Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Important Lit'rary Award News

The nominees for the world's least-wanted literary prize, the Guardian Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction, have been announced. It's a strong field this year, but Updike is off to an early lead with a regrettable comparison of women's personal lubrication.

The full article, with more appalling details, is here.

Throw Some More Links On the Fire!

I've just added a bunch of things to the "Links" section (to your left as you read this, or to your right if you're reading it over your shoulder using a mirror, wise guy).

Notably interesting (and new to me) is John Scalzi's blog, Whatever, which I discovered this morning as part of my read-a-new-skiffy-blog-every-weekday regime. The only possible downside is that the time at which I actually start working each day is moving farther and farther back; there may come a time in the near future when I have to take a lunch break from my morning blog-reading.

And my boss reads this at least intermittently, so let me add: only kidding, Ellen!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Geek Itch

I haven't gamed in ten years or more. So why does BrickQuest fill me with joy and wonder?

It's probably the Lego aspect: I'm not only a recovering Lego geek myself, but I have two young sons, the older of whom really loves the Lego. (If I manage to drag the family to Southern California next summer for Worldcon, I know we'll need to make a side trip to Legoland.)

But it still can be surprising to find out just how geeky one really is.

You Couldn't Make This Stuff Up If You Tried

Fearless crusading UK newspaper The Sun has just uncovered one of the most hideous plots against mankind ever imagined: Dalek porn.

Now, I could imagine this of the Cybermen - they've always looked a bit kinky - but I never would have guessed it of those rolling pepperpots.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Just Read: Cinderella Sims by Lawrence Block

Everything is interlocking these days; there were two covers for this book (under this title and its original "sex-book" name, $20 Lust), in Sin-A-Rama, and I got a box of books from its publisher (Subterranean Press) as I was reading it at lunch-time today.

This is a minor early Block novel, originally published as by Andrew Shaw, but it's still readable, in its pulpy way. The sex that was its main reason for existence in 1958 reads very strangely now; it's all overheated metaphors and elliptical descriptions that would be too much for even a flower-cover romance novel today. (But it was hot stuff, apparently, in 1958; you could only buy it under the counter.)

It reads like a crime novel to me now, though it takes nearly a third of an already-short book to get into the crime plot (and the ending is awfully happy for the kind of crime novel it was, and the time). Our hero falls hard for a dame - I don't think there's any other way to put it - and she turns out to be more trouble than he bargained for. I'm sure none of us have ever seen that plot before...but it works as well as it has to, here, and Block was good at putting words together smoothly, even this early in his career.

But if anyone is looking for the real sex-book by Block, the book you want is Ronald Rabbit Is a Dirty Old Man, originally published a decade later and most recently available in trade paperback from Subterranean Press. (them again!)

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Reading Into the Past: Week of 11/27

It was fun doing the massive "Reading Into the Past" post about a month ago, but I doubt anyone other than me actually read the thing. And it did take several days. But the idea of going back to see what someone (well, me, in this case) was reading at a random time in the past appeals to me, and I'd like to do it regularly.

So I'm going to try to do a short version every Sunday, covering the equivalent week in a random past year. I've dug out my old backgammon set, so I have a pair of dice for randomization.

[fx="dice rolling"]
Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to 1999:
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (12/21)
Gardner Dozois, editor, Explorers (12/24)
Gardner Dozois, editor, The Furthest Horizon (12/28)

Hm, not terribly interesting. I re-read Azkaban earlier this year (reading it to Thing 1 at bedtime), which made me appreciate Rowling's story-telling, but not her prose. (Reading things out loud really brings home over-used words and phrases. On the other hand, she's a wonderful writer to read aloud because she lets you do all sorts of fun and exciting voices for her characters.) I also wasn't as impressed with the interlocking gears of the ending as I was the first time around, but that's not a fair comparison to begin with, since it's an ending that depends on its neat idea.

The two Dozois anthologies eventually turned into a 2-in-1 in the SFBC, under the title Exploring the Horizons, but I don't remember exactly what was in them. (The one thing I do remember is that Dozois seemed to be trying to shoehorn one Cordwainer Smith story into every anthology he did those days, but I completely approved of that.)

Oops! I was looking at December. [rushes back to fix dates above] The books I was reading this week in 1999 were actually:
John Barnes, Candle (11/19)
Michael Flynn, Lodestar (11/21)
John Barnes, Orbital Resonance (11/23)
Sean Stewart, Galveston (11/26)
Greg Bear, Star Wars: Rogue Planet (11/27)

Candle was an interesting book, and fleshed out Barnes's "Meme Wars" world in ways I appreciated (after Kaleidoscope Century, a book I respected and admired, but couldn't actually like, since the main character was a psychopathic mass-murderer). And it led me back to Orbital Resonance, a little gem of a book I missed the first time around. Nearly every writer of Barnes's generation has tried to write a "modern Heinlein juvenile" by now, but Barnes took the bones of the form and gave them new flesh of his own and made them live his own way.

I'm afraid I don't remember which one Lodestar was. That was a series I thought started out incredibly well, but it was set so close in the near future that doing a multi-book series was an exceptionally tough act; I felt that Flynn really needed to have wrapped everything up in three books, and somehow gotten them all out in less than two years. (That was probably doubly impossible, but I still think those books came out too slowly for their own good.) The first book of that series, Firestar, is one of the gems of '90s SF (though I wonder how it reads now, since it's set in what's now the recent past), and I hope people are still reading it.

I've mentioned elsewhere that I love every other one of Sean Stewart's novels, but the ones in between leave me cold. And I'm afraid Galveston was one of the cold ones for me. I just couldn't get a handle on how the magic worked in that world; the gods were supposed to be massively powerful, but I don't remember any of them ever doing anything at all. That reminds me: someday I'll write the big essay on how magic in fantasy needs to have some rules (and that the author needs to know them) but that magic cannot be completely constrained by rules. But not today.

And then there was Greg Bear's Star Wars novel. I'm afraid I didn't love it. I've read most of the Star Wars books of the past decade, and I've found them even more variable than "regular" books. (And I think what I look for in these books is very different from what their main audience looks for.) This is the one about the hunt for the living planet that makes super-duper spaceships (and I'm sure we can't blame Bear for any of that), and it's also an in-between-movies book (none of which I've thought were among the series's best). If you want an adventure with Anakin not being an obnoxiously sullen teenager, though, this may be the book for you.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Review of Wicked by Gregory Maguire

I've had a busy few days (Thanksgiving, of course, and then yesterday The Wife and I took the Things to see Disney On Ice and today I took them to see The Polar Express in IMAX 3-D - I hope to blog about those things, but not today), so I'm digging into the vaults for this, which was originally posted to rec.arts.sf.written (as part of a longer thread mostly about other things) on 1/31/05:

I thought it was a collection of lovely book-shards that didn't actually become one whole single story. I do disagree that Elphaba "transformed," since she's essentially passive throughout -- things happen to her, rather than because of her, and we see her, until the last section, through other people's eyes.

I was left annoyed at Maguire: if he wanted to radically revision the land of Oz, he needed to pull his focus out from random moments in Elphaba's life and show us the things he wants to imagine. And if he wanted to show Elphaba's journey to "evil," she needed to actually do something other than trying badly to assassinate the same person twice. And the very last lines needed to be prefigured more strongly -- if I'd been his editor, I would have suggested having a "wicked old witch" story at the beginning of each section.

