Friday, June 30, 2006

Quote of the Week

"There's always an easy solution to every human problem -- neat, plausible and wrong."
-- H.L Mencken

Incoming Books: 30 June

This was my first big book-shopping trip in three months or so; I've been avoiding buying books while the WFA packages were coming in. But, since that reading project will be ending soon, it's time to start buying again!

I went to my favorite store, the Montclair Book Center, and this is what I found:
  • Dilbert: What Would Wally Do? by Scott Adams
  • La Perdida by Jessica Abel
    A comics story (or a "graphic novel," if you want to be snooty about it) that's gotten a lot of good reviews. I almost bought it yesterday at the comics store, and I gave in today.
  • The Closed Circle by Jonathan Coe
    This is the sequel to The Rotter's Club, which I still haven't read. I was vaguely thinking of reading them both together, so now I have no excuse...
  • Scotch and Toilet Water? by Leo Cullum
    Cartoons by a guy who's in the New Yorker a lot
  • Adverbs by Daniel Handler
    More-or-less the third novel by the guy who also writes "A Series of Unfortunate Events" as Lemony Snicket -- or, more importantly, the new book by the guy who wrote The Basic Eight, one of the best novels of the last decade. This has a good shot at being the first work of fiction I read for fun after all the WFA stuff is done.
  • The Treehorn Trilogy by Florence Parry Heide, illustrated by Edward Gorey
    Hey! Gorey books I didn't have!
  • The Greedy Bastard Diary by Eric Idle
    I don't automatically buy every book connected with Monty Python, really. But I like travel books (this is the diary of a tour of the USA), and I like humor books, so what the hell.
  • Quality Time by Edward Koren
    Koren is the New Yorker cartoonist who draws those really hairy creatures -- you know the ones. And I went to the comics/cartooning section of the store first and grabbed a bunch of things there (as you might have noticed).
  • Billy Hazelnuts by Tony Millionaire
    I love the way Millionaire draws, but his stories don't always do much for me. This book has gotten good reviews in the comics press, so I'll give it a try.
  • The New Yorker Book of Business Cartoons edited by Robert Mankoff
    I used to devour books like this, and justify it by putting up a "Cartoon of the Week" on my door at work. But last April my company moved into a building with wooden doors, which looks more chic, but makes it harder to put temporary things up than a metal door did. So the "Cartoon of the Week" has been off-line for about fifteen months now. Perhaps I need to figure out how to do it on a wooden door, since I'm buying so many books of cartoons...
  • Pearls Before Swine: Nighthogs by Stephan Pastis
    One of the SFBC's sister clubs, QPB, sold the first two "Pearls Before Swine" collections, so I got them free at the office. And that hooked me on the strip, so it annoyed me when QPB didn't continue, since I then had to dig the books up on my own. (Now I need to go back and find the third collection, since I see this is #4.)
  • It's a Bird... by Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen
    Since I do everything sideways, instead of actually seeing the big snazzy new Superman movie, I bought instead a small, literary Superman comic and will read it sometime later. (I also read Tom DeHaven's novel It's Superman! last week -- maybe that counts, too.)
  • A Heckuva Job by Calvin Trillin
    More poetry making fun of public figures, from the writer I used to wish was my father-in-law. (Remind me to explain that someday.)
  • 361 by Donald E. Westlake
    One of the few Westlake books I haven't read yet, in a gritty new edition from Hard Case Crime. (Big shot-out to Charles Ardai here.)
  • You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When It Monsoons by Mo Willems
    A cartoon diary of the year-long around-the-world trip Willems took right after graduating from college in 1990. (Coincidentally, the same time I graduated college, and immediately went to look for a badly-paying, only-mildly-unpleasant entry-level editorial job. The world is utterly unfair.)
Now I'm just going to put those over on the side, and go do what I should be doing already -- reading short fiction for World Fantasy.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Comic Shop Trip & Miscellaneous

Another round-up of reading material coming into the Hornswoggler abode. Please feel free to move on to a more interesting post; I'm sure someone on LiveJournal is earnestly discussing whether any man can be allowed to write a story with female characters .

I went to the comic shop today, and got for myself:
  • Solo #11 by Sergio Aragones
  • Dork Tower # 34 by John Kovalic
  • a free sampler, presumably by various people, called Virgin Comics #0
  • the new trade paperback Flaming Carrot Comics, Vol. 6 by Bob Burden
    By the way, what was Vol. 5? I have Vol. 1-4 from Dark Horse (Man of Mystery, The Wild Shall Wild Remain, Greatest Hits and Fortune Favors the Bold), but I've never seen or heard of a 5th volume.
  • She-Hulk, Vol. 3: Time Trials by Dan Slott and various artists (most of the time Juan Bobillo, whose work on She-Hulk I greatly approve of)
And I got some stuff for Thing 1 as well:
  • Kingdom Hearts Vol. 2
  • Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man, Vol. 3
  • Teen Titans Go! #32
  • Sonic the Hedgehog # 163
  • Sonic X #10
And, last, a couple of things came home with me from work this week:
  • The Art of Superman Returns by Daniel Wallace
  • The Goon: Nothin' But Misery and The Goon: My Murderous Childhood (and Other Grevious Yarns) by Eric Powell
Major WFA reading should be done in a couple of weeks (our first voting deadline is looming this summer), and then maybe I can actually jump into some of these things.

This Is Interesting... the apocryphal-Chinese-curse sense of "interesting."

I just got my first comment spam since I activated word verification, on this post. (Lord only know why that one; it's not one of my more-trafficked posts, as far as I can tell.)

So -- either there's software that can foil word verification, or, somewhere in the third world, there are spam farmers wasting their time posting comments to minor blogs like this one. Since my view of the human race is that it's generally pointless, unnecessarily tedious, and usually ironic, I'm hoping for the latter.

You can't see the spam now, because I deleted it. Yes, I know, but you have to delete spam as soon as you find it. Otherwise, it just encourages them.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Reading Into the Past: Week of 6/25

This week I rolled a 9, so let's see if I can remember anything about the books I read this week in 1997:
  • James Gurney, Dinotopia: The World Beneath (6/18)
    The second of two art books about a land of sapient dinosaurs. (There were later at least a couple of novels -- I think just two, both by Alan Dean Foster -- but the art books were first and most important.) Gurney provided both the art (lots and lots of wonderful full-color paintings, and probably some black-and-white stuff as well) and the text (a boy wanders around and goes "wow" at all sorts of interesting things, mostly). The art was the point of the thing, obviously, but the text wasn't embarrassing, as it can sometimes be when artists turn to fiction. (Not that it's my place to throw stones: I can't write fiction or paint.)
  • Walter M. Miller, Jr. & Terry Bisson, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman (6/21)
    A very, very disappointing book -- the long-awaited sequel to A Canticle for Leibowitz, which Miller left not-quite-finished at his death. It's slow-moving and faintly pointless, and it's very disheartening to think Miller might have spent thirty-five years, off and on, working on this bland and deeply mediocre novel.
  • Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon, Owlflight (6/21)
    Lackey was my #1 guilty pleasure through the '90s. (And she only isn't now because the series I really enjoyed, Valdemar and Bardic Voices, are either over or in deep storage.) This is a very minor book in the Valdemar series, and I'm afraid this is the one about an incredibly self-involved young man who suddenly has every possible good thing in his world drop on his head all at once. Valdemar can be like taking a bath in warm treacle at times, but it's a very pleasant, soothing bath, which leaves one re-invigorated to go read Proust or something similarly daunting.
  • J.R. Dunn, Days of Cain (6/22)
    I believe this is his Dutchess of Malfi-in space novel, not the time-travel-to-the-death-camp one -- both are great books, though so you should read it even if I'm wrong. (One brief Amazon break later.) Nope, this is the death-camp book; Full Tide of Night is Malfi-in-space. Full Tide is slightly better, but this is still well worth reading; one of the better time-travel novels of this generation. (And I say that as a guy who does not generally run towards death-camp stories.)
  • Antonia Fraser, Faith and Treason (6/25)
    I'm afraid I have no idea what this is -- though I think Fraser is a historian -- so I'll have to turn to Amazon again. Aha! The subtitle is "The Story of the Gunpowder Plot," and slight glimmers of memory are seeping back. It's the only book I've ever read on the Gunpowder Plot, so I can't compare it to the field, but it seemed like a good 'un, and I think I picked it up because it was supposed to be definitive. (I've also always had the American Anglophile's fascination with the odder English rituals, especially including Guy Fawkes Day.)
  • Harlan Ellison, Harlan Ellison's Movie (in Edgeworks 3) (6/25)
    This isn't his adaptation of I, Robot, which was a separate book. I think this is completely original, the story he came up with when some unsuspecting studio suit said "show me what you'd do if money and taste were no object." I remember that lots of bizarre things happen, but not much more than that.

