Thursday, July 31, 2008

Blog Reviewers Are Being Whiny Again

The current topic of debate in the part of the blog world made up of SF-book-reviewing-folks (and that's a small piece, of course) is whether or not "someone" should be paying us. I'm coming to this a few days late, so forgive the link-dump as I get up to speed:

It pretty much started with Jonathan McCalmont asking "Is Online Book Reviewing Sustainable?", where he suggested that publishers should pay for reviews. (In gauging the possibility that this plan would ever happen, remember the reaction when Kirkus Reviews, one of the oldest and most-respected review outlets in the US, attempted to sell reviews to publishers. Then think about who we're talking about here: individual bloggers. Then laugh.) This is a silly idea on its face, but, if transmuted into advertising -- assuming anyone would want to advertise on book-review blogs, which is not necessarily so -- could provide a small stream of revenue to book-bloggers.

McCalmont also seems utterly innocent of the ways of Publicity. Bound galleys are more expensive than "real" books, but not that expensive, and the point is to spread them around, like manure, in hopes something will grow somewhere. Individuals can feel as guilty as they want about whatever they want -- I certainly do -- but no one has an obligation to write glowingly about every last thing that shows up in his mailbox. (Also, there's a divide between people who say "ARC," which is what is printed on the objects, and those who say "bound galleys," which is what they are.)

McCalmont is confused and wrong-headed, but he just wants to be financially compensated for his hobby. (And wouldn't we all like that?) But there's no reason that the people with the money would want to compensate him for it, though -- not unless he's going to provide a more consistently positive product, and preferably for a consumer good whose purveyors actually have some money to throw around. (He also reviews movies; he'd have better luck shaking those folks down for money -- but, again, he'd have to give them something other than the fact that he's reviewing a movie to justify paying him.)

The general point here: he who pays the piper calls the tune. If you want publishers to pay you, you'll have to expect publishers to tell you what to say. People who actually do "provide publicity" don't write whatever they want -- they do what the client asks.

Gabe Chouinard thinks that the problem is that readers aren't clicking enough links and making the advertising work. He also thinks that we should make up our own ad network, and that having such a network would make unspecified people magically throw money at us for our audiences of twelve people and two cats. But he's facing the wrong way entirely, thinking of himself as providing a service to publishers rather than serving readers. The point of blook-blogging is not to "give publicity" to paying customers -- there are professional publicists who are much, much better at that -- it's to write about books and authors that interest you, in a way that makes them interesting to others.

Also, book publishers have tiny budgets for advertising and promotion (compared to other consumer products); mailing out galleys uses up a big piece of it. If you're a book-blogger and you got a galley, you already have your share of the money the publisher is spending on that book. That's it. Do with it what you will.

And if Gabe thinks he's giving a "free ride" to publishers, and that his skills at publicity are so in-demand, the best way to get paid for that is to get a job as a publicist.

Then there's Pat's Fantasy Hotlist, who I have to admit I disagree with most of the time. (We have quite different tastes in books, among other things. And his Terry Brooks-meets-Thor vocabulary has been known to set my teeth on edge.) He has a long, long, long, long post on the subject, and it tires me just to think about it. He also notes that book-blogging is a time-consuming hobby -- as is any kind of serious blogging, which no one seems to be remembering -- and that it seriously impacts his girl-chasing time. And he thinks that publishers have vast pots of money which they could shower on bloggers if only they chose to do so.

Pat has also noticed that people are often polite to him in direct discourse, but that the things they say they love and will "absolutely" do don't always work out (such as ads on his blog). I thus suspect he has never spent any time in an office environment or even read Dilbert.

His view of "quality" blogs also seems to contain no hint of reader metrics or anything else that could be expressed in actual numbers. In general, he thinks he should be paid because he says nice things about books -- if he's serious, he could attempt to develop that attitude into a full-blown protection scheme. ("Nice book you got there. It'd be a shame if something were to happen to it. Shame if it got a bad review.")

And then there's Larry of the OF Blog of the Fallen, who points out that a lot of things in this world feel like work, and many of the ones most worth doing are unpaid. As usual, I agree the most with him.

OK, so those are the terms of discussion: blogging is Really, Really Hard; that it's like Having a Real Job; and that Somebody Should Be Paying Me For This. Yes, I'm being sarcastic and dismissive, but the topic deserves it.

Here's the deal: if you're doing something for yourself, and you're not enjoying it, it's time to stop. Period. If you are enjoying it, but it's getting to be too much, then you need to find a way to cut back. The thing to remember is that you're doing this for yourself, as a hobby. (And it applies not only to personal blogging, but to gardening, classic-car restoring, fishing, scrapbooking, knitting, or what have you.)

The problem isn't the activity; it's you. You need to set your limits and stick to them. Maybe you only have time to do one good review in a week -- so cut back to one a week. This is about your own time management; dreaming of someone else paying you for something that you're liking less and less is not going to lead to you liking it more.

(There's also the fannish/social aspect of the book-review blog world; we are part of a loose economy of gifts and esteem. But you can't let that overwhelm your time. If you're not blogging because what you write is important to you, you shouldn't be doing it at all.)

Oh, and one last point: don't give people like this guy more stones to throw at us. Sitting around complaining about how hard it is that people send you books for free and there are too many of them to read and life is just too much for you is just pure whininess. The people who work with books professionally -- many of whom are being laid off from newspapers right now, you self-indulgent babies -- will only worsen their opinion of all of us the more bloggers are seen as being obsessed about finding a way to get paid for doing something they supposedly love to do.