He also needed to decide whether Elphaba actually was "wicked" or not -- either way would be fine, but leaving it in between (in a book with clear examples of actual evil, such as Madame Morrible) was a bad idea. It just makes her weak, when she's already someone we follow for nearly forty years, during which time she manages to accomplish nothing and hardly ever be happy for more than a second -- and we're not even in her head, so it's hard to identify with her to begin with.

And the whole "magical book guarded by an immortal who manipulates the whole plot" was also a bad idea -- it feels like it's lifted right out of a Fantasy Tropes 'R' Us writer's manual. Lots of parts of the book fell like that to me -- a good idea encrusted with layers of misguided frippery.

All in all, it's a typical first novel: energetic and full of ideas, not all of which belonged in the same book with each other. I'm not sorry I read it, but it could have used a lot more authentic Oziana -- maybe Kalidah shock troops as an occupation force in the Dainty China Country. Oh, and the Dragon Clock needed to either show up more often or not at all.

Maybe I'll read Lost some day, but I'm not going to rush out to get it. I wouldn't recommend Wicked to serious Oz fans (they should stay away, actually), but those who have vague memories of the book and/or movie might enjoy it -- particularly if they thought Oz was too twee or silly to begin with.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Quote of the Week

"The most dangerous thing in the world is to leap a chasm in two jumps."
-David Lloyd George

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Feeling Very Virtuous Right Now

Not only did I catch up on the stuff I read recently (I haven't gotten back to Lud-in-the-Mist or Stranger Things Happen, but I still hope to), but I also spent a couple of hours this morning re-arranging books. (I wanted to double-shelve some of my trade paperbacks to free up space for new books; it was a hard thing to do - I hate double-shelving - but it had to be done.)

So now I can go and eat lots of turkey, stuffing and pie. And I will.

Just Read: One of Us Is Wrong by Samuel Holt

Holt is the main character of this novel (actually written by Donald E. Westlake); I guess there was a vogue for pseudonymous mysteries when this was written (it was published in 1986).

It's from Westlake's heyday (not that he's slacked off much recently, but he published a lot of good books in the '80s, of lots of different types), and it's a solid, relatively serious mystery. My very favorite Westlakes (like everybody else, I suppose) are his funny crime caper novels, but he does serious mystery as well as anyone, and can make even an ex-TV star amateur sleuth plausible to me, which is a major accomplishment.

This is the first of three books published as by Holt, and I'll be tracking down the other two soon. (But the Westlake book I really want to read is Adios, Scheherazade, which hasn't been reprinted in over thirty years and costs much more than I want to pay for a moldy old book!)

Just Read: Sin-A-Rama

The subtitle is Sleaze Sex Paperbacks of the Sixties and it credits five editors (starting with Brittany A. Daley) and 7 contributors. It's a well-designed collection of paperback covers from the lowest-rent publishers (not the ones who did some sleazy books, the ones who only did sleazy books).

The art is wildly variable, of course, but some of it is very nice and some of it very bad; and which ones any particular reader drops into which bucket probably depends as much on the reader as the art. But it does seem to cover the whole spectrum of the field.

Most interesting to me was Robert Silverberg's essay "My Life as a Pornographer," though the shorter essays on Donald Westlake and Lawrence Block were also interesting. All in all, it was a fascinating world - we're almost certainly better off these days, but it's interesting to read about.

Recently Read: The Penultimate Peril by "Lemony Snicket"

I actually read this at World Fantasy, a few weeks ago, but forgot to mention it until now.

The series has been very arch, and ironically dark, but this one is remarkably melancholy. Without spoiling the plot for those who haven't kept up, the narrator (as always, at least as important as the Baudelaire orphans themselves) spends a lot of this book talking about the possibility of good works in an evil world. And, though "Snicket" does still seem to believe that trying to do good is necessary, he doesn't seem to believe that actually doing good is possible. It's not quite nihilism for pre-teens, but it's getting close.

There were no major revelations about Lemony Snicket or Beatrice this time (though I think Lemony actually made an appearance in the Baudelaire's plot this time), but the plot does move inexorably towards the conclusion in the next book.

I hadn't been thinking about the series ending until this book, but I guess I expected that it would end more-or-less happily. (Which was an unthinking assumption, of course; the whole series has been working against such ideas.) Now I believe "Snicket" will do something more appropriate to the series, though I don't really know what.

This series is published for readers ten and up, but it's not a "kids' book." Anyone who has ever chuckled at the cartoons of Charles Addams or Edward Gorey (or, for that matter, John Callahan or Gahan Wilson) would appreciate these books. The first few seem somewhat slight, with only their witty prose and humorously dark outlook on life to pull the adult reader along, but this is a series that rewards careful reading and thought. I wish I had time to re-read them all. (Yes, they're short, but there are twelve of them now!)

Recently Read: Funny Money by Mark Singer

I realized I was becoming a New Yorker type recently, so I subscribed to the magazine. (Still not sure if that's good or bad; am I becoming one of those snooty intellectuals?)

What I mean by New Yorker type is that I found I was reading a lot of New Yorker writers, and looking for more. It probably started with the great classic humorists - Perelman, Benchley and Thurber - who I've been reading for about a decade now. I also discovered Calvin Trillin in the early '90s, and have now found (and read) nearly all of his books. And then I drifted into reportage, and eventually found Mark Singer. (Not fiction, though - I've been getting the New Yorker for three or four months now, and haven't read a single piece of fiction in it yet. But there is a Haruki Murakami piece in the issue I'm working through now, so that streak will soon be broken.)

I read Singer's Mr. Personality a few months back; that's a collection of profiles from the New Yorker, and I enjoyed it a lot. Singer was good at showing interesting people in the context of their lives, and his writing was lively and engrossing. So, the next time I was at my favorite bookstore (Montclair Book Center of Montclair New Jersey, plug plug), I grabbed a copy of Singer's first book.

And I just finished it on Tuesday; it took quite a bit longer than I expected (for reasons that I think will be clear over the next few paragraphs). Funny Money is the story of an Oklahoma City bank that went bust in 1984; the book was published in 1985, so there's very little about the aftermath and a lot about what happened before. I didn't enjoy this one all that much, I'm sorry to say. (In fact, I got awfully sleepy reading it several times, but that's happening a lot lately, so it might not be the book's fault.)

Singer doesn't develop a strong storyline; I suspect that he's from the school of reportage that doesn't want to impose a story on events, but tells them as they happened. That's fine when there already is a story, but in something as amorphous as a bank failure, he ends up with a lot of sidebar and no center. This book then tends to sprawl, even though it's only 222 pages long.

Singer also spends a lot of time sketching various characters involved in the crash, but I couldn't tell them apart. They're all larger-than-life oil folks, described in similar terms; Singer does give a lot of physical details (this guy's tall, that one chews tobacco, and so on), but I'm not a visual reader, so none of that helped. They all seemed, more or less, to be the same guy, so their interlocking financial shenanigans were not terribly engrossing. This was quite disappointing after Mr. Personality, where all of the people profiled were well-defined and different from each other.

Another problem with Funny Money, in hindsight, is that there have been many much larger bank failures before, and, especially, since. If he'd done a bit more analysis and less I-went-here-and-talked-to-this-guy reportage, this book might have been an interesting prelude to the savings and loan crisis just a few years later (or a more general meditation on the interface between energy and money). As it is, though, it's very specific and particular, and never draws larger conclusions.

