Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Least Likely Cookbook In The World

You probably don't want to click on this link: Natural Harvest.

No, really, you don't. All of the recipes in that book focus on one common, naturally-occurring animal product -- why, for half of you, there's some as close as your own hand. The comments are fun, though.

[via Smart Bitches, Trashy Books]

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Abandoned Books: Jetpack Dreams by Mac Montandon

I've just made a new rule for myself, though I'll have to see how long it lasts: if I think about dropping a book in the middle more than twice, I'll just do it, and move on to something else. (If I find myself reading two chapters and then dropping everything, I'll have to reconsider the rule -- or my criteria for picking a book up in the first place.)

I obviously can't review Mac Montandon's Jetpack Dreams; I've only read about half of it. And I was mostly enjoying it as I was reading it, too.

But I came to think that Montandon was far, far more interested in jetpacks than I ever would be, and that I was becoming less interested as the book went on. (Obviously Montandon liked jetpacks -- he wrote a whole book about them! -- but I thought I did, too. It's weird to discover that some geeky thing that you assumed you liked is actually not all that compelling, once you get down to it.)

Jetpack Dreams was an interesting read as far as I went; Montandon has done both his historical research and his contemporary legwork. And I doubt there will be a better book about jetpacks in my lifetime -- there may never be another book about jetpacks in my lifetime.

If you like jetpacks as much as I thought I did -- or if you are just somewhat interested and less ambivalent than I seem to be this week -- you might well find a lot to like in Jetpack Dreams. But I'm going to pick something else up, and see if I can finish that.

Manga and Monsters at ComicMix

I did have three reviews up at ComicMix this week -- including the one on Monday I already told you folks about -- but I ran a bit later than usual this week.

Yesterday, of course, was Manga Friday, and my column reviewed Gantz, Gankutsuou, and Dorothea.

And then today I had a review covering two new Hellboy-related books: Abe Sapien: The Drowning and B.P.R.D.: 1946.

I assume I'll be back on a more regular schedule next week, but we all know what assumptions do...

Friday, November 28, 2008

Incoming Books: 24 November

I took a trip to the comics shop earlier this week, and haven't managed to blog about it since. (And if you want to take that as "too busy" rather than "too lazy," it's fine with me.) But, since I am obsessive, I will list them now, for the three people who are on the Internet instead of having something better to do:

Lawrence Block's One Night Stands and Lost Weekends, a collection of very early stories originally published as two small-press hardcovers, One Night Stands and The Lost Cases of Ed London. I've been vaguely thinking that I needed to track down those two books for the past few years -- and have been stopped by the price -- so it's great to see Harper putting out an economical edition. I don't expect these to be all that good, of course, but I've read a couple of very early Block novels recently -- Grifter's Game and A Diet of Treacle -- and found them decent noir thrillers, so I'm hoping the stories will have a similar kick.

Guy Delisle, I've learned, has published books other than his Asian travelogues Burma Chronicles, Shenzhen, and Pyongyang; he's also done a few books of wordless humorous comics. So I grabbed one of those, Aline and the Others -- it looks quite different from his travel books.

There's a new B.P.R.D. book -- part of the ever-expanding Hellboy universe -- called 1946, and I got a copy of that, even though I've already read it. (I need to write up my review of it and another Hellboy spinoff for ComicMix soon -- as in today soon.)

The eleventh volume of Fables also came out; it's called War and Pieces. I haven't read it yet, but I gather it's another object lesson in just how cruel Bill Willingham can be to his creations -- many writers flinch, but one of Willingham's great strengths is that he neither flinches nor pushes too far; he's precise and correct in his plot-driven cruelty.

And last was the big art annual, Spectrum 15. I used to buy these for the SFBC -- for thirteen years! -- but now I'm reduced to buying single copies for myself in a store. O tempora, O mores!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Times's Notable Books of 2008

The New York Times has just listed their 100 "Notable" books of the year -- though they note that their year runs from Dec 2, 2007, when they did the list the last time, to November 26, 2008, which sounds like slightly less than a year to me. And, at this rate, the Times will have to have a Leap Notable Books in 2055.

