Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Rare Obligatory Political Post

Or, A brief jeremiad aimed at people who agree with Hobby Lobby and the various other companies jumping on their bandwagon.

For those who haven't been following the news, first a chain of profitable craft stores, and now a whole slew of other organizations, are claiming that they shouldn't have to pay for some of the health-care requirements of the Affordable Care Act [1] (aka "Obamacare") because it interferes with their religious freedom.

I know the religious freedom card is one with powerful sentiment, particularly among the kind of white middle-class Christians who have never had to suffer the tiniest bit of actual persecution in their lives, but please do think through the implications.

This is a private company -- not a religious institution, not a non-profit, not any kind of specialized organization, but a plan ordinary company trying to make money -- that wants to enshrine in law a right to avoid following a particular piece of law. And the basis of that right to skip out on a law would be their own interpretation of the personal religious beliefs of the owners. Logically, there's no reason why the same argument couldn't be extended to any company -- or any individual, since a company is a legal person just as a natural person is -- and any law.

In other words, Hobby Lobby is trying to make it impossible for any laws to be enforced at all if anyone can think up a pseudo-religious explanation for wanting not to follow that law. This is literally a prescription for anarchy.

Look, think of even this mild extension of the doctrine: what about a company run by Christian Scientists? They don't believe in modern medicine at all, so does that mean that company should be free to avoid paying any health-care coverage?

This is just a stupid legal argument. Admit it, give it up, and move on. Your side has comprehensively lost the battle against contraception, and the tide is just not going to shift back the way you want it.

[1] Specifically, the requirement that employers cover FDA-approved contraception for female employees, which Hobby Lobby and its lik say they consider abortion. This is actually one of the core issues: this case is based on what they consider a procedure to be, not what the general understanding or the actual scientific facts of that procedure are. In other words, they're demanding that their faith be given preferential legal treatment, because it is their belief.

(inspired by this Chuck Asay cartoon, which I couldn't manage to make work for Editorial Explanations, since it's not even wrong)

Trend Pieces

Apparently classic, excellent books are now getting really inappropriate covers! Purely to chase new audiences of actual readers! (Who, clearly, aren't nearly as cultured as the article-writer, and so aren't worthy to read Great Litra'chur.)

This is deeply shocking, particularly since putting inappropriate/lurid/silly/trendy covers of good books has never happened before in the history of the world!!!!!

Catty Deaths

You've all seen the news that cats in the US -- the biggest culprits are feral and stray cats, but house cats do not have clean paws -- kill somewhere between 8 and 25 billion birds and mammals every single year, right?

I knew there was a reason why I didn't trust them.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver

If there were a Wonk of the Year award, Silver would have won it in a slam-dunk last year -- this book was a bestseller, his political predictions came true almost perfectly, and he was all over the media (not least at his own, New York Time-affiliated FiveThirtyEight blog). I wouldn't be surprised if he'd also predicted the entire baseball season -- his other main claim to fame in the fields of wonkery was in devising a swell algorithm to predict the usefulness of players -- but I've been disconnected from sports for so long that I have no idea.

So: he's one of the current top Big Explainers, and The Signal and the Noise is his first book -- his official Big Explanation. Since it was designed to be a big bestseller, there is absolutely no math in it -- though Silver is a statistician, and his analyses rely heavily on Bayesian methodology -- and it, as it must, attempts to reduce all of life to one thing. (Oddly, for Silver, that thing is an equation, which is hard to do in a book with no math.)

Every single Big Explanation is wrong, with no exceptions, so this one is as well. Oh, it's pretty good, as Big Explanations go -- quite useful, in the right places, and a good tool for looking at a lot of situations in the actually existing world. But a book like this must insist that its Big Explanation covers everything in the world, and so Silver does, and so he's wrong, because nothing ever can do that. But his claim is elegant and not too obviously self-aggrandizing, so you can't stay grumpy at him for long.

If you know what Bayesian statistics are, you don't need to read The Signal and the Noise, only to know that Silver applies Bayes to baseball and politics, poker and weather forecasting, climate change and terrorism and the stock market -- all of which involve numbers and frequencies and lots of statistics, so they're fertile ground. If you only vaguely recognize Bayes -- if, like me, it's familiar while you read it, like the laws of thermodynamics and the carbon cycle, but slips out of mind immediately afterward -- then The Signal and the Noise will be pleasant and may make you feel quite smart. If you detest numbers and prediction, because the lord of the universe explained everything in this book you have right there, then you need to go sit in the corner while the grownups talk.

As long as no one takes Silver's Big Explanations absolutely seriously, it will be quite useful -- and thinking about probabilistic calculations in more situations would be a net positive for most of us. But I'm sure there will be a cult of Bayes -- like the Milton Freedmanites, I suppose, but more fond of brackets -- that insists that all of human life can and will be predicted. We always do have the stupid with us, though, so we can't blame Silver (more than mildly and half-heartedly) for that.

