The OF Blog: September 2010

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Umm...does this cover art suck or what?

There's just something about this cover image that seems a bit wrong, but what could it be?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Late September New and Used Book Porn

These first set of books were sent to me as a very generous gift from Jeff VanderMeer.  I have already read the top two books in this picture and I will say something later, when I'm closer to full mental energy, about On Elegance While Sleeping.  There certainly was something in the water in Argentina in the early 20th century, no doubt about it.

Amal el-Mohtar's The Honey Month is a combination of a month's worth of honey tasting, synesthesia, and little stories and poems based on these experiences.  Excellent stuff.  Currently reading Tucker Max's second book as an antidote for the weeks-long down mood I've been in.  Sometimes, reading about a real asshole's exploits can be amusing in the strangest of ways and halfway through, this book has had me laughing aloud much more than most any work I can recall reading in recent years.  Mission accomplished.  Might even be back blogging regularly sooner than I had feared.  Will read the other two in the coming months.


Still buying used editions of the old Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, edited by Lin Carter from 1969-1974.  There are some very interesting books in this series, with old reprints co-existing with first American editions of contemporary releases.  Vathek was awesome, but The Sorcerer's Ship was merely okay, as it lacked that "magical" feel that I found in reading Beckford's 18th century classic.  Kurtz's first Deryni novel was better than I expected, as it reminded me favorably of some of Patrica McKillip's 1970s works.  Interesting to see that Welsh-influenced fantasies were popular 40 years ago (and even earlier, going by the adaptations that Evangeline Walton did with her four novels).  Currently reading the Poul Anderson adaptation of a fragmentary Norse saga.  It's uneven, but the pluses so far outweigh the negatives halfway through.

Six more Ballantine Adult Fantasy novels, all of which I have yet to read (all but one arrived today in the mail, actually).  Hopefully, there will be several great reads ahead in the near future.

And that's about it until the weekend.  Thanks for those who replied in the post below.  Am doing a bit better, as it is just stress over a sort of negative déjà vu that I tend to experience when I get back into teaching.  Love/hate relationships are never fun to work through, but this week has been mostly good, as I seem to be doing a much better job teaching these A&D rehab teens than did their previous teacher.  But I can't allow myself to believe that too much, so more work, more planning, and maybe this time some lasting good will come of it all.    But it's a bit late and I have to be awake in 7 hours, so I suppose I should just close by noting that there will be at least one review in the next week, if not 2-3.  And one of those certainly will be of a new release, but one that most bloggers, particularly SF/F ones, seem to have overlooked.  It's not in this picture.  But it is a fitting way to start reviewing in October.  Curious?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Time to come clean on a few things

Yeah, I've been a bit quiet these past four days.  Some of it is just due to working almost eight hours non-stop each weekday now (I have very limited internet access, through my phone only for now, during my 30 minute lunch breaks), but much of it is due to a couple of recurring nuisances that seem to be making their first appearances in a few years.

The first and relatively minor nuisance is that for the past few days, my heartrate and pulse are elevated.  Just tested at 150/99 blood pressure with 113 resting pulse, with earlier pulse tests reaching as high as 137/minute.  This is due to my having sleep apnea, as well as dealing with with a weight that hasn't gone down for a while.  The second part is preventable, I know, but the first really does wonders on my heart, especially if I am carrying excess weight (which unfortunately I am, ever since I had to give up long-distance walking a couple of months ago due to strains in the muscles surrounding my right patella).  Having sleep apnea alone lowered my actuarial life expectancy to around 60 years, according to a life insurance report done about five years ago.  That's when I was a bit healthier-feeling than now.

But that is minor compared to what seems to be coming back for the first time in at least three years.  I usually get a bit down as the days get shorter, but I rarely have a racing heart and an absolute feeling of dread and uncertainty associated with work.  It's odd that after only two weeks of regular work that I would be experiencing these symptoms, symptoms that I associate with extreme stress and depression, based on events back in October 2002 and September-October 2007.  But when I found myself thinking during my first day of long-term subbing that I didn't want to be teaching, that I felt as though I were useless out there (which is not all that strange of a feeling when dealing with students in an in-patient rehab setting who are coming off of their drugs; they do tend to refuse to cooperate and to curse at staff regularly), that worried me.  But after a week in which I had students only one day out of five but which I had a helluva lot of paperwork (a two month backlog of educational assessments that hadn't been done before I arrived, despite these reports needing to have been done within 48 hours of the student arriving), I find myself on a Sunday night with a racing pulse and a feeling of abject insecurity about what I'm doing, why I'm even doing it, and if it's worth it.

Until that resolves itself, it is hard to focus on reading or reviewing.  I will try to do some of both to divert myself, but it may be a long slog ahead for me, especially since I don't have the money or health insurance to pay for certain tests that I probably need.  But since this is a temp job on paper, if this continues, I may have to ask to be released, so I can get the stress levels down.  But maybe it'll be better after a day or two.  However, all I know is that I just don't have that posting mojo just yet and I hope I can get my house in order so I can rediscover it.

So please, don't suggest that I do X or Y.  I know there are several options, some of which I wish I could take but can't afford to (literally, as well as figuratively) at this time.  All I'm doing is just writing out some concerns so I don't feel obliged to post things until I myself am ready to do so.  See you around...sometime, hopefully this week.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

For those disappointed by my recent lack of reviews or "serious" posting...

I just started a long-term subbing position (might become permanent if things improve at the facility, but I'm not anything more than 50/50 optimistic on that) and I have a LOT of paperwork to do this week, even when my class is out of school for the week.  So there won't be any reviews until this weekend at the earliest and don't expect much in the way of commentaries until then as well.  Then again, Saturdays are devoted to college football and occasionally I'll watch the NFL on Sundays, so there might be near-radio silence even then.

But don't fret!  I have a special book review that will go live Monday morning, plus there might be a little project that will be announced sometime in the coming week or two.  It's something that I think will generate some discussion and debate, plus for a lot of calls for my head, as well as for those of my two collaborators.  There might even be a little spin-off from it, something that if time and energy permits, it might lead to some interesting discussions over at least two venues. 

Sadly, it is not the finalization for Squirrelpunk, the anthology.  Maybe there will be more news about that later, once all those talented writers finish writing excellent tales about squirrels and their tails.  But this secret project is the next best thing to Squirrelpunk, I promise!  And no, it's not Tribblepunk or Tiggerpunk, awesome as though might be.

Anybody curious to guess what the project will be and who else is involved?


Funny Animal Photos-There is An Impostor Among Us!
see more Acting Like Animals

You just don't mess with the squirrels. You just don't.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

And now, a moment of WTF Zen

There's something both extremely amusing and terribly disturbing about this video. What do you think?

