy little film.

And this is another movie everyone (and his Great-Aunt Hortense) saw six months ago, so detailed comments on my part would be superfluous. And I watched it with The Wife, so I can't psuedo-liveblog it, as I did with Batman Begins.

Luckily, everyone else (aside from the uber-Potter-fen, for whom no movie could be too long or too slavish in its devotion to the Holy Writ of Rowling) is pretty much right about Order of the Phoenix: it moves quickly, it tells a whole story (even if that is not precisely the same as, or as large as, the story of the book), it's visually stylish and engrossing, and Imelda Staunton makes a great villain.

I can't say whether or not it makes sense to the hypothetical viewer who knows nothing about Harry Potter, but said viewer would have to have been hand-reared in a cage to attain that level of ignorance these days. If you live in an English-speaking country, you know about Potter. And most of the rest of you probably do as well.

So, for part five of a film series, it's remarkably good, especially since the first two were so clunky and dull. The director of Phoenix is already doing movie #6 and has by some reports already signed up to do the one or two movies of book #7, so that's also a good sign. Has there ever been a seven-movie series of reasonable quality? (The initial string of Sean Connery James Bond movies is the first thing that came to mind, but there were only five of those before On Her Majesty's Secret Service.)

Dead to Me by Anton Strout

I've long had a theory that there is a Standard Ace novel, a kind of book that Ace has published again and again over the past twenty or thirty years. The Ace Standard isn't as well known or recognized as the Baen or DAW varieties -- perhaps because the Ace Standard depends more on tone than its more flamboyant competitors -- but there are some clearly defining features. An Ace Standard is a fantasy novel with a first person narrator who is solidly on the side of the angels -- he (and it usually is a he) may do edgy things once in a while, but he knows what good and evil are and he's on the side of good. The Ace Standard is generally set in the contemporary world (like Peter David's original Knight Life), but occasionally ends up in a secondary world (such as Steven Brust's early "Vlad Taltos" books). The danger of an Ace Standard is that of any standard book -- it has a slight tendency to the generic. Series can start in the land of Ace Standard and blossom into more specific worlds; Jim Butcher's "Dresden Files" novels (published by Ace's Siamese twin, Roc) did just that.

I don't mean the concept of Ace Standard as a slam; just to note that it's a type, and that examples of the type can be as varied in execution as a Baen MilSF novel or a Terri Windling fairy tale can be.

Anton Strout's debut novel Dead to Me has some strong Ace Standard features: it's set in the modern world, in New York City, featuring a young psychometer (Simon Canderous) working for a secret but legitimate occult government bureau, the Department of Extraordinary Affairs. Canderous was formerly a mildly rapacious small-time dealer in collectibles and antiquities, but, after some unspecified Road-to-Damascus moment, he retired his old (and only very, very slightly evil) ways and is now cleaving to the path of Good with the fervor of a new convert.

His employer, the DEA [1], is part of the government of the City of New York, and it has responsibility for dealing with and keeping quiet pretty much everything supernatural in the city. But who the DEA is and what they do, precisely, is not entirely defined in Dead to Me; I don't think Strout has completely mapped out in his own head all of their powers and responsibilities. For example, they sometimes seem to be cops, and sometimes civil servants. If they're cops, they're awfully emotional and undisciplined cops -- not just Simon, who has the excuse that he's new to the DEA, but his partner and mentor Connor Christos, and others.

This also is a common feature of the Ace Standard: the hero is hotheadedly emotional, particularly in having easily-pushed buttons about "evil." The Ace Standard hero is Chandleresque in his chivalry and ideals without being in the least world-weary; he is pricked easily by the slights of the world, and lashes out quickly. At the same time, he is easily tongue-tied when confronting more sophisticated types -- and he's usually in opposition to them. He's prone to long speeches about right and wrong, and may have self-doubt -- let me rephrase: he's prone to acres and acres of self-doubt -- but never doubts the mission.

Canderous is this in spades, and he also has the Ace Standard hero's relationships towards women -- he loves 'em (in a totally modern, completely post-feminist, and entirely aboveboard way), but the fact that these women may be human beings with mixed emotions and motivations (possibly including things that he may call "evil") confuses and vexes him. There are two semi-love-interests for Canderous in Dead to Me -- and that's not even counting the woman he's making out with in the first chapter -- and neither of them is pure snowy white, which causes him some consternation.

This is set in a world where the supernatural is still secret, though how this borderline-competent bunch has managed that trick for so long is a valid question. In a way, Dead To Me is a lighter-hearted version of Charles Stross's "Laundry" stories -- the world here isn't being threatened by Lovecraftian horrors from beyond space, but by the kind of villains routinely defeated by The Real Ghostbusters. Not that this world doesn't have its dangers -- one character is killed, off-page, in a transparent attempt to show that things really are dangerous -- but that they're dangers that people like Canderous and his colleagues can handle.

