Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Working Accounting Hours

I just got the official exhibition hours for the middle conference of my back-to-back-to-back epic trip starting in just a couple of days, and, as usual, they're back-breaking:
Wed: 6:15 AM - 6:30 PM
Thu: 6:30 AM - 6:30 PM
Fri: 6:30 AM - 4 PM
The next time I'm at a SF convention and I hear some huckster-room vendor moaning about how hard it is to be up and functional at 10 in the morning, well -- somebody's going to get such a pinch, I can tell you.

The Infinities by John Banville

John Banville is far too subtle and sneaky for the likes of me; I'll read his books (and enjoy them, too), but I'm not going to pretend that I'm qualified to criticize them in any depth. And even though  The Infinities dabbles in the fields of the fantastic -- a piece of the literary landscape I usually would say I can cover reasonably comprehensively -- I'm still going to keep my comments brief and try not to make any obvious missteps.

This is the story of two families: one human and one divine. Well, I need to back up immediately: Banville does have gods tracking through the fields of The Infinities, but they're not "divine" in any conceivable sense of that word -- and that's likely one of his points. But the human family of noted mathematician Adam Godley has gathered in his large, isolated house -- in a quietly, subtly alternate world in which the British still rule North America and other, larger changes are only hinted at -- in the aftermath of a stroke that has left him in a coma and which they all expect will lead to Adam's imminent death. That family consists primarily of Adam's son and daughter, the son's new wife, the father's younger-than-you'd-expect wife, and a few hangers-on.

The other family begins with our narrator, who claims to be Hermes of the Greek pantheon, or to be an eternal, animating spirit that was once called Hermes. His father, Zeus, also takes an active part in The Infinities -- and anyone that knows how Zeus reacts to attractive young women can guess which part is primarily active in his case -- and Pan turns up, as well. They float through the lives of the humans, laughing at and commenting on their small lives and relationships, and Banville's novel takes its viewpoint from Hermes: it looks at its human characters like specimens anatomized on a table, seen from all angles and with no illusions.

I've described two of the three fantastic elements of The Infinities: it's set in an alternate history, and contains real gods that affect the action of the novel. But the physics of The Infinities is also different; the comatose Adam, in his younger days, was instrumental in creating a theory that proved Einstein wrong, and provided vast energy from sources Banville leaves vague -- hinting only that they are (one of) The Infinities of the title.

Like most of Banville's work, The Infinities is not a novel of plot; it takes place over a few days, and things do happen, but Banville's emphasis is on the angle of view, rather than the events in sight. And it would be profoundly frustrating to a reader trying to come at it from a speculative-fiction perspective. But for readers who can let Banville's -- and Hermes's -- point of view take over for them, it's a deeply thoughtful, immersive dive into the lives of a few people, seen thoroughly and without illusions.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Keep the Change by Steve Dublanica

There's a big difference between a writer and someone who's written a book. A writer is someone who can replicate that experience -- maybe not at will, maybe not without pain and effort and even failure along the way -- but no one is really "a writer" after only publishing one thing.

Steve Dublanica became a bestseller with his book Waiter Rant, which grew out of his experiences serving food at a ritzy restaurant in my stomping grounds -- the western New York suburbs -- and out of his pseudonymous blog of the same name. With Keep the Change, though, Dublanica moves from being a guy who wrote a book to be a writer, someone who can get out there, do his research, and put it all together in a form that people will want to read.

The book marketing manager in me admires the way Dublanica is extending his brand: Waiter Rant was purely about waiters, and attracted interest for its behind-the-scenes look at their world, but Keep the Change covers all kinds of services and the people that do them. Even more importantly, it covers all of those areas from a general consumer viewpoint: its central question is "Who are you supposed to tip, and how much?" And that's something we all sometimes wonder about, or get apprehensive about, particularly when there's someone who seems to have his hand out.

