Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Kudos to Tor on Their E-book Move

There have been rumblings and leaks for about a week now, but yesterday Tor officially announced that they will be joining Baen Books' WebScription model, and this Tor titles will begin being available in inexpensive, non-crippleware e-book editions starting in April. Baen is widely regarded as the only one doing e-books correctly -- since they have a large and growing audience and actually seem to be making money as well (even with their counter-intuitive plan of giving away many books for free) -- so this is another indication that they are doing something right.

Professionally, I'm of two minds about this. Having more people read more SFF, and having SFF be more available, is of course A Good Thing. But, since my parent company doesn't sell e-books in any way, shape, or form, there's a part of me that would prefer to see e-books stay a small, secluded backwater. (Being a cynic, I do think that e-books won't transform the universe and be the coolest thing since sliced bread -- I remember the precisely identical claims made about "enhanced" books on CD-ROM a decade ago -- but there's still plenty of room for the format to grow and possibly cannibalize the sale of real books.)

I also notice that the link above (which I got from Locus Online), seems to be only excerpts from a longer press release. After a bit of poking around (since the quote from Patrick sounded very familiar), I now think that the "press release" is a couple of quotes from this post on John Scalzi's blog Whatever, taken out of context and reposted elsewhere. So this may not be the officially official announcement, but it's still clear that Tor and Baen have a deal, and this project is moving forward.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Today's WFA Reading: 2/27

The mails had been quiet for a while, but a small package appeared today, with two issues of Electric Velocipede. Yes, something else I felt vaguely guilty that I wasn't already reading, and now I have to. If I could just organize my entire life so that I was forced to do all of the things I really should do, everything would be so much simpler.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Reading Into the Past: Week of 2/26

This week I rolled a ten, and so I'll be looking at the books I was reading this week in 1996:
  • Year's Best SF, edited by David G. Hartwell (2/19)
    The first of his now decade-long series; I'm afraid I can't tell you from memory what stories were in it. But it was worth reading then, and I bet it would still be worth reading now.
  • Royal Flash by George Macdonald Fraser (1/20)
    This is the second in the "Flashman" series, about a minor character from the minor classic Tom Brown's Schooldays romping across the mid-Victorian world in the fashion of a cad and a bounder. They're all splendid fun (and, if you're not careful, you'll learn some history along the way), but they get even better in the middle books. Oh, and kids: there's quite a bit of sex in them. (That'll take the curse off the "history" thing.)
  • Badlands by Steven Grant and Vince Giarrano (1/21)
    Some kind of graphic novel. Further I can't say; it's completely unmemorable.
  • John Byrne's 2112 by John Byrne (1/21)
    Doesn't an evil cyborg time-travel back to our time ("our time" being the early '90s) at the end of this short graphic novel to start the events that lead to the dystopian future depicted herein? Something like that, anyway. People were saying at the time that this and the related "Next Men" series were Byrne's best work, but I haven't heard that in a while.
  • Two Much! by Donald E. Westlake (1/22)
    This is the one about a guy who pretends to be twins so that he can marry twin heiresses. It's not major Westlake, but it's a decent mature-period Westlake comic novel, which means it's funnier than seeing a man get hit in the crotch on national television. (And we all know that is about as funny as it gets in America.)
  • Silicon Snake Oil by Clifford Stoll (1/23)
    This was probably a "the Internet boom is going to crater Real Soon" book, which would make it visionary if it hadn't been published in 1996, when the boom still had plenty of life in it. [Checks Amazon.] Well, I was half right: it's a book about how the Internet isn't all it's cracked up to be, how it won't change civilization and how the Internet e-commerce boom (which, come to think of it, hadn't quite gotten started in February of '96) wouldn't happen. It might be a funny book to read these days, but I know I don't have the time for it.
  • John Byrne's Next Men, Book One also by John Byrne (1/23)
    A small number (I want to say five) of genetically engineered, super-powered teenagers break out of the laboratory they were created in and discover Everything They Knew Was Wrong. It was a pleasant enough version of that old story, but this is to comics what Generic Dark Lord Trilogies are to fantasy.
  • Riverrun by S.P. Somtow (1/24)
    I originally read this, and loved it, when Avon published it about five years earlier. I said, at the time, "this is going to be a trilogy, and so it will make a great SFBC omnibus!" So I waited.
  • riverrun ii: Armorica by S.P. Somtow (1/24)
    Avon published this a bit later, but I didn't read it then; I was waiting to read it all for the omnibus (to make sure it worked that way).
  • Yestern by S.P. Somtow (1/25)
    Time passed. Empires rose and fell. One particular empire was called White Wolf -- a Georgia gaming company, flush with money from the success of some odd Goth diceless roleplaying games -- decided to go into the SFF publishing biz. (Apparently because the principals liked reading the stuff, and with no more plan than that.) They made some interesting publishing choices, and some even more interesting design choices (such as printing the title of one horror anthology in raised white letters on a white background, under a vellum overwrap). Along the way, they resurrected this trilogy, got Somtow to write (or maybe just publish) the third book, and slammed them all into one volume for initial publication (which was probably not the best plan, but it was par for the course for White Wolf, and saved me the bother of creating an omnibus). Oh, the books themselves? Excellent. A wonderful family portrait crossed with alternate-worlds fantasy adventure with just enough of the mythic to make it resonant. Everything I've read of Somtow's has been wonderful, but he's had horrible publishing (and/or audience) luck, and seems to have mostly left our shores.
  • Beyond Einstein by Michio Kaku and Jennifer Thompson (1/26)
    Kaku is a physicist and a science popularizer, so I'm sure this was about string theory, or whatever flavor of TOE was particularly popular in 1995. Details, if any, have not been retained in memory.
Did that boy have a life? Did he even have any idea what a life was? Sixty years from now, my grandkids are going to ask how I spent the Go-Go '90s (or whatever they end up calling it) and I'll have to say, "Well, a read a hell of a lot of books, I guess..."

Octavia E. Butler has died

I saw a reference to this a few hours ago, but I guess I was hoping it wasn't true. There's now a short obituary up on the SFWA site now, which is as official as it gets.

I won't say she was my favorite writer (the things she was compelled to write about were only rarely the ones I really wanted to read), but she was an important writer, and a major figure in the field. She was a great person to have on the SF team, even before the MacArthur "genius" award, and the world is lessened by her passing.

My condolences to her family and friends.

And, since this weekend has already seen the deaths of Don Knotts and Darren McGavin, may I please say "enough, already"?

The Cake I Mentioned in the Previous Post

It's now done, and I think it looks pretty durn good. (And I can say that, since I didn't do anything much to make it -- I consulted a bit on design, and helped squish the gumdrop.)

Anyone coming to the Blue & Gold dinner in Pompton Lakes, NJ in about two hours will be able to bid on it. (And I'm sure that includes exactly none of you.)

Cognitive Dissonance

If you're in the market for a "how did my life get this way" moment, I greatly recommend:
  • singing along to "Blitzrieg Bop"
  • in a minivan
  • on the way to a supermarket
  • to buy supplies so your wife can finish off decorating a SpongeBob cake
  • for a Cub Scout function this afternoon.
Being in the middle of reading Acme Novelty Library #16 is optional but recommended.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

A Gorey Quiz

Seen via Kool Aid Underground.

Don't Trip
You will be smothered under a rug. You're a little

anti-social, and may want to start gaining

new social skills by making prank phone


What horrible Edward Gorey Death will you die?
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Final Nebula Ballot

It's just gone up at SFWA's website, though I saw it via SF Signal.