Hey! It's only Tuesday! Well, that's one week when I managed to do this early.

Well, It's More Exciting Than Progress Quest...

Yet another bizarre little thingy; this one I saw at Elizabeth Bear's Live Journal (and you need a LJ name to do it, for some unspecified code-y reason).

I escaped from the Dungeon of Andrewwheeler!

I killed Nothing the floating eye.

I looted the Armour of Sarcasm, the Sceptre of Thingamabobs, the Sword of Things and 6 gold pieces.

Score: 31

Explore the Dungeon of Andrewwheeler and try to beat this score,
or enter your username to generate and explore your own dungeon...

Monday, June 26, 2006

PW Gives Props to Delany

The "picture of the week" in today's e-mailed PW Daily (which comes from Publishers Weekly, for those of you who aren't so far embedded in the USA publishing biz that "PW" could possibly mean nothing else) is of our own Samuel R. Delany, captured at a NYPL tribute to Octavia Butler.

He not only looks suitably patriarchal (as he has for some years now), but also appears to be conducting an invisible orchestra.

Possible Embarrassment, Pt. 3: The World Fantasy Awards

I wasn't reading other blogs much over the weekend, so I was surprised to find myself a major meme vector this morning. Well, if it's in the service of reading good books, then I'm happy with it. But I need to post this one to get back out ahead of the wave.

Part one was the Hugo Awards (where I went 36-for-53, or 68%); part two was the Nebulas (where I went 23-of-42, or 55%). Now I'll see how many of the World Fantasy Award-winning novels I've read in my checkered reading career:

  • 2005 Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
  • 2004 Walton, Jo: Tooth and Claw
    Yes -- how could I not, since I'm an Anthony Trollope fan? (And something of a Jo Walton fan, come to think of it.)
  • 2003 (tie) Joyce, Graham: The Facts of Life
    No -- though, reading his most recent book for WFA this year, I might want to go back.
  • 2003 (tie) McKillip, Patricia A.: Ombria in Shadow
    No -- though reading her 2005 books for WFA makes me interested.
  • 2002 Le Guin, Ursula K. : The Other Wind
  • 2001 (tie) Powers, Tim: Declare
    Oh, yes. A wonderful, wonderful book -- impressive even for Powers.
  • 2001 (tie) Stewart, Sean: Galveston
    Yes. Not one of my favorites of his, though.
  • 2000 Scott, Martin: Thraxas
    No. On the other hand, hardly anyone else has, either...
  • 1999 Erdrich, Louise: The Antelope Wife
  • 1998 Ford, Jeffrey : The Physiognomy
  • 1997 Pollack, Rachel: Godmother Night
    I read about the first third of it, and was very disappointed -- I'd loved her novels Unquenchable Fire and Temporary Agency for the way they had a very grounded, realistic, matter-of-fact contemporary world with magic added to it, but Godmother was far too woo-woo and "goddessy" for me to enjoy.
  • 1996 Priest, Christopher: The Prestige
    Not yet, but I do have a copy of it.
  • 1995 Morrow, James: Towing Jehovah
  • 1994 Shiner, Lewis : Glimpses
  • 1993 Powers, Tim : Last Call
    Of course.
  • 1992 McCammon, Robert R.: Boy's Life
  • 1991 (tie )Morrow, James: Only Begotten Daughter
    Of course.
  • 1991 (tie) Kushner, Ellen: Thomas the Rhymer
    Not yet. It's short, so I probably will get to it.
  • 1990 Vance, Jack: Lyonese: Madouc
  • 1989 Straub, Peter: Koko
  • 1988 Grimwood, Ken: Replay
    Strangely, no. I don't think I even have a copy of it, though it's a book I've intended to read for nearly twenty years now.
  • 1987 Suskind, Patrick: Perfume
  • 1986 Simmons, Dan: Song of Kali
  • 1985 (tie) Holdstock, Robert: Mythago Wood
  • 1985 (tie) Hughart, Barry: Bridge of Birds
  • 1984 Ford, John M.: Dragon Waiting
  • 1983 Shea, Michael: Nifft the Lean
  • 1982 Crowley, John: Little, Big
  • 1981 Wolfe, Gene: The Shadow of the Torturer
  • 1980 Lynn, Elizabeth A.: Watchtower
  • 1979 Moorcock, Michael: Gloriana
  • 1978 Leiber, Fritz: Our Lady of Darkness
  • 1977 Kotzwinkle, William: Dr. Rat
    No. However, I have read his The Fan Man and The Bear Went Over the Mountain, so I think I should get partial credit. Actually, I don't think I've ever even seen a copy of this book.
  • 1976 Matheson, Richard: Bid Time Return (Somewhere in Time)
  • 1975 McKillip, Patricia A.: Forgotten Beasts of Eld
    No. Though I hope to, someday.

So I've read 19 of 35 (plus part of Godmother Night): not bad at 55%. It's exactly the same as I did on the Nebulas, which is a mixed message: I'm not a member of SFWA (not being a writer) but I am a WFA judge this year...

Side note: It's interesting that a panel of five judges has produced so many ties. I'm not sure what that means; perhaps that WFA judges prefer to share the wealth, or that they get hopelessly deadlocked far too often.

This Is Your Planet

Stolen shamelessly from Locus Online's Blinks:

This site has a series of photographs showing the relative size of various planets and stars, starting with the one I've grabbed and stuck to my immediate left. It's very neat, and is more useful for my brain that all of the "this planet is 3/4th the size of that one, and if this other one were hollow, you could fill it with a billion billion gallons of chocolate syrup" astronomy-book talk.
I hope it will be similarly useful for you.

What He Said

Lou Anders (editorial head of the newish Pyr imprint at Prometheus Books) makes a plea for US readers to support authors and publishers by buying the US editions of the books they love.

Good luck, Lou -- I've been saying the same thing, off and on, on rec.arts.sf.written for about five years now, but it's not a message people want to hear. You'll probably get a lot of "smash the outdated territorial publishing system!" responses from people who don't realize that such smashing would lead to a lot more John Grisham and Paulo Coelho and a lot less serious SF.

Surveying Mount Gaiman

It now is the end of the month, so I'm posting another traffic-statistics graph, so I can see Mount Gaiman nicely centered in the picture. (See these posts for more details, if you have no idea what I'm talking about.)

It does look like there are more people viewing this site on a daily basis now than at the beginning of the month, so I think some of the folks introduced to Hornswoggler by Gaiman did not, as expected, flee immediately in terror.

This isn't a particularly clubby blog (LiveJournal seems more conversation-oriented than Blogger, anyway, with it's fancy-schmancy threaded comments), but, if anyone wants to say hello in the comments, I'd be glad to know who's here. (I suspect I don't get many comments because I write such long-winded posts: by the time someone gets to the end of one of them, he's already wasted as much time as he's willing to spend thinking about this blog.) I think you all already know who I am at this point...