I was hoping this book would give me a little background on the intersection of high finance and "th' awl bidness," and it did, a little. But it's a book of its time and place (late '70s and early '80s Oklahoma City) rather than a book for the ages, and so will be primarily of interest these days only to people who care about that time and place. And I don't.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Why I Drink

Yet another quote from Overheard in New York:

Dude: I don't really like to read books, because then what if they make it into a movie and then you've spoiled the movie?

Enough Seriousness; Let's Shoot Stuff!

I found The Box o' Truth via Charlie Stross's weblog, and it looks like a valuable resource for anyone who writes or edits books in which things get shot by guns. (Plus, y'know, shooting stuff is cool.) The guy who put up the site (under the name Old_Painless), shoots various kinds of guns and ammo through various kinds of materials to see what happens.

It isn't precisely science fictional, but there's something about the guy's tone and methodology that is very familiar.

A Suggestion for Political Disarmament

I wish the left would give up the "in our names" meme in exchange for the right giving up the "traitor" meme. I don't know who could possibly negotiate (or enforce) such an exchange of prisoners, but I would love to see it happen.

There are many more stupid ideas and rhetorical tricks that should disappear, but I'd be happy if I could get those two to mutually annihilate, since they're the ones that currently annoy me the most.

To expand slightly: the left needs to get over themselves. Nobody is doing anything "in your name." They don't care about you. Really: it has nothing to do with you. And surely you have a stronger argument than "a country should never do anything unless every single person in that country completely agrees with it"?

On the other side: people who disagree with you politically are not traitors. They are not secretly working for the downfall of Western Civilization and polluting your precious bodily fluids. They are just people who have different political preferences than you do. And the "French" thing was never actually funny in the first place, nor does it make any sense taken seriously.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Weather Report: Light Snow is Falling in Hell

And Harlan Ellison has been named this year's SFWA Grandmaster.

All joking aside, it's about time. A couple of years ago, I made a list of the criminally overlooked writers that should have been Grandmasters already, and came up with Robert Silverberg, Ursula K. Le Guin and Ellison. Someone must have been thinking the same thing I was, because all three of them are now on the list.

I can't think of anyone else still missing that needs to be there, but I'm probably forgetting someone. (Leaving aside the people who died before they could be honored, like Philip K. Dick or Roger Zelazny, since SFWA only extends this honor to living authors.)

A big round of applause to SFWA, and especially to president Robin Wayne Bailey (since I understand it's the president who really makes a Grandmaster happen).

Monday, November 21, 2005

Shoring Up My Geek Credibility

This is one of the coolest things I've ever seen, but it is undeniably geeky. It probably also pegs exactly which generation of geeks I belong to, which means I'm an out-dated geek.

Still, I'd love to have one...

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Pseudo-Review of Grumbles from the Grave by Robert A. Heinlein

Since I'm trying to post at least once a day, and I've missed one day this weekend already, I'm reaching into the vaults to pull out this, which was originally posted to rec.arts.sf.written 11/18/04. I have spruced it up just a bit, with real italics and suchlike, for your reading enjoyment:

I just finished reading Grumbles from the Grave today. I may have to revise my opinions of Heinlein -- I now half-believe that he actually got less grumpy as he grew older. (Which appalls me, since I hope to grow and increase in grumpiness myself. If even Heinlein -- one of my models of obstinate grumpitude -- mellowed, then there may be no hope for me.) I was also deeply annoyed at all of the dashes where proper names should be; when I want that, I'll read a 19th century novel (though I certainly can't fault Heinlein there; I detected the heavy paw of nervous Del Rey lawyers making things all nicey-nice).

On a slightly less tongue-in-cheek matter, I was surprised at how little the book has to do with the SF field (aside from RAH's opinion of his own place in it, and that's mostly from the Astounding days, when Campbell was regularly annoying him). I noticed Blish's name mentioned once, and a couple of other people who either visited or were visited by the Heinleins, but there's essentially nothing of the SF world -- no visits to conventions, letters to other writers, or even talk of reading other SF books.

There was a reference, which I found quite sad, near the end of the book: Heinlein wrote that he "necessarily lives among people who do not read science fiction." I wonder at that "necessarily." I suppose it had to do with his preference for living away from large concentrations of people, but, still, I can't quite tell if he'd organized his life so that he had no potentially critical readers around him, or if he was unhappy that things had turned out that way.

I hope that, someday, there will be another volume of his letters. Lurton Blassingame, I'm sure, was a wonderful man, but I'd much rather have more of Heinlein interacting with his peers. And I'd love to read his opinions of other books and trends in the field -- Heinlein was never shy, so I have to believe letters on those subjects exist somewhere.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Incoming Books: 18 November

Two or three times a year, I splurge on, and buy a bunch of things that I've been looking for (sometimes for years), but never found in person. Buying online is never as much fun as actually finding a book, and I certainly have too much to read already, but there's joy in knowing you'll get that book you've never actually seen in person.

I did another one of those orders a couple of weeks ago, and the last of the books have now dribbled in, so I brought them home from work. (I'm not sure why I ordered them sent to the office; I have that as my default address because I order piles of old SF books for omnibuses and other SFBC purposes, but I could have easily changed the address. Perhaps I'm trying to keep the wife from realizing just how many books I get in how short a time.)

And, so, added to my reading pile now are:
  • In Search of the World's Worst Writers by Nick Page
  • The Cat That Changed My Life by Bruce Eric Kaplan
  • U.S. Journal by Calvin Trillin
  • An Account of A Meeting With Denizens of Another World, 1871 by William Robert Loosley, edited and with commentary by David Langford
  • The Blue Suit by Richard Rayner
  • Murder Among Children by Tucker Coe
  • Cinderella Sims by Lawrence Block
  • One of Us Is Wrong by Samuel Holt
  • Amazons by Cleo Birdwell
  • The New Apocrypha by John Sladek
  • The Pillars of Hercules by Paul Theroux
If there's any theme to this grouping, it seems to be pseudonyms; both "Coe" and "Holt" are actually Donald E. Westlake, and "Birdwell" is Don DeLillo. The Block novel was originally published under a pseudonym; the edition I got was the first under Block's preferred title and bearing his name. And of course "Loosley" never existed; that whole book was written by Langford.

Pardon me; I've got some reading to do.

Advertising Watch 1

I've had half-a-dozen possible blog posts running around in my head for several days now (including the epic tale of my WFC trip, and something about the Mill & Swill as well), and I'm going to see if I can at least set free some of the shorter, easier ones.

This works best if you see the image poster-sized, but we do what we can.

I've been looking at one particular Intel ad (above) for several weeks now, and I keep thinking of one thing: somewhere in the world, there is a dictionary that needs a picture to illustrate "bi-curious." And Shelly is available.

Quote of the Week

"I like work: it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours. I love to keep it by me: the idea of getting rid of it nearly breaks my heart."
-Jerome K. Jerome

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Faster, Lil' Pussycat...

I know I link to Overheard in New York a lot, but that's only because it makes me laugh out loud until my office-mate gives me strange sidelong glances. (Sorry, Stephanie!)