Suck it up or go home. If you want to be taken seriously, be serious. And watch what the real journalists do. Asking your subject to pay you is very much not what actual journalists do.

Garfield - Garfield + Garfield = Book

In a great example of a creator seeing someone doing something different with one of his creations and embracing that, Jim (Garfield) Davis is allowing a collection including both his original Garfield strips and the Garfield Minus Garfield strips altered by Dan Walsh.

Ballantine, the longtime publisher of Garfield books, announced the book, though not its title, yesterday. Walsh's blog has the press release posted; I'm sure it will be other places as well.

Davis didn't have to do this; he could have had his lawyer send a cease-and-desist letter and shut down Garfield Minus Garfield (as Bil Keane did to several iterations of the Dysfunctional Family Circus). But he saw something worthwhile in Walsh's work, and decided to not only not suppress it, but to celebrate it.

Many creators, and the world in general, have been grappling with issues of derivative works and intellectual property lately. Up until now, the trend had been for corporations and creators to demand as much power and control of everything as they could possibly claim. I don't know if this will help to loosen things up, but it can't hurt.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

I Am Not Posting

I'm being lazy this week; I'm spending too much of my evenings playing Lego Indiana Jones.

I've got something half-written about the current kerfuffle, Should Blog Reviewers Be Paid? (And I'll give you a preview: just asking the question is dumb, because it implies we have an employer.) Plus all of the books that I need to organize my thoughts on. And I'm running off to Anaheim next week for the fabulous American Accounting Association show. But, right now, I just want to play with my Wii.

See you tomorrow, I hope.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What He Said

Edward Keenan on being a man in the summertime, and the art of looking.

Responses to Hugo Handicapping

Mike Glyer thinks I'm making "a public display of contempt" in my comments about the fan categories. It's certainly his prerogative to have any opinion he wants, but I like to think that -- unlike some Hugo-watchers -- I actually notice that there are fan categories, and try in some small way to understand them. (He's quite right that I don't know much about those categories, but, if I'm going to run down the list of Hugos, they're on the list and need to be addressed somehow.)

And that entire post was based on received wisdom and common knowledge; that was the whole point of it. There was no research involved -- it took long enough without any. I didn't Google to be sure that Frank Wu removed himself from contention; I also didn't mention that Donato Giancola did the same in the Pro Artist category. It was not intended as an even-handed, sober consideration of everyone's chances, and I deliberately held off doing it until after voting closed.

If Mike wants to see me actually expressing contempt, I'd suggest that my various comments about the Dramatic Presentation Hugos (and the similar "Best Script" Nebula) are a better fit. When it comes to fan Hugos, "bemused ignorance" is closer to the mark.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 7/26

This week saw a big box from Yen Press (with the first issue of their new monthly manga magazine, Yen Plus, along with a pile of books), along with a few other things. Considering every publisher that could be sending me things was madly preparing for Comic-Con, I'm surprised I got anything this week. But here's what I did see:

The Diamond of Darkhold by Jeanne DuPrau, the fourth book of the Ember series, coming from Random House Children's Books in August. The gigantic publicity machinery is just gearing up for the movie version of the first book in the series, so having a new book in the series out right now is excellent timing. I'm a bit surprised myself, since I didn't know there had even been a third book -- I read the first two and had them in the book club back at my old job, and even the second one was slightly unnecessary. (The first book was about getting out of an underground country long after an apocalypse; the second was about settling on the surface and learning to live with the people already there. Seems to me that any further books would just be the same thing.)

Jumping into the big Yen box, the first thing I pulled out was the fourth volume of Spiral: The Bonds of Reasoning by Kyo Shirodaira and Eta Mizuno, coming (like just about everything else in that box) in July. I've reviewed both the second volume and the third volume of this series as part of my regular Manga Friday column for ComicMix.

Another continuing series from Yen this month is Shiro Ihara's Alice on Deadlines, the third volume of which is about to hit stores. This is a series I like probably more than I should; I reviewed both the first and second volumes as part of my ComicMix column. Don't be surprised if I review this one as well; I'm a sucker for this series.

And Yen also has the second volume of Kaze No Hana this month, by Ushio Mizta and Akiyoshi Ohta. I'll warn you that the first volume made my head hurt -- that may only say something about me, though.

Yen also has some brand-new series; launching this month is Suzunari!, by Shoko Iwami. It's a 4-panel manga about a typical teenage girl (yadda yadda yadda, insert shoujo manga boilerplate #38943 here) whose life is suddenly turned upside down when a cat-eared double suddenly appears in her room one morning. It looks intensely goofy, but that can be fun.

Also coming with a first volume this month from Yen is S.S. Astro by Negi Banno. It's another 4-panel series, set primarily in the teacher's lounge of a Tokyo high school and revolving around four female teachers (who, I suppose, in the way of such stories everywhere and of all times, are vastly different from each other in somewhat stereotypical ways).

Yen also published the second volume of Forest of Gray City by Uhm JungHyum in July. I think it's a teenage romance comic, since the back-cover copy is entirely taken up by descriptions of "Person X learns more about Person Y, and X has to rethink everything in her life."

And then there's the second volume of Park SoHee's Goong. It's another teenage comic, about a girl who has just married the crown prince of something or other (something Korean, I'm guessing, given the regalia and the book's pedigree), and is trying to adjust.

Something called Legend -- by Kara and Woo SooJung -- is hitting its third volume this month. This one has swords and fighting, though it looks like the main characters are mostly female. (Though it can be difficult to tell from a quick scan of a manga what gender anyone is.)

