Thursday, August 31, 2006

Why You Didn't Get A Mortgage This Week

What If You Could Get Carrot Juice From Your ATM? Now You Can!

Suit #1: You fit how many carrots up there?
Suit #2: Yeah, three. I couldn't believe it either.
Suit #1: Whoa, and you just did it for the first time this weekend? You better hope no one at the bank finds out about this!

--40th & Park

Overheard by: Nick Vilas

via Overheard in New York, Aug 31, 2006

Incoming Comics: 8/31

I stopped at the comics shop on the way home today, and spent far too much money.

In keeping with my new reticence, I won't list everything I got (also, I think that's boring for all of us), but I did get two comics and two little manga-sized collections for the boys, and eight books but just one pamphlet for myself. That will help keep the book-a-day going for quite a while, as long as I don't get terminally lazy.

And, as a matter of fact, I read one of them on the way home, so that will come up as soon as I catch up on the books I read the last two days...

Happy Blog Day!

I was linked by Cardamom Addict today, and from her post I learn that today is Blog Day. This is the day that the blogger comes out of his hole in the ground, and if he sees his shadow, then we'll have six more weeks of memes and government-bashing...

Hold on, I was reading this wrong. Blog Day is when you give chocolate and heart-shaped paper objects to your favorite blogger. No?

Maybe Blog Day is the day Technorati Claus sneaks down your chimney and gives all of the good little bloggers fast new computers and dedicated T-1 lines? Or the day we give thanks to all of the bloggers who built our great nation (whichever one that is in any particular case)?

No, no and no. Blog Day is when each blogger, desperate for content as usual, highlights five new-to-them blogs and explains why you-the-reader should check them out.


BLOGregard Q. Kazoo
The official blog for one of my favorite TV shows, Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, is a great blog for anyone interested in animation (or writing for TV); it's currently featuring the life-cycle of one episode in great and fascinating detail. Also regularly posted are character design sheets and gorgeous backgrounds.

Grumpy Old Bookman
GOB (as he calls himself) is a British writer and editor of advancing years with a very jaundiced take on the book world. He's particularly interested in newer publishing strategies and ideas (such as print-on-demand) which is refreshing in a man his age. I don't always agree with him, but he's a good eye on the British publishing world and has interestingly idiosyncratic views.

The Art Department
I'm sure I've mentioned Irene Gallo's blog before, but it's still pretty new, and it combines two of the things I enjoy most: SF and art. Gallo is the art director for Tor (the biggest US publisher of SF and Fantasy), and so she knows everybody who works in the field and has been doing short interviews with a number of artists recently. She's also good at demistifying the process by which a picture gets stuck onto the front of a book.

John C. Wright
The LiveJournal of the SF writer John C. Wright. Wright is very verbose, very opinionated, fond of wordplay, and doesn't suffer fools easily. I don't agree with him on everything, but I'm often all of those things myself, so his LJ is like reading the work of an alternate-universe me. (Except Wright is even more all of those things than I usually am -- maybe he's me with the volume turned up.) He's also been recently running through a lot of the "Heinlein juveniles" (in the SFBC omnibuses, no less!) and reviewing them one by one. One of his posts can take ten minutes or more to read -- they're that long -- but it's generally worth the time.

News From Me
This one is a cheat, since it isn't new to me; I've been reading it for about a year, since I first dove into the blog world. Mark Evanier is a writer I first knew of from comics -- he turned Sergio Aragones's Groo into proper English, and wrote a long-running column for Comics Buyer's Guide about random topics -- though I think most of his time and money comes from TV stuff. He has a very active blog that usually stays in the neighborhoods of TV comedy/variety and comic books, but occasionally ventures further out than that.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Incoming Books: 30 August

I keep finding things at work that I want; it's horrible the way the to-be-read stacks keep growing.

Today it was a copy of our sister club QPB's 2-in-1 edition of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend and Hell House, along with three things I just happened to find on one of the free-books shelves today (Finney's Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a Little Lulu collection, and the PK Dick bio I Am Alive and You Are Dead).

One of these days I'll learn to just leave books behind if I won't get to read them in the next five years -- but it won't be today.

Movie Log: Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story

Well, it's now more than a week since I saw this (last Monday night, while packing for Worldcon), and a lot of things have happened since then. So my memories of Tristram Shandy are few and fragmentary at this point. It was a lot of fun, and particularly enjoyable in the way it mixed up being a movie of Sterne's novel and also being a documentary about the making of that movie.

When the movie was done, I thought it was something I'd want to see again anyway, and I think I'd have to see it again to say much more than that about it. Still: I liked it a lot, and want to see it again with my full attention. That's one kind of recommendation.

Our New Slogan

Have a Hornswoggler and Smile

(Yes, it's yet another meme -- taken from James A. Owen this time. Edit: oh, and the site that does this is The Advertising Slogan Generator.)

If I use my real name, we get:

Does the Hard Wheeler for You

which is more than slightly dirty-sounding.

And, lastly, my employer probably will not start advertising itself by saying:

Schtop! This SFBC Is Not Ready Yet!

Fools! Bow Before Me!

Memes are so much easier than posts that require real thought. This quiz (which I got from Deborah Layne) is also hilarious in its own right. So how could I possibly resist?

You are Nicola Tesla, inventor of the Tesla Coil!

A minister's son from Simljan in Austria-Hungary, you were precocious from an early age. At three you could multiply three-digit numbers in your head and calculate how many seconds visitors to your home had lived. In awe of your older brother Dane, you shot a pea-shooter at his horse, causing it to throw him and inflict injuries from which he later died. This tragedy haunted you ever after. You frequently suffered bouts of illness with hallucinations throughout your life. During one affliction of cholera, you encountered the writing of Mark Twain, with whom you were later to be close friends. Later, another, this time mystery, illness inexplicably heightened your senses to a painful extent, only relenting when you hit upon the idea of the alternating current motor.

You developed an aversion to human contact, particularly involving hair, and a fear of pearls; when one would-be lover kissed you, you ran away in agony. Later, you insisted that any repeated actions in your day-to-day life had to be divisible by three, or, better yet, twenty-seven. You would, for example, continue walking until you had executed the required number of footsteps. You refused to eat anything until you had calculated its exact volume. Saltine crackers were a favourite for their uniformity in this respect. In the midst of important work, you forgot trivial details such as eating, sleeping or, on one memorable occasion, who you were.

Your inventions, always eccentric, began on a suitably bizarre note. The first was a frog-catching device that was so successful, and hence so emulated by your fellow children, that local frogs were almost eradicated. You also created a turbine powered by gluing sixteen May bugs to a tiny windmill. The insects panicked and flapped their wings furiously, powering the contraption for hours on end. This worked admirably until a small child came along and ate all the creatures alive, after which you never again touched another insect.

Prompted by dreams of attaining the then-ridiculed goal of achieving an alternating-current motor, you went to America in the hope of teaming up with Thomas Edison. Edison snubbed you, but promised fifty thousand dollars if you could improve his own direct-current motor by 20% efficiency. You succeeded. Edison did not pay up. It was not long until you created an AC motor by yourself.

Now successful, you set up a small laboratory, with a few assistants and almost no written records whatsoever. Despite it being destroyed by fire, you invented the Tesla Coil, impressing even the least astute observer with man-made lightning and lights lit seemingly by magic. Moving to Colorado Springs, you created a machine capable of sending ten million volts into the Earth's surface, which even while being started up caused lightning to shoot from fire hydrants and sparks to singe feet through shoes all over the town. When calibrated to be in tune with the planet's resonance, it created what is still the largest man-made electrical surge ever, an arc over 130 feet long. Unfortunately, it set the local power plant aflame.

You returned to New York, incidentally toying with the nascent idea of something eerily like today's internet. Although the wealthiest man in America withdrew funding for a larger, more powerful resonator in short order, it did not stop you announcing the ability to split the world in two. You grew ever more diverse in your inventions: remote-controlled boats and submarines, bladeless turbines, and, finally, a death ray.

While whether the ray ever existed is still doubtful, it is said that you notified the Peary polar expedition to report anything strange in the tundra, and turned on the ray. First, nothing happened; then it disintegrated an owl; finally, reports reached you of the mysterious Tunguska explosion, upon which news you dismantled the apparatus immediately. An offer during WWII to recreate it was, thankfully, never acted upon by then-President Wilson. Turning to other matters, you investigated the forerunner of radar, to widespread derision.

Your inventions grew stranger. One oscillator caused earthquakes in Manhattan. You adapted this for medical purposes, claiming various health benefits for your devices. You found they let you work for days without sleep; Mark Twain enjoyed the experience until the sudden onset of diarrhoea. You claimed to receive signals in quasi-Morse Code from Mars, explored the initial stages of quantum physics; proposed a "wall of light", using carefully-calibrated electromagnetic radiation, that would allegedly enable teleportation, anti-gravity airships and time travel; and proposed a basic design for a machine for photographing thoughts. You died aged 87 in New York, sharing an apartment with the flock of pigeons who were by then your only friends.