The Signal and the Noise has quite a lot of good thinking, some good tools, and an organizing principle that's vastly more correct than most similar books. For a non-fiction bestseller, this is about as good as it gets.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


I've neglected to mention a bunch of these, so let's strew them about randomly and hope no one notices....

2013 Heinlein Award Winners

This award, for vaguely being Heinleinian and skiffy and pro-space in writings of some kind or another, goes to Allen Steele and Yoji Kondo this year, for no specific works or events.

This award has recently been taken over by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society from the Heinlein Society, according to the Locus Online write-up, which I think implies that Kondo is no longer the chair of the judging committee. But he previously was chair of that committee -- and is still cited as such by the official website of the award -- which is unusual for a winner, to say the least. (Of course, the first winner of the award was Virginia Heinlein, who created the prize and the committee, so there is a tradition to be upheld.)

The award itself will be given out at Balticon 47, in late May in the wilds of Maryland. If you want to see a grown man getting a whopping great sterling silver medallion with another grown man's face on it, this may be your best opportunity.

2013 BSFA Award Nominees

This one is more straightforward: the British Science Fiction Association, which is, as you know Bob, an Association of British people that like Science Fiction, has announced the nominees for their annual awards. Winners will be announced at this year's Eastercon, EightSquared, in scenic Bradford.

There are several categories -- and you can see all of them on the official BSFA blog, but here's the one that everyone cares the most about:

Best Novel
Dark Eden by Chris Beckett (Corvus)
Empty Space: a Haunting by M. John Harrison (Gollancz)
Intrusion by Ken Macleod (Orbit)
Jack Glass by Adam Roberts (Gollancz)
2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)

 2013 Kitschies Nominees

This is a newer, quirkier British award -- which I suspect, like so many other awards, was created because one year the Wrong Things Won -- sponsored by a brand of rum and with three categories with cutesy names. In other words, it's the SF award for the Internet Era, so we'd better get used to it.

This year's nominees:

Red Tentacle:
  • Jesse Bullington's The Folly of the World (Orbit)
  • Frances Hardinge's A Face Like Glass (Macmillan)
  • Nick Harkaway's Angelmaker (William Heinemann)
  • Adam Roberts' Jack Glass (Gollancz)
  • Juli Zeh's The Method (Harvill Secker) (Translated by Sally-Ann Spencer)
Golden Tentacle:
  • Madeline Ashby's vN (Angry Robot)
  • Jenni Fagan's The Panopticon (William Heinemann)
  • Rachel Hartman's Seraphina (Doubleday)
  • Karen Lord's Redemption in Indigo (Jo Fletcher Books)
  • Tom Pollock's The City's Son (Jo Fletcher Books)
Inky Tentacle:
  • La Boca for Ned Beauman's The Teleportation Accident (Sceptre)
  • Oliver Jeffers for John Boyne's The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket (Doubleday)
  • Tom Gauld for Matthew Hughes' Costume Not Included (Angry Robot)
  • Peter Mendelsund for Ben Marcus' Flame Alphabet (Granta)
  • Dave Shelton for his own A Boy and a Bear in a Boat (David Fickling Books)
If you want explanations of the various naughty, naughty tentacles, check out the Kitschies site. I note that all of these works are distinguished by being "progressive," which I suppose means this is the opposite of the Libertarian's Prometheus Award.

Winners will be announced on February 26th at a random event space in London, because the Internet has nothing to do with boring old crotchety convention fandom! Anarchy Now!

Congratulations to all of the winners and nominees. (Note: this is possibly the only non-sarcastic sentence in the whole post.)

If You Like Maps of Fantasy Worlds

You'll want to be careful about clicking this link, since you could lose entire days there.

Note that not all of the links are still valid, and some lead to pages that include maps, rather than directly to the maps themselves. And some are official scanned-from-books maps, some are good fan-made maps, and some are cruder explorations of the territory.

But they're all maps of lands that don't exist, which is plenty good enough.

(via Publishers Weekly)

Monday, January 28, 2013

In the Spirit of the Season

Hey! I just discovered that the Dollyrots' wonderfully snotty "Valentine's Day" is available, right now, for free on NoiseTrade!

Grab it and enjoy it.

And then, if you like it, I'd recommend their middle record, Because I'm Awesome, because it is -- particularly the title song and their cover of "Brand New Key."

Speaking of that, I had to tell The Wife that "Brand New Key" was entirely an extended metaphor for sex recently -- I thought everyone had gotten that memo by now.... 

The Lack of Context Should Protect Me

Look, nimrod, your Annual Meeting cannot, by definition, be "an unprecedented event."