Comic is a high school manga with a very generic title, but it's by Ha SiHyun, and it's just reached a third volume. Aparrently this one is a bout a teenage girl who won a manga contest, and now works with (and lives with?) an older creator -- who I suppose is grumpy and demanding, as all such mentor figures must be. (That's a question, actually -- is he a mentor figure, or a love interest, or both?)

This month also marks the fifth time around for The Antique Gift Shop, by Lee Eun. Poking through it, I'm not sure at all what this is about, but there's a weird, Gothy-looking family, and two people with blonde hair who I believe are the romantic leads.

I've already reviewed it, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Eddie Campbell's new graphic novel -- done with Dan Best -- The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard will be published by First Second on August 1st.

And last this week is the novelization of the new animated Star Wars movie, The Clone Wars, by Karen Traviss. Del Rey is publishing it on July 26th at the remarkably low hardcover price of $20.00. I'm really not sure what purpose novelizations serve in this ear, when DVDs come out almost instantaneously, but, if you want to know more about the story of the Clone Wars, Traviss is one of the more popular (and better, in my opinion) writers currently committing Wookiebooks.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Handicapping the Hugos, 2008 Edition

Well, I did this last year -- and got things mostly wrong -- so why not try again? The same caveat applies as before: I use very cynical rules of thumb, so that I'll be happily surprised when my predictions turn out to be untrue. It's a way I can stay massively cynical, but lighten up the gloom somewhat -- I recommend it to everyone. (I've already run through this list once, when the nominations were announced, so I'll try not to repeat myself.)

Also, if you're looking for the opinions of more than just one grump from New Jersey, let me direct you to Moshe Feder's post at and the comments following it -- it's just about the novel race, but Moshe's a smart man and a good editor, and many of the commentors have good points as well. (And some have points that I think are utterly wrong, but that's the way of the world.)

The actual winners will be announced in two weeks at Denvention 3; I wish I could be there, but I won't.

Best Novel
  • The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon (HarperCollins; Fourth Estate)
  • Brasyl by Ian McDonald (Gollancz; Pyr)
  • Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer (Tor; Analog Oct. 2006-Jan./Feb. 2007)
  • The Last Colony by John Scalzi (Tor)
  • Halting State by Charles Stross (Ace)
The Yiddish Policemen's Union seems to have the momentum, having won the Nebula. I still wonder if Hugo voters, who tend to be even more conservative than me, would think Chabon has Mainstream Cooties, but I'm coming to think that he's seen in the same light as Neil Gaiman -- he's done other things in his time, but he's essentially One Of Us. I expect Brasyl, being too little-known and the most difficult read, will be the first to drop out of the running in the instant-runoff Hugo process. If I'm wrong about the support for Yiddish Policemen -- it did sell a lot of copies, but it's hard to tell how many of those were to Hugo voters -- then Stross and Scalzi are strong contenders. I didn't think Last Colony was all that strong for Scalzi, while Halting State is a damn good Stross novel about very geeky near-future ideas (which Hugo voters often like) -- and Stross has been on this ballot five years in a row now. I think Stross will be a close second, but he could take it.

Best Novella
  • "The Fountain of Age" by Nancy Kress (Asimov's July 2007)
  • "Recovering Apollo 8" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Asimov's Feb. 2007)
  • "Stars Seen Through Stone" by Lucius Shepard (F&SF July 2007)
  • "All Seated on the Ground" by Connie Willis (Asimov's Dec. 2007; Subterranean Press)
  • "Memorare" by Gene Wolfe (F&SF April 2007)
No one is sending me "best of the year" books this year (except Night Shade, and their book is still in the pile), so I haven't read any of this stuff. The Kress won the Nebula, but she's up against Willis here, and Connie Always Wins. So I'm going to expect it to go to "All Seated on the Ground."

Best Novelette
  • "The Cambist and Lord Iron: a Fairytale of Economics" by Daniel Abraham (Logorrhea, ed. John Klima, Bantam Spectra)
  • "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" by Ted Chiang (Subterranean Press; F&SF Sept. 2007)
  • "Dark Integers" by Greg Egan (Asimov's Oct./Nov. 2007)
  • "Glory" by Greg Egan (The New Space Opera, ed. Gardner Dozois & Jonathan Strahan, HarperCollins/Eos)
  • "Finisterra" by David Moles (F&SF Dec. 2007)
Chiang's story won the Nebula, and he has an even better record than Willis does, so it would be dangerous to predict anyone else to win. (Although, when I look him up in the invaluable Locus Index, I see that his record at the Hugos is much more mixed than at the Nebulas -- and, given the kind of writer he is, I should have expected that.) My impression is that Hugo short fiction voters are still magazine readers (maybe even magazine snobs), so I'm going to add up a couple of wild surmises and predict that Egan will win for "Dark Integers."

Best Short Story
  • "Last Contact" by Stephen Baxter (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, ed. George Mann, Solaris Books)
  • "Tideline" by Elizabeth Bear (Asimov's June 2007)
  • "Who's Afraid of Wolf 359?" by Ken MacLeod (The New Space Opera, ed. Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan, HarperCollins/Eos)
  • "Distant Replay" by Mike Resnick (Asimov's April/May 2007)
  • "A Small Room in Koboldtown" by Michael Swanwick (Asimov's April/May 2007; The Dog Said Bow-Wow, Tachyon Publications)
The Nebula went to a Karen Joy Fowler story that was eligible, but didn't make the Hugo ballot. For this one, I'm expecting one of the two stories I've actually read to win: Swanwick's piece of The Dragons of Babel, "A Small Room in Koboldtown."