One strangely generic element is the Secret Society of Antagonists -- pardon me, the Sectarian Defense League -- which, we are told repeatedly, is made up of "cultists." Yes, cultists. Not Satanists. Not members of any specific cult -- they don't worship Baal or Astarte or Alfred E. Newman. But cultists, full stop. You know, the kind from '30s pulp stories, who slaver over luscious blondes tied to hideous blood-stained altars while maniacal priests chant runic incantations and prepare to plunge deep the gleaming, razor-sharp sacrificial knife? That kind of cultist. Admittedly, there's some unintended humor when Canderous keeps thinking "But she's a cultist!" about his sweetie, as if he were Biff Jockwell in an only mildly progressive story of the '50s and his love were Jewish. But Strout doesn't seem to mean this as humor -- although the humorous Ace Standard is quite respectable, and Strout has a light touch in a lot of other ways -- so it just floats on, seeming to refer to something but not actually connecting.

The plot of Dead To Me involves the Sectarians, their sexy and mostly-innocent office manager, one of the recently deceased, a supposedly deadly assassin who stays in the background for several days, some background office politics (of the "my division is better than yours" type), and a big finish at a major museum. Canderous's voice is appealing, the plot moves well, and none of my quibbles rise to the level of impediments -- Dead To Me is a solid first novel, not quite as perfectly formed as one might like, but a fully entertaining example of the modern male urban fantasy. Fans of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files should pay particular attention to Dead To Me: Simon Canderous has a lot of the appeal and outlook of Harry Dresden. I hope and expect that future books in this series will add depth and specificity to Canderous's world, but what we have here is pretty good all by itself.

[1] I could be convinced that naming a secretive government agency the "DEA" was a kind of double-blind, or protective coloration, or even a bureaucratic mistake. ("'No, the other DEA,' I said, for about the thousandth time.") But Strout doesn't really follow any of those avenues; it's just a law-enforcement agency that has the same initials as a different law-enforcement agency. This felt like a lost opportunity, though future books could always pick up on it.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Quills Go On Hiatus

PW -- which, being on the auction block itself, probably has other things to worry about -- announced today that its parent company Reed Business Information's support of the much-maligned (by me, if no one else) Quill Awards would cease immediately.

It couldn't happen to a less-beloved award.

Diagram Group Time Again

One of the great joys of the publishing year is the annual voting for the Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year, organized by the British trade magazine The Bookseller. (Another indication of the great differences in trans-Atlantic cultures; can you see PW sponsoring something silly like that?)

This year's nominees are here. Personally, I'm pulling for How to Write a How to Write Book, if only because the success of that will inevitably lead to How to Write a How to Write a How to Write Book.

Voting is open to the general public, go forth and stump for Cheese Problems Solved, if you are so moved.

Something Pointless

At the moment, I am the only human being in Wiley's New York office!

Hurrah for pointless moments!

Conventional Wisdom Check

Is it just me, or does it seem from the Oscar winners this year that the Academy's voters are trying to pick the things they each thought were best in each category, and not engaging in the various strategies and lifetime-award plans that the Oscar-watchers always predict?

(The pre-Oscar predictions always say things like "And Ruby Dee will win because She's Due, and Marion Cotlard has no chance because she's French and this is her first nomination..." and they all seem to have been totally wrong this year.)

Or am I just saying that because "Falling Slowly" is clearly the Best Song of this or any other year?

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 2/23

A fairly light week -- at least from a mail point-of-view -- allows me to also mention that I've grabbed a copy of the Caldecott Award-winning book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, which (since it's much, muck shorter than it looks) I expect I'll read really quickly.

And the books other people sent me for review are:

Tonoharu: Part One by Lars Martinson, from Pliant Press; something I was entirely innocent of before it showed up on my doorstep. I'd never heard of the author, the publisher, or the book. But I see that this book recently won the Xeric Award (which helps individual creators to publish exceptional works), which is impressive. It seems to be semi-autobiographical -- Martinson spent three years teaching English in Japan and Tonoharu is about a young man teaching English in Japan. The book design is quite elegant; the pages have a great fine-book smell; and the art has very cartoony figures, strong vertical and horizontal lines, and a rigid four-panel grid. It publishes at the beginning of May, and I look forward to reading it.

Physics of the Impossible is a non-fiction book on science by Michio Kaku, a well-known science popularizer. (I know I've read at least one of his books -- maybe Visions -- but can't recall exactly what or when.) This is a general "how these SFnal ideas could work" book, not tied to any specific fictional world and based in real, if speculative, science. Impossible is divided into three sections -- Impossibilities of Class I, II, and III -- starting with force fields and invisibility and working up to time travel and perpetual motion machines. Doubleday will publish it on March 11 in hardcover.

Iron Man: Beneath the Armor is the first bound manuscript I've received as a reviewer -- and I would have been more impressed before I learned how easy it is for my employer to create them. (The Iron Man book is published by someone else, though -- Ballantine, to be exact -- so perhaps it's more impressive when they do it.) Anyway, this is a guidebook to Iron Man's history in the comics, copiously illustrated with lots of art from forty years of comics, by the very knowledgeable Andy Mangels. I'm sure this is being published now because of the upcoming movie, since Iron Man otherwise has always struck me as an also-ran hero. The materials I have don't say when this book will be published, but I'm going to guess that it will be before the summer, and the movie.