  • Air - Geoff Ryman (St. Martin's Press, Sep04)
  • Camouflage - Joe Haldeman (Analog, Mar-May 04, also Ace book Aug 2004)
  • Going Postal - Terry Pratchett (HarperCollins, Oct04)
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury, Sep04)
  • Polaris - Jack McDevitt (Ace, Nov04)
  • Orphans of Chaos - John C. Wright (Tor, Nov05)
  • "Clay's Pride" - Bud Sparhawk (Analog, Jul/Aug04)
  • "Identity Theft" - Robert J. Sawyer (Down These Dark Spaceways, Science Fiction Book Club, May05)
  • "Left of the Dial" - Paul Witcover(SCI FICTION, Sep04)
  • "Magic for Beginners" - Kelly Link (Magic for Beginners, Small Beer Press, Jul05)
  • "The Tribes of Bela" - Albert Cowdrey (F&SF, Aug04)
  • "The Faery Handbag" - Kelly Link (The Faery Reel: Tales From the Twilight Realm, Viking Press, Aug04)
  • "Flat Diane" - Daniel Abraham (F&SF, Oct\Nov04)
  • "Men are Trouble" - James Patrick Kelly (Asimov's, Jun04)
  • "Nirvana High" - Eileen Gunn and Leslie What (Stable Strategies and Others, Tachyon Press, Sep04)
  • "The People of Sand and Slag" - Paolo Bacigalupi (F&SF, Feb04)
Short Stories
  • "Born-Again" - K.D. Wentworth (F&SF, May05)
  • "The End of the World as We Know It" - Dale Bailey (F&SF, Oct/Nov04)
  • "I Live With You" - Carol Emshwiller (F&SF, Mar05)
  • "My Mother, Dancing" - Nancy Kress (Asimov's, Jun04)
  • "Singing My Sister Down" - Margo Lanagan, (Black Juice, Eos, Mar05)
  • "Still Life With Boobs - Anne Harris (Talebones, Summer05)
  • "There's a Hole in the City - Richard Bowes (SCI FICTION, Jun05)
  • Act of Contrition/You Can't Go Home Again - Carla Robinson; Bradley Thompson; and David Weddle. (Battlestar Galactica; Jan. 28, '05 / Feb. 4, '05 [two part episode])
  • Serenity - Joss Whedon (Universal Pictures, Sep05)
Andre Norton Award
  • The Amethyst Road - Louise Spiegler, (Clarion Books, Sep05)
  • Siberia - Ann Halam (Wendy Lamb Books, Jun05)
  • Stormwitch - Susan Vaught (Bloomsbury, Jan05)
  • Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie - Holly Black (Simon & Schuster, Jun05)
I'm excited that a story from a SFBC original anthology is up there (Rob Sawyer's "Identity Theft," from Down These Dark Spaceways). Though I think "Magic for Beginners" is going to be damn hard to beat; I just read it for the second time the other day and I think it might well be one of those instant classics like "Fondly Farenheit" or "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream." But I still haven't read "Identity Theft" yet, so that could be even better.

Friday, February 24, 2006

I Am an (Open?) Book

Another day, another silly quiz. Today's was "Which literature classic are you?" (Seen via The Analytical Knife.)

The name of the rose
Umberto Eco: The Name of the Rose. You are a

mystery novel dealing with theology,

especially with catholic vs liberal issues.

You search wisdom and knowledge endlessly,

feeling that learning is essential in life.

Which literature classic are you?
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Books and Comics and Stuff, Oh My!

Today I stuck my head into the New York Comic-Con, and then went to my usual comic-book store (because, I guess, a full display hall at the Javitz Center just wasn't enough comics for me). Stuff I got included:
  • El Borbah by Charles Burns
  • Zippy the Pinhead: Type Z Personality by Bill Griffith
  • Powers Vol. 2: Roleplay by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming
  • Lucifer Vol. 1: Devil in the Gateway by Mike Carey and a bunch of other people
  • Tales Designed to Thrizzle #1 by Michael Kupperman
  • Keif Llama: Xenotech #3 and #4 by Matt Howarth
  • Marvel Age Fantastic Four Vol. 3: The Return of Doom by various people
  • a small pile of Tokyopop and Viz manga samplers
  • Sonic the Hedgehog #159 and Sonic X #5
  • a Marvel comic with Franklin Richards in its very long title, by people I can't remember (the Things are reading it as I type, so I can't check)
  • Teen Titans Go! #28, which I have to admit I make sure I read before I pass it on to the boys. (And I did the same with the Franklin Richards comic this time, too.)
The comic-con was odd -- I'd expected something Book Expo America-sized (maybe just because it was at the Javitz), and this one was much smaller. It still filled up a good-sized exhibit hall, so it wasn't small, but it only took an hour to walk through. That wasn't what I was expecting. So I walked through again, more or less, and then didn't have anything particular to do. The days are long since passed when I walked around with a list of comics wants (I try to buy as few pamphlets as possible these days), so poking through long-boxes wasn't an option.

As I said to my associate Austen Farrell, as we were waiting to get our badges, "All of these people are about as strongly connected professionally to the comics field as we are." There were a lot of folks there for the "professional" day, and I wonder how professional most of them were. (After all, my connection to comics is that 1) I read them 2) I work for a publishing/retail company that sometimes sells comics and related stuff, though I'm not the one that buys them.)

Yesterday I dragged home two old-fashioned, words-on-a-page books, but, in a burst of synchronicity, they're very apropos: Men of Tomorrow by Gerald Jonas and The Physics of Superheroes by James Kakalios. I might be able to read them sometime in November, if I'm lucky.

Quote of the Week

"It is always the best policy to speak the truth, unless of course you are an exceptionally good liar."
--Jerome K. Jerome

Thursday, February 23, 2006

A Question About that UAE Port-Running Company

So, is there actually any substantive reason that this particular company is unqualified to run the ports? (I've seen some vague speculation about behind-the-scenes links to Bush, but Bush only ever gives jobs to people he already knows, so there's nothing particularly special there.)

As far as I can tell, the uproar comes down to "Oh, no! We can't let the towelheads run our ports! They'll let all of their nuclear-bomb toting cousins in!" And that's monumentally stupid, even by the standards of the American public.

My local paper (The Record of Hackensack, NJ) quotes a bunch of yahoos who are angry for no specific reason, and then notes that two of the 9/11 hijackers came from the UAE (as, I imagine, the closest thing they can find to a fact amid the noise). Of course, the company running the port of Newark now (P&O Ports North America) is based in the UK, and all four of the July 7th London bombers were British. So, if we're tarring countries with the terrorist brush, the UK has twice as many confirmed suicide bombers as the UAE.

I have no opinion about whether Dubai Ports World (the company in question) is qualified to do the job; I simply don't know. (On the other hand, they seem to be a major world-wide player in this area, and are buying the company currently running the operations. That seems to indicate that they know what they're doing.) But the people complaining about them seem to be doing so merely because it's a company headquartered in an Arab country, which is just asinine.

Another Triumph of Design over Substance

I saw this on Boing Boing, and I have to admit my first thought was "that's neat."

But then I thought about it some more, and realized the point of kid's drawings is not simply to shut them up and have them doing something quiet for a while (which this device is perfect for), but to encourage their creativity and to afterwards show off their work. And it's really hard to post the middle of a 500 meter roll of paper on your refrigerator.

It is nice and compact, and if you have a kid who just wants to draw stuff occasionally, and not ever let anyone see what she drew, then it might be useful for you. But, otherwise, you're either going to be frustrated that the good stuff is buried in the "discard" roll or annoyed that you need to keep ripping off the paper poking through the easel.

Final score: Designer 10, Kids 0.

ibooks is dead

SFWA reported sometime yesterday that ibooks (along with its parent and/or sister company, Byron Preiss Visual Publications) had filed for immediate bankruptcy and was vacating their offices that day. The news is spreading now; I saw it on Locus's home page this morning. I'd expect a press release sometime today, but I don't know if it will say that much. (What can they possibly say? That only Byron's personal charisma and manic energy could manage to keep all of the balls in the air? From my end of the business, that's the charitable way of seeing it.)

It's tough to lose a publisher, especially one who was so devoted to SF and comics as the various BPVP incarnations were. On the other hand, they've anecdotally had trouble paying their bills for years, so it's not a big surprise.

I hope all the BPVP staffers find other work quickly -- though that's probably a vain hope, in this market and economy. But if anyone is looking for a top-tier publishing executive with more energy in his pinkie than most companies' whole staffs, you'd be wise to snap up my old boss Roger Cooper quickly.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Incoming Books: Late February

Some books have wandered home over the past week or so (and, of course, I won't get to read any of them until after the WFA judging is done, if then), and these are the new things tormenting me:
  • George Alec Effinger Live! from Planet Earth by who else?
  • The Last Witchfinder by James Morrow
  • Mixed Magics by Diana Wynne Jones
  • Rereadings edited by Anne Fadiman
  • This Book...of More Perfectly Useless Information by Mitchell Symons
  • The Awful End of Prince William the Silent by Lisa Jardine
  • Mythbusters: The Explosive Truth Behind 30 of the Most Perplexing Urban Legends of All Time by a whole bunch of people

Free to a Good Home

The world desperately needs a song entitled "You're Too Blonde To See."

If any of you can make that happen, go for it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

iTunes Top Ten

John Scalzi was doing it, and I'm compelled to do whatever the cool kids are doing, so here goes. I'm using the same rules he did -- top ten most played songs, but only one per artist.

1) "Don't Drop the Baby" by the Judybats -- a wonderful song by one of the most criminally under-rated bands of the '90s. It ranks so high in part because it's on my "kid-friendly" playlist, which gets used heavily when the Things are around.