Keep the Change is one part consumer guide and one part the story of Dublanica's explorations of the various places people get tipped -- each chapter covers one venue, from restaurants to hotels to garages, brothels, strip clubs, tattoo parlors, and barber shops. That first mission of Keep the Change -- to detail how much various people should be tipped for performing whatever services they're performing -- could have been a chart, or at most a medium-sized magazine article. And the second part isn't overly exciting, either -- Dublanica is a pleasant writer, but not a terribly deep one, and his quick dealings with the service providers in all of these areas come off as mostly superficial.

But Keep the Change is more entertaining than just summing up its parts would make it seem; tipping is deeply rooted in American culture, and Dublanica's journey to find out how to do it right -- even if he does gussy that up with blather about wanting to be "the guru of the gratuity" -- is full of both interesting anecdotes and useful information. I'm not sure if I'll remember all of the people I'm supposed to tip, and how much to give them, but that's not Dublanica's fault: he's giving us everything we need to know in Keep the Change, so it's up to us to use it.

Movie Log: Megamind

There's nothing at all wrong with Megamind, but there's not as much right with it as there could have been. For a while, it flirts with being a demented remake of the first Christopher Reeve Superman movie -- or maybe just appropriates a few ideas from that film in the way all animated movies now shamelessly pander to the assumed tastes of the parents of the rugrats watching it [1] -- but it always settles back into the groove of Kid-Approved Plot #4: Misunderstood Loner Makes Good.

Megamind (voice of Will Ferrell, sounding like he's actually playing a character rather than doing the Will Ferrell thing, and that's good) has the funny version of Superman's origin: rocketed to Earth from a doomed planet, but landed in a prison. His nemesis, Metroman (voice of Brad Pitt, and in the movie much less than you'd expect from the ads), has the good-guy version of that origin, and so they fight, starting when they both go to the same little red schoolhouse as tots. The Lois Lane figure is Roxanne Ritchie (voice of Tina Fey, not really sounding like herself, either), who's feisty enough that you almost don't notice that her entire role in the movie is to be the girl that strong men will fight over.

The bulk of the movie, though, takes place after the Megamind-Metroman conflict has been permanently resolved, leaving Megamind at loose ends. And, since this is a movie for kids, his devotion to evil is purely based in liking to wear capes with dark colors and an appreciation for the stoner anthems of my childhood. To be blunt, he's not actually evil in any sense, and his nefarious schemes were all entirely devoted to killing Metroman -- not to stealing anything, or conquering the world, or any more traditionally evil doings.

And we all know that the ending has to have Megamind turning into a good guy and saving everyone, right? Even supposedly edgy and goofy animated movies these days have to be massively renormative in the end, and Megamind is no exception; everything turns out as nice as nice can be. It is pretty funny along the way, though -- even Megamind's random mispronunciations, which I was expecting to become horrible very quickly, stay few and funny, and even become an important plot point -- which is about what should be expected from a movie like this.  

[1] This movie has one particularly egregious example: all of the music in it is at least twenty years old, the songs we parents remember from our own youths.

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 5/28

Welcome to another week! (And I suspect any of you are reading this somewhat later in the week than usual, given that Monday is a holiday here in the US of A.) As always, this is a list of the books that arrive in my mailbox during the previous week, with whatever interesting facts or tidbits I can tell you about those books, even though I haven't read any of them yet.

This time out, we start off with the new book of stories for younger readers by David Lubar, Attack of the Vampire Weenies. (Lubar's got a thing for weenies; this is his fifth collection of comically horrifying stories for pre-adults, all of which had weenies somewhere in the title.) There are thirty-three stories here in under two hundred pages; when you write for kids, you need to leave out all the stuff that's boring or unnecessary, since kids won't just skip it, they'll quite entirely. Vampire Weenies was published in hardcover last week by Tor's Starscape young-readers imprint.

The next book is aimed at slightly older younger readers -- the vast hordes of teenagers who insist that no one understands them, that their lives are utterly different and harder than anything that anyone has previously experienced, and that gobble down near-future dystopian novels about Teens Just Like Them. In the case of Marie Lu's debut novel Legend, the means a divided future America (with the Republic and the Colonies), the flooded remnants of Los Angeles, what seems like the usual secretly repressive and corrupt military dictatorship, and two fifteen-year-olds (a boy and a girl, naturally) from opposite sides of the tracks who meet when one is accused of murdering the brother of the other -- and, from there, they of course "uncover the truth of what has really brought them together and the sinister lengths to which their country will go to keep its secrets." Legend will be published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on November 29th, and there will, of course, be sequels following it.

