The OF Blog: August 2008

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Alan Moore, Watchmen

Despite my months' long avoidance of writing any "true" reviews here at this blog (due mostly to time/energy factors related to my day job), I did want to take the moment to make a brief observation about Alan Moore's classic 1986 graphic novel, Watchmen. While doubtless I could spend hundreds of words analyzing how Moore constructed his plot and even more on his dialogue and his characterizations, I would rather spend this time noting my own initial reaction to this book.

It was, for me at least, one of the more "existential" novels I have ever read and it's going to take days before I can process all of my reactions to it. Suffice to say, it was a rewarding read for me and one that leaves me even less confident than before that a credible movie can be made that will incorporate all of the wonderfully disparate elements in Moore's work. Not going into specifics here, as I have other things to do this holiday weekend, many of which have nothing at all to do with blogging. Ciao.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

A vicious circle?

This past month, with its ever-growing demands on my time, has caused me to forego my habit of checking every link in my blogroll at least once weekly. Therefore, I missed seeing this piece over at SF Diplomat. Needless to say, I have comments to make.

On my first read of McCalmont's article, I found myself wanting to agree with him, before ultimately deciding there were flaws in his argument. A re-read only confirmed my initial reaction. Beginning with a link to a cover design post done by Pablo Defendini on the site, his discussion devolves from a focus on book cover posts to a rather broad and at times disjointed critique of "cover porn, direct discussion or even award handicapping," leaving me wondering if the arguments he presents would have been better served if separate posts had been made about each issue (since the "direct discussion" and "award handicapping" bits are not really touched upon after the early mention I quoted above).

By putting up pictures of book covers on your site, you are giving the publishers eyeballs. If you even go that further step and give away free copies of books then you are going even further to raise awareness of products. You are not commenting on these books, you are advertising. You have crossed the line between editorial and stepped into the world of sales and PR.
At first, McCalmont's comments might seem to be rather reasonable; after all, if you mention something, it is a form of advertisement, no? (Of course, pictures or no pictures, any endorsement I may or may not make in the following paragraphs could be used as an "advertisement," not that intermittent pimpage of the dead Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges is a true advertisement, right?) But one begins to wonder if McCalmont has tried to define this issue in such a fashion as to make a false division between "editoral" and "sales and PR."

I have posted regular Book Porn entries for four months now; I decided to do it mostly to showcase the diversity of books that I buy, receive as review copies, and acquire as gifts. While doubtless there is that element of the books receiving "airtime," I would imagine that one would have to be a bit more sanguine about the entire situation than McCalmont appears to be in his article. Nowhere in his article does he address the size/audience element, for example. While this blog may be relatively popular, with its hundreds of daily visits, page views, and around 300 subscribers to my Feedburner, the likelihood of mere photos affecting anything is rather remote, especially when I tend to go out of my way to highlight books that maybe a quarter of my reading audience (I suspect it's much less) could even read, much less easily acquire in most bookstores. (After all, while Angélica Gorodischer's Las Jubeas en flor is a very strong short story collection, I had to spend close to $30 to acquire a used copy and I doubt there are more than a handful of readers here who have even heard of this collection outside of this blog, much less have read it.)

As a critic, I am not a part of the publishing business. I have a relationship with different parts of the business (chiefly that of being a consumer) but it is not my role to boost sales or to convince you to part with your money. In fact, it wouldn't bother me if nobody bought a single thing I reviewed positively on this site or in any of the other organs I write for. My role is to engage as fully as I can with the subject material of the books. As Clute puts it in Look at the Evidence (1995), the critic's task is...

"That of unmasking the being of the book; re-creating that being, freeing the book from the author of the book and from the beehive cloister of the affinity group; and, in the end, granting a privilege. The author's true privilege is to be misunderstood [...] and the critic's true function is to make misunderstanding into a door of perception." [page 7]

Now, not everyone considers themselves a critic. A lot of people wear too many hats to fit into a single role or they are content being fans, However, if you have a blog or you post to SF forums or contribute anything at all to the wider genre community then chances are that you are aware that you are sharing an opinion about SF or commenting on it. As such you have to consider the credibility and the authenticity of what you say.
As someone who wears a great many hats, including that of arranging on my own to interview authors on occasion, I find it quite amusing to see words such as "credibility" and "authencity" being bandied about in such a fashion as this. As I have written below the title banner, this blog "focuses on reviews, interviews, and other odds and ends that might be of interest to fans of both literary and speculative fiction." I do critical pieces on occasion, when I have time (said time has largely faded due to a time-consuming but enjoyable teaching job), but my "credibility" and my "authenticity" is related to sharing and propagating things that I myself find to be of interest. To claim to be "objective" furthermore would be antithetical to my own personal attitudes (just in case such a claim will be introduced later on by another), so while I can sympathize with McCalmont's unease, I just cannot agree with his statements.

If that is the case then you have to ask every time you post, are you doing for free what a viral marketing agency might possibly pay you for?

Discussions of book covers and posting book covers are examples of raising awareness about a product without actually commenting upon, evaluating or criticising the actual product itself. You're playing the man and not the ball by taking about the advertising instead of the product itself.

Now, not everyone is going to agree with this and you have to set your own ethical standards for yourselves but I would encourage you to think about the extent to which your voice and the content of your sites are yours as opposed to that of the people who send you free stuff.
It's quite ironic to me that earlier tonight I had the idea (still exploring it, as nothing is finalized in my own mind, much less elsewhere) of doing a bit more promotion of authors whose work I enjoyed, in hopes that maybe a few people, possibly as many as a dozen (see, I am quite pragmatic when it comes to realizing my "real" influence on people). Things such as conducting my first interviews since January or perhaps even offering authors a chance to comment about their own upcoming projects. As for the "free" versus what I might be "paid" by a viral marketing agency...I make over $40,000/year at my current job; I don't need the money, especially the likely $20? $40? or at most $100 (money that would be ill-spent by said hypothetical groups, but that's a point that's been discussed and refuted elsewhere) that would conceivably be offered. (But let's say I want to note in passing a new author, say Felix Gilman and his debut novel, Thunderer, for example. From the few online interactions we've had, I like his sense of humor and his politics. I want him to do well, especially after reading his novel and liking it, even though I swamped at the time of reading it to do a proper review then. Let's say I think it's a book that many would enjoy reading. Is this crossing over into the realm of advertising? Should I be hitting up some hypothetical ad agency for $20-100 for mentioning his name and the book and how much I liked it? And what about that cover? Would I be doing the book and its author a favor by not posting a cover of it?)

Asides aside (say that three times fast! Oh wait, these are to be put...aside), I can't help but to think that McCalmont's points are rather undeveloped. If he's trying to argue for a more "critical distance" approach, his article falls well short of addressing that point. If he's arguing that all mentions of a "product" (itself a rather telling view of the entire affair) that don't open up the hood and examine the engine are mere "advertisements," then I would have to conclude that he is being rather overly broad with that issue and he would need to finetune it more. Because frankly, the best his article manages to achieve is what a great many bloggers (not excluding myself here) seek to do - draw attention to something written in order to "advertise" that they have something worth examining at length further down the road.

New poll on types of books read, etc.

The results of this past week's poll were interesting, in that over a third of those who voted owned fewer than 500 books, while slightly less than 44% of voters owned more than 1000 books. Seems that the visitors here are a fairly well-read group, or at least have spent a lot of money on books over the years. Considering that a previous poll revealed that around 50% are older than 30, I suppose it might be safe to say that the numbers are likely representative of the book collecting prowess of people here.

This week's poll deals with book buying/marketing matters. While maybe 1/3 of the books I've bought/own would be shelved in some sort of SF/F section, more often that not, the mimetic and speculative fiction I've read are classified as being part of some "literature" or "general fiction" section in most bookstores. However, your ratios might be different from mine, so thus the poll to indicate this without any needing to supply individual information (although such is always welcome in the comments section here!).

Book Porn August 25-30

Only four books this week, three of them being review copies and the other being a gift (the Zafón book was sent to me by Robert from Fantasy Book Critic).