2) "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" by U2 -- one of my favorite covers of all time, and a song that gets played a lot (by me, at least) around Christmas. I tend to like melancholy and depressive music anyway, as will probably soon become clear.

3) "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" by Elvis Costello and the Attractions -- an amazingly energetic song that I've yet to get tired of, even twenty years later. This is also one of the rare songs where Costello runs right along the border between honesty and cynicism, without diving headlong into the latter.

4) "Pictures of Matchstick Men" by Camper Van Beethoven -- another song that never fails to make me smile, with the best rock violin solo ever played.

5) "Better Things" by Fountains of Wayne -- a cover of a minor late Kinks song (that would have been wonderful if played by the 1968 Kinks) that would be the ending credits music for the movie I'll never make. It's a great walking-out-into-the-world song, so I hope someone puts it at the end of a movie someday.

6) "Spider Man" by the Ramones -- are all of my favorite songs covers? That's pretty odd. This is another one on the "kid-friendly" list, and the Things love it even more than I do. Even though they didn't write it, it's an archetypal Ramones song: loud, dumb fun that ends up sneakily being much smarter than you originally thought.

7) "The Spine Surfs Alone" by They Might Be Giants -- I listen to a lot of TMBG, but I'm not sure why this one is the highest. Maybe that's because it was on their most recent record, so it just came up in the random rotation a lot. It's a fun song, but it's not my favorite of theirs, or in my top twenty or so. The next song, though, is one of my all-time favorites: their live version of "Why Does the Sun Shine? (The Sun Is a Mass of Incandescent Gas," one of the most kick-ass songs of all time despite (or perhaps because) the fact that it's a little physics lesson in disguise.

8) "Don't Let Me Down, Gently" by The Wonder Stuff -- in a fairer universe, this song would have been a monster #1 hit internationally for months on end. The sound is pure drag-you-out-of-your-chair crunchy power pop, and the lyrics are humorously depressive in a great pre-Fountains of Wayne way.

9) "Wall of Death" by R.E.M. -- yet another cover song, which neatly gets both R.E.M. and Richard Thompson onto this list. I don't know if this was Thompson's point, but I always think of this as an sideways answer-record to "Helter Skelter" -- both are seemingly-ominous songs about amusement park rides. (A "wall of death" is one of those big cylinders that you stand inside, and then rotates so fast that you're held onto the wall my centrifugal force while the floor drops away.) This is a lovely song in an amazing version, though the original is either almost as good or just a bit better -- it depends on my mood at the time.

10) "Under Pressure" by David Bowie and Queen -- yes, I grew up in the '80s; can you tell? I've always loved this song, and now the Things seem to like it as well. Sometimes rock 'n' roll can reach for that epic sweep, those moments of grandeur, and actually achieve them -- this is one of the best examples.

(That actually take me up to #14. There were two more Fountains of Wayne songs -- "Little Red Light" and "Denise" -- and They Might Be Giants's "See the Constellation" in between some of those.)

Now, who's next?

Things Only I Find Amusing

Walking down Lexington Avenue in the mid-30s, there are a number of buildings festooned with banners proclaiming them to be "Yeshiva University: Beren Campus."

And I always wonder where the Luthien campus is.

The Nanny State Strikes Again

I am a parent, so one might think that I would be in favor of a scheme to give parents more control over their kids' food while in school. However, I'm also a person with an IQ above room temperature, and one who knows better than to treat my kids like inmates in a gulag.

So I'm appalled, though not surprised, at the city of Houston's plan to let parents forbid desserts to their kids. (Read the linked article, if you think I'm exaggerating.)

Hey, Houston parents, grab a clue: your children are not extensions of yourself. They are separate individuals, and must be treated as such. This looks like a classic example of feature creep: the system was probably created to keep track of kids with dietary restrictions (allergies, religious food rules, etc.) and then it was just too easy not to add more functions. But just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.

If I were a Texas judge, I'd allow a "no dessert" restriction to be immediate grounds for juvenile emancipation; any parents micro-managing their kids' lunch that much have got to be overbearing control freaks in other areas of life as well.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Reading Into the Past: Week of 2/19

Every Sunday night (or soon thereafter, if I happen to be out seeing Mrs. Henderson Presents, as was the case last night), I try to remember the books I was reading in some past year.

This time, I rolled a 14, which sends me all the way back to 1992:
  • Colin McEnroe, Lose Weight Through Great Sex With Celebrities (The Elvis Way) (2/12)
    Humorous essays by the author of Swimming Chickens (though I can't now recall which of those two I read first). It's not one of the great funny books of all time, and I don't think I held onto it, but it was amusing enough to pass the time, and that's about all you can expect from books like this.
  • Dr. Seuss, The Seven Lady Godivas (2/13)
    I believe this had been recently rediscovered and republished at the time; it's an early work of Geisel's (predating his first kid's book by a couple of years) that tells the very very mildly titillating story of a gaggle of naked medieval sisters. It's very appropriate to try to remember it after having just seen Mrs. Henderson Presents, actually...
  • Alberto Vargas, Vargas: '20s - '50s (2/14)
    Vargas was one of the great pin-up artists, and I seem to recall this was a decent book of his work. I think I found it as a remainder after Christmas; for a few years in the early '90s there were a lot of instant remainders in B. Dalton in early January, and I got great piles of books cheaply that way.
  • Gardner Dozois, editor, The Year's Best Science Fiction: Ninth Annual Collection (2/14)
    Every year, sometime in February, I find myself reading piles of the short fiction of the previous year. It started with Gardner's book (this was the second year I read it in manuscript). David Hartwell's Year's Best SF started up a few years later (I just read #11 this weekend, so the first one must have appeared in 1995), and I read that, too. For the last three years, there's also been Best Short Novels, which Jonathan Strahan edited for me at the SFBC (I'm still in the middle of this year's edition). Now, this year, I also have to read piles of fantasy stories for the WFA. I wonder if this is how the frog in the pot feels.
  • David Miller, Submarines of the World (2/15)
    Why on earth was I reading this? I bet it had lots of pictures. And I bet I found it on the giveaway shelf -- I have to say that Doubleday/Bookspan/Doubleday has had some of the best giveaway shelves in the publishing world, with lots of varied and interesting things discarded by one editor or another.
  • Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year (2/16)
    A great book that I don't remember with great detail, though general impressions still linger. As always, I love reading novelists turning their hands to nonfiction.
  • Charles de Lint, Spirit Walk (2/16)
    Either de Lint was going through a very strong period in the early '90s or I've just gotten grumpier and older (and so haven't been appreciating the last few books of his I read). This was, if I'm remembering rightly, a big novel about art and life, and not tied into his ever-more-constricting Newford milieu.
  • David Bellingham, An Introduction to Greek Mythology (2/17)
    I'd already read Edith Hamilton a couple of times (and Bulfinch at least once) by this point, so I'm not sure why I was in the market for anyone else's introductions. Again, I bet it had lots of illustrations from the art of antiquity.
  • Norman Spinrad, Science Fiction in the Real World (2/18)
    This was a collection of Spinrad's columns about the SF field (from Asimov's, I think) in the '80s. I very rarely agree with Spinrad more than glancingly, but he's a great polemic writer, and this book is an entertaining and thought-provoking read. It stands against the field in the '80s in much the way Malzberg's Engines of the Night did to the '70s: it's the cri di coeur of a writer who is desperately trying to manhandle the SF world in an unlikely direction, to fit the things he wants to write. Neither one of them managed the trick, but they're both worth reading -- though I wouldn't rely on either as a history of the field of that time.
  • Martin Amis, Time's Arrow (2/19)
    Quite possibly his best novel, and one of the few really successful tours de force I've read. A doctor's life is told by an independent consciousness experiencing his life in reverse. It's not really science fiction by most definitions, but it is definitely a major fantasy novel and should be more widely read in the field.
I was a reading fiend back in the early '90s; I squandered my youth on words and paragraphs and avoided talking to people for days on end when I could. I think I'm better now.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Today's WFA Reading: 2/18

A package from Wizards of the Coast today, who are submitting just one book. It's an interesting strategy, and it certainly draws my attention. I'm not a complete snob when it comes to books -- I've been known to praise sharecropped novels before -- so I wasn't going to immediately dismiss their output offhand anyway, but it is interesting to have someone say "we think this is the best book we published this year."

(Looking again, I may have misunderstood; the letter is from an "I," rather than from "we" or "Wizards of the Coast." I'm not even sure who the person is, so he may not be the only one from Wizards who will send me books. Still, it doesn't change the essential point: he thinks this is the best book WotC did, and he was willing to take the time and effort to pack it off with a personal letter to all of the WFA judges.)