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Reading Into the Past: Week of 6/18

I'm rolling high again this week: a 12, which means I head back to the books I was reading this week in 1992. I'll start slightly early, because I want to wonder at my reading on 6/10/92:
  • Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad (6/10)
    It's not as good as Roughing It, but it's an incredibly entertaining look at a bunch of 19th century yokels wandering around the old world. Anyone who likes Dave Barry's books should read this to see where it all started.
  • Philip Mann, Wulfsyarn (6/10)
    A SF novel that I remember liking, but not much else. I think this might be the one about the sole survivor of a space mission being questioned after the fact.
  • Hartmann, Sokolov, Miller & Myagkov, editors, In the Stream of Stars (6/10)
    Big book of space art by both US and Soviet artists -- probably intended to foster some greater understanding and so forth. Decent pictures of stars, but nothing more than that.
  • Jon Winokur, editor, The Portable Curmudgeon Redux (6/10)
    A short book of grumpy quotes -- not quite as good as the first one, but better than the later brand extensions.
  • Jorge Luis Borges, Seven Nights (6/11)
    I don't remember what this is exactly -- maybe lectures?
  • L.E. Modesitt, Jr., The Towers of the Sunset (6/13)
    This has the archest opening of any fantasy novel I can think of -- it begins with two unnamed people having a dialogue in an undescribed place, and, after a few pages, we learn that their titles are the Marshal and the Marshalle. I don't remember much more of it than that, but the opening has balls to spare.
  • Martin Amis, Money (6/14)
    My favorite Amis novel -- London Fields is a better book, and Time's Arrow is more audacious, but this is the most fun. A sharky up-and-comer tries to make a movie with someone else's money, and then...
  • Joseph Bulgatz, Ponzi Schemes, Invaders From Mars and More Extraordinary Popular Delusions (6/17)
    Intended, as I recall, as a sort of sequel to Charles Mackay's classic Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, which I'd read about a year before. I don't recall it half as well as the Mackay.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold, The Spirit Ring (6/17)
    Her first fantasy novel, set in a fantasized Renaissance Italy. That's about all that's stuck, twelve years later.
Finishing this off at about the time I'm usually typing up the list for the new week; I think I need to hurry myself up in future weeks. Let's see if that happens.

The Name Game

Everyone else is doing this meme, and it's actually about words, so I'm giving in:

1. What does your first name mean?

According to the first Google link, "Andrew" means "manly, valiant, courageous" in either Greek or French or both. And we all know Google never lies.

2. What does your middle name mean?

Colin: according to the same site, it means "youth, child, victor."

3. What does your last name mean?

Long, long ago, my ancestors made wheels somewhere in England. They were subcontractors to guys named "Wainwright," which is why the Wainwright folks are all rich toffs now, and we're middle-class stiffs in the US of A.

But there's probably a family named something like "Spoke" that are lower class, so it's not all bad.

Other interesting family names: Curtis, Salter (cue old family joke, inevitably brought up at dinner time, about "coming from a long line of Salters"), Stahlbrodt (which means "stole bread," and probably got hung on some ancestor on the way over).

4. So what does your name mean when put together?

Manly youth who makes wheels. Sort of a medieval-England Enzo Ferrari, I guess.

5. What would you have been named if you were the opposite gender?

Rebecca. Which is my wife's younger sister's name, oddly enough.

6. Any other name oddities?

My name is about as non-odd as humanly possible.

7. Do you like your name?

It's me, and it's been me for thirty-seven years. It's like asking "do you like your brain" -- it's a question I don't even think about.

I used to greatly dislike "Andy," but it's the only non-pretentious short form of Andrew, and it's what most people who know me actually call me, so I've come to accept it. But I did make sure to give both of my sons names that shorten to forms without a "-y" ending.

8. What do you like best about it?

That it makes me sound even WASPier than I actually am.

9. What do you like least about it?

There are one or two other people with the same name, which can lead to confusion.

10. If you had to change your name (witness protection program, whatever), what would you want it to be?

The Wife and I used to have silly fake-Scottish names for each other (which we made up on our honeymoon in Edinburgh). She was Moira MacTaggart, and I was Ewan MacGregor. Sadly, there's a actor chappie using that name now, so I don't think I could pick it up at this point.

We did also plan out names for the whole family if we had to go into the witness protection program, though. We would be the Green family. I would be Hunter Green, she would be Kelly Green and the boys would be Forest and Brunswick. (We had Heather ready for a daughter, but sadly she has never appeared.)

Movie Log: The Phantom Menace

The boys and I have been running through the Star Wars movies (in the correct order, of course), and we finished up the original trilogy a month or so ago. Yesterday my original plan was to take them into the city to go to the Central Park Zoo (a trip that's been delayed many many times already), but the weather put an end to that.

So when Thing 1 said he wanted to watch "Episode 1," I thought that was a pretty good plan, and so that's what we did. I hadn't seen it since 1999: then, it was at a pre-release screening for sub-licenses, so it was a very appreciative crowd. (And, can I mention that two of the three movies I've seen at screenings -- this and Batman and Robin -- were really lousy sequels? I just hope it's not me...)

This time, it was just me and the boys, so the boredom set in earlier. I don't think I need to detail the plot and the history; by this time, anyone hooked up to the Internet who can read English knows the deal. So I'll cut to the chase: this is a long, slow, boring movie with a few good sequences in it. It's a massive monument to missed opportunities. The dialogue is lousy at best. Jake Lloyd, as The Boy Who Would Be Darth, isn't given anything interesting to do, and does it as if he's in a mid-60s Disney movie. Everyone says "Yippie!" way too much.

On the other hand, Ewan MacGregor does a kick-ass Alec Guiness impression. Liam Neeson does his damndest not to sound like an idiot while talking about midi-chlorians, or to look like an idiot dressed up like Johnny Gaijin, Hobo Samurai. All of the other Jedi, though, are utter cardboard -- and, yes, I'm afraid that includes Samuel Jackson, who shows no appreciable acting talent in this movie.

Someone could have made a gripping movie about a government slipping into dictatorship under the stress of size and corruption -- or about a nasty trade dispute/proxy war -- or about the youth of the greatest traitor and mass murderer of his age. But George Lucas apparently wasn't the guy to do it. Again, it's a couple of pretty pictures embedded in over two hours of tedium, but it should have been so much more. Even a pleasant zippy space opera would have been a vast improvement.

(As I type this, the boys are watching their own "Good Parts" version a few feet away -- mostly the pod race and the big end fight.)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Possible Embarrassment, Pt. 2: The Nebulas

No one pointed and laughed the first time, so here comes round two: the Nebulas. I intend to do this at least one more time, for the World Fantasy Awards, and I might continue on to do the more specialized -- or maybe I mean "minor" -- awards as well. That all depends, of course, on how few of the WFA winners I've managed to read so far.

In case you missed the Hugo Edition, below is a list of winning novels (in this case of the Nebula Award), which I've annotated to see how many of them I've read (and, occasionally, about other things as well). I did the first one because Scott Lynch had just bragged about finishing reading all of the Hugo-winners, so blame him.

Anyway, these are your Nebula Award-winning novels:
  • 2005 Camouflage by Joe Haldeman
    No; Ellen Asher and I seem to be unofficially alternating reading Joe's books for the SFBC, and this one was her turn. Maybe someday.
  • 2004 Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • 2003 The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon
  • 2002 American Gods by Neil Gaiman
  • 2001 The Quantum Rose by Catherine Asaro
  • 2000 Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear
  • 1999 Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler
  • 1998 Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman
    Yes. (It was my turn that year.)
  • 1997 The Moon and the Sun by Vonda McIntyre
  • 1996 Slow River by Nicola Griffith
    Yes. This is the best science fiction novel about sewage treatment I've ever read. Hell, it's the best novel of any genre about sewage treatment, I bet. And Griffith is now yet another writer who's left SF for The Dark Side (mysteries), like John D. MacDonald and Donald Westlake.
  • 1995 The Terminal Experiment by Robert J. Sawyer
    No. Sawyer's another writer whom I only seem to manage to read every other book of his, though I usually enjoy the ones I do hit.
  • 1994 Moving Mars by Greg Bear
  • 1993 Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • 1992 Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
  • 1991 Stations of the Tide by Michael Swanwick
  • 1990 Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • 1989 The Healer's War by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
  • 1988 Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • 1987 The Falling Woman by Pat Murphy
    No, but I have a copy, and I've been meaning to read it for about ten years now.
  • 1986 Speaker For the Dead by Orson Scott Card
  • 1985 Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
    No (see comments on Hugo list)
  • 1984 Neuromancer by William Gibson
  • 1983 Startide Rising by David Brin
  • 1982 No Enemy But Time by Michael Bishop
  • 1981 The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe
  • 1980 Timescape by Gregory Benford
  • 1979 The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke
  • 1978 Dreamsnake by Vonda McIntyre
  • 1977 Gateway by Frederik Pohl
  • 1976 Man Plus by Frederik Pohl
    Yes. In fact, I read it nearly half a dozen times in the early '80s, because I kept picking it up in my library after having forgotten I'd read it before. I'm not sure if that's exactly a recommendation, but I did like it every time.
  • 1975 The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
  • 1974 The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
    No. I know I should, but it's just not a book I have any great interest in reading.
  • 1973 Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke
  • 1972 The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov
    No; though I did try once and probably will try again, one day.
  • 1971 A Time of Changes by Robert Silverberg
    I don't think so, but I've read a lot of Silverbob novels, and I sometimes forget which one is which.
  • 1970 Ringworld by Larry Niven
    No. Oddly, I have read the last two "Ringworld" novels, but not the first one.
  • 1969 The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • 1968 Rite of Passage by Alexei Panshin
    Yes. One of the short list of "Great Heinlein juveniles not written by Heinlein" (along with John Barnes' Orbital Resonance, Steven Gould's Jumper, and a few others).
  • 1967 The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R. Delany
    Yes. I can't claim to have completely understood it, but I did read every word.
  • 1966 (tie) Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany
  • 1966 (tie) Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
  • 1965 Dune by Frank Herbert
I've read 23 of 42: just a little more than half. Oddly, I've read all of the winners from even-numbered years for the past two decades, but mostly not the books from odd-numbered years. I have no explanation for this, but it's a fun pattern. To hit every even-numbered year, I'd have to read Babel-17, Ringworld, The Gods Themselves, The Dispossessed, Timescape, No Enemy But Time and Speaker for the Dead. If Dispossessed wasn't in there, I'd probably do it...