And if you're a group of smart people, you know that already, and have no excuses.

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 1/26

Welcome back once again to the longest-running not-actually-reviewing-books column in the New Jersey Highlands! As always, these are books that just arrived, so I've only glanced at them and not actually read them cover to cover. Their mere existence in my life is tribute to a legion of hardworking book-publishing publicists, whose job it is to make sure that people like you find out about books that they might like, so I hope some of that goes on today.

What I'm about to tell you is as correct as I know, but I could be wrong -- so assume that if any slight change would make a book absolutely perfect for you, then I must have bobbled that detail.

First up is The Eldritch Conspiracy -- the book that once again reminds me that spelling "Eldritch" without the T is not strictly speaking correct -- by the portmanteau author Cat Adams. ("Adams" is, not secretly at all, actually the writing team of C.T. Adams and Cathy Clamp, who wrote the long "Sazi" series under their dual names before becoming "Cat Adams" as well.) This one is, I believe, the fifth book in the urban fantasy series about Celia Graves -- a part-Siren personal security consultant to the stars, recently turned half-undead by a vampire's bite, who seems to have the usual complicated personal and professional life required of a contemporary fantasy heroine -- in which she has to protect her cousin Princess Adriana, who will marry the King of Rusland if the assassins don't get her first. It's a trade paperback from Tor [1], officially arriving for sale tomorrow.

Also from Tor, but coming from their Starscape imprint for readers not as beaten down and jaded by experience, is the new novel by two-time Newbery honoree Lawrence Yep, City of Death. It's the grand finale of the City Trilogy, after City of Fire and City of Ice, and will be available in a week, on February 5th. It's an epic fantasy full of evil dragons that might be set in our world (references to the Silk Road) or maybe not (that road leads to the Kushan Empire). And I hope there's an in-story reason for the amazing length of that arrow on the cover -- seriously, it extends around the spine and still doesn't come to a head there, so I'm sure it must be a plot point.

It's been a long time since I saw an anthology that just starts its cover listing of contributors with Aesop, but Richard Klaw's The Apes of Wrath -- reprinting stories about conflicts and other SFF interactions between man and ape -- is just the book to do it. And it's not just an excuse to put "Rachel in Love" and "Red Shadows" into the same book, though they're both here, as they should be. The other seventeen stories come from names like Howard Waldrop, Joe R. Lansdale, Mary Robinette Kowal, Philip Jose Farmer, James P. Blaylock, Clark Ashton Smith, and, inevitably, Edgar Allan Poe (no points for guessing which story). This is a February trade paperback from the folks at Tachyon.

The Six-Gun Tarot is the first novel by R.S. Belcher -- though he did win the grand price in the recent Strange New Worlds contest -- and it's a hardcover from Tor, officially published last week. As the title implies, this is a weird western, set in the creepy frontier town of Golgotha. The flap copy mostly runs through the various creepiness and weirdness -- an apparently hanged sheriff, a hoard of mythical treasure, a secret order of pirates and assassins, that old abandoned silver mine and what might be coming out of it -- rather than giving away the story, so I should do the same.

There was a time when there were a lot of comics based on TV shows -- if you frequent the right parts of the Internet, you've already seen that famous "log of wood" cover of The Rifleman a few dozen times -- but that time is long ago now. About the only currently running show with a healthy comics presence is The Simpsons, and that Bongo comics series is still being collected for the book market by Harper. The new one is Simpsons Comics Supernova, including issues 81, 101-103, and the Summer Shindig # 2. The book itself just credit the whole shebang to Simpsons creator Matt Groening (in small type on the copyright page), but the stories themselves include the original credits. You probably know what to expect from Simpsons stories by now, but I'll note that this leads off with a fine homage to Carl Barks (and his modern followers), "Uncle Burn$."

I left the most complicated title for last, so I could get up to running speed before I tackled it. But here goes: The Eye of the World: The Wheel of Time: The Graphic Novel: Volume Three, credited to Robert Jordan (writer of the original novel, in case you've forgotten), Chuck Dixon (adaptor to comics) and artists Marcio Fiorito and Francis Nuguit. I do have to admit that I don't understand the appeal of adapting a novel into comics [2] -- new stories for comics about the same characters is perfectly cromulent, though -- but clearly there are people who see an appeal there. Tor publishes this in hardcover on January 29th -- though, in case you didn't know, this collects the individual issues originally published by Dynamite through comics shops.

[1] Everyone just assumes that the various electronic editions are available at the same time unless specified otherwise these days, right? That's my assumption, at least. I'll mention otherwise if I know otherwise.

[2] Of course, as soon as I typed this, I thought of the Roy Thomas/Barry Smith (not yet Windsor) Conan stories of the '70s, which is a major counterexample. So it may be possible to convince me I am wrong.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


Two weeks ago, I complained that the current Internet-fueled economy was destroying vastly more jobs than it was creating, and reshaping the entire landscape for careers in the future for the worse.