Before They Are Hanged is the second book of "The First Law" by Joe Abercrombie. (Which reminds me of the old story -- I'm not sure if it's true or not -- that Terry Goodkind's first novel was named Wizard's First Rule because he wanted the whole series to follow that title style: Wizard's Second Rule, Wizard's Third Rule, and so on. According to the story, Goodkind was convinced by someone at Tor, his publishing house, that this was not necessarily the best way to create a series identity.) Abercrombie's series looks to derive more from Glen Cook and Steven Erikson than from Goodkind, but he writes big, bloody epic fantasy, so he's in the same ballpark either way. Before They Are Hanged is a trade paperback from Pyr, and will be published March 4th.

Last this week is something that came directly from the author: Polly Frost's Deep Inside. It's a collection of SpecFic erotica stories, and I was amused to note that I know Frost's editor (Paul Stevens of Tor -- hi, Paul!). I have to admit that I'm not all that plugged into the skiffy erotica scene, though I do know that it exists, and have been known to make jokes about Circlet Press. Deep Inside was published by Tor in the summer of 2007 in trade paperback, and it's still available.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Del Rey Manga Reviews

My usual "Manga Friday" feature at ComicMix reviewed three Del Rey Manga titles this week: Minima! , Vol. 1, Yozakura Quartet, Vol. 1, and Dragon Eye, Vol. 2.

AKIFIF: Macintosh OS 10.2 Startup CD?

My wife's computer (a desk-lamp iMac of approximately 2004 vintage, running 10.2.something) has been stuck on the blue screen for a couple of days now.

I suspect it's a problem with the user files, and I think I could fix it without too much trouble if I could boot the damn thing into a normal system from a CD, but the only thing I have are Restore CDs, Software Install CDs, and Upgrade CDs -- I don't have a single disc that's simply a bootable system; they all start some software process I don't want.

Does anyone out there know of a place to download old Mac system software, so I can burn a CD or DVD to run on her computer? I can't make one from the system on this computer, because this is an Intel Mac running 10.5.2, and that's too rich for the other Mac.

This is really annoying; I have this stack of CDs with something like an OS on them, and a long list of things to try to fix from, but the first step is "start up from a CD." (Or in "safe mode," which isn't working.)

Update, Monday: Thanks, Brad! Target mode worked: I copied the hard drive on the dodgy iMac to a backup (once I'd lugged it over to where the other computer lived), and then a clean install fixed things.

I feel lucky that I've run Macs for nearly twenty years now, and I've never had to do a clean install before -- and I'll be even happier if it's twenty years until I have to do it again.

(The lurking issue now is that the OS install from the disc I had didn't include Classic...and I do find having Classic on at least one computer to be useful, so I'm trying to get that back.)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

On Moving Targets, and On Those Moving Them

The New York Times's Book Review has an "Inside the List" column every week, delving a molecule or two down into some aspect of the bestseller list that the editors find mildly amusing that week. (The Times, being an august, serious Newspaper of Record, is never more enthusiastic than "mildly amused.")

This week's entry is by Dwight Garner, who is also the primary writer for the Times's PaperCuts blog, and could thus be assumed to be slightly less old-fashioned and dry-stickish than his compatriots.

However, Garner takes this space to look back at the bestseller lists of 25 years ago -- February 20th, 1983 -- and look down his nose at them. He notes that the NYTBR invented the "Advice, How-To, & Miscellaneous" lists in early 1984, so this particular list was before that watershed -- and thus "advice bestsellers were placed on the general nonfiction list, where they crowded out almost everything else."

Note carefully that "were placed." The Times is not reporting on the actual sales of books, it is placing those books on its hallowed list.

Garner has drunk the NYTBR Kool-aid; he clearly believes that when a bestseller list contains the books that real people are actually buying in large quantities, those books are "crowding out" "everything else." Yes, Dwight, that's what bestseller lists do: they "crowd out" the books that are not selling as well. Surely someone smart enough to get a job at the Times could realize that.

Garner also reprints the fiction list from that same week, and sniffs that he's "struck by the number of narratives about space and other worlds -- also struck by how few of these books I'd particularly want to imbibe today."

On his first point, the list of ten books includes Michener's Space, Clarke's 2010: Odyssey Two, Auel's The Valley of Horses (not really germaine to his point, but I thought I should mention it), Asimov's Foundation's Edge, Straub's Floating Dragon, Adams's Life, the Universe, and Everything, and Kotzwinkle's E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial Storybook (which would be gerrymandered off the main list and into the kids-books ghetto, these days). Seven of the ten bestselling hardcover fiction books that week were at least mildly speculative. The '80s were quite good for SpecFic.