Friday, June 23, 2006

I Don't Know What It Does But I Must Have It

I don't watch that much TV, so I generally miss the commercials that all of the cool kids are talking about. (Which leaves me more brain cells to work on new and better lists of books.)

But I do watch The Weather Channel before heading out the door every morning, and the same ad -- the same mesmerizing ad -- has been on every day for the last two weeks or so. It's for Head On, and someone has now put the commercial online, so we can all watch it all of the time.

No one seems to know what this glue-stick-looking product actually does, or why anyone would want it. But it's out there, and it does something -- but only if you apply it directly to your forehead. Is it a wrinkle remover? Or perhaps suntan lotion? It's a mystery.

Chant after me:
Head On. Apply directly to forehead.
Head On. Apply directly to forehead.

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

Buried in this post in Sean Wallace's LiveJournal is a revelation of nearly Lovecraftian horror:

The Eye of Argon is going to be published!

Damn! And I'd managed not to lose any SAN points for three years straight...

Quote of the Week

"One should forgive one's enemies, but not before they are hanged."
--Heinrich Heine

Possible Embarrassment, Pt. 1: The Hugos

Scott Lynch just mentioned "pwning" the Hugos on his blog, and linked to someone else's quest to read all of the books that won the major awards in the field.

Since if all of my friends were jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, I would do it, I decided to see how many of the books that won said awards that I've already read. Since I can't do a list without comments, I'm sure I'll comment.

First up: the Hugo Awards.
  • 2005 Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  • 2004 Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • 2003 Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer
  • 2002 American Gods by Neil Gaiman
  • 2001 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
  • 2000 A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge
    My first miss. Maybe someday.
  • 1999 To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
  • 1998 Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman
  • 1997 Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • 1996 The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
  • 1995 Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • 1994 Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • 1993 (tie) A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
    The book people are most surprised to find I haven't read, so there's a part of me that doesn't want to read it and break that streak.
  • 1993 (tie) Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
  • 1992 Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • 1991 The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • 1990 Hyperion by Dan Simmons
  • 1989 Cyteen by C. J. Cherryh
    Almost read it last year, when planning the '80s series of the SFBC 50th Anniversary Collection, but it was too big and too daunting, so I didn't. Maybe someday.
  • 1988 The Uplift War by David Brin
  • 1987 Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
    No point in getting to it before the book immediately below....
  • 1986 Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
    I know I need to read this, but I think I would have been a far more receptive audience at the time (when I was 17).
  • 1985 Neuromancer by William Gibson
  • 1984 Startide Rising by David Brin
  • 1983 Foundation's Edge by Isaac Asimov
    I honestly can't remember, so let's say I didn't read it.
  • 1982 Downbelow Station by C. J. Cherryh
    Missed it. I haven't read much Cherryh, and what I have read is all 1991 and later.
  • 1981 The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge
  • 1980 The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke
    Missed it.
  • 1979 Dreamsnake by Vonda McIntyre
  • 1978 Gateway by Frederik Pohl
  • 1977 Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm
    I have a copy, and I keep meaning to read it, but I haven't gotten to it yet.
  • 1976 The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
  • 1975 The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
    I love the Earthsea books, but Science Fictional Ursula (what I've read of her) always struck me as being like a visit to your ex-Wobbly grandmother: an afternoon of tedium and oh-so-sensible stories about how everyone should behave.
  • 1974 Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke
  • 1973 The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov
    Tried to start it once, about a decade ago, and got bogged down.
  • 1972 To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip Jose Farmer
  • 1971 Ringworld by Larry Niven
  • 1970 The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
    Missed it; see above. (Though this is short, and I keep thinking I will read it one day.)
  • 1969 Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner
    Read big chunks of it, but not actually cover-to-cover.
  • 1968 Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny
  • 1967 The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
  • 1966 (tie) Dune by Frank Herbert
  • 1966 (tie) ...And Call Me Conrad (aka: This Immortal) by Roger Zelazny
  • 1965 The Wanderer by Fritz Leiber
    Haven't wanted to read it: Leiber is one of my favorite authors, and this is generally considered his worst book. So as long as I don't read it, there's still one book of his left.
  • 1964 Here Gather the Stars (aka: Way Station) by Clifford D. Simak
    Pretty sure I never read it.
  • 1963 The Man in the High Castleby Philip K. Dick
  • 1962 Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
  • 1961 A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
  • 1960 Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein
  • 1959 A Case of Conscience by James Blish
  • 1958 The Big Time by Fritz Leiber
  • 1956 Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein
  • 1955 They'd Rather Be Right by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley
    The one book on the list I'm happy not to have read.
  • 1953 The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester
Of the 53 winners, I've read 37 of them (plus however you count Stand on Zanzibar). Not a bad count, but I've got some to catch up on. However, I am 15-for-17 since 1990, which is something to be proud of.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Readers Speak! Great Novels of the '90s Tabulated

You don't know about me without you have read a blog post by the name of What Are the Great SF Novels of the 1990s?; but that ain't no matter.

{clears throat}

Yes, well, anyway, the voting seems to have ended (I didn't set a deadline), so now it's time to see what the top-ranking books of the last decade were (at least among the people who bothered to vote in my little poll).

I asked this same question two places -- here on my blog and on Usenet at rec.arts.sf.written -- and the responses from the two groups were similar but not identical. So I'll list the differing preferences of each group, since -- as has already been established many times -- I love lists.

But first, the data:

  • on RASFW, 19 people voted for 74 books (and 51 alternates), casting 125 votes (and 55 alternate votes)
  • here at Antick Musings, 26 people voted for 79 books (and 13 alternates), casting 126 votes (and 14 alternate votes)
So the two groups are roughly comparable in vote totals, though that's partially offset by Joe Bernstein of RASFW, who listed 39 titles.

An "alternate" is either a vote for a second book by an already-listed author, a vote specifically designated as "alternate," or just one thrown in at the end of a message that already had a main list.

Some people voted for only one book, some for eight or ten, and some for more. I counted them all as votes, subject only to counting some votes as alternates under the rules above.

And here are the lists:

Top 10 (RASFW):

  1. Vernor Vinge, A Fire Upon the Deep (7 votes)
  2. Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash (6 votes)
  3. Iain M. Banks, Use of Weapons (5 votes)
  4. Raphael Carter, The Fortunate Fall (4 votes)
  5. Greg Egan, Axiomatic (4 votes)
  6. George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones (4 votes)
  7. Michael Swanwick, The Iron Dragon's Daughter (4 votes)
  8. Walter Jon Williams, Aristoi (4 votes)

five titles tied for 9th place with 3 votes: The Phoenix Guards by Steven Brust, Last Call by Tim Powers, The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, Metropolitan by Walter Jon Williams and A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny.

Top 10 (Antick Musings):

  1. Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash (10 votes)
  2. Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere (5 votes)
  3. Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars (5 votes)
  4. Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow (5 votes)
  5. Iain M. Banks, Use of Weapons (4 votes)

eight titles tied for 6th place with 3 votes: Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold, The Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler, Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman, A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, The Prestige by Christopher Priest, Hyperion by Dan Simmons, A Fire Upon the Deep by VernorVinger and Doomsday Book by Connie Willis.