Left to Right: Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind (ARC for the limited-edition version coming out in late 2008 from Subterranean Press); Alissa Torres, American Widow (just finished reading it - highly, highly recommended tale of loss after 9/11).

Left to right: Stan Nicholls, Orcs; Brent Weeks, The Way of Shadows. The Nicholls is the street release book, while the Weeks is the bound galley version of the MMPB coming out shortly.

August reads to date

A few short book descriptions/thoughts for those who are curious to know what little I've managed to read to date (although I expect to knock out 4-10 in the upcoming holiday weekend/week to follow), with the numbers indicating the books read to date in 2008:

279 Jorge Luis Borges, El idioma de los argentinos - This is an early (late 1920s, I believe) collection of Borges' essays on writing and semantics. Whenever I have the time, I hope to translate and post a snippet from this book, as I think it'd still generate lots of discussion. Erudite, well-written, typical Borges non-fiction.

280 Javier Negrete, Buscador de sombras/La luna quieta - Although I have already given my thoughts on both in posts a week or so ago, suffice to say Negrete is a very talented writer in both the SF and Epic Fantasy media and I won't be surprised at all to learn in the next 2-3 years, as his books begin to be translated into other languages besides Spanish and French, that an English translation might be forthcoming.

281 Javier Negrete, La Espada de Fuego - See above for the platitudes. This opener to an epic fantasy series feels more like an expanded sword and sorcery tale than it does the 1990s-early 2000s trend towards bloated 7+ volume series. Clocking in at around 450 pages, this story developed quickly and the prose is outstanding. Highly recommended.

282 Angélica Gorodischer, Las Jubeas en flor - Collection of six short fictions from one of Argentina's leading SF/feminist fiction writers. If you enjoyed her Kalpa Imperial, then this collection is a must-read for you...provided that you can read Spanish, of course.

283 Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón, After 9/11: America's War on Terror (2001 - ) - Graphic novel adapation of a history behind the Bush administration's responses to the war on terror. While I agree with much of the political views inherent in the authors' critique, there will be some who will reject the book out of hand because of its significant left-leaning bias. That would be a shame, because the juxtapositioning of the images drawn and the snippets of speeches makes for an exciting, provocative read.

In progress:

Alissa Torres, American Widow
- This book, which photo I'll have posted later in the day as part of the weekly Book Porn series, is a graphic novel adaptation of one of the 9/11 widows. I'm roughly 50% into this and will finish it later this afternoon, but it is a very moving story where the artwork accentuates the grief, anguish, and the coming to term with Torres' husband's death after the North Tower impact. So far, it is the best graphic novel adaptation of an historical event that I've read since Art Spiegelman's classic Maus.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Generation gaps

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
This beginning to the U.S. Declaration of Independence contains over 60 words in a single sentence, much longer than the average sentence employed today. When I used to teach U.S. Government almost 10 years ago, I used to give an in-class group assignment of having students render that sentence and others from the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution into modern-day speech. This assignment came about after numerous student complaints about how "difficult" the language was and how they really couldn't "get it" due to the oddness in the syntax and in the words employed.

This lesson came to mind recently when I read Lou Anders' post "Does Nostalgia do SF a Disservice?" Anders continues a discussion that Paul Raven began about the relevance of older SF works (the Asimovs, Heinleins, and their ilk). What I liked about this post is that Anders doesn't make categorical comments; he makes prescriptive suggestions that do not deny the historicity of the older works while at the same time addressing their perceived deficiencies by the newer generations of potential readers.

In a way, the issue here is that of generation gaps. In an ironic way, the languages of SF are becoming less and less mutually intelligble with each passing generation. While it might be expected for most literature and history students to struggle with 16th-18th century English syntax, which are replete with Latinism and other 'archaic' constructions, more and more the jargon and terminology are changing at a pace measured by decades rather than by centuries. Therefore, in a world where the world-views (and the semantics behind the language used to describe such world-views) have shifted so much in the past 50 years, is it any surprise that one reads an Asimov or a Heinlein with the look of "WTF is this shit? OMG, sexism is so not cool!"? Perhaps Chronos has managed to devour his children after all.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A graphic aside

I'm not a very visual learner; aural learning has worked for me. However, the more and more I teach social studies (and English on occasion), the more I've come to realize that the majority of my students are either visual or tactile learners; something not conducive for traditional lecture methods, regardless of how talented I or others might be at oratory.

Over the past year, I have begun receiving a series of graphic novel adaptations of historical events ranging from a biography of J. Edgar Hoover (Rick Geary) to a history of Students for a Democratic Society (Harvey Pekar), with books such as Howard Zinn's A People's History of American Empire and Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colòn's After 9/11: The War on Terror (2001 - ) also being received in recent months. While there are a few quibbles I have about the "balance" in some of the sections (while largely agreeing with their sentiments), one thing that struck me about these books (similar to my reactions when I read Art Spiegelman's Maus last year) is just how effective these histories would be with many of my students, with the images standing in place of paragraphs of explanations. Pictures indeed might be worth more than a thousand words.

Any of you read any of these books or other graphic novel adaptations of historical events? I'm likely going to be buying a few more graphic novel adaptations in the coming weeks, particularly if others reading this are aware of some of the more "classic" graphic novel histories that might interest me, especially in regards to late 19th to present-day U.S. History.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

An almost-fourth anniversary post

The other day, I was reading Matthew Cheney's excellent blog, The Mumpsimus, when I belatedly came across his fifth anniversary post (I consider it to be deliciously ironic that the reason for my delay in reading it is due to my hectic but rewarding new teaching position). Although I doubt he knows it, his blog and his discussion of all sorts of matters has been a major influence on me over the years, first when I began the OF Blog and second when I decided that I had a lot more latitude in what I could discuss. So I owe him for that (not to mention for certain authors he mentioned that I checked out over the years, too many to recount here).

But after reading his post, I thought I'd check and see when I began the OF Blog, since all I could remember it was sometime in late August. Lo and behold the date is this upcoming Monday. Since I'm going to be absolutely swamped this week with grading and extracurricular activities, I thought I'd just make a post noting the occasion. Then I decided to read through some of the early years (I made maybe 100 posts my first three years, around 400 combined over the past 12 months or so) and I came across a writing from March 2006 that I felt deserved a second posting:

Sabremos cada vez menos qué es un ser humano. - Libro de las previsiones
This quote, which can be roughly translated as "We will know less and less what is a human being," is found in the epigraph to José Saramago's latest work, Las intermitencias de la muerte. Very fitting that I come across this quote today, as I've been struggling a bit to put to words my thoughts on something that troubles me a bit as an occasional reviewer/commentator.

A source of my recent trouble might be found in reading some of the feedback posted on Locus Online in regards to the recent New York Times column regarding science fiction. While I agreed with much of what the majority of the people there were saying, a part of me couldn't help but flinch, wondering who's version, who's definition of what constitutes 'science fiction' was attempting to dominate there. Then this weekend I read the link to Norman Spinrad's column, "On Books," that is part of the April/May issue of Asimov's. In it, he devotes a considerable amount of time delineating what is 'science fiction,' as opposed to 'SF' or 'sci-fi' or 'speculative fiction.' While many of his points were interesting, there just this sense of unease that crept over me as I read on. And then earlier today, when doing my semi-weekly read of Matthew Cheney's blog, I read his most recent column on 'Nonrealist Fiction.' Now I'll need a bit more time to process just how I feel about some of his arguments, but there was something in Cheney's post that touches upon a topic near and dear to my heart, that of relationships between the Reader (and by extension, human beings) and the Text.

In some senses, what I am writing now, what I've created (and of course whatever you have created or the person down the street or that imagined person at the antipodes has created) is a fiction. It is a construct, something that has a meaning and form that depends upon human interpretations. As a construct, this fiction (and let's go ahead and start using other terms to describe this, say 'real' and 'non-real') is subjective in and of itself, that it depends in large part upon what its Creator, its Author, wants to convey, but also on what its Recipient, its Reader wants this fiction to be. It is a communication process, one which depends in large part upon the ability of the Creator to affect the Recipient and also how the Recipient chooses to process what the Creator has established. It is a ying-yang relationship to some extent, but with an inherent instability due to the dynamics of that communication between the Creator/Recipient.