Ridiculed throughout your life (Superman fought the evil Dr. Tesla in 1940s comics), you were posthumously declared the father of the fluorescent bulb, the vacuum tube amplifier and the X-ray machine, and the Supreme Court named you as the legal inventor of the radio in place of Marconi. Wardenclyffe, the tower once housing your death ray, was dynamited several times to stop it falling into the hands of spies. It was strangely hard to topple, and even then could not be broken up.

I'm Nicola Tesla! Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzt!
Which Historical Lunatic Are You?
From the fecund loins of Rum and Monkey.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

I'm Batman

I had this meme sitting over here, unused, so I pulled it out and tried it on for size. It turns out that I'm Batman -- who knew?

You scored as Batman, the Dark Knight. As the Dark Knight of Gotham, Batman is a vigilante who deals out his own brand of justice to the criminals and corrupt of the city. He follows his own code and is often misunderstood. He has few friends or allies, but finds comfort in his cause.

Batman, the Dark Knight




Captain Jack Sparrow


Lara Croft


The Amazing Spider-Man


The Terminator


Indiana Jones


James Bond, Agent 007


William Wallace


Neo, the "One"


El Zorro


Which Action Hero Would You Be? v. 2.0
created with

The Groping Incident

One bad thing about being compulsive and being a blogger simultaneously is the nearly overwhelming feeling that one must Say Something about every controversy within the SF world, even if one has nothing actually to say.

And here I go again.

Harlan Ellison groped Connie Willis's breast during the Hugo Awards ceremony on Saturday night -- I didn't quite believe it when I saw it (in a "surely that car can't fly" kind of morbid, horrified way), but everyone else saw it, too. It did happen.

I think Patrick Nielsen Hayden was the first to publicly talk about it, and make it clear how very wrong it was. I'm running through my SF blogs later than usual today, and I've already seen it a few times, so I'm sure it's all over the place. Harlan has issued something taking the outward form of an apology (it's on this page, but I'm afraid I don't have a direct link), and he's actually being forthright and taking responsibility more than usual for a "Harlan apology," but it's still a lot more like a vaudeville audition than a mea culpa.

Yes, he's an old guy, brought up in a very different time, and yes his schtick has been obnoxiousness for longer than I've been alive, and yes he was trying to "get back" at Connie for some of her digs at him earlier in the ceremony (and I bet he did it that way, instead of exploding verbally, because he knows that once his mouth gets started he's likely to go too far -- so I do think he actually groped Connie because he thought it would be funnier, and less offensive, than the things he otherwise would have said). Yes and yes and yes.

It's still horribly wrong and embarrassing and demeaning. Harlan used to make a big deal out of being a feminist, which makes it even worse -- he's a guy who knew how wrong that was forty years ago. I don't want to defend him; I don't want to attack him. I wish it hadn't happened, but that's not a constructive response.

So I think I'll go back to reading the end of James Tiptree, Jr., which already had me thinking about feminism, gender roles and horribly self-destructive behavior, and which I think will elicit more coherent, and maybe more useful, comments from me.

Harlan, I'm so ashamed of you right now.

Reading Into the Past: Week of 8/20

This week the number is 11, and here are the books I read last week, back in 1995. (I'm running a week behind due to Worldcon.)
  • Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling, editors, Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears (8/13)
    I can't distinguish between these anthologies a decade later, but they were all pretty good. It's a bunch of retold fairy tales by mostly the same people each time, so, if you like any of 'em, you'll like this one.
  • Jason Lutes, Jar of Fools, Book Two (8/13)
    Second half of a comics story about a stage magician; I don't actually remember it very well, but I enjoyed it at the time.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold, The Vor Game (8/14)
    I was catching up on Bujold then, and I hit this Hugo-winning novel. It's the least impressive of her Hugo-winners, but it's a solid space opera and quite readable.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold, Borders of Infinity (8/16)
    This is the story collection, if I remember right, which means it's some of Bujold's best stuff.
  • The Best of S.J. Perelman (8/17)
    It is, and you should read it. Perelman isn't a laugh-out-loud funny kind of writer, but he's witty and fun and can tangle up the English language like no one before or since.
  • Gregory Benford, editor, Far Futures (8/20)
    A collection of novellas -- as I recall, several of them turned into novels later. This is a good book that I don't think I've ever heard anyone mention publicly; well, now I have.
And here we are on Tuesday of the next week -- though I do have Worldcon to blame for it this time. My aim is to get this week's Reading Into the Past done before Friday, but we all know about me and intentions...

Monday, August 28, 2006

Book-A-Day #42 (8/28): Fuck This Book by Bodhi Oser

This is the most indefensible book-a-day yet, and I am ashamed of it. (Though I'm still going to count it.)

A sister club of the SFBC's is selling this, and I thought it was amusing -- but I amuse easily.

It consists of no actual text, but quite a lot of pictures of signs with a typed "Fuck" taped over strategically chosen words. Here, let me demonstrate at random -- "Degradable Fuck-Up Mitt," "Danger: Do Not Fuck Off," "Notice: Absolutely No Fuckheads of Any Type" and so on.

It's all exceptionally juvenile, and, yes, as one would expect, it was a website first. It's almost certainly a better website than it is a book, too. I can't recommend that anyone actually spend money on this, but, if you also amuse easily, pick it up the next time you're browsing in a bookstore, chuckle at a few pages, and then move on.

A real book tomorrow, with real Deep Thoughts from me -- I promise.

Book-A-Day #41 (8/27): Labels by Evelyn Waugh

I have a very fat, quite handsome volume called Waugh Abroad: Collected Travel Writing, which contains Evelyn's seven travel books in about eleven hundred pages. It's been squatting on my shelf for some years now, and I take it down every so often, but then put it back on the shelf.

I usually like to take something very unlikely -- a classic something-or-other with a ribbon marker, preferably -- to major conventions, just because that's the kind of contrarian I am. This year, it came down to this or George Orwell's Essays. Waugh won, mostly because it was made of a a number of smaller books, and so I thought it would help me keep the book-a-day pace going.

I didn't get as much of it read at Worldcon as I'd hoped. (But then, I always have grandiose plans for what I hope to read, and they never come true.) I did read the first thirty pages of Labels at the airport before getting on the plane to Anaheim a week ago (and switching over to reading first James Tiptree, Jr. on the plane and then Scar Night at Worldcon) but finished Labels on the flight back.

Labels is Waugh's first travel book, and comes from the very beginning of his career; it's quite clear that he's still in the shadow of his older brother Alec, and trying to find his own way in the world. But his great dyspeptic voice is already coming through clearly, and his various encounters with Catholicism (which, he notes several times, surprises him with its depth of understanding and nuance) are fascinating even for a reader like me who knows only the broad outlines of his life. In Labels, Waugh bums around the Mediterranean for a few months in early 1929, originally planning to visit the Soviet Union, but giving up that aim fairly quickly. It's an aimless book, and Waugh acknowledges that; he points out that many previous books covered the same territory, and as good as says that they did it better than he can. But the main reason to read this is for Waugh's voice, and no travel book by other hands can give you that.

I wouldn't dive into his travel books until after the novels (and it would probably be better if one had read the novels more recently than I have -- I think my last Waugh flurry was about a decade ago now), but Labels does provide more "new" Waugh for someone who has already read all of the novels, and that was good enough for me.

Incoming Books: 28 August

I unpacked my Worldcon bags this evening -- I got home last night at about 3 and had to get up at 6 for work, so they just sat in the corner of the dining room all day -- and I also brought a couple of books home from work today.

But I'm trying to keep this blog from turning into a non-stop line-up of lists (and also trying to maintain some slight editorial air of mystery), so I'm not going to just list all of them. (I'm not sure if this is a precedent; we'll have to see.)

I will say that I've got ten new books here (not counting two that are heading into the office, and The Jack Vance Treasury, which immediately goes onto the read-for-work stack, but probably won't reach the top for a few weeks), including two by Steven Erikson (which will be for work, eventually), a trio of art books, a couple of things I picked up at the Eos party, and Thomas M. Disch's On SF.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Hugo Postmortem

I didn't remember to handicap the Hugos ahead of time, so I'm going to instead show you now how brilliantly incisive I was -- and, if you believe that, I also have a slightly-used bridge that you might be interested in purchasing...

In order of presentation:

John W. Campbell not-a-Hugo Award for Best New Writer: John Scalzi
Did anyone not expect this? I've been hanging out a bit with Chris Roberson this Worldcon, so I was rooting for him, but Scalzi was the obvious lock.

Best Fan Artist: Frank Wu
This was one of those categories that you can tell by the applause in the arena during the ceremony. But I'm not terribly fannish, so I had no idea ahead of time who would win.

Best Fan Writer: Dave Langford
And the award for "Best Dave Langford" goes to...

Best Fanzine: Plokta
I never have any idea which way this category is going.

