Sunday, April 30, 2006

Movie Log: Porco Rosso

Since one of the major functions of this blog is to function as my external memory, I think I'm going to start talking about movies as well as books. (It may also keep me from becoming too monomaniacal, or it may show that I can be boring on even more subjects than previously imagined.)

The boys and I have been working through Hayao Miyazaki's movies on-and-off over the past year. They'd seen My Neighbor Totoro (which I still haven't seen more than parts of) some time ago, and really liked it, so we watched Spirited Away around Christmas time. That movie really impressed me: as a movie, as a fantasy story, and as a piece of entertainment that was suitable for children but didn't condescend to them. So we've been Netflix-ing other Miyazaki movies as we've had time (we have also been watching the first Star Wars trilogy, which Thing 1 liked a lot but Thing 2 seemed to find slow and boring, and seeing other movies on Boys' Movie Saturday), and are seeing them about once a month; we got to Castle in the Sky and Nausicaa and the Valley of Wind before this one. It's really becoming clear why John Lasseter and the Pixar guys like Miyazaki's movies so much, and have been championing them in the US: there's a similar sense that all experience is available for an animated film, and that making a movie kids will enjoy doesn't mean making one their parents will grudgingly tolerate.

Porco Rosso looked like a minor Miyazaki movie. I hadn't heard much about it before it came out in the last batch of Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli reissues, and it was coming out with Kiki's Delivery Service (which looks like fun, but also looks minor: more of Miyazaki's fascination with flight and spunky teenage girls) and The Cat Returns (which, as far as I can tell, is a non-Miyazaki Ghibli movie, which means it will be seen as minor). It's also the story of a seaplane pilot who was turned into a pig-man (only his face is particularly porcine, as far as the viewer can tell), and who works as a bounty hunter against comic-opera seaplane pirates in the Adriatic in what seems to be the mid-30s. So all the indications were that it was more on the silly than the serious side.

It is pretty silly; it's more light-hearted than Spirited Away or Nausicaa or Castle in the Sky (which is why I picked this one next, to be honest: I thought the boys would appreciate a light adventure movie next rather than diving into Princess Mononoke), but it has some serious ideas almost hidden in its core. The curse on the main character is never explained; it happened long before the movie started, and might -- might -- have been lifted at the very end of the movie, but we aren't told why he turned into a pig. We do get the general idea, though: he became a pig because he was a pig, and he might turn back into a man in a similar way. And the ending very clearly avoids the usual animated-kids-movie cliches in a way I appreciated a lot.

So it's not a great movie in the way Spirited Away is, but it's a quite good one, and an interesting movie for adults to watch with kids. Since so many of Miyazaki's movies are about girls, it also might be a good first Miyazaki movie for parents who have boys that are opposed on principle to "girly stuff."

Friday, April 28, 2006

Today's WFA Reading: 4/28

Another single-book day: this time a single-author collection from Australia.

The deadline for submissions is now barely a month away (June 1st), so, if there are any publicists lurking out there, please check your lists.

Incoming Comics: 4/28

A really big haul this time, so either this was a five-Wednesday month or everything I like just came in at once. [checks calendar] Well, it's not the former.
  • The Complete Peanuts, 1959 to 1960 by Charles Schulz
    These just can't come out fast enough for me.
  • Little Star by Andi Watson
  • Ex Machina Vol. 3: Fact v. Fiction by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris, and others
  • Hellboy: Strange Places by Mike Mignola
  • Queen & County: Declassified Vol. 2 by Greg Rucka & Rick Burchett
  • Queen & Country: Declassified Vol. 3 by Greg Rucka and Christopher Mitten
    If one of these has several pages of untranslated foreign dialogue (see earlier post on the last TP collecting the regular Queen & Country series), I may just be out of here.
  • She-Hulk Vol. 2: Superhuman Law by Dan Slott and various artists
    Just finished Volume 1 last night, and ready for more. I think the only underwear perverts I can stand now are the funny ones. (Hey, DC! How about an Ambush Bug collection?)
  • Ghost of Hoppers by Jaime Hernandez
  • Runaway Comics #1 by Mark Martin
    It's been way too long since I've seen anything by Martin; I'm looking forward to reading this one.
  • Keif Llama: Xenotech #6 by Matt Howarth
  • Sonic X #7 by somebody-or-other
    And now we enter the For-Thing-1 portion of the list.
  • Teen Titans Go! #30 by J. Torres and various artists
    This is the one comic that Thing 1 and I both read, though this issue didn't thrill me; it had two short stories that were both mostly fight scenes and, consequently, boring.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog #161 by whoever
    Thing 1 loves it. He's been telling me incomprehensible things about it since I gave it to him.
  • Justice League Unlimited Vol. 2 by various
    And the next grouping are little trade paperbacks, which Thing 1 will get as treats or for something to do on long car rides.
  • Justice League Unlimited Vol. 3 by various
  • Kingdom Hearts Vol. 1 by someone
    This one he got today, since he had a good day at school, and because he's been chattering incessantly about the game (which we couldn't even get, since we have a GameCube and it's only for the PS2) for the last week or two.
  • and two volumes of collected comics (Gorilla Gorilla and Lilo & Stitch) from Disney Adventures Magazine, by various people
    Yet more stuff Thing 1 will get on good days.
I think I spent more on comics in one day today than any time since I used to go to comics shows in the late '80s. (And then I'd usually come away with over a hundred issues of various things.)

And I guess this is as good a place as any to kvetch: this year, in a masterpiece of bad timing, the Nebula Awards fall on Free Comic Book Day. Last year, the boys and I made our way to the Joker's Child, a nice store in Fair Lawn, and they were just thrilled to death at the idea of a day you could get free comic books. I was seriously looking forward to doing the same again this year, but I'll be in Tempe instead, hobnobbing with a bunch of skiffy folks (which is swell, of course, but not the way I expected to spend Free Comic Book Day.) Next year, I expect SFWA and the Free Comics people to coordinate better, or else. I'm just sayin'.

The New York City Homicide Map

The Internet is endlessly fascinating, particularly on those Friday afternoons when I should really be doing some work.

But, instead, I've just discovered a Murder Map of New York, as collated by The New York Times (whom I would not expect to be this web-savvy). Hours of pointless schadefreude await you, should you choose to click on it.

Edgar Award Winners

They were announced at a gala banquet last night. The complete list of nominees is also available online.

This is outside my usual area, but I'm jumping in for two reasons: first, the MC for the second year was none other than my colleague (and next-door neighbor) Jane Dentinger, the Woman Who Knows Where All The Bodies Are Buried. And, second, well...just look at that winner for Best Paperback Original. Congratulations to all of the winners, but particularly to those who also write the grubby SFF stuff.
  • Best Novel: Citizen Vince by Jess Walter (Regan Books)
  • Best First Novel by an American Author: Officer Down by Theresa Schwegel (St. Martin's Minotaur)
  • Best Paperback Original: Girl in the Glass by Jeffrey Ford (Dark Alley)
  • Best Fact Crime: Rescue Artist: A True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece by Edward Dolnick (HarperCollins)
  • Best Critical/Biographical: Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak (Harcourt)
  • Best Short Story: "The Catch," Greatest Hits by James W. Hall (Carroll & Graf)
  • Best Juvenile: The Boys of San Joaquin by D. James Smith (Simon & Schuster Children's Books)
  • Best Young Adult: Last Shot by John Feinstein (Knopf Books for Young Readers)
  • Best Play: Matter of Intent by Gary Earl Ross (Theater Loft)
  • Best Television Episode Teleplay: Sea of Souls -- "Amulet", Teleplay by Ed Whitmore
  • Best Motion Picture Screenplay: Syriana - Screenplay by Stephen Gaghan, based on the book by Robert Baer (Warner Brothers)
And once again I note that literary awards in other genre areas have many more categories than we do. I think the Hugos should think seriously about such awards as Best First Novel by an American Author and Best Juvenile. Maybe Best First Novel by a Robot, as well. Or even Best Second Novel. Or how about Best Last Novel?

Quote of the Week

"Round numbers are always false."
-Samuel Johnson

The Fantasy Novelist's Exam

I'm sure I've seen this before, but I don't think I've linked to it yet. If any of you out there are in the middle of writing a fantasy novel, or even thinking of doing so, you need to take this test.

Some of my favorite questions:
23. Does everybody under four feet tall exist solely for comic relief?
24. Do you think that the only two uses for ships are fishing and piracy?
47. Do you think you know how feudalism worked but really don't?
52. Do you ever use the term "plate mail" in your novel?
53. Heaven help you, do you ever use the term "hit points" in your novel?
67. Do you think that "mead" is just a fancy name for "beer"?
74. Is your book basically a rip-off of The Lord of the Rings?
75. Read that question again and answer truthfully.

It might make my professional life more difficult if more writers would take this test and follow it faithfully, but life would be much more enjoyable...

Wii! I Want a New Gaming System!

Nintendo has announced that they are hopeless at naming things, since the upcoming console that we all thought was going to be called the Revolution is now revealed as merely a Wii.