Today, the AP has the same story -- though, since it's reported by professionals (unlike my Internet-fueled amateur thought piece, which is actually a symptom of the problem) there are quotes and numbers and lots of backup detail.

Turns out we're all screwed, unless we do something unique, or are willing to do the kind of service jobs that can never be automated (shelf-stocker, waiter). Everyone who doesn't self-identify as an "artist" or "entrepreneur" might as well learn how to eat grass; our jobs and middle-class income will all disappear eventually.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Two Songs About Bad Love

Life is full of love affairs that don't work out, and music even more so -- and here are two good songs in that vein that I've been listening to lately.

First, in the Cynthia Heimel corner (a la Get Your Tongue Out of My Mouth, I'm Kissing You Goodbye) comes "JERK!" by Stephie Coplan and the Pedestrians, which is much more nuanced and interesting than the all-caps title might suggest:

"JERK!" is available on a NoiseTrade sampler [1] -- free if you want, for any higher price you care to name if you prefer -- and is also the lead single on Coplan's debut EP.

And then there's Josh Ritter, whom I've blogged about before. The first song from his upcoming record The Beast in Its Tracks is the quiet, aching "Joy to You Baby":

If you preorder the album directly from Ritter's site, you get that song right away. (Although, since it's streaming, if you're sufficiently motivated and even mildly tech-savvy, you already have it now.) He's also doing an interesting promo where tickets for his upcoming tour also include a free download of the album once it's available.

[1] I can't get NoiseTrade to resolve, so no link right now -- but it's, and then search for Stephie Coplan. I don't think free samplers stay there forever, but there's a good chance it'll still be there for another month or three.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Journey of One Little Ring and Its Fingers

Note that this is book chronology -- which explains the seventeen-year gap between Frodo getting the ring and actually doing something about it.

Hobbits is the laziest creatures.


Here's How You Know You're Not Blogging Enough

The spammers start to circle, like sharks -- first one little comment here, then another, and then several a day.

Eventually, I assume, they'll hit the site continually until it finally succumbs. (Or, perhaps, regular posts start back up.)

I've been seeing more comments than posts on Antick Musings for the last few days, which is not a good sign, at this level. And I do know the solution.

Look for solutions in this space in the near future.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 1/19

I'm in the middle of a long weekend after an eventful week at work, which means I'm even more full of ennui (or perhaps I mean inertia) than usual. But I can rouse myself to tell you about these books, all of which arrived in my home over the past week, and which I've only just glanced at so far. (In other words: I haven't actually read them -- I'm not Harriet Klausner; I don't claim to read five books before breakfast -- but I can tell you about what looks interesting even with that handicap.

First up is George O'Connor's Poseidon: Earth Shaker, the fifth in a series of graphic novels retelling Greek myths. (The earlier ones are Zeus, Athena, Hera, and Hades -- links are to my reviews, and I recommend the whole series. They're ostensibly for a younger audience, middle-grade or so, but O'Connor is both an inventive, energetic artist and a thoughtful, dedicated researcher/writer, and he turns these regularly re-told stories into something new and exciting every time.) It's from First Second, hitting stores any day now, and 3/4 of my household already wants to read it immediately, which should be a very high recommendation.

I also have the three mass-market paperbacks that DAW will publish next month, and those are:
Dead Things, a novel by Stephen Blackmoore which I tend to assume will launch an urban fantasy series (since it's about a necromancer in LA with secrets and a history and all of those interesting things), though I note that Blackmoore's first novel, City of the Lost, was a similarly noirish contemporary fantasy set in LA (with zombies). So he may actually be that incredibly rare creature nowadays, the novelist who writes different books each time out -- if so, we need to treasure him.

Irene Radford returns with The Silent Dragon, the first book of new series "The Children of the Dragon Nimbus." (Through my incredibly powers of deduction, I can tell that this is related to her earlier serieses "The Dragon Nimbus" and "The Dragon Nimbus Histories.")

And Kristen Britain is back with her fourth book in the "Green Rider" series, Blackveil. That's a series which has been a while between books -- they only come around every four years or so -- which means you Britain fans should make a big deal about it, and be more than ordinary happy for a new book.

I saw The Death Cure -- third in James Dashner's dystopian YA "Maze Runner" series -- a few months back with the ARC, and now I see it again, since it's a Delacorte trade paperback that published on January 8th.

Andrew P. Mayer's "Society of Steam" series -- and you get no points for guessing what subgenre it belongs to, since that should be pretty darn obvious -- continues into a third book, Power Under Pressure. It hit stores January 15 as a trade paperback from the fine folks at Pyr. And, from the back cover description, this book may actually see the group of the series title form, from the ashes of the now-defunct Society of Paragons, in order to finally defeat the fiendish plots of Lord Eschaton.