Monday, September 20, 2010

I just found out I am a finalist for a Last Drink Bird Head Award

I just learned from Jeff VanderMeer that I have been chosen as one of four finalists for the International Activism part of the Last Drink Bird Head Awards that he and his wife Ann set up last year to honor people who have enriched the lives of others through their efforts in diverse ways.  It is a great honor, because these awards are not as much about the people themselves, but what they do to help others and that means much more to me than any recognition I could have ever received for mere words.

But the other finalists are excellent.  Familiar with some, but not all of the ones listed below.  What I do know is that there's been a lot of great work done over the past few years promoting non-Anglo-American spec fic for English-reading audiences and that those reading this post do need to check out these fine people and their own outstanding efforts to promote global spec fic:

Charles Tan (for Bibliophile Stalker and The World SF Blog)
- Lavie Tidhar (for The World SF Blog)
- Yan Wu, Guangyi Li, and Nathaniel Isaacson (for Chinese Sci Fi )

 And be sure to click on the first link to see the excellent finalists for these fine awards, which will be announced October 16 in Washington, D.C. at Capclave.

Mid-September Used Book Porn

I just returned from my roughly monthly excursion to a Nashville used bookstore.  This time I traded in 22 books of my own (and 16 my mother wanted to get rid of) and acquired 17 books that I know I'll want to read (or in a few cases, re-read in nicer editions).  A few gilt-edged ones in this first picture.  I really enjoyed Thackeray's novel back in 1996 when I was a 22 year-old graduate student and I thought it'd be nice to have a hardcover edition of it.  Same goes for Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days.  Plutarch's Lives, however, I have yet to read in full, so maybe this will motivate me.  In addition, I haven't yet read Pynchon's Vineland and I am quite curious about Hernán Cortes' accounts of his campaigns.

Despite my distaste for some of the underlying prejudices, I have found myself reading some orientalist fantasies and for the first time, I have found a hardcover edition of the Burton translation of The Book of a Thousand Nights and a Night.  Also found a decently-priced hardcover edition of Mark Twain's The Gilded Age.  Thought the Carroll might make for a quick, lazy weekend read sometime, so I bought that.  The Gaiman collection is a replacement copy, while I've heard this James Morrow book mentioned in a few places, so why not?

It was fortuitous to find this hardcover edition of Aladair Gray's Poor Things.  Bought The Year of the Frog just based on the name alone; curious to see if this tale of life in 1980s Czechoslovakia will be worth the $1.50 in store credit I paid for it.  Looking forward to reading Angela Carter's Wise Children in the very near future.  Ann Radcliffe was one of the main Gothic writers of the late 18th/early 19th centuries, yet I had never gotten around to buying, much less reading, The Italian until now.  Bought Carlyle's Sartor Resartus in large part because Jorge Luis Borges cites this as the book that convinced him to become a writer.  Wanted to read more of Simmons' non-SF writings, so I picked up this paperback copy of his The Hollow Man.  And finally, I found for a really cheap price of $4 a complete Italian edition of Dante's The Divine Comedy, so I can continue to practice my nascent Italian with late medieval and Renaissance poets.

Which of these have you read?  Which do you most want to know more about?  Which would you even dare kill a rabid squirrel to read and/or own?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Hate the writing and not the writer, or hate the writer and not the writing, or just dismiss them both?

This week, I started a long-term substitute teaching gig at a local drug rehab center.  I live pretty much in the buckle of the Bible Belt and rarely does a week (or even a day) go by where someone that I would consider to be, on the whole, a "good person" says something really stupid or ignorant about issues such as immigration, religion, or politics.  Since I know these people and know that they generally are caring people despite these unfortunate "blind spots" (or character flaws, if you want to be less charitable than I try to be with most people), I can be forgiving (or at least try) to the person, if not to their particular beliefs or acts which I find to be harmful.

But when the personal factor is removed, it is much easier to conflate the person with their particular beliefs and actions.  After all, 99.99% of the people who read this article have never met me in person.  All I have for those people are my words, transmitted electronically.  It is nowhere near the totality of me and sometimes, there are things said and done that might give people the impression that I am not the nicest of persons, to say the least.  I understand and accept that, although I'd hope that there would be some that would be willing to be charitable despite some irritable comments I've said.

Since I've been very busy with my new teaching job (enjoying it greatly so far, by the way), I have not had the time until now to blog about the uproar that Elizabeth Moon's post about citizenship that referenced US Muslims in a rather caustic and unfair fashion.  As someone who has worked with Muslims and who has had several Muslim students over the years, I found her statements to be silly and wrong-headed.  I viewed it as being no better nor no worse than what I hear almost every week from people in my exurb.  It is a post that should be condemned for perpetuating certain prejudices.

However, just because an author speaks from ignorance and states certain things that are odious to several readers does not mean that vitriol should be flung back.  It is understandable that some would be loathe to read some of her works so soon after learning of those comments, but are the stories necessarily extensions of their writers?  I am saddened by her post, in part because of her excellent novel about autism, The Speed of Dark, which moved me, in part because I have worked with a few autistic children over the years.  I am having a hard time reconciling the author of that book with the writer of that post.  Maybe it's just that even basically decent and compassionate people can have truck-wide holes in their goodness that prevent people from seeing the good and only considering the evil that they have wrought.  Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, anyone?

Perhaps the reason why this weighs on me is hearing of those who want to reconsider all of Moon's works on the basis of this misguided post or even those (thankfully rare) who wish to inflict bodily damage on her.  The irony of this intolerance seems to be lost on a few.  I wonder if authors should even weigh in on social issues, considering how quick readers are to rush to a summary judgment, regardless of whether or not a single post reflects accurately the entire corpus of that author's public comments or private beliefs.  I also wonder if some of those responding are responding out of charity, an attempt to persuade the offending author to reconsider his/her views, or if they are being judgmental in return and have the intent to castigate without trying also to correct.

All I know is that this entire affair makes me sad.  Sometimes, people whom you believe have good overall traits just say and do stupid shit and that shit splatters all over them, ruining the perspective of their good traits.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Those were the days...

Ah, All in the Family, that should set the mood nicely for what I'm about to say.

So, there was a little announcement made elsewhere yesterday, something that sent a few impressible souls into a tizzy.  Apparently, from what I've gathered, some were a bit upset and saw it as "a passing of an era."  Others, a bit more cynical, saw it as attention-whoring that was a bit off-putting.  There was some nodding and shaking of heads, seemingly from those old, grizzled blog veterans of a couple of years about "the old days."  I see Mark Newton even got in on the act with a post. 

OK, it seems some people value a "sense of community" and seem to think "something's gone wrong."  It is rather odd to me, I suppose, seeing all this fuss over an announcement that I thought was more worthy of a parody than of any real comment.  "Men come and go, but earth abides." - that Biblical passage pretty much sums up my reaction.  Maybe it's because I've worked in a profession where I've seen thousands of students come and go, or over a dozen of them come and go in the sense of shuffling off this mortal coil.  Maybe it's because a great-uncle of mine is being buried today and I never knew him, but it's hard to feel attached to something distant and ephemeral. 