Let's run down the Bad Names checklist, shall we?

Hard to pronounce, check.
Looks silly printed, check.
Sounds even sillier, check.
Will tend to make the object sound more expensive. ("Four hundred dollars for a Wee?") Check.
Induces snickering in small boys, check. (Bonus points for creating two separate funny mental images in different parts of the English-speaking world: smallness and urination.)
Does not appeal even slightly to the people who actually buy gaming systems, check and mate.

If I were a betting man, which I am not, I'd be laying down some serious bucks that the Wii will join the Famicom as a name that existed only in Japan...and the console will get some other name (probably not Revolution, since they've burned that bridge now) in the rest of the world.

Today's WFA Reading: 4/27

Just one book today: a single-author collection from a small press.

This week I've been reading two good novels, so I seem to be catching up a bit.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Lives of Editors and Such

Deanna Hoak has a long, and entertaining, post today about trying to nail down one little fact during a copyediting job. I don't do exactly the same kind of thing she does, but I completely recognize that feeling of "there is a right answer to this question, somewhere, and, damn it, I am going to that answer and get this done!"

My somewhat similar experience today was in finally nailing down the title to the witchy omnibus -- Ellen Asher and I stared at a computer screen while I IMDB'd Cagney, Bogart, John Garfield and Edward G. Robinson looking for suitably hard-boiled titles. After about half an hour of bouncing mangled movie monikers off of each other, we finally wandered over to a list of Raymond Chandler titles and got one we liked and which worked. (And which the author nixed about an hour later. But either she or her editor had other suggestions, one of which was fine with us.)

Today's WFA Reading: 4/26

One big box today (twenty mass-market paperbacks, mostly from areas of the publishing world with which I am not overly familiar) and one small package (containing one science fiction book originally published in 2004, which was a nice try but not quite right).

Yesterday's haul was one brand-new hardcover book (publishing in about a week and a half, which is to say, ineligible for last year's award), which makes me thing I've made my way onto some general publicity lists. Far be it from me to say no to books, but I'm beginning to wonder if The Wife will let me convert yet more wall space into bookcases...

Arthur C. Clarke Award Winner Announced

And it's Air by Geoff Ryman, at least according to someone on LiveJournal named Liz.

This is the 21st century! We don't wait for corroboration, or an official announcement! Those are all Old Media ideas.

(Seen via Emerald City.)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Another Essential Fantasy List

Since Jeff VanderMeer's list wasn't quite what I thought it was at first (mostly because I didn't read his introduction closely), I decided to do a list of my own. And I finally had time to rummage around and scribble notes for it tonight.

The rules:
  • It started out at 25 books, but grew slightly to thirty.
  • I stuck to books that were at least ten years old, to have some semblance of critical distance on them. Some of the specific titles are newer than that, but the works themselves are older. I also only started in the early 20th century, since books older than that are essentially from different traditions.
  • This is a list for readers; these books may be of interest to burgeoning (or mature) fantasy writers, but I can't swear to it. Reading all of these books will make one pretty well-read in fantasy, and give a good basis to move forward from.
  • I also decided to keep it to one book per writer, for simplicity's sake. Many of these writers will reward further reading, at least for some readers.
  • In some cases, I chose a writer's best-known book; in other cases, I picked the book I loved personally the most. All are meant to be understandable without having read other books by the author. Some choices are more idiosyncratic than others.
  • I only chose books that I have read and enjoyed myself, which may explain some possible omissions.
  • And I stuck to people who were writing in basically the same, explicitly genre, tradition (though this doesn't apply as clearly to the earliest writers) -- this meant that I left out literary writers, and specifically didn't include Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale.
  • The list is in alphabetical order by author.

Peter S. Beagle, A Fine and Private Place
Michael Bishop, Brittle Innings
James Blish, Black Easter
Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes
Jonathan Carroll, Bones of the Moon
John Crowley, Little, Big
L. Sprague de Camp & Fletcher Pratt, The Complete Compleat Enchanter
Charles de Lint, The Little Country
Harlan Ellison, Deathbird Stories
Mary Gentle, Rats and Gargoyles
Robert Holdstock, Mythago Wood
Robert E. Howard, The Bloody Crown of Conan
Barry Hughart, Bridge of Birds
Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea
Fritz Leiber, The Swords of Lankhmar
H.P. Lovecraft, The Dunwich Horror and Others
George R.R. Martin, Fevre Dream
Hope Mirrlees, Lud-in-the-Mist
Michael Moorcock, Stormbringer
James Morrow, Towing Jehovah
Kim Newman, Anno Dracula
Meryvn Peake, Titus Groan
Rachel Pollack, Unquenchable Fire
Tim Powers, The Stress of Her Regard
Terry Pratchett, Lords and Ladies
Michael Swanwick, The Iron Dragon's Daughter
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
Jack Vance, The Dying Earth
Gene Wolfe, Peace
Roger Zelazny, Creatures of Light and Darkness

Reading Into the Past: Week of 4/23

This week I'm looking back at the books I read in the equivalent week of 2000, which were:
  • Harry Turtledove, The Great War: Breakthroughs (4/16)
    If I weren't reading these books professionally, I think I'd like them quite a bit -- I enjoy the sideways look at history, and generally enjoy the characters (though Turtledove relies a bit too heavily on the historical parallels for my taste). But I usually am reading them professionally, so the fact that they're huge bricks that rotate through a massive cast often sends up a groan. I still mostly enjoy reading them, but I do sometimes wish they weren't so damn long. This one, as I recall, was the middle book in the WWI series and thus third in the overall series (which gets up to book ten this summer).
  • Artist Archives: Swimsuit Sweeties (4/17)
    At the SFBC, we sell art books fairly regularly. One of the perennial art-book subjects, which has sold in the club since before I was even a member, are paintings of women who are not wearing as many clothes as perhaps might be practical in their situations. And so we get in piles of similar books irregularly, and I'm generally the one who looks them over to see if they could work for us. This, as I recall, wasn't: it was a collection of pin-up art of the '40s, featuring Betty Grable types in bathing costumes.
  • Slavomir Rawicz, The Long Walk (4/18)
    This is a great book: Rawicz was a Pole who ended up in a Soviet labor camp (during WW II, I believe) and broke out with a few other prisoners. They escaped by walking straight south to India, and this is their story.
  • Harlan Coben, The Final Detail (4/19, quit unfinished)
    He spoke entertainingly at a company function a few years before this, and he lives not too far away from me in North Jersey, and he seems to be a swell guy, and the Mystery Guild folks keep telling me his books are good. But I couldn't get into this one.
  • Paco Underhill, Why We Buy (4/20)
    The Wife is fascinated with retail, and some of that has rubbed off on me. (Also, she's not much of a reader, so sometimes I read these books for her, and then I tell her what they're about.) Underhill is a consultant who runs a company called Envirosell, and this book is one part manifesto and one part history of the company.
  • Harry Harrison, The Stainless Steel Rat (4/21)
    I re-read it to see if it still held up. It felt a lot creakier than when I'd first read it, with the kind of generic big-office-building future that now feels so '50s to me, but it was still breezy and fun.
  • Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson, Dune: House Harkonnen (4/22)
    It's amazing how much like clockwork my reading schedule runs. This weekend I was reading Hunters of Dune, the new Herbert/Anderson book. This one here was the middle of the first prequel trilogy, and I remember thinking it wasn't as good as House Atreides.
  • Matt Wagner, Mage: The Hero Defined, Vol. 1 (4/23)
  • Matt Wagner, Mage: The Hero Defined, Vol. 2 (4/23)
    I've talked about this series at least once in this blog already, but these were the slim trade paperback reprints that came out a few years before the big hardcover.
Only two days late this week, which I guess is pretty good. I wasn't reading particularly exciting or wonderful things back in 2000 -- except, maybe, for The Long Walk, which has lived in the memory.

Fanfiction and "Real" Fiction

Between the Lori Jareo kerfuffle and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction going to Geraldine Brooks's March (which tells the story of the Civil War experience of the father of the March girls of Little Women), fanfiction and "tie-in work" have been debated a lot online over the past week or two.

I guess I can't stand to be left out, so here I go as well.

I started thinking about this when Keith R.A. DeCandido talked about March last week, and called it a "tie-in novel." There was a discussion that flowered from there, but I can't remember exactly where right now (probably at either Whatever or Making Light). Calling March a tie-in didn't seem quite right, because "tie-in" isn't a term of art but of commerce. A novel is not a tie-in due to anything intrinsic in the work; it's a tie-in because it's related to some other event or product. A novel can be a tie-in, yes -- but so can beach towels, squashed fruitoid pseudo-food, or chess sets. What makes any of those things a tie-in is the commercial relationship; they were licensed or approved by some third party and, because of that, they have something owned by that third party attached to them. Being a tie-in is a legal status rather than a literary one, and so it's up to the owner of the thing being tied into to decide which tie-ins are approved and which are not. (Subject to arcane and convoluted laws, of course.)