Best Semiprozine: Locus
Locus is a fine magazine, yes, but so are The New York Review of Science Fiction, Emerald City, Interzone, and Ansible. I'm beginning to think the Hugos need a WFA-style "you can't win the same category two years in a row" rule for categories like this one.

Best Professional Artist: Donato Giancola
I've been voting him at the top (or nearly at the top; some years Bruce Jensen had such great stuff he edged out Donato) of my Hugo ballot for at least five years; it's great to see him win. I hope the new guidelines will help other great artists like Martiniere and Picacio get Hugo rockets in years to come.

Best Professional Editor: David G. Hartwell
And it's about damn time. Did it really take the imminent splitting of this category into two (and Gardner Dozois's retirement from Asimov's) to get Hartwell a Hugo?

Special Award: Betty Ballantine
I've never met her, but she seems like a pistol, and her place in the field is way up there.

Best Dramatic Presentation, We-Don't-Call-it-TV: some Doctor Who episodes
Good for them; I never have any idea how the skiffy awards will go, because I'm out of touch with them by choice.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Let's-Pretend-We-Don't-Mean-Movie: Serenity
And everyone who paid money to see it in the theatre was present at the awards ceremony, which was nice for them.

Best Related Book: Storyteller by Kate Wilhelm
It's not a perfect book, but it has some interesting stuff in it. And my rule in this category is that it always goes to the book by the oldest fiction writer, so I was happy to be proven right yet again.

Best Short Story: "Tk'tk'tk" by David D. Levine
I don't remember reading this, so I must have hit it during the frenzied last day before voting closed. (On the other hand, I read a lot of 2005 short fiction earlier this year -- including six "Year's Best" anthologies -- so I might just have forgotten it.) I thought Margo Lanagan should have won, but Mike Resnick would win, but I was wrong.

Special Award: Harlan Ellison
Very nice to see, though I wish he'd put out some new stories so we can have a chance to give him another real rocketship. (And so I can read them, of course.)

Best Novelette: "Two Hearts" by Peter S. Beagle
It's a fine story, and probably the one I liked best in the category.

Best Novella: "Inside Job" by Connie Willis
I was honestly surprised, even knowing the "Connie always wins Hugos" expectation. I was sure the "Magic for Beginners" juggernaut would keep rolling. For myself, I should have been rooting for "Identity Theft" (since it was from a SFBC original), but I actually liked "The Little Goddess" best. I can't remember at all how I voted, though; this was a tough category.

Best Novel: Spin by Robert Charles Wilson
During the ceremony, I was actually hoping George Martin would win, in part because he's a good guy who deserves another Hugo, and in part because I really want to see what he says when he wins "the Big One." (I'm hoping for another "Fuck, I got a Hugo.") Personally, I was ambivalent toward all of the nominees, so I didn't have any strong preferences -- I liked them all, but didn't love any of them, and wasn't going to be upset if anything won. This is really great for Wilson; he's been out there toiling without much recognition for a very long time. So, after the fact, it's probably the happiest result possible.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Book-A-Day #40 (8/26): Scar Night by Alan Campbell

Scar Night is the first novel from a guy who was a writer and programmer for the Grand Theft Auto games, but, oddly enough, there are no cars or guns in it.

I read it for SFBC, and it's not out in the US until the very end of the year (though it's already been published in the UK), so I won't say anything about the plot. But it's another sign that an area of fantasy I enjoy a lot -- swords & sorcery, roughly, descended from Leiber and Moorcock and filtered through more modern books like Perdido Street Station -- is healthy and increasing. I didn't love it quite as much as The Lies of Locke Lamora, but it's quite entertaining, and it was good enough to make me keep pulling it out of my bag to read on line at Disneyland the other day.

It's set in an ancient city suspended by chains over a vast abyss in which the rogue son of a god lurks, and from which that god will supposedly launch his assault on heaven once he has accumulated enough souls in his army. (The city isn't described as much as I'd really like, though -- on the other hand, the relative lack of description does make the book move more quickly, which I enjoyed.)

Book-A-Day #39 (8/25): Treehorn's Wish by Florence Parry Heide, illustrated by Edward Gorey

Third in the series and the last book in the omnibus; I need to find some reading time today so that I can finish off a "real" book, otherwise my streak will die here.

In this one, Treehorn finds a genie, and chooses rather minor wishes (as usual in a story like this). It's just as minor as the other two stories, and only really of interest for the Gorey illustrations.

Reasons Hominids May Have Won the Hugo (or, In Which One Lone Editor, Armed With Only His Wits, Attempts To Eff the Ineffable)

One of my favorite bits of attempted humor, originally posted to rec.arts.sf.written 9/18/03. I repost it here in honor of tonight's Hugo Awards, and the fights that it will undoubtedly engender in one area or another of fandom:

Well, I just read this book, which -- to judge from the reception it's gotten here -- I could only expect to have been scrawled in crayon on a paper bag, then left out in the rain for several weeks before being OCR'd and then mass-mailed under the header "xjr Biggr Penis_Now!"

Strangely enough, I found it a fun and pleasant read. I still don't think I would have voted it at the top of my Hugo ballot [1], but it's a perfectly serviceable science fiction novel, leading me to suspect those condemning it have never read a really bad book. (Or perhaps I have no taste -- that's always possible.)

But, while reading it, I did notice some elements that may have led to its somewhat-surprising win in Toronto earlier this month. So, in the purest spirit of scientific inquiry (and with my tongue only intermittently in my cheek), I offer the following possibilities:

1) It has an appendix. Serious SF novels -- important books that one must Take Very Seriously Indeed -- have appendices. Witness Dune. Witness Lord of the Rings, the book that was very nearly eaten by its own appendices. (And it will be, one day, if Christopher Tolkien has anything to say about it.) Neither The Scar nor The Years of Rice and Salt have appendices. Nor does Bones of the Earth, a striking omission in a time-travel book, where a five-page wrap-up of "look at how clever I am and wonder at the depths of my research fu" is practically obligatory. I don't have a copy of Kiln People to hand, but, as I recall, it has no appendix.

2) It's, in part, a utopian novel about people with interesting sexual practices and a mildly negative attitude towards Western Religion. (I gather the latter ramps up in the sequels, which I haven't gotten to yet.) SF readers are suckers for that sort of thing, as long as it doesn't go on too long. A little mild blasphemy, a slight kick in the pants to boring 'ol hide-bound religion -- that's what the punters want. Here, it's even Catholicism -- the only religion with a Kick-Me-Hard sign actually embroidered on the back of those fabulous gowns. It does share the "privacy is dead and overrated" meme with Kiln People, but that isn't nearly as appealing to Joe Hugo-Voter as the taut, corded muscles of hairy bisexual Neanderthals. (I'm sorry, but it just had to be said.)

2) Its gimmick is based on traditional skiffy neat-o physics. (Another category that SF readers are inordinately fond of.) It's only real competition in this area for the 2003 Hugo was Bones of the Earth, but the latter book offered the presumably unstoppable double-barreled blast of time travel and dinosaurs. I can only surmise that Swanwick's failure to provide an appendix proved his novel's downfall. Sure, parallel-world travel is cool -- but certainly no cooler than time travel (and possibly less so). And I refuse to accept that sapient hominids -- of any description -- are within a parsec of the coolness that is a living dinosaur (or even a discrete, cooling Triceratops head). Swanwick's book should have won this part of the competition on points, but Hominids must have stayed on its feet long enough to force the judges' decision.

3) Hominids's main characters are working scientists. Again, only Swanwick's book could even lay a glove on it in this area -- but Sawyer's characters spend more time talking to each other about science, and less time running away from dinosaurs, which may have made the difference. Not only that, but two of the scientific team even have Hot Monkey Sex (completely off-page, unfortunately -- but that, too, can be a positive to the puritanical heart of SF, still haunted by the ghost of Kay Tarrant). Another pairing is only prevented from determining if Neanderthal and Sapiens genital plumbing is compatible by the ending of the book. Since no one in Bones of the Earth has sex with a dinosaur, it's out of the running here. There are some working scientists in Rice and Salt, but only for part of that book, so it has to run a distant third.

4) It was published in mass-market in February 2003, in plenty of time for Hugo voters to buy and read it. Therefore I declare that its readership was inevitably immensely larger than its competition! Let us examine the evidence: The Years of Rice and Salt wasn't published in mass until June. The Scar is only available in a relatively expensive trade paperback. However, Bones of the Earth also came out in mass-market in February, and Kiln People beat them into mass-market by a month. (It's always a shame when a dirty little fact ruins a perfectly good theory.)

5) Rob Sawyer is the hardest working man in SF. There's no other way to say it. He's a swell guy, very personable -- and his reading-ending rendition of "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's, Man's World" makes the women swoon and the little chillun's eyes pop out of they little heads.

So, in conclusion, don't play cards with a man named "Doc," don't eat anything bigger than your head, and never try to out-nice Rob Sawyer. He's Canadian, don't'cha know...