Luckily, the next book I have is much less definable, or predictable: Five Wounds: An Illuminated Novel, written by Jonathan Walker and extensively illustrated by Dan Hallett. It's a heavily designed book -- inspired by the King James Bible, the cover letter says, and every sentence is numbered within chapters to prove it -- with both a section of vellum-finished plates and illustrations throughout the text, to tell the story of five orphans, all "marred at birth and forever cast out as outsiders in an uncaring world." The publisher helpfully notes that Five Wounds is "a densely layered tale for anyone who enjoys surreal and sordid graphic novels." (So I'm expecting all of the fans of The Rise of Arsenal to look for this one.) Five Wounds was published in the UK by Allen & Unwin, and is being distributed on this side of the pond by Trafalgar Square, starting in June.

And last for this week is Christopher Hart's Basic Anatomy for the Manga Artist, coming from Watson-Guptill on June 11th. I'm probably not the person to evaluate this -- I nearly failed a theater class in college when we got to the section where we had to draw scenery in perspective -- but Hart is definitely the guy to do it; he's written and illustrated several bestselling books of drawing instruction focused on manga styles, including the foundational Manga for the Beginner. And this book looks really useful for people who can actually draw, starting with the proportions of the typical manga-character skull and moving on through standard facial features, skeletons, muscles, motion and on to clothing, props, and so on.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Dungeon Quest Book One by Joe Daly

Joe Daly tells stories about slackers with an obvious love and a clear eye; he's attuned to the oddball notions and unlikely turns that their lives take, and crafts stories about quirky people that don't turn into catalogs of quirks themselves. (Which is nowhere near as easy as it sounds.) He's also notable among newer cartoonists for not committing memoir; his stories might have some inspiration in his life (or not), but they're real stories, that live and breathe and go off in their own directions.

Daly is South African; he first came to the attention of a North American audience with The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book, which collected two related stories about two South African slackers and the weird events they got caught up in. (I reviewed it here about a year and a half ago, well after it was published in the US.) Since then, he's jumped into a big series in "Dungeon Quest," but, in what I'm hoping will continue to be typical Joe Daly fashion, his big series is funny and goofy and takes itself seriously only in the way that a very late-night conversation about the nature of the universe, fueled by various not-entirely-legal substances, can be serious.

In fact, I reviewed the second book of "Dungeon Quest" recently for the magazine Realms of Fantasy (the June 2011 issue, available right now from better purveyors of ink-on-paper entertainment), and liked it so much that I had to go back and find the first book, to see how Millennium Boy and his adventuring party got started. This is one of those stories that knowing exactly how it started doesn't add quite as much context as one might expect -- it really was just Millennium Boy being bored one day and deciding to go out on an adventure rather than do his homework, and gathering up a small group of equally bored, or willing adventurers to go with him.

The obvious comparison for "Dungeon Quest" is to paper-and-pencil RPGs; Daly gives his characters statistics (for intelligence, strength, dexterity, various weapon skills, armor, and so forth), and those statistics go up after combat (though health can go down with an injury, of course). Daly also is willing to be more than a little goofy and self-conscious; his characters know that they can grab "upgrades" from the bodies of their dead enemies, and comment on how their stats are increasing.

The names of those items are odd as well -- "woolen beanie of insulation," "steel-toed bovver boots of the armadillo," "light bow of the woodpecker," and so forth -- to continue the sense of "Dungeon Quest" as the record of a friendly RPG campaign, down in some smoke-filled basement, with a bunch of friends enjoying themselves and goofing off.

I still wish that the one female member of this adventuring quartet -- Nerdgirl, the ranged-weapons expert of the bunch -- had any definable personality, or ever spoke, since the group is otherwise very boyish, with similar personalities. But there's still adventures to come, and I can hope that she'll turn out to be as quirky and fun as her male adventuring companions.