I've never believed in blogging "community."  Rather, it just seems to be a series of associations, often predicated on the business negotiations of who covers what and when and how materials are shifted from publicists to reviewers.  Pardon me if it's hard to get weepy-eyed over some companies losing a prime source for promoting their materials; there are other sources, of course.  A hundred blogs, this size or larger, could go out of existence today and within a month, any "gaps" in book promotion would be more than filled.  There are so few 'unique voices' in any field and it is baffling to learn that some are mourning someone who may or may not be taking a break due to burnout or whatever reason he might have. 

Things have hardly changed since the 1920s in terms of "communities" and connections.  When the technological accoutrements are stripped away, it's just basically just people blathering and becoming maudlin at times over matters that years later they'll either regret or laugh off as being so picayune.  But maybe I'm just a cold-hearted, cynical bastard who just doesn't think that "those days" were really any better than the current or possible futures.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

After blogging for six years and twenty days now...

Not to mention hundreds of thousands (almost a million, according to Google Analytics)  visitors, some book reviews, hundreds more parodies and snide remarks, as well as countless squirrel threats and references, maybe it's time to talk more about myself.

Funny thing, this blog wasn't even supposed to last more than a couple of weeks. Six years is pretty much like a lifetime on the web. And needless to say, the OF Blog went far beyond what I ever envisioned. The OF Blog's mission has always been to help spread the word about all that's good about squirrels and what sucks about Canadians, something I've been striving to uphold since its beginning in August of 2004. And I feel it's mission accomplished.

Though I have my detractors (and yes, they are many), I was nonetheless able to establish myself as a fair and honest (one can only hope) Squirrelist over the years. The OF Blog's ever-growing popularity is probably a good sign that there are a lot of people out there who have come to trust me. And although I've never taken myself very seriously, it's nevertheless heart-warming to realize that I have earned the respect of so many people, both in and outside squirrel-worshipping circles. For you see, respect is never deserved. It has to be earned. And the fact that so many people visit the OF Blog in droves every day means that I've done a few things right.

Being on a last name basis with most editors-in-chief and big-name editors on both sides of the Atlantic means something, no question. But one of the most rewarding aspects of running this blog for so long is that I'm now on a first name basis with some of the SFF authors I've admired the most for years and years. People like Robert Stanek, Terry Goodkind, H.R. Puffenstuff, Punky Brewster, and many others, have helped me enjoy this adventure on a more personal level.

In my own small way, I helped launch the careers of new squirrelists such as Julio Iglesias, Bob Dylan, Bob Saget, Joe Piscopo, Alyssa Milano, Jack White, Jello Biafra, Pauly Shore, and many more. The beauty of running this blog remains that it allowed me to discover so many talented people and bright new voices in squirrelism. No, I don't deserve much credit, but I'm glad of the exposure I was able to provide for each of them.

I'm also quite proud of my unflagging promotion of sucky talent, and will continue to support authors such as Robert Stanek, Terry Goodkind, Robert Newcomb, and Lady Gaga until they put me under.

There were some unexpected surprises along the way, things I never would have thought could become a reality. And yet, I got to translate a story for future publication. Even better, Squirrelpunk, an anthology compiled and edited my Yours Truly, will soon be available.

I'm not going to lie; I loved every moment of the last couple of years. Yes, there were a few pissing contests and flame-ups, especially early on. It wouldn't have been as much fun otherwise. But all in all, we've managed to keep things civil enough, the squirrel haters' spam bomb notwithstanding. Hence, turning my back on all this wouldn't be easy. But sooner or later, every good thing must come to an end. . .

God knows I'm not about showmanship, but it's always better to go out on top. However, as one of the premier squirrelists in the world, maybe it's not yet time to say goodbye to the OF Blog. . .

ALF from ALF left this very nice and probably underserved comment on my Facebook page: "I consider you a voice of reason in a wasteland of useless chatter." It appears that quite a lot of people echo the sentiment.

As I mentioned in response to those Facebook comments, I have largely made up my mind. But I will try to do so in the years to come. For if I do decide to hang 'em up, it will probably be at the end of 2012, right after my rabid vampiric squirrels take over the world.

Whether or not I elect to keep the OF Blog running afterward, I owe a debt of gratitude to all of you. Squirrels, squirrelists, squirrel bait, squirrel masseuses , squirrel marketing people, the squirrelist online community, and all the squirrel prey out there, you made it happen. Indeed, it would be no fun without an audience and you guys have been awesome! 

I think there should be a Book Blogger Hatred and Dissing Week

Ah, this week brings out, like a herpes outbreak, another round of treacliness called the Book Blogger Appreciation Week.  Although I suppose there's some rationale for some people caring about what other people think about their work, it has never been a motivation for me.  In fact, I don't tend to pay all that much attention to other blogs unless there's a bit of bitchiness involved.  Therefore, I am proposing that to counter this artificial sweetness, that there be a Book Blogger Hatred and Dissing Week.

Think about it.  US-based bloggers can mock UK-based ones for their bad teeth, horrid weather, and the fact that they know good books as well as they know how to cook food that another nationality didn't first show them how to cook.  Brazilian book bloggers can have fun telling jokes about porteños and their creído.  Southern bloggers can have fun at the Yanks expense, as we are wont to do.  And we all know that Canadian bloggers are teh suck and are best abandoned to the likes of Celine Dion and William Shatner.

We could even go further, as we could have arguments over the layouts of the blogs, about who shills the most and who really needs to learn how to use new words when reviewing a book.  Maybe there could be a prize for those bloggers who break down and cry about the likes of me being "meanies" to them.  Or we could just force those benighted souls to dance the Macarena.  While wearing Lady Gaga's meat dress.

Would this be entertaining?  Your thoughts can be submitted, although I can't promise that I'd give a damn.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A few, brief thoughts on oriental fantasies

Ever since I was a child growing up in the 1980s, I have been fascinated with tales similar to those of The Thousand Nights and One/The Arabian Nights/whatever else you want to translated these Indian, Persian, and Arabic tales that were translated and transformed in Western and Central Europe from the 18th century onward.  There is something enticing about the similarities and differences found in these stories, from how women and men are treated compared to my own culture, to how religion and philosophy are interwoven into several of these tales, and the mysteries involved in the locales and in the personages who people these fantastic places that are at once both real and mythical.