It's the weekend, so I'm reading for work rather than the WFA (so A Feast for Crows will have to sit until Tuesday). It's also Saturday, so I had very little time -- Saturday is "boys' day," and I spend it running around with Thing 1 and Thing 2. Today we went to the Harlem Globetrotters with a Cub Scout group, which was fun. (Though I miss the famous 'Trotters of my youth, the ones who were on Scooby Doo.) I'm trying again to read on my Palm, since I have a new one (Tungsten E2, much better than my old m130), and so far, so good. It's relatively comfortable to hold, and the screen holds enough words to make it worthwhile. I do get some submissions electronically, and this is immensely more portable than a manuscript. I even read for a while during the game, which I could never do with a book, much less a manuscript. This does have possibilities.

(What I'm actually reading this weekend is last year's short fiction -- Jonathan Strahan turned in Best Short Novels: 2006 to me last week, so I'm going through that. I've also been trying to get through the Hartwell/Cramer Year's Best SF, but that can only be done at home, so I'm just grabbing a story here and there.)

Friday, February 17, 2006

Today's WFA Reading: 2/17

Two more packages today; the first was from the UK and had only three books in it. One is Thud!, which I have already read, and another is Book Three of something (so I suspect it might not make all that much sense to me). The third thing is pretty fat, though, so that might take some time to get through.

The other package was a behemoth: a giant box from the Young Readers division of Penguin USA, with 29 books in it. Now, they're all YA books of one kind or another, so none of them are all that long. And there are three paperback series -- of three, two and three books, respectively -- as well as several other books that are sequels to other books (and so might not make all that much sense on their own). But it's still a pile about three feet high.

On the reading side, I've spent the whole week plowing through A Feast for Crows, and I've probably got two more days to go. Luckily, George Martin still writes the best scenes -- and the best heartbreaking scenes -- in the business.

Quote of the Week

"Few people can be happy unless they hate some other person, nation, or creed."
-Bertrand Russell

Making Fun of Fantasy Novels, Part Two

It's a slow day here at SFBC World HQ (a majestic spire high above New York's Madison Square Park), and that means that there aren't enough fantasy novels out there. So let's make up some, with the aid of the handy-dandy Fantasy Novel Title Generator:
  • Autumn's Darkness
    First in the four-book "Mystic Seasons of Zan-Thenos," to be followed by Winter's Curse, Spring's Promise and Summer's Light
  • Bloody Child of Zwidiel
    The longest fantasy series ever begins with an 800-page novel about the day Kal Kelkiar was born.
  • Circle of the Winter Maiden
    It's Celtic, probably contemporary, and I'll bet a dollar someone turns out to be a long-lost elf-lord.
  • Citadel of Pride
    The land of Dandaritiva, when men are free to marry other men under the rule of Good Prince TomSwede, is under attack from the vicious forces of the Replikan Empire.
  • Fire City of Dogwyn
    Only in the walled city of Dogwyn is the ancient fire magic still practiced, so it is there that young Undarquel, the last of the Tehlbots, must go to train his wild talents.
  • Pronius's Autumn
    Latest in the massively popular series about the kindly wizard, who seemed incredibly aged twenty-four books ago but whose author can't quite let him die yet until he pays for the lute-shaped swimming pool.
  • The Enitios Dream
    Is their dream our reality -- or is the truth even more horrifying!?
  • The Lady of the Mistress
    Wacky hijinks ensure when a spell of forgetfulness descends on Castle Humblepie, and King Jarthar can't remember which of his two lovely ladies is his wife and which is his secret lover -- and neither can they!
  • The Nirtick Dream
    The Nirtick are the previously unknown, and even nastier, master race behind the Enitios incursion in this second book in the internationally ignored "Dream" series.
  • Wizard and Mists
    Yarmalok was the greatest Cloudmage of his age, but his talents were still only good for party tricks and aerial advertising. But then the Nirtick invaded!
All titles guaranteed authentic and purely random; all plots guaranteed to be no stupider than they needed to be.

Making Fun of Fantasy Novels, Part One

Jacqueline Carey's upcoming novel is entitled Kushiel's Scion. It's a perfectly reasonable fantasy title, which makes buckets of sense in context. But it inevitably makes me think of this.

So I thought I'd help out Ms. Carey (not that she needs my help, but I'm feeling magnanimous today) and come up with some possible titles for the rest of her current series:

Kushiel's Expedition
Kushiel's Viper
Kushiel's Dynasty

and, given the amount of sex in these books, there must be a Kushiel's Hummer eventually...

Thursday, February 16, 2006

A Techno-Pauper Am I

This is one of the most depressing things I've seen lately. The idea of working up the value of a blog is already soulless and mercenary, but then to find out how little it is worth is even worse.

My blog is worth $2,822.70.
How much is your blog worth?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Two Nothin's Is Still Nothin'!

No packages today.

Nothing else of particular interest to mention.

Everyone else in the blog world is devoting all of their time to Dick Cheney, the VP Who Can't Shoot Straight, but you won't hear his name here. (What? Aw, damn!)

So you're all free to go read Making Light or something...

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Today's WFA Reading: 2/14

A whole bunch of wonderfulness today: two big boxes and a jiffy-pak from PS Publishing and one jiffy from Ace.

I wonder if Ace is going to send every book individually? Perhaps they're rationing them out, one a day? That would be a bit extravagant of them, but they could have heard of my book-a-day thing and be trying to gently encourage me. (Oh, the book is Bear Daughter, by the way. Another one I haven't read yet.)

PS sent a whole bunch of amazing things; I can see why people in the business have been so enthusiastic about them -- the books look great physically, and lots of them are things I really want to read. The count is: one anthology, two collections (though one seems to be all non-fiction, which means I need to check the rules), three novels, five novellas published as books (have I mentioned I love short books?), three issues of PostScripts, and a couple of stray stories.

(On the reading side, I'm a hundred-and-some-odd pages into A Feast for Crows and starting to pick up steam, but I've got a lot of ground to cover there. I would have read it long ago, but...well, you might have heard it was a day or two late coming into the publisher, and I'd already bought it for the club by the time I finally saw it. Nothing is harder for a bookclub editor to justify than reading a book he's already bought when he has another deadline coming up and a pile of books yay-high to decide between for his empty slots.)

It's a Floor Wax and a Dessert Topping!

I know we're entering a new age of conglomerates, with clumps of unrelated business that rival the old Gulf + Western, but this is just too bizarre for words:

Target (the discount, but relatively stylish, retailer) has one of the most advanced crime labs in the country.

My wife already thinks that they're the perfect store, so I probably shouldn't tell her about this.

Monday, February 13, 2006

On Weeding One's Collection

Nothing at all notable has happened today (well, there was a bit of snow yesterday, but there's not much to say about that), and no packages arrived today. So, to avoid missing a day, I present this gem from the archives, originally posted to rec.arts.sf.written 4/30/00, posted in reply to someone who wanted to know which books he should get rid of:

No specific recommendations from me, I'm afraid, but every single time I've weeded my collection I've gotten rid of something that a) I knew I'd never read again, never want to lend to anyone, was utterly outdated, useless and a waste of shelf space and b) I desperately wanted to get my hands on a copy of about two years later, when it was impossible to find.

Now, that's usually because, as an editor, I decide I'm thinking about bringing back thus-and-such a book, and I need to re-read it to see how it works today. But I bet similar things happen to ordinary readers, too.

So my advice is to never ever let go of a single book again (my current rule for myself is to never get rid of a SF/F book I haven't read, or by anyone in the field, and to think about seventeen times before getting rid of SF/F books I have read, unless I've done a SFBC edition already; mysteries and non-fiction, on the other hand, go into the memory hole much more often than not). Someday you'll wonder, "Gee, did I really hate Book X that much because it was horrible, or because I didn't appreciate it?" And, after you spend two years tracking down an expensive copy, you'll discover you hated it because it was horrible.

Book are your friends! They keep you warm in the winter! Never let them get away from you (unless they're the rare old things I'm looking for and can never find, in which case, please do get them back into circulation).