Dungeon Quest is a goofy, silly series, and it's not for readers who need their comics-format violence to be deadly serious and full of clenched teeth. But for those of us who have grown out of that limited conception of comics yet still want energetic adventure stories that know how silly they are, it's just the thing.

Movie Log: Wild Target

The Wife and I have a running joke that there are only twenty working actors in the UK at any one time. It's not precisely true -- the real number is probably closer to thirty -- but we do seem to see a lot of small British movies, and we keep tripping over the same actors again and again. Remembering their names, though, can sometimes be more tricky.

So, as we were watching it, we were thinking of Wild Target as a movie in which the rockstar from Love, Actually was a hit man, trying to kill The Young Victoria, while the red-headed kid from Harry Potter sort-of became his apprentice, and Arthur Dent was hired by Rupert Everett (we instantly remember him; dunno why) to kill the first hit man. Oh, and Judith Starkadder was the first hit man's very supportive mother.

As I've noted before, I am precisely the audience for comedies about hit men -- as previously proved by You Kill Me, The Matador, and Grosse Pointe Blank -- so I wanted to see Wild Target as soon as I knew it existed. And it does what a comedy about hit men has to: it immediately gets the audience on the side of Victor Maynard (Bill Nighy) by immersing us in his world and seeing it through his eyes and his voice. So we want him to continue to succeed in his chosen career -- but that's a problem, since we also see young con artist Rose (Emily Blunt) finagle a complicated double-swap of a counterfeit Rembrandt to a not-quite-crimelord (Everett), and we'd prefer to see her succeed as well, or at least survive.

Unfortunately, they can't both succeed equally, since Everett's character hires Maynard to kill Rose, which he sets off to do in his usual professional manner. But her life is so chaotic and full of unexpected events that he can't quite do it, and, through the sort of unlikely series of events that movies like this are full of, Victor ends up on the run with both Rose and a young man named Tony (Rupert Grint), with another hit man named Dixon (Martin Freeman) after him and Rose. It all ends pretty much the way it should, and goes a lot of enjoyable places along the way.

Wild Target is fun and witty and entertaining, though there's something just slightly out-of-focus about it, particularly in Rose's characterization. (She takes risks reflexively, all of the time, just to do dangerous things, and there's no explanation or excuse or payoff for that -- she also asks every man she meets "how much do you weight," which equally leads nowhere.) But, for those of us who love comedies about hit men, it's a gem, and one easy to overlook.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Incoming Books: May 27, 2011

I'm highly predictable: when my company closes early due to a long weekend -- as happened again yesterday -- I find myself shopping for reading material, generally in one of three places, The Strand, Midtown Comics, or Jim Hanley's Universe. [1]

Yesterday it was the last of those three: Hanley's. I've complained about their Byzantine shelving system before, so I'll omit a paragraph or two about my wandering around, trying to find what I was looking for, and get right to the books I bought:

Fred the Clown by Roger Langridge. I've admired Langridge's work in anthologies for ages and ages, and loved his Muppet Show comics. So I finally did have to buy a book of his original work -- it's long overdue.

iZombie, Vol. 1: Dead to the World. It's written by Chris Roberson and drawn by Michael Allred. If I'm reading comics anywhere near the American mainstream at all, I need to be reading this. But I've gotten out of the floppy habit enough to wait for the collection.

Approximate Continuum Comics by Lewis Trondheim. Trondheim is one of the giants of French comics -- and, by that, I mean "has written and drawn lots of great stories for various audiences that I've loved and want to see more of" -- and this is an series of autobiographical stories from the early '90s that I've been looking forward to since I saw Fantagraphics' catalog six months ago.

And last was Pascal Girard's Bigfoot, the graphic novel he created in between Nicolas (my review) and Reunion (my review).

[1] My excuse is that the company closes at 12:30, but the next train on my commuter-only line isn't until about 3:30, so I just have to take the PATH into Manhattan and catch a bus home. And, if I'm in Manhattan, how can I avoid going to a bookstore?