As to the question of what books Mr. Garner particularly wants to imbibe, I doubt that any writer worth her salt tries to write something that will appeal to a middle-level book review functionary a quarter-century in the future. She's writing for the people who buy and read books now. And hitting a major bestseller list is a good sign that she's succeeded.

So, if Mr. Garner's successor in 2033 looks back at 7th Heaven and Sizzle and Burn and Plum Lucky, sniffs in his turn, and mentions that 2008 was during the times when the Times "placed" romances and thrillers on the general fiction list, where they crowded out almost everything else...well, then, it won't come as any surprise, will it?

Friday, February 22, 2008


The multi-state Mega Millions lottery jackpot is up to $270 million for the drawing tonight, which means media outlets have poked their heads up and run their usual lottery stories. There's usually some quick interviews with the guys running the green machine and with gamblers (preferably delusional, or able to be spun as delusional). In print, you also see the requisite call to the local university, so some economists can explain how irrational buying lottery tickets is.

Now, I have seen an article or two with a smarter-than-usual economist, who points out that people must be getting something worth what they pay for the lottery tickets -- if they didn't, they wouldn't keep doing it. But, in general, there's a strong whiff of "only poor and stupid people do this."

I won't deny that spending money on the lottery can be stupid -- it should only be money that you can afford to burn -- but it's not necessarily so. And I think those economists aren't thinking about what people actually get out of lotteries.

The first, obvious thing is a shot at a large pile of money. It's a very small shot (about one in 175 million, in this case) at, right now, a very large pile, but someone is going to win that money (soon, if not tonight), and any ticket has about the same odds. Unlike many chances available to Americans, nobody else has a better shot at it; anybody who buys a ticket is equal.

The second thing a lottery ticket buys is pretty obvious, as well: it's the chance to daydream, to build some imaginary castles, to think about what you'd do with all that money. I used to try to buy my lottery tickets as early as possible (when I decided to waste the money, and remembered to do so -- which turned out to not be very often), so I'd have a couple of days of "wouldn't it be great if..." to look forward to. I'm busier now, so that rarely happens, but I still generally don't check my numbers for a day or three. Until you know that you lost -- and, let's be honest, you are going to lose -- you can go on dreaming.

But there's something else a lottery ticket buys, though you might have to be a cynical bastard like me to think of it. A lottery ticket is an insurance policy against the creeping "what-ifs" when some other idiot wins. If there's an umpty-gazillion-dollar jackpot, and you don't play, but your idiot brother-in-law does and he're gonna be pissed. You might be only slightly less pissed if you did play, and he still won, but at least you did what you could.

That's how I see it, at least. It's a cheap way to say "well, I did what I could." And when this jackpot is split between thirty-seven co-workers in Oshkosh, two elderly sisters in Springfield, and an unemployed welder in Kalamazoo, I'll be saying it again.

On Bookscan

I was writing a comment on this post at The Beat, and got carried away. So I figured that, since it was long enough to be a post, I might as well make it a post. And so it is:

The problem with Bookscan -- and, particularly, with making any big pronouncements based on Bookscan numbers -- is that Bookscan isn't consistently any percentage of retail sales.

For some books and some publishers, it's around 65%, for others, 75%. In some cases, it could be close to 100%, but it can also be 25% or less (especially anything that gets into Wal*Mart, which sells huge numbers of a few books and which doesn't report to Bookscan).

I work for a publishing line of mostly technical, professional books, and recently did an analysis on one particular product that showed that Bookscan registered about 40% of the sales of that product through the channels that Bookscan covers. (Leaving out all of the other ways those books are sold -- directly by the publisher; through organizations, corporations, or governments; by non-book stores; to college students; and so on.) That's an extreme case...but those cases do exist. And there are probably similar cases in the comics world.

So when someone who can see Fantagraphics's real sales figures says that they don't resemble Bookscan numbers, I believe him. Bookscan is best for parallax; if you know what your books are selling (for real and on Bookscan), and you know what the competition is selling on Bookscan, you can work out, roughly, what the competition is really selling. But without real numbers for comparison in the middle there, Bookscan figures alone are dangerous to rely on.

And the idea that indy comics are failures because they don't sell at the level of long-underwear projects is just silly -- in "real" publishing, five thousand copies of a 23-dollar book isn't bad at all for a literary project. Thrillers sell better, yes -- in comics and outside of them. This is news?

Quote of the Week

"A train whistle at night was a word that meant the same thing in all languages. It was compounded of loneliness and otherness and the futile desire to be anywhere but here, anybody but one's own wretched self. What made the heart ache at the sound of it was the knowledge that the locomotive was pulling out without you and always would. You were never going to catch that imaginary train that would carry you to the faraway land containing the solutions to all your problems. You were never going to arrive at the impossible city where all the things for which you secretly yearned were given away free in the streets."
- Michael Swanwick, The Dragons of Babel, p.285

More Picking on the Nebulas

Keith R.A. DeCandido dislikes this year's Best Script category for a different reason than I do: it contains a work which is actually ineligible.