So, to me, March isn't a tie-in novel, but -- as I think someone else said -- there was a tie-in edition of Little Women (the original Louisa May Alcott novel) at the time of the early '90s movie. What made it a tie-in was that it had movie art on the cover, and that it was explicitly linked to that movie. Tie-in-ness isn't a quality inherent in a book, I think -- sure, a book can be commissioned specifically to be a tie-in (as most of the things we think of as tie-ins are), and it would then be legally unpublishable outside of that framework (for a good ninety-five years or so, at this point), but that's roughly analogous to writing, for example, a romance novel for a specific line, with very rigid plot, character and length requirements. Over a long enough period of time, all artistic works eventually enter the public domain, and so are no longer available to have other artistic works tied into them -- in other words, they're not controlled by a third party anymore, and are free to be used by anyone who wants to.

I like the word "pastiche" for any work of art that contains identifiable borrowings from previous work. It's not the most positive term, true -- it does have a slight negative connotation -- but I don't know of any other term that covers the right area and isn't more negatively perceived. A pastiche can be good or bad -- Another Hope is a pastiche, but so was The Aeneid. All of the things we usually think of as tie-in novels (movie novelizations, books based on TV shows or comics or RPGs) are pastiches -- and, in two hundred years, they will still be pastiches but (I fervently hope) will no longer be tie-ins.

So the real denigration of "tie-ins" is not because they're pastiches; as Keith pointed out, critics and award bodies have often loved pastiches, from Joyce's Ulysses to March. The problem, as is common in the literary world, is that nexus of commerce and art. What is objected to is the tie-in-ness; books that are commissioned and published to extend a brand or drain some extra cash out of the pockets of fanatic followers of whatever-it-is are expected to be trash, and treated as such. The literary world wants to believe that true literary worth comes out of the writer's own head and nowhere else; if the impetus for any part of a book seems to come from elsewhere (witness Fay Weldon's tie-in novel The Bulgari Connection, which was deplored because she essentially accepted money for advertising in the book).

And, of course, most of the pastiches being written today are yardgoods: work-for-hire tie-in novels, written and published quickly to fill up the lower and middle rungs of a publishing schedule. That doesn't mean that none of them are any good, but that their literary qualities are mostly beside the point. Given the strikes already against them, a SFF tie-in novel these days can hope to aspire to the quality of "a good book" or, rarely, "a really good book," but I haven't seen or heard of a tie-in novel (written to order) that was actually a great novel. Other pastiches, though -- those that don't have some third party peering over the writer's shoulder and demanding things be done its way -- can be great novels. John Gardner's Grendel, for example, is one of the great fantasy novels of the 20th century.

I don't have much of an opinion about fanfiction (the kind that can't be published legally); I haven't spent any time reading it, and don't have much interest in it. But I don't much care about authorized novels set in TV/movie worlds, being a Big Ol' Book Snob. And I do have the possibly-unwarranted conviction that any half-decent writer can -- and probably will want to -- change things enough that the resulting work will be publishable as an original work. So my opinion of fanficcers -- the kind of people who spend lots of time writing stories that they'll never be able to distribute outside of clandestine channels -- is the same as of people who knit dragon-themed tea cozies or attempt to see how many pieces of metal can be attached to their own genitals: it's nice to have a hobby, but please don't do it in public and scare the horses.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Locus Awards Finalists Announced

The ballots are actually all counted and tabulated, so the fact that Locus Online has just posted the top five vote-getters in each category is only a plot to increase suspense. But, since we're a popular medium to begin with, isn't suspense a good thing?

In any case, these are the finalists. I was going to copy and paste them in here, but life is too short. Go look there, if you want to know. It looks like a generally good list.

I'd tell you how I voted myself, except for the fact that I missed the deadline this year: the ballots had to be in midnight of the Saturday I got home at 10:30 from the epic Hershey Park trip to find two hamsters loose in the house. So I didn't even manage to turn the computer on that night, so the poll went on without me this year.

Today's WFA Reading: 4/24

What I've been dreading waiting for has finally arrived: the big box from Ace/Roc (last of the major US publishers to send us stuff, I think), with sixteen books in it. And, no, I won't tell you what's in it; I've gotten that circumspect, at least.

In other package news, I now have my fourth copy of Vellum, so I guess I'd better read the damn thing before a pile of them fall over and kill me. I now have one copy of the US paperback at my office, one copy of the US galley at home on the "might read for SFBC" shelf, one copy of the UK hardcover on the "gotta read this for WFC" shelf, and now another emergency auxiliary US paperback for home, just in case. I plan to read it in the UK edition, since that's the one eligible for the WFA, and I'd like to experience it in its full no-quotation-marks splendor. The current plan is to read it over Nebula weekend, so, if you happen to see me then, feel free to ask how Vellum is going...

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The 20 Worst Agents

You've probably all seen this elsewhere already, but I'll do my bit: The 20 Worst Agents, tracked down and ranked by Writer Beware.

One of these agents, Barbara Bauer, has threatened Teresa Nielsen Hayden with legal action for posting this list, and even tried to stir up trouble with TNH's corporate overlords. This is obviously behavior we do not want to encourage, and so Teresa has called for as many links to the 20 Worst Agents list as possible.

I'm happy to oblige.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Today's WFA Reading: 4/22

Finally, something to post about that will not lead to outbursts of grumpiness. (Really, I thought I was in a good mood today. I don't know why I seem to hate everything -- except, perhaps, for the fact that I generally do hate everything.)

Two books today: one anthology and one novella, both from presses I hadn't dealt with before. I read one novella yesterday (and a SFBC book today), so that part is roughly a wash.

Hey Hey! Ho Ho! {Insert Name Here} Just Must Go!

Today is Blog Against Heteronormativity day.

I don't even know where to start, so I'll just shake my head ruefully and laugh. Ugly made-up words! Raging against something undescribed and possibly indescribable! Failing to even have a manifesto! Assuming the entire world agrees with the voices in your head!

It reminds me of the kind of utterly sincere but completely humorless lunatics I spent four years trying to avoid at Vassar. Is there a word for anti-nostalgia? Because that's what I'm feeling right now; I'm glad I've spent fifteen years without seeing daily impassioned pleas for something vaguely leftist that none of my politically-engaged trust-fund classmates could articulate in words that made any sense.

I will say that every time I start getting completely fed up with my end of the political spectrum, and wonder if it's finally time to drift leftward, something of this caliber comes along and reminds me, once again, why I became a Republican in the first place: our lunatics get that way from alcohol and cocaine (well, that plus Jesus and guns, of course), not Ph.D.s and deconstructionism. And I'm old-school enough for that to be important to me. It might not be a good reason, but it's my reason.

(Damn, I think I'm wandering into politics, and I said I wouldn't do that. Bad blogger: now you must do a list of Essential Fantasy to wash out the curse.)

Here's the Wind-Up, and Here Comes the Throw...

Even though my relationship with Lucasfilm has not always been the smoothest over the years, I do have to come down on their side in the case of Lori Jareo and the Incredibly Law-Suit-Baiting Novel. My only question in this case is to wonder whether there exists a large enough Clue-Stick for the Lucas lawyers to unload on her.

Bride of Rikers Island

The Department of Corrections, Fly-Specking, and Taunting the Readers returns.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Grand Master of all things Brooklynian, corrected my punctuation of Green-Wood Cemetery. Perhaps if I think of it as the Spider-Man of dead people, the lesson will stick.

Alexx Kay pointed out that I had confused my Gorey books horribly, and that "the pornographic one" is actually The Curious Sofa. Since I'm actually at home now, I walked over to the shelves and have discovered that The Haunted Tea-Cozy is actually "the one about Christmas," or perhaps "the minor one, but still entertaining."

Pawel Baran made a case for the vast differences in the work of Jonathan Carroll. You've convinced me, Pawel; I now completely agree that he's never re-used a setting or theme, and that his characters never re-appear in later books.

(Freudian slip side-note: I originally wrote "You've convinced me, Paran" in the above paragraph, thus proving I've been reading too much Steven Erikson.)

Michael Walsh gently chides me for my horrible typo of "Robert Conquest" as "Kingsley Amis."

Niall Harrison let me know that the judges for this year's BSFA Non-Fiction Award were himself, Geneva Melzack, and Steve Jeffrey, and linked to the complete information on that award (which I'd managed to miss in two minutes of quick googling). The judges for the Richard Evans Award are still unknown to me, but I have a vague memory that Jo Fletcher is involved somehow.

Tony Sailer vehemently objects to my saying things like "Of course," "Complete agreement" and "Simply superb" in my comments on Jeff VanderMeer's list of Essential Fantasy. Wait: maybe it wasn't those opinions he objected to. {checks again} Honestly, I'm not sure precisely what he's objecting to, except perhaps my continued existence as a blot on his life. I seem to have picked up my first stalker, and I direct any available policemen to question Mr. Sailer in the event of my untimely demise. (Though why an Austrian Olympic-medalist skier would care at all about my opinions on fantasy novels is a bit of a puzzle to me.) He also is shocked and appalled to find out that a blogger is long-winded and self-centered, so I shudder to think of his reaction when he discovers that the sky is blue and that gravity pulls things downward.