Movie Log: Harry Potter #7.1

The full title, of course, is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, since this is the movie that adapts the first half of the dullest and dreariest of the series of books by J.K. Rowling. (Not the longest book, nor the book with the most events, but I'm sure Warner Brothers is now kicking themselves and wishing they'd started splitting these back at Azkaban to make twice as much money.)

I haven't changed my opinion of the book -- which is, by far, the worst of the series, with a sag in the middle like a couch that Hagrid just sat on -- and the movie is as deeply faithful to the book in the way that this series of movies always has been...and that means, of course, that it's full of dull, dreary camping sequences, in which Harry, Ron, and Hermoine mope at each other for what feels like the full eight months the book covers.

(Somewhere in the middle of that, my younger son quietly stated that he wasn't having any fun and went up to his room to play. When your movie isn't more entertaining than playing alone with dominoes, you've got a serious problem.)

The plot makes as much sense here as it did in the book: which is to say, it's still the quintessentially English story about a boy who definitely isn't too smart for his station, but is indomitable enough to muddle through because his heart is true. Rowling has no interest in a resistance movement against her magical dictator, nor does she care about what's happening to the UK under Voldemort (much less the rest of the world, which nearly doesn't exist in the Harry Potter world), or even in depicting Harry Potter as any kind of leader or competent hero.

No, instead Deathly Hallows 1 is the story of three friends (who hate each other) hiding out in the woods instead of trying to find the seven magical Plot Coupons Horcruxes, which they need (along with three pounds fifty in coins) to send off to Rowling for an ending. And this movie doesn't even get them to the point where they actually start to accomplish their quest, so it's entirely ominous beginning and dreary middle. This is the movie you have to get through to get Deathly Hallows 2, and you'd have to be a stone Potter fan -- the kind unwilling to admit anything connected to Rowling is less than fabulous -- to strongly enjoy it as a movie in its own right.

Naruto 49 & 50 by Masashi Kishimoto

Yes, I'm still reading these. What can I say? I have to have some piece of violent serialized popular entertainment, I suppose -- don't we all?

I'm only a casual Naruto reader, though, and any serialized story that runs this long will tend to prefer dedicated readers to casual ones -- the story is only a bit shy of 10,000 pages long by this point, with more characters and details than I can honestly keep track of, some of the time. Luckily, Kishimoto isn't trying to tell a story just for the continuity nuts, but it is a reasonably complex world (five secret villages of ninjas, each with their own hierarchy and traditions, plus a raft-load of various semi-supernatural fighting techniques and abilities, including a lot of jargon), so getting back up to speed each volume can be tricky.

And Naruto himself is much more of an ensemble player now as well -- he's near the center of the story, most of the time, but there can be whole chapters of other people fighting or yelling at each other (still the two main modes of Naruto) in which the main character doesn't appear. I'm also finding it interesting -- and stereotypically Japanese -- how Naruto started off as the goofy oddball, loud and inappropriate and boasting, and has had most of his rough edges sanded off, bit by bit, to make him into the standard shonen hero: resourceful, smart, dedicated, and vastly more self-effacing than he was when he started. The Naruto of the early books would declare often that his goal was to be Hokage -- the leader and best ninja of his home. But the Naruto we see now wants to be, like every other shonen hero, a great salaryman, working as hard as he can for someone else and not asking for any more reward than more work. (Socialization can be a bitch.)

I still have hopes to make it to the end of this series, and I think that there actually will be an end, eventually -- Kishimoto's story has a definite shape, and things have been slowly coming together over the past thousand pages or so -- but it's entirely possible that this is only the halfway point of Naruto; there are lots of ways to extend a story and the manga industry is expert at all of them. No one is going to be in a hurry to end a cash cow like Naruto.