Among their notable fiction books are Victor Pelevin's The Sacred Book of the Werewolf, a new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in verse by Simon Armitage, Robert Bolano's 2666, and John Updike's The Widows of Eastwick.

(That Updike novel, by the way, almost won him the Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction award for this year, and did get him a special lifetime-achievement citation for passages such as this:
"She said nothing then, her lovely mouth otherwise engaged, until he came, all over her face. She had gagged, and moved him outside her lips, rubbing his spurting glans across her cheeks and chin, God, she was antique, but here they were. Her face gleamed with his jism in the spotty light of the motel room, there on the far end of East Beach, within sound of the sea." That's how you have to write to be notable to the Times.)

On the nonfiction side, there are actually a couple of books I've read -- Julian Barnes's Nothing to Be Frightened Of and Tom Vanderbilt's Traffic -- along with one I keep thinking I should read, David Hajdu's The Ten-Cent Plague.

But, as usual, nothing published explicitly in a fiction genre made it onto the list -- I'd bet that no books like that were even considered.

Sailing for Bourbon

On Monday, I reviewed the graphic novel Bourbon Island 1730, by Appollo and Lewis Trondheim, for ComicMix.

I was supposed to have another review today -- my aim is always to go Mon-Wed-Fri -- but I got too lazy/tired/out of time last night, and it didn't get written. Maybe later (though not tomorrow, since no one will be on the Internet then).

Manga Friday, though, I do expect will be on time.

Guardian Bad Sex Award: 2008

The British newspaper The Guardian (renowned in song and story as Teh Grauniad for their error-filled past) has an annual award for the worst sex scene -- grandly called the Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction award.

This year saw a strong group of nominees -- including Alastair Campbell, Paulo Coelho, Simon Montefiore, Isabel Fonseca, and perennial contender John Updike.

Samples from several of the nominated novels -- though not, sadly, either Updike or Coelho -- are also available, to potentially make you swear off sex for the rest of your life.

And, just yesterday, the winner was announced: Rachel Johnson, for her novel Shire Hell. A special lifetime achievement award was also presented to Updike, who has now been nominated for the award four years running.

Johnson won in large part due to her flood of animal metaphors, such as:
...his hands find my bush, and with light fingers he flutters about there, as if he is a moth caught inside a lampshade. ...puts his tongue to my core, like a cat lapping up a dish of cream so as not to miss a single drop. I find myself gripping his ears and tugging at the locks curling over them, beside myself, and a strange animal noise escapes from me as the mounting, Wagnerian crescendo overtakes me. I really do hope at this point that all the Spodders are, as requested, attending the meeting about slug clearance or whatever it is.
Moths, cats, Wagner and slugs, all in less than a page -- that's some good sex!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

That Fine Old Clan, the Wheelers

My father, along with one of his older brothers, have been tracing the family genealogy back over the past few years. (As hobbies go, it's a relatively harmless one, and they don't seem to have found any major skeletons in any closets.)

I've just gotten another batch of their findings -- two big DVDs of family documents, photos, and miscellany, plus a CD-ROM biography of my great-great grandfather William Sippell Wheeler.

But the big news this year is that I can now trace my ancestry to Resolved White, who came over on the Mayflower in 1620 with his parents, William and Susanna (being only five years old at the time, he was presumably too small to make the journey alone).

So if there was ever any doubt about how much of a WASP I am, I hope this has laid that to rest.

Something To Remember

Whenever an author -- any author of fiction, and many who write primarily non-fiction as well -- pontificates about genre placement and markers, the borders between categories, the popularity of particular styles, or anything at all related to the categorization of books, what that author is thinking but not saying is:
My books are so wonderful that everyone in the whole wide world would love them, and so anything that keeps even one person from reading one of my books is bad.
Those writers are incorrect; there is no book that everyone would like, and no book that even all of the people who habitually read a particular genre would like. Tattoo this inside your eyelids: De gustibus non est disputandum.