[1] Any year with both The Scar and The Years of Rice and Salt is a really strong year to begin with, though.

[2] Though only if you disregard the compensatory damages. This reminds me of an amusing story about my Uncle Robert, who was under the impression that he was a barn-owl. Now he had just reached the age of one hundred and six -- though he would only admit to ninety-seven! -- and was as deaf as a post. But I see this margin is too small to contain the story, which will thus have to wait for later.

Book-A-Day #38 (8/24): Treehorn's Treasure by Florence Parry Heide, illustrated by Edward Gorey

This is the second of the "Treehorn" books, which I also read, rather late at night, in the omnibus.

In this one, Treehorn grows money on a tree, and finds again that adults don't really talk to him or listen to what he says. He doesn't quite get what he wants, but things work out OK.

It's the kind of story that Gorey himself did better, as did Gahan Wilson (in his great Nuts comics for National Lampoon in the '70s), so this is pretty thin beer. I'm not very impressed, though the Gorey illustrations are nice.

Quote of the Week

This one may be apocryphal; I remembered reading it (I thought it was in Thomas Disch's The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of, but I couldn't find it again while poking through that book), but I haven't been able to source it. That doesn't matter -- if Delany didn't say this, someone should have, and he's just the guy to put it this way, too.

"Everything in science fiction should be mentioned twice -- with the possible exception of science fiction."
-Samuel R. Delany

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Book-A-Day #37 (8/23): The Shrinking of Treehorn by Florence Parry Heide, drawings by Edward Gorey

I’m writing this post in Word, because my first stab at it imploded when I tried to “save as draft.” (I suspect the wonky Internet access here at the Hilton was to blame; it runs along just fine for a while, and then suddenly nothing connects for the next five minutes.)

Anyway, today’s theme is More Book-A-Day Tricks.

Yesterday, I read about a third of an upcoming fantasy novel, in between various bits of Worldconning. That’s not bad for a convention day, but I was nowhere near finishing it. (I read another ninety pages of the same book today, mostly while standing on lines at Disneyland, but I’m not going to finish it today either.)

Luckily, I expected this. So I brought a secret weapon with me to Anaheim (in with the stack of other books I’m reading for various reasons): a 3-in-1 of children’s books called The Treehorn Trilogy, by Florence Perry Heide and illustrated by Edward Gorey.

I pulled that book out, read the first story in it before bed, and voila! I had just read a book.

The Shrinking of Treehorn is OK, but it’s not very Gorey-esque. Of course, Heide wrote it, and she isn’t Edward Gorey, so there was no reason to expect this to be all that much like the pure Gorey books. I’ll admit that the setup was promising: a young boy discovers that he’s shrinking, and the various adults around him either ignore it or blame him for it. But the boy eventually figures out the cause, and fixes this problem, which is an un-Gorey ending; I’d half-expected him to be randomly eaten by a bear.

So this is of interest to Gorey completists (like me), but not otherwise all that great. Maybe the later stories will pick up – we’ll see.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Movie Log: Carrington

The Wife and I watched this on Sunday night; it was her current Netflix choice and I'm willing to see just about anything with Emma Thompson in it. (In the mid-90s I used to joke that Thompson would be my fourth wife -- I had a whole long list of future wives at that point -- but I seem to have stopped doing that somewhere along the way. Perhaps all of the blows to the head by my actual wife had something to do with it.)

Carrington is a 1995 British movie that I'm not even sure I knew existed before The Wife put it into her Netflix queue. It's a double-biopic, with Thompson as the painter Dora Carrington and Jonathan Pryce (in a very authentic, but quite fake-looking, gigantic beard) as the writer Lytton Stratchey. Stratchey was gay and Carrington was both married and had many lovers, but this movie claims that they were the true loves of each other's lives.

I'm not sure if I entirely buy that, from the evidence. It's a nice movie, and being in large part about sex it avoids the tediousness of most minor pseudo-Merchant-Ivory period pieces (though it does move at a deliberate pace, as it covers over fifteen years in just over two hours). And all of the actors are believable as their characters. But Stratchey is such a stereotypical poofter (this is probably authentic; I don't know much about him) that it's distracting. And Carrington gives Thompson too many opportunities to put on her full-blown sullen mode, which I don't think is the best weapon in her acting arsenal.

Other minor points:
  • At least twice, Carrington rides a white horse up to her house and then runs inside. The incredibly useful horse then walks off, presumably to rub himself down and take off his own saddle.
  • Relatedly, we never see any of the servants that we know are buzzing around our main characters this whole time. And once one realizes this, it's hard to see them as quite such romantic figures.
  • In general, the movie takes place in the unfortunately typical low-budget period-movie depopulated world. The action focuses on just a few characters, and there aren't many others who even have speaking roles.
Some people may be interested in this as a look at the Bloomsbury set (which Stratchey was associated with), but I must warn you that, though Virginia Woolf is mentioned once, no other writers appear as characters in the movie, and the action is set mostly in a series of country houses where Carrington and Stratchey lived together (with various others).

All in all, this is a perfectly acceptable movie for Merchant-Ivory fans looking for a fix, or for people who particularly like Thompson or Pryce. But it's slow-moving enough that most American viewers without an interest in the characters (or, perhaps, in the embedded gender politics) will be bored.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Book-A-Day #36 (8/22): Pearls Before Swine: Nighthogs by Stephan Pastis

Today, I read a bit of Evelyn Waugh's Labels, more than half of the Julie Phillips James Tiptree, Jr. bio, and three whole magazines (I had a six-hour plane flight, and plenty of other waiting-around time). But none of those count for today.

What does count for today is this little collection of the "Pearls Before Swine" newspaper strip. Pastis is a bit too fond of ridiculously over-complicated set-ups for lame puns, but that over-complication does save them, and keeps them from being lame. This strip is also obsessed with death in a manner unmatched by any newspaper strip of any time. Pastis is a minimalist cartoonist, unashamedly of the Scott Adams school, but his style works well for the jokes he wants to tell.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Book-A-Day #35 (8/21): The New Yorker Book of Business Cartoons edited by Robert Mankoff

Today is the last day before I fly off to Worldcon, so things have been a bit hectic. I'm both packing and watching Tristram Shandy right now, and I've had no time to blog. (Oh, poor, poor me! How sad!)

Anyway, minus the pathos, that means that I kept the book-a-day streak alive today by quickly looking at the last few pages of this collection of cartoons reprinted from The New Yorker. I think single-author (or is that -artist?) cartoon collections are generally better than single-subject ones -- there's a bit more depth, and not quite so much sameness -- but this is still a fun book.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Book-A-Day #34 (8/20): Star Wars: Tempest by Troy Denning

This is the third in the nine-book "Legacy of the Force" subseries, and it comes out in December. I'll say nothing about the plot, since that can only lead to heartbreak.

I will say that I've been feeling vaguely unsatisfied with Star Wars books recently, for no reason I could articulate. (Despite the fact that some of the very best books to come out of that world have come in the last few years, like Matt Stover's two excellent novels Traitor and Shatterpoint and Sean Stewart's thoughtful Yoda: Dark Rendezvous.) Reading Tempest, I think I've figured it out.

Nearly all of the Star Wars books lately have been Things Get Worse books, and I like my space opera to have happy endings.

The big "New Jedi Order" plotline? Eighteen volumes of unmitigated Things Getting Worse (and then Much Worse, and then Oy! I Can't Even Tell You How Much Worse), and finally an ending in which happiness must be found in the fact that things have briefly stopped getting worse, though they're certainly not all that good, or getting much better. Obviously, in a nineteen-volume story about the same bad guys, they have to keep winning for quite a while, but I did begin to wonder if there would ever be any possibility of joy in this fictional world ever again.

The prequel movies are all Things Get Worse stories, as they had to be, and so the books set in and around that part of the timeline were also about Things Getting Worse.

And the current storyline is also very much in Things Get Worse mode so far. (Though I hope there's some happiness at the end, unless the Star Wars Powers That Be are trying to induce mass suicide.)

On the other hand, the Bantam Books era was set in Things Get Better time: our heroes were mopping up the remnants of the Empire (though, according to the timeline, it took more than a decade to do so), and storylines rarely spread across more than one book. That was more to my temperament; I like happiness in my zippy space adventure.

But I'm not the target audience for Star Wars books to begin with, so nobody needs to listen to me. At least now I know what's been making me grumpy, and I'll stop expecting something that I'm not going to get when I read a Star Wars book.