This was nothing like a review, since volumes 49 and 50 of anything are essentially unreviewable -- the only people with the standing to really look at them closely are so in love with the series that their opinions are unreliable, and those are the same people who could evaluate reviews, as well. But I spent the first three years of this blog insisting that I'd never really review books, and I suppose some of that spirit will still come out, now and then.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Quotes of the Week: Women and the Men Who Glare at Them

Hey, I forgot to do my usual early-morning quote post today. So, instead, have two very similar quotes late in the day:

"One can, to an almost laughable degree, infer what a man's wife is life from his opinions about women in general."
- John Stuart Mill

"Most men who rail against women are railing at one woman only."
- Remy de Gourmont

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Complete Bloom County Library, Volume Two: 1982-1984 by Berkley Breathed

The current explosion of comic-strip reprints has not been primarily driven by nostalgia, unlike the previous bursts -- there's no substantial audience that remembers Gasoline Alley from the 1920s or Popeye from the '30s, and even the Peanuts fans don't, for the most part, have personal memories of reading the strip in the mid-'50s. No, strip comics have finally grown up to the point of being like any other part of our cultural heritage: the interesting stuff is pulled out and lovingly repackaged every generation or two, like the complete works of Robert Johnson or The Castle of Otranto.

But that doesn't mean that nostalgia has no part to play, or that some strip reprint projects don't strike stronger chords with some audiences than others. Anything from the last three decades -- such as the gigantic slipcased reprints of The Far Side or Calvin and Hobbes -- are selling, I'd guess, primarily to people who remember those works rather than to those discovering them for the first time. And, since strip cartoons were ephemeral until the last decade or so -- appearing in the newspaper one day, wrapping fish the next, and then possibly appearing in books that were themselves pretty disposable a year or five later -- returning to those cartoons returns the reader to that time, and those concerns, and that life. For strips that exist in their own worlds, like Far Side and Calvin, it's a soft-focus return, not too tied to anything specific. But for strips that had strong storylines, and particularly those that commented on issues of their time, the reader is reminded, over and over, that 1982 was a very specific time, and that it hasn't been 1982 for a long time.

Bloom County isn't remembered as a particularly timely strip -- it's mostly remembered for its madcap energy and its impressive array of broad characters -- but it was deeply steeped in the daily foibles of its '80s run. Creator Berkeley Breathed knows that well; it's why he'd been hesitant to allow the strip to be reprinted in any serious way for many years, and his occasional annotations in Volume Two, which collects all of the Bloom County strips from 9/27/82 to 7/1/84, mostly signpost the "you had to be there moments," the bits of '80s culture that were hilarious then but are nearly incomprehensible now.

Some of those are political references -- Edwin Meese, James Watt, and other minor oddballs of the Reagan years -- but more are just topical, as characters obsess about the Oscars or Liz Taylor's love life (or that of Lee Majors, an topic no one has cared about since the mid-80s). All of this is thrown out with the live-wire energy of Bloom County, a strip that rarely ran a single continuity longer than a week and tossed out new ideas every other day -- so the references become like streetcars, whizzing past, and if you catch one every once in a while, it's all fine.

Bloom County probably was too wacky, too manic to continue at that high pitch for too long, but Breathed kept finding new things to be manic about, even as the strip rolled through its third and fourth years. It's not quite a rampaging id -- Breathed kept it all under control -- but Bloom County at is best always had a sense of free-association, as if it were the comic-strip equivalent of Robin Williams's stand-up routine from the same era, firing off new riffs on topics as soon as they came to mind.

If you never read Bloom County, you have a treat in store for you. The comics page was shrinking back then, as it is now, but a strip was still big enough for Breathed to fill the corners with his quirky characters, their off-kilter dialogue, and plenty of visual appeal. And it'll make you laugh about things that you probably don't remember -- either because you weren't there at all (you whipper-snappers!) or because you've utterly forgotten that there was ever a public figure named "Phyllis Schlafly."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Perils of Too Many Books

Hey, remember a couple of days ago, when I said I got a bunch of new books?

Well, one of them was the sixth volume of Penny Arcade, and I started to read it on the way to work yesterday...only to find it very familiar. Very familiar.

So I fired up the old external memory -- you're reading it right now -- and discovered that I had, indeed, already read that book. To make things worse, the copy I read the first time probably went to the Montclair Book Center as a used book, where I bought it again on Monday. So it's very likely that, not only did I read this book before, but that this is the very same copy that I read last year, and that I'd paid for the privilege of reading that copy again.

Of course, this means that I need to put the book back onto the stack to be sold as a used book, and see if the cycle repeats itself....

