Monday, April 30, 2012

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 4/28

I've spent most of my Sunday morning acting as tech-support for Thing 2's Terarria installation (I thought kids were supposed to be better better than us at this computer stuff? When does that happen, so I can start relying on them for my own support?), so I'm running late, running more frustrated than usual, and (it feels like) running in circles. So this run-down may be somewhat shorter -- as may be my temper -- than usual.

These four books all arrived in my mailbox last week, sent by their respective publishers, with the hope that I will review them and help introduce them to vast new audiences that will enrich their authors beyond the dreams of avarice. (I may be slightly exaggerating for effect.) I haven't yet read any of them, but hope springs eternal, and here's what I can tell you about them:

Most interesting from my viewpoint is that I got two books from Amazon's new SFF imprint 47North, which started printing books on paper at the beginning of this year (and issued them in pure-electron formats slightly earlier). I've had no contact with any human beings connected with 47North, and early communications about 47North don't contain the names of actual publicity people, just a generic e-mail address. (This is all pretty typical for Amazon, which has managed the odd feat of being known for customer service even though it's nearly impossible to ever get a human being on the phone.) I also note that these 47North books are officially published from a Las Vegas address -- unusual for a company headquartered in Seattle -- which is suspect is for purposes of dodging tax payments, something else Amazon is very good at.

Anyway, they -- whoever "they" are (almost certainly ex-Tor publicist Justin Golenbock, who went to 47North about a month ago, and whose name is actually on the later of these two books as a contact) -- found out about me somehow, and sent me some books, and that means they are aces in my book.

First up is Further: Beyond the Threshold by Chris Roberson (who had a kerfuffle with DC Comics last week, in which he came out very well and DC came out looking petulant and childish -- I may be biased, since I know Chris slightly and like him much more than slightly). Further is a space opera, in which a starship captain from one of humanity's first ships wakes from coldsleep much later -- by a number of millennia -- than expected, in a complicated post-human interstellar polity that wants him to fly the first FTL ship to investigate what may be the first non-human intelligence. It's available May 15th, though you might find it difficult to obtain in book-selling outlets that aren't directly connected with Our Seattle Overlords.

The other 47North book is Christian Cantrell's Containment, which was previously self-published in 2010 (and that edition is still available right now, while the new one is difficult to find on Amazon itself), under the cover to the left. (I have no idea if the new edition will have a new cover -- I'd usually assume that it would, but Amazon follows no laws of god or man.) This is another SF adventure story, explicitly compared to Orson Scott Card, about the first generation of humans born on Venus and the shocking discoveries they learn about their pioneering parents. It's coming in August.

From Penguin's Blue Rider Press -- an imprint I wasn't previously aware of, though it launched a little more than a year ago and looks to be one of those give-a-bigwig-his-own-imprint-to-make-him-happy deals -- comes The Watchers by Jon Steele, the first book of the Angelus Trilogy. Watchers features a twisted man who rings bells in a cathedral, the beautiful woman he watches and saves, and a third side to the triangle in a British private investigator, which all may seem somewhat familiar -- but this book is set in the modern day, the cathedral is Lausanne in Switzerland, and the description hints that real angels of good and evil -- which may be somewhat more Manichaean here than is strictly orthodox -- will show up before the book is over. Watchers is a hardcover, available May 29th.

And last is two short novels in one from Tor and Walter Mosley: The Gift of Fire / On the Head of a Pin. (They're bound dos-a-dos, so each side has a front cover and they meet, upside down and back-to-back, in the middle of the book.) These are the first two of six "Crosstown to Oblivion" short novels about "life's cosmic questions" -- presumably, the other four will also show up, two at a time, in future books. This time, Gift of Fire brings the mythical Prometheus to the modern world, while Head of a Pin deals with a company making utterly realistic animation to allow new movies with long-dead actors that discovers an entity lurking in their software. It hits stores May 8th.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

My Current Zen Koan

"Can't escape from yourself unless you don't run."

(From the Cloud Cult song "The Exploding People")

Friday, April 27, 2012

In Which A Lying Liar Lies

Some bozo named Cameron Herold -- a consultant who clearly gets paid for making other people's working lives miserable, curse his name -- touts that "the private office is dead" and that "employees love" open plan, no-privacy workspaces.

And from this we can easily deduce that he has the kind of aggressive, hard-driving management style that shuts down all actual discussion in his immediate vicinity, because actual real people loathe those kind of offices. Really. And they say so when someone other than their boss asks them.