Times change. Languages alter, fall out of use. New ideas, new forms of 'what is to be' come into vogue, then are dumped into the dustbins of 'history.' Perceptions of the world changes and 'order' can mean something completely different to one generation as 'suffer' or 'quit' meant to people of another generation. 'Education' used to refer to the process of 'bringing up,' or of training someone in how to interpret the world around them. Of course, this has changed greatly over the years, as we've gone more and more away from the Greco-Roman template to a model of child rearing/training that focuses more on 'practical' applications, with a concentration on how or what things are and not so much of a focus as to why things are as they are (or not are). In this shift, many of our transmission signals have become garbled.

Thus we can have a full-fledged (and often entertaining) debates as to what constitutes 'realism' versus 'nonrealism'; what is 'science fiction' as opposed to those other forms that I listed above. But we don't tend to have as much paper (or electronic) ink devoted to the issues of why this and not that when we discuss a work of fiction. Before some point out (correctly) that there are still plenty of authors, in a variety of fields, that address issues of 'why,' I would like to take the time to note that I am referring here to how the Reader/Recipients process what they have consumed from perviewing what the Author/Creator has brought into being.

How many times have some of us gone to an internet site and read commentaries that concentrate so much on the 'what' aspects of a fiction (the plot, the characters, the scenes) and 'how' they affected that particular reader? Or how about seeing commentaries about a work that seem to be so directed as toward illuminating that Reader's point of view that the voice of the Author has been lost in translation? This has happened to me on a very frequent basis.

Now I could cite quite a few websites devoted to the 'discussion' of 'fantasy' or 'SF' (or however else you want to define what it is that's being read), but for brevity's sake, I will not and will allow you, the Reader of this fiction of mine, to go forth to your own favorite site or blog or whatnot and discover whatever you may for yourself. I just will state here, however, that it has been my experience that the 'discussions' are so centered around that particular person's vantage point that I sometimes wonder if there has been any attempt to listen to what the author has to say. One egregious example would be that of 'Classics,' in particular William Shakespeare. Countless are the times that I see comments to the effect that Shakespeare is 'overrated,' or that 'he just didn't know how to write.' While part of me wants to dismiss such statements out of hand, there is something to be said about them. Like it or not, they demonstrate a very real concern of many in regards to the loss of efficacy when one reads (or better yet in my opinion, sees performed) Shakespeare. Somewhere in the march of the centuries and the many subtle or drastic changes in the English language, a connection was weakened or even lost in some cases. The world-view of 400 years ago is not that of today and the plays of Shakespeare's which appealed to both the elites and the common folk of his day are now more and more losing their direct hold on the average person's mind and sentiments. This is not to say that Shakespeare is any less or more important today as compared to 1606, but only to serve as an illustration for the fragile nature of the communication that we Readers have with our Authors. Maybe instead of 'we will know less and less what is a human being,' it will be 'less and less what the Author wants to say to us.'

Results of the poll on non-English language coverage here

While I suspected many were interested in the authors I was highlighting from time to time (60% of you wishing you could read these authors in English so you could judge for yourselves), I was very pleasantly surprised to see that 21% of those voting said that the authors I covered were among their favorites (presumably, this is a mixture of works already available in various translations, as well as those authors read in their original languages) and that only 2% actively disliked the topic (I thought it might have been in the 10% range when I posted it), with the remaining 15% being more or less "meh" about things.

Current poll is about how large your book collection is. Mine is a shade over 1500 books at the moment, but I'll refrain from voting, as is usually my wont in such matters.

US cover art for Bakker and Morgan, plus thoughts on a fallacy

Although I've been aware of each of these cover art releases for some time now, I wanted to wait until the weekend, when I would have a bit more free time (or rather, Saturday, since it seems much of Sunday will be taken up with grading/recording). Over the past week or so, the US cover art for R. Scott Bakker's first volume in The Aspect-Emperor trilogy and Richard K. Morgan's trilogy opening The Steel Remains have been released, each with early 2009 releases. Below are images of the US cover art for each:

I personally like each of these quite a bit, especially Bakker's, which I feel keeps a connection with The Prince of Nothing cover art for the Canada/US hardcover releases, with its vellum-like vertical script underlying the author's name and book title. It is deliberately understated and the color scheme is pleasing to the eye. With Morgan's cover art, with the reddish-yellow center creating a halo-like effect around the central horseman in the image, the overall effect to me is a mesmerizing one - who is that man (or woman) and what role does s/he play in this story? Nothing too garish or attention-seeking in my opinion.

However, some feel that images such as these are "bland" or that the UK version of the cover art to Morgan's book is superior. Some have even gone so far as to claim (even after admitting that the US version of Morgan's book is decent to good) that UK cover art is almost always better than that of its American counterparts. While I cannot deny that there are some travesties that have been released here in the US, I have seen quite a bit of very good cover art that I haven't seen matched by British counterparts. For example, take the aforementioned Bakker cover art for his previous series, as well as for the upcoming US release of his SF thriller, Neuropath. The art there just was more pleasing to my eyes and apparently to many others. Or how about the cover art that tends to adorn works from authors published by Night Shade or Prime, for example? Those are often very visual and beautiful books, but yet their names never really get mentioned in the occasional forum discussions on cover art. Perhaps it is due to the smaller scale nature of their publications or due to audience reading habits, but if one is going to make the claim that one country is tending to produce "better" cover art than another, I would like to think that more than just a few big-market releases in only one or two subgenres would be cited as evidence. Then again, the people whose opinions I'd rather hear, those of the artists themselves, too often are not consulted whenever such discussions arise.

But what about you? What do you think about these covers or about the points I raised above?

August 18-23 Book Porn

Only three books this week, all of which arrived in a single package sent by DAW books.

Left: Julie Czerneda, Riders of the Storm; Violette Malan, The Soldier King; John Marco and Martin H. Greenberg (eds.), Imaginary Friends.

It'll be a couple more weeks before I start ordering/buying fiction again (payday can't get here soon enough!), so there might be a lapse of a week or two before regular book porn service resumes.

A roundtable discussion of "urban fantasy"

Grasping for the Wind has a roundup of a few blogger trying to discuss the rise of "urban fantasy." While some of their points are pertinent to the questions asked in the introduction, I couldn't help but to notice that virtually all of their definitions of "urban fantasy" indicated a conflation of identification with "paranormal romance," which naturally is what was discussed in so many of the responses.

Can't help but to think that "urban fantasy" is a bit more complex than that and Neth is the one who seems to address that. There is, obviously, much more to a subgenre's popularity than "just a bunch of female readers gobbling up that shit," to paraphrase the attitude of some towards anything that might hint of "urban fantasy" (or to be more precise, paranormal romances). Cultural attitudes and recent historical events are obviously going to shape buyer/reader attitudes and I think he addresses that quite well.

Perhaps others here have an opinion on that discussion and on what "urban fantasy" means to you?

A few speculations about "scenes"

Still quite busy getting the school year off to a good start (much more relaxed than I was a year ago and the position thus has been much more fun), but I have managed to have a bit more reading time (20-30 minutes a day compared to zero) this week and I finished reading Javier Negrete's UPC-winning novella La luna quieta/The Quiet Moon. Written in 1992, this was his first published fiction I believe and despite the usual little missteps, I found his then-nascent "voice" to be strong, with quite a few twists on dualist concepts regarding madness/sanity, thanatos/eros, and hate/love. Wouldn't be surprised at all if this story is cited in an anthology of the best of Spanish SF twenty or even fifty years from now; it has something of the "feel," without ever stooping into conscious aping of forms and motifs, of some of the more cerebral works of 1960s American SF, especially James Blish.