And I may open myself up for further abuse by posting my own list of essential fantasy novels, if I can find time to wander around the basement taking notes in the next couple of days. Jeff VanderMeer's comment made me feel vaguely guilty for just tearing things down without building up, and list-making is one of my great pleasures. (Yes, that may say something sad about me, but it's pretty easy to accomplish.)

Friday, April 21, 2006

Second Thoughts on Essential Fantasy Lists

First of all, I went to re-read what Jeff said about his list, and realized it was for a very specific purpose: "a list of fantasy I thought every writer should provide as diverse a list as possible in terms of technique....skewed to my own definitions of fantasy and my own obsessions with technique".

So, what was going to be my main objection -- i.e., that his list isn't actually of fantasy in any reasonable sense of the word -- is now pretty much moot, since he wasn't trying to define or delineate any particular field of literature. I'd define his list a bit differently than he does, though, as a set of books that work with fantastic tropes in ways that are interesting and possibly useful for young, ambitious writers who want to write literary novels with fantasy elements. (This is most emphatically not a list of novels to read if you want to sell a first novel to a genre fantasy line, though -- if that's your aim, I'd read the novels on Jeff's list sparingly.)

This is helpful, because it saves me having to run around for a few hours to work up the books that really need to be on a list of "Essential Fantasy." (Did everyone notice the one huge, glaring omission? It took me a minute to realize it.) And I don't feel so bad about not having read such a big swath of those books; I'm not a writer of literary novels and never will be.

Jeff VanderMeer's Essential Fantasy Reading List

The amazing Jeff VanderMeer (I was going to list what he does, but, really, I don't think there's enough space here -- I wonder when the man sleeps) has just posted a list of Essential Fantasy Reading.

There have been several lists like this whizzing through the blog world over the past few months -- I saw one of female writers, and another general list of canonical classics -- which people were annotating to show which ones they had read or owned or whatnot. Since I think the world needs more fantasy in it, I'll do the same with Jeff's list (and hopefully not embarrass myself if I haven't read enough of them), and see if anyone else follows my lead. I also might post my own supplementary list of books everyone must read if I suddenly decide Jeff's gotten it All Wrong. (Which I doubt, but I might feel combative after a rainy weekend stuck inside with the kids.)

Anyway, the list follows. Books I've read are in bold. Books I own but haven't read yet are in italics. Books I've never even heard of are in strikethrough. There will probably also be comments.

Fantasy: Essential Reading

  • 1. Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov
    I haven't read much Nabokov, actually. Someday I'll remedy that.
  • 2. The Gormenghast Trilogy, Mervyn Peake
  • 3. Lanark, Alasdair Gray
    Well, I thought I had a copy, but now I can't find it. Maybe I don't own it. Another book I intend to read someday.
  • 4. Jerusalem Poker, Edward Whittemore
    I've had this for about ten years, ever since some reviewer compared it to Tim Powers's Last Call. Still haven't read it, though.
  • 5. The Chess Garden, Brooks Hansen
    I would not call this essential, myself. But it's not my list.
  • 6. The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, Angela Carter
    I know I've read at least one Angela Carter collection, back around 1990-91, but I can't remember which one. Wasn't really my thing then, but maybe I'll try again someday.
  • 7. Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
    Who hasn't?
  • 8. Ficciones, Jorge Luis Borges
    If you have any literary inclinations whatsoever, you read Borges.
  • 9. Nights at the Circus, Angela Carter
    See above at #6.
  • 10. Observatory Mansions, Edward Carey
  • 11. Possession, A.S. Byatt
    A fine novel, but I don't remember anything fantastic about it. Though I did read it a good decade ago, so I could be forgetting something.
  • 12. In Viriconium, M. John Harrison
  • 13. Arc d'X, Steve Erickson
    I'd probably put Tours of the Black Clock in this slot, if I were doing a similar list.
  • 14. V, Thomas Pynchon
    I know there's an argument to be made for this is a SF novel, but I'd never thought of it as a fantasy.
  • 15. Sinai Tapestry, Edward Whittemore
  • 16. Quin's Shanghai Circus, Edward Whittemore
    More Whittemore, which I'm sure I'll read someday.
  • 17. If Upon a Winter's Night a Traveler, Italo Calvino
    I should read more Calvino. I think all I've read of him is Cosmicomics (or maybe the other book of Qyfwmg-whatsiz stories, or maybe both) which I found a bit dull and trying too hard to be intellectual.
  • 18. Collected Stories, Franz Kafka
    I think I missed the Kafka window: he's someone, like Hesse and Lovecraft, that you really need to read for the first time in high school.
  • 19. The Master & Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
    I want to read this again, actually, since the new translation is supposed to be a big improvement (and it was a great book to begin with).
  • 20. Mother London, Michael Moorcock
    I tried once to read it, but I wasn't in the right mood, and abandoned it after just a few pages.
  • 21. The Collected Stories, J.G. Ballard
    I haven't read the book called The Collected Stories, but I believe I've read all of Ballard's stories, which should count. They're mostly, if not entirely, SF, though.
  • 22. A Fine and Private Place, Peter S. Beagle
    If I did a list like this, I'd certainly have Fine and Private Place on it.
  • 23. The New York Trilogy, Paul Auster
  • 24. Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy
    I've read one Cormac McCarthy novel, and I prefer my Faulkner from Faulkner, thank you very much.
  • 25. The Birth of the People's Republic of Antarctica, John Calvin Bachelor
    There was a time when I thought I wanted to read all of Bachelor's novels; I came across references to each of them individually, and they all sounded neat. For whatever reason, that time passed before I actually read any of them.
  • 26. House of Leaves, Mark Danielewski
    I've never had quite enough time, or felt enough like indulging an author, to start reading this.
  • 27. The Riddle Master trilogy, Patricia McKillip
    I read this as a wee one, and some aspect of the ending (now long forgotten, or possiblysuppressedd) filled me with a passionate hatred for the series, and I got rid of my copies as soon as I could -- the first time I can remember deliberately getting rid of books.
  • 28. The Baron in the Trees, Italo Calvino
    This is one I don't remember even reading about anywhere.
  • 29. The Other Side, Alfred Kubin
  • 30. The Circus of Doctor Lao, Charles Finney
    I finally got to this last year, and, I have to admit, I think it's mostly of historical interest these days.
  • 31. A Voyage to Arcturus, David Lindsay
    Another book I was sure I owned but now can't find. I have a firm memory of buying this in England on my honeymoon (I brought a list of things that were out of print in the US but probably in print in the UK -- this was 1993, before your fancy newfangled Internet), but I suppose that's not proof of anything.
  • 32. The Circus of the Earth & the Air, Brooke Stevens
  • 33. Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift
    Not sure I've read it as an adult, though, which is an important distinction.
  • 34. Dictionary of the Khazars, Milorad Pavic
  • 35. At Swim-Two-Birds, Flann O'Brian
    Though I did read The Third Policeman -- I had copies of both, and decided Policeman looked like more fun, so I tackled it first. I will read this one eventually.
  • 36. The Troika, Stepan Chapman
  • 37. The Fan-maker's Inquisition, Rikki Ducornet
  • 38. Solomon Gursky Was Here, Mordechai Richler
  • 39. Darconville's Cat, Alexander Theroux
  • 40. Don Quixote, Cervantes
    A bit of a cheat to put this book on a list of fantasy novels, I think: it's an anti-fantasy novel, a book about the dangers of fantasizing and the conflict between fantasy and reality. But, of course, that's exactly why fantasy readers should read it, so I withdraw my objection.
  • 41. Poor Things, Alasdair Gray
    Maybe this is the Alasdair Gray book I have. I thought I had one of them, somewhere...
  • 42. Geek Love, Katherine Dunn
    I was force-fed some Dunn short fiction (or maybe excerpts) in a terribly pretentious writing class back at Vassar in the late '80s, so I'm afraid it's very unlikely I'll ever read her for pleasure.
  • 43. The Land of Laughs, Jonathan Carroll
    One I can mostly agree with, though I'd pick Bones of the Moon.
  • 44. The Wizard of Earthsea trilogy, Ursula K. LeGuin
    Of course.
  • 45. The House on the Borderland, William Hope Hodgson
    Another book I'll read someday, though it's buried so deep right now that "someday" is about five years of steady reading ahead (at best).
  • 46. Little Big, John Crowley
    Complete agreement.
  • 47. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
    Except for the fact that all of the characters share about three names, I agree.
  • 48. The General in His Labyrinth, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
    I've heard good things about it, but one Marquez novel was enough to last me for a couple of decades.
  • 49. The Seven Who Fled, Frederick Prokosch
  • 50. Already Dead, Denis Johnson
    Never heard of this book, but I did see Johnson's Fiskadoro around a lot in the '80s -- I think that was another one of the early Vintage Contemporaries, along with Bright Lights, Big City and Steve Erickson's first two novels. But I haven't read anything by Johnson I can recall.
  • 51. The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, Jeffrey Ford
    I think I read Ford's first two novels, but I didn't get to this one.
  • 52. Phosphor in Dreamland, Rikki Ducornet
  • 53. The Passion of New Eve, Angela Carter
    Maybe this is the one I read! I still have no idea.
  • 54. Views From the Oldest House, Richard Grant
    I went through a Grant phase at college, and I think this was his new book at the time. But I'm afraid I wouldn't consider it one of the essential fantasy books.
  • 55. Life During Wartime, Lucius Shepard
    This I would consider a major SF novel, but it's possible I'm forgetting some fantasy elements; I haven't read it in at least fifteen years.
  • 56. The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox, Barry Hughart
    Simply superb.
  • 57. The Famished Road, Ben Okri
  • 58. Altmann's Tongue, Brian Evenson
  • 59. Girl Imagined by Chance, Lance Olsen
  • 60. The Fantasy Writer's Assistant & Other Stories, Jeffrey Ford
    I checked again, to be sure I didn't have this, and it wasn't even on the emergency back-up pile of Golden Gryphon books over on the workbench. (You think I lie?)
      Oh, dear. I'm afraid that I am going to have to disagree with Jeff on his list (or, at least, talk about different traditions and kinds of Fantasy). But I'll leave that for another post, since this is already too long.
    • Quote of the Week