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Reading Into the Past: Week of 2/12

This week I rolled an eight, so I'll be looking at the books I was reading this week in 1998:
  • Both Ends of the Night by Marsha Muller (2/5)
    This is part of her Sharon McCone (which I probably spelled wrong) PI series, and I think it's just before the point the supporting cast, like kudzu, completely took over the series. But I have no idea which one this would be; I read close to thirty of these and I don't recall any plots any more.
  • Smoker by Greg Rucka (2/8)
    I went to college with Rucka, so I try to keep up with his books (though I think I'm three behind now -- bad college buddy, no cookie!). This was part of the Atticus Kodiak series, which is either over or in deep storage right now. Kodiak was a bodyguard, which made this series quite a bit different from most of the mystery stuff I read. (I think I've previous mentioned I like mysteries much better than thrillers, but I'll make an exception for writers I know socially.) This one was about a secret witness in some big tobacco case, and Kodiak had to keep him from getting killed by The Bad Guys (probably the nefarious thugs of international tobacco).
  • Crescent City Kill by Julie Smith (2/9)
    This was part of the series about her New Orleans police detective whose name I can't recall. The problem I had with the series was that the first book was absolutely wonderful -- it won the Edgar, I think, and deserved it -- and each book after that was just a little less special and interesting. I have no ideas which one this was, and I eventually stopped reading them.
  • Good Behavior by Donald E. Westlake (2/10)
    It's a Dortmunder book, and thus well worth reading, but I don't recall the plot of this one.
  • Night Train by Martin Amis (2/10)
    This is the "I am a police" book, told in the first person by a female American cop. I didn't believe a word of the main character's voice, especially the way she referred to herself and her fellow police officers. I'm sure some writers, including Amis on his better days, could have made me believe her. But he didn't this time.
  • Star Trek: New Frontier: Martyr by Peter David (2/10)
    I read the first six or seven books in this series, but I always make sure to purge all Star Trek knowledge from my brain immediately afterward. I just don't have that kind of hard-drive space free.
  • Enduring Love by Ian McEwan (2/11)
    I believe this is the novel about a man who is part of a crowd trying to hold down a hot-air balloon that lands by accident in a field, and witnesses the death or one (or more?) people when the balloon lurches back up into the air, dragging some of them off the ground. Then, in typical McEwan fashion, another man who was there that day becomes obsessed with him, and unpleasant things happen. McEwan writes the best novels about absolutely horrible things that happen to normal people; this isn't his best book (I'd go with either Atonement or The Comfort of Strangers there), but none of his books are less than excellent.
I don't know how I had so much time to read on February 10th of 1998, but I sure wish I could replicate that now. (It was just over a month before Thing 1 was born, so maybe my wife was off at a baby shower?) Anyway, almost all of these were short books (I love short books, in case you haven't noticed yet), so it's not as impressive as it might look.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Today's WFA Reading: 2/11

Another first today: my first damaged box. (Not one your more fun "firsts," as you might imagine.)

It was supposed to be a box with all of the Locus magazines for 2005 (for their reviews of the fantasies that came out last year), plus the February 2006 issue (which had the Recommended Reading List and the summaries for 2005 -- great resources for what we're doing). Unfortunately, the box had come open somewhere in the process, and there were only eight of the thirteen issues still present. (Though, interestingly, none of the issues that arrived showed any sign of wear, dog-earing, or other scuffling, as might be caused by a box breaking open in a mail-sorting machine.)

So, a note to myself: bug the Locus people on Monday for the missing issues. And I now have some more stuff to skim and/or read (since I've already read through all but the new issue already).

Friday, February 10, 2006

Today's WFA Reading: 2/10

Just one thing today: The Unbearable Lightness of Being in Aberystwth, all the way from Bloomsbury in the UK.

This one I asked for specifically, after seeing a review in Grumpy Old Bookman. So I had better like it, I guess.

(Is there any way I can say, parenthetically, that being a WFA judge is replicating one of the greatest things about being an editor at the SFBC -- namely, the fact that I can just ask publishers to send me free books, and they do it -- with even greater scope than usual, without sounding obnoxious, boasting and self-centered? Thought not.)

Quote of the Week

"I always break the word expert in two -- into X, the unknown quantity; and spurt, a drip under pressure."
--Edwina Mountbatten

If This Is Friday, I Must Be in Meme-Land

Your results:
You are Spider-Man

Iron Man
Green Lantern
The Flash
Wonder Woman
You are intelligent, witty,
a bit geeky and have great
power and responsibility.
Click here to take the Superhero Personality Test
Credit Where Credit Is Due Department: I saw this on The Analytical Knife. (And she scored as Robin, which makes us nearly polar opposites. Who says editors are all alike?)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

My Wordcloud

Yes, "wordcloud" makes one think of hippies, peace'n'love and all of that crap, but it's not actually quite that stupid. (It's only moderately stupid, which is about my level most days.)

There's a site that searches a blog for its most common words, and displays them in the visually appealing manner shown above.

I saw this at Paperback Writer, and had to try it for myself. If you're a lemming like me, go here.

Two Dozen Or So Excellent Graphic Novels That You've Probably Never Heard Of

I've been thinking about doing this for about a week or so, and now I'm finally pulling books off of the shelves to do it. (Note: "now," in this case, was the evening of January 23rd. This post has been gestating a long time.)