Best Related Book
  • The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community by Diana Glyer; appendix by David Bratman (Kent State University Press)
  • Breakfast in the Ruins: Science Fiction in the Last Millennium by Barry Malzberg (Baen)
  • Emshwiller: Infinity x Two by Luis Ortiz, intro. by Carol Emshwiller, fwd. by Alex Eisenstein (Nonstop)
  • Brave New Words: the Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction by Jeff Prucher (Oxford University Press)
  • The Arrival by Shaun Tan (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic)
My rule of thumb in this category is that it goes to the book by the oldest, best-loved writer whenever possible -- to Kate Wilhelm, or Frank Robinson, or Sprague de Camp, or Asimov. This year, the writer closest to that description is Malzberg, which probably surprises him as much as it does me. The Glyer book is scholarly, and I'm sure it's wonderful, but it's not a serious contender. I'm not sure Brave New Words is what Hugo voters want to honor in this category, either. I love The Arrival, but I always assume Hugo voters are less flexible than I am, so I very much doubt that they'll go for a wordless graphic novel published as a children's book. (If I'm wrong, I'll be thrilled; it's one of the best books of any kind of last year.) I'm less sure of the Emshwiller book, where the "old and beloved" heuristic may come into play with both Ed and Carol. But I still think this is Barry's year -- Breakfast in the Ruins is one excellent thirty-year-old book stuffed with some more recent curate's eggs, and he's never won a Hugo. (If he doesn't win, I will bitterly curse not being at Denvention and having a chance to try to sneak into the Hugo Losers' Party to hear what he says afterwards.)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
  • Enchanted Written by Bill Kelly Directed by Kevin Lima (Walt Disney Pictures)
  • The Golden Compass Written by Chris Weitz Based on the novel by Philip Pullman, Directed by Chris Weitz (New Line Cinema)
  • Heroes, Season 1 Created by Tim Kring (NBC Universal Television and Tailwind Productions); Written by Tim Kring, Jeph Loeb, Bryan Fuller, Michael Green, Natalie Chaidez, Jesse Alexander, Adam Armus, Aron Eli Coleite, Joe Pokaski, Christopher Zatta, Chuck Kim; Directed by David Semel, Allan Arkush, Greg Beeman, Ernest R. Dickerson, Paul Shapiro, Donna Deitch, Paul A. Edwards, John Badham, Terrence O'Hara, Jeannot Szwarc, Roxann Dawson, Kevin Bray, Adam Kane
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Written by Michael Goldenberg, Based on the novel by J.K. Rowling, Directed by David Yates (Warner Bros. Pictures)
  • Stardust Written by Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn, Based on the novel by Neil Gaiman Illustrated by Charles Vess Directed by Matthew Vaughn (Paramount Pictures)
The semi-equivalent Nebula went to Pan's Labyrinth, which doesn't help here. I've seen all of the movies, and they're all decent, but flawed or minor in one way or another. (Order of the Phoenix is probably the best of them.) From what I've heard from the people who care about such things, the first season of Heroes was magnificent, but it's been lousy since then, which may have affected the voting. But, still, I'm going to assume Heroes will win, because the thing I know and care the least about usually wins the Best Dramatic Hugo.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
  • Battlestar Galactica "Razor" Written by Michael Taylor Directed by Félix Enríquez Alcalá and Wayne Rose (Sci Fi Channel) (televised version, not DVD)
  • Doctor Who "Blink" Written by Steven Moffat Directed by Hettie Macdonald (BBC)
  • Doctor Who "Human Nature" / "Family of Blood" Written by Paul Cornell Directed by Charles Palmer (BBC)
  • Star Trek New Voyages "World Enough and Time" Written by Michael Reaves & Marc Scott Zicree Directed by Marc Scott Zicree (Cawley Entertainment Co. and The Magic Time Co.)
  • Torchwood "Captain Jack Harkness" Written by Catherine Tregenna Directed by Ashley Way (BBC Wales)
It would be darkly pleasant to see "World Enough and Time" win, and to have that cause Paramount to have a screaming fit -- only because I enjoy the (distant) sufferings of others. But I don't expect that to happen. Again, using my "know and understand least" idea, I'm going to predict that "Captain Jack Harkness" will saunter off with a rocket ship, and probably do something unmentionable with it afterward.

Best Professional Editor, Long Form
  • Lou Anders (Pyr)
  • Ginjer Buchanan (Ace/Roc)
  • David G. Hartwell (Tor/Forge)
  • Beth Meacham (Tor)
  • Patrick Nielsen Hayden (Tor)
The Hugo voters seem to be using the recent bifurcation of the editor category to reward excellent editors who have been working in the field for many years. (And not to say "this person had the best batch of books last year," which is closer to the way the award is explained to be.) So: Hartwell and Nielsen Hayden already have one each. I hope this won't turn into another Best Locus or Best Whelan or Best Langford categories, though that possibility is there. Assuming that doesn't happen, I think Ginjer Buchanan is naturally next, since she's been editing good books for quite some time and is well-known in fandom. (And, speaking as someone who helped nominate her and Susan Allison for a World Fantasy Award a few years back, I'd be thrilled to see her win, too.)