The so-called Near East/Middle East has served as a muse for several European writers.  From William Beckford's Vathek (which I just received in the mail today) to George Meredith's The Shaving of Shagpat (which I read this weekend) to Richard Burton's translation of the French rendition of the Nights to even much more recent efforts such as Italian graphic artist Sergio Toppi's Sharaz-De, the settings and motifs found in these ancient tales have resonated with Western audiences for three centuries now.  Yet in these tales, the "otherness" of the setting and the characters often carries not just the "exotic," but also the exotic as being something that could be safely judged from a distance as being not just fantastical, but often nonsensical, if not "inferior" to those of the presumed more cultured West.  Such an ironic turnabout from a millennium ago. 

Today, oriental fantasies may be labeled as being "politically incorrect."  In using the scare quotes, I am not making judgments, but rather noting the controversial nature of using such labels in discussing works.  I would have to admit that there is some dissonance in my reading experience, reading older texts that are simultaneously among the most sumptuous and imaginative works that I have read, while also being (at least in some tales) extremely racist in their depictions of Arabic, Persian, and Indian societies.   Certainly this is something that was not a major worry for the vast majority of these works' original audiences.  How times have changed!

But rather than dithering over the perceived qualities and deficiencies in these tales, I am more interested in those stories that subvert these older orientalist fantasies, just as several of the earlier steampunk tales twisted the old Edisonades to make postmodernist critiques of the presumptions found in those 19th and early 20th century tales.  When I was doing readings for Best American Fantasy 4, one of the stories I highlighted was Amit Majmudar's "Azazil," which is the first part of a multi-part short novel appearing inside the pages of The Kenyon Review.  In reading it, I was struck by how Majmudar re-appropriated elements from these older fictions to create a powerful tale that does not feel like a distortion of the older story cycles imported from the Middle East and India.   Saladin Ahmed's "Hooves and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela," from Clockwork Phoenix 2, is another story I highlighted for possible inclusion in BAF 4.  I have the sense that these are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of a reaction to the older orientalist fantasies and I am curious to discover more.

Perhaps you have stories to suggest that are reactions to the casual racism of the Georgian and Victorian orientalist fantasies.  If so, perhaps you can suggest some below.

Interesting article involving perceived weaknesses of Tolkien's monsters

Currently reading Bloom's Modern Critical Views:  J.R.R. Tolkien, which contains a 1968 essay by Thomas J. Gasque called "Tolkien:  The Monsters and the Critters."  I found his points regarding Tom Bombadil, the Balrog, and Shelob to be similar to my reactions to these character intrusions when I last re-read the series in 2009:

All three [Tom, the Balrog, Shelob] possess an independence that places them outside the central moral concern of the story - the destruction of the Ring.  Their amorality, like their nonhumanity, reveals them as allegorical principles:  Tom of life or nature, Shelob of death or blind appetite, and the Balrog of a central disorder that no creature can withstand.

We could object to Tolkien's inclusion of Bombadil and the two monsters because they are principles rather than personalities.  But allegory in a work of this sort need not be an artistic failure.  Tolkien does fail with these two, however, not because he chose to dehumanize them, but because he failed to make them interesting.  Treebeard, for example, is much more interesting than Tom Bombadil, and the orcs more fearsome than the Balrog.

Although we could not call the adventures with the Balrog and with Shelob dull, they both seem to fail, not in execution but in conception.  Tolkien has invented these monsters rather than created them from the raw material of folklore as he did his other creatures.  We are unable to believe in the Balrog because we have no foundation either outside the work or in it.  Dwarfs, orcs, and elves are familiar enough to most readers to stimulate a response.  Other creatures, including hobbits, the Ringwraiths, and the Dark Lord himself are fully developed within the trilogy.  Not so with the Balrog.  There he is, all of a sudden, whiffling and burbling, a Diabolus ex machina, when the orcs were foe enough.  He is not dull, but the excitement is on the surface, and we only half believe Gandalf when he cries, "'Fly!  This is a foe beyond any of you.'"

Shelob is better executed than her counterpart, but both episodes are artistically weak.  For sheer terror, they are on a level with the invention of dozens of science-fiction writers, but terror is not enough.  Nor is the argument that only such supernatural creatures could cause Gandalf's death or Frodo's paralysis, for there is still the feeling that these demons are not real.  They are unreal because they are extraneous to the traditional framework of the story. (p. 7)

Thoughts on this, keeping in mind that it was written when only The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were published?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Trying to think of some unusual, "original" works of the imagination

I've been reading George Meredith's 1855 oriental fantasy novel, The Shaving of Shagpat, tonight.  Found myself thinking that it'd be interesting to see what other books are as strange and as "magical" as this one.  Or if there are dark, twisted works that rival those of Horace Walpole, Ann Radcliffe, "Monk" Lewis, or even more recent writers like Clark Ashton Smith or H.P. Lovecraft. 

What sorts of works do you know of that would be good, strange, excellent imaginative fictions?  They don't all have to be obscure, older works, but perhaps it might be best to avoid naming generic post-Tolkien epic fantasies here.  Please share!

I mock your To Be Read piles! I snort at your complaints of time! And I think you are missing the point!

There, catchy enough title for ya?  Over a week ago, I ran a poll here asking people if they would prefer to have a library full of thousands of books read or thousands of books unread?  Distressingly for me, nearly 90% of people polled chose the former option.  When I posted that question, I had recently re-read a commentary by Umberto Eco about the "anti-library" (which in turn is part of a larger book on books):

The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and non dull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with 'Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?' and the others - a very small minority - who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight read-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.

Too often I read blog posts of people "complaining" about their "to be read piles" of books.  So many moanings of "how will I ever finish all these books?" or "I don't think I could finish them if they were the only books I would read in a year!"  Many pictures are taken of these books, as if having unread books is some sort of shame that must be admitted in public.  Sometimes numbers are tossed about:  12, 50, 100, 250, 600!  The books are reduced to numbers and not possibilities.

I do not know with any certainty how many unread books I own.  I would guess maybe a hundred or two.  I don't keep them in a separate area; several are shelved besides some nice edition, while others are scattered here and yon.  I don't ever worry about "catching up," for that is not the purpose of acquiring books, at least not for me.  I wrote a post several weeks ago about "book consumers" and what I left unstated (but implied) there is that reading/acquiring books is not a zero-sum game; there is no "winner" or "loser" in that.  Rather, there are possibilities found in books to be read and in those read some time ago.

I suspect part of the issue involves the receiving of promotional materials.  Like several others, I receive several dozen (if not a few hundred) books a year from publishers.  I read maybe 10% of those books and review only another half or so.  There is no shame in this; I receive books from a mailing list and not because (except in a very, very few cases) I directly solicit a work.  I don't have to catch them all, right away; I can thumb through them at my leisure and cover the ones that seem to hold something of interest to me.  Books are not ersatz monetary exchanges here; if there is something I find interesting, I'll read/review it.  Otherwise, maybe another will enjoy it in the near future when I do my periodic cleansing of shelves full of perused books.