I also call bullshit on his claim that "a conversation that could take seconds in an open-concept environment gets needlessly stretched into minutes by walls and doors." In my actual working experience, having a meeting with people in real offices means walking in, saying "Got a minute?" and closing the door if necessary. Having a even-mildly-private meeting in an open-plan office means finding a quiet space to do so, which takes extensive checking-of-calendars, searching-of-rooms, and so forth. And those conversations in the next cube? Everyone within ten feet is desperately trying not to listen and to focus on their own work, to no avail. Every supposedly quiet five-minute conversation kills about an hour's worth of work in the surrounding area.

Also, I take great offense to his privileging of "collaboration" over actually being able to concentrate and do your own work -- most jobs are not done better by four kibitzers than by one person who actually does it. (But management consultants, as always, love kibitzing, since it's all they know how to do.)

This Herold chap is evil and needs to be stopped before he kills any more workplaces.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Mormon Eschatology

I an not a Mormon, so I can't vouch that this here flow-chart is completely accurate in all respects. But boy howdy, it is totally awesome and I believe in it with all my heart. (Even though I personally will only end up in the Telestial Kingdom, and won't get to create my own worlds.)

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Hugo Awards (But Didn't Want to Be Bored With Rules-Lawyering to Learn)

SF Signal has created a nifty infographic detailing some of the more interesting moments and concepts in the history of SF's most prestigious and long-lasting award.

I must note that my personal bugbear, the Dramatic Presentation category, is one of the oldest, dating back to 1958. I still hates it, and my argument is not based on its venerability, but on its tangential relationship to the actual fields of SFF and its fandom.

Even More Awards I Neglected to Mention

I sure hope that no one is using this wee blog as a primary source of news, because, if so, you're in big trouble. But I do feel service-y every so often, and so here are a bunch of awards winners and nominees that happened in the last longer-than-I-care-to-specify:

Finalists for the Prometheus Award:

The Libertarian Futurist Society has announced the short list for their annual award, given as a shiny coin of sweet, sweet gold, and for an "outstanding work of science fiction and fantasy that stress[es] the importance of liberty as the foundation for civilization, peace, prosperity, progress and justice."

This year's free and independent competitors are:
Congratulations to whichever novel wins the Darwinian competition and thus proves itself uniquely fit to survive and breed. And to the rest of the nominees, who should have tried harder.

BSFA Awards Winners

The other award from the UK -- one that, one suspects, Christopher Priest is entirely in favor of -- was handed out at a ceremony that attracted its own degree of negative attention. Winners via SF Awards Watch, since the British Science Fiction Association has apparently not updated its website with the winners in the three weeks since the ceremony.

Prix Aurora Nominations

The Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Society has announced the nominees in at least some of the Aurora categories (I'm not sure if there are also French-language categories), which were all posted to their website. Since most people only really care about the novel award, here's that category:

Shirley Jackson Award Nominees

This is a newer award (meaning it didn't exist when I came into the field, which could also be taken to mean that I Am Old), awarded by a jury "for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic." The full list of nominees is at the link, but this is the novel category:

FAAn Awards

Last and least, this most fannish suite of awards was recently awarded to:
  • Best Website:, hosted by Bill Burns
  • Harry Warner Jr. Memorial Award Best Letterhack;Robert Lichtman
  • Best Perzine: A Meara for Observers, ed. Mike Meara
  • Best Single Issue or Anthology: Alternative Pants,ed. Randy Byers
  • Best Fan Artist: Steve Stiles
  • Best Fan Writer: Mark Plummer
  • Best Genzine or Collaboration: Banana Wings, ed. Mark Plummer and Claire Brialey
  • #1 Fan Face: Mark Plummer
I will admit to wondering if "#1 Fan Face" is more like a Most Wanted, a Most Impressive Facial Hair, a Most Famous, or a Person We Like Better Than You, but it's only a momentary thought.

Congratulations to everyone who has ever been nominated for anything, which, in this fallen age, is pretty much all of us.

    Tuesday, April 24, 2012

    Tor Dumps DRM

    In what I believe is the first major-publisher fiction imprint to do so, Tor/Forge announced today (via a press release and a posting on that their entire publishing program will be available in electronic formats without Digital Rights Management schemes by early July of this year.

    DRM had generally been considered necessary to prevent piracy, but examples in both directions -- the continued pirating of massive numbers of ostensibly "protected" books, without much obvious effect on actual sales, on one hand, and the example of mostly technology-books publishers, led by O'Reilly (and joined by, among others, several of the tech imprints of my own employer, Wiley) on the other -- had made that accepted wisdom more and more seem less acceptable, and less wise.

    Tor and Forge are imprints of Tom Doherty Associates -- and Doherty's leadership in this area, and deep knowledge of how books are sold, isn't to be taken lightly -- but I suspect the more important point might be that TDA is itself part of the Macmillan publishing empire, and Macmillan has been the leader in several recent industry changes related to e-books, most importantly the move to agency pricing.