Reading Into the Past: Week of 8/13

Lo! The dice speak! And they say: twelve years! Twelve years gone by! Cue the cheesy old-fashioned special effect of a calendar's pages ripping off, as we hasten back to 1994!
  • Tad Williams, Caliban's Hour (8/6)
    The first Williams book I ever read, and still the best thing of his I've ever seen; a sequel to The Tempest from a different point of view. It's also exceptionally short for a Tad Williams book, so I recommend it to anyone who's ever wondered what the deal was with him but didn't feel like diving right into a multi-volume monster.
  • William Shatner with Chris Kreski, Star Trek Movie Memories (8/7)
    As I recall, this was not quite as interesting as Star Trek Memories (which seemed to be mostly written by Kreski after a lot of interviews with just about everyone then still alive from the original TV show -- and it didn't whitewash the fact that most of them thought Shatner was at least partly a self-aggrandizing jerk), but still pleasant enough. Ten years later, it's all old news, but it was fun at the time.
  • John A. Garraty, 1,001 Things Everyone Should Know About American History (8/7)
    A book-long list, which I probably read on the john. I did not keep it, which, as usual, says something.
  • Jack Vance, Maske: Thaery (8/8)
    I'm afraid I don't remember at all which this one was. I think there are three "Maske" books, all set in the same region of space (is "Maske" a globular cluster, maybe?), but with very separate plots. Anyway, it's a mature Vance novel, so I feel no qualms in recommending it.
  • Julian Barnes, Talking It Over (8/9)
    Barnes is at his best when his books are organized by an odd Big Idea (like A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters, or Flaubert's Parrot), and this book has a more domestic version of that: it's the story of a love triangle as told, in first person, by all three people involved. Barnes is a very readable writer, and exceptionally good at characterization; I think this is one of his better books.
  • Phil Foglio, et al., The Xxxenophile Big Book O' Fun (8/9)
    A big collection of very joyful smutty comics by a guy who won the Best Fan Artist Hugo two years in a row, way back when. If you have any interest in smutty comics at all (and I doubt anyone will say so in public), you need to read this one. Foglio writes real people who have a lot of fun along with their sex, making this more than just a stroke book.
  • Robert Hughes, Culture of Complaint (8/10)
    One of the things I miss the most from the pre-9/11 world is how the "clash of cultures" used to be about which side were bigger whiners. Hughes makes a very good Jeremiah; he thunders with the best of them. Here he basically stakes out a position near the middle of the political spectrum and lays into everyone on either side -- it's high dudgeon as high entertainment, and I thought it was wonderful and true at the time.
  • Philip K. Dick, Eye In the Sky (8/10)
    A minor early Dick novel, but not a bad one.
  • Evelyn Waugh, Scoop (8/11)
    Another early novel, though not as minor. (And not by the same person, obviously.) It's one of his funniest books, and ends, as I recall, relatively well for its characters (which is not always to be expected with Waugh).
  • P.G. Wodehouse, Summer Lightning (8/12)
    One of the great Blandings novel; I needed to cleanse my palate after all the curmudgeonliness of Waugh and Hughes, I guess. This is the one where Gallahad is writing his memoirs -- and, of course, the Empress of Blandings gets pig-napped along the way. I don't remember the exact details, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if there were a imposter as well.
  • John Varley and Ricia Mainhardt, editors, Superheroes (8/12)
    A very mixed bag of superhero stories: as I recall, most of them were slight and instantly forgettable, but a few were excellent.
  • Connie Willis, Remake (8/13)
    The second of Willis's three mid-90s novellas-as-books, and possibly the best of them. I'm sure there's a romance plot (there usually is, with Willis), but it's also about changing old movies (and thus, by extensions, any and all works of art) to fit changing audience expectations.
Running late as usual; I think I should stop making excuses and just assume I'm going to do this on the next Sunday afternoon...

Itzkoff "Covers" Tiptree

Some puns are just too horrible to resist.

By now, most of you probably know that this week's New York Times Book Review features Julie Phillips's biography James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon on the cover, in a review written by the Times's top skiffy hand Dave Itzkoff. (Making Light and Paul Levinson have already noted this, and probably others that I haven't seen yet.)

It's nice to see the book taken seriously (and this is a serious, even a bit stodgy, review in the Times's common tell-a-potted-version-of-the-biography-subject's-life rather-than-engaging-with-the-book-directly style), even if Bob Silverberg is fated to have his "ineluctably masculine" comment trotted out every time Tiptree's story is told. I have no problems with Itzkoff's review (other than the fact that he barely mentions the book, or critically engages with it -- again, that is pretty common for Times reviewers anyway).

James Tiptree, Jr. is being reviewed by everyone and his cousin-in-law, so I hope that actually helps the book's sales. (Though, as a cynic, I have to admit that this looks like the kind of book that appeals most strongly to the people who get their books for free -- such as critics, and myself -- and not all that much to the people who actually pay for their books.) And, as a guy who published an edition of Tiptree's Her Smoke Rose Up Forever not all that long ago, I'd also love to see this attention actually turn into some increased sales for her books.

Book-A-Day #33 (8/19): Quality Time by Edward Koren

Another Saturday, another day with hardly any reading time. So I finished off another book of single-panel cartoons, this time of the exceptionally hairy-looking people and creatures of Ed Koren. His stuff will always look very '70s to me (maybe because that was when I first saw it; maybe because his jokes are usually about people getting in touch with their feelings in a very EST, post-hippie, liberal New York way), but it's still generally funny. This book is from 1995, but Koren's cartoons take place in a world where it is forever 1977.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Movie Log: Zoom

I'm beginning to think my boys will always choose crap when given a choice, but I haven't given up all hope yet.

Today they had two choices. The first was whether to watch Howl's Moving Castle at home or go see something in the theater. (They chose the latter, which is very understandable; given a choice, I'd rather see a movie on a big screen than at home on TV.) The second choice was between Monster House and Zoom, and they decided against Monster House for the second time. (And that's too bad, because it really does look like the best of this summer's crop of kids' movies.)

Zoom is a movie fatally undermined by its own casting (or so I surmise; it's possible that it would have had the same problems anyway), a movie that ends up feeling smaller than it should -- though I should say it's pleasant and entertaining, like tea that's sweet enough but too watery. As a movie about a "family" of super-powered folks, it inevitably suffers by comparison with The Incredibles. Unfortunately, it also suffers by comparison with last year's Sky High, another super-powered kids movie with a better-structured plot and a lot of good actors in small roles. Zoom shoves forward its name actors (primarily Tim Allen as the ex-teen superhero Captain Zoom, but also Courteney Cox as the doctor/love interest, a nearly unrecognizable Chevy Chase as the doctor/comic relief, and Rip Torn as the kind of hardass military guy that Torn can play in his sleep by now).

The movie should be about the four kids learning to use their powers and trust each other, but, instead, it's a Tim Allen movie -- he's a washed up superhero who's needed when the only other survivor of his teenage super-team, his brother -- who of course turned evil and killed the rest of the team before being thought killed -- starts heading back to Earth from some other dimension. So Allen's character, Jack, has to train the next generation of heroes to stand up to the new threat. Unfortunately, the movie is about Jack rather than about the kids, and he's the one who ends up saving the day (with each other super-powered person providing a precisely measured dose of help). I wonder if there was a draft of this movie done right before Allen got attached -- one actually about the kids.

Don't get me wrong: Allen's acting is fine, and he carries this movie, such as it is. (He has to; it was built to be carried by Tim Allen.) But having him, a "movie star," in the movie kept it from being the story it should have been and made it a Tim Allen vehicle.

Since it's a Tim Allen movie, he needs a love interest, so Cox's screen time is increased over the real plot function of her character. And Chase does a mild, aged version of the schtick that we used to love thirty years ago. (To his credit, it's only embarrassing once, when an "outdoor simulator" sends his character into ethnic-stereotype dialogue for no obvious reason.)

Let's see; what else is wrong here? Allen's super-suit, revealed at the end, is uninspiring, and the kids' graduation jumpsuits (in bland white) are actually less appealing than their yellow training uniforms. The big end fight is too small, and has too many scenes of soldiers falling down because a special effect is in their neighborhood.

All in all, Zoom seems to have spent its money on Allen and Cox and Chase. I wish they had hired instead people like Mark Hamill and Sandra Oh and William H. Macy, and spent the $5 million or so saved there on a better script, a decent costume designer, and a bit more special effects (not a lot; just enough to make it feel more important) at the end.

(Oh, and the aging-superhero-coming-out-of-retirement gag was done first and best by The Return of Captain Invincible, an incredibly uneven but fascinating 1983 movie with Alan Arkin and Christopher Lee, with great songs by Richard "Rocky Horror Picture Show" O'Brien.)

If you absolutely loved Sky High, or are the world's biggest Tim Allen fan, go see this movie. If you have kids who really want to see it, go with them and be mildly entertained. Otherwise, if you think you want to see a story like this, rent Sky High or track down The Tomorrow People.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Book-A-Day #32 (8/18): Wrong About Japan by Peter Carey

This is a short, supposedly non-fictional book about a novelist's trip to Japan with his twelve-year-old son (though I recall some reviews saying that liberties had been taken with the truth -- as one would expect from a novelist). Carey's son, Charley, had just become fascinated with some anime and manga stories (mostly Gundam Wing and related stuff), and Carey leveraged that into a father-son trip to Japan in which Carey would interview some people related to anime and manga (for, presumably, this very book).