Beyond this, however, is the issue of purchases.  I don't purchase books just to rush through and say "I finished it!"  (Yes, I know I read very fast, but that's just a natural gift and not intrinsic to who I am as a reader).  I purchase items to be browsed through over years; such as St. Thomas of Aquinas' Summa Theologica or St. Augustine's Confessions.  Or I purchase them for another time and place; two unread volumes of Thomas Wolfe's work awaits me even now; I feel the time is fast approaching for further exploration of that magnificently flawed writer.  I have decades of time left, I hope.  No need to feel pressure just because I have a lot of unread books.  Just only means there are future possibilities awaiting me.

And that, I think, lies at the heart of this concept of an "anti-library."  My personal library is somewhat modest at around 2200 copies.  I winnow out several hundred each year and replace them with several hundred more.  I give dozens of books away to two friends of mine who live overseas, since it is very difficult for them to get some of the English-language books that I've enjoyed.  A book is more than just a binding of words to be consumed; it is a codification of ideas that are best when shared and considered at various points in one's life.  So instead of talking about acquisitions as some sort of double-edged sword (more unread books, gah!), why not just think of what you possess as possibilities that might be best considered as which ones are your literary one-night stands and which are going to be shacking up with you for a long time to come?  After all, sometimes there are some surprises to be found in those until-now unread books...

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Starting an overhaul of the OF Blog's look

It's been over three years with the basic format and while I'm uncertain if I'll change the template (only change during that time was going from blue to green to mark my support for the Iranian civil protests in 2009), I decided it was time to streamline the appearance here.  Placed all those lengthy interviews, reviews, and recommended reading links into separate pages that will be linked in the sidebar to the right. 

Also decided to winnow the review and author blog lists some.  Nothing personal for those blogs that are now gone, but I just wasn't reading them much at all without a direct link provided and since there will be a few more changes coming here in the near future, I thought it was best to delete the ones whose focus were on materials that don't interest me any more.

There will be something announced in the near future that will be exciting, but mostly only for those few involved.  I love hinting like a mo'fo.  It does warm my near-reptilian blood on occasion.

Oh, and there's other other little change.  Curious to see how long it'll take y'all to spot it.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

More first paragraphs from books I've recently finished or are (re)reading now

Just thought it'd be fun again to fun this.  Curious to see who can guess which is which:

The way led along upon what had once been the embankment of a railroad.  But no train had run upon it for many years.  The forest on either side swelled up the slopes of the embankment and crested across it in a green wave of trees and bushes.  The trail was as narrow as a man's body, and was no more than a wild-animal runway.  Occasionally, a piece of rusty iron, showing through the forest-mould, advertised that the rail and the ties still remained.  In one place, a ten-inch tree, bursting through at a connection, had lifted the end of a rail clearly into view.  The tie had evidently followed the rail, held to it by the spike long enough for its bed to be filled with gravel and rotten leaves, so that now the crumbling, rotten timber thrust itself up at a curious slant.  Old as the road was, it was manifest that it had been of the mono-rail type.

For a long time I used to go to bed early.  Though the art of reading is not widespread in these parts, I confess myself to be a devotee of the practice and, in particular, of reading in bed.  It is peculiarly pleasant, I have found, to lie with the book propped up against the knees and, feeling the lids grow heavy, to drift off to sleep, to drift off in such a way that in the morning it seems unclear where the burden of the book ended and my own dreams began.  A narrative of the manners and customs of some exotic people is particularly suitable for such a purpose.

There is just enough space inside here for one person to live indefinitely, or at least that's what the operation manual says.  User can survive inside the TM-31 Recreational Time Travel Device, in isolation, for an indefinite period of time. 

How strange a fish's life must be!...Glittery, walleyed...I've never been able to understand how such a life is possible.  The aguesistence of life in that form reduces me to tears quicker than anything else in the world.  An aquarium stirs up in me whole potfuls of red-hot pincers.  This afternoon, I went to see the one they're so proud of here in the Foreign Town's Zoological Garden.  I wandered in that upside-down world until officials finally turned me out.

There were angels in the glass, two four six many of them, each one shuffling into his place in line like an alderman at the Lord Mayor's show.  None was dressed in white; some wore fillets or wreaths of flowers and green leaves in their loose hair; all their eyes were strangely gay.  They kept pressing in by one and two, always room for more, they linked arms or clasped their hands behind them, they looked out smiling at the two mortals who looked in at them.  All their names began with A.

"How much longer, Mama, must we tolerate this gross humiliation?"

A warm rain misted down on a small boy standing motionless in the tall, yellow grass.  Although he enjoyed the sensation of rain on his skin, the boy's expression remained solemn - too solemn for a child who had seen only five rains wash through the Tamburure.  His height and breadth would have been envied by a boy of seven rains' passing.

One day the King turned to the women that danced and said to them:  "Dance no more," and those that bore the wine in jewelled cups he sent away.  The palace of King Ebalon was emptied of sound of song and there rose the voices of heralds crying in the streets to find the prophets of the land.

There are men of violence.  There are men who drink.  And then there was Ansige, a man with a vice so pathetic as to be laughable.  He ate; he lived for his belly.  No one would believe that a woman could leave a man for that, but before you scoff, consider this.  With his gluttony, he drew in other sins - arrogance complicated by indolent stupidity, lust for comfort, ire when thwarted, avarice in all his business dealings, and a strange conviction that always, somehow, there was some undeserving person who had more food than he did.

The moonlight is shining on the foot of my bed, lying there like a large, bright, flat stone.

Which books/stories did you recognize by their first paragraphs?  Which quotes interest you the most, making you curious about what sort of story is being told?  Which quotes make you less curious to know from what book they are taken, due to some flaw in the writing?

Cover art for those sick of new cover art for books that likely suck

Yes, I am posting images of eight Ballantine Adult Fantasy edition books from 1969-1974 that I own to act as an antidote to yet one more hooded assassin/tramp stamp were-vampire shagger/other assorted "shiny new" cover art that promises (or belies) suckitude within.

Believe it or not, I wish there were more covers like these today.  There's more of a "flow" to some of these, plus there are more pastel colors than on many Easter eggs.

Plus it helps that some of these are anthologies containing stories that I probably have never encountered elsewhere, so that is a bonus.

And some, like this Dunsany one, are just beautiful to me.  Don't you agree?

Poll on SF/F Masterworks reading/reviewing

For those who read this blog via RSS Feeds and might not see all the features of this blog without direct clicking, I have posted a feedback poll on the Gollancz Fantasy and SF Masterworks reviews that I have posted these past couple of months, both here and on the SFF Masterworks blog.  Please take the time to choose one of the five options I've listed (I think I covered most of the likely range of answers, but if I failed to include an option that best suits you, feel free to respond here).