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Nebula Winners for 2011

This has been widely reported across the Internet; if you're relying on my for your SFnal news, I'm afraid you will be sadly out of date.

So here are the winners of the 2011 Nebula Awards, and the other stuff given out by SFWA at the same time, which are not to be confused with Nebulas even though it's totally confusing. (And my characterizations of those awards are, it goes without saying, entirely my own. I may be wrong, or misleading, or simply more honest than most SFWAns would prefer.)
  • Novel:
  • Novella:
  • Novelette:
  • Short Story: [Tie]
  • Andre Norton Award (for YA books that SFWA members are still too stuffy to consider "real" novels):
  • The Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation:
    • Inception, Christopher Nolan (director), Christopher Nolan (screenplay) (Warner)
  • Solstice Award (for people who will never get a Grand Master Award, due to being already dead, or not writers, or some other reason):
    • Alice Sheldon (aka James Tiptree, Jr.)
    • Michael Whelan
  • SFWA Service Award:
    • John E. Johnston III
I've seen Rose Fox complain (or perhaps muse) that SFWA "had a chance to really shake things up this year and recognize the up and coming generation of writers, and they missed that chance in favor of lauding the longtime stalwarts of the genre," which strikes me as 180 degrees off from the way one should criticize a literary award -- if you're focusing on it as a means to reward people and intensely checking their personal characteristics as compared to each other, then you've entirely lost sight of the point of the award, which is to reward the best works of the year, as far as the voters can determine that. If an award like this is about the person, it's utterly failed already, and should be scrapped.

That said, the Connie Willis diptych is a lousy choice that I suspect a lot of SFWAns voted for because Connie is nice and friendly and she's worked on it for a long time -- and the outlines of the excellent novel it could have been are faintly visible. I've only read one of the other nominated works (Shades of Milk and Honey), which is solidly better than the Willis, and I suspect but can not prove that the other choices are stronger novels, as well. Willis has written much better before, and she will do so again, but I would not have honored that particular work.

I Shall Wear Midnight, though, is the best of the three works I have read in that category, so I won't grumble about it. (Until and unless I read another nominated book and find it clearly superior, of course!)

And cue the jokes about how you have to be a SF writer to understand Inception. I still think that category, and its predecessors, has no real place in the Nebulas -- SFWAns are fans of SFnal movies rather than colleagues in the creation of them, which is a crucial difference between that category and all of the others -- but clearly SFWA wants to give their praise to Hollywood types who will continue to mostly ignore them. (I'll forgo the usual metaphors about geeks and prom queens.)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Where I'll Be in June

Short version: not here.

Longer version:

I have three conferences for work, back-to-back-to-back, and I was originally planning to split them with my assistant. Well, unfortunately, that assistant left for greener pastures (still within Wiley, though, so it's not too bad), so the planning changed. Luckily, two of those conferences are in the same city, and in adjacent facilities, right after each other. (So I was already planning on one of us -- I'd planned on "not me," actually -- doing those two together.)

But now, my itinerary will be:

Flying down to lovely Orlando, Florida next Thursday afternoon, in the company of The Wife. Spending a couple of days there together, to celebrate a combination of slightly-belated-anniversary (we'd been together 25 years at the beginning of May, and our 18th wedding anniversary was yesterday) and my birthday.

Then she flies back on Sunday morning, as I hunker down to the first of those conferences: IMA. (If you happen to be there, say hello -- Wiley is the official bookstore of the conference, so I'll be easy to find.)

On the following Tuesday evening, I fly off to San Diego, where my colleagues will already be setting up for the NACVA conference, which begins the next morning at an ungodly hour.

That runs through Friday, and then I actually have Saturday off, more or less. The ACFE conference then starts up on my second Sunday away, in that big convention center they have in San Diego. (And, yes, that will be my only time in it this year -- and my first time there since Comic-Con back in 1998.)

Then, finally, I get a red-eye flight home on Tuesday night, getting back to scenic JFK airport somewhere around 5 AM on Wednesday the 15th.