But the realization that I was comparing Negrete's story to another time and locale made me ponder a bit about the developing SF "scenes" outside the US. I am becoming more aware of some of them through long hours trolling (pronounced more with an "ah" sound in the middle, for those who might think of the other meaning of the word!) various blogs and non-English websites looking for more information about how spec fic is developing outside the Anglo-American (and their immediate satellites) world. This past year, I've become familiar with the Brazilian writers/translators Fábio Fernandes and Jacques Barcia's two Portuguese and English-language blogs and reading in passing their comments on the Brazilian SF scene and their own writing careers has been a true learning experience. Sometime in the next few weeks, I hope to get started on the three anthologies/novella that Fábio sent to me this month, because I am quite curious to see how the themes and story structures will differ and resemble those found in Anglo-American SF anthologies and collections.

Also, there are two Romanian SF writers/translators/publishers whose blogs and e-zines to which I've been introduced this year, Horia-Nicola Ursu and Michael Haulica. Horia has been guest blogging this week at Jeff VanderMeer's blog, with some of the posts dealing with Romanian SF and his roles within it. Very interesting reads, to say the least.

What I noticed from reading both the Brazilian and Romanian blogs is that SF in those countries seems to be more of an "underground" (although growing and developing) movement than it is in either the US or UK, with their more organized means of marketing, distribution, and fan loyalties. Of course, I can't help but to suspect that I'm missing a lot and perhaps those who are more familiar with those two scenes or with other scenes in other countries could enlighten me as to the basics of what's going on, what styles of literature are being favored, hot blogs/e-zines/printing presses, and so on. Consider this an open invitation to cluing me and others here into some interesting "scenes."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Food for thought for those who care about their blogs

Interesting bit from's TrueHoop blog:

A surprising amount of the e-mail I get is not about basketball at all. It's about blogging.

(If you're here for basketball talk, move along. I promise I won't hide some hot trade rumor five paragraphs down.)

I'm happy to get those e-mails, because I think about blogging more than is healthy. When people e-mail about blogging, my answers tend to fit into one of these three categories:

  • If you want to break into sportswriting, the best thing to do is start a blog. Newspapers are firing more than they're hiring, and even when they were hiring it seemed to me they were mostly hiring people who knew people. Blogging is open to all, and will not only give you a shot at getting noticed by those who hire, but it is also one of the most dogged writing teachers anywhere. If there is stuff you need to work on, your readers will tell you, one way or another. There is nothing like constant instant feedback to inspire improvement. And if you're really good, and keep at it day and day out for, say, 18 months or so, your blog will get noticed, and you will start getting really exciting feedback.
  • There is a lot of debate about blog ethics. Many of the big questions that apply to publishing in all media -- from radio reporting to book publishing -- apply here, and there are often not easy answers to the questions like "is it responsible to publish this?" I wrestle with that all the time. Please, though, for the sake of bloggers everywhere, try to be responsible. Understand that megaphone in your hand can be used for good or evil. Just because it's your blog doesn't mean it's cool to hurt people with incorrect information. Also, there are blog ethics, and they matter. No one is perfect, but, you if you're a blogger, you ought to at least know the basic tenets of your medium. You might decide to break them -- that's on you -- but it's uncool to be clueless.
  • If you're starting a blog now, you're late to the party. That's fine. But at this stage, it's hard to get a good audience without bringing something unique to the party. If you're just reacting to the sports news of the day then you are racing a hundred thousand competitors some of whom have a five-year head start. Hope you've been eating your Wheaties, you know? If you want your blog to be read, however, and to be a little special, do something new. Have an idea what other good blogs are around like yours, and figure out something that you are passionate about that they are not doing. It might be as simple as your hours, your subject matter, or your writing style. Extra cool would be some inventive use of the medium, like with photography, artwork, video, etc.

I got thinking about this today thanks to one of my favorite bloggers, Jason Kottke. On his blog, I just read a list by Merlin Mann of 43 Folders, about what makes a good blog. (This is pretty much the fifth paragraph down, right? Good time for me to tell you that I just heard Zach Randolph is going to be traded to the Heat and Stephon Marbury is being traded to Bulgaria as part of a rare international three-team deal. Just kidding. Thanks for reading closely.) Some items cherry-picked from Mann's list:

  • Good blogs have a voice. Who wrote this? What is their name? What can I figure out about who they are that they have never overtly told me? What's their personality like and what do they have to contribute -- even when it's "just" curation. What tics and foibles fascinate make me about this blog and the person who makes it? Most importantly: what obsesses this person?
  • Good blogs reflect focused obsessions. People start real blogs because they think about something a lot. Maybe even five things. But, their brain so overflows with curiosity about a family of topics that they can't stop reading and writing about it. They make and consume smart forebrain porn. So: where do this person's obsessions take them?
  • Good blogs try. I've come to believe that creative life in the first-world comes down to those who try just a little bit harder. Then, there's the other 98%. They're still eating the free continental breakfast over at FriendFeed. A good blog is written by a blogger who thinks longer, works harder, and obsesses more. Ultimately, a good blogger tries. That's why "good" is getting rare.
All I have to say to this is "Amen."

A challenging meme for people

Name five (or as many as you can up to five) authors (SF or other is fine with me) that write (or wrote) in the following languages:

1. Spanish

2. French

3. German

4. Portuguese

5. Polish

6. Russian

7. Serbian

8. Italian

9. Chinese

10. Japanese

11. Quechua

12. Hindi or various Sanskrit-derived languages

13. Persian

14. Arabic

15. Any other language that I might have forgotten

I wasn't kidding about it being challenging, no? Consider this a response to various people I've read over the past few months who've complained about a lack of things to read.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

An open-ended interview

Consider this less as a meme and more as a general survey for those reading this who are willing to answer:

1. Around how many years have you been a) a fiction reader and b) a reader of spec fic?

2. What are some of your favorite short stories, both within and outside SF/F?

3. Around how many online short fiction sites and/or print magazines have you read and/or purchased in the past year?

4. How many story collections and anthologies have you read and/or purchased in the past year?

5. Are you more likely to be active on blogs/LJs or on forums?

6. Why is six considered to be an "imperfect" number in some cultures/religious traditions?

Curious to know what others are thinking on a certain issue, in case you hadn't guessed by now...

Monday, August 18, 2008

232 in 231

Cleaning up a few things before I go to bed. Decided to count the books I've bought, received as gifts, or received as review copies this year (not counting duplicates). The total to date is 232 books. Tomorrow, August 19, will be the 232nd day of the year. Needless to say, it was a bit of a coincidence and I guess I ought to add that while I do buy lots of books any given year now (usually 50-100), the vast majority of these books are review copies that I receive. Somehow, I doubt I'll end the year with 366 new books, but a guy can dream, no?

No sea disponible in inglés: Javier Negrete, Buscador de sombras

I have heard about Spanish SF/Fantasy/Alt-History writer Javier Negrete for a couple of years now. I have heard about how effortlessly he switches between various subgenres, how well-plotted his stories are, not to mention the depths of his characters and the manner in which his prose flows. However, I resisted importing any of this multiple UPC and Premio Ignotus winner until this month because of the high costs associated with ordering from Spain. If his La luna quieta novella and La espada de fuego novel are at or even above the level of the award-winning 2001 novella Buscador de sombras, then Negrete might have to move toward the head of the line for non-English language authors whose works need to be translated as soon as possible.

I don't have the time/energy for even a quick review, so I'll just provide a book description, first in Spanish and then in English:

Buscador de sombras consolidó a Javier Negrete nueve años después como un autor de referencia en el panorama de la literatura fantástica española.

En esta novela corta, ambientada en un futuro cercano, la humanidad está condenada a no soñar debido al síndrome de Pisan que provoca la muerte lenta de todos aquellos que entran en fase de REM. Un científico español se encuentra en el corredor de la muerte de un cárcel norteamericana por haber subministrado una inyección letal a una mujer.
Hunter of Shadows (or Shadow Hunter might be even more appropriate) strengthened Javier Negrete nine years later (after La luna quieta/The Quiet Moon) as an author of note in the panorama of Spanish literary fantasy.