Shortly, I plan on posting reviews of Geoff Ryman's The Child Garden and Arkday and Boris Strugatsky's Roadside Picnic here, with Fritz Leiber's The First Book of Lankhmar to be posted on the SFF Masterworks blog in a day or two, with vol. 2 soon to follow.  I do hope to have at least 30 reviews of the Fantasy Masterworks and 40 of the SF Masterworks complete by Christmas (it's about 21-23 each right now, I think) and all the current releases by mid-2011.  Oh, and I just learned a couple of days ago that there's also a Crime Masterworks series that reached nearly 50 books and if I continue to feel ambitious/insane, I might tackle those sometime in the next year or two, as my reading of crime/mystery classics is woeful and I do plan on addressing that in the near future.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Failures in professionalism

Been thinking about professionalism of all sorts lately.  Reflecting back on those times where I would fail to give it my best, to work through the tiredness, the seasonal depression, the illnesses that I've had with my liver over the past year and a half.  Thinking especially about how much I've dreaded the thought of going back into any sort of classroom, attempting to educate those who not only don't want to be educated, but who seek to insult any and all teachers whenever the chance presents itself.  It's horrible, being so happy and relieved when I was laid off six months ago coming up tomorrow and how much I'm dreading being a long-term sub starting in a week.  It's just unlike me, as I used to lose sleep whenever I'd start something new, not out of dread, but because I was so eager to start and to do the best job possible.

In other fields, procrastination is horrible.  I still have a few books I really need to have reviews for that might take a month longer than I had semi-promised the authors.  I hate being late and I know the feeling of waiting for those few that I promise to do a solicited review for (mind you, this does not mean that I sugarcoat my opinions, as some have found out to their chagrin, although I don't try to be rude in noting what I felt were weaknesses in their stories).  Yet I take on too much.  Surely that too could be seen as a lack of professionalism, at least in the sense that I make assurances that I know would be difficult to achieve on time?

And yet despite these personal failings, I also find myself thinking that it is poor form to see others slacking with what they do.  Oh, I'm sure there are some wondering if I'm thinking about them directly and the answer, as always, is that I'm thinking in groups as a whole and not individuals.  But there have been too many examples of people, both online and not, who cut corners, not trying to do a task to their fullest.  In review blogging, it seems as though several have fallen into ruts, making excuses for why they don't do more than just the new and shiny or even to attempt to do much more than provide what can be found in a two-paragraph Amazon reader review.  Sure, sure, blogging is a "hobby," something done for a "love of reading."  To a degree, I can understand that, since most doing it will never see a dime for what they do.

However, part of me just wants to call "bullshit" to all this.  If one is doing blogging just for one's self, then one probably wouldn't spend the effort needed to build an audience.  And as much as it chagrins me to admit it, with audiences come expectations.  Some seem to expect me to write scads of in-depth, reflective reviews and occasional "controversial" columns.  That's fine.  It's an unspoken "promise" of sort that I'll try my best not to fall into ruts and to provide eclectic reviews and commentaries on a wide variety of topics and books.  As long as I'm trying to run this blog, I have an unstated "duty" to fulfill my own expectations and those of others.  To do otherwise is, it seems at times to me, to fail to be professional in meeting and exceeding expectations, personal and audience alike.

And now to think about a bit of rest, before I venture back into the breach, trying to fulfill those semi-promises that I'm late in fulfilling.

Monday, September 06, 2010

2009 Interview I did with Brian Evenson now available in French

For those of you that can read French, you really should check out the fine translation done by Gaëtan Flacelière at the French site Fihrist of my February 2009 interview with Brian Evenson.  I often think this interview as being one of my two or three best ever and it seems some think that it is one of the best ones of Evenson.  So, if you read French, be sure to click on the link below.  And if you can't read French, the original interview is here.

Worldbuilding nerdism, redux

Was involved in a Twitter discussion earlier this morning when I remembered an old February 2007 argument over M. John Harrison's "the clomping foot of nerdism" post on the perils of worldbuilding overtaking the story.  Although Harrison's post (and old blog) have since been deleted, I did find it reproduced over at Pat's site, with some commentary by Pat that I still find to be quite silly and provincial three and a half years later.

Of course, this reminded me that I had written a post or two on the topic (click here for one of them).  In re-reading that, I found myself thinking about a related topic that I neglected to discuss at the time, that of the actual story.  In some of the books I've read recently (and have chosen not to review), the stories have been suppressed due to the authors' insistence of focusing so much on their created setting, to the detriment of anything else that makes a story, well, a story.  It is a tricky issue, perhaps one that varies greatly from tale to tale, but one bit that I don't think I really addressed in my original post.

And for those who have read these first two paragraphs and are going "buh?", what are your thoughts on this subject of "worldbuilding" and the "clomping foot of nerdism?"

Five reviews from this Labor Day weekend

Posted five reviews so far the past three days on the SFF Masterworks blog:

Poul Anderson, Three Hearts & Three Lions - I have some rather snarky things to say about this book, so you may want to click on the link above and read it for yourself.

Patricia A. McKillip, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld - Mostly enjoyed this early work of hers.

Michael Moorcock, Gloriana - problematic, but ultimately a good novel.

Walter Tevis, Mockingbird - one of the saddest dystopias that I have read.  Still a very good novel.

Walter M. Miller, Jr., Dark Benediction - collection of 1950s stories that presage his classic A Canticle for Leibowitz.  Recommended.

By week's end, I hope to have reviews of Tim Powers' The Drawing of the Dark, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky's Roadside Picnic, Geoff Ryman's The Child Garden, and Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man on this blog and Brian Aldiss' Helliconia and the two volumes of Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar stories on the SFF Masterworks blog.  Looks like I'm well on my way to my goal of having reviewed at least half of the books in both lists by Christmas time.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Olaf Stapledon, Star Maker

In a study of Poe's Eureka, Valéry has observed that cosmogony is the most ancient of the literary genres; despite the anticipations of Bacon, whose New Atlantis was published at the beginning of the seventeenth century, it is possible to confirm that the most modern is the fable or fantasy of scientific character.  It is known that Poe approached the two genres separately and perhaps invented the last one; Olaf Stapledon combined the two in this singular book.  For this imaginary exploration of time and space, he did not resort to vague troublesome mechanisms, but instead to the fusion of a human mind with others, to a kind of lucid ecstasy or (if one wants) a variation of a certain famous Cabalistic doctrine, which supposes that in the body of a man can inhabit many souls, as in the body of a woman about to be a mother.  The majority of Stapledon's colleagues seem arbitrary or irresponsible; this work, in exchange, leaves the impression of sincerity, despite the singular and at times monstrous nature of his stories.  He doesn't accumulate inventions for the distraction or stultification of those who will read him; it follows and it registers with honest rigor the complex and shady vicissitudes of a coherent dream. (Jorge Luis Borges, Prólogos con un prólogo de prólogos, p. 232)

Borges' commentary on Olaf Stapledon's 1937 novel, Star Maker, serves as a perfect introduction to this work that builds upon and expands the scope found in his earlier 1930 novel, Last and First Men.  In my review of that earlier book, I focused on the cyclical nature of the narrative as two billion imagined years of future human existence were outlined.  Here in Star Maker, Stapledon expands that narrative in two ways.  The first is simply a matter of magnitude, instead of a measly two billion years, he charts a course through innumerable epochs of stars, galaxies, and the life that sometimes sprung up out of dead stellar material.  The second is more tricky.  As Borges notes in the excerpt I translated above, there is a sort of union of souls, as the human narrator at the beginning of the novel finds himself disassociated from his body, which in turn permits him to touch upon what may be the ultimate cosmic mind, the Star Maker himself.