    So good for Tor for taking this step, and good for Macmillan for allowing them to do so. With any luck, the rest of the world will notice in a few months that the sky hasn't fallen, and DRM will become an endangered species.

    Barry Eisler Continues to Shill for Amazon

    This time, it starts even before his first sentence proper, when he claims that "legacy publishers" -- he means specifically "the Big Six" US trade houses, but he's writing in The Guardian for a UK audience, and conveniently ignores many houses of similar or larger size (one of which is providing the computer on which I'm typing at this very moment).

    I'm sorry, the stupid has infected me, and that sentence is a complete loss. I'll try again.

    Eisler is sad that the mean ol' legacy publishers are trying to do things like "windowing" -- not publishing a work simultaneously in all formats and pricepoints, which most of us would simply call "publishing" -- and setting prices for their own goods. Eisler wishes, apparently, that they'd just stop doing that, and let nice Mr. Bezos handle all of the fiddly details -- his ideal world would not be a monopoly, but letting a bunch of publishers make their own decisions (even when those decisions go against the Will of Bezos) would be a monopoly.

    It's clear that dear l'il Barry doesn't actually know what a "monopoly" is, or he wouldn't try to argue that six competitive companies embedded in a larger, and even more competitive, landscape qualify.

    (There isn't much of his usual Lake Wobegone-esque "all self-publishers are creatively freed millionaires in control of their own destinies" bumf, but that undertone, of course, is the only reason anyone takes Eisler the least bit seriously at any time.)

    Tell me, are his books this dull, poorly thought out and tedious? I have a dim view of the average level of writing in thrillers to begin with, but I'm afraid Eisler is driving that to new depths.

    G.B.H. Says Check It Out

    Shaenon Garrity has a thoughtful appreciation of Tatsuya Ishida's excellent, and surprisingly complex webcomic Sinfest over at The Comic Journal this week.

    Monday, April 23, 2012

    World Book Night!

    Today is World Book Night! (Well, for definitions of "world" that only include the US -- much like the "World Series"!)

    This is not to be confused with World Book Day, an older holiday celebrated in at least a couple more countries -- though I see that the UK hived off from the usual April 23rd to have their book day early, on March 1st.

    I see no obvious explanation why the US gets the night of the 23rd and the rest of the world claims the day, unless we're even more Batman-fixated here than I previously thought. But I'm willing to be informed by comments.

    So, maybe the "world" thing is slightly overstated, OK. But it's still a chance for people -- in certain countries, on certain sometimes-confusing days -- to get free books! And that's worth mentioning, at least.

    Secret Codes

    One of the more amusing parts of my current working life is the variety of interesting people who think the US Tax Code is some kind of hidden game. They tend to think that if they can just use the secret password, or otherwise show they have the Inner Knowledge, that they'll at least never have to pay taxes ever again. (Some more extreme cases think that the government will give them millions of dollars.)

    I was reminded of this by a news report from Friday; a district court has, once again, declared that another one of these dodges is invalid.

    I know everybody has their own rules for life, and that some people are just stupider than others. (Though you do have to at least have a certain kind of low cunning to attempt tax-dodge schemes; I may call these people dumb, but they're reasonably smart.) But, for me, the most important rule in life has always been this: anything that looks too good to be true is.

    The corollary, of course, is that anything that looks too bad to be true is happening sooner than you expect.

    Reviewing the Mail: Week of 4/21

    This is my first "Reviewing the Mail" post to be composed in Blogger's hideous new template -- it's as Google-riffic as anything you can imagine, all understated white space and unobtrusive everything like a high-tech '70s Swedish kitchen -- which means I may forget to tag or schedule this, since those elements, like nearly everything else, are lurking quietly in a corner.

    (If anything drives me to WordPress, it will be this. Well, the fact that scheduling posts hasn't worked for a week now also has a role.)

    Anyway, this is my usual weekly post: below are a number of books (and one magazine) that arrived in my mailbox last week, with the hopes that I'd review them here. (Good luck, folks: I've got nineteen books stacked up on the printer that I still have to review, plus the shelves full of stuff I never manage to read as quickly as I'd like to.) I haven't yet read these books, but here's what I can tell you about them, even with that handicap:

    I wanted to lead off with The Weird -- that gigantic (over 1000 pages!) compendium of the weird tale over the last century, because I love the idea of this book, because I have a lot of respect for its editors (Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, two of the best anthologists currently working), and because it's just such an impressive physical object. The Weird has 110 stories, from everyone (and I do mean everyone) from Algernon Blackwood to Laird Barron, hitting major names from the interlocking fields of horror, SF, and fantasy along the way. But it's not an anthology focusing on any of those areas -- it explicitly tries to define or anatomize the weird tale, which is not the same as any of those things, and I look forward to seeing what Ann & Jeff have put together here. The Weird comes from Tor, as either a trade paperback or hardcover -- or, possibly even more usefully for those who don't have a strong table to read at or massive wrists, in the usual electronic formats -- and is officially available on May 8th.