Top 10 (combined):

  1. Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash (16 votes)
  2. Vernor Vinge, A Fire Upon the Deep (10 votes)
  3. Iain M. Banks, Use of Weapons (9 votes)
  4. Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow (8 votes)
  5. George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones (7 votes)
  6. Michael Swanwick, The Iron Dragon's Daughter (6 votes)
  7. Lois McMaster Bujold, Mirror Dance (5 votes)
  8. Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere (5 votes)
  9. Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars (5 votes)
  10. Dan Simmons, Hyperion (5 votes)
  11. Connie Willis, Doomsday Book (5 votes)

The totals change somewhat if you count alternate votes, so of course I had to work those out as well.

Top 10 (RASFW, including alternates):

  1. Vernor Vinge, A Fire Upon the Deep (7 votes)
  2. Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash (6 votes)
  3. Iain M. Banks , Use of Weapons (5 votes)
  4. George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones (5 votes)
  5. Dan Simmons , Hyperion (5 votes)
  6. Raphael Carter, The Fortunate Fall (4 votes)
  7. Greg Egan , Axiomatic (4 votes)
  8. Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow (4 votes)
  9. Michael Swanwick , The Iron Dragon's Daughter (4 votes)
  10. Walter Jon Williams, Aristoi (4 votes)
  11. Walter Jon Williams, Metropolitan (4 votes)

Top 10 (Antick Musings, including alternates):

  1. Neal Stephenson , Snow Crash (10 votes)
  2. Neil Gaiman , Neverwhere (5 votes)
  3. Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars (5 votes)
  4. Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow (5 votes)
  5. Iain M. Banks , Use of Weapons (4 votes)
  6. Neil Gaiman, Smoke and Mirrors (4 votes)

seven titles tied for 7th place with 3 votes: Mirror Dance, The Parable of the Sower, A Game of Thrones, The Prestige, Hyperion, A Fire Upon the Deep and Doomsday Book.

Top 10 (combined, including alternates):

  1. Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash (16 votes)
  2. Vernor Vinge, A Fire Upon the Deep (10 votes)
  3. Iain M. Banks, Use of Weapons (9 votes)
  4. Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow (9 votes)
  5. George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones 8 votes)
  6. Dan Simmons, Hyperion (8 votes)
  7. Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars (6 votes)
  8. Michael Swanwick, The Iron Dragon's Daughter (6 votes)
  9. Connie Willis, Doomsday Book (6 votes)
  10. Lois McMaster Bujold, Mirror Dance (5 votes)
  11. Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere (5 votes)
  12. Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age (5 votes)
  13. Vernor Vinge, A Deepness in the Sky (5 votes)

From RASFW, thirty books got at least two votes. From the comments here, twenty-two did (mostly the same titles). I might list those later, but, for now, I'm officially exhausted.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Incoming Books: 20 June

Some books from work wandered home with me today, and I might even get a chance to read them in a month or three:
  • What Would the Founders Do? by Richard Brookhiser
  • Two-Handed Engine by Henry Kuttner & C.L. Moore
  • Piece of My Heart by Peter Robinson
But right now I need to finish Tom De Haven's It's Superman!, which, luckily, I am enjoying immensely.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Movie Log: Cars

The entire Hornswoggler clan interrupted our Father's Day activities (morning: I pretend to still be sleeping until The Wife runs out to get Krispy Kreme donuts and leads the boys in to "surprise" me; afternoon: off to her father's for dinner) yesterday to go see Cars, the new Pixar movie.

Unfortunately, my fears about this movie were justified -- it was very pretty, and generally entertaining, but it falls quite clearly short of the mark set by previous Pixar movies. (In fact, I think A Bug's Life will no longer be the worst of them; Cars is more generic and a bit duller than Bug's Life was.) Of course, "not all that good for Pixar" is not a horrible curse; Cars is still a noticeably better movie than Over the Hedge, for example. But it's not all that much better than Over the Hedge (or Ice Age 2, for that matter) and those movies have a lot of unfortunate similarities:

  • a large cast of broad, "wacky" characters, seemingly designed for merchandising
  • teaches an obvious moral lesson any simpleton can see coming in reel one (and the same lesson in all cases)
  • features intrusive sentimental songs to underscore "heartwarming" montages

On top of all that, Cars actually features many, many more wink-wink grin-grin in-jokes than Hedge does -- some of them I caught as jokes, some of them I noticed whizzing by (even though I didn't know what would have made them funny) and, I'm sure, some of them missed me entirely. This is unfortunate, since one of the things that Pixar had done best in the past is creating an entire, separate, self-contained universe for their movies to take place in. References to our world -- particularly just to get a quick laugh -- break the verisimilitude of the fictional world, and make it that much harder for a movie to continue on its own terms. Quite simply, every in-joke reminds the audience that it is watching a movie. The big emotional moment at the end, for example, depends heavily on the audience recognizing that "the King" is voiced by Richard Petty, and so investing that underdrawn and not-very-interesting movie character with his real-life gravitas and history. And there are similar moments all through the movie -- like Star Wars Episode III, this is a movie that borrows emotional capital created elsewhere and spends that to generate its effects. Other examples: Jeremy Piven is the voice of the shark-like agent, Bob Costas and Darrell Waltrip voice the announcers, and a couple of parts are voiced by what seem to be non-actors from the real racing world (Sheriff and Tex). It's all much too much.

Unlike most Pixar movies, the plot is very easily synopsizable: self-centered hotshot race car Lightning McQueen (I still hate that name) accidentally ends up in (and half-ruining) a rinky-dink town, and finds love and friendship as he fixes what he broke. Everyone learns a lesson: that traveling at 45 miles an hour over a twisty road is morally superior to driving 65 on a straight, level road. And, of course, We All Need Friends.

The dialogue is excellent as always, though I couldn't understand some of it (probably due to dialect issues). And a lot of it just stands alone; many of the characters are just there to be "the hippy car" or "the low-rider," so they tell jokes based on those stereotypes, but fail to change, grow, or be real people. Unlike most Pixar movies, no minor characters have arcs here: it's all about Lightning, and he's really not likeable at all until about halfway through the movie. The other characters are just there to bounce off of him. Also, there are two different #2 male characters -- Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) and Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) -- which gives the movie an uneasy structure. I also couldn't believe that Lightning would become that friendly with Mater that quickly -- Mater is, frankly, a buffoon. He may be a buffoon with hidden depths, but I really doubt a self-centered jerk like Lightning would even notice those depths (or care) in the course of a week. They become "best friends" because the script -- and the Hollywood stereotype -- says that they should, not because it really makes sense.

The film is visually stunning though; if I had a chance to see it in IMAX (especially 3-D IMAX), I'd definitely go again. The colors are vibrant and clear, all of the models have just enough give in them to be believable as both real cars and living things, and the sets and backgrounds are just stunning. All those things, which Pixar traditionally does well, are state-of-the-art here. But the other things that Pixar traditionally does well -- those story elements that are much more important -- are not handled as smoothly, and don't seem to have been as important in the development of the movie.

All in all, it was a disappointment, though. It really is "Doc Hollywood with cars," and no amount of fancy lighting effects or mush-mouth Owen Wilson lines can obscure that. We all know the plot going into the movie, and we always know what's going to happen next. (Which was not the case with the better Pixar movies.) And I really didn't get a real sense of camaraderie from the cars, the way I did from the Andy's Room Toys or the Tank Gang.

I wonder if John Lasseter being the director of Cars had anything to do with its flaws. Yes, he did direct the two Toy Story movies (and Bug's Life, let's not forget), but Pixar has grown since then, and he's had a lot of responsibility added to his shoulders. Is there anyone in the creative end of Pixar who could have told him, "you've got some heart here, but you don't really have the story yet"? Because, from the previous Pixar behind-the-scenes DVD documentaries, it looks like it was always Lasseter who poked those holes in everyone else's plots and storyboards -- so there may not have been anyone to do the same for him when he needed it. (And, sad to say, he really did need it.)

I also note that, according to IMDB, ten people get screenplay or story credit for this movie, so there may be a "too many cooks" effect.