Keep that in mind when you see writers talking about how books should be shelved or categorized.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Corporate Culture Shock

You really get to know more about a company when you work longer hours than usual. Today, I'm going to be running off to SFWA's annual Author-Editor Reception -- I think the name might actually be longer than that, now, but we all just call it the "Mill & Swill" -- so I'm lingering in the Wiley offices much later than I usually do.

I generally come in early and leave early -- just slightly earlier than the Wiley standard of 8:30 to 4:30 -- so I haven't really known what it's like here after I leave. (And I'm usually one of the first to leave, as I was at the bookclubs.)

But Wiley very quickly turns into a ghost town: the floor is mostly empty by 5. This is in strong distinction to the iron-woman culture of the clubs, where seeing daylight on leaving the office was considered a sign of weakness. There are people still working here, but I bet Wiley doesn't have the office hypermilers the clubs did, people who didn't get out before 8 even on a good day.

I much prefer this current culture, of course.

Your Moment of Zen

What do acquiring editors do when they're told not to acquire?

If you know an editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, you could ask her...

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 11/22

I review books, so I get books to review. And, inevitably, I don't manage to review all of them. But I want to mention them all -- so I do posts like this every week, to list the books I've just seen, but haven't yet read.

This week has a very short stack -- either because the fickle goddess Publicity has turned her face away from me, because the economic troubles are hitting publishing companies, or because it's the middle of the month. Other theories may be equally plausible, as well...

Peter F. Hamilton's new novel The Temporal Void is another one of his patented brick-like objects; well over seven hundred pages and, even as a bound galley, quite hefty enough to create a big welt if you fling it at someone. (Not that I suggest chucking it at anyone, or admit to doing so myself.) It's the sequel to The Dreaming Void, and the middle book of a trilogy (with, presumably, one more The {Adjective} Void book still to come). And I haven't read any Hamilton, so I can't give you any advice one way or the other on this. He's pretty popular, so if you like gigantic books and/or modern space opera -- preferably both -- you'd be in a large company if you tried this one. You'd probably want to start with Dreaming Void, which is just as well, since Temporal Void won't be published -- in hardcover, by Del Rey -- until March 24th.

My one comic-booky title is one my two sons would be thrilled to know about. Luckily for me, they don't read my blog, so it'll be a surprise to them whenever I do pass it along to them. It's Bakugan Battle Brawlers: The Battle Begins!, a comic made from screen shots of the animated TV show of the same name. (Is there a generic term for these? At least one publisher calls them "Cine-Manga," but I think that's their trademark. And they're not fumetti, since they're not using real photographs.) Bakugan is another in the long line of Japanese series about pre-teen boys with weird hair who fight evil (and each other) using trading cards -- which you the reader can buy yourself in a local toy shop! -- and, in this case, summoned monsters, which you can also sort-of do yourself. I can just about tell all of these things apart, but I don't claim to be any kind of an expert. I'm pretty sure no one reading this blog will want this book for personal enjoyment, but some of you may be interested (as I am) on behalf of young 'uns. This one is already published; it's also from Del Rey.

And last this week -- I told you it was a short list -- is a new edition of Robert Silverberg's 1971 novel A Time of Changes, from Tor's Orb imprint. It won the Nebula for Best Novel, is part of that amazing rush of great novels that Silverberg wrote in the late '60s and early '70s, and it's wonderful to see it back in print. (This is the one about the medium-future human colony world where referring to oneself in the first person is heavily taboo -- but the book's protagonist is determined to do it.) This new edition will be out in April. I couldn't find a cover for it online -- it is pretty early, after all -- but I'm pretty sure that I saw the cover art for this just this weekend. (I was at the Philcon science fiction convention, and I think the Artist Guest of Honor, John Picacio, had it in the art show.) I could be confused, though -- that happens more often than I'd like.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Long Tail Is Dead

Sayeth The Register, quoting official Long Tail promoter Chris Anderson.

Money quote:
"I'll end by conceding a point: It's hard to make money in the Tail," Anderson wrote. "The revenues are disproportionately in the Head. Perhaps that will never change."
This does not mean, of course, that no one can ever make money on something that isn't the very biggest thing ever. But most of the money to be made in any particular market has been pretty conclusively proven to be in the top cluster.