Anyway, you can't beat:

Little girl: I'm tired of thinking about ponies! Now it's time to kill!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

It's a Book!

One of my major projects from this year has turned into a real book-shaped object, with words on the pages and everything. I'm quite proud of it.

It's only available from the SFBC, and I expect it only ever will be available through the SFBC; the rights to the stories are otherwise all caught up in many different collections, spread across many publishers.

But I really don't care if anyone buys it at this point; it's a book I wanted to exist, and now I've made it happen, so I'm just happy that it's on my shelf.

Just Read: Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs...

This is an odd McSweeney's Young Adult anthology, designed as a fund-raiser for their non-profit tutoring center in NYC. The full title is Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs, and Some Other Things That Aren't as Scary, Maybe, Depending on How You Feel About Lost Lands, Stray Cellphones, Creatures from the Sky, Parents Who Disappear in Peru, a Man Named Lars Farf, and One Other Story We Couldn't Quite Finish, So Maybe You Could Help Us Out. The book is edited by Ted Thompson with Eli Horowitz, who are only credited inside the book.

No book could possibly live up to that title, and this one falls several miles short. I admit that I'm not the target audience, but I found most of it bland and uninspiring. The best story in it is Kelly Link's "Monster," which is a good story but not a particularly good Kelly Link story.

There's also something old-fashioned-feeling about this anthology; two of the eleven stories are reprints from my childhood (and, I suspect, the childhood of the editors), and those aren't particularly strong, either. The stories don't quite talk down to the reader, exactly, but they all seem to be framed as "stories for young people" in ways that don't help the book. It's quite possible that my tastes in YA fiction (which run strongly towards Daniel Pinkwater and Jonathan Stroud's current, brilliant "Bartimaeus Trilogy") are at odds with those of the editors, and so I was looking for a different book from the one they edited, but this felt stodgier to me than it seemed to want to be.

Actually, the best thing in the book is Lemony Snicket's introduction, which is a sly deconstruction of old childrens' story ideas, and which sets up expectations the rest of the book can't live up to. If the stories were more like the introduction, this would have been a great book.

The first story is "Small Country," by Nick Hornby, a tale about a boy who learns community spirit and soccer in the smallest (fictional) country in Europe. It's not quite heartwarming, but I got the uneasy feeling it really was trying to be. I've liked all of the Hornby books I've read (all but his most recent novel), and this was pleasant to read, but it's a bit of a jar coming right after the Snicket intro.

Next is "Lars Farf, Excessively Fearful Father and Husband," from George Saunders. It is, I fear, a Parable For Our Times. It's done reasonably well, but it's not a thing that really should have been done. Especially for a young audience, who might not realize just how creaky the idea is. I also have a lurking suspicion that it's all supposed to be a cleverly worked-out metaphor for The War in Iraq, or The Struggle Against Terrorism, or something like that.

"Mother" is next, which I've already mentioned. Link's prose is strangely subdued here, and she uses the characters full names a lot; it felt like she thought she needed to do that, for this audience. Again, the story is good, but not as good as it could have been; I got the feeling that if she had written this for an adult market, it could have been an award contender.

"The Contests at Cowlick," by Richard Kennedy, is one of the reprints; it originally appeared in 1975. It felt very familiar to me, and I expect many adults reading this book will also recognize it.

"Each Sold Separately" is some kind of very short metafiction from Jon Scieszka, who has written a number of really excellent stories for kids. This, I'm sorry to say, is not one of them; it's obvious and labored.

"Seymour's Last Wish" by Sam Swope is yet another Three Wishes story, and doesn't ring any particularly interesting changes on the theme. It's not obviously derivative of anything, but it is yet another in a long line of stories like this. The moral is also very old-fashioned; our hero just wants his mother to love him.

"Grimble" by Clement Freud is the second reprint, which originally appeared in 1968 (as its own book, I think). It's a bit long, meandering, and pointless, as a ten-year-old boy in England lives through a week in which his parents are in Peru, and sort-of learns to cook. That's about it, really.

"Spoony-E & Spandy-3 vs. The Purple Hordes" is a ten-page comic by James Kochalka, about whom I've heard good things. Perhaps he was having an off day; this is a pointless fight scene.

"Sunbird" by Neil Gaiman is one of the better stories in the anthology. I didn't love it, but it gets where it needs to go economically, and is a pleasant ride along the way.

"The ACES Phone" by Jeanne DuPrau is an animal story, so I'm not really qualified to comment on it. I'm not terribly interested in animals, and tend to stand there blankly while other people tell me about the exploits of Snooky-Wookums or how terribly cute Gunther the Wonder Pup is. People who like animals would probably find this story tremendously uplifting and wonderful; I found it short and acceptable.

And ending the collection is "The Sixth Borough" by Jonathan Safran Foer, which is apparently an excerpt from his novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I've got a copy of Extremely Loud, and I'm sorry to say this not-quite-a-story about an extra island just west of Manhattan didn't really connect with me or make me want to read the novel. It's written in a magic realist kind of style, which I usually like, but it just didn't work for me.

Final note: Yes, I did finish the Vowell book this morning (on my bus ride in) and then read this whole book today. (It's really not very long at all.) I've now spent about half as much time writing about it as I did reading it, which is a weird ratio. It's not at all the book I thought it would be -- that doesn't make it a bad book, of course, but Snicket's introduction promises one thing, and the book itself delivers the opposite.

For Want of a Nail...

I originally wrote the following eight or ten years ago, when it looked like we had a chance to get Robert Sobel's great alternate history For Want of a Nail in the SFBC, since it had a new edition from the military publisher Greenhill and book-club rights were available. The other guys (it was the History Book Club at the time) offered more money, higher royalties, more prestige, and a better platform, so I can't blame Greenhill for taking their offer over ours. But this little blurb has thus never seen the light of day, so I wanted to finally set it free...

We don’t often offer history books in the club, but we had to make an exception here..

I can remember when I first read For Want of a Nail..., as a second form student at Prince Edward Middle School in New Manchester, New Jersey. I hadn’t liked history up till then — it all seemed a boring parade of British Kings and governors, unrelated to my life in the North American Confederation. But those shiny first editions (donated by the Earl of Paterson on the Queen’s Birthday the year before) sparked my interest with the story of my country, and of its rival and occasional enemy, the United States of Mexico.

This club spans both the CNA and the USM, from Mexican Alaska to the heart of British America here in New York, and so does Sobel’s engrossing history. We all know how the CNA started, under the great General Burgoyne, the hero who put down the Rebellion. And I even knew something of the early history of the USM — how some of the defeated rebels carved out a new nation, Jefferson, on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico and how their great leader Andrew Jackson conquered Mexico to form the greater nation.

But Sobel makes the story come to life on the page, spanning two hundred years of history from the Rebellion to my school-boy days with wit and verve and a wonderful eye for historical characters. Sobel makes it more than a history; it becomes a story — of two nations sharing the same continent through uneasy peace and bloody war. Even now, twenty-five years after it was first published, it’s the standard history of North America. This is one book that should be in every home — of the CNA and the USM — and I urge you to read this wonderful history. I can guarantee you that you’ve never read a history book like it!