Lucy Knisley -- the amazingly young cartoonist of French Milk and an occasional webcomic called "Stop Paying Attention" -- is back with a second book, Relish: My Life in the Kitchen. It's a memoir of her eating life, with what looks like plenty of digressions (and recipes!) in her lovely clean-line style. And you can get it from First Second books (yes, them again) in early April.

And, since nothing in the media ever comes alone but in ranks and cohorts, I also have here another graphic novel of a young woman's life, with a food slant: Peanut by Ayun Halliday and Paul Hoppe. (The main character here is named Sadie, so I think it's not a memoir -- though Halliday's previous comics have been memoirs, and her author's note feints in that direction as well. So this is either fiction or it isn't.) In Peanut, a girl goes to a new high school and decides she wants to stand out, so she tells all her new classmates about her life-threatening peanut allergy...that she doesn't actually have. Hijinks (and, I expect, drama) ensue. It was published by Schwartz & Wade books, a YA imprint of the giant Random House empire that I was previously unaware of.

And last for this week is the new book by the man with the best vests in SFF: L.E. Modesitt, Jr.'s Imager's Battalion. It's the sixth book in the Imager series -- which I have to admit that I haven't read any of -- and Tor will publish it in hardcover tomorrow. The plot description is full of people, terms, and places that I don't know -- obviously, since it's book six of an epic fantasy series -- but I can note that this one sees the first imager fighting force in (this particular fictional) history.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

This Is Not a Value Judgement

...but Blogger's spell-checker always wants me to change "dystopian" to "dustbin."

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

No Context! Not Safe For Work!

"There are advantages to screwing girls who don't have a crippling fear of penises."

From the quite swell Menage a 3 webcomic, which is not at all about a menage a trois. But it's about plenty of other kinds of sex.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Book Blogger Poll

No one asked me to do this -- in fact, they possibly might have asked me not to, if they knew I existed -- but I saw that Larry at OF Blog did this list of questions, and I realized I hadn't done one of these for quite a while.

So it was time. Questions are in bold, my snotty answers not. Though this is all more than slightly pointless.

How many times do you post each week?

Lately, at least twice, though the goal always is to post at least daily.

What percentage of your blog posts are reviews?  (2-part question)

Over the past few years, anywhere from 1/3 to 2/3, depending on the week.

What percentage of your blog posts are promotional posts? (2-part question) promos = cover reveals, author interviews, memes, etc.

Memes are promotional? If this is simply a dichotomy between book reviews and everything else, than a monkey could work out what's left once to take out reviews.

I do no cover reveals, author interviews, or crap like that -- mostly because I'm not interested in them personally.

How many books did you review in 2012?

I covered 125 books in single or dual posts, and a number more in desultory end-of-the-month roundups.

How long does it take for you to read a book, on average?  Actual # of hours, not days.

That depends heavily on the length and kind of book, obviously. (I suppose many book bloggers always read the same kind of thing, and I am biting my lip to avoid negatively characterizing them here.)

I read about 50-60 pages an hour, as an average -- of most literary fiction, SFF with some meat to it, reasonably popular nonfiction. Really dense nonfiction goes more slowly, mysteries and more frivolous SFF goes more quickly. But a 700-page book will take longer than a 200-page book, no matter what the genre.

How long does it take you to compose a review, on average? Don't forget you have to format it for your blog, insert links, choose images, etc. as well.

Anywhere from half an hour (when I'm really speedy) to 4-5 hours over the course of months (when I'm procrastinating, can't figure out how to say what I want, or the stars just aren't right yet).

What percentage of your reviewed books were from books you purchased? (4-part question)

You want a real number? Let's say one-third, roughly.

What percentage of your reviewed books were from books you borrowed or were gifted? (4-part question) from library, friend, etc. (NOT a galley)

This is about another third, through it's all from the library.

What percentage of your reviewed books were from galleys? (4-part question) from publisher, Amazon Vine, etc. 

And this is the last third -- though many of them are real published books from publishers -- after so many years at the book clubs, the joy of "getting" to read something early is long gone, so I tend to read stuff after publication.

What percentage of your reviewed books were from trades with other bloggers? (4-part question)

That's easy -- zero. Why would I be trading with other bloggers?

How much time does it take you to promote a single blog post via Facebook, GoodReads, Twitter, visiting other blogs, etc.?

None -- the feed is automatically syndicated to Twitter and Facebook, and I'm too lazy (and internally conflicted about the whole idea) to do anything more.

Are there other places where you promote your reviews? This may be difficult to define since some of your social media is also for fun, so please use your best judgment in settling on a number.