However, hope springs eternal, because the trailer for Ratatouille (next year's Pixar movie) was wonderful -- and it was wonderful in all the ways that the Monsters, Inc. and Incredibles trailers were wonderful, and the Cars trailer wasn't. (The Cars trailer basically said: Wow! Look at how cool these cars look! Check out this new world we've created! Don't you love this stuff! Whereas the other trailers gave you a slice of life from those new worlds -- I've always particularly loved the Monsters, Inc. teaser, with Mike and Sully bantering after they fall into an empty kid's room.) Ratatouille does suffer a bit from tell-me-the-story syndrome (there's this rat, you see, who lives in Paris, and he'd rather eat good stuff than garbage, but also would rather not get killed), but the trailer focuses on the characters and their interactions with each other, which is always what has made Pixar movies great. So I do have something to look forward to, but I just wish Cars had been more of a movie and less of an ad for NASCAR on the one hand and John Lasseter's romanticized youth on the other.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Reading Into the Past: Week of 6/11

I rolled a 7 this week, so let's look at the books I read this week back in 1999, shall we?
  • J.G. Ballard, High-Rise (6/4)
    I'm not sure why it took me so long to get to this one -- I read Crash around about 1991-92 and Concrete Island a year or so later, and I do like this phase off Ballard's career. It's another group of neurotic people under more stress than they can handle. Ballard's one of those writers you either love or hate -- personally, I love his stuff.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold, A Civil Campaign (bound galleys, 6/6)
    One of the last (so far) "Miles Vorkosigan" novels, and one of the fans' favorites. It's probably not the best introduction to the world, but it's a fun, mostly light-hearted novel that's well worth reading.
  • James Cahill, ed., Lamps on the Brow (bound galleys, 6/7)
    I have no memory at all of this; the Locus Index says that it's an expensive leatherbound slipcased book with mostly new stories. I bet I actually read a bound galley or something like that, but I still don't remember it.
  • Max Alan Collins & Drake Elvgren, Elvgren: His Life and Art (6/8)
    A big nice book of gorgeous old pin-up art.
  • John Varley, Blue Champagne (6/9)
    It took me a while to track this one down; this seems to be the hardest of Varley short-story collections to find. But it's worth it; his short fiction is some of the best in the business.
  • Bill Bryson, I'm a Stranger Here Myself (6/10)
    I thought this was one of his travel books, and it is, sort of: this is the book about settling into a small American town with his British wife (and two kids, if I remember right, raised entirely in the UK) after living abroad for twenty years. Bryson is not the deepest writer in the world, but he's good at wandering around and talking to people, and usually asks the right questions. And he's immensely funny, which is even better.
  • John de Lancie and Peter David, Star Trek: I, Q (typescript, 6/12)
    Now, I did read this in typescript. So it's quite possible that it was edited after I saw it. In fact, I deeply hope so. Because the version I read was the most self-indulgent, pointless, ridiculous supposedly-SF novel I've ever read. Peter David is not usually the hardest SF writer to begin with, but this degenerates very quickly into wheezy sophomoric philosophizing which I will blame on de Lancie (on the grounds that even the most very self-indulgent and shallow writer is Einstein compared to the most thoughtful actor, and on the grounds that it's de Lancie's character doing the pontificating). I would not recommend this book to anyone, unless that person had read every other Star Trek book written and was going through physical withdrawl.
Not a very busy week, for once.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Movie Log: Kiki's Delivery Service

Today was Young Witches Day at La Casa de Wheeler: Boys' Movie Saturday featured Kiki's Delivery Service (part of our leisurely stroll through the movies of Hayao Miyazaki), and I also read Terry Pratchett's upcoming Discworld novel Wintersmith (which features Tiffany Aching).

I won't talk much about Wintersmith (it's a new Pratchett novel; it's good -- take that as written), but I was impressed again at how even his "good guys" (the characters he clearly likes the most, has invested a lot of time and thought into, and possibly reflect some of his ideas and world-view) like Sam Vimes and, in this book, Granny Weatherwax, aren't necessarily nice people. So many popular writers -- who I will resolutely refuse to name -- turn their favorite characters into avatars of wonderful specialness, refusing to let them do anything bad or have anything bad happen to them, that it's very refreshing to realize that no one in his right mind would ever want to meet Granny Weatherwax unless some horrible Story-based death was coming up fast on the inside. Tiffany is a bit nicer, but she's still not the generic Magical Girl that she would have inevitably turned into in a lesser writer's hands. Great work all 'round.

Kiki's Delivery Service (from 1989) is part of what I'm now thinking of as Miyazaki's "Mediterranean Period" (with Porco Rosso, his 1992 movie), though some of the architecture looks more Northern European. That's mostly from the look of the scenery and some of the buildings; the setting is kept vague -- we don't know where the story takes place or even when. It looks vaguely like the 1930s, with big cars and giant blimps. A young witch sets out to find her place in the world at age thirteen, moves into a strange city for her requisite "year of training" (though it's clear that nobody is actually going to train her; the point is to find out herself who she is and what she can do), and has some generally mild adventures. It's not a heavily plotted movie -- something it apparently has in common with Miyazki's immediately preceding movie, My Neighbor Totoro -- but it moves along just fine on character interactions and visual imagery. (It will be nice when the US animation industry is large and mature enough to create a movie like this.) Perhaps the highest praise I can give it is by saying it's a thinly-plotted movie centered on a girl, her cat, and the boy she's not sure if she likes, and my two sons (ages eight and five and notoriously squirmy) enjoyed it from beginning to end, and stayed on the couch almost the entire time. Miyazaki just makes movies that are a joy to watch and experience; I wish he had a dozen more that I hadn't seen yet. At this point, I'm left with Princess Mononoke, Totoro and Howl's Moving Castle -- though, from IMDB, it looks like there are various short films and miscellaneous early middle-of-series things that I might need to eventually track down.

Friday, June 16, 2006

A Kindler, Gentler Hornswoggler

I spent some time this afternoon working on a long, supposedly-humorous post about editors' lies, but I think that's going to sit for a while. Looking back, I've been awfully sarcastic and nasty this last week or so, and it's time to dial that back a bit. (I don't want to turn into a caricature of myself.)

Since I've been doing the other blog for the SFBC (which is getting all of the short, newsy posts), this one has become the home, mostly, for my odd thoughts and musings about the skiffy world -- which, more often than not, are cynical, depressive, or both. Luckily, I'll be able to start talking about the books I'm reading again in about a month, which should keep this from being all-picking-on-short-fiction-writers, all-the-time.

Even before that, I am going to try to control the number of look-at-those-idiots postings here, and even strive to be positive some of the time. Feel free to call me on this if it doesn't happen.

In Which I Am Dim-Witted As Usual

So Charles Coleman Finlay is calling for a hundred women to submit stories to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction on August 18th, to redress a perceived gender imbalance there. And, yes, people have already pointed out that it is a bit odd for a man who's regularly published in F&SF to be spearheading the protest about the fact that a class of people to whom he doesn't belong does not get published there all that much. (It's surprising to some people, but I went to Vassar, so I'm well acquainted with male-feminist Stockholm Syndrome.)

This is all a follow-up to the SFWA survey of short fiction in 2002, which found that the percentage of stories by women in the major magazines is, and has consistently been, less than would be expected from the percentage of women in fandom, the percentage of women in SFWA, and the percentages of major awards going to women. My preferred explanation -- that women are mostly too smart to write very much for the peanuts that the big skiffy magazines pay these days -- is pretty flippant, but may be partially true. (Women do not seem to have any trouble as a class getting novels published, for example.)

Unless I missed something, there's no obvious reason for this activism to focus on F&SF. But I'm exceptionally cynical, so I'll try to reconstruct the thinking of the Feminist SF Overmind:
Hm. Analog is the worst offender against women, and has the highest circulation, but Analog only publishes stories that True Feminists don't want to write or read anyway. So there's no point attacking them.

Asimov's has a somewhat better ratio, but it's still not what we want. Oops! Now it's edited by a woman. Can't pick on a woman.

F&SF is the third biggest magazine, has a lower percentage of stories by women than Asimov's, and it's edited entirely by men. They must be sexist!
(Any similarly to any human being's thought processes is highly unlikely.)