In this short novel (novella), set in a near future, humanity is condemned not to dream due to Pisan's Syndrome which provokes slow death of all those which enter REM sleep. A Spanish scientist finds himself on Death Row in an American prison for having ministered a lethal injection to his wife.
However, this brief description does not describe the twists in the plot or the thematic elements present in Negrete's story of this apparently deranged Spanish scientist and his search for "dark matter" and the horrific discoveries that follow. Told in both "present" and retrospect PoVs, Buscador de sombras is one of the better-written SF tales that I've read in some time. Clocking in at around 160 large font MMPB pages, it is a story that others would have been tempted to expand into a full novel, but thankfully for the story's cohesion, Negrete resisted the temptation, as the pacing and plot developments are excellent. I cannot help but to think that if translated and published in English that Negrete's SF would find a healthy readership. Perhaps in the near future, as more of his work is translated into other European languages (currently only in Spanish and French, I believe).

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Reading, whatever happened to dear ol' reading?

Funny how a combination of a very hot summer and a new job that takes up 10-14 hours of every working day can derail my reading. Over the past two months, I've read fewer books (18) than I was averaging the first five and a half months of the year (260 total, or a shade under 50/month). Normally, I would have reviewed about 1/4 of the books read or at least mentioned them here in passing, but I haven't written a full review in that time either. So, for those that are oh so curious about what I've read since I was laid off from my previous job to the time I began my current position, here goes:

Adam Roberts, The History of Science Fiction - Despite the problems I had with some of Roberts' arguments and the support (or lack there of in places), this ultimately was a book that I found to be worthwhile for those such as myself who are interested in historiographical matters.

Roberto Bolaño, 2666 (Spanish edition) - I thought his earlier work Los detectives salvajes (The Savage Detectives) was a good, challenging read. This book is going to stir up quite a bit of talk in certain US literary circles when it is released in November. Five separate stories united by certain thematic elements. In places, it is very, very dark, but this is quite fitting for the metaphorical story of the 20th century, I believe.

Neal Stephenson, Quicksilver - With this book, Stephenson reminds me why I had earlier associated him with Thomas Pynchon in regards to how the style reflects thematic elements. Enjoyed it quite a bit, will read the other Baroque Cycle books sometime in the near future.

Gene Wolfe, Memorare (Limited-edition signed hardcover edition) - This Hugo-nominated novella was typical Wolfe writing in a shorter medium, meaning it was well-written, with some engimatic elements, but more straight-forward in places than in his novels. Enjoyed it quite a bit, as one might expect. Perhaps around Christmas time, I'll re-read it and write a proper review.

Brandon Sanderson, The Hero of Ages (ARC) - This conclusion to the Mistborn trilogy was surprising in places. While still annoyed with some of the prose choices (a more fluid style would have helped in places, not to mention more work on the dialogue), the plot flowed smoothly and quickly and the resolution was surprising in places, until certain little clues from the first two books were considered. Pretty much a logical character path, although some readers doubtless will be surprised by certain turns beginning around the halfway point. Enjoyable read ultimately, despite the shortcomings.

Holly Phillips, In the Palace of Repose - This short story collection from 2006 was a pleasure to read, as Phillips writes well and her stories don't feel like carbon copies of each other. Will need to re-read before I ever attempt to write a true review of this, however.

Adam Roberts, Splinter - This update of a minor Jules Verne story of people living on a broken-off chunk of Earth after a comet smashes into it is a very touching father-son story, among many other things. Roberts has an enjoyable reading style and I am eager to read more of his fiction, since both this and Salt (read last year) were a pleasure to read.

Paul Kearney, The Ten Thousand - This single-volume adaptation of Xenophon's ancient tale of the 10,000 Greek mercenaries who had to fight their way out of a Persian dynastic struggle will appeal to many with its short but eloquent turns of phrase and the way the action unfolds. Even more important than that, I'm actually curious to read Xenophon now, which perhaps is the most fitting compliment I can give to this book.

Thomas Disch, Camp Concentration - I finally bought this book last month, but sadly it took Disch's suicide on July 4th to remind me that I've been putting it off for too long. I've already commented on it elsewhere, but suffice to say, I'm kicking myself for not having read it sooner.

Catherynne M. Valente, The Labyrinth - This was her first published prose piece and while there are times that she seemed to be trying to do too much with the story she had set out to tell, the prose is gorgeous and flows well. Will re-read this in the near future, time permitting.

Umberto Eco, Six Walks in the Fictional Woods - Transcription of a series of lectures he gave in the early 1990s. Thoughtful, erudite, just how I like Eco to be.

Yasmina Traboulsi, Bahia Blues - This collection of short fiction was interesting for its shifts and various characters, but it wasn't quite as good as some of the others I've read this year. Good, but not near the very good level of the majority of the short fiction I tend to pick out based on recommendations.

Jeff VanderMeer, Secret Lives (Signed, limited-edition hardcover) - This is a set of microfictions originally written for those who bought the short story collection Secret Life from bookseller friends of VanderMeer. The stories are quirky, amusing, and I enjoyed reading them.

Subcommandante Marcos, La historia de los colores/The History of Colors (re-read) - an illustrated children's lit version of indigeneous southern Mexican creation myth about how the world received color and why macaws are so colorful. The fact that it was written by the leader of the Chiapas-based Zapatista rebels is just an added bonus, I suppose.

Andrzej Sapkowski, Sangre de los elfos (Blood of the Elves in English) - Very good start to the five-novel Saga. Will say more after I re-read it in English in the next couple of months.

Andrzej Sapkowski, Tiempo de Odio (Time of Anger in English) - Strong second volume. Again, more later, perhaps after I've imported the remaining volumes in Spanish translation.

Various authors, King Alfred the Great - Always wanted to read more about the Anglo-Saxon King Alfred the Great. From official biographies to other accounts from contemporary sources, this was an informative read.

John Julius Norwich, A Short History of Byzantium - A one-volume condensed version of his three-volume narrative history of the Byzantine Empire, Norwich's style is very breezy, with bold statements being offered based on his interpretation of the material. Good primer-level survey of a sadly neglected part of world history. Made me curious to explore the more scholarly works, which I hope to do later this year.

And there you go, my reads since June 18th. If any of you have read any on the list, feel free to share your opinions on them. Likewise, if you have any questions, I'll try to find the time before my bedtime this week to answer them. Now back to the final pages of Javier Negrete's Buscador de sombras.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

So I have a new poll up about non-English language writers

Since many of you are reading this blog via RSS readers and thus are not able to see the weekly polls I post unless you directly click to enter the site, I just thought I'd note that I posted a new poll this afternoon about my coverage of those spec fic writers whose works were not written originally in English. Curious to see what readers think of my occasional coverage of these authors, many of whom have yet to be translated into English. Who knows, perhaps coverage such as mine and that of others might be enough to persuade US or UK publishers to take a chance on one of these authors, like Gollancz and Orbit did with Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski recently. One can dream, right?

The relevance of short fiction SF/F

There's been an interesting discussion brewing on the Westeros forums the past few days about short fiction. Sparked by Mary Robinette Kowal's "surprise" win (well, surprise mostly to those at places such as Westeros, I suppose), the pros and cons regarding the continued relevance and importance of genre short fiction have been argued at length, although perhaps such arguments tend to reflect the readership's own biases more than anything else.

So I thought I'd blog briefly about it, since short fiction is something that interests me from time to time, especially after the two years where I taught Freshman, Sophomore, and Senior Lit classes. For myself, there seems to be quite a bit of pretty good to outstanding short fiction being produced today, although I mostly am exposed to it when I read various anthologies and short story collections. I know in the past, several authors began honing their craft as short fiction writers before moving on, in many cases, to writing full-length novels.