I see from looking this book up at Amazon that it has a lot of one-star reviews from people who claim to know a lot more about anime and manga than Carey does, and knocking this book as a poor introduction to those areas. These reviews would have a bit more weight if that was anything like what this book is trying to do, but of course it isn't. Carey doesn't claim to be even the expert his son is; he's an interested layman, and a careful reader/viewer who's just started to work out all of the subtleties and cultural assumptions of these works.

It's a slim book, and doesn't really come to any conclusions -- Carey is trying to get closer to his son through the trip to Japan and a series of interviews with creators of things that Charley likes, but Charley spends most of the book either quietly sullen or just plain quiet. Carey did invent a fictional young man, Takashi, who acts a bit like their guide, but he doesn't give Takashi very much to do, and the conflicts that were reportedly the reason he invented Takashi don't actually add up to much.

But the writing is superb and the tone is thoughtful. Wrong About Japan might not be a great guidebook to Japan, or to the world of anime and manga, but it's a fine meditation on fathers and sons, and different kinds of cultural estrangement. While reading it, I came to regret recent time spent reading bad novels, or minor, light non-fiction. Carey is a writer who doesn't settle for OK, and he makes me want to be equally demanding as a reader. I've only read one of Carey's novels so far (Jack Maggs), but I want to read more of them now, and I want to read better books in general, instead of settling for literary junk food. So this was well worth reading.

Quote of the Week

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

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Book-A-Day #31 1/2 (8/17): Captain Underpants and the Preposterous Plight of the Purple Potty People by Dav Pilkey

This is the book I ran out at lunchtime to buy for my boys -- I read it to Thing 2 at bedtime over the past three nights, and Thing 1 has read it himself at least twice by now.

This is the eighth book in the series, so telling you that George and Harold accidentally use a time machine to travel to an alternate dimension where everything is opposite, and then have to battle Captain's probably not all that helpful. And, if you're a normal adult, you probably don't have much interest in a silly kids' book.

But if you have any contact with elementary-school-aged boys, especially ones who are "reluctant readers" (my boys mostly aren't, though Thing 1 would mostly rather read comics than books with just words these days -- hey, who wouldn't?), the Captain Underpants book are what you need. They'll love you for it.

The author has a neat-o website as well, with lots more inappropriate humor and fun.

Movie Log: Bottle Rocket

Bottle Rocket is the movie that introduced the world to director Wes Anderson and to the acting brothers of Luke and Owen Wilson. I never bothered to see it until last night, because I missed a whole lot of movies in the mid-to-late '90s.

Remember all of those caper movies that came out after Reservoir Dogs? (Another movie I've never seen, and one I don't plan to, either.) This looked to the untrained eye like one of those, but it really was more like the current independent-movie scene, mostly about characters trying to figure out what the hell is going on with their lives (cf. Sideways, Garden State, Lost in Translation, etc.). Anthony (Luke Wilson) has just been released from a mental hospital, and his friend Dignan (Owen Wilson) tries to recruit him into a life of crime.

The crime thing doesn't work out all that well, but not in the mid-90s caper-movie ways you'd expect; things fall apart in small ways, mostly, and nothing goes quite according to plan. But Anthony does find love, in what seems to be a digression but turns into the real backbone of the movie.

It was a pleasant, meandering movie, and it actually made me like Owen Wilson (who always looks like a smirking jerk, so I've generally avoided movies with him in them). But it was most interesting -- to me, at least -- as the great indy-film link between Pulp Fiction and Ghost World.

Book-A-Day #31 (8/17): Life's Little Annoyances by Ian Urbina

Yes, I am clearing out all of the little, quickly-read books that accumulated while I was neck-deep in 2005 fantasy earlier this year. I think I'll jump into longer things after Worldcon (maybe even during Worldcon, since I usually like to take at least one big fat classic with a ribbon marker to big conventions), but, for now, it's nice to keep tossin' 'em up and knockin' 'em out of the park.

This is a silly little book; I don't think it actually was a website first, but it feels like it should have been. (That might have helped collect more -- and better -- stories.) It's all about the annoyances of everyday life (rude cell-phone people, telemarketers, bad drivers -- anything that Andy Rooney could get a good snit worked up about), and specifically about how various people have "fought back."

Urbina has a lurking sense of humor -- he often writes about people annoyed by things each other do in quick succession -- but he's also primarily a reporter, so his voice is mostly a rah-rah cheerleader style, rather than drawing any parallels.

I got this book at work for free, and it only took about two hours of my life. That's about what it was worth to me, so it was a decent trade.

Blogging About Blogging

The blogroll is still increasing in size; I just added Mark Chadbourn's Jack of Ravens after he e-mailed me about it. (And it's very weird to think that this little lark I started ten months ago to practice for my "real" blog is now something anyone would bother asking to be linked from.)

The "Authors (etc.)" now contains all of the SF/F/Horrorish people who have a blog that I've remembered to add to the list, plus a few people who write other things, just because. It will probably keep growing, as more writers get blogs (or as I remember to add them).

The other sections keep growing similarly. I have been intending to write a "Link Pimpage" post, pointing out some of the more interesting stuff in that vast sea of links, but I haven't gotten to it yet. Maybe this weekend...

John Hodgman Has a Blog

I haven't had a chance to check it yet, but I'm sure it will be awesome. (Frantically busy this morning trying to do a little work and post a lot of news on the SFBC blog.)

That is all.

Book-A-Day #30 (8/16): The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell

I talked about Sarah Vowell before, but I'd only found a copy of this (her other book of essays, after Take the Cannoli) during WFA-frenzy time, so I didn't have a chance to read it immediately.

I see I said most of the things I would say now the last time I talked about Vowell's writing, so I won't repeat myself. This collection is more specifically about political life -- not about specific day-to-day partisan politics or policies, but about being connected to and worrying about your nation and how it's governed. I'm sure I'd disagree with her quite a bit if she was talking about specific policies (though probably not all of the time), but I find I completely agree with her on the more important stuff: that loving and caring about your country is vital, but you also have to be careful not to let that blind you.

She's a good essayist, and I wish more people would read "political" books like this instead of the usual run of All The People I Hate Are Making The Country Suck by T.V. Blowhard.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Who I Look Like, Part Two

Well, I got curious, and found out that Zbigniew Preisner is a composer (of classical-ish stuff, I think) and that Valdas Adamkus is the current President of Lithuania.

I'll have to listen to some of Zbiggy's stuff, to see if he's worthy of looking like me. But Valdas sounds like a cool guy and a tough cookie (not to mention in charge of the armed forces of at least a small nation -- and since the Grand Duchy of Fenwick debacle I'm not counting any country out), so I'm not going to be making fun of him.

I do suspect, in most of the cases below, I "look like" those guys because we have similar facial hair.

(Oh, and one last thing: John Dolmayan is a drummer, not a serial killer. I was a bit worried about him for a moment.)

Hey, Like-A-Look!

Another day, another meme -- and, as usual, I noticed Keith DeCandido doing it first. (Really, I'm not stalking you, Keith -- you just do all of these things and are early in the alphabet.)

From the evidence below, I look most like someone I've never heard of -- but he's supposedly famous, so it must be my fault.

But I don't look all that much like any of them. So that means either I am unique and special, or that I have the kind of face that does not become famous.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Book-A-Day #29 (8/15): Prador Moon by Neal Asher

I read this for SFBC, so I'll be brief: it's a big zippy space opera in a small package, in which Asher's Polity encounters intelligent aliens for the first time: gigantic warlike crabs that discover that they love the taste of human flesh. The science is not, as you might guess, as hard as it might be. (And that's perfectly fine with me.)

Incoming Books: 15 August

I went out to a bookstore at lunch today to get one book, and came home with two. (Well, I actually bought three, but one was for work, and stayed at work.)

I went to buy Captain Underpants and the Preposterous Plight of the Purple Potty People by Dav Pilkey (and I notice that this is, as far as I remember, the first time I've ever deliberately gone out of my way to buy something the first day it was available -- I even had to ask for it at the counter in the kids' section, and they grabbed the stack out of the back to put them out), and also brought home Pearls Before Swine: Sgt. Piggy's Lonely Hearts Club Comic by Stephan Pastis.

The first I'll read at bedtime to the boys over the next day or two, and the other one will probably get read in bits either by the computer (after I finish the other two volumes of The Complete Calvin & Hobbes) or in bed (after I finish Chip Kidd: Book One). So they don't, for once, seriously increase the to-be-read shelves.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Book-A-Day #28 (8/14): The Complete Calvin & Hobbes, Book One by Bill Watterson

First of the three books in the big slipcase.

This is a gorgeous edition, with all of the watercolor art (collection covers, the new storybook-style stories, and other random stuff) interspersed where it makes the most sense and with all of the strips in chronological order (with dates!) except occasionally where the Sundays aren't in the same continuity as the dailies. It's an absolutely wonderful book, as well it should be for the arm and a leg it costs.