Again, I don't "promote" my reviews. I already work in the monkey house, so I'm not doing this to bootstrap anything.

How much time do you spend on blog maintenance per month? Updating, editing, prettifying--anything that isn't writing an actual post.

Far too little, I'll tell you that for free. If it's an hour, that would be a lot. My blogroll has been crying out for attention for at least five years now.

How many giveaways did you host in 2012? How many of those giveaways were self-funded? Meaning, you paid for s&h. Did you also pay for the books themselves? How much money did you personally spend on giveaways this year? Please include book costs, shipping and handling costs, packaging, tape, etc.

Let me lump all this together, since it's easy: I don't do giveaways. Not funded by me, not funded by anyone else, not at all. (If a publisher I already knew and trusted wanted to do something, I wouldn't necessarily be against it, but I don't give away stuff for my own purposes.)

Actually, I do have a short stack of books that I've been vaguely thinking about giving away, but I had two problems. One, I couldn't think of a good way to do it -- what would determine the winner? Second, the idea of having to box them up and mail them filled me with a vast ennui.

How much money did you spend this year on finished copies?

If there's an implied "specifically for your blog" there, the answer is zero. I buy books, I read books, I write about books. It's all part of one big thing.

Do you also buy them if you already got a galley (for you, friends, etc.)?

Not on purpose for myself, no. I've bought books as presents that I also owned.

If you have other people contributing to your blog, do you pay them? If so, what amount did you spend?

I don't, so they get nothing.

How much did you spend on site maintenance? web design, domain name registration, etc.

Nothing. I keep thinking I should get my own domain, but I haven't done it.

Do you attend book conventions like BEA, ALA, etc? If so, please total/break down the costs for registration, hotel, travel for each one.

I do usually attend BEA, because I'm a publishing-company marketing manager by day. (I actually had to work a booth most of last year's BEA, for the first time.)

I've also gone to a few SF conventions -- fewer as the years since my time at the SFBC have gone on -- but that's not to promote my blog, it's just because I like to remember when I belonged there.  

Do you have business cards or other promotional items? What did you spend on creating them, and why are they important to have?

I have a bunch of free business cards (from five years ago) that include the blog's URL, but they're really not promo for the blog.

Are there other blogging costs that we haven't listed that you would like to add? Please explain and quantify as much as possible.

Not monetary costs, no. I don't spend anything directly on this blog; it's a hobby rather than a business venture. 

Do you receive any kind payment for your personal blogging efforts? ad revenue, paid promo posts, promo tour organization, etc.

Nope. I did have a few paying book-review gigs for a while -- really just ones that fell into my lap, since I've spent no energy chasing them -- but they've all stopped now.

Come to think of it, if I actually spent some time and did it professionally, I probably could get another book-review gig, for at least nominal payment. Since I haven't, I guess that means I'd rather babble here without interference. (Examining one's own behavior isn't always pretty.)

If you do receive payment for your blogging, does it cover the cost of running your site? Please share the amount you earned in 2012 if possible, or put "decline to answer" or "N/A."

No payment connected to the blog at all. I do get a trickle of cash-equivalent through my Amazon links, but that's it.

Most book bloggers seem to agree that any ad revenue and finished copies don't come anywhere near offsetting the expense of maintaining a book blog. Which begs the question: why do you do it?

I got into the habit of listening to the sound of my fingers rambling, and I still enjoy it.

Again, this is a hobby -- I do it because I enjoy it, and because I realize it is a hobby.

What are some of your frustrations, hopes, and dreams for your blog?

Frustrations: mostly that I can't quite say what I want to say about a book, or that people (primarily the author) take it wrongly. But that just loops back to prove that I didn't say it right.

Hopes: that I will be so smart and erudite and awesome that one of my old SF buddies will offer me a great job and take me away from the cold but exceptionally remunerative world of business publishing. But it's a very silly, self-mocking hope.

Dreams: to get better at this instead of falling into the same things over and over, to write well about vastly different books, to find more interesting reading projects that will amuse other people as much as they do me.

How can your readers help you as a blogger? What do you wish were different about the reader interaction on your blog? Frustrations, successes to share?

I'm not sure if I want more comments, which would be the obvious thing -- on the one hand, I think the appearance of more reader involvement would be great, but I feel like comments are people sternly disagreeing with me (no matter what they actually say), so they're nerve-wracking.

If there were lots more readers who hung on my every word like gospel and spread the Hornswoggler name far and wide, that would be totally awesome, he said entirely facetiously.

Aside from all the above reader things, how can your fellow bloggers help you? What do you wish were different about your interaction with fellow bloggers or readers?

Other book-review bloggers? Nothing I can think of. I'm not a joiner by temperament.

How can authors and publishers help you as a blogger?

Send me lots of stuff for free!