But...even before that, I've got an event the night before, nine days from today: I'm the "opening act" for my author Jonathan Spira, who will be speaking at the Public Relations Society of America-New York about his brand new book Overload!. I'm going to talk about how to promote books these days -- the hook is "in an age of ebooks" -- but Spira is the real draw, since he's an expert on a topic all of us on the Internet know far too well, the fact there's just too much data in front of any of us to keep up with. This is a paid, ticked PRSA-NY event, so I doubt anyone I know will show up.

And then...only half the month will be over, and I'll be completely exhausted and close to two weeks behind on work. Ah, the glories of publishing!

Hugo Thoughts

So I just spent some time loading the massive Hugo Voters Packet onto my iPad (and selections onto my iPod Touch, just in case), in preparation for a massive trip I've got coming up.

And I realized, as I was tagging all of those thing to make sure I can find them -- amid the raft-load of public-domain books that I grabbed for free, like we all do in ebook form -- that I now have eleven book-length works, plus at least a fat book's worth of stories, plus a pile of full magazine issues, just from this packet. I could spend all of June reading this stuff, and not even get through all of it.

Not that I'm complaining, mind you -- I'm just wondering how conscientious a Hugo voter I'm going to be this year. I didn't manage to nominate -- yes, yes, it was very bad of me, but it's been a massively busy season at work -- so I do want to at least vote, and vote with some sense of knowledge about the works nominated. But I'll have to see how serious that feeling is, as I confront the virtual tower of Hugo Packet day-by-day.

Incoming Books: May 23, 2011

I took a day off from work today -- you've got to do that, every so often, to keep your sanity, and I don't want to end up with all of my vacation time back-loaded in the year like 2010 -- so I took the opportunity to go to my favorite local indy store, the Montclair Book Center, for what was the first time in nearly a year.

I grabbed a couple of books for my sons -- probably both for Thing 2 -- and more for myself. Nothing that I was actually looking for was there -- that's one of the perils of being so plugged into publishing; anything you want isn't likely to be right at hand -- so this is an interesting example of what I get when I don't get what I want:

The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely, one of those hugely popular bestsellers that I read, once in a while, in hopes that they're not as least-common-denominator as my snobbish heart always assumes they are. (For example, recently I started reading a massively popular nonfiction book from the past decade -- which I'm never going to name, since it's in the business space and my employer might some day try to woo the author over to us -- and found it not just trite and badly written, as expected, but actively stupid and afflicted by terminal "pump up your thesis to Explaining Everything status" disease, so I gave up on it in less than a day and will never speak of it again.) I also have the vague sense that I read a good review (or maybe mention) of Upside, possibly in the Times Book Review. Assuming I find time to read it, I'll report back.

Kiss & Tell, a graphic memoir by a woman who styles herself MariNaomi (she's from California, where such things are apparently required). I'd never heard of it before, but graphic novels are always quick to read, so it's easy to at least try to keep up with everything. And I do like to encourage "real" publishers (this one's from Harper) to keep publishing comics-style books.

Did you know there was a graphic novel adaptation of Allen Ginsburg's long poem Howl by the cartoonist Eric Drooker? I think I vaguely knew about it, but I couldn't prove it if I had to. But when the book was in front of me, how could I not buy it? I've never read Howl, I'm badly read in the Beats to begin with, so what the hell.

Penny Arcade, Vol. 6: The Halls Below, as always by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik. I've mostly stopped buying collections of strip comics -- both web and newspaper -- unless there's "bonus content" of some kind, since just about all of them are freely available online. (Not that I ever go back and read six months of some strip online, though -- at least, not on purpose, since I got sucked into a string of PvPs from about 2005 last week -- so this is more of a complaint in theory.) But this book does have comments on all of the strips -- which are also old enough (2005) to make them of almost historical interest -- and it was there, so I got it.

And last was The New Yorker On the Money, a big collection of cartoons about economic matters culled from the vast catalog of the magazine. (They've done at least one similar book earlier, since I read the other one -- and I think I've read two of them.) If there's ever a future book like this, there's a decent chance it would come from my employer -- for boring contractual-relationship reasons -- so I'm going to pretend that I bought this for research purposes.