However, it seems for many in certain segments of the spec fic-reading populace, short fiction's time has passed and for some of those people, having more awards for the "minor" categories (novella, novelette, short story, collection, anthology) than for the "major" one (novel) seems to be pointless. While the Westeros discussion touches upon that and other matters related to this, I am curious to know what the readers here think about the issue. So, do you regularly read short fiction? What are your thoughts about the state of spec fic short fiction today? Any favorite authors or publication venues? What could stand to be improved, if anything?

A meme where I'll do poorly

Mark Charan Newton is the guilty party this time:

Top 48 SF Movies Based on a Novel

Copy the list below.
Mark in bold the movie titles for which you read the book.
Italicize the that you’ve watched.
Tag 5 people to perpetuate the meme. (You may of course play along anyway.)

1. Jurassic Park
2. War of the Worlds

3. The Lost World: Jurassic Park
4. I, Robot
5. Contact
6. Congo
7. Cocoon
8. The Stepford Wives
9. The Time Machine (1960 version)
10. Starship Troopers
11. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
12. K-PAX13. 2010
14. The Running Man
15. Sphere
16. The Mothman Prophecies
17. Dreamcatcher
18. Blade Runner(Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)
19. Dune
20. The Island of Dr. Moreau
21. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
22. The Iron Giant(The Iron Man)
23. Battlefield Earth
24. The Incredible Shrinking Woman
25. Fire in the Sky
26. Altered States
27. Timeline
28. The Postman
29. Freejack(Immortality, Inc.)
30. Solaris
31. Memoirs of an Invisible Man
32. The Thing(Who Goes There?)
33. The Thirteenth Floor
34. Lifeforce(Space Vampires)
35. Deadly Friend
36. The Puppet Masters
37. 1984
38. A Scanner Darkly
39. Creator
40. Monkey Shines
41. Solo(Weapon)
42. The Handmaid’s Tale
43. Communion
44. Carnosaur
45. From Beyond
46. Nightflyers
47. Watchers
48. Body Snatchers

As for who's tagged, let's go with Enrico Palazzo, Mil Mascaras, El Santo, O.J. Simpson, and the "real killer." (OK, maybe that was only 4, but still!)

Interesting Poll Results

Last Saturday on a whim, I thought I'd add a poll question asking readers to identify to which age group they belonged. Although I suspected this blog would likely have slightly-older readers than many of the others that I read, the results were quite surprising.

For the past few years, it seems I have been one of the older "independent" (i.e. not an author or directly connected to the SF/F publishing industry) bloggers who frequent epic fantasy-centered forums. I only just turned 34 last week, however. In teaching, I am only now beginning to enter into the "veteran" stage of my career and for the first time, I am older than more than 1-3 other teachers. In some ways, I am "new," but in regards to certain parts of the SF/F scene (again, those forums I frequent), I am well above the average age.

So when the median age out of the 118 people who voted was on the edge between the pre-31 and post-30 groups (58 voters being younger than 31 and 60 being older than 30), it cheered me up a bit, to be honest. I was beginning to worry that perhaps I was blogging about the concerns and interests of those older than the presumed average age of those who frequent forums. In addition, what struck me were the number of people (19, or 16% of those voting) who were over the age of 50. Considering that my age cohort were the first to be introduced to computers as children (I first got to use an Apple IIe in 1982, just after I had turned 8) and I have experienced so many stages of technological growth that have closely corresponded with my adolescence and adulthood (Macs becoming popular at the end of elementary, not to mention CDs, on to Pentiums when I was finishing college and beginning grad school, etc.), to see people whose formative years were before the advent of such rapid-fire advances adapt and to use all of the same things that I use on an everyday basis (and take for granted) is a comforting thought.

But I'm curious: How would you interpret the poll results? Was there anything surprising about it to you?

Book Porn: August 11-16, en tres idiomas

This is one of the larger one week hauls I've had, especially since I only bought three of these books. Out of the 10 books listed, 1 I purchased for my classroom, 4 are from publishers large and small, 2 are imports from Spain, and 3 are gifts to me from a friend in Brazil. All in all, perhaps these will be the books that'll force me to make more time for reading, something I've barely done since June.

Top-left: Terry Brooks, Genesis of Shannara: The Gypsy Morph; John Scalzi, Zoe's Tale (both I had previously received as ARCs)

Bottom: The Daily Spark: U.S. History warm-up activities

Guess which one is for my classroom...

Top-left: Janet Chui and Jason Erik Lundberg (eds.), A Field Guide to Surreal Botany; Daryl Gregory, Pandemonium

Bottom-left: Javier Negrete, La Espada de Fuego; Javier Negrete, Buscador de sombras/La luna quieta

I blogged about the Chui/Lundberg illustrated anthology yesterday (and again, thanks to Jason Erik for sending me a copy), am curious about the Gregory, but I've been wanting to read Negrete's fiction for months now, as he apparently is one of Spain's top SF and Fantasy writers. After reading the first 60 pages of Buscador de sombras last night, I believe there might be something to that. Expect a feature on him in the coming weeks.

These three books arrived today from São Paulo, Brazil, thanks to the generosity of Fábio Fernandes. Although my Portuguese is not as strong as my Spanish, I should be able to understand most of it, plus I'm very curious to see what Brazilian SF/F is like!

Top-left: Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro (ed.), Como era gostosa a minha alienígena!: Antologia de contos eróticos fantásticos; Ficções: Revista de Contos (Ano VIII - Número 15 - Julho de 2006

Bottom-left: Fábio Fernandes, A Revanche da Ampulheta: Uma aventura no universo da Intempol

Needless to say, as time permits, I'll be reading and hopefully commenting on these works. Nice to see the majority is short fiction or novella-length fiction, as multi-volume works are the first to go when my reading time is shortened to minutes a day.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Blog About Surreal Botany Day

Although I've been swamped with work (and it's about to get even heavier if a certain arrangement takes place in the next few days), I just wanted to say that I received a copy of Janet Chui and Jason Erik Lundberg's illustrated A Field Guide to Surreal Botany in enough time to meet the scheduled August 15th book pimp day. Despite not having much time at all to think, much less read, the past few weeks, I just wanted to say that my very early impressions, based on a few almost-randomly chosen entries, is a very positive one.

A Field Guide to Surreal Botany perhaps can be best described as being a nature illustration book for non-existent flora. As a child, I remember spending hours reading and re-reading the encyclopedic-style entries on various North American plants and in appearance, Chui and Lundberg's book (which includes numerous entries from authors such as Jay Lake, Mark Teppo, Darja Malcolm-Clarke, and Vera Nazarian, among others) closely mimics that style. However, as one begins reading entries such as "Burning Bush Fungus" and "Queen Victoria's Bloomers/Monkey Ho" (by John Bowker and Eric Schaller, respectively), one gets a fuller sense of the surrealness and oddity on display. Illustrated by Chui herself, the drawings add to the strangeness of each entry, as hopefully the picture below will demonstrate:

Clocking in at a shade over 70 pages, A Field Guide to Surreal Botany never risks becoming too bloated. If anything, the opposite may be true, as the entries I have read have each been entertaining to read and to consider. I hope to finish reading this book this weekend, as it is the perfect complement for one of the more surreal jobs any human can ever work - high school social studies teacher.

Release Date: July 2008 (Singapore, with US distribution)

Publisher: Two Cranes Press

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The globalization of fantasy

An interesting thought occurred to me while reading the many fine comments on Matt Staggs' blog about essential reads in literary fantasy. While there are quite a few choices that go beyond the usual Anglo-American fantasy traditions, I really haven't seen much discussion on the blogosphere (of course, I'm working more than 40 hours a week now, so perhaps I'm missing it somewhere?) about the apparent cross-fertilizations taking place between various European, North American, Latin American, African, Asian, and Oceanian scenes. In a day and age when more and more books are finding large readerships in multiple languages, does anyone have any thoughts as to how this globalization of fantasy in all of its myriad forms is transpiring?