Best Professional Editor, Short Form
  • Ellen Datlow (The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror (St. Martin's), Coyote Road (Viking), Inferno (Tor))
  • Stanley Schmidt (Analog)
  • Jonathan Strahan (The New Space Opera (HarperCollins/Eos), The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 1 (Night Shade), Eclipse One (Night Shade))
  • Gordon Van Gelder (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction)
  • Sheila Williams (Asimov's Science Fiction)
Again, the Hugo voters seem to be catching up with people who have been snubbed repeatedly in past years, so it might just be Stan Schmidt's year. On the other hand, this is one of the most conservative categories, so Datlow also has a great chance. (And, to be honest, the stories Ellen buys are usually more to my particular taste than Stan's.) Since I have to choose, I'll say that Ellen Datlow will win again.

Best Professional Artist
  • Bob Eggleton (Covers: To Outlive Eternity and Other Stories (Baen), Ivory (Pyr), & The Taint and Other Novellas (Subterranean))
  • Phil Foglio (Cover: Robert Asprin's Myth Adventures, Vol. 2 (Meisha Merlin), What's New (Dragon Magazine Aug. 2007), Girl Genius Vol. 6-Agatha Heterodyne & the Golden Trilobite (Airship Entertainment))
  • John Harris (Covers: Spindrift (Ace), Old Man's War (Tor, pb), The Last Colony (Tor))
  • Stephan Martiniere (Covers: Brasylont> (Pyr), Mainspring (Tor), The Dragons of Babel (Tor))
  • John Picacio (Covers: Fast Forward 1 (Pyr), Time's Child (HarperCollins/Eos), A Thousand Deaths (Golden Gryphon))
  • Shaun Tan (The Arrival (Arthur A Levine Books))
Shaun Tan really really should win something for the marvelous The Arrival, but the world isn't fair, and he won't. It would be great to see Foglio win, since he hasn't even been nominated for a Hugo since he won back-to-back Fan Artists in '77 and '78. But it will most likely go to Eggleton, since voters in this category mostly run on their accumulated memories and preferences. In my ongoing attempt to be more positive, though, and since Denver isn't that far from Texas, I'm going to predict that John Picacio, pseudo-hometown boy, will win. (I should also say that Harris, Martiniere, Picacio, and Eggleton are all excellent cover artists currently doing fine work; any of them would be a reasonable winner -- I'm just annoyed that Hugo voters tend to pick a favorite in this category and stick with that person for a decade or more.)

Best Semiprozine
  • Ansible, edited by David Langford
  • Helix, edited by William Sanders and Lawrence Watt-Evans
  • 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, Kristine Dikeman, David Hartwell & Kevin J. Maroney
The Hugo for Best Locus will go to Locus. It's about time to retire this one; these days the only way anyone else can win if when the Worldcon is in the UK. But I would dearly love to see Helix win, even if I wouldn't be there to see all the heads explode in person.

Best Fanzine
  • Argentus, edited by Steven H Silver
  • Challenger, edited by Guy Lillian III
  • Drink Tank, edited by Chris Garcia
  • File 770, edited by Mike Glyeri>
  • PLOKTA, edited by Alison Scott, Steve Davies, & Mike Scott
I'm terribly ignorant about the fan categories, and so tend to make predictions based on the entrails of small mammals or the flight patterns of sacred birds. I vaguely recall that Mike Glyer is a West Coast guy, so I'm going to predict that File 770 will win.

Best Fan Writer
  • Chris Garcia
  • David Langford
  • Cheryl Morgan
  • John Scalzi
  • Steven H Silver
It will be a re-run of last year's Scalzi-Langford battle, with (most likely) more ballots in play, since the Worldcon is cheaper and more people will be going. I think that will only help Scalzi, who lost very narrowly last year. So I expect this will be John Scalzi's consolation prize. (Though it will be awarded first.)

Best Fan Artist
  • Brad Foster
  • Teddy Harvia
  • Sue Mason
  • Steve Stiles
  • Taral Wayne
Frank Wu, the current 800-pound gorilla of the category, is nowhere to be seen. (Did he take himself out of contention?) Brad Foster and Teddy Harvia are both former 800-pound gorillas here, Harvia slightly more recently than Foster, and Mason wins whenever the Worldcon is in the UK. My Magic 8-Ball says that Brad Foster will take it this year.

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction Writer
  • Joe Abercrombie (2nd year of eligibility)
  • Jon Armstrong (1st year of eligibility)
  • David Anthony Durham (1st year of eligibility)
  • David Louis Edelman (2nd year of eligibility)
  • Mary Robinette Kowal (2nd year of eligibility)
  • Scott Lynch (2nd year of eligibility)
Naomi Novik ran away with this category last year, winning without even one drop needed. Lynch was on the ballot then, placing last in the first-place voting. This is a very different year, though -- Edelman and Kowal are reasonably well-known online, but Edelman's second novel was only just published and Kowal's a purely short-fiction writer. (So I think both of them are just socially popular so far.) Durham came from outside the genre, teaching us that things published elsewhere Don't Count -- although his current novel, Acacia, might actually be fantasy, but it wasn't published as fantasy, raising the tricky question of what specifically does qualify one for the Campbell. But I think, in the end, that it'll be between Lynch and Abercrombie. And, since Lynch's best-selling US book (The Lies of Locke Lamora in mass-market) has outsold Abercrombie's best-selling US book (The Blade Itself) by about 40%, I'm going to make the shaky assumption that those sales will translate into more voters and predict a win for Scott Lynch.

Anyone agree? Disagree? Think I'm full of a substance unnamable in polite company? The comments, as always, are open.

Clan Apis by Jay Hosler

It's not unknown for one work of art to devalue another, but it's not as common for those two works to be of completely different kinds. But Clan Apis has seriously devalued my (already low) opinion of Bee Movie.