Just Read: Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

I would be very superficial if I had discovered Sarah Vowell's writing because of her part as teenage superheroine Violet Parr in the wonderful Pixar movie The Incredibles. Luckily, I didn't; I'm very geeky because I discovered her from the They Might Be Giants movie documentary Gigantic, and was just reminded of her by The Incredibles. She's also relatively well-known for being an NPR commentator, but, of course, since I'm a Republican, lodge rules forbid me from listening to NPR. (But I do have my own copy of the White Guys Rule the World handbook, so it all evens out.)

So, earlier this year, I found a used copy of Take The Cannoli, one of her essay collections, and read it. (I'm finding that the things I read fastest these days are short non-fiction books, especially those made up of short essays; this probably says something about the attention span of a man with two boys under ten years old.) I liked most of the pieces in it, and, more importantly, I liked Vowell's voice: only slightly sarcastic, serious but not earnest, funny but not snarky, interested in odd facts and specific details. So I found this one, and read it almost as soon as I got it.

This was conceived as a single book in a way Take the Cannoli wasn't; it's a book about the assassinations of three presidents (Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley) and Vowell's trips to various places related to those assassinations. It's a very digressive book, which I enjoy, and takes an interesting tour through odd bits of late 19th century history and culture. Vowell is good at keeping her own politics in the subtext most of the time, and only letting it erupt when it works in her narrative (something a couple of dozen writers on both sides of the fence could productively study and emulate). But writing a book about assassinated presidents inevitably does lead to politics, both that of the past and the fights currently going on. Oddly enough, I agree with most of the contemporary political ideas Vowell brings up, which probably helped me enjoy the book more -- but I'd better shut up about that before the Republican Police come around and drum me out.

If you like American history, dead presidents, or odd facts, check out this book. If you're substantially more Republican than I am, though, you might find yourself grinding your teeth a bit.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Incoming Book: 14 November

I got home from the Mill & Swill too late last night to even fire up the computer, but this is what came home with me in my bag:

Lost Stories by Dashiell Hammett

(Not that I got it at the Mill & Swill -- that would be silly, and unlikely -- but...oh, you know what I mean.)

A Short Self-Serving Professional Post

If there's anybody out there who hasn't joined the Science Fiction Book Club for the usual I-hate-book-clubs reasons (don't like to return cards, think the "shipping & handling" is too high, that sort of thing), you might want to take a look at Zooba.

Zooba is a sister club, so most of the SFBC books are available through them (though they're focusing on bestsellers right now, for obvious reasons). They should have everything the SFBC has, and probably will, eventually. And they have a Netflix-ish model: get one book of your choice every month for $9.95, including postage, with no other commitment or minimum required. So that may be attractive to some of you.

Feeling Left Out of the Whole "Venom Cock" Thing

I guess I didn't have as much fun at WFC as I thought I did, since I only found out about the "venom cock" brou-ha-ha while waiting for my endlessly delayed flight home. (I was hanging out with a group of other editors, plotting against writers, as of course we always do, and among us was John Joseph Adams, the Slush God himself and Ground Zero of the Venom Cock Imbroglio.)

I hadn't previously heard of the wonder that is the Venom Cock, but John gave us all a quick rundown, and we laughed, and moved onto other things, such as crushing dreams and blighting the world. (Perhaps I exaggerate.)

But the blogosphere had already picked up on the Venom Cock, firstly during the con through Cheryl Morgan's reports on Emerald City, and then via the spirited defense of the Venom Cock there and elsewhere by many authors, readers, and authors who thought the "cool kids" shouldn't be making fun of other writers. (Since I'm apparently not one of the cool kids to begin with, nor a writer, I'm agnostic on the subject.)

A day or two ago, the major points -- that the words "venom cock" do indeed appear in both the except and the novel itself, and that "laughingstock of WFC" meant that possibly several dozen people had read the excerpt, not liked it, and laughed -- seemed to be settled. But the SF world will never let a good feud die, even if the people who started it aren't fighting anymore.

Now Tobias Buckell has gotten dragged into this, by E.E. Knight, neither of which I thought had anything to do with it. It's all threatening to spin out of control and destroy the world as we know it.

So now I'm not sure if I should be happy that I'm not involved, or annoyed that something like this could go on without me. On balance, I think it's just that I wish I had more opportunities to use phrases like "venom cock," which appeal to something silly deep inside me.

Venom Cock. Venom Cock. venom cock. venom cock. venom cock.

There: now I feel better.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Synchronicity Redux

I finished reading the Jim Butcher books, but the Blue Beetle is still there. Yet more proof that the outside world does exist, and I am not merely a brain in a jar.

Thus I refute Bishop Berkeley!

Me and the Australians

Somehow, without noticing it, I've become the SFBC's go-to guy for Australians. I don't think there's a single book by an Australian writer that any other editor acquired.

It probably started with Greg Egan, as so many things do. From there, I moved on to acquiring A. Bertram Chandler, Sara Douglass, Sean Williams & Shane Dix, Sean McMullen, Jennifer Fallon and Jonathan Strahan's original Best Short Novels annuals. Even people with just an odd connection to Australia (like Scott Westerfeld, who lives there six months out of the year but I think is an American citizen) ended up on my "list."

At some point recently, I realized that I had this huge pile of Australians. But I don't know what to do about it. It's not as if I can lead them to do anything; they mostly don't know me from Adam. Perhaps it means I have one of those jokey "everyone on my planet can do this" powers from the Legion of Super-Heroes: I'm Detect-Great-Australian-Writing Man! Able to scour an entire arid continent in a single glance! Capable of detecting the minutest speck of Australian Content in a fantasy novel! He may be an American, but the Southern Cross is burned on his soul! (OK, maybe not.)

I do know this has not always been the case: Ellen Asher acquired a couple of George Turner books before I came to the club (and probably other things, too). But I think I ended up buying the last book or two of his that we did. So maybe it was Turner that did it.

Now, there's got to be some way to wrangle a sight-seeing trip out of this, so I'd better get thinking...

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Belated Quote of the Week

Just realized that I missed Friday:

"He took me to his library and showed me his books, of which he had a complete set."
-Ring Lardner

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Just Saw: Chicken Little

And someone at Disney has been taking notes the past ten years, because large chunks of it felt like Lesson One in "Let's Make a Pixar-like movie." In particular, the heavy helping of father-son issues (much more heavy-handed than in any Pixar movie) seemed to be there as a plot armature simply because that's what the Other Guys have been doing. There's also a bit of DreamWorks-esque pop culture references for the adults, mostly in the '70s disco songs that "Runt of the Litter" (a rotten name, by the way) sings off and on. But when there's a chance for a payoff to that running gag, Runt's mother threatens to take away his "Streisand albums," in the triumph of a prior draft of the script. The whole thing felt like it was rushed into production about two script drafts earlier than it should have been.

I enjoyed watching it, and it's a gorgeous-looking, technically amazing, and heartfelt movie, but the general impression it left on me was of a number of interesting ideas and thoughts in search of a better plot. That may have been an inevitable consequence of choosing to do a "Chicken Little" movie, though. What I think the story needed was more time and more depth in the first act, but, in this story, that's exactly what you need to speed through (and, watching the movie, I was only semi-patiently waiting for the aliens to show up myself). If you're telling the story of Chicken Little, everybody's waiting for the sky to fall, so you need to get to the sky falling as quickly as possible. On the other hand, because of the choice this movie made for its ending (which I think was a good choice, and went a long way to unifying it thematically), the second half of the movie (aliens invade!) couldn't be that long, either. So the beginning couldn't be longer, since that's not what anybody's looking for. And the ending was already stretched out as long as it could be (and filling it with more gags or action wouldn't help, either).