And on a related note, I received two books this afternoon that I special-ordered from Spain. They are both by one of Spain's leading fantasy writer, Javier Negrete, who has won multiple awards, including the Premio Ignotus, one of the most prestigious genre awards in Spain. I'm curious to see what similarities to other works (SF and epic fantasy alike) I'll detect, as well as the probable differences in approach, themes, and characterization.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Main Entry:
transitive verb
Inflected Form(s):
es·tranged; es·trang·ing
Middle English, from Anglo-French estrangir, estranger, from Medieval Latin extraneare, from Latin extraneus strange — more at strange
15th century
1 : to remove from customary environment or associations 2 : to arouse especially mutual enmity or indifference in where there had formerly been love, affection, or friendliness : alienate
es·trange·ment \-mənt\ noun
es·trang·er noun
synonyms estrange, alienate, disaffect mean to cause one to break a bond of affection or loyalty. estrange implies the development of indifference or hostility with consequent separation or divorcement estranged wife>. alienate may or may not suggest separation but always implies loss of affection or interest alienate all his coworkers>. disaffect refers especially to those from whom loyalty is expected and stresses the effects (as rebellion or discontent) of alienation without actual separation disaffected by hunger>.
Funny how certain lines of thoughts converge, when when interests diverge. If there ever was an apt word for much of the speculative literature being written, "estrangement" and all of its daughter meanings would be near the head of the line. Same goes for how age and position separates one from another. Yet this sense of estrangement, of being un extraño en su propio país, doesn't seem to be a negative thing right now. Funny how perceptions of youth change when one is reminded daily that one's own youth is morphing into something else. Perhaps not quite maturity, but something along that road.

Some of the more interesting works of the speculative that I've read seem to capture that sense of "estrangement" quite well. But perhaps you see it differently? What do you think of estrangement and literature?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Mouse That Wants to Roar

As expected, the various Hugo results have generated some discussion. I'll use Westeros as one example since it is, perhaps, the epitome of certain quasi-faction of spec fic fans who feel "alienated" and "left out" from the Hugo process. These are the people who have certain "favorite sons" (and daughters, on occasion, but more often than not, this is a male-centric bloc here) that they expect will be favorites for whatever categories they are nominated in (the other categories can go to hell as far as they are concerned).

But when the results are announced and someone like Mary Robinette Kowal wins over a Scott Lynch or Joe Abercrombie, after their initial "who the hell is she," the almost immediate reaction is a "Well, I knew these awards aren't for me!" or "The Hugos don't represent my tastes," and so forth. Some time ago, I felt much the same way, until I decided to explore a bit further and see what was out there that wasn't being discussed in the mega-forums of certain epic fantasy authors.

What I found is that SF fandom is quite a bit more diverse than what many might suspect. In fact, it's close to the point of there being no mutual intelligibility between the various factions. If I had to guess, I would say that the vast majority of those complaining at Westeros about the Hugo voting probably didn't raise an eyebrow at seeing Helix in the Semiprozine category, despite a rather vocal uprising a month or so ago about its editor's rather bigoted remarks and subsequent puerile behavior. Just as many are not likely to be aware of the creation of Shadow Unit as are those who are familiar with the rather asinine question of "paying" bloggers. So many groups, each with its own set of foci and satellite concerns, so little time to be aware of what's happening in other circles.

Although I don't have as much time at the moment to devote to SF matters due to the new school year beginning last week at a new school, I do try to stick my head in to get a sense of what is transpiring in many different circles. Some I somehow manage to miss most of the time; others I am kept well-informed. But it is rather amusing at times to see all the various mice in the genre trying to roar for attention, as if they were in virtually self-contained quarters that are sound-proofed against the other various currents active in fandom.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

2008 Hugo Award Winners

Thanks to Cheryl Morgan for providing the live results from the awards banquet in Denver:

Campbell Award:

Mary Robinette Kowal (Lynch, Abercrombie, Durham were finalists here as well)


Mike Glyer, File 770

Fan Writer:

John Scalzi (Langford is dethroned!)

Fan Artist:

Brad Foster

Professional Artist:

Stefan Martiniere

Best Semiprozine:


Related Book:

Jeff Prucher, Brave New Words, the Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form:

Doctor Who, "Blink" Written by Steven Moffat, directed by Hettie Macdonald (BBC)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form:

Stardust (based on the novel by Neil Gaiman)

Best Professional Editor, Short Form:

Gordon Van Gelder

Best Professional Editor, Long Form:

David Hartwell

Best Short Story:

Elizabeth Bear, "Tideline" (appeared in the June 2007 issue of Asimov's)

Best Novelette:

Ted Chiang, The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate (appeared in limited-edition chapbook form and in the September 2007 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine)

Best Novella:

Connie Willis, All Seated on the Ground (limited-edition book from Subterranean Press; appeared also in the December 2007 issue of Asimov's)

Best Novel:

Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Edit: Detailed voting breakdown here.

All in all, some pleasant surprises. Despite thinking that Chabon was the best of the finalists that I did read, I was worried that he would be hurt by the book not being "SF enough". Nice to see I was mistaken there. I was also surprised to see that David Langford's streak of winning the Best Fan Writer award ended, but since authors are eligible for their blogs now and since John Scalzi's Whatever blog is very popular, I guess it shouldn't be that shocking now. While I thought there could have been more "adventuresome" books and stories represented on the lists, for the most part, it seems that those who deserved it the most won the awards. It seems to be a solid list, albeit not one that's going to hit my reading "sweet spot" much of the time. Regardless, congratulations to all of the winners!

Thoughts on the winners tonight?

Reviewing my Best of 2007 list

Jeff VanderMeer's recent Omnivoracious post about the "conventionality" of the just-announced World Fantasy Award finalists, with his suggestions for alternates that he felt were as good as the books named, reminded me to look back at my late December 2007 post that named what I felt were the Best 2007 releases that I had read by then.

Out of the three major American-oriented SF Awards (Nebulas, Hugos, WFA), I had two of their combined Best Novel finalists in my Top 12, Nalo Hopkinson's The New Moon's Arms (Nebula) and Emma Bull's Territory (WFA). In addition, Shaun Tan's The Arrival was nominated for a Hugo for Best Related Book, Tim Pratt's Hart & Boot & Other Stories received a WFA nomination for Best Collection, and the John Klima-edited Logorrhea also was nominated for a WFA in the Best Anthology collection.

Not too shabby, I suppose, and if I had read Michael Chabon's Nebula winning and Hugo nominated The Yiddish Policemen's Union in 2007, it likely would have been added to the list. However, of the books on those lists that I have read, the majority of those wouldn't have come close to being on that list of mine; they were mostly solid, but rather pedestrian in feel compared to the ones I chose. What I found interesting about VanderMeer's suggested alternatives was that in virtually every case, I had either read the book and had it either in my top 12 or on the "next 10" or I read it earlier this year and enjoyed it enough that I likely would have had it on either one of my two lists. I still have to read Daniel Abraham's A Betrayal in Winter, John Crowley's Endless Things (have the book, but I am waiting for the revised editions for the other Ægypt novels to be released first), and Paul Park's Roumania novels. I have read the first in each of their series and each was a joy to read, so I do have high hopes for the sequels.

Shall be quite interesting to see how my upcoming Best of 2008 lists will rank with the nominees for next year's awards.

August 4-9 Book Porn

This edition of book porn features a shift more towards non-fiction. In the coming months, expect more of my purchases to include historical works. It was a nice bit of coincidence that one of the two history-related books was sent to me as a review copy, since I will be teaching modern US History this school year and the last few weeks of school will certainly revolve around the events of the current President's administration. But enough of the chatter, on to naming the 7 books, of which 2 are purchases, 1 is an Advance Review Copy/galley, and the final 4 are review copies sent to me:

Top-left: Robert Graves, Good-Bye to All That; Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón, After 9/11: America's War on Terror (2001 - ).

Bottom-left: David Anthony Durham, Acacia: The War with the Mein; Jorge Luis Borges, El idioma de los argentinos; Kimberly Raye, Just One Bite.

Michael Moorcock, Elric: To Rescue Tanelorn; K.J. Parker, The Company.