C'mon, SFWA, admit it: you want to have a "Media Thing We Looooove" category but you didn't have the guts to say that, so you pretended that you're judging the scripts (which you mostly don't see) and not the finished product.

Admit to your geekiness. Own it. You'll be a better organization for it. Oh, and, while you're at it, get rid of the confusing and credibility-damaging "rolling eligibility" system too.

Final Nebula Nominees List

In typical SFWA fashion, news that this year's Nebula Award nominees have been finalized dribbled out through odd, unofficial channels -- I found out via SF Awards Watch, who found out from John Scalzi, who didn't mention where he got it from. (Gnomes, I assume.)

And those nominees are:

  • Odyssey - McDevitt, Jack (Ace, Nov06)
  • The Accidental Time Machine - Haldeman, Joe (Ace, Aug07)
  • The Yiddish Policemen’s Union - Chabon, Michael (HarperCollins, May07)
  • The New Moon’s Arms - Hopkinson, Nalo (Warner Books, Feb07)
  • Ragamuffin - Buckell, Tobias (Tor, Jun07)

Hey, I've actually read three of these! And I want to read both of the others -- I even have a copy of Ragamuffin looking at me balefully from the shelf. I have a feeling it's going to go to either McDevitt or Haldeman, even though (to be honest) their books are entertaining and fun, but not really Nebula-level.


  • “Kiosk” - Sterling, Bruce (F&SF, Jan07)
  • Memorare” - Wolfe, Gene (F&SF, Apr07)
  • “Awakening” - Berman, Judith (Black Gate 10, Spr07)
  • “Stars Seen Through Stone” - Shepard, Lucius (F&SF, Jul07)
  • “The Helper and His Hero” - Hughes, Matt (F&SF, Feb07 & Mar07)
  • “Fountain of Age” - Kress, Nancy (Asimov’s, Jul07)
I've read exactly none of these. Good year for Gordon, though. Based on absolutely nothing, I'm going to predict Wolfe will will.

  • “The Fiddler of Bayou Teche” - Sherman, Delia (Coyote Road, Trickster Tales, Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, Ed., Viking Juvenile, Jul07)
  • “Pol Pot’s Beautiful Daughter” - Ryman, Geoff (F&SF, Nov06)
  • “The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs Of North Park After the Change” - Johnson, Kij (Coyote Road, Trickster Tales, Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, Ed., Viking Juvenile, Jul07)
  • “Safeguard” - Kress, Nancy (Asimov’s, Jan07)
  • “The Children’s Crusade” - Bailey, Robin Wayne (Heroes in Training, Martin H. Greenberg and Jim C. Hines, Ed., DAW, Sep07)
  • “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” - Chiang, Ted (F&SF, Sep07)
  • “Child, Maiden, Mother, Crone” - Bramlett, Terry (Jim Baen’s Universe 7, June 2007)
I don't recall ever seeing a story from a Marty Greenberg anthology being Nebula-nominated in the past, so good work to Bailey there. I believe the title of the Ryman story is actually "Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter (Fantasy)." And, once again, I haven't read any of these. Should I make a prediction? Oh, let's not.

Short Stories

  • “Unique Chicken Goes In Reverse” - Duncan, Andy (Eclipse 1: New Science Fiction And Fantasy, Jonathan Strahan, Ed., Night Shade Books, Oct07)
  • “Titanium Mike Saves the Day” - Levine, David D. (F&SF, Apr07)
  • “Captive Girl” - Pelland, Jennifer (Helix: A Speculative Fiction Quarterly, WS & LWE, Ed., Oct06 (Fall06 issue — #2))
  • “Always” - Fowler, Karen Joy (Asimov’s, May07 (Apr/May07 issue))
  • “Pride” - Turzillo, Mary (Fast Forward 1, Pyr, February 2007)
  • “The Story of Love” - Nazarian, Vera (Salt of the Air, Prime Books, Sep06)
I've only read the Duncan story, so I'll refrain from predictions here as well. Pelland is the only one of the six to have commented on this blog, as far as I can remember, so I'll be rooting for her story.


  • Children of Men - Cuaron, Alfonso & Sexton, Timothy J. and Arata, David and Fergus, Mark & Ostby, Hawk (Universal Studios, Dec06)
  • The Prestige - Nolan, Christopher and Nolan, Jonathon (Newmarket Films, Oct06 (Oct 20, 2006 — based on the novel by Christopher Priest))
  • Pan’s Labyrinth - del Toro, Guillermo (Time/Warner, Jan07)
  • V for Vendetta - Wachowski, Larry & Wachowski, Andy (Warner Films, Mar06 (released 3/17/2006 — Written by the Wachowski Brothers, based on the graphic novel illustrated by David Lloyd and published by Vertigo/DC Comics))
  • “World Enough and Time” - Zicree, Marc Scott and Reeves, Michael (Star Trek: New Voyages,, Aug07 (Aired 8/23/07))
  • “Blink” - Moffat, Steven (Doctor Who, BBC/The Sci-Fi Channel, Sep07 (Aired on SciFi Channel 14Sep07))

Have I ever mentioned that I'm not fond of this category?