      "All you need in life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is assured."
      --Mark Twain

      Ve Haff Vays Uf Makink You Take Tests!

      As seen at Laura Anne Gilman's place, the "Would You Have Been a Nazi" test.

      Well, that's a relief.
      The Expatriate
      Achtung! You are 30% brainwashworthy, 31% antitolerant, and 28% blindly patriotic
      Congratulations! You are not susceptible to brainwashing, your values and cares extend beyond the borders of your own country, and your Blind Patriotism does not reach unhealthy levels. If you had been German in the 30s, you would've left the country.

      One bad scenario -- as I hypothetically project you back in time -- is that you just wouldn't have cared one way or the other about Nazism. Maybe politics don't interest you enough. But the fact that you took this test means they probably do. I'm gonna give you the benefit of the doubt.

      Did you know that many of the smartest Germans departed prior to the beginning of World War II, because they knew some evil shit was brewing? Brain Drain. Many of them were scientists. It is very possible you could have been one of them.

      Conclusion: born and raised in Germany in the early 1930's, you would not have been a Nazi.

      The Would You Have Been A Nazi? Test
      - it rules -

      Thursday, April 20, 2006

      Deep Dark Financial Secrets of Publishing

      This seems to be the day for mind-numbing financial data, designed to frighten and dismay writers. First, Jay Lake linked to a long article by Denise Little from the SFWA Bulletin (slightly less timely, I see, since it was originally from 2001) about how publishers calculate P&L statements. Then, Anna Genoese applied similar calculations to a dog of a book here.

      Various writers are mailing and gnashing their teeth in the comments for the latter, too, which I suppose would be amusing if you enjoyed seeing other people suffer.

      The elephant in the room, though -- the thing that's not accounted for in any P&L -- is that a publishing company is in business to publish books. Yes, it can be a crapshoot. Yes, quite often the profit on any particular book is small (if not nonexistent). But every company needs to sell a certain number of copies of their books a year just to keep the lights on, and that means we're all looking to publish something. It would be wonderful if a publishing house could publish one book a month that would steadily sell, oh, let's say fifty thousand copies a week for about four months, and then taper off at just the right speed to have a nearly perfect sell-through of a million copies. But that will never happen.

      So companies buy books because they will cover a reasonable share of overhead for that month -- really, to be blunt, publishers buy books because they're the best books they can find at that moment. Every editor has to acquire enough books to justify his continued employment -- and to, at the same time, try to make sure few enough of those books are such utter dogs as to put that employment in jeopardy.

      Really, all this is just another instance of what writers should already know: publishing is a precarious, low-budget entertainment business. Compared to nearly every other kind of entertainment, the money involved in book publishing is small. But it's small for the editors and publishers as well as for the authors, if that's any consolation.

      Wednesday, April 19, 2006

      What an Editor Really Does

      Last week, inside the sleek SFBC penthouse high above New York City, we had a dilemma: a new omnibus needed a title. It needed to reference a movie, and have the word "witch" (or something similar) in it. So, SFBC Editor-in-Chief Ellen Asher and I swung into action, and spent several days e-mailing each other suggestions.

      Sadly, we still don't have a title. But these are the ones we know we're not going to use...



      ROUTE 666



      Okay, you've stumped me. Dark Witchery?

      Dark Victory (Bette Davis, 1939)

      How about:





      Tuesday, April 18, 2006

      Reading Into the Past: Week of 4/16

      Blah blah blah Sunday night blah blah blah roll dice blah blah blah 14 blah blah blah blah 1992 blah blah [fx="creaking old book"] blah-itty blah-itty blah:
      • In a Word edited by Jack Hitt (4/10)
        I thought it was a book of quotes, but some quick amazoning tells me that it's actually a pseudo-dictionary of newly invented words. I don't think I still have it, and I bet no one uses more than two or three of the words in it -- but it was entertaining enough to read at the time.
      • Reality Is What You Can Get Away With by Robert Anton Wilson (4/10)
        Every reasonably intelligent young person goes through a Robert Anton Wilson phase. Really, it's nothing to be ashamed of. When I read this, I was nearing the end of my RAW phase (though I think this came into the SFBC, so I didn't actually spend any money on it), and this pretty much ended it. If you want goofball paranoia, hit The Illuminatus Trilogy. If you're still interested, RAW has some other related books, but be warned: you'll probably suddenly grow up and find it all pointless right in the middle of one of them.
      • Griffin & Sabine by Nick Bantock (4/11)
        Remember these? This was the first of a trilogy that was absolutely huge in the early '90s. You know, the gorgeously-designed books with letters you had to pull out of envelopes to read? Anyway, they were lovely-looking objects, and the writing was perfectly serviceable, but there wasn't much story there. And the third book just petered out. Still: great-looking books.
      • With All Disrespect: More Uncivil Liberties by Calvin Trillin (4/12)
        I probably disagree with Trillin on a lot of fundamental political principles, but that doesn't really matter. What's important is that he's funny in that dry, sarcastic way I always enjoy, and that he focuses on picking on the government. (Which is what I've recently realized I like most in my political writings; it doesn't matter which party is in power, or what their policies are, I just want to know about what idiots they are and which boneheaded thing they've done most recently.) This is a collection of his columns from The Nation, a periodical I would never read in the course of ordinary life. But now, every time it's mentioned, I immediately think of "the wily and parsimonious Victor S. Navasky" and smile. Thanks, Calvin.
      • More Joy of Sex by Alex Comfort (4/12)
        OK, what kind of dweeb not only reads this cover-to-cover but actually writes it down in his reading notebook? (A bookish, male dweeb, obviously.) I shake my head ruefully at my former self. At least I got this free from work...
      • A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain (4/12)
        Certainly Twain's least-known travel book, and possibly his least-successful one, this is the record of a walking tour of Europe originally published in 1880. I find Twain endlessly entertaining, though, especially when he's writing non-fiction, so this book was a joy to read and one I remember fondly.
      • The Elf Queen of Shannara by Terry Brooks (4/13)
        Terry Brooks is a very nice guy who writes enormously popular books that have helped pay my salary for many years now and which delight people worldwide. They're not always to my particular taste, but I am not a churl.
      • Dead Irish by John Lescroart (4/14)
        This is probably not a Dismas Hardy book, since I don't think I've ever read any of them. (On the other hand, I'd forgotten I'd read anything by Lescroart.) Damn -- Amazon tells me this is a Dismas book, so I'm 0-for-2. I don't think I ever went back, so it must not have thrilled me.
      • Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams (4/14)
        One of the great science fiction novels of the '90s; this book is bursting with invention and verve and practically throws off sparks as you touch it. The fact that it wasn't even nominated for the Hugo just tells you what a great year 1992 was (the ballot consisted of Doomsday Book, A Fire Upon the Deep, China Mountain Zhang, Red Mars and Steel Beach). Everyone who reads science fiction should own this book, and WJW should be massively more popular and influential. And, when I finish up my World-Conquering Doomsday Device (TM), I'll remedy that and many other problems.
      • "D"Is For Deadbeat by Sue Grafton (4/15)
        I'm afraid I have absolutely no idea which one this is. But I've liked them all.
      • The Hacker Crackdown by Bruce Sterling (4/15)
        I'm amazed at how old this book is -- I hadn't realized that it was pre-WWW. It would be interesting to read it again, in light of everything that's happened in the last decade and a half. (And I'm sure I'll have time to do that, he said, laughing hysterically.)
      • Twospot by Bill Pronzini and Collin Wilcox (4/16)
        This paired Pronzini's Nameless Detective (whose series I was working through at that time, since I like hard-boiled detectives and had a lot of reading time on my hands) with Wilcox's series detective (name completely forgotten, since I never read anything else by Wilcox). It was not quite as good at the usual run of Nameless books, but those (at least the '70s and '80s books) were quite solid detective stories.
      As always when I look back that far, I'm impressed by how much I managed to read in the days before Internet, kids and mortgage. But I sometimes wish that kid had read better books...