That's more-or-less a joke, but the laser-like focus on F&SF in the current iteration of this debate (at Finlay's LiveJournal, and spilling out other places) is quite noticeable, and strange. I would expect a flurry of market reports and comparisons, to see which SFF outlets are the most women-friendly (and -hostile), and perhaps plans to create or support 'zines edited by women. But, instead, the debate seems to be entirely about the personal tastes and idiosyncrasies of Gordon Van Gelder and John Joseph Adams. The debate itself is vaguely interesting to me (in a watching-other-people-fight kind of way), but I generally find that wanna-be writers take themselves about 300% too seriously.

I do wonder, in my usual contrary fashion, what effect the flooders expect to have. Let's work out the possible scenarios, shall we?

Are GVG and JJA more likely to:
  1. Say, "Gosh! We have a giant pile of stories by women! We previously thought all of this stuff had girl cooties, but now we love it! We'll buy all of these stories, and fill up the next seven issues of the magazine with only girls!!!"
  2. Read a lot of very similar stories and reject them that much faster, just to work the pile down.
  3. Feel guilty about the whole issue, and desperately search for a few stories that they think are mostly OK, and buy those -- half to encourage women to keep contributing and half to get the Secret Feminist Cabal to go bother Stan Schmidt for a while.
Or, in typical Mars vs. Venus fashion, am I looking for a man-explanation, when the woman-explanation is that this will make all of the submitters feel better about themselves, and that's all that matters? I'm confused.

Quote of the Week

"I have an intense desire to return to the womb. Anybody's."
--Woody Allen

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Justine Larbalestier Toys With Our Affections

Yesterday, Justine Larbalestier announced that the single greatest title of all time -- Magic! Magic! Magic! Oi! Oi! Oi! -- would not actually be appearing on her upcoming book. Instead something called Magic’s Child would finish up her debut YA trilogy. And my heart was broken.

Today, she says that Magic! Magic! Magic! Oi! Oi! Oi! was never going to be the real title, and that it’s been her working title before. But, more importantly, she opens the door to an actual Magic! Magic! Magic! Oi! Oi! Oi! appearing one of these days. And, if we're all really good, it might even have the mangosteen cricket fairy in it, too. (So now I'll just sit here and wait.)

Literary Heirs Cause Trouble Week

Since no one else has linked these two stories (as far as I've seen), I guess it's my duty.

Compare and contrast:
Besides the fact that Joyce is a jerk, and Smyle and Steinbeck aren't (or, at least, they haven't been reported to be), is there any real reason why one of these stories is being played as good for literature and the other as bad? (I really want to know, because my instinct is exactly the same way.)

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Incoming Books This Week

I actually got two WFA packages yesterday, nearly two weeks after the deadline. One was a new book from Del Rey (who seems to have just put me on the regular publicity list, so I guess it's not really WFA-related at this point), and the other was a 2005 collection from some other publisher. I may actually read the latter. (The former, I already have read. But having my own copy is very nice.)

And a few other things added themselves to my groaning to-be-read stacks:
  • Rocket Science by Jay Lake (it was a birthday present)
  • Visionary in Residence by Bruce Sterling (found it on the discard shelves at work)
  • Non Sequitur's Sunday Color Treasury by Wiley Miller (also from the discard shelves)
Just a few weeks more, and we'll be voting for WFA nominees...and then I can quickly read some things so I can vote for the Hugos!

Movie Log: Ghostbusters, Fast Times at Ridgemont High

World Fantasy is stealing nearly all of my "free" time these days, so I don't have the opportunity to give my whole attention to a movie. Instead, I've been watching comedies that I haven't seen in ages while I fold laundry, check blog updates, and other minor things that only need half a brain. These were the ones I saw last week, on Wednesday and Friday.

I'd thought vaguely about getting Ghostbusters to watch with the boys, but thought I should see it myself again first, and that was a good thing. It's rated PG, but that's an early-80s PG, which bears little resemblance to the rating today. There's more sex and innuendo than you could probably get away with in a PG-13 movie these days, and a little bit of cursing, too. So I'm not going to be watching it with them any time soon. I had half-forgotten how quotable this movie is, as well -- not just the famous lines about crossing the streams, sleeping above the covers, or telling someone you're a god, but nearly all of Bill Murray's lines and a lot of the rest of the script. It's just one of the great loose, shaggy comedies, and everyone in it is perfectly cast and plays their parts just right.

Fast Times is another movie with piles of people perfectly cast, though it has much less plot than Ghostbusters. It's a massively nostalgic movie for me, since it came out just before I went into high school myself, and so defined a lot of my expectations and ideals for that part of my life (though, of course, no one's life is ever much like the movie-fed preconceptions). Again, it's a movie I can't see anyone making now -- it's about loose sex, abortions, drugs and masturbation, and there's hardly an "adult" in it, let alone a role model. But I'm glad I grew up at a time when it could still be made.

Dr. Arthur Hoyte, You Are Cordially Invited To Piss Off

I used to like the Center for Science in the Public Interest, since they seemed to be reasonable people who believed in the scientific method and reasonableness and all that jazz. But they're out of my will now.

Along with a Dr. Arthur Hoyte, who as a retired doctor apparently now has far too much time on his hands, they are suing KFC (the former Kentucky Fried Chicken) for frying their birds in partially hydrogenated oil. Their claim seems to be that, since healthier methods of cooking are available, then using less healthy methods should be forbidden. Dr. Hoyte and the CSPI are seeking class-action status and are "asking for a variety of economic damages."

Of course, there are much healthier kinds of food than fried chicken, so presumably this would be only the first step. If this suit succeeds, it would only be a matter of time before someone (there's always a someone willing to sue, in the US) sues McDonalds for serving beef, since there are healthier foods than beef. I shudder to think of the suit against Krispy Kreme. And there could be no end to those suits, until a judge either requires us all to eat only pureed tofu, or a much smarter judge throws the whole thing out of court with contempt.

CSPI, this is not what you should be doing with your time. This will not increase the stature or respect of science in the public's eye. (Rather the opposite, actually.) You don't want to look like Rush Limbaugh's caricature of a liberal -- and you're very close to that now.

And, Dr. Hoyt? Educating people is a good thing. Trying to sue their favorite foods out of existence is a bad one. If time hangs this heavy on your hands, you either need to get back into that surgery, or play more golf.

What Neil Gaiman Hath Wrought

Having a popular blogger link to you -- even if he doesn't make a big deal about it -- does interesting things to the traffic patterns. I'll try to remember to post a graph like this at the end of the month, when the spike will be nicely positioned in the middle. (The smaller bump on the 6th is probably from when I posted the "Great Novels of the 1990s" query to begin with, and the ramp-down back at the beginning of the graph was the end of the First Fantabulous Antick Musings Contest.)

It looks like most of the new folks came in, hit the "Great Novels of the 1990s?" post, and wandered back out. But, if there's anyone who stuck around, please feel free to introduce yourselves, and you're welcome to sit on the comfy couch. I'm not nearly as grumpy as the Asimov's folks think I am.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Itzkoff Rides Again!

He's back....

The second "Across the Universe" column appeared in the New York Times Book Review this weekend. The good news is that Dave Itzkoff got a whole page to write about SF. The bad news is that he used up all of that space on Nebula Awards Showcase 2006, a nice book to be sure but essentially a very delayed "Best Stories of 2004" anthology. One could have wished for reviews of some current novels, perhaps.

Minor points:
  • He seems to think SFWA is a "literary society." Dave, if you're out there: SFWA is the union for SF/Fantasy writers, more or less. The World Science Fiction Society is a literary society; maybe that's what you were thinking of.
  • He mentions reading Steph Swainston's acclaimed The Year of Our War, thus showing me up for saying he didn't read current stuff. I do shed a tear, though, when I think how much his fellow bus-riders must have pointed and laughed when they saw him reading it.
  • He responds to Matthew Cheney, one of his online critics, in a very ill-advised move. Cheney has already said this, but Itzkoff needs to remember that he is the SF reviewer for a major metropolitan daily, while we are scruffy, ill-favored brutes taking pot-shots at things because it amuses us. Admitting we even exist is the wrong strategy.
  • He hasn't learned the secret that "Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America" condenses down to the one-F'ed SFWA, but that is very non-obvious.
  • I'd bet a large sum of money that the previous SF reviewer for the Times, Gerald Jonas, never expressed his love for the work of Anne McCaffrey in public. Itzkoff may turn out to be just the right kind of middle-brow for this job. (There! I knew I could say something nice about him.)
  • I have nothing snarky to say about his take on Benjamin Rosenbaum's "Embracing-the-New," possibly because I no longer clearly remember that story.
But what I mostly want to talk about is how one word of this review tripped me up -- one word, in the ninth line, which sent me headlong and left me to wonder if Itzkoff understands SF at all. (And that's really what you expected from me anyway, right?)