The only possible criticism is that its so damn heavy, but that's a feature as much as it is a bug -- it's published on very nice paper, and that stuff is heavy. (As is the half-cloth binding and big thick boards.)

Of course, the great thing about an edition like this is being able to read straight through several years of a strip, and see how it changed. Watterson's art style changed only a bit; he started out a bit looser and with more blacks, but tightened up quickly and, as far as I can see, keep the same style consistently from about the summer of 1986 through the end of the strip in 1995. As far as stories go, he clearly got more confident as time went on, and was willing to run a story for two or three weeks, but Calvin & Hobbes was the same kind of strip several years in as it was when it began (and I'm pretty sure I'll find when I hit Volume 3 that it ended as the same kind of strip it had always been).

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Movie Log: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Today I saw two middle-of-trilogy movies with colons in the middle of their titles. It wasn't exactly on purpose.

I had heard the vague talk that Dead Man's Chest had certain similarities with another middle-of-trilogy adventure movie (The Empire Strikes Back), and I can certainly see the parallels:
  • blonde hero learns more about and confronts his presumed-dead father
  • blond and brunette heroes are now apparently in competition for The Girl
  • heroes travel to an odd location where one of the very few black featured characters helps them out
  • brunette hero is trying desperately to avoid a debt he owes to a large slimy associate
  • brunette hero is left in rather an unpleasant position at movie's end
  • movie does not so much end as stop
I don't believe, unlike some wild-eyed Internet conspiracy theorists, that all this is evidence of large-scale plot borrowing, since the actual plots of the two movies are quite different. (For one thing, Will Turner doesn't spend most of Dead Man's Chest in the Brazilian jungle learning strange and esoteric arts.) But it is interesting.

This is not a movie to think deeply about: it's a hell of a lot of fun, laugh-out-loud funny in a number of places, and it did make nearly two and a half hours pass very quickly. I saw the first one at home a week after watching Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World, both of which made it suffer a bit. I saw Dead Man's Chest on a big screen in a theatre with nice comfy chairs and good sound, as God and Gore Verbinski intended.

Other random thoughts:
  • The Wife actually recognized Bill Nighy under his makeup, for which she deserves some kind of prize
  • Elizabeth's father has surprisingly little power for a British Governor in the high days of imperialism; the redcoats should all take his orders, not those of some jumped-up businessman
  • the two squabbling pirates are worth the price of admission all by themselves ("the dichotomy of good and evil?")
  • And it sure rains a lot in this movie...

Movie Log: Star Wars: Attack of the Clones

Boys' Movie Saturday rolls around once again, and Thing 1 wanted to watch Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones and leave Howl's Moving Castle for next week. (And you can't blame him for it; the last Miyazaki movie he saw was the scary Princess Mononoke and he doesn't know how bad Attack of the Clones is.)

For that matter, I didn't really know how bad Attack of the Clones was; I'd never seen it before. I'd heard a lot about it, and I'd played through the storyline in Lego Star Wars on the GameCube, but I'd never actually sat in front of a screen on which it was playing. Well, now I have.

I won't beat this very dead horse too much, but boy! was that a waste. Hayden Christensen was lousy, Natalie Portman and Samuel Jackson (both of which I've seen actually acting in other movies) were stiff as boards, and only good ol' Ewan MacGregor was able to successfully impersonate a human being. The dialogue was bland and uninspiring, and the actors not directed to do much with it. (I kept thinking that a really good script would have been able to counteract Lucas's problems directing people, or that a really strong director could have salvaged Lucas's script -- but, doing both, he magnified his weak points.)

This could have been a damn good movie -- it has real ideas poking out of it at odd angles, and its events, tweaked slightly, could have made an excellent, gripping story. But Attack of the Clones is not that story. Lucas relies too heavily on special effects, and many times (as when character's faces are computer-pasted onto a CGI dummy), those effects make the characters move in obviously unrealistic ways, so that the viewer keeps being reminded that he's just watching a movie...a dumb, ham-handed movie that would have been wonderful if Lucas handed his plot to a decent scriptwriter and produced the work of a director who can actually get actors to show emotion. (The only emotion we do get, anywhere in this film, is Anakin's whiny petulance -- and we get that far too often.)

So I don't hate Attack of the Clones because it's dumb -- it was a summer skiffy movie, and those are supposed to be dumb -- but because the good movie it could have been is always faintly visible like a ghost, and that haunts it from beginning to end.

Reading Into the Past: Week of 8/6

This week the magic number was eight, and these are the books I was reading this week in 1998:
  • George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings (8/2)
    Second in the series of big fat fantasy tomes that are also serious novels about moral responsibility and family ties, but, for God's sake, don't start here -- A Game of Thrones is the first one.
  • Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones's Diary (8/3)
    I'm very fond of first person narrators, and I also quite like artificial structures in my novels, so the diary form was a lot of fun here. (The sequel, however, is lousy; avoid it.) It is not a book to take seriously at all, and it might read a bit differently these days (especially as it has spawned an entire sub-genre), but it was wonderfully fun at the time, especially read at full speed.
  • Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Making Book (8/10)
    A collection of essays and miscellania, mostly about books and the editing life. Books like this appeal only to a relatively small readership, but I'm smack-dab in the middle of that readership, and this is a great example of the type.
And what I was spending a lot of that week reading was Gardner Dozois's The Good New Stuff (a book of SF adventure tales from the mid-60s through the then-present day), which I finally finished on the 16th. I stuck it together with Dozois's similar anthology The Good Old Stuff (which had SF adventures of a slightly older vintage) to make a book very imaginatively named The Good Stuff. I don't exactly recall what was in either of them, but they each had a nice pile of swell stories.

Movie Log: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

I saw three movies in about a 25-hour period, Friday to Saturday, so these might be quick.

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead was from Netflix, and I knocked it off on Friday night. I was stunned to see that the movie was from 1990, and that I'd somehow managed to miss seeing it before now.

The play was one of my favorites in high school (which will tell you quite a bit about what kind of teenager I was -- introspective, moody, found of theatricality and philosophizing), so perhaps the movie just came along a couple of years too late for me to have jumped right on it when it finally appeared. (In 1990 I was just graduating college.)

For those who've never heard of it, R&G Are Dead is a Tom Stoppard play (if I'm remembering right, his first produced play, from about 1966) which takes two minor characters from Shakespeare's Hamlet (Ham's old college buddies, the guys in the title) and puts them through some very post-Beckettian situations weaved in and around the events of the Shakespeare play. The movie was scripted and directed by Stoppard, so it's definitive in a sense.

It's a movie of quick dialogue, and I had to turn my DVD volume up all the way; it seemed to have been mastered very quietly. It also had no subtitles, which was annoying -- I've come to rely on them for movies like this, to make sure I don't miss anything at home (where I can't set the volume to shake the house, since there are two sleeping boys above me). So I missed more of it than I would have liked.

It's a good version of the play, and exploits space in a movie-like way rather than feeling like a filmed play. It is somewhat depressive, of course -- it's a serious mid-20th century play, how could it be otherwise? -- as the central themes are death and the impossibility of avoiding fate. Neither the play or the movie can really be summarized; either you know Hamlet or you don't, and what happens to R&G outside Shakespeare's scenes is interesting in a theatrical sense, but not really heavily plotted. The movie, like the play, is for people who like artifice and stagecraft and impending doom. I still do, so it worked for me, though I'd like to see it again, someday.

Book-A-Day #27 (8/13): third in the aforementioned contemporary fantasy series

And that will be it for now. If all goes well, I'll be sticking these three books into one volume for the SFBC some time in the late fall.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Book-A-Day #26 (8/12): Scotch and Toilet Water?: A Book of Dog Cartoons by Leo Cullum

Some days, I'm really too busy to do much reading. Today, for example: I took the boys on a two-hour hike in Ramapo Reservation (it was supposed to be with Thing 1's Cub Scout group, but everyone else was at the other entrance to the park -- but we had a good time anyway), dragged them back home to have lunch while watching Star Wars Episode II, took a quick trip to the library, and then dropped the boys off at my mothers' house for a sleepover.

Next The Wife and I will go out and see the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie, have some dinner, and come back home and collapse. It's a full day, and I haven't touched the book I'm supposed to be reading.

On days like this, I foul one off to keep my count alive. Today it was a book of cartoons (mostly from the New Yorker) by Leo Cullum, all with dogs in them. It doesn't take very long to read in the first place, and I'd read most of it a few weeks ago and put it on my emergency-books pile (for just such times as this). Voila -- I finished a book today, and my streak is still alive. (And I also get a blog post out of it, keeping that streak alive, too.)

Oh, the cleverness of me!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Quote of the Week

"I have yet to see any problem, however complicated, which, when you looked at it the right way, did not become still more complicated."
-Poul Anderson

Book-A-Day #25 (8/11): Ex Machina Vol. 3: Fact v. Fiction by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Tom Feister

Third collection of comics stories about a metahuman mayor of New York City; one of the few comics ever to have attempted something like real science fiction and not been a horrible embarrassment.