      Monday, April 17, 2006

      Today's WFA Reading: 4/17

      Two slim packages today: both from the UK, each containing one book. The books themselves are pretty slim, too, which I always appreciate.

      My Anniversary

      Saturday was my fifteenth anniversary at the SFBC. (Yes, I did start on Tax Day; that does tend to make it easy to remember.)

      Back then, of course, I was a mere Assistant to the Editor. I had to claw my way up to Editorial Assistant (and that one was actually a big jump, for indescribable publishing-world reasons), then to Associate Editor and once more to just plain Editor. Finally, a couple of years ago, I buried enough bodies and stabbed enough backs to finally be made a glorious Senior Editor -- lord of all I survey. (And all I survey right now is a structural pillar, a metal standing bookcase, two low file cabinets, and part of someone else's desk -- none of which, come to think of it, is actually mine.)

      (I was reminded of this by Jennifer Jackson's similar thought on her blog.)

      Of course, I work for Ellen Asher, the queen of job longevity -- she started at the SFBC in February of 1973, and is currently gunning for John W. Campbell's title as longest-serving SF editor in a single job. (Campbell was editor of Astounding/Analog from September of 1937 until his death on July 11, 1971 -- a total of 33 years and ten months. Ellen will pass his record at the end of this year.) So I'll always be "the kid" by comparison. I can live with that.

      Just In Case You Were Wondering

      I'm the designated Doesn't-Care-About-Snakes On A Plane blogger. Someone had to be the official scoffer, and, this time, it's me.

      No offense meant to Samuel L. Jackson or his hissing costars, of course.

      Sunday, April 16, 2006


      OK, I've posted ten times today, but I still haven't gotten to the epic tale of the trip to Hershey. On the other hand, it's already 11. So that -- and my 445 unread blog posts -- will have to wait for the morning.

      Also coming tomorrow (with luck) is the weekly "Reading Into the Past," which will cover what I was reading this past week back in 1992. And we'll see if any of it has any relevance more than a dozen years later.

      Philip K. Dick Award for War Surf

      I'm just stealing Locus Online's content tonight, because here's something else I learned from them:

      The 2006 winner of the Philip K. Dick Award for the distinguished original science fiction paperback published for the first time during 2005 in the U.S.A. is War Surf by M.M. Buckner (Ace).

      A special citation was given to Justina Robson's Natural History.

      A full report on this year's award is available at the PKD Award website.

      Angus Wells, 1943-2006

      Locus Online reports that British fantasy writer Angus Wells died in a house fire earlier this week. That's a horrible way to go; my condolences to his friends and family.

      Ditmar Award Winners

      This weekend also saw the Australian national SF convention (what is it about Easter and SF conventions? there were two or three big ones in the US as well), at which the fabled Ditmar Awards were solemnly awarded to:

      Best Novel
      Geodesica: Ascent - Sean Williams & Shane Dix, Ace

      Best Novella or Novelette
      "The Grinding House" - Kaaron Warren, The Grinding House, CSFG Publishing

      Best Short Story
      "Fresh Young Widow" - Kaaron Warren, The Grinding House, CSFG Publishing

      Best Collected Works
      Daikaiju! Giant Monster Tales - Robert Hood & Robin Penn, Agog! Press.

      Best Artwork
      Australian Speculative Fiction: A Genre Overview (cover) - Nick Stathopolous
      Australian Speculative Fiction: A Genre Overview - Donna Hanson

      Best Fan Writer

      Best Fan Artist
      Shane Parker - Conflux Poster Art, Conflux

      Best Fan Production
      Edwina Harvey - The Australian Science Fiction Bullsheet (Website and Newsletter)

      Best Fanzine
      Ticonderoga Online - Russell B Farr website

      Best New Talent
      Rjurik Davidson

      Best Professional Achievement Award
      Robert Dobson, Robert Hoge, Kate Eltham, Heather Gammage - Clarion South 2005, Clarion South Workshop

      The Williams Atheling, Jr. Award
      (for SF criticism)
      "Divided Kingdom: King Kong vs Godzilla" - Robert Hood, King Kong is Back, Benbella Books

      (Seen, like most news, first at Locus Online.)

      BSFA Award Winners

      I noticed this at Locus Online, which linked to Cheryl Morgan's report at Emerald City:

      Artwork - Pawel Lewandowski for the cover of Interzone #200
      Short Fiction - Kelly Link for "Magic for Beginners"
      Novel - Geoff Ryman for Air
      BSFA Non-Fiction - Gary K. Wolfe for Soundings
      Doc Weir Award - Steve Lawson
      Richard Evans Award - Pat Cadigan

      According to this page, the Novel, Artwork, and Short Fiction awards are voted by the membership of the British Science Fiction Association and the membership of Eastercon (the British national SF convention, held in Glasgow this year). A comment on Cheryl's report said that the Non-Fiction award was decided by unspecified judges.

      The Doc Weir Award is voted on by the membership of Eastercon, and it seems to be roughly the British equivalent of the "Big Heart" award at Worldcon: it goes to a fan who's done good things for his friends and fandom in general.

      And the Richard Evans Award is basically a "writer we think should be better known" prize. It's also a judged award, but it's not clear if these were the same judges as the Non-Fiction award.

      Blogrolling In Our Time

      I've recently had my first request to add someone else's blog to my blogroll (that monstrosity over to your left, if you're not reading this through some sort of a feed amalgamator), which gave me a nicely warm and cozy feeling -- it's always nice to be wanted.

      And that led me to wonder if everyone reading this has heard of feeds, RSS, Atom, and those other possibly-confusing things that help make blogs easier to navigate and read. (I'm pretty sure my mother hasn't, so I'll write this for her, at least.) Basically, RSS and Atom are two different ways to distribute "content" (one of those great, amorphous New Economy words) -- just about any kind of website can have updates tracked and delivered by one or both of those methods. Antick Musings uses both -- the direct links to this site's feeds are at the top of the Blogroll -- because so far they're free and automatic, so I don't have to do anything or have a clue how it happens. And there are websites and applications that keep track of these "feeds," so a reader can have an automatically-updated list of blogs, LiveJournals, websites, and so on without having to visit all of them repeatedly.

      I use Bloglines for my blog-reading -- it's not the only tool for the job, but I like it, and it's good if you use more than one computer to read blogs. It's web-based, so it keeps track of what you've read and not read on the server side. I have no idea if it's the best possible tool; it's the first one I came across that seemed to do what I wanted, so I tried it, and it's worked excellently so far.

      As I had this post sitting half-read in one window, I came across a link to a survey of various feed readers. If anyone out there is already reading a couple of blogs "manually," check out that survey: you might find a tool that will help you organize them -- though, I should warn you, that you'll probably end up adding lots of extra blogs just because it's easy to do so. There also are higher-powered desktop applications to organize feeds, but, if you're actually reading this, I can't imagine you need to jump up to that level yet.

      Anyway -- all you who skimmed past the part you already know can start reading again -- I organize my blogroll (the list of blogs I read) through Bloglines. And Bloglines also allows me to publish that list on my own blog, making it very neatly incestuous. (Especially since I have Antick Musings on the blogroll, so I can make sure everything is feeding the way it should.) So that list of things off on the left is stuff I read regularly, and try to keep up-to-date on. (Though, right at the moment, I have 438 unread articles, which is what happens when I miss two days.)

      Right now, I'm reading 177 feeds. I am still adding things, as new people start blogging, or as I discover new and interesting blogs, but I'm trying not to add too many, to keep my head from exploding. So it might take a while for me to get out to all of the corners of the world that interest me. And I might not just add a reciprocal link to someone if I don't think I'll be reading their blog regularly. (I'm particularly avoiding, as much as I can, very political blogs, since that's not what I want to do here, and I've just gotten my blood pressure down, and I need to keep it there. And, since I'm afraid my prevailing political attitude is best summed up by Rufus T. Firefly -- "Whatever it is, I'm against it" -- things on both sides can set me off.)

      On the other hand, I do want to know about neat blogs I might have missed; I'm still poking through the blogrolls of people in my blogroll as I have time. So my list will, I'm sure, continue to expand.

      Slaying Deer Since Time Immemorial

      A.R. Yngve reminds me (well, not me on purpose, but it worked on me) that Mark Twain's indispensable essay "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" is online in all of its glory.

      I've just spent a few minutes re-reading selected parts of that essay, and I'm sorry to say that it's as timely as ever -- even, in this age of epic fantasy, more timely than ever. Anyone who is committing fiction should keep a copy of Twain's rules posted up next to the writing-desk, and glance at them regularly. They won't tell you what to write, and they won't give you grammar tips, but they'll give you better advice about what not to do than a year's subscription to Writer's Digest and three weekend seminars.