Every so often, magazines and websites list "the Ten Best Modern Comics," or something like that, and it's always the same things. So I'm taking it as written that, by this point, you've heard of Maus and Watchmen and Safe Area Gorazde and Jimmy Corrigan. This list is of other books, ones that are more obscure, but still very worth reading (especially to readers who aren't already fans of the spandex crowd that infest most comics). I'll also try to give somewhat fuller bibliographic information, in case anyone wants to go out and find any of these. (Though, looking at the assembled details, I'd imagine most of these are long out of print. Oops.) My shelves are alphabetical by author (or, at least, they're supposed to be), so this list should be as well:
  • David Boswell, Reid Fleming, World's Toughest Milkman: Rogue to Riches (Vancouver, BC, Canada: Deep-Sea Comics, 1998; $13.95 trade paperback)
    A lot of the comics I'm going to recommend here are odd, idiosyncratic things, with various bizarre elements that don't seem like they should go together. This one is relatively normal in that company, being the well-drawn story of a surly milkman and his battles with the his unpleasant boss and overseer. Well, and his love life. And "the Perils of Ivan," his favorite TV show, which is about a skeleton sitting in a chair all day. It's very funny, and surreal in an unexpectedly grounded way.
  • Bob Burden, Flaming Carrot Comics, Collected Album No. 2: The Wild Shall Wild Remain! (Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Comics, 1997; $17.95 trade paperback)
    But here we get into as pure a dose of weirdness as comics -- or any medium -- can provide. Bob Burden is the wild man of comics, and the Carrot is his greatest creation; a low-budget superhero in a blue-collar town, battling dead dogs, zombies, and spindly aliens with an atomic pogo stick, a broken yo-yo, and the most unlikely dialogue you've ever read. This is the kind of story that gets called "dream-like," but it's not like any dream I've ever had; it's more like suddenly seeing into someone else's head, and not understanding the significance of half of what you see. Most of the series has been collected into four volumes, but the first is not as strong as the later books; this one finds the Carrot hitting his stride.
  • Eddie Campbell, Alec: The King Canute Crowd (Paddington, Queensland, Australia: Eddie Campbell Comics/Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Comics, 2000, $14.50 trade paperback)
    Pseudo-autobiographical comics, of the "why and how I became an artist" variety, from the writer/artist of the excellent Bacchus/Deadface series (and also the artist of From Hell, written by Alan Moore). I chose this one for accessibility to readers of prose "education of an artist" books, but the various Bacchus collections are also good introductions to his work (they showcase the ancient wine-god in modern times, usually telling his own versions of old myths and occasionally getting caught up in the battles of the other, very few, surviving gods). If you like this one, there are three more volumes of "Alec" stories.
  • Zander Cannon, The Replacement God (San Jose, CA: Amaze Ink/Slave Labor Graphics, 1997, $19.95 trade paperback)
    The beginning of a good epic fantasy story, in comics form, with a lot of interesting touches and an engaging, loose black & white drawing style. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like he could make a living doing this, because after a few more issues for another publisher, this series hasn't been seen for at least five years. Maybe it will come back someday; I hope it does. And this book stands just fine on its own, though the larger problems are still unresolved at the end.
  • Evan Dorkin, Who's Laughing Now? (San Jose, CA: Slave Labor Graphics, 2001, $11.95 trade paperback)
    Dorkin is not the first name that comes to mind when you think of autobiographical cartoonists, but I find his cartoony, steeped-in-pop-culture style and strong layouts makes his life (and mental anguish -- well, particularly his mental anguish) gripping reading. Some of these stories are laugh-out-loud funny, and some are borderline horrifying looks into the mind of a guy who's read too many comics and is too obsessed with his own childhood entertainment to function well in the world. (And, of course, that's nothing like any of us other comics-reading folks, right?) This isn't all autobiography, by any means, and even the personal stories are seen through a fantastic lens, so it's a great book for readers who, like Dorkin, feel like they've grown out of superheroes but don't want to leave comics behind.
  • Matt Feazell, Ert!: Not Available Comics (Detroit, MI: Caliber Press, 1995, $12.95 trade paperback)
    Feazell is the creator of Cynicalman, Cute Girl, and dozens of other extremely funny stick-figure characters. He used to (and for all I know, may still) write and draw mini-comics, and this is a collection of his best stuff as of a decade ago. He's very funny, and the stick figures are surprisingly expressive.
  • Bob Fingerman, Beg the Question (Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Books, 2002, $24.95 hardcover)
    Semi-autobiographical story of hipsters in early '90s NYC, having lots of sex (well, the couple we follow have a lot of sex with each other; it's not a bed-hopping stroke book), trying to do good comics work, and toiling in the fields of low-rent porno comics. Fingerman's people are fleshy and lumpy, which works well in a story that's in large part about ambivalent feelings about different kids of sex (real, imaginary, cartoon) -- his characters aren't pneumatic sex robots, and the point of the story isn't to see Tab A go into Slot B repeatedly for several pages. But there is enough sex here that you wouldn't want to hand it to your ten-year-old. (That could be a plus or a minus, depending on the audience.)
  • Andy Garcia, Big City: The Complete Oblivion City Saga (San Jose, CA: Slave Labor Graphics, 1995, $19.95 trade paperback)
    More scratchy black and white art about strange people inhabiting a surreal city; I think I've found the kind of comics I like best. This one is very obscure, but a lot of fun.
  • Marc Hempel, A Gregory Treasury 1 (New York, NY: DC Comics, 2004, $9.95 trade paperback)
    Gregory is a big-headed person (probably a child, but it's hard to tell) who lives, wrapped in a straitjacket, in some kind of mental hospital. He doesn't talk, really. His only friend is a rat, Herman Vermin, who does talk -- too much. It's funny, it's cheap, so just go buy it. There's a second volume, too.
  • Greg Hyland, The Big Book of Lethargic Lad (Brookfield, CT: Destination Entertainment, 1998, $15.95 trade paperback)
    The funniest '90s superhero parodies I've ever seen (Mark Martin holds down the '80s crown), and laugh-out-loud funny even for someone (such as me) who hasn't read any of the things being parodied. Actually, this is probably "satire" more than "parody," since it's only rarely commenting on a specific story, rather than a trend or style. The series now appears on-line and in the back pages of Dork Tower -- in fact, it's the reason I started reading Dork Tower.
  • Scott McCloud, Zot! Book 1 (Northampton, MA: Kitchen Sink Press, 1997, $34,95 trade paperback)
    Light-hearted adventure comics, set in an alternate early '60s world of the future and featuring a girl from our world who crosses over to befriend (and maybe fall in love with) Zot!, the greatest hero of that world. If Mort Weisinger Superman comics a) made sense and b) didn't have plots that required Superman to be a dick, they might be like this. There were three volumes collecting the series before Kitchen Sink went under; unfortunately, the best run of the series would have been in the fourth volume. Oh, well. What was collected is still awfully good.
  • Frank Miller & Bill Sienkiewicz, Elektra: Assassin (New York, NY: Marvel Comics, 2000, $24.95 trade paperback)
    Miller's done more famous works (Sin City, his various Batman books), and has done works as good (and arguably more accessible) than this. But this is one of the great books to show what modern adventure comics are capable of. The art style is manic expressionist, using one of the widest palette of colors (and styles of color) that I've ever seen. The pages are drenched in words, as well: several levels of narration/internal monologue, and the kind of dialogue Miller used to be able to write before his brain got eaten. This book has ties to Miller's Daredevil run, but you don't need to know anything to start reading it -- in fact, knowing Marvel continuity could be a detriment to enjoying this book. It's about a possibly-crazy female ninja assassin (who should be dead), the government agents investigating her, and somebody's plot to destroy the world.
  • Peter Milligan, Brett Ewins & Steve Dillon, Skreemer (New York, NY: DC Comics, 2002, $19.95 trade paperback)
    I lied a few weeks ago, when I said Ex Machina was the first successful SF comic I'd ever seen; I'd forgotten about this one. Of course, the SF is really just a skin on a gangster story, which could have been set in any era. (As I recall, there's nothing here that needed to be science fictional.) But this is a great gangster story, with all of the necessary fear and loathing and violence, and the slightly spiky, '80s-looking art carries the story well.
  • Pat Mills & Kevin O'Neill, Marshal Law: Fear and Loathing (London, UK: Titan Books, 2002, $24.99)
    If you hate superheroes -- and I know I do -- you must read Marshall Law. He's a cop in a satirical near-future world where government-designed ex-supersoldiers are running wild. Luckily, he loves killing them. Kevin O'Neill is the only artist ever told by the high and mighty Comics Code Authority (of the USA, and back in the day when they actually meant something) that his entire style was unacceptable under the code. There's also a pretty good story in this one, besides the random superhero slaughter. (And the game of spot-the-reference doesn't really start being a major part of the series until later stories.)
  • Steve Purcell, The Collected Sam & Max: Surfin' the Highway (New York, NY: Marlowe & Company, 1995, $12.95 trade paperback)
    Those guys from that crazy old LucasArts computer game? Yeah, they were a comic first. And the comic is funnier. For those of you who don't know them, Sam and Max are a suit-wearing anthropomorphic dog and a borderline psychotic (but extremely cute) bunny. They're also freelance police.
  • Scott Saavedra, Dr. Radium Battles Phill, King of of the Pill Bugs! (San Jose, CA: Amaze Ink/Slave Labor Graphics, 2004, $9.95 trade paperback)
    If "She Blinded Me With Science" was a comic...well, it still wouldn't be much like this, but they're both goofy crazy-scientist artifacts of the '80s, so that's a good enough comparison for government work. Saavedra did Dr. Radium conics for a long time, in a variety of formats, but they've been recently collected (complete, I think) into three small volumes, starting with this one. Buy them and see the fabulous world of the future!
  • Will Jacobs, Gerard Jones, Tim Hamilton & Dave Garcia, The Trouble With Girls (Newbury Park, CA: Eternity Comics/Malibu Graphics, 1989, $7.95 trade paperback)
    Lester Girls is a reluctant hero. He always ends up saving the world, defeating the maniacal supervillains, shutting off the doomsday devices and bedding several supermodels at a time, but what he really wants to do is find time to sit quietly and read The Red Pony. But he's a polite and respectful young man, so he always does what he has to. The humor is broad and most would call it sexist (though this was, at the time, my wife's favorite comic, and one of the very few she'd read at all). I haven't re-read it in ages, but this was amazingly funny when it was at its best.
  • Ty Templeton, Stig's Inferno (Toronto, ON, Canada: Vortex Graphics, 1988, $6.95 trade paperback)
    Templeton is probably best known for his loose, energetic, cartoony art for various DC Comics titles over the past decade or so. (Lately he seems to have been working just an an inker, which I hope he enjoys, because it depressed the hell out of me to think about it.) This was his first comics work: the very funny story of a guy who accidentally goes to hell and ends up in charge of the place. If the world were fair, this would have been a huge hit and collected into many fat volumes, and Ty would now be working on something else equally funny and cool. Sadly, that is not the case -- but we do have this slim book to remind us of the world that could have been.
  • Andi Watson, Breakfast After Noon (San Jose, CA: Slave Labor Graphics, 2001, $19.95 trade paperback)
    Watson writes low-key comics stories focused on characters, which is a real rarity -- most of comics is either spandex lunatics, bizarre adventure stories, or autobiographical mutterings. He also has a nice art style that lends itself well to black and white reproduction (it almost looks like charcoal on art paper, though I'm pretty sure it isn't). This is one of his best stories, about a couple fighting with each other over the things we all fight about; it's just a nice story that in prose would be "mainstream" but in comics is about as unlikely and different as you can get (unfortunately).
  • Kyle Baker, Why I Hate Saturn (New York, NY: Piranha Press/DC Comics, 1990, $14.95 trade paperback)
    I can't tell you what an effect this had on my friends and I when it came out in 1990. Sure, there had been "good comics" before, like Maus and Watchmen, but those were generally serialized beforehand. And most of them were extensions of the usual comic-booky ideas (even Maus, with its sly Mickey-Mouseness). Why I Hate Saturn appeared simply as a book, and it was clearly a graphic novel -- a single story, told in comics form -- that had nothing to do with the usual four-color world. It was funny, it was touching, it was real. There are damn few great pure graphic novels out there, and this is the first one I found. I don't know if it will strike readers today the way it did me, but I can't doubt that it's still a wonderful story, told just the right way by a master.
  • Jean-Michel Charlier & Jean "Moebius" Giraud, Blueberry 1: Chihuahua Pearl (New York, NY: Epic Comics/Marvel Comics, 1989, price unknown, trade paperback)
    I've never been a big fan of Moebius's work; I've generally found it pretentious and off-putting (though that could be the fault of the translations). But the westerns he illustrated are a different story: wonderful landscapes, magnificent page designs, instantly recognizable characters -- all of Moebius's strengths are put to work in service of an exciting adventure story with philosophical undertones (instead of the opposite, in his own works).
  • Phil Foglio, Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire (Norfolk, VA: Starblaze Graphics, 1986, $7.95 trade paperback)
    Foglio also did the great sex comic of the '90s (Xxxenophile), but I thought that was a little too far out for this list. Buck Godot exists in two old album-sized graphic novels (of which this is the first) from Starblaze in the mid-80s, and then a short series of comics (never collected, as far as I can tell) in the late '90s. It's funny oddball space adventure that can turn serious when it needs to, drawn with a loose, energetic line and featuring the fattest title character ever in American comics.
  • Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean, Violent Cases (London, UK: Titan Books, 1987, $10.50 trade paperback)
    This was their first comics work, a standalone graphic novel with no connection to anyone else's fictional world. It would be cruel to say it's the best thing they've done, but, on the other hand, it has a power and a feeling all its own that the later Gaiman-McKean collaborations never quite touched. It's a great comic about memory and childhood (two things Gaiman's words and McKean's art evoke very well in general), and all those of us who bought it before Sandman started are sitting over here with smug smiles on our faces.
  • Rick Geary, Housebound With Rick Geary (Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Books, 1991, $11.95 trade paperback)
    Geary has spent the last decade or so doing little books in his "Treasury of Victorian Murder" series, each one telling the story of a relatively famous murder from the second half of the 18th century. And those books are great, don't get me wrong. But I miss Geary's old stuff, the whimsical short pieces and single-page oddities that filled up his first two collections. Geary has a soft, rounded art style with lots of detail -- his people are very recognizable, though they often seem to have been sculpted out of marshmallows. His stories generally have a cheerful, happy disposition, even when they're about murder and mayhem (or if they're two pages of detailed drawings of motel signs). One of the many reasons to want the '70s National Lampoon back is that its great comics section gave space to people like Geary and Sharry Flenniken.
  • William Messner-Loebs & Sam Kieth, Epicurus the Sage (New York, NY: WildStorm Productions/DC Comics, 2003, $19.95 trade paperback)
    This is the collection of two original graphic novels and some related stuff from a decade before, and it's absolutely brilliant. If you know any philosophy types you want to turn onto comics, this is the book for them: the main character is the Greek philosopher Epicurus, of "all things in moderation" fame. This is the kind of book for which nothing is off-limits: sex, drugs, politics, gods, the nature of the universe and of man; it's all here, and it's all charming and thoughtful. And funny, too.
  • Tim Truman, Wilderness, Book 1: The Borderland (Lancaster, PA: 4 Winds Publishing Group, 1989, $12.95 trade paperback)
    Truman has a gritty scratchy style that appeals to me, and which looks better when done for (and presented in) black and white. This is the first volume of his magnum opus (well, at least unless he gets off the can and does the last two Scout series he promised us twenty years ago), a comics retelling of the life of a renegade on the American border around the turn of the 18-19th century. That border, at that point, was somewhere in Pennsylvania, of course. It's absolutely gripping, and the violence is nasty and real in a way spandex boys can never come close to. It's not a nice piece of American history, but Truman makes it come completely alive.
Whew! I wouldn't have started this if I knew it would take this long. Hope at least some of you find something interesting and new to read out of this exercise.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Today's WFA Reading: 2/8