Horswoggler says: check 'em out.

Incoming Book: 10 November

Yesterday approximately 500 pages of Mae West: "it ain't no sin" by Simon Louvish came home with me to La Casa de Hornswoggler.

I'd read a good review of it somewhere (probably Publishers Weekly), and then saw a bound galley (does anyone in the trade still call them "bound galleys?" we do at Bookspan/Doubleday Entertainment, but that might just be because we're all crotchety and set in our ways) a few days later and snapped it up.

I like reading good biographies, and don't get through as many of them as I'd like. (Mostly because a good biography takes a while to read, and time is tight.) This one will join some others, scattered across by to-be-read shelves, and might make it in front of my eyeballs at an indeterminate time in the next five-to-ten years.

The name Simon Louvish is oddly familiar: I checked out his website, and he's written a lot of things, but I don't think I've read any of it. Still, I have the feeling I did read something of his once...I wonder what it was?

Movie Log: Whisper of the Heart

I should probably just get a complete list of Studio Ghibli movies and start checking them off one by one, because it looks like I'm going to try to see them all. This one isn't by Miyazaki, the head of the studio, or even Takahata, whom I'm now thinking of as "the other guy." (He's the one who directed Pom Poko, which I saw a few weeks ago.)

It's now three days after the last paragraph, and I now have found and printed out a Studio Ghibli list -- it seems that I still have to track down and see
  • My Neighbor Totoro (which I own on VHS)
  • Howl's Moving Castle (which I own on DVD)
  • Grave of the Fireflies (which I might save for last)
  • Only Yesterday (which doesn't seem to have been released in the US, ever)
  • My Neighbors the Yamadas (which looks like one of those "for the huge audience who already knows and loves it" movies)
  • Ocean Waves (A TV movie that also doesn't seem to have had a US release)
  • The Cat Returns (probably next)
  • and Tales from Earthsea (assuming it gets a US release)
So I'll be busy for a little while...

Anyway, the Wife and I watched Whisper of the Heart on Monday night. It's a quiet, low-key movie about characters (which I generally like), and is essentially a very chaste junior-high-school meet-cute-and-fall-in-love story. The animation is lovely, and really has a sense of place; it's set in parts of Tokyo (I don't know which parts, as I don't think they're ever specified), and they feel very real. I do wonder if the whole area is that hilly-slash-mountainous; the movie doesn't make a big deal about it (it's just part of the world), but there's an awful lot of stairs and walking up inclines and just looking out over beautiful vistas.

It's a nice family story, though it gets a bit potted in the last third. (Our heroine, Shizuku, wants to be a writer, so we get some mildly precious stuff about creativity -- it's not bad, or really intrusive, but it shows that the Artistic Creators Are Wonderful And Special meme has touched every corner of the world.) The relationships in Shizuku's family are very believable, and the interactions among the students at school are also very well done (with only a couple of moments of broad slapstick; this is generally a realistic movie).

I'm not quite sure how to put this, but Whisper of the Heart is now bouncing off Gregory's Girl (a movie with a broadly similar premise, though Gregory doesn't swing for the fences the way Whisper does, and Gregory also has much better dialogue) in my head. Coming-of-age stories all have some family similarities, of course, but these two movies interestingly counterpoint each other.

One last thought: Whisper of the Heart is the only animated film I can think of without any fantastic content. (Except maybe The Triplets of Belleville, which has some oddities but very little that could be called fantasy.) There is some pseudo-fantasy in a dream sequence, and more in the story that Shizuku writes, but that's not fantasy on the level of the movie itself. So this is a good argument in favor of animation being able to tackle any kind of story; this could easily have been a live-action movie, but it works very well as animation.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Book-A-Day #24 (8/10): The Sky People by S.M. Stirling

An upcoming novel I read for the SFBC, so I shouldn't talk much about it.

It does have a neat setup: the first probes of Mars and Venus in the early '60s revealed planets remarkably like pulp SF -- planets not only inhabitable, but inhabited by humans (and, in the case of Venus, also dinosaurs and warlike Neanderthals). This has led to some interesting (if fairly predictable) alternate-historical changes, and a Cold War ranging over three planets.

This is my first Stirling novel, and I think I personally like my retro-futures a bit less straightforward and more rococo in style (like Colin Greenland's Harm's Way), but mine is a minority taste. This book is a lot of fun, and I expect it will be widely enjoyed. In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised if this series became his most popular work (over the Draka novels and the Island in the Sea of Time trilogy) in the fullness of time; it's that appealing and adventurous and wide-open for storytelling.

Banned Books Meme

Finally, a meme I really like. (I got this one from Keith R.A. DeCandido, source of many memes since his name's fairly early in the alphabet and he's maniacally active on LiveJournal.) I like this one particularly because, when I was in high school, I came across a list of the twenty-five most challenged books (in Playboy, I think), and I made a photocopy and tacked it up on my bulletin board as a reading list. In the end, I gave up partway through The Diary of Anne Frank (I was terribly sorry that those mean Nazis killed her, sure, but I didn't care about her at all) and just flipped through Our Bodies, Ourselves, but I read everything else. The list seems to have changed quite a bit since then, which I guess I should have expected; teenagers don't really want to read about what their parents were like as teens.

The rules: bold 'em if you've read 'em, italicize them if you plan to.

1. Scary Stories (Series) by Alvin Schwartz
2. Daddy's Roommate by Michael Willhoite
3. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
4. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
6. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
7. Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling
-- all of them; I'm reading Sorcerer's Stone at bedtime to my five-year old right now
8. Forever by Judy Blume
9. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
10. Alice (Series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
11. Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
12. My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
13. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
14. The Giver by Lois Lowry
15. It's Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
16. Goosebumps (Series) by R.L. Stine
17. A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
18. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
19. Sex by Madonna
20. Earth's Children (Series) by Jean M. Auel
21. The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
22. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
23. Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
24. Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
25. In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
26. The Stupids (Series) by Harry Allard
27. The Witches by Roald Dahl
28. The New Joy of Gay Sex by Charles Silverstein
29. Anastasia Krupnik (Series) by Lois Lowry
30. The Goats by Brock Cole
31. Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
32. Blubber by Judy Blume
33. Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan
34. Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam
35. We All Fall Down by Robert Cormier
36. Final Exit by Derek Humphry
37. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
38. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
39. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
40. What's Happening to my Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters by Lynda Madaras
41. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
42. Beloved by Toni Morrison
43. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
44. The Pigman by Paul Zindel
45. Bumps in the Night by Harry Allard
46. Deenie by Judy Blume
47. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
48. Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden
49. The Boy Who Lost His Face by Louis Sachar
50. Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat by Alvin Schwartz
51. A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
52. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
53. Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)
54. Asking About Sex and Growing Up by Joanna Cole
55. Cujo by Stephen King
56. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
57. The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell
58. Boys and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
59. Ordinary People by Judith Guest
60. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
61. What's Happening to my Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Sons by Lynda Madaras
62. Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
63. Crazy Lady by Jane Conly
64. Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher
65. Fade by Robert Cormier
66. Guess What? by Mem Fox
67. The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
68. The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
69. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
70. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
71. Native Son by Richard Wright
72. Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women's Fantasies by Nancy Friday
73. Curses, Hexes and Spells by Daniel Cohen
74. Jack by A.M. Homes
75. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo A. Anaya
76. Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle
77. Carrie by Stephen King
78. Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
79. On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
80. Arizona Kid by Ron Koertge
81. Family Secrets by Norma Klein
82. Mommy Laid An Egg by Babette Cole
83. The Dead Zone by Stephen King
84. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
85. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
86. Always Running by Luis Rodriguez
87. Private Parts by Howard Stern
88. Where's Waldo? by Martin Hanford
89. Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
90. Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman
91. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
92. Running Loose by Chris Crutcher
93. Sex Education by Jenny Davis
94. The Drowning of Stephen Jones by Bette Greene
95. Girls and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
96. How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
97. View from the Cherry Tree by Willo Davis Roberts
98. The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
99. The Terrorist by Caroline Cooney
100. Jump Ship to Freedom by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier

I note that I don't seem to have read any of the naughty Judy Blume books; I read some of her middle-grade books, way back when, but didn't read her teen novels. I also note that I haven't even heard of a lot of these books and authors; the YA world changes pretty quickly, and I haven't been poking around those shelves regularly for about twenty years now. (But give me about three to four years, and Thing 1 will be heading for that area, and I'll probably be plugged back in -- and, I expect, reading more YA books-without-pictures than he will be.)

I also wonder about the original source of this list; lists of "banned books" usually mean books that were on a curriculum or in a school library and were challenged by someone (usually unsuccessfully). But I find it hard to believe that any school teacher or librarian, no matter how liberal, could find a legitimate pedagogical purpose for Madonna's silly and overpriced art object Sex.