As many of us have said for a long time, the Long Tail may indeed be very long, but it's very, very thin...and so adds up to less than many people hoped. C'est la vie.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Explain Me This

How come I'm seeing a whole bunch of editorial cartoons about the possible car-makers' bailout including some reference to the UAW as some evil personage?

(Take this Lisa Benson cartoon, for example -- the UAW is a giant gorilla, and "Detroit" is a little man acting like his organ-grinder's monkey. The message seems to be that "Detroit" is utterly in thrall of the UAW, which would be a huge surprise to anyone who's followed the history of labor unions in the last fifty years.)

Didn't we use to think that well-paying blue-collar jobs were a good thing? I completely understand the resentment against investment bankers -- more so, enthusiastically share in it -- but I didn't think that we'd sunk so low as to hate relatively well-paid factory workers.

(There's another cartoon from a few days ago -- I can't find it now -- but it was basically blaming retirees for the carmakers' financial problems. As if, you know, if they'd just died like poor people are supposed to, then GM wouldn't have to pay for their meager old-age cottages.)

Oh, and, yes, I do remember American labor's long history of strong-arm tactics and ties to organized crime -- I'm from New Jersey, remember! -- but these cartoons seem to be about something else, as if paying assembly-line workers a high wage is a stupid, evil idea.

Update: And here's another one, from Glenn Foden. The UAW is a giant anchor holding back the stagecoach of the Big 3 automakers from being pulled by a single donkey (which I guess represents car-buyers; he's not labeled). Leaving aside the inadvertently painful precision of Foden's visual metaphor -- the cartoon itself begs one to ask if the Big 3 aren't in trouble because they're trying to drive a stagecoach -- one still has to ask why the similar stagecoaches of Toyota, Honda, and so for -- not shown in this picture -- aren't being similarly hampered.

Editorial cartoonists, everywhere: think about your metaphors before you dive into them.

Oh, and here's one from the other side, by David Horsey.

Friday, November 21, 2008

More Girly Girls and Dreamy Boys for Manga Friday

My "Manga Friday" column this week for ComicMix reviews the second volumes of the series Nephilim, Sunshine Sketch, and You're So Cool -- all pretty girly shojo stories, though of different kinds.

When You See "Amazon," Do You Think "Shoes"?

Amazon, in their continuing attempt to dominate all retail sales of everything, everywhere, have continued their inexorable assault on other retailers by expanding into footwear.

They're quite keen for people to know that they now have ALDO shoes (whatever those are), and that there's free shipping on those ALDO shoes through 12/21.

If you know, or care, more about this than I do, then click away:

Quote of the Week

"[John Stuart] Mill had an allergy to dogma, including his own -- which makes him an occasional friend to the dogmatist. When someone says that proof of God's existence can be found in Nature, he doesn't say it's bosh. He asks what this would actually entail if it were true, and infers that such a creator would have to be limited, inept, well-meaning, forgetful, and in a daily contest with another power: 'A Being of great but limited power ... who desires, and pays some regard to, the happiness of his creatures, but who seems to have some other motives of action which he cares more for, and who can hardly be supposed to have created the universe for that purpose alone.' What natural theology, taken seriously, shows is not the great Watchmaker or the All-Seeing Jove but the absent-minded Landlord, a sort of eternal Lord Emsworth, who, though he helps the young lovers, cares mainly about his pig."
- Adam Gopnik, "Right Again," p.88 in the 10/6/08 New Yorker

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Philcon Schedule

Even though I'll only be there a day and a half, as usual the programming folks have loaded me up with a lot of work. (And we'll see if that means that the move to Cherry Hill has accelerated the flight of pros from Philcon, or just that they really, really love me.)

Here are the appropriate links, if you're in the northeast and are likely to run off to a SF convention at the drop of a hat in mid-November: Philcon. The mighty Crowne Plaza Cherry Hill.