Due to the presence of this disembodied human observer, the narrative structure for Star Maker oddly enough feels less "distant" than that of Last and First Men, despite the tens of billions more years covered in this book compared to the other.  Although the narrator is mostly content to make observations about the various strange (and sometimes familiar) life forms he encounters on his psychic journey through space-time, there are times that his observations serve to create a sort of quasi-mystical connection between various lifeforms and their struggles to understand that central mystery of "what is life and why am I alive to ask this question?"  Take for instance this passage about a race of plant-men:

It was of course through animal prowess and practical human intelligence that the species had long ago come to dominate its word.  But at all times this practical will had been tempered and enriched by a kind of experience which among men is very rare.  Every day, throughout the ages, these beings had surrendered their feverish animal nature not merely to unconscious or dream-racked sleep, such as animals know, but to the special kind of awareness which (we learned) belongs to plants.  Spreading their leaves, they had absorbed directly the essential elixir of life which animals receive only at second hand in the mangled flesh of their prey.  Thus they seemingly maintained immediate physical contact with the source of all cosmical being.  And this state, though physical, was also in some sense spiritual.  It had a far-reaching effect on all their conduct.  If theological language were acceptable, it might well be called a spiritual contact with God.  During the busy night-time they went about their affairs as insulated individuals, having no present immediate experience of their underlying unity; but normally they were always preserved from the worst excesses of individualism by memory of their day-time life. (p. 118)

Although there was some hint of this metaphysical concern in Last and First Men, it is here in Star Maker where Stapledon unfolds his narrative further to incorporate speculations on "meanings" and "purposes" for life and the cosmos.  While much of Stapledon's writings show at least some influence from authors like Schopenhauer and Spengler, the structure of Stapledon's narrative here (as it was to a lesser extent in Last and First Men) is that of a Marxist character, especially with its focus on societal mechanisms of thesis-antithesis-synthesis.  However, Stapledon added a few quasi-religious undertones to this narrative (as the above quote hints at) that likely confounded the more orthodox Marxist readers of this text.  In speculating on a divine figure, Stapledon is not demonstrating any loyalty to a particular creed; if anything, his Star Maker is a troubling entity, unconcerned as it seems to be, at least at first, with the organisms, ranging from galaxies to microbes, that it creates in order to destroy, perhaps in order to learn how to perfect what it has created.

This is not a comforting element.  It can be downright disturbing to imagine.  Yet Stapledon manages to create a sprawling narrative around this Star Maker (as witnessed in glimpses by the disembodied narrator) that somehow manages to be less threatening than it otherwise may have been.  Perhaps it is the Star Maker's quest for perfection reminds us of our own all-too-human desire to improve and expand our horizons and accomplishments that makes at least one facet of its immense personality fathomable to us.  Star Maker is not as much a novel about the universe as it is a microcosm in print form for all of our hopes and dreams regarding where we came from and where we're heading.  As such, it is a fitting sequel to Last and First Men and its sometimes-inconclusive responses to core human concerns makes it a "masterwork" worthy of reading by people from all walks of life even after seventy-plus years since its initial publication.

Olaf Stapledon, Last and First Men

Life comes, life goes.  Species rise to prominence, only to fade into extinction.  Vast ecosystems emerge, then suddenly crash into a near-total collapse.  Over the three billion or so years that life has been present on Earth, this has been the rhythm of life.  The same doubtless will hold true for humanity.  We have risen from the drying forests of eastern Africa, learned to walk upright, to speak, to sing, to make tools, to create lasting cultures.  We have built cities, only to turn around and destroy them ourselves or to wait until natural catastrophes strike region, laying low tribes and nations of people.  The higher we build and aspire, the greater our fall can and most likely shall be.  We are not separate from the planet's ecosystem, no matter how much we may wish otherwise.  As has been stated in several "wisdom" sayings over the centuries, this (we) too shall pass.  There will come a time when human civilizations have changed so much that whether it be due to our own self-injurious machinations or due to nature's fickleness, our "modern" civilization will cease to exist.  Homo sapiens may become extinct or it may evolve into a higher form.  Whatever happens, the life that we know almost certainly will not last for millions of years.

British writer Olaf Stapledon spent the second half of his life pondering these sorts of issues mentioned above.  A pacifist at heart, Stapledon ended up serving as an ambulance driver during World War I, where he witnessed not just the worst atrocities that human aggression and fear can afflict upon its populaces, but also some heartwarming episodes of camaraderie and shared sacrifice.  He was influenced heavily by the immediate interwar writings of Oswald Spengler, among others, as his most famous work, Last and First Men (1930), displays the sort of cyclical and often pessimistic attitude toward civilizations as that found in Spengler's The Decline of the West.  But whereas Spengler's work has fallen into disrepute since the beginning of World War I, Stapledon's work continues to inspire generations of SF writers, including Gregory Benford and Brian Aldiss.

Last and First Men, strictly speaking, is not a novel.  There are no characters, nor is there anything remotely resembling a conventional plot.  It is an imagined history of the world, from the early 20th century until the final death of the eighteenth human species two billion years into the future.  Broken into sixteen chapters, this book might be best imagined as a spiral, with our present being at the center and with each turn having a wider space between the preceding layers.  The first third of the novel is devoted to telling the continued rise and then fall of the First Men (homo sapiens sapiens).  We see an emergent America whose capitalistic spirit threatens the fabric of the fragile peace wrought from the trenches of World War I.  These first five chapters perhaps are the most dated, as Stapledon's references to then-commonly held assumptions on race and national characteristics are so foreign to our post-Auschwitz understanding of societies.  It may be a dry and rough patch for readers to overcome, but once the story moves five million years into the future, after the First Men have collapsed due to environmental degradation and increased vulcanism on the Earth's surface, the story begins to become all the more compelling to read as Stapledon traces the rise and fall of several other successor human species.