Just one book today, which allows a little time for regrouping and catching up on the books that have already come in. (Or at least gives me another day before I have to start more piles on my bookcases.)

Happily, the book was Terry Pratchett's Thud!, which now I have an excuse to reread. (And all I need now is to find some stray time lying around...)

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Today's WFA Reading: 2/7

Two boxes today, neither of them gigantic but both notable in their own ways.

The first was from Pan Macmillan in the UK; my first submission from overseas! In it were four books: Vellum (which I already had, in US bound galleys), book one of something, book two of something else, and a book that I'd thought was science fiction (it has a whopping great spaceship on the cover) but which I guess I will have to investigate myself.

The other was from Earthling Publications, a small press that I hadn't previously known about (which is one of the really neat things about this whole experience, and which I hope will actually help me be a better SFBC editor at the end of all this). They sent me two hardcovers (a story collection and a novel), a trade paperback of what I think is a novella, and a chapbook. (I haven't read anything in a chapbook for ages; that will be interesting.)

On the reading side, I got halfway through one book today, and read most of the January F&SF yesterday (one story left, which I intend to read tonight). Things are still piling up faster than I'm reading them, but I have it all organized, so I'm not worried: I'm patient, I'm directed, I'm Grendel.

Monday, February 06, 2006

My Unread "Bookshelf," Part Three

And this is the last bit -- my poetry shelf. I used to dip into this quite a bit, but I haven't touched it much lately. Bookending it to the right are poetry anthologies, and bookending it to the right is the giant stack of comics, art books, and other oversized junk that I get to in between "real" books. It was about a foot taller before Christmas, which was the main reason I went on the book-a-day regimen; I wanted to keep it from falling and crushing me like a bug.

You can also see two other deep storage piles in the edges of this photo: one is on the other end of the desk, and the other is at the extreme top left of the photo, sitting on a stool. Both of those are made up of various oversized things that I could never carry to work (and in some cases, wouldn't want to, because they're quotation books). Both piles have been essentially static for at least two years.

So: those are the books I wish I'd read already. How about the rest of you?

My Unread "Bookshelf," Part Two

This is space I colonized for unread books two or three years ago, when I definitively overflowed the first bookcase. The front of these two bookcases have my unread classics, roughly organized by format, publisher and (in some cases) author. Behind these are books I've actually read, mostly classics.

I have to admit I barely touch this bookcase these days (except to put new things into it), but I keep hoping that will change "soon."

My Unread "Bookshelf," Part One

I haven't quite figured out how to post more than one picture at a time, so this will have to go up in three tries. However, that will make each piece smaller, which might help.

This is something else I was thinking about doing for a while, partly to see if it turns into a meme (along the lines of Tobias Buckell's "Authors Workspaces") and partly as practice, since I think I'll be trying to do some photo-blogging from conventions once I actually start the official SFBC blog.

Anyway, this is the first of three photos of my unread books, to memorialize how large the pile was at the point just as I switched over from reading things from the pile to reading the massive flow of WFA materials. This pile will only grow larger over the next six to nine months.

This photo shows my main unread bookcase. Four interior shelves, all double-shelved, with big piles on top. If you squint, you can probably tell that the bottom half is SF/Fantasy, the top half is mainstream fiction and non-fiction, and on top are mysteries (and, behind them, mass-market paperbacks). The pile to the left on top (which continues on the small table off to the side) is the most recent books that came in, which haven't been integrated into the stacks yet. Those are the ones I had hopes of reading quickly.

And off to the right, you can see the growing piles of WFA books, which are what I'll be reading mostly for the foreseeable future. No whining from me; so far it's really good stuff, and I'm excited about having an excuse to dive into so much fantasy for so long.

Today's WFA Reading: 2/6

I came home to find just one smallish box today, from Underwood Books.

But, a few minutes ago, I was busy in the smallest room of my house when the doorbell rang. I eventually discovered a box on my front steps, with a bunch of things from Eos. (I'm going to stop listing everything by title from this point forward, in part because I don't want to keep typing long lists and in part because I don't think anyone actually cares.)

So Eos sent me: four hardcovers, four trade paperbacks (two of which I think were published in the UK before 2005, and are ineligible), three mass markets (including one I was thinking I'd need to buy a copy of for SFBC purposes -- the world, it conspires to make my life easier, sometimes), and one children's picture book (no points for guessing what that is).

I've read the book Underwood sent, and three of the ones Eos gave me, so I'm finally feeling a bit ahead of the game. But I'm sure that won't last.

In Case Anyone is Wondering

It's just been announced that Time Warner is selling its book group to a French conglomerate, Lagardere. (I saw this on Publishers Lunch, a daily e-mail publication, but it should get picked up other places quickly.)

The last time the TWBG was up for sale, I saw people assuming that my employer would be included. So let me try to set the tangled record straight. (Even though it's even more tangled that it was two years ago.)

I'm best known for working on the Science Fiction Book Club (though I've been involved in other bookclubs as well). The SFBC is part of Doubleday Entertainment, which was formed at the beginning of this year as part of the splitting of Bookspan for complicated legal reasons. Doubleday Entertainment is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Bookspan. Bookspan itself is half-owned by Bertelsmann, the German book colossus, and half-owned by Time Warner (the company that wants you to forget entirely about that little "AOL" thing). But we're not part of the Time Warner Book Group, and we never were; Book-of-the-Month Club Inc. (the name of one of the two companies that merged to form Bookspan) was always part of Time Inc., the magazine group at Time Warner. And Bookspan's reporting structure is still through Time Inc., not through the TWBG.