More seriously, to spend more time and effort writing and publishing better books -- there's a lot of dreck out there, presented cynically or otherwise. Of course, vast numbers of people who aren't me love dreck, so this is not necessarily a good plan for general success.

What do you wish or publishers understood about the process of blogging?

I think we publishing folks understand blogging much better than a lot of bloggers think we do. Bloggers are the modern equivalent of the nice middle-aged lady who used to review romance novels for the Podunk Herald, and get about the same amount of courtesy and attention as she did.

How has your experience been in interacting with industry people?

I've spent my professional life in publishing, so I have no coherent answer to this on a purely blog level.

Which authors and publishers have you found to be particularly responsive/helpful/enjoyable to work with? Why?

Since I'm all-too-often lackadaisical about notifying publishers that I've posted a review, the ones who have continued to send me things anyway -- usually because I have personal contacts there-- have been the nicest.

I won't make any more of this, because I'm almost certainly not worth it, and I only get review copies because they're so ridiculously cheap.   

Do you find egalleys or physical ARCs easier to review from?

I like physical books, for two reasons:
  • the device I have to read on is an iPad, and that gets glare of varying degrees on my train (the main reading time) 8-9 months of the year 
  • I just plain forget about digital copies, since they're not sitting on a shelf and looking at me

What are your blog's monthly page views?

3,571 over the last 30 days -- that may be slightly below the average because the holidays were in there. But I'm in that neighborhood.

How many subscribers do you have for your RSS feed/email sign up?

396 through Feedburner, possibly more in other ways. (There's a LiveJournal feed, among other murky things.)

How many followers do you have through Google Friend Connect or Linky tools? Please list/quantify other sources if you use something similar. 

None as far as I know; I didn't set up anything like that specifically.

How many Twitter followers do you have?


How many Facebook fans do you have?


How many GoodReads friends/followers do you have?

None; I don't post on GoodReads.

What is your Amazon reviewer ranking?

I'm number 7857, but I've gotten dissatisfied with posting my reviews there -- it steals link-juice from the main blog, and there's no way I can link to Antick Musings from Amazon. So I don't see what good posting anything there actually does me.

Are there other facts & figures pertinent to your audience reach? Would you like to share your name and blog? Please leave your URL and/or contact details if so. Anything else you'd like to add? Last chance! 

I am Elmer J. Fudd, millionaire. I own a mansion and a yacht. If you're reading this, you already know where my blog is.

(Apparently this was originally a survey on Google Docs, which explains some of it, and particularly the last question.)

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 1/12

Here we are once again on a Monday morning -- I've got some upcoming books to tell you about, and you (I presume) are interested in finding new things to read. So I think we can help each other out, yes?

I have not read the books sitting in front of me right now -- they just showed up over the past few days, and I don't read as quickly as I did in the pre-distraction days. (Distractions being, in roughly ascending order of power, life, children, work, and the oh-so-shiny Internet.) But here are some things I can tell you about them:

Gene Wolfe's first major novel Peace -- it was preceded only by the minor and mostly-forgotten Operation Ares and the fix-up The Fifth Head of Cerberus, nearly forty years ago -- is being reprinted as a classy trade paperback from Orb, with a Neil Gaiman afterword, available in retail establishments already. Gaiman's afterword notes that Wolfe is a sneaky writer whose books reward close attention (and sometime re-reads), which is true for all of his books, but especially for this one -- it doesn't look like what you'd expect from SFF writer Wolfe, masquerading as a Midwestern semi-pastoral novel, the story of one old man telling the story of his life. Peace is more than that, and -- like all of the best novels -- implies things it will not say. It's a masterwork by one of the greatest writers of the last half-century, and, if it now has a package that looks more like Gabriel Marcia Marquez, Kazuo Ishiguro, or Martin Amis than like Clarke, Asimov, and Heinlein -- well, there's a reason for that. This is a book for readers who know what fiction is capable of, and want to reach those heights again.

Steven Gould is back with a third novel in the main sequence of his debut novel Jumper -- following Reflex, but not Jumper: Griffin's Story, which was based more on the movie made from Jumper than the world shown in the novel -- in the form of Impulse, a Tor hardcover available everywhere tomorrow, January 15th. Jumper and Reflex are both excellent novels -- ones which I read in my old life as a SF editor, so I don't have reviews to link to here -- so I have high hopes for Impulse, despite its frankly dull and vaguely early-90s (extreme snowboarding! dull colors! muted background grid!) cover.

The Kassa Gambit is the first novel by Australian M.C. Planck -- and I wish I could make a "Planck distance" joke about how long or short this book it, but it's resolutely medium-size at 287 book pages -- a SF book set in the far future, where mankind has spread to the stars (after the inevitable trashing of Earth) and found no other intelligent life out there. But then a distress call comes from the planet Kassa -- it's being attacked by mysterious forces... Sounds like a great set-up, and Planck clearly hasn't let it run on too long. You can find Kassa Gambit in stores now; it published last week.