I'm not fond of this category.

And I really don't care who wins it, either.

Andre Norton Award (not actually a Nebula, by the way)

  • The True Meaning of Smek Day - Rex, Adam (Hyperion, Oct07)
  • The Lion Hunter - Wein, Elizabeth (Viking Juvenile, Jun07 (The Mark of Solomon, Book 1))
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Rowling, J. K. (Scholastic Press, Jul07)
  • The Shadow Speaker - Okorafor-Mbachu, Nnedi (Jump At The Sun, Sep07)
  • Into the Wild - Durst, Sarah Beth (Penguin Razorbill, Jun07)
  • Vintage: A Ghost Story - Berman, Steve (Haworth Positronic Press, Mar07)
  • Flora Segunda: Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog - Wilce, Ysabeau S. (Harcourt, Jan07)

I've read two of these and bits of another one (which was a bit too YAish for my taste at that particular moment -- no harm, no foul). And I want to read SmekDay. But I have no idea who will win -- except for the sure knowledge that Rowling won't.

Winners will be feted (if they bother to show up) during the gala Nebula banquet, held during the annual Nebula Weekend (less than a convention, better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick) at Austin, Texas's Omni Hotel the weekend of April 25th. Sadly, I won't be in attendance this year, since I don't work for someone willing to foot the bill. Oh, well. The expense account is a harsh mistress...

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Movie Log: Rocket Science

Rocket Science is a movie about a stammering teenage boy in New Jersey who joins a debate club; the New Jersey connection and the similarity to Thumbsucker were enough to intrigue me and get me to see it.

Rocket Science is aggressively independent; a couple of actors looked vaguely familiar (and Jonah Hill shows up in a very minor role), but it's mostly made up of very high-school-looking unknowns acting naturalistically through a script that strenuously avoids doing anything obvious.

This is another movie that I saw and then didn't bother to write about for a couple of weeks -- mostly because what I have to say boils down to "decent indy dramedy, a low-key story about characters that's worth seeing if you like that sort of thing."

Oh, one other thing: if you like the Violent Femmes (particularly their first album), you need to see Rocket Science, since a couple of songs are used very well here. Of course, that raises the question of when this movie takes place -- it could be anywhere between 1982 or 2006, as far as I can tell -- but that's not terribly important. It did make me wonder, though, and it might confuse or put off current teenagers.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I Am Not the Blabbermouth in Question -- This Time

Over at ComicMix, I just reviewed a new title from Minx/DC Comics, Confessions of a Blabbermouth.

No Dominion by Charlie Huston

No Dominion is second of the three (to date) Joe Pitt mysteries, about a vampire in New York City. Unlike other mysteries with vampires I've seen -- urban fantasy or paranormal romance, or things like P.N. Elrod's historical "Vampire Files" series -- Huston's series is seriously hardboiled, with a brooding antihero and lots of violence. Huston's vampires are organized like gangs, dividing Manhattan into territories and controlled by violent, charismatic leaders. There's not a hint of romance in these vampires; they were turned by the unfortunately-named "Vyrus" and they have no supernatural powers of mesmerism or transformation.

Pitt lives in Alphabet City, which -- along with parts of the Village -- are the stomping grounds of The Society. The Coalition covers most of the island, from 14th street north to the borders of Harlem, where The Hood takes over. Down in the far south are a number of smaller groups who don't take part in this novel. Aside from the fact that they're officially vampires, and can't go out in full sun (sunlight triggers the Vyrus in their blood to set off an epic number of cancers almost immediately), these groups are all basically organized crime families: filled with both intrigue and "family" ties, riddled with agents for other families, and prone to settling disputes with sudden violence. (There's also an even more secretive, and weird, set of essentially vampire warrior Zen monks, but let's leave them aside for now.)

In this book, Pitt -- who isn't part of any vampire group, but is allowed to live in Society territory because he occasionally does jobs for the Society's head, Terry Bird -- becomes caught up in various plots as he tries to track down the source of a new and dangerous drug that many of the young vampires in his area are using. That leads to many of the usual hardboiled novel tropes -- a creepy rich old lady, a violent black crimelord and his dogfighting pit, and the aforementioned vampire pseudo-Shaolin monks. Huston brandishes his cliches with relish, though, making them larger than life and so believeable.

On the less positive side, he also punctuates all dialogue with an initial dash, and refuses to give any speech tags, which is incredibly annoying at the beginning of the novel, but eventually slides into the background. It's an awfully highbrow affectation for a hardboiled vampire novel, though.

Given Huston's publishing history -- he wrote a three-book mystery series before the Joe Pitt books -- it makes sense that this will probably appeal more to the mystery reader than to the vampire fan. (As I said above, these aren't romantic vampires at all.) And I'm impressed at how nasty Huston makes Pitt -- at one point, our hero kills three people just because they're in the room and it's easier to do so.