Honestly, I don't think this was as successful as a movie as Brother Bear was, though that apparently was a huge failure for Disney. And Chicken Little isn't as flat-out funny and entertaining as Home on the Range was, though that movie also seems to have been a massive disappointment. If Chicken Little is a big hit, and Disney is sure betting a lot that it will be, it may just mean that the kiddy-animation audience want Kewl 3D Computer Stuff more than they want Good Stories. (We Pixar fans are betting the other horse, but, so far, Cars is not looking all that good, and it may help to prove the CGI Rulez! crowd correct if it is both lousy and very successful.)

I sound awfully negative here, but there are some very good things about Chicken Little: the animation is amazing. The ending is excellent, though, even there, the real ending is about seven minutes before the movie actually stops. And, very appropriately for a movie that's really about communication, several times a character tries to talk, to say something important, and just drops into gibberish, unable to string together words coherently. Even better, it's not Funny Movie Talk, it's authentic hemming and hawing, just like real people talk. Those bits of dialogue gave this movie a lot of leeway in my book; any movie, especially an animated movie for kids, that has its characters talking like real people, warts and all, should be recognized and celebrated.

If you've got kids (or are an animation geek), you've probably seen Chicken Little already. If you don't have kids, you probably have no plan to see Chicken Little. It's not a movie you have to see, the way The Incredibles or Finding Nemo were, but it's a solid piece of entertainment, and the kids will almost certainly like it a whole lot better than you do. (I know mine did; in a quick poll in the car afterward, both Thing 1 and Thing 2 said that they liked Chicken Little better than Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, which we saw several weeks ago and which is clearly a better movie in every sense.) But it's also not one of those horrid movies that kids love and parents can't stand to see even once, like the appalling Inspector Gadget 2. And, just maybe, this new Disney CGI animation group can learn from the stuff that's good in Chicken Little, and pick up some of the story people from the good recent Disney cell-animated movies (Range, Bear, The Emperor's New Groove, Lilo and Stitch), and have a Pixar-level movie in their next at-bat. (Gratuitous baseball metaphor in honor of the gratuitous baseball scene in Chicken Little.)

Friday, November 11, 2005

Incoming Book: 11 November

There are people who avidly read long, heavy tomes on language, soaking up nuance and detail. I've always wanted to be one of them, but I've never quite worked up that far. I tend to read a lot of short, mass-markety, popular books on words, while gazing longingly at their notes and thinking if only I had a little more time, or patience, or energy, I'd be reading the OED instead of this.

I'm sure Slam Dunks and No-Brainers (by Leslie Savan) is a fine book, and I might even get to it soon. But right now it looks like a foothill. Anyway, it's what I brought home today.

New Advances in Design!

It would be terribly juvenile of me to say that I want a wall of boobs in my house, wouldn't it? OK, then I won't say it. But I do like it when marketers really figure out how people actually think...even when it's not very complimentary to the supposed thinkers.

And I'm not sure what it says about me, but I've just spent ten minutes googling unsuccessfully for a picture of this wall. Purely for illustrative purposes, of course. (I think I finally found one at the top of this blog, but it's hard to see. But now I have more questions about the concept, since I find it hard to see how useful having fake breasts up to a ten-foot ceiling would be.)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Story of My Life

I have Overheard in New York at the end of my morning blogroll, because it helps me get through everything else. Today was particularly wonderful, especially this gem:

"Great, now I have to find a mandolin for the FBI."

Haven't we all had those days?


I've been reading a couple of Jim Butcher's "Harry Dresden" books recently, but I might need to stop. I think they're stalking me.

On the first working day after starting one of these books, there was a bright blue 1974 Volkswagen Beetle sitting prominently across the street from my bus stop, with a "For Sale" sign in the window. It's still there now, a week later. (If you haven't read any of the books, this probably makes no sense, but Dresden drives a car he calls the "Blue Beetle" and talks about it far too much. Come to think of it, it's probably a nod to Sue Grafton.)

I wonder if that car will mysteriously disappear when I finish reading Blood Rites?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Light Housekeeping

I've added a bunch of things to the "Links" list to your immediate left, mostly consisting of blogs and blog-like things that I look at regularly. (And so I think that other people might also find them interesting.)

At the top of that list, since I'm amazingly self-centered, are two different kinds of syndication for this blog. I must admit that I really don't get how these things work yet, but somebody on rec.arts.sf.written asked, and it was easy, so I did it. I don't honestly expect much of anybody to sign up, but they are now there.

And so I find myself hurtling ever faster into the unknowable future, but, hey! I'm a skiffy editor, right? This should be easy stuff.

Log-Rolling in Our Time

This isn't the "WFC was fun! Whee!" post I promised on Monday, but I'm backing into that. Maybe sometime later today, before I forget everything.

Tobias Buckell has posted a longish con report, which includes a reference to meeting me. And so, by the iron laws of politeness and links, I hereby link back. It was fun meeting him as well, and I also wish we had more time to talk. (On the other hand, I wish I'd had more time to talk to about fifty people at WFC, and I know I'm not that sociable.) What struck me is that he looks just like that picture on his site. I don't think I even saw him without the jacket the whole weekend. It did making recognizing him a snap, so I'd like to encourage everyone else in the world to post a picture of themselves prominently and always look exactly like that.

The other odd thing was that I heard that my offer to do his first novel Crystal Rain in the SFBC was accepted, but not from the publisher (which is the usual channel, since I make the offer to the publisher, and the publisher is the one who actually has the rights to sell). No, I heard from Buckell's agent (who I was having drinks with) that he'd heard from Buckell that he'd heard from his editor that the offer was being accepted. That's a six-degrees-of-separation moment if ever I saw one. My usual contact at the publisher did e-mail me yesterday to accept the offer officially yesterday, though, so I'm not still in limbo.

So, Toby is a good guy, and he wrote a good book. And now I'm going to get to sell it in the club, so I hope a lot of people agree with me.

You've All Read This Already, Right?

The famous "dinosaurs and sodomy" story from Making Light?

If not, go here now.

A Serial Toilet-Seat-Gluer At Large!

Ron Trzepacz of Denver, as if being burdened by that name wasn't enough, recently sued Home Depot because he claimed he had been glued to a toilet seat in one of their stores. This, if true, would be very, very funny.

Well, it turns out that this isn't the first time that he's claimed to have been glued by persons unknown to a public toilet seat in the Denver area. (By the way, "Public Toilet Seat" would make a great band name.) Here are all of the sordid details. I know I'm not going to be doing any "number two" in Denver any time soon...

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Department of Not Making This Stuff Up, Really

I have said for several years that there is no topic so unlikely, so outre, so minor that there isn't a book devoted to it. Once again, I am proven right.

Incoming Book: 8 November

Just one book today, but it's one I was actually planning to pay money for, so finding it (as a somewhat battered bound galley, yes) was a bonus. It's also pretty short, so, assuming I eventually read it in one day, it's not a net gain in book-reading time to my already groaning shelves.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you today's book: Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell!

Things I Can't Stand About British English, Part One

They consistently use the word "orientate" in place of what I consider the correct word "orient." Adding extra syllables to a perfectly good word does not make it any better; it just makes that word harder to pronounce and sillier.