That word is "surreal," and it's how Itzkoff describes Christopher Rowe's "The Voluntary State," a novella about a minor-league Singularity in the US south only a decade or two hence. Now, this could be just a poor word choice, but it looks like Itzkoff has taken the very specific, very SFnal extrapolations of "The Voluntary State" for mere local color -- as being bizarre images chosen simply for their imagistic power. That he leads into his discussion of "The Voluntary State" by declaring he wants to give it an award for "striking literary imagery" also causes me to believe he's merely reacting to the surface of the story. Itzkoff, in fact, rapidly runs away from any literal reading of events in "The Voluntary State" and retreats to the more mainstream-friendly realm of metaphor. The metaphors he reads out of this story -- and out of the entire collection -- are the usual Baby-Boomer nostalgia trip; in fact, he makes SF itself his own private metaphor for his own lost youth here. That's all right for him, but what does it have to do with the stories?

To backtrack slightly, "The Voluntary State" is not surrealist at all; it aims to depict a real, plausible near-future, albeit one filled with strange and unsettling entities and artifacts. All of the oddities of the story are purposeful -- not just artistically purposeful, but purposeful within the context of the story's invented world. It's not quite clear whether Itzkoff has missed this, but he certainly seems to be calling attention away from it. He doesn't mention the Singularity, the mission of the story's heroes to thwart this new local god, or any of the actual SFnal meat of the story, so it's hard to say whether or not he even noticed it to begin with.

He also seems to have heard about Judith Berman's now-famous essay "Science Fiction Without the Future," but not to have actually read it and to be misreading Berman's essential point. (In fact, there's a case to be made that Itzkoff is yet another SF-reading Boomer who is obsessed with his own mortality and the "lost promise" of Golden Age SF -- another instance of the problem, rather than the solution.)

I think Itzkoff needs a crash course in the ways SF concretizes metaphors. He's good on the metaphors themselves, but he has a tendency to read everything as metaphor, and to thus miss the actual, surface-level SFnal speculation going on. Perhaps we can work him up a care package of Chip Delany essays?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Recently Read: Another War by Simon Morden

This is a novella-published-as-a-book, and I probably shouldn't be talking about it. It's from Telos Publishing in the UK, but it has a US price on it, so it's probably obtainable on this side of the pond with a little effort.

I might talk more about it later once the Cone of Secrecy lifts, but, for now, I'll just say that it's the best damn soldiers-and-Lovecraftian-horrors story since Charlie Stross's "A Colder War." Quite nifty indeed; Papa Hornswoggler approves.

New Jersey Cats -- You Gotta Problem With That?

Yet another reason I wouldn't want to live anywhere but Joisey: we've got the toughest cats in the world.

Today is Loving Day

Claire Light's blog gave me the story: Loving Day celebrates the US Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virginia (handed down June 12, 1967), which overturned all "antimiscegenation" laws in the US. It's a bit shocking to realize that not even forty years ago, marrying someone of another race was illegal many places in this country.

My aunt was married to a man of a different race a few years later, in New York state. I believe the laws had already been changed there before the Loving verdict, but I could be wrong. So, in memory of that marriage (and of my uncle Ray, who I barely knew) and especially in celebration of my cousin Rachael (and her own marriage), a happy Loving Day to you all.

On Astroturfing

Emerald City reports that bloggers are being asked to help promote movies and other consumer products, and wonders how far it will go.

I'd just like to say, for the record, that no one has sent me anything specifically for this blog, and that all opinions expressed here are my own. (Or those of the Hornswoggler, which is not always the same thing.) Not that anyone ever suspected otherwise...

On the other hand, I love free stuff as much as the next guy, and I am based in New York City, so if anyone out there wants to let me into their movie screening or send me random things, I promise to at least try to like whatever it is. Use the e-mail addresses at the end of my profile to contact me.

Science fiction/fantasy publishers, however, should already be sending me books, under my SFBC hat, because I very well might pay you money for the use of those books. If you publish something skiffy, let me know about it.

Battening Down the Hatches

Neil Gaiman linked to me yesterday, which means there should be a surge of new folks running through here. Please be nice to them.

It'll be all I can do not to re-load the traffic meters every hour and obsessively trace outclicks. It's not that I care terribly about how many people read this, it's just that I'm the kind of geek who loves raw data.

Anyway, if you are one of the new folks who stuck your head onto the main page to see what's going on, hello. Welcome to the land of the Hornswoggler; I hope you enjoy it and maybe stay a while. This is a fairly book-centric blog, as you'll probably notice. Every week I take a look at the books I read that equivalent week some year in the recent past, and try to remember anything about them -- I call this Reading into the Past. I also tend to do month-end round-ups of what I've read, some of which I can't talk about (because I read them for the SF Book Club, or, currently, in my role as one of this year's World Fantasy Award judges). I've also been keeping track of movies that I've seen and other things of probably only minor interest.

I also pick on David Itzkoff for no good reason when I get a chance (watch this space for further updates), kick over anthills far too often, and occasionally pick on poor fan-fiction writers. But I'm really not as grumpy as I may seem. At least I think I'm not. I think I'm smart and charming and devastatingly witty, but then I also sometimes think I'm the King of Roumania and married to Emma Thompson.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Cutting Off One's Nose To Spite One's Face

So you've probably all heard the exceptionally vague news about the Asimov's brouhaha by now: Jim Grimsley sold them a story, "Wendy," which deals with predicting tendencies toward child abuse and apparently is quite squicky. The editor of Asimov's, Sheila Williams, bought the story, but the publisher (or someone else above her -- again, actual news is thin on the ground) killed it.

From what I've seen, we don't know: who exactly killed the story; why it was killed (personal squeamishness? lawerly caution? something else entirely?); if Grimsley was offered a specific "kill fee" (which is very common in situations like this, though moreso in non-fiction) or if Sheila just offered "to pay for the story anyway"; if it is common or not for this to happen (I presume not, but that's just a presumption); and just about anything else that we might want to know.

The villagers, meanwhile, are assembling in that discussion thread (on the Asimov's message board, no less -- it's a good thing I enjoy cheap irony), shaking their pitchforks and rakes and threatening to a) burn the evil Baron out of his castle, b) never ever submit any more stories to Asimov's, or c) cancel their subscriptions. A few brave souls have pointed out that deliberately killing one of the few SF magazines left (and one of the only markets in the first place for a story like this) is remarkably stupid, but the villagers seem more content to rant and cuss; if a thing is not perfect, then it must be torn down to the ground. (And some of them are now refusing to have anything to do with F&SF, simply because its editor, Gordon Van Gelder, tried to inject some words of reason.)

And, of course, this is exactly the most constructive thing they could be doing, in a world where the major SF magazines have been taking double-digit hits in circulation nearly every year of the past twenty. Yes, let's hurry the death of short SF, so all of these actual writers, wanna-be writers, have-been writers and indeterminately-being writers can be kicked in the tuchus and forced to find something else to do with their time.

I swear, there's times when I hate being in the same genre with such prima donnas. (The only people really acquitting themselves well in that discussion, in the long term, is Gordon and Matt Hughes; every other repeat visitor is one degree or another of outraged pissiness.)

Grow up, folks. It does sound like Asimov's bobbled the situation, but, on the other hand, we've only heard it from the writer's point of view (and very sketchily, at that). I, personally, don't know what the hell went on, and I don't actually much care. I'm honestly surprised every year when the circulation on the "Big Three" drops horribly yet again, and they still don't go out of business. (I don't want to see them go, but I don't see how they can avoid it much longer.) In the list of things to be worried about in SF, "the evil Short-Story Suits are stifling our freedom of expression, man!" is way, way down the list.

(I didn't get to this until now, because John Scalzi covered it, from a different angle, already. But I hadn't read the incredibly self-important Asimov's discussion thread at that point -- and, now that I have, I felt the need to rant.)