If you'll be at Philcon, and want to hear me blather in person, these are your best opportunities:
Sat 11:00 AM in Plaza II (Two) (1 hour)
[Panelists: Diane Weinstein (mod), Alexis Gilliland, Andrew Wheeler, Gardner Dozois, Ian Randal Strock]
Remember when it was possible to sell an Avram Davidson short story collection and a R. A. Lafferty novel in a mass market paperback, along with other strange stuff? In the quest for the next best seller, the Science Fiction field seems to have narrowed considerably in the last 30 years. Has Science Fiction become a victim of its own success?

Sat 1:00 PM in Plaza III (Three) (1 hour)
[Panelists: J. Andrew World (mod), Tony DiGerolamo, Scott Christian Sava, Andrew Wheeler, Phil Kahn]
Lots of fans are reading XKCD, PVP, and/or Questionable Content. But if you don't know what any of those are, you REALLY need to come to this panel! And even if you DO know, you STILL need to come to this panel, because there's still a LOT of great stuff out there you might be missing.

Sat 4:00 PM in Plaza V (Five) (1 hour)
[Panelists: Andrew Wheeler (mod), Andre Lieven, James Daniel Ross, Michael Swanwick, Catherine Asaro]
It seems increasingly likely that the 21st Century may not be dominated by the United States. Has there been much Science Fiction about this?

Sun 12:00 PM in Plaza II (Two) (1 hour)
[Panelists: Andrew Wheeler (mod), Eric Avedissian, Victoria Janssen]
There are a tremendous number of Robert E. Howard new editions, repackaging and even a forthcoming Library of America edition. What makes him still relevant and vital?

Sun 2:00 PM in Plaza IV (Four) (1 hour)
[Panelists: Tobias Cabral (mod), Rebecca Marcus, Andrew Wheeler, Crystal Paul]
How do our college majors, jobs, and other outside interests effect the SF we read, watch and like?

Bonus points! If there's anything I should say (or not say) on any of those topics, let me know now, while I still have a chance to say, or not say, it.

Amazon Wishes You Would Spend Money would all of us whose lives depend on selling things. (On the other hand, spending too much money is what got us all into the problem in the first place. It is a conundrum.)

But I have some pretty-pretty Amazon banners and links to take your minds off the financial turmoil, and maybe -- just maybe -- even to entice you to buy something.

First, there's a Sony Hi-Def Store, with Blu-Ray discs, PlayStation 3 systems and games, and related stuff -- at prices which might be somewhat discounted. (Amazon promises "incredible values," which is a bit nonspecific.)

Amazon also has 500 separate "stores" for various TV shows. There's a page of TV DVD deals that will be active through 11/28, and the horribly named The TV Holi-Daily Deal page, which will have different deals each day from 12/4 to 12/16. Then there's another page with DVDs of ABC TV shows for at least 42% off, and that one will be up from 12/2 to 12/15. Amazon sent me about ten more links to specific DVD/TV-ish deals in the same e-mail, but I'm tried of writing about them, and you're tired of reading. Suffice it to say that they'll have a bunch of DVD special offers over the next six weeks, so keep an eye out for ones on things you want for yourselves or for gift-giving. (Or for playing skeet with, or for baiting alligators -- neither Amazon nor I really cares what you do with the stuff once you buy it.)

How about a nice DVD banner to sum up the entire category?

Amazon also wanted me to know that they have a new, more powerful Deals Widget. (And you know I love widgets.)

Here's one for Books and one for "Gold Box" deals on all sorts of things, in three categories (mouse over the blue bars to expand each of the three categories, assuming you care):

(Both of those should change at least daily -- possibly even as you watch them!)

Amazon also has a Holiday Toy List, with video demonstrations of lots of goodies:

Something I'm not sarcastic about, for once: Amazon is leading the fight against those horrible hermetically sealed "clamshell" packages, for which they should definitely be commended. And, of course, they have a banner for that, too:

Like every other retailer, Amazon will have Black Friday deals. And, also like every other retailer, they won't tell us what those deals are ahead of time.