More on most of these in the coming months. Although I have the hardcover for Durham's book (which I enjoyed quite a bit) and the Graves book I read 13 years ago for an upper-division history class on the cultural history of World War I, the rest of these books are new to me and I have high hopes for enjoyable reading experiences.

A reading meme

So Gabriele tagged me for this one:


Don't have a table and my nightstand is too packed with an alarm clock, CD system speakers, and my C-PAP for there to be any room for books. However, I do keep a stack of books on my computer tower. These will be listed shortly.

Reading at the Moment:

Barely a damn thing since late June (only read 11 books in July, or less than 1/3 of my monthly averages for this year). But let's see what I have received lately that I began reading a bit:

Jorge Luis Borges, El idioma de los argentinos (commentaries)

Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón, After 9/11: America's War on Terror (2001 - ) (Graphic novel; review copy)

Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, The Malleus Maleficarium (historical artifact, the witch hunter's guide)

Angélica Gorodischer, Bajo las Jubeas en flor (short story collection)

Tennessee State Standards for teaching U.S. History - Exciting read, no?

Can't Put Down:

It's those state standards, baby! Yeah, right. Right now, I've barely had time to read anything (and I ought to add, I don't read books in bed, so I'm apparently bending the rules of this meme a bit to be able to answer it at all).

Gathering Dust:

The 30 or so books I bought or received in July/August so far. C'est la vie.

Secret Indulgence:

Those state standards again? Don't have any "secrets" about my indulgences!

Looking Forward To:

School on Monday? Umm...mostly to having time to read books again, period.

As for tagging, I tag Aidan, Neth/Ken, Harlan Ellison, Jack Vance, and Terry Goodkind. Or three other people who want to do this thing. Same difference.

Projecting the 2008 Hugo finalists for Best Novel

Been even more busy with beginning the school year than I thought (crashed three days this week before the sun had properly set!), so this will be a very truncated version of what I had planned. Unfortunately, I'll also have to project in some cases based on partial reads of the works, so my takes on these might not be as informed as I would like.

Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Why it will win: Already a finalist or winner of several awards this year, including winning the Nebula Award, this alt-history account of post-WWII Jews settling in Alaska after the failure to re-establish a Jewish homeland around Jerusalem works on many levels. There is a mystery element that appeals to many, but for others it is the combination of Chabon's prose and the under-the-surface examination of ethnicity and identity that made this an appealing book for many.

Why it won't win: For those hardline SF-only people, Chabon's book is not going to satisfy their desire to have a SF book win the Hugo. This book may get the majority of the first place votes, but if it doesn't have a good distribution among the other places, it quickly might be dropped from contention due to how the Hugo voting is done.

Ian McDonald, Brasyl

Why it will win: Brasyl is a clever story that intertwines three time periods and three diverse PoV characters to tell a tale that is intriguing, especially when considered at length. It too has been nominated for several awards and it won the 2008 British Science Fiction Award, so it too has to be considered a strong contender, especially if it receives a good distribution of second and third-place votes to stay afloat in the early rounds of voting.

Why it won't win: Some are divided on the ending, thinking it is a bit weak. Others might wish for a more overtly "SF" book and vote for one of the three contenders below instead. If Chabon doesn't win the award, McDonald would be my second choice and I expect it to come in at least 3rd place, if not 2nd or even 1st.

Robert J. Sawyer, Rollback

Why it will win:
Sawyer is very well-known in the SF community and many of his previous novels and shorter stories have won numerous awards, including the Hugos. From many accounts that I have read, Rollback is a fairly decent Sawyer novel, which means it might get plenty of mid-place votes that'll keep it in contention into the latter rounds.

Why it won't win: With Chabon, McDonald, Stross, and Scalzi in the field, each receiving praise from various parts for their work, it'll be difficult for Sawyer to have more first-place votes than any of these others.

John Scalzi, The Last Colony

Why it will win: Scalzi is also very well-known in the SF community and his Old Man's War novels have been well-received by many. Winner of the Campbell Award a few years ago, he has the visibility necessary to garner a lot of votes spread out among the places.

Why it won't win: I haven't heard as much "favorite" talk for Scalzi's book as I have had for the Chabon, McDonald, and Stross entries and I am uncertain if in the latter rounds of voting that he'll receive more higher-place votes than any of these three.

Charles Stross, Halting State

Why it will win:
Some have been wondering if this will be Stross's "year," after being a finalist numerous times the previous few years. In addition, his books are usually well-received with those who like the more "hard" SF elements in their fiction. Doesn't hurt that he too is very visible in the SF community.

Why it won't win: His prose isn't exactly appealing to those readers who might prefer something a bit more polished and "readable." While he might appeal to the tech-heads and others who like the "hard" SF stuff, the book may fail to garner a lot of first or second-place votes from those who value storytelling foremost.

And if I had to rank them based on what I've read and on past experiences with these authors, my ballot would look like this:

1. Chabon
2. McDonald
3. Scalzi
4. Sawyer
5. Stross

Doubtless, the final results (which ought to be announced tonight, I believe) will be quite different. Thoughts on the finalists?

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Knowing my role

Do you smell what the rock is cooking?
The Rock says, The Rock says, The Rock says, The Rock says
The Rock says, The Rock says know you damn role
Know your role
The Rock says
The Rock says
The Rock says
The Rock says
The Rock says know your damn role
The Rock says, The Rock says, The Rock says, The Rock says
The Rock says, The Rock Say know you damn role
Know your role
The Rock says
The Rock says
The Rock says
The Rock says
The Rock says
The Rock says know your damn role

I've been very busy the past four days getting acclimated to my new high school, meeting my new colleagues, and having a blast teasing my fellow social studies teachers (no English this year, only one preparation for the first time since the 2000-2001 school year! I'm beyond ecstatic about that). However, I've been mostly unable to find the time/energy to keep up with the constant teacup tempest brewings, so I guess the one interesting bit I read this afternoon might serve as a nice dovetail back into my personal/professional life.

Gabe Chouinard has a reaction to the reactions to last week's discussion regarding finding ways of paying bloggers. To be blunt, he's quite frustrated with the reaction that many had to his proposals of finding a way to generate revenue from getting publishers and others in the industry to buy ads on various SF/F blogs. Descriptors such as "placid" and "resistent to change" are peppered throughout his post, used to argue that those who are opposed to his ideas are being reluctant to engage the possibility of working with publishers to create content in exchange for money.

While it sounds nice, I naturally noticed a few flaws in this approach. First off, what sort of "advertising" are we talking about? If it's money, wouldn't advertisers like to see some bang for their buck? This blog probably is in upper tier of non-author/publishing firm SF/F blogs in regards to hits and between direct and feed views, I only average slightly more than 1,000 page views a day. While there are a few sites that I know of that get 2x or 3x that traffic, most "independent" SF/F blogs that have reliable tracking numbers (this is excluding Livejournal, unfortunately) that I know of receive less than half of mine.

One thousand daily page views might sound like a good number for many, but compared to the Boing-Boings or other such sites, it is miniscule. Add to that the fact that I likely share about 1/3 to 1/2 of my audience with similar blogs and it really doesn't make much sense to pay more than a pittance for advertising, even if I were so inclined.

In a time in which major newspapers such as the New York Times is losing quite a bit of its ad revenue due to the slumping economy, it seems rather odd to think that online spec fic advertising on sites that get maybe 50-500 page views a day would 1) be approved by advertising firms, and in the unlikely case of it happening, 2) would pay more than maybe $10-50/month.

I'm quite realistic where I stand in the hierarchy - just big enough for certain "higher ups" to have noticed me, but far from the gravy train of publicity/advertising revenue. I would imagine that I'd have to at least multiply my daily average by 10-20x to have any realistic expectations of getting advertising dollars. Besides, when I'm making over $40,000 a year as a teacher, I'm in no hurry to quit my day job to do what would amount to lower-paying freelance work on a more than full-time basis. I know my role, and that is to be a teacher first, a blogger somewhat further down the line.

That being said, tomorrow is my first day with the students. I expect to have some fun.
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