      I've been reading a lot of fantasy for WFA over the past few weeks, and far too many of them fail to respect the simple requirements:
      1. That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere....

      2. They require that the episodes in a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help to develop it....

      3. They require that the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others....

      4. They require that the personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there....

      5. They require that when the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject at hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say....

      If that last one was honored even half of the time, I would be so much happier.

      Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny

      You've all seen this by now, right? Possibly the geekiest song video in existence.

      (Not to be confused with The Nerdiest Object Ever.)

      Quote of the Week

      I'm running two days late on this (I was going to do it before leaving Friday morning, but I didn't even manage to get the computer turned on), so, in exchange, I'll use one I've been trying to remember for months now, and just ran across again.

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

      Today's WFA Reading: 4/16

      Well, not today's, since there's no mail delivery here on Sunday. And I'm not sure if the boxes came yesterday or Friday, since we left at 8:30 in the morning on Friday, well before mail-delivery time.

      But sometime in those two days, three packages appeared on my doorstep, bearing books marked "no commercial value" from Monkeybrain (Chris Roberson's publishing arm, which is what reminded me), NESFA Press and Tor (yes, them again).

      And, since I seem to be mentioning what non-WFA thing I'm reading when I post one of these Books Received thingies, I'll share that I'm now solidly in the middle of Steven Erikson's House of Chains, fourth book of "The Malazan Book of the Fallen." (Which is the Est fantasy series I've ever read -- whatever comparison you can think of, the Malazan books are the -est of it. I'm not entirely sure if this is good or bad, but I enjoy them immoderately.) Sadly, it was published in 2002 originally, so it can't do double-duty and count for WFA reading. It's also bloody huge, as the whole series is.

      If This Be My Final Battleworld...

      Clicking this link will take you to the incredible story of the Secret Wars Re-Enactment Society. If those words don't make any sense to you, you won't get it. If you're wondering, "that couldn't possibly be what I think it is," then you need to click on it.

      I'd seen the link a couple of times before, but I finally clicked on it when Chris Roberson linked to it. (Because, y'know, on the basis of a five-minute drunken conversation at last year's World Fantasy, I can tell that he's a Guy To Be Trusted on the subject of comics.)

      In other news, I spent the last two days in Hershey, PA at the fabled Hershey Park. A longer entry on that to follow later today, I hope.

      Thursday, April 13, 2006

      Today's WFA Reading: 4/13

      It's been a while since the last bunch, but today brought three boxes, and a total of ten book-shaped objects. (I think a few of them are officially magazines.)

      This week, I've managed to read two novels for WFA. Once again, the numbers are not running in my favor.

      Wednesday, April 12, 2006

      Watching Movies Instead of Blogging

      Tonight the wife and I saw the new Pride & Prejudice, and, luckily for me, she's one of the legion of women who have the plot and dialogue nearly memorized, so that she could explain the confusing bits to me, and point out the things that were changed. ("Not how it happened in the book," she hissed. [Yes, I know you can't literally his a sentence with no sibilants in it, but go with me for once.])

      It's a very pretty movie, in that standard English period-piece style, and I certainly do like looking at movies like that. (And even more do I like looking at Kiera Knightley. She's almost old enough now for me to stop feeling guilty about looking at her, too.) But it does get away from both the book and the period at times, which I've heard some huffing about on the 'net. (Women readers are to Jane Austen as men readers are to J.R.R. Tolkien: discuss.)

      This has been part of a general Netflix onslaught lately. We're on the two-at-a-time plan, which usually means one for me and then one for The Wife, but we've watched a bunch of things together lately (the rotten King Kong, the amusing Forty-Year-Old Virgin and the only moderately dull The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe), which has meant even more movie-watching. In fact, I saw three movies over the weekend, all aimed at kids. The Wife and I saw the aforementioned Narnia travelogue (Day Three. Pointed my sword at a monster again. 3 cigarettes, 5 units of mead, 3 large salads. n.s.g.) on Friday; the two Things and I watched Nausicaa and the Valley of Wind on Saturday for our gala Boys' Movie Saturday (and I don't think I've actually seen that in English before); and then we all went out to the utterly unnecessary but amusing Ice Age: The Meltdown in a theater on Sunday. Now I need to watch some R-rated things to regain my street cred.

      Over dinner after my brother's move two weeks ago, we got to talking about Netflix and what a wonderful thing it is. Something that struck me then is that their model has found a way to subvert the old tendency of a movie renter not to watch the movie and to delay returning it -- with Netflix, you get another movie when you send one back. So the faster you watch movies, the faster you get more movies. This might not work for everyone, but, for a person like me who always wants to get on to the next thing, it's the perfect motivator.

      In fact, it works so well that Netflix's problem now is that people return the movies too fast. You know you have a successful business model when your biggest problem is the precise opposite of what used to be the norm in your business.

      Tuesday, April 11, 2006

      Sign of the Apocalypse # 257,324

      We live in a world where there are two midget KISS cover bands. And they're feuding.

      (Seen via Nick Mamatas.)

      Ceci N'est Pas Un Blog-post

      Teresa Nielsen Hayden links to a silly, and very meta, comment thread on the blog Unqualified Offerings.

      Since there is nothing new in this world, I am compelled to point out that my other favorite Internet home, the Straight Dope Message Boards, had a very similar Thread that started back in 2000.

      Publishers Weekly Notices We Exist

      I see Publishers Weekly a week late, since I'm second on the distribution list for my boss Ellen's copy, and she doesn't get to it until the weekend. So I didn't get to see last week's issue, with articles on the mainstreaming of fantasy and the geekiness of SF, until last night. (Though, as I started to write this post, I discovered that those articles, and probably most of the magazine PW charges $8 a week for, is online for free. I still don't get this "New Economy" stuff, but it makes linking easy.)

      There's not much to say about the first article, except that it has very little to do with genre fantasy in any sense. Basically, literary tastes swung strongly away from the fantastic in the early 20th century, and, though fantasy elements started creeping back into "literary" fiction after WW II, they've only become widely acceptable in the last decade or so. (Now, a writer can actually start a career doing literary fiction with fantastic elements, whereas before literary writers got a "You Are Entitled To Write One Fantasy" card after their third novel.) The article doesn't try to explain that history, talk about any of the literary-fiction fantasy pioneers of the '50s through the '90s, trace the growth of fantasy as a commercial genre starting in the '70s, or even mention the explosive recent growth in fantasy genres aimed at women (starting with paranormal romance and moving on through vampire shagging and most of the popular manga). So it's basically back-patting by literary types, who are all happy that they can tolerate a little unreality in their reading, now and then. That's nice for them, I guess, but I don't think the people reading The Lovely Bones or The Time-Traveler's Wife are mostly the people reading A Feast for Crows or Definitely Dead. So it doesn't have anything to do with my end of the publishing world, except inasmuch as it indicates some literary types may now believe what I do isn't utterly plebeian.

      I've been thinking about the Itzkoff issue far too much lately, and I may perhaps be ready to concede that he backed his way into coming close to a useful observation. (Though I still believe he doesn't know the field, and so expressed himself badly and confusingly.) There's been some talk lately about "entry-level SF" -- I know John Scalzi has been concerned about it, and provided a forum to work up a list of books that might interest non-SF readers. Scalzi's list, of course, came out of the mid-December kerfuffle about Greg Benford's odd "I'm taking my toys and going home" post about how fantasy is trouncing SF in the marketplace. As always, the SF world is obsessed with itself and both wants to be taken seriously by the wider world and to be purified of influences from that world, so that it can be a better version of itself. Thus, Itzkoff's stated aim of finding books that a non-SF reader could enjoy would generally be a good thing, if I thought he was capable of identifying those books if they smacked him on the nose. (Though why the New York Times would be particularly interested in "entry-level" SF, rather than the best of the field, is an open question; they, and review outlets in general, are much more likely to look for the exceptional -- and compare books to the best exemplars of their types -- than to spend much time criticizing mid-rank titles.)

      The best quote in the article about Itzkoff comes from Diana Gill (who I always knew was one of the smart ones), who points out that "geeky" is only used to tar SF, and not other kinds of detail-heavy fiction. She mentions Patrick O'Brian, who evokes a very different world (with lots of detailed technology) in quite science-fictional ways. Thrillers of all stripes, mysteries with heavy "CSI" elements, historical novels, chick-lit books with their lists of shoes: these are all popular fiction categories as obsessed with specific details as SF is, but no one calls any of them "geeky." This is, of course, because isn't the "geekiness" of the details that matter: if you start with an assumption that SF (and, by extension, science, technology and futurism in general) are "geeky," then anything related to that area is already geeky to begin with. QED.

      So the question "Why is SF so geeky?" really devolves into a tautology: "Why is this thing that defines geekiness as geeky as it is?" It's all in the heads of the beholders; we're not cool in their eyes, and we never will be, as long as we insist that SF is interesting and worth reading.