You see, Apis author Jay Hosler is a biology professor and researcher specializing in honey bees, and one of the many facts about actual bee biology that he works into Clan Apis is that bees change jobs over their lives -- and that there's no typical progression, either. Bees can do very different things depending on what's needed. So the entire plot of Bee Movie was even more based on hooey than I'd previously thought; there's not a scrap of even half-remembered science behind it.

Clan Apis, on the other hand, manages to be a pleasant comics story about the life of a bee named Nyuki, from larva-hood to death and beyond. It's filled with actual science facts, which come up naturally in the course of the plot and are only occasionally too much.

I remember Jay Hosler from his strip in Comics Buyers Guide back in the mid-90s, and I knew that Clan Apis was out there. (It was published in 2000.) I even picked it up in a comics shop once or twice, but never bought it. But it was in a library that's part of the local consortium here, so I got it that way -- and it's really a great book for libraries, so I hope it's in a lot of collections.

Art Out of Time edited by Dan Nadel

Art Out of Time is a book of comics oddities, strips and comic-book stories from the formative years of the medium by lesser-known creators with idiosyncratic viewpoints and styles. The subtitle -- Unknown Comics Visionaries, 1900-1969 -- claims somewhat more for these guys than I'd agree with, but it explains the purpose of the book.

Dan Nadel is a professor, author, and the director of a small comics publishing house, PictureBox -- best known for the annual Ganzfeld anthology. For Art Out of Time, he's apparently dug through his own collection -- and possibly those of others -- to find work by some of the most individual creators of the period before the underground comics hit in the late '60s. (It's explicitly Nadel's thesis that it was difficult "for eccentric talent to publish personal work" before the undergrounds, and, by implication, it was henceforth easy or common.)

Art Out of Time is divided into five sections, and let me quote Nadel on what they contain:
"Exercises in Exploration" focuses on comics that bring readers into new visual worlds.
"Slapstick" is full to the hilt with mercilessly funny comics.
"Acts of Drawing" compiles artists distinguished for their unique way with a pen.
"Word in Pictures" gathers cartoonists who, above all else, were prose stylists and plot technicians.
"Form and Style" is concerned with ingenious graphic devices and aesthetics in comics.
Nadel is generally more interested in the art side of comics than the writing side, but he's unearthed some interesting stuff. (Though the old strips in particular can be difficult to read at the size he reproduces them -- there were a lot of words in newspaper strips in those days.)

Not all of the creators here are particularly forgotten; there are the usual suspects like Boody Rogers, George "Jingle Jangle Tales" Carlson, Milt Gross, Gene Deitch, and Herbie's Ogden Whitney. But Art Out of Time did drag Fletcher Hanks out of obscurity, and a half-dozen other cartoonists in here could be collected as interestingly and successfully as I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets.

So Art Out of Time is not always easy to read -- books of early 20th century strip cartoons never are, unless they're printed broadsheet size -- but at least some of the stuff inside is worth perusing or poring over for fans of oddball comics. (Though I will admit that I just looked at the pictures for some of the weirder old strips.)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Magazine Follies

Today, I actually finished reading the July 2003 issue of The New York Review of Science Fiction, which I think I have been carrying around for the past five years. (No offense meant to NYRSF, particularly since I've kept up my subscription; it's just that magazines have always taken the hit when reading time is limited and NYRSF is generally at the bottom of that pile.)

I hope to read the August 2003 issue somewhat more quickly, though I'm not going to expect to catch up any time soon. I'm hoping to get into some good, juicy SFnal controversies of yesteryear; does anyone remember what we were passionately debating in mid-2003?

Negative Reviews Redux

OK, so now I've got three at least mildly negative reviews queued up to write -- all by writers I like, all I somewhat enjoyed, but all that have what look to me like serious flaws. (I've also got two mostly positive reviews I need to write; I've gotten far behind on the non-comics part of my reading.) And I'm not going to say what any of those books are, before I write them, since one of the reasons I write about books is to work out precisely what I do think about them.

I said a lot of what I wanted to say about negativity in On Bad Reviews, so I won't repeat that here. But I do think I am being more critical (in public, at least) than I used to be -- I don't have a professional connection to the field at the moment (but if anyone wants to drag me back in, just call me) and so only honesty and common human decency is restraining me now.

So there might be an element of bounceback here -- I spent a decade just saying nice things about SFF books in public, at the SFBC, and now I have a chance to be somewhat more critical outside of discussions in the office and at conventions. It's like when someone pushes down on your outstretched arm for a few minutes; when they stop, your arm rises without conscious thought.

But every book I review is a book I read all the way to the end, and every book I argue with is a book that made me think, and made me want to argue with it. I'm a strong believer in the old saw that a novel is a long piece of prose with something wrong with it; every novel has a flaw. Some flaws are bigger than others, and some are more important than others. But there are no perfect novels in this world, so every honest review of a novel will have some criticism in it.

Book reviewing is a weird world, polarized between attacks and slavish praise without all that much in between. The SF end of it is generally polite and pleasant, but it also slides into the "slavish praise" on occasion. (We haven't seen all that much in the way of attacks in recent years; we don't have a James Wood in our area.) And I'm not claiming to be better or more pure than anybody; I'm just a guy with a blog who reads books and then thinks too much about them.

I guess what I'm saying is that writing at length about a book means that it's being taken seriously, and that's something that should be noted, even if the attention isn't entirely laudatory.

Anyway, I hope I can get to some of those before I have to head off on another business trip next weekend. And I hope no one will take it personally if any of them get more critical than I expect them to.