But I do think I need to warn the usual vampire fan -- Joe Pitt is not a nice guy, he's not on the side of the angels, and he's not even a Chandleresque "tarnished angel." He's a semi-retired mob fixer who's getting dragged back in. He's not going to have long speeches about how his friends are important to him; he's not going to soften because of Twu Wuv. He's a hard bastard, so only jump onto this series if you like reading about hard bastards.

A Conundrum

I'm going to be in New York City on Monday afternoon, since I have a meeting with someone in my company's small office there. The meeting isn't completely settled yet, but it will probably be at two o'clock.

And here's the problem I'm wrestling with. I'm not in NYC much anymore, so this would normally be a great chance to make a lunch date and catch up with someone. But it's short notice, I can't go far from 5th Ave and 28th Street, and I need to get back for my meeting.

And, on the other hand, there's the siren call of Shake Shack, now open in the winter and which I had to leave behind when I was cast out of Paradise Madison Square North.

Decisions, decisions...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Movie Log: Citizen Dog

Citizen Dog is the first movie from Thailand I've ever seen. (It's probably the first movie from Thailand that most people have ever seen, so that doesn't mean much.) It's a romantic comedy that's generally been compared to Amelie, and not without reason. But Citizen Dog isn't a clone of any other movie; it's set firmly in its own culture and place, and has a distinctive tone of its own.

The movies from foreign countries that make it to the US are typically either very serious dramas or the kind of quirky comedies that are vaguely magic-realist and make Americans think "Oh, those wacky foreigners." Citizen Dog is being marketed in the second category, and it fits reasonably well there. This is a movie with motorcycle helmets raining from the sky, at least one undead cab driver, a mountain of plastic bottles, and two men who swap severed fingers.

Citizen Dog marks out it own individual territory, though, starting by being very heavily narrated. (Seriously, the narrator probably has more lines than all of the other characters put together; he's talking for nearly the entire movie. It works, but it's very unlike most Western movies of the past few decades -- and that does help reinforce that Citizen Dog is something different.)

Pod (Mahasamut Boonyaruk) is a young man from the sticks who goes to Bangkok in search of his fortune, or the fast life, or something -- to be honest, it seems more that he's just running away from a bland farm life where nothing changes than running to anything in particular. He takes a series of minor jobs -- in a sardine-packing factory, as a security guard, driving a taxi -- and runs into the love of his life, Jin (Saengthong Gate-Uthong), who has her own obsessions.

We follow their story mostly through the narrator -- Pod is onscreen for almost the entire movie, but neither he nor anyone else talks all that much. Actually, at this point I should be more specific -- Citizen Dog is both a comedy and a movie with a romance plot, but it's not a "romantic comedy" in any normal American sense of the phrase. (Jin ignores Pod for most of the movie -- and not in the "I'm ignoring you to make you more interested" sense; she's completely caught up in entirely different things.) For me, that was a big plus.

If you can stand quirky, I'd highly recommend Citizen Dog. (And it never feels quirky for the sense of being quirky; just a world in which weird things happen.) And I haven't even said anything about the chain-smoking, talking teddy bear...

Monday, February 18, 2008

Notable Quotable

John Scalzi on the upcoming SFWA struggle for survival election:
"As for Andrew Burt, I think he would be a fine president too, as long as what SFWA members want to do is publicly and enthusiastically cut the organization’s throat."

Supporting in the comments so far: William Schafer, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Rosemary Edghill, Susan Shwartz, Paolo Bacigalupi, Charles Coleman Finlay, Amy Sterling Casil, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Elizabeth Moon.

Publicly supporting Andrew Burt....?

The Same Ol' Same Ol'

I really wish people would stop talking about "publishing" as if that only meant "major New York fiction publishing." It's getting very old.

"...authors who will ask 'So tell me again, what can you do for me?'"
Been there, done that. Got another conference call next week. We can do a lot, actually. And we do it.

"Publishers sell books to distributors who sell books to bookstores who sell books to readers."
Maybe some do. I help my company's various sales forces sell books to bookstores, and online book retailers (and that is not just a euphemism for you-know-who), and professional organizations, and corporations, and folks who provide continuing professional education, and distributors, and others I'm forgetting right now. Some of those people sell books to readers, some have already pre-sold those books, some give away those books, and I'd be only mildly surprised if some of them barter books for energy futures. The publishing ecology is deeper and wilder than most people guess.

And, as you know Bob, my current title has the word "Marketing" in it, which means I'm also deeply concerned with making consumers interested in these books. I might not be setting up MySpace pages for Parmenter's Key Performance Indicators, but that doesn't mean I'm not connecting it with readers.

All books are not novels. All books are not stories. And the monomaniacal focus of "publishing" blogging on Major Fiction gives me a headache.

Rant over.

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 2/16

Ten books came in the mail this week, which means they can all fit into one post. (I also picked up a few things at the library, but I'll be leaving those out of lists like this from now on -- at least most of the time.)