What I Was Reading A Year Ago

Inspired by my recent pointless epic trawl through my reading notebook, I dug this out of the dustbin of history. It was originally posted to rec.arts.sf.written 11/4/04, as part of a general "what are you reading now?" discussion. I am now in imminent danger of disappearing up my own navel.

Right now it's Raw Spirit by Iain Banks, which is only of associational interest. (Banks somehow conned a publisher into paying him to wander around Scotland and drink single-malt whisky; he is now one of my idols.)

Just before that was Quick Service by P.G. Wodehouse, a pleasant non-series book from his '30s peak. Pure fluffy fun.

Actually in the SF genre, there's Mothership by John Brosnan, which is yet another we've-forgotten-we're-on-a-colony-ship story. But Brosnan wisely doesn't try to make that the kicker; it's given away on the back cover (not to mention the title), and any SF reader would figure it out in ten pages anyway. He also has a narrator with a great sarcastic voice and a deft, light hand with plot. And I thought his infodumps worked quite well, especially since the narrator, though smart, starts off with no real knowledge of the world. A sequel is forthcoming, which may answer some lingering questions I have (but which the narrator would not have any inkling of, so that didn't really bother me).

Before that was Orphanage by Robert Buettner. It's a solid Military SF novel, with inscrutable hive-mind aliens trying to forcibly xenoform Earth by lobbing rocks at it from Ganymede. It's not a great novel by any means, but it's professionally written, doesn't raise winces at any point, was a breeze to read, and is the kind of book the genre needs more of, so I was quite happy with it.

I also finally got to Charlie Stross's The Atrocity Archives recently, which is really cool. I am a sucker for Lovecraftian stories, and work for an occasionally Byzantine bureaucracy, so I may not be unbiased. On the other hand, most of the in-jokes are computer-based and flew over my head, so it's the kind of book with several semi-distinct and overlapping audiences.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Drowning in Books

Madison has some nice used book stores; I found three just wandering around town, so there's probably more than that. I bought stuff at two of them, and also bought some books at the dealer's room at World Fantasy as well.

So, incoming books from the weekend were:

    The Man in the Cannibal Pot by Gahan Wilson
    The Green Man by Kingsley Amis
    Men in Black by Scott Spencer
    Candy by Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg
    A Spy in the Family by Alec Waugh
    Domestic Manners of the Americans by Mrs. Frances Trollope
    Baby's First Mythos by C.J. and Erica Henderson
    Now We Are Sick edited by Neil Gaiman and Stephen Jones
    The Black Stranger and Other American Tales by Robert E. Howard
    A Talent to Annoy by Nancy Mitford
    Trujillo and Other Stories by Lucius Shepard
    The Brideshead Generation by Humphrey Carpenter
    Star Changes by Clark Ashton Smith
    Horrible Imaginings by Fritz Leiber

Several of those are officially "for work," so I don't really intend to read them myself (at least not right away). So it's not quite as bad as it looks, but it's certainly a case of more books coming in than will ever go out.

I also brought home two books that I'd had in my office (I have a pile there, which gets bigger and smaller as I pick things up on our various giveaway bookshelves and lug them home) : The Gate of the Gods by Martha Wells and Divided by a Common Language by Christopher Davies.

In a good week, I can read three or four "real" books. The math is not in my favor.

A Zen Koan for Our Times

What is the sound of one bling?

Two Words Overused In Mediocre Fantasy

The words are "hurt" and "friend," and they are two sides of the same coin.

I see them a lot in fantasy novels, particularly contemporary fantasy of the "me and my Scooby gang save the world from vampires" kind. Our heroes are always worried that someone will "get hurt," or that the plans of the villain will "hurt people." They use that phrasing even if said plans are likely to reduce the greater Saskatoon area to a puddle of burbling lava; this is an event that must be stopped because it will "hurt people."

Similarly, these characters are always worried about their friends. They won't let their friends go into danger alone, or possibly at all. It's too dangerous to allow a friend to do that. "You hurt my friends!" scream the heroes at the Big Nasty, about forty pages from the end of the book. Strangely, none of these people have any family (unless a parent is the Big Nasty in this particular book; parents are always evil). They don't call their mothers on Saturday or go shopping with their sisters; they don't have nephews playing Pee Wee football or cousins going to technical school the next town over. Clearly, these characters sprung fully-formed from the bosom of the earth, or were perhaps tragically orphaned at a sadly young age, and now they only need to worry about their friends. But that's OK. Their friends are wonderful, and they only feel alive in the company of their friends. (There is something very late-Saturday-night-at-a-minor-regional-convention to this obsessive, gushing friendship.)

Both of those words are wishy-washy. A friend is not a companion, or a compatriot, or a comrade. A friend is someone you nod at, or have lunch with once a month, not someone who helps you decapitate the Hopping Yellow Leprechauns and brew their blood into the World-Saving Crystals. Hurt is what Dr. Phil talks about endlessly every day on daytime television. Dead is what the villains are usually trying to do to the heroes.

"Friend" and "hurt" are dirt-common words in the American language, and so they're about as useful as dirt when a writer tries to place any weight on them. They buckle under the strain, and simply collapse, dropping all of the writer's carefully-hoarded pathos onto the grimy graveyard dirt.

Please, if you are considering committing fantasy novel, severely limit your intake, and outflow, of "hurt" and "friend." Thank you.

This is Not a Post About the World Fantasy Convention

There will probably be a longish "What I Did at WFC" post coming up later today or tomorrow, but I've got a rant that needs to come out first. Watch this space...

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Place-Holder Post

I'm typing this standing up at a kiosk in the lobby of my Madison hotel, since I've got more than an hour until the hotel van will take me to the airport (to wait yet longer there, of course). So I figured exercising my fingers was something to do that would probably keep me out of trouble.

But I can't concentrate on what I wanted to write about, because the "Num Lock" light on this keyboard keeps going on and off disconcertingly. Of course, now that I've mentioned it, it's stopped, but it was flicking on and off every few words during the first paragraph. (Aha! There, it did it again!) Sometimes backspacing turns it on or off, sometimes the shift key does. There are probably other triggers I haven't figured out yet. It's one of the oddest, most pointless computer things I've ever seen. My boss would obsess about it and probably demand an explanation from the hotel staff, but I think I'll just try to ignore it, unless I can figure out some meaning or purpose to it all.

Anyway, Madison is a nice little city, and didn't get cold and rainy until midway through yesterday, which was a plus. And the World Fantasy Convention was exactly what people had been saying it was (and I guess I didn't believe them, since it took me this long to get here). It's the convention with all of the people you want to talk to, and hardly any of the people you don't want to talk to, so you can just drift along, bumping into everyone you need to see and feeling very virtuous about getting so much done.

But this trip, and especially this lost afternoon (the WFA banquet and ceremony are going on right now, but I'm wasting time waiting to get out of here, so I'm not there) are making me want a laptop. I know, realistically, that I don't take many trips like this, and it wouldn't be worth it. But I'd love to be typing this sitting down, on my own computer. And I'm sure I'd find things to amuse myself with if I did have my own computer with me. (Hm. Maybe I can convince my employer to get me one, to do the SFBC blog...)