Powers, Vol. 9: Psychotic by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming

I'm nearly caught up with this cops-in-a-superhero world series, and the plot might not make sense to outsiders at this point. Here's a link back to Vol. 8, which can lead back further to those so inclined.

The $64 question, coming into this volume, is: who is psychotic, exactly? And that's not an easy question to answer.

Following on from the last book, Legends, one of our series leads, detective Christian Walker (himself an immortal but now depowered former superdude), is mentoring and helping the new Retro Girl, Callista.

But of more immediate interest is the dead body of a guy in the costume of the superhero Blackguard. (A Batman/Moon Knight type, powered by a magical gem -- skulking around alleys in the night, frightening cowardly & superstitious criminals, that whole deal.) Blackguard's authentic costume is on the body of a man (Dule DeSanto) who wasn't the Blackguard. He does have a massive head wound from a police-issued bullet, but he doesn't have the gem.

It gets more complicated from there, of course -- there's our other lead detective, Deanna Pilgrim, trying to control her new unexpected powers, and the death of one of Blackguard's old enemies, the Joke. (No points for figuring out who he is.) There's Deanna's ex- boyfriend, who doesn't seem to get that he's
ex. And there's Mama Joon, the fence for all superhero stuff in the city. (And that's just a bit too comic-book-obvious for my tastes, but it's the only major element that set off my bullshit detector in Psychotic.) But this is basically the "how bad can cops behave" storyline for Powers, and the answer is "pretty damn bad."

It all comes together very naturally and cleanly -- this is a storyline with a theme, but it's not forced. It's all about cops: what they will and won't do, what they have to do, and what they cover up. It's one of the better pieces of Powers, which somewhat restores my faith in it. I'm still annoyed that Walker's an ex-power and Pilgrim now has powers herself -- that's just too damn much, and way too much like the supporting cast of some random long-underwear book -- but, as long as they're still cops, I can deal with it. This was a good one.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Blues & Jazz Week at ComicMix

I said I had a theme this week, and here's what it was:
Next week? Who knows -- I'll have to see what's piled up around here.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

For Everyone Who Has Ever Disliked Their Names

Just think: you could have been called Talula Does the Hula from Hawaii.

So, Do I Have Wings Or Not?

Via Gwenda Bond, a little quiz:

Your result for The What Middle Earth race do you belong to Test...


You're a Balrog! You scored high on size & strength, low on morality, high on aggression and high on intelligence. Balrogs were once divine Maiar spirits along the lines of Gandalf, but they were corrupted by Morgoth into creatures of flame, shadow and pure malice. Immensely powerful and terrifying, they can also create melee weapons from the fire of their own bodies, favoring swords and bullwhips. Their capacity for destruction is surpassed only by Dragons. Once the high lieutenants of Morgoths army, many of the Balrogs were slain in the War of Wrath. The few that survived were scattered and hid deep in the Earth, away from their enemies.

FYI, your polar opposite is the Hobbit.

Take The What Middle Earth race do you belong to Test at HelloQuizzy

For the geekly among you, my stats:

  • Size & Strength: 82%
  • Morality: 41%
  • Aggression: 71%
  • Intelligence: 76%

A Watchmen Number

As always, I am eager not to abuse my access to that vast repository of book-sales information known as BookScan, so I can't just tell you how many copies it says the trade paperback edition of Watchmen sold in the week ending on Sunday.

(Backing up slightly: Watchmen lept massively in the Amazon rankings when a well-received trailer for the movie version screened before a little movie called The Dark Knight last weekend. But the questions of how much Amazon reflects the wider world of bookselling and just what their ranking numbers mean was still open.)

But what I will tell you is the percentage sales increase from the week ending 7/13 to the week ending 7/20: 244 %. (And it's not as is Watchmen was languishing before that; its sales were already a thing to covet and the previous three weeks had seen smaller but still impressive sales increases of 8%, 26%, and 10%.)

So the short form is: even now, twenty years later, after being one of the strongest-selling comics properties ever, there are still thousands and thousands of people who just heard about it and bought the book this week. This implies that even the very most "overexposed" book could still find more readers -- our numbers are small compared to the wider world, so attention from something larger has the potential to drive lots of book-buyers.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

They're So Cute At That Age

From Overheard in New York:
Teenager: Dude, my sister is always stealing her friends' books, but like, sometimes no one has the book she wants, how much easier would it be if there was like, a Blockbuster, but for books.

Movie Log: Penelope

Penelope was playing on my flight back from San Francisco last week. I never watch movies on planes -- at least not on those tiny little screens overhead three rows forward -- so I just looked at it now and then, decided it looked interested, and stuck it onto the Netflix queue when I got home. The Wife and I watched it a week ago.

It's an attempt at an original fable, and is mostly successful, though it doesn't quite get the level of diction right. It's set in a deliberately confusing setting -- one-half London, one-half vaguely American, and mostly seeming like the early 1960s.

Christina Ricci is the titular character, the first girl born in a "blue-blood" family in about a hundred years and thus the recipient of a curse laid upon her great-grandfather by a local witch. The curse is that she looks like a pig -- well, actually, she looks like Christina Ricci with a small, low-key, vaguely un-pretty prosthetic nose. Because of this, her parents (Catherine O'Hara and Richard E. Grant) have kept her confined to the family home since birth. The curse will be lifted when she's married to a "blue-blood" man and thus accepted by her kind, so there's a parade of young men who all dive through a window when they first see Penelope.

One of these young men is Edward Humphrey Vanderman III (Simon Woods), who, through a complicated but not interesting series of events, comes to team up with raffish reporter Lemon (Peter Dinklage) to take and publish a picture of Penelope to salvage both of their reputations. They enlist gambling addict and general ne'er-do-well Max (James McAvoy) to charm Penelope and get her picture, but things don't go as planned.