Ellen Datlow edited The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy for a publisher that I hope you can figure out yourself. I've been feeling guilty about carrying around the Datlow-edited issue of Subterranean for several months without reading it. (Though don't ask me how far behind I am on The New York Review of Science Fiction!) So I'm inclined to find time to read this -- especially since Datlow's a great editor and I haven't seen the last couple of her books. Del Rey Book is coming in late April, and I'm going to bet right now that it will be one of the major original anthologies of the year.

The Guin Saga Manga: The Seven Magi, Volume 3 completes a sidebar story to a long Japanese novel sequence by Kaoru Kurimoto; the manga are written by Kurimoto with art by Kazuaki Yanagisawa. I suppose the Conan-esque leopard-headed warrior-king Guin beats up the evil magi and saves the day in this book, but I'll have to read it to be sure. (I reviewed the first two volumes of the trilogy for ComicMix about a month ago.) This is being published by Vertical in early March.

Also from Vertical is Andromeda Stories, Volume 3 by Keiko Takemiya, which also ends a trilogy. (I reviewed the second volume of that series at ComicMix back in December.) This one has the final showdown between our hero Prince Jimsa and The Enemy, an aggressively hegemonizing machine race which is in the process of converting his home planet. The finale of Andromeda Stories will also be in stores in early March.

And next is a complicated one: Death Note: Another Note: The Los Angeles BB Murder Cases, a spin-off novel by Nisioisin based on the Death Note manga by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. It's about a serial killer in LA and the Japanese-American FBI agent who needs to run him down. (The mysterious super-sleuth L from the manga series is also apparently important in the novel.) Another Note is also a very stylish-looking book, with a white dust wrapper that only covers two-thirds of the book, black cloth binding, and creepy silver stamping on both case and jacket. It's a very attractive-looking little volume, which was published by Viz this month.

I got something frightening-looking from Del Rey Manga: Minima! , Vol. 1 by Machiko Sakurai. According to the back-cover copy -- even though my old boss would remind me "Never hold against the author what the back of the book says" -- this is the story of a teenage girl whose favorite toy comes to life to become her best friend. (No, not that kind of toy -- get your mind out of the gutter. The cute, cuddly, stuffed kind.) It's available right now.

Also already published by Del Rey Manga is the less cute Yozakura Quartet, by Suzuhito Yasuda. This one is about three superpowered girls and their unpowered male friend, who all protect their town from various supernatural threats. Now, I'm pretty sure I've seen a storyline like that before, if only I could remember where...

Marseguro is the first novel by Edward Willett, and I'm afraid I was making fun of its cover over on Jeff VanderMeer's blog a couple of weeks ago. It's an old-fashioned colonists vs. Earth novel, with a world of humans and genetically modified post-humans targeted by the obligatory oppressive religious government of Earth. DAW published it in mass-market paperback at the beginning of February.

Also from DAW is The Hidden City, first in a big fat epic fantasy series by Michelle West (under the series title "The House War"). It's related to her first duology -- Hunter's Oath and Hunter's Death -- but looks like your usual wade-into-the-deep-end high fantasy, with a spunky heroine surviving in the slums by her wits, battling Houses with a capital H, and evil demons lurking in the background to serve as the Big Bad for later in the series. The Hidden City publishes in hardcover on March 4th.

S.L. Farrell's A Magic of Twilight also begins a big epic fantasy series from DAW, called "The Nessantico Cycle." Nessantico is the seat of a mighty empire, and of its equally mighty religion, both of which I expect will be important as the series goes on. This book also has what I fear may turn out to be a spunky young woman as a major character, though it also has a queen in the fiftieth year of her reign to balance things out. As a consumer note, I should say that there are a number of apostrophes in the pages I looked at, but they all seem to be embedded in character names (and at the same place in the name in all cases), so it's a minor infestation.

Last this week is Elric : The Stealer of Souls, first in yet another remixing of Michael Moorcock's most famous series of stories. All of the previous reprintings I know of -- and I was involved in one of them and am a big fan of the massive, Multiverse-spanning uberseries from Millennium in the UK and White Wolf in the US in the early to mid-90s -- tried to put the stories into an internal chronology. Given how tangled and interconnected all of Moorcock's works are, this was close to being futile to begin with. On top of that, the first Elric novel, Stormbringer -- made up of the second major sequence of stories -- is the very end of the series. Del Rey, having had some success with their chronologically-reprinted series of Robert E. Howard Conan stories, have decided to do the same for Moorcock. So this volume is the first that decides to reprint the Elric stories in the original order they appeared: Elric: The Stealer of Souls includes the original collection The Stealer of Souls, plus the best and most essential Elric book, Stormbringer. There's also a small pile of more minor pieces, including a new introduction by Moorcock and a foreword by Alan Moore, the first review of Stormbringer from New Worlds, and several other Moorcock pieces of the same vintage. It was published February 19th, and it makes a great single volume introduction to the first and best doomed hero of modern fantasy.