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Quote of the Week

"Mens' souls are crooked and unsound things, not good materials out of which to build friendships, families, households, cities, civilizations. But good or no, these things must be built, and we must craft them with the materials at hand, and make as strong and stubborn redoubt as we can make, lest the horrors of the Night should triumph over us, not in some distant age to come, but now."
-John C. Wright, "Awake in the Night"

Last Exit Before Toll

The car service is coming to pick me up in half an hour, and then I'm off to lovely Madison, Wisconsin for the World Fantasy Convention. (It's the first time I've managed to go, after several years of thinking about it, so wish me luck.) So don't expect any more posts until at least Sunday night (and probably not then, either).

Talk amongst yourselves while I'm gone...

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Real Men Read Comics!

Since this is a reading-focused blog (at least, I'm trying to make it one), I should also mention the less high-falutin' things I read as well.

And, since I made a comics run today (to Midtown Comics in Times Square, a nice large and clean emporium that also happens to be on my way home), let me run down today's haul.

Somehow, by accident, I got The Authority: Revolution #12 (maybe because it's cover was very similar to Astro City: The Dark Ages #4, a comic that was on my pull list). I've paid for it, so I skimmed it. I'm not impressed: it seems to be a generic super-hero comic with the numbers filed off, only slightly more violent.

The stuff I wanted was:

  • Solo #7: Michael Allred. I haven't been getting his books for a while, but I used to like Madman, years back, and this looks silly.
  • Flaming Carrot Comics #4. There never has been, and never will be, anyone else like Bob Burden. And this issue has even better news: Bob and Rick Geary are working on a Gumby project together!
  • Dork Tower #32. I'm not even a gamer, so I probably shouldn't find this comic as funny as I do. (Actually, this issue seemed to be a bland one, but I hope that's an aberration.)
  • Keif Llama, Xenotech #1. Matt Howarth is another one of my personal comics heroes, and it's good to see one of his less nihilistic series come back.
  • Astro City: The Dark Age #4. It sometimes gets too superhero-messagey for my tastes, but this is the closest to a "mainstream" comic that I can stand these days.
  • Keif Llama: Particle Dreams. A trade paperback of the old series, which I probably have in a box somewhere. How do these comics companies get me to spend money on things I already have?
  • Smax. Another trade paperback, this one a Top 10 spin-off. I wish Zander Cannon was doing The Replacement God instead of this, but I guess a man's gotta eat. It's written by Alan Moore, so I'm pretty sure it won't get as twee-fantasy as it looks.
  • Mad Night by Richard Sala. I've been getting into his books lately; he does a fun creepy Charles Addams meets Rick Geary kind of thing. Haven't read any of this yet.
  • Short Strokes by Richard Moore. Um. Can I say I like his Boneyard series and quickly move past this particular book?
  • And, of course, a Previews, so I can order stuff for January. It wouldn't be the comics world if you didn't know all of the plot twists two months in advance.

Sidebar Thought on Sixpence House

This started out as part of the previous post, but I think it's turning into a full-fledged thought of its own. (And this is also part of my new drive to have shorter, punchier posts.)

There are connections I wished Collins had made in Sixpence House, and one of them has been bugging me. Early on, he visits his dying 83-year-old grandmother, and makes the point that, under UK National Health, 83-year-old women with brain cancer are not given much in the way of treatment (as they would in the States, in many cases), but allowed to die relatively naturally.

Later on, his son has to go to a doctor for a small accident, and he notes with bemusement that, since his family aren't "residents," the cost of the doctor visit will be twenty pounds. The woman who tells him this thinks this is quite a high payment, of course. And the implication is that the UK setup is so much better than the way the US organizes healthcare. (And it certainly is, for a couple with no regular employment or fixed address.)

But the two things are inextricably linked, and Collins must know this. The UK system has made certain choices in its priorities, and the US system has made other choices. Choosing not to spend vast resources on old, sick people means that things will be cheaper for everyone else. Collins's son's doctor visit costs twenty pounds because someone's grandmother is dying of cancer.

We can argue about how to make those choices, and whether there's some happy medium in between the US and UK schemes, but the two things are not separate. I wish Collins had realized that in this book.

Just Read: Sixpence House by Paul Collins

This comes with possibly too much hype: the back cover (tastefully) screams "A #1 Book Sense Pick," and the quotes are all about how absolutely wonderful and special it is. After that, it's quite likely anything would be a disappointment.

But it isn't really disappointing, actually; Collins really can write, and Sixpence House is consistently engaging. What's more, the stories he tells will be instantly familiar to any book-lover. It's just that Sixpence House is the story of something that didn't happen, so the whole shape of the book is formed around expectations that will not be met.

Let me back up. Collins is a young writer (sidebar: he seems to be my exact contemporary, and his young son Morgan is about the same age as Thing 1, so I'm inclined to be very interested in his life, since it seems to be a alternate-world version of my own), associated with the McSweeney's crowd, who moved to the famous booktown Hay-on-Wye on the Welsh border in what seems to be the early fall of 2000. This book is the story of how he settled in there; or, rather, that's what it looks like the book will be about.

It's actually mostly about how Collins loves old books, or just books in general. And that's fine, because anyone who might possibly want to read this book will share that love, and Collins writes about books engagingly. He's also read a lot of obscure, odd books, which is perfect for that kind of writing. The minor thread of Sixpence House is Collins's feelings as a new writer: he's just turned in his first book, Banvard's Folly, as this book opens and he corrects the Banvard proofs in the last chapter. Collins works briefly for the King of Hay, Richard Booth, but that doesn't really go anywhere. He and his wife search for a house, but don't find anything they both like and can buy.

(If there's anyone out there who has both read this book and bought a house in the UK, I'm dying to know if the ridiculously unfriendly and Byzantine world of UK realty depicted in this book is accurate. Buying a house in the US isn't easy - buying anything that large can't be - but the UK system seems designed to rook buyers at every turn.)

So this ends up being a book about digressions, since the main thread turns out to be a vacation rather than a life-change. That's OK; books about digressions can be quite fun. But I can't help thinking that this is an awfully slender framework to wrap a book around. I certainly enjoyed it, and I'd recommend it to book-lovers (basically: if you've heard of Hay-on-Wye before you read this review, you'll want to read this book), but I don't think it would have general interest outside of our eccentric circle.

Still Getting a Handle on this Whole "Blog" Thing

So I'm beginning to think that the point of this here medium isn't to write Tolstoyian epics than run on for several thousand words about nothing, but instead to keep it short and pithy.

This is a problem for me, since I don't so much do things as overdo them. But let's see if I can handle it.

Think short thoughts. Think short thoughts.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Them New York Women Is Tough

Walking to work today (through the Flatiron District, specifically, if that matters), I saw at least three or four women with naked feet. They weren't wearing those spiky stab-you-in-the-heart heels that cost as much as a cab ride to Philadelphia, no. These were honest-to-God, I-think-it's-still-summer sandals, with big fat straps and toes hanging out everywhere.

Now, I would never urge the attractive women of New York (or any other location I happen to be in at the time) to cover up any body parts that they don't feel like covering up. That would just be wrong. But, Jeez! girls, don't you realize that it's November!?

And that's when I had my minor epiphany of the day (immortalized, in worse grammar than I used in my own head at the time, in my title). Remember this: don't mess with the New York girls. They take more pain than you can dish out just looking that cute, and they laugh at frostbite.