So my best wishes to the Time Warner folks with their new French overlords, but I'll be sitting here on the sidelines for this one.

My Words You Must Heed!

You scored as Master Yoda. Yoda: The Master.

Master Yoda


Qui-Gon Jinn


Darth Maul


Luke Skywalker


Obi-Wan Kenobi


Darth Sidious


Count Dooku


Mace Windu


Random Jedi


Darth Vader


Anakin Skywalker


What Force User Are You?
created with QuizFarm.com

Another time-wasting quiz designed to make us all feel important (just the thing for a Monday morning). I found it via The Dork Lord.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Reading Into the Past: Week of 2/5

This week, the dice give me a ten, and so I'll be looking at the books I read back in 1996:
  • Mairelon the Magician by Patricia C. Wrede (1/30)
    A girl disguised as a boy in an alternate Regency England meets up with a real magician. (I don't think she falls in love with him until the sequel.) Not one of the undying literary classics of our time, but I don't think Wrede's capable of writing a bad book.
  • Greenwitch by Susan Cooper (1/30)
    Third in the "Dark Is Rising" sequence, and one of the more minor entries in that series. I think this is the one where our kid heroes have to go under the sea. All five of the books are short, so it really makes sense to read the whole series straight through. In that context, this one is just fine.
  • Eyewitness to History, edited by John Carey (1/30)
    This was probably a bathroom book; as I recall, it has short passages from all kinds of people (some famous but mostly not) who witnessed various major historical events. Yes, it was gimmicky and superficial, but the pieces were well-chosen, so it was a good read. I don't seem to have learned anything from it that stuck for ten years, though.
  • The Letter of Marque by Patrick O'Brian (2/1)
    I liked all of the books in this series, but I've only read them once. I couldn't tell you which one this is, though I think it's solidly in the middle.
  • In Between Dragons by Michael Kandel (2/2)
    Kandel is most famous as the good translator of Stanislaw Lem into English, but this is the second of his four (to date, as far as I know) novels, which are all oddball, somewhat Dickian SF. This one is about a kid who meets a dragon; it's not as good as Captain Jack Zodiac (one of the lost great SF novels of the '90s, to my mind), but it's better than Panda Ray (his most recent novel -- from 1996 -- which didn't quite coalesce as it should have).
  • The Grey King by Susan Cooper (2/3)
    Fourth in the "Dark Is Rising" sequence. This one, along with the second book, The Dark Is Rising, and the last, Silver On the Tree (though some of us have problems with the ending), are the really good ones in the series, and the reason it's consider one of the great YA fantasy series of the 20th century. Read 'em all, but don't start here.
  • The Magestone by Andre Norton and Mary H. Schaub (2/4)
    This is a late Witch World novel of which I retain no memory whatsoever.
  • A User's Guide to the Millennium by J.G. Ballard (2/5)
    His collected essays and other assorted non-fiction; I love books like this anyway, and I particularly love them when they come from my favorite writers. Given Ballard's gloomy outlook and apocalyptic expectations, I'd expect his predictions for the new millennium turned out to be more correct than not, more's the pity.
Somehow I managed to read three books on the 30th, in a huge "Nyah-Nyah" to my future self. I'm pretty sure Eyewitness was a bathroom book, and, in those days, I wasn't saving books to maintain that smooth one-book-a-day pace. Of course, I was reading fast enough (though most of these books are pretty short) that I could afford to blast through three of them in one day, if that's how it turned out. I just wish I could pull that guy through a time tunnel and set him to work on my WFA pile...

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Suggestions for Interesting Characters

Another trip to the vaults to disguise the fact that I have no time to blog on Saturdays; this time a little number I originally posted to rec.arts.sf.written 7/10/01, in response to Tina Hall (before we all got to really know her) and her request for books with "interesting characters":

Everyone else is going to give you SF titles (and why not? they're actually on topic here, and the books I'm going to list aren't), so I figured I'd go a little...different. You did mention The Wasp Factory, so that's my excuse.

First, try The Basic Eight by Daniel Handler. It's the first adult novel of the writer now better known as Lemony Snicket, and it's narrated, in first-person, by a teenage girl who is under the care of the government for doing a really horrible act that you start to learn about very early in the book. She seems normal most of the time, and she's an engaging narrator (you want to like her), but she keeps dropping references to things that don't quite fit...and then there's the ending. There are huge, world-devouring spoilers there, so I'll leave it at that.

Ian McEwan's a British writer much of whose work has a Wasp Factory feeling (only colder and much less flamboyant). The Cement Garden would be my recommendation; four youngish children are left alone one summer, and try to hide A Secret Which Is Gradually Revealed. (I should warn you: McEwan can be one of those "Oh, god, I just finished this book and I need to go slit my wrists now" writers.)

Donald Westlake's The Ax is a novel (probably in the mystery section, since that's what he's best known for) about a middle-aged man who loses his very specific, highly paid job and realizes, after a few failed interviews, that there are about half a dozen slightly more qualified men for any job he could potentially get. So he decides he needs to even the odds a bit. I think it's very funny, but the humor is black as pitch.

Twisted in an entirely different way is the title character/narrator of William Kotzwinkle's The Fan Man. He drifts through a counterculture version of New York in the early '70s, and is almost completely disassociated from reality. The prose will be hard to take for some: here's how the novel opens: "I am all alone in my pad, man, my piled-to-the-ceiling-with junk pad. Piled with sheet music, with piles of garbage bags bursting with rubbish and encrusted frying pans piled on the floor, embedded with unnamable flecks of putrefied wretchedness in grease. My pad, man, my own little Lower East Side Horse Badorties pad." He says "man" a lot. No -- however much you're thinking -- more than that.

And there's always Jim Thompson's classic The Killer Inside Me about a small-town sheriff's deputy (another first person narrator -- I think books about loonies work best if you're inside their heads for the whole book) whose attitude towards crime is very different from what it should be.

Jonathan Coe's The Winshaw Legacy (What a Carve Up! in the UK) is the fictional history of a really appallingly evil 20th century British family. I think it's all a metaphor for Thatcherism, but it's fun despite that. Lots of people meet horrible ends.

Martin Amis is another good choice if you're looking for well-written books about appalling people and things. His masterpiece is London Fields, but, for your purposes, I'll recommend Money, about an obnoxious filmmaker rampaging across America in pursuit of a rotten vision.

To end, I'll tie to another thread and actually go back on topic. This guy Severian, the narrator of Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun (currently available as two trade paperback volumes) starts out as a torturer, though he does get a bit nicer by the end of the novel.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Today's WFA Reading: 2/3

I came home to find a big box sitting outside my front door, and I'm beginning to worry that the mailman probably hates us. (The Wife has gotten a half-dozen large Pottery Barn boxes over the past week herself, so it's not just me giving the USPS lots of work.)

This one was the second Tor box, with twice as much stuff as the first: Three Hands for Scorpio by Andre Norton, Brandon Sanderson's Elantris, Charles Stross' The Hidden Family (which I've already read, and which I don't believe is fantasy in any sense, but that's another discussion), Godslayer by Jacqueline Carey, Glen Cook's The Tyranny of the Night, Adam Stemple's Singer of Souls, The Divided Crown by Isabel Glass, The Dark Mirror by Juliet Marillier, Terry Goodkind's Chainfire, A Rumor of Gems by Ellen Steiber, Ordermaster by L.E. Modesitt, Jr., Orphans of Chaos and Mists of Everness by John C. Wright, Darkwitch Rising by Sara Douglass, and Robert Jordan's Knife of Dreams.

Fifteen books. I've already read three of them, so that leaves twelve to go. Put together, they total 5,570 pages. If I could read 250 pages a day consistently (that's my goal on weekends; I usually don't hit it), I could get through the last book in this box sometime on the 26th. More reasonably, I'll aim to get through two or three a week (I need to keep the weekends for SFBC reading), which means, with these and the other books already in hand, that I've got reading material through sometime in April (not even counting a year's worth of F&SF). And, somehow, I suspect that I'll be getting at least one or two more boxes...

In other book-reading news, the manuscript I was hoping to get electronically this afternoon to read tomorrow didn't come through before I left work (and I stuck around about a hour longer than usual). But the other thing I was going to read this weekend came via DHL from an unnamed Canadian bookseller, so I'll be reading Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds tomorrow. (And it will take most of the weekend, even if I get a lot of reading time -- I keep forgetting how long his books are.)