      This is nothing new, so I'll end with the famous couplet by Kingsley Amis, one of the literary types who did Get It:
      "SF's no good!," they bellow till we're deaf.
      "But this looks good."--"Well then it's not SF!"

      Seiun Award Nominees

      Locus Online announces the nominees for the Seiun Award, which, as all Hugo ceremony attendees know, is the "Japanese Hugo," though, as the presenters try to wring a bit of humor every year by using the same words, "Seiun" actually means "Nebula."

      There doesn't seem to be an official page in English for the nominees, but both Jeffrey Ford and Robert J. Sawyer have posted the nominees for the two translated categories on their blogs.

      Monday, April 10, 2006

      More Blog-rolling Fun

      I've just now reorganized the second section of the blogroll, SFFish Folks, renaming most of the links as the names of the bloggers. (Except for a couple of cases of anonymity, or of group-think.)

      It seems I can't remember who any of those people were, either.

      The more general resources are up top, if anyone uses them.

      Today is my day for posting things nobody but me cares about, I suppose. Perhaps it's now time to narrate the epic tale of my various office moves over the year. (I have been toying with the idea of writing that up and posting it here, so it would be someplace I could reference if I ever needed to check it.) Or -- better yet! -- how about my novella-length look at the joys of watching paint dry, in iambic pentameter?

      Hugo Nominations Handicapping

      I've been keeping two posts unread over in my Bloglines feed -- one from Jonathan Strahan, and one from Kevin Standlee (both of which are essential reading) -- because I wanted to remember to say something about the Hugo nominees this year.

      However, what I wanted to say is odd and not terribly useful to anyone, so I've been putting it off for a couple of weeks. But it will be really silly to do this much later.

      I am going to do a Handicapping-the-Hugos post eventually, but this isn't it. I've had a momentary attack of propriety, and realized that not only am I a pro editor in the field (selling all five of the novels and assorted other things), but I'm also judging another award with a somewhat overlapping area this year. So jumping out in front, even just to say what I think will win, is not a good idea right now.

      I plan to do a "What I Think Will Win" post after the voting deadline, when I can't possibly influence anyone. Until then, everyone go read what Jonathan, Kevin, and the raft of other commentators have to say.

      Sunday, April 09, 2006

      Reading Into the Past: Week of 4/9

      I do this every Sunday night, so most of you know the drill by now: I roll some dice, and look up a randomly-chosen past year in my reading notebook. This week it's 1997:
      • Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford (4/2)
        I read both this and Mitford's other famous novel, The Pursuit of Love, in quick succession out of an old, ugly Modern Library volume. I found them a bit slow and slogging then, and I don't recall them well now; I suspect that there was a very strong element of roman a clef in them, and I'd have gotten more out of them if I were British, aristocratic, and a couple of generations older. Probably just of interest to specialists, now. I came to Mitford from Evelyn Waugh, and I still like Waugh miles better than Mitford.
      • Chip Harrison Scores Again by Lawrence Block (4/3)
        Exceptionally light-weight semi-mystery from early in Block's career; this is primarily of interest now because it shows him putting his porn-novel ideas and skills to work in a non-porn setting. It's the second of four "Chip Harrison" novels; in the first he solves a mystery while trying to get laid for the first time, and this one has essentially the same plot (except for the "first time" bit). The latter two books were written several years later, and are much more like real mysteries, but the first two are still fun for what they are.
      • Beneath the Vaulted Hills by Sean Russell (4/5)
        The first book in the "River into Darkness" duology. Russell wrote three two-book series to start his career, and all had low-magic worlds with well-imagined characters, complicated but understandable plotting, and excellent world-building. They all also seemed to sink without a trace into the marketplace; perhaps because he was published by DAW, a house that doesn't seem to get much respect or notice from critics. (I know the books of Russell's I tried to sell in the SFBC didn't do very well for me, unfortunately -- he's a wonderful storyteller who can write well in service of his plot, which is not a common combination.) More people should read Sean Russell, and this book is as good a place to start as any.
      • Easy Meat by John Harvey (4/7)
        Something-or-other in the Charlie Resnick mystery series, which were absolutely wonderful. Harvey is also a poet, and he brings that ear for language, or for using just the right image, to his mysteries. His main character is also appealing and idiosyncratic without devolving into the too-common bag-of-random-odd-traits school of mystery characterization.
      • At Least This Place Sells T-Shirts by Bill Amend (4/7)
        A collection of FoxTrot comic strips.
      • The Crown Crime Companion compiled by Mickey Friedman (4/8)
        Apparently, this is the mystery-world equivalent of David Pringle's Science Fiction: 100 Best Novels and Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels, with 101 books chosen by the Mystery Writers of America and essays on each by Otto Penzler. I'd completely forgotten what it was, and I don't seem to have kept it. From this, I deduce that I didn't find it all that helpful (though I might have taken notes from it, and it's quite possible that it introduced me to some good books, or put things onto my "Books I Want" list that are still lurking there).
      • The Rise of Endymion by Dan Simmons (4/8)
        Simmons is great at beginnings and not quite as great at endings. This one was kind of disappointing.
      • The Amalgam Age of Comics: The DC Comics Collection by various (4/8)
        One of the many huge comics events of the '90s, as Marvel and DC flailed about trying to staunch the flow of readers away from underwear perverts (and comic pamphlets in general), was a big inter-company crossover event called "Amalgam." It was ridiculously geeky, even in this context, as it pretended that there was just one costumed-hero company, Amalgam, whose heroes were all combinations of one DC character and one Marvel character. There were two collections of the series, and this was one of them. This is a massively "inside baseball" project; if you don't already know the characters being played with (on both sides), you won't get much out of it. But it was fun, for those who had the necessary back-stories already stuck in their heads.
      • Tomorrow's Crimes by Donald E. Westlake (4/9)
        A collection of pretty much all of Westlake's SF work, including the short novel Anarchaos. None of it was as good as his best mystery novels, but it's all readable top-drawer pulp stuff from the early '60s. Still, Westlake's famous kiss-off to SF (recently available again in The Best of Xero) looks like a good idea after forty years of retrospect; he's a much better mystery writer.
      Hey! I actually got this done on Sunday this week, which is a change. Of course, that meant that I haven't quite finished reading the new Tim Powers novel, Three Days to Never, yet. Life is never easy...

      RWA Pro-ness Mania Spreads!

      I'm not the only one to hear about the RWA's "Pro" category (which means merely that a RWA member has completed a novel-length manuscript and submitted it somewhere) and be struck dumb by the sheer silliness of the idea.

      The redoubtable Miss Snark takes on the concept today, and does her usual excellent job of dispensing with nonsense. (Though the comments by her devoted Snarklings do go a long way to making this idea seem less completely idiotic, to me at least.)

      The RWA will never take my advice -- and rightly so -- but I'd say the big problem is calling this membership level "Pro" when it's so clearly nothing of the kind. It is a necessary step in becoming a pro, but it's several miles away from actually being one (which would mean being published). Perhaps if they renamed it Wanna-Be First-Class or Gold Star for Trying or Plays Well With Others, the confusion and laughter aimed at people of this level (by outsiders looking for thing to make fun of, such as myself) would be reduced.

      Saturday, April 08, 2006

      Incoming Book: 8 April

      I didn't buy this on purpose, but the next Library of America book landed on my doorstep this afternoon. (And the box was quite soggy, too, with all the rain New Jersey had today; luckily the book was wrapped securely in plastic inside.)

      It is Philip Roth: Novels 1967-1972, containing When She Was Good, Portnoy's Complaint, Our Gang and The Breast. I'll probably be in the mood for some literary non-fantasy after I finish up my WFA duties, so I might get to it in the late fall. (Looks more closely.) Well, it appears that The Breast is a fantasy of some sort, so perhaps I just can't escape from The Weird.

      I'll also note that this book isn't even 700 pages long; Library of America books have definitely been getting shorter recently. (I'd wondered a bit about LoA volume length in my complaints about H.P. Lovecraft: Tales last fall, and this book is noticeably shorter than that one.) The next of Roth's novels -- the one that could have been included at the end -- is The Great American Novel from 1973. Great American is 400 pages in its original hardcover, but that would come down in the Library of America format (it looks a bit puffy to my eye, but a lot of mid-70s books do). Assuming it would still be about 300 pages, that would have made this book about 1000 pages total -- a big book, but not out of line for the Library of America of a few years ago.

      I do wish that they'd start making bigger books again, but I strongly suspect that it was a choice between doing shorter books or raising their standard prices, and the LoA chose the former. I won't say that is always a bad choice, but it tends to lead one down the path of shortening and cost-cutting, and it's hard to emerge at the end looking anything like one did at the beginning. (Ask American comics, which started out at 64 pages and a larger trim size, but cut away bit by bit over the years to maintain a ten-cent price point -- which then had to be abandoned in its turn.) This is still a swell book, but I'm uneasy at the direction the LoA is going, and I have to wonder about their financial stability.