And last for this week is Shuzo Oshimi's The Flowers of Evil, Volume 4, the latest in the creepy manga series that I'm definitely going to have to sit down and read through some time soon. It's published by Vertical, and hits stores this week.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Quick Comics Round-Up: Lemire, Dahl, Petty & Florido

My hope is that by putting "quick" in the title, I actually will be quick. Wish me luck.

The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire

Is underwater welding the most melancholy and depressive of all occupations? In just the last month, I've come across two creative works -- Jeff Lemire's melancholy graphic novel The Underwater Welder and Elizabeth Cook's sad song "Heroin Addict Sister" -- and I'm just waiting for the inevitable third to confirm it. I don't expect any real-world underwater welders to chime in with an explanation, but I expect what creative people find evocative about that job is the combination of skilled blue-collar work -- something not easy, painstaking, and done with your own hands -- and the quiet, lonely depths of the ocean.

And Jeff Lemire certainly knows from quiet and lonely; his solo graphic novels are so far all stories of quiet and lonely people, usually in similarly quiet and lonely parts of Canada. (I know he also writes punchfests for corporate comicdom; I have no knowledge of those and no plans to find out.)

Jack Joseph is an underwater welder, as his father was before him, and his wife is very pregnant as the book opens -- so it's clearly a story about fathers and their children, on the one hand, as it's about silence and depth and compression and leaving the world to do something and then coming back to it, on the other. In Jack's case, he leaves the world and comes back to someplace else -- very similar, perhaps even the same, but as empty and quiet as the deep seafloor.

Underwater Welder mixes thrills psychological and physical, as it bounces between Jack's present-day and his childhood, between his own impending fatherhood and the day his own father died. It's a dark, brooding mix, told through Lemire's scratchy art, all big dark eyes and battered faces, in an equally foreboding landscape on the bleak sea-coast of Nova Scotia. And it won't be for everyone, but it's a well-told story of real people and the things their expectations and reflections lead them into.

monsters by Ken Dahl

Ken Dahl is a sick man. (He's also really, or perhaps also, a man named Gabby Schulz, but leave that aside for now.) And Monsters is the story of that sickness.

Back in 2003, Dahl/Schulz was diagnosed with herpes simplex, type 1, after his then-partner went to a free clinic after several days of very painful genital sores. That relationship fell apart quickly, in the expected ways, and Ken (I'll call him Ken) was left, infected, to make his way through the world of low-paying-service jobs, cross-country moves, and, most importantly, long-term incurable medical conditions.

Monsters is drawn with verve and energy and an amazing visual ingenuity -- you could call it beautiful if not that so much of it was showing Ken's rampant imaginings of infections, disfigurations, and shame. (There's a fair amount of drawn genitalia here -- mostly disembodied, mostly infected, and mostly unpleasant.) This is, without a doubt, the best graphic novel about chronic venereal disease that the world has ever seen, and probably the best it ever will see. Some readers will find it far too icky, but it's a fascinating, compelling character study -- and easily the most interesting educational pamphlet you'll ever see -- with a solid story embedded in it.

Bloody Chester by JT Petty & Hilary Florido

Western heroes, these days, have mostly simplified down to laconic, powerful men, who can just about do anything they set their minds to. Chester Kates -- aka Bloody Chester, aka Lady Kate -- is nothing like that: he's as tough as a small young man can be in a rough town, but that's not nearly tough enough. But he's strong enough to grab an opportunity to clean up and get out of town: the railroad is coming through, and Chester is hired to burn down the supposedly-haunted ghost town of Whale that it needs to go through, so the work gangs will get back to work.

Whale isn't completely empty, though -- there's a pretty girl, and her father (a miner holed up in his mine with secrets and possibly a treasure), and a boy younger, smaller, and possibly even more sensitive about it than Chester -- and also his step-father, the dying pastor of Whale. Whale emptied out because it was hit by a native plague called Coyote Waits, a wasting disease that killed dozens.

(And, of course, those natives -- Sioux Indians -- are out there as well, with their own problems.)

So burning down Whale isn't as easy as it looks, particularly since Chester wants to get those few inhabitants out first -- he's no murderer, he thinks. Bloody Chester is the story of how wrong or right he was about that, and about what Coyote Waits really is, and what treasure there might be in the mountain next door. It's clearly a Western, both in milieu and in style: the story of people on the edge of their civilization, pushed by expanding technology and the desire for wealth, some wanting to live alone and others wanting to make that big strike and show everyone else.  It's told in a crisp historical-comic style, mostly tight on figures rather than expanses of Western landscape, which suits this story about a few small people in one dead town.