    Next is something entirely different: Batman: Super-Villains Strike by Michael Teitelbaum, a "choose-your-fate adventure book" in which the reader takes the part of second-person narrator Batman to solve a series of bizarre crimes in Gotham City. It's officially for kids 7-10 years old, but I imagine a lot of older Batman fans (and a few younger ones) will also be interested. It's from Tor's Starscape imprint (for younger readers), and is published tomorrow: April 24th.

    I have a stack of manga from the fine folks at Yen Press; these all officially hit stores this week:
    • Higurashi When They Cry: Atonement Arc, Vol. 4, the latest in a long-running series with a confusing numbering scheme (every arc starts back at #1, and the books don't make it clear which arcs gone before which other arcs) by Ryukishi07 and Karin Suzuragi. (I wrote a little bit about the beginning of this series back in 2008 during a look at Yen+ magazine for ComicMix.)
    • Black Butler IX by Yana Toboso, a series which is pretty popular but about which I know essentially nothing.
    • Black God, Vol. 16 by Dall-Young Lim and Sung-Woo Park; I reviewed the previous volume last month as part of my Confuse-o-Vision Week, and also reviewed three early volumes further back.
    • Highschool of the Dead, Vol. 6 by Daisuke Sato and Shouji Sato; I reviewed the fifth volume of this very fanservicey zombie-apocalypse thriller during Confuse-o-Vision Week.
    • Durarara!!, Vol. 2 by Ryohgo Narita, Suzuhito Yasuda, and Akiyo Satorigi; I wrote about the first volume in the aftermath of Confuse-o-Vision.
    • And last is the baroquely-titled The Betrayal Knows My Name, Vol. 3, which is by Hotaru Odagiri and features a gentleman with frighteningly large eyes on the cover. I don't really know what this one is about, but I suspect is has elements of both supernatural war (two factions battling for centuries) and Boys' Love (based mostly on the smouldering looks the characters are tossing at each other).
    Bloody Chester is a graphic novel from this side of the Pacific, written by novelist and scriptwriter JT Perry, with art by noted minicomicker and storyboard artist Hilary Florido, making her big-publisher debut here. It's a western with horror elements, the story of one heavily put-upon young man and his last-chance job. It's coming from First Second.

    Lance of Earth and Sky is the second book in the epic fantasy series "The Chaos Knight," by Erin Hoffman and published by Pyr. (The first book was Sword of Fire and Sea.)

    And then Alexey Pehov's Shadow Blizzard is the trilogy-ending third book in his epic fantasy series, "The Chronicles of Siala." This one is coming from Tor, and officially hits stores tomorrow.

    (I haven't read either of those authors, sadly, thus the terseness. Anyone out there have good things to say about either of them?)

    Next is Sherrilyn Kenyon's Born of Silence, the fifth book in the "League" series. Kenyon used to be officially a paranormal romance writer, but I think she's now so big that she's essentially her own genre; newer writers try to write Sherrilyn Kenyon-style books. I'm not at all sure where this series is set -- the copy refers to the fate of "the entire universe" and growing up "on the back streets of hell," which could be metaphorical or completely literal. Born of Silence is a hardcover from Grand Central, hitting on May 1st.

    I've actually already read this next book -- George O'Connor's Hades: Lord of the Dead, fourth in his series of graphic novels about the Olympian gods -- because I couldn't wait to get a copy myself. I also nominated last year's book -- Hera: The Goddess and her Glory -- for a Hugo this year, which may underline how good these books are. (They're officially for younger readers -- and my fourteen-year-old son just asked me when more are coming, so they definitely work for that audience -- but they have a depth of feeling, nuance of tone, and epic sweep that make them just as compelling for adult readers as well. This book has already hit the New York Times bestseller list, so a smart teen or tween of your acquaintance may be able to tell you more about it; it was recently published (in hardcover in paperback) by First Second.

    And, lastly, I promised you a magazine as well, and that's Weird Tales #359, which is Ann VanderMeer's last issue as Editor-in-Chief. (And so the ending returns to the beginning, in a trick every third-rate writer loves.) I don't read short fiction much these days -- heck, I don't read as much long fiction as I'd like to -- but maybe, just maybe, this one will be an exception.