If you'll be cooking for your solstice holiday, you may need the Kitchen & Home Gift Guide. If you let other people's musical tastes dictate what you listen to -- list most of the radio-listening population of America -- you may enjoy Gift Ideas for Music Lovers. And if you need Christmas Holiday (goodness knows, we must be inclusive when we're talking about wreaths and ornaments and small decorative lights, since they all figure in the solstice celebrations of so many cultures) decorations, then hie thee to the Gift Ideas for Music Lovers.

I think that's more than enough shilling for one day. It's probably enough shilling for the rest of the month. Now I need to post something less nakedly commercial...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Best Book Companies To Work For

Every year Book Business magazine -- which I have to admit I don't hear or think about any other time during the year, so grains of salt may be required -- publishes their annual survey of the best book-publishing companies to work for.

This year, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. -- the one, the only -- clocks in at #6.

(#1 is Hachette, the only big trade publisher on the list higher than Wiley -- most of the list is made up of small and/or very niche publishers. Random House is #9, and is the only publisher on the list to hire more people than Wiley this year. I also wonder how they determined this ranking, since Random House is often considered a pressure cooker -- it may be the six-month sabbatical that you can earn if you manage to last there long enough.)

So: I work for a darn good company.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Evan Dorkin Has the Best Con Report Ever

The slightest bit of context: Dorkin is not known for his sunny disposition in the first place.

Now go read it.

I Am So 21st Century It Scares Even Me

I just created two PowerPoint slides for a group presentation for Wiley's Sales Conference in two weeks -- from my hotel room in Charleston, yet -- and integrated them into the shared document housed on some server somewhere in the wilds of New Jersey.

Check me out: I've made it up to the bleeding edge of 2003!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Small Details

Subterranean Press put out a release about the mysterious author K.J. Parker the other day -- and, for what I think is the first time, one of Parker's publishers was not careful about avoiding personal pronouns.

I'm not sure if this is a change in policy or a mistake, but it's long been my theory that "Parker" is female (it's sort of an inversion of Silverberg's old "ineluctable masculinity" comment about Tiptree, at base), so I was quietly satisfied to see that Subterranean refers to Parker as "her."

(You see, this is one of the things you lose when you willy-nilly allow "they" as a singular third-person pronoun.)

Amazon Best Books of 2008

Over the last several days, Amazon has been doling out their "Best Books" lists, in a wide variety of categories. I won't run through all of them -- we'd be here all day -- but I did want to poke around a bit at the ones that interest me the most. (The full list is always available at Amazon.)

First, I'll note that their Top 10 Business & Investing books includes three from that mighty powerhouse of publishing, John Wiley & Sons. (Some of you might recall that I currently work as a marketing manager in Wiley's Business Group; all of these books are from that group, but none are from my particular line.) Those three are The Brand Bubble (from our Jossey-Bass imprint, out of San Francisco), The Gone Fishin' Portfolio, and The Contrarian Effect.

The Science Fiction & Fantasy list -- presumably by Omnivoracious contributor Jeff VanderMeer, though I don't see anywhere that explicitly says that -- includes only two books I've read so far, though there are a couple more that are on my shelf. (And there's only one book -- Neal Stephenson's Anathem -- that's both on the "Editor's Choice" list and the Top Ten of what Amazon customers actually bought.

The Comics & Graphic Novels list is quite eclectic -- starting with The Umbrella Academy and ending with The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard -- and I've either already read or expect to soon read nearly all of it. I'm not sure if I'll spring for Dilbert 2.0, since that strip isn't what it once was -- it's still funny, but I no longer feel any need to read the strips again in book form. And I have to admit that I've never really warmed up to Lynda Barry's work, so I won't be making a special effort to find What It Is.

And last (for me), is the Teens section, which has books most of us call "Young Adult." It's got both The Graveyard Book and Little Brother, amid other things I think I should read someday -- like the second book of Octavian Nothing -- and a lot of things that I'm not as familiar with.

Amazon, as usual, has many more lists than that, with both "Editor's Choice" (the highbrow stuff you should read) and "Customer Favorites" (the books people actually are buying and reading) in every category. I suggest bouncing back and forth between the two in the categories that interest you, and thinking up complicated theories to explain the differences.