Penelope generally meets her suitors via a one-way mirror; she stays in her multi-level Hollywood-villain's-lair bedroom while the young men emote in a very tasteful drawing room until she emerges from behind a bookcase to scare them away. But Max can't get her to come out over the course of several visits.

Eventually, Penelope runs away from her gilded cage to see the real world -- Max mentioned the incredibly banal worldly trifecta of a pub, street vendors, and "the park," which Penelope latches on to. She meets the inevitable "free spirit," Annie (played by producer Reese Witherspoon), eventually reveals herself, and becomes a media sensation.

There's a wedding at the ending, as all modern fables about women think they must have, and it goes reasonably well -- the message is also exceptionally modern, but it's still a fine message.

Penelope generally does pretty well -- it's a C+ / B- movie. Nothing at all is wrong with it, but the "fable" aspect makes chunks of the background unnecessarily hazy, and the dialogue isn't sharp enough to make up for it. (I have a suspicion that this, like many fables, was turned into that form because the writer thought it would be easier than dealing more directly with the real world.)

One example of the problems with word choice is that word "blue-blood." It's used exclusively to mean "aristocratic" or "rich" or "upper crust" or "ruling class" or whatever -- it's the one word used, though not explained, to describe Penelope and her class. We're supposed to assume that some kind of aristocracy is meant, but we don't know exactly what kind. A lot of Penelope is like that -- words are used bluntly, because they're good enough. A strong fable is like a poem -- the words have to be exactly right to make it all work.

So Penelope is a pleasant movie that's more or less a romantic comedy -- it's funny at times, never overly dramatic, and Max and Penelope do have a connection -- and one which I expect quite a number of young females will like. And if it makes some of them think their own noses are gorgeous by comparison -- and thus stop some pointless cosmetic surgery among some different blue-bloods -- it'll be a good thing

Being Concerned About Things that Have Already Happened

Dave Kellett, the cartoonist who does the webcomic Sheldon, apparently has never heard of the jukebox musical, since his first two strips this week express surprise and amazement at Mamma Mia!

I find his "what if this goes on!" take amusing, especially since there have been piles of them coming and going on Broadway for the past decade -- it looks like Jersey Boys is the only other one currently running , but there have been musicals with songs by Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys, Billy Joel, Elvis, Johnny Cash, and even Kurt Weil.

It's a bit late to even consider closing that particular barn door...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Last Week at ComicMix

I've been busy! BUSY! lately, and so have gotten behind on linking to my ComicMix reviews. Before I dive into a new week of them -- I have one I should be writing tonight -- here's what I accomplished last week:
That's nine books reviewed in one week, which is really too many for my poor typing fingers. This week, if things work out, is Blues and Jazz week, with probably just three books. Don't expect themes all the time, but I'll take 'em when they fall into my lap.

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 7/19

It's mostly Roc and DAW this week, but let me get right to it:

Gale Force by Rachel Caine is first; it's the seventh "Weather Warden" novel, about a gal who controls the weather and her Djinni boyfriend. (I've only read a bit of one of the books, so I don't know the series at all.) It's coming from Roc in August.

Enchantment Place is this month's entry from the Marty Greenberg anthology factory, with Denise Little in the driver's seat this time. It collects seventeen original -- and rather short, as you've probably guess from the fact that there are seventeen of them in one mass-market paperback -- stories about supernatural creatures at the mall from such names as Mary Jo Putney, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Sarah A. Hoyt, Jody Lynn Nye, Laura Resnick, and Diane Duane. DAW is publishing this any minute now.

S.L. Viehl's "Stardoc" series, which is about, yes, a science fictional doctor, hits its eighth volume with Omega Games. Roc publishes this one, in the ever-popular mass-market format. I haven't read any of them, so I can't say much more than that. I did always like James White's "Sector General" books, which were also about space doctors -- though I have no idea if Viehl's stories are anything like White's.

John Joseph Adams slipped me a copy of his upcoming anthology Seeds of Change, which gathers nine original stories about major changes to the world. It has stories by Tobias S. Buckell, Ted Kosmatka, Jay Lake, Ken MacLeod, and other impressive names, and Prime will publish it in August. This could be one of the major anthologies of the year, if the stories have the punch they could; I look forward to reading it.

Elizabeth Bear's Hell and Earth is the second half of the novel "The Stratford Man;" the first half was published last month as Ink and Steel. Many publishers would balk at publishing two fat trade paperbacks in back-to-back months; I'm glad to see Roc has stepped up to the challenge. This is part of her larger "Promethean Cycle," but I've been assured that all of the pieces stand completely separately. (And now there are even more Elizabeth Bear books I haven't read.)

Underground is the third novel in Kat Richardson's "Greywalker" series, and the first to be published in hardcover -- that's traditionally a good sign for a series, so congratulations to Kat (who has been know to hang out on one of my favorite Internet haunts, rec.arts.sf.written). Roc is doing this one in August.

And last this week is C.F. Bentley's Harmony, a science fiction novel from a new name in the field. (Though the copyright page credits one Phyllis Irene Radford, a writer with some expertise and knowledge under her belt.) It sounds like an old-fashioned space opera, with human and alien empires battling over a smaller space polity, one ruled by a High Priestess at the top of a Byzantine caste system and just about due to be thrown into upheaval by a plucky and preternaturally gifted young heroine. It's from DAW in hardcover, and will be in stores within a couple of weeks.