To sum the matter, circumstance had thrown up a very noble species.  Essentially it was of the same type as the earlier species, but it had undergone extensive improvements.  Much that the First Men could only achieve by long schooling and self-discipline the Second Men performed with effortless fluency and delight.  In particular, two capacities which for the First Men had been unattainable ideals were now realized in every normal individual, namely the power wholly dispassionate cognition, and the power of loving one's neighbor as oneself, without reservation.  Indeed, in this respect, the Second Men might be called 'Natural Christians', so readily and constantly did they love one another in the manner of Jesus, and infuse their whole social policy with loving-kindness.  Early in their career they conceived the religion of love, and they were possessed by it again and again, in diverse forms, until their end.  On the other hand, their gift of dispassionate cognition helped them to pass speedily to the admiration of fate.  And being by nature rigorous thinkers, they were peculiarly liable to be disturbed by the conflict between their religion of love and their loyalty to fate.

Well might it seem that the stage was now set for a triumphant and rapid progress of the human spirit.  But though the second human species constituted a real improvement on the first, it lacked certain faculties without which the next great mental advance could not be made. (pp. 117-118)

The above passage is representative of the general tone and tenor of Last and First Men.  Told in a distant, "historical" voice (toward the end of the book, we learn just who has been doing the telling and how their own histories have influenced the writing of this missive on the long human past), the story concentrates on detailing the attempts of various human species to rise above their current condition and the struggles, internal and external alike, that combine to defeat most of these noble goals.  As the Second Men fade and the Third arise, only to beget the Fourth, more artificial human race, which is supplanted by the fifth and so forth until the eighteenth and last human species, Stapledon introduces concepts such as the conflict noted above between Love and Rationality, between altruism and a desire to defeat mortality.  There are successes along the way, but most of these prove to be ephemeral.  But there is something that seems to improve within most of these successor species as the two billion years allotted for humankind unfolds.

The result of this is a very powerful story that serves to make us reflect upon our own goals and aspirations.  If part of being human is the quest for the seemingly unattainable, then the quixotic quests found within Last and First Men are perhaps some of the more powerfully told stories of the human race of the past century.  Grounded in the troubled interwar period of the 1920s and 1930s, Last and First Men still possesses a power to move the hearts and minds of early 21st century readers.  It is a staggering achievement of the imagination, for it encapsulates so many of our hopes, dreams, as well as our fears and neuroses in barely 300 pages of text, all without the need for a framing character or plot.  Truly a "masterwork" of the imagination, rivaled perhaps only by another Stapledon novel, Star Maker.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Saturday morning links: It's Football Time in Tennessee!

Was busy all of Friday either working or sleeping, so time to catch up with a few matters:

First off, Jeff VanderMeer has a new NY Times Sunday Books review column that hopefully will become a regular, recurring feature.  In this column, he reviews four books, including Karen Lord's debut novel, Redemption in Indigo.  I hope to have my own review of Lord's book up by Monday night, but his review of her book, Karin Lowachee's excellent The Gaslight Dogs, and two other notable 2010 releases are well-worth the link-click.  Let me know what you think of them, as I've read three of them and want to read the fourth in the near future!

Although I had intended the "interview" questions below to be a spoof of what I consider to be "canned" questions, I see quite a few of you have taken it seriously and have provided some good insights to how and why you blog.  Here are a few that I have found so far (and please respond if you have answered these on your blog and I missed it):


Dazed Rambling

Tea and Tomes

A new site launched this week during the WorldCon convention in Australia.  Cheryl Morgan's latest venture, Salon Futura, has now gone live and I have to say that I like what I've seen out of this debut effort.  It doesn't try to be the venerable Emerald Citys redux, but is something different in scope while still being quite good.  Check it out here.  And if you have an hour to spare, be sure to listen to the podcast round table discussion of international SF with Gary Wolfe, Nnedi Okorafor, and Fábio Fernandes.

And finally, last but certainly far from least, it's football time in Tennessee!  Although doubtless I'll hear it when Jeff's Gators play my beloved Vols in a couple of weeks, I'm still going to be excited whenever my alma mater begins play.  And now, eine kleine Volsmusik.

Have a good Labor Day weekend for those here in the US and just a regular good weekend for those who celebrate May Day instead. 

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Interview questions for bloggers (and anyone else, for that matter) to answer

Inspired by several email interviews that I have read, I thought it would be interesting to lift certain questions and apply them to online reviewers and anyone else who has an interest in book blogging.  Feel free to answer these at length or to copy/paste them to your own blog and answer them there.  Should be interesting to read the responses!

1.  Without giving anything away, what can you tell readers about your blog?

2.  What can you tell readers about your future themed review months?  Are there any sequels in the works?

3.  What do you feel is your strength as a blogger/reviewer?

4.  If you could go back in time, what advice would you give the younger you concerning your blogging/reviewing career?

5.  What was the spark that generated the idea that drove you to start your blog/reviewing career?

6.  Were there any perceived conventions of blogging/reviewing that you wanted to twist or break when you set out to start blogging/reviewing?

7.  In retrospect, is it safe to say that the online blogging/reviewing world wasn’t quite ready for your blog/review column? Blogging/reviewing was dominated by powerhouses such as Wil Wheaton, Dave Itzkoff, and Harriet Klausner at the time. Looking back, was your blog/review column too avante-garde in style and tone?

8.  Many bloggers/reviewers don’t read within the blogging/reviewing field. Is it the case with you? If not, what bloggers/reviewers make you shake your head in admiration?

9.  Honestly, do you believe that bloggers/revieers will ever come to be recognized as veritable critics? Truth be told, in my opinion there has never been this many good blogs/online review columns as we have right now, and yet there is still very little respect (not to say none) associated with them. 

10.  How would you like to be remembered as a blogger/reviewer? What is the legacy you’ll leave behind? 

11.  Do you ever worry that your blog articles/reviews are being misinterpreted? Ever ball up your fists, shoot steam from your ears and yell, “But you just don’t get it!” while reading a comment to a review? Even if they don’t get it, is that opinion still wrong?  

12.  If you take a reviewer like Adam Roberts, as his ramble-y, engaging reviews of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series and put them up against some of the reviews found on, you’re going to find people who appreciate one or the other. Many of those reviews on are written by what we’re calling ‘bad readers’, but there’s certainly an audience (a very large audience), who appreciate those ‘you’ll love this book if you loved ‘Book X’ or ‘Movie Y’. Are Roberts’ reviews objectively better? Would Joe Blow at the grocery store, who only chooses his novels solely on cover art think so?

13.  Given the choice, would you take a paid review or column for an online or print publication, or a Book Blogger Appreciation Week award? Why, exactly?  

That ought to be enough for now.  Now dare you answer these questions honestly?  Hrmm? 

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

I'd like to have an argument, please

With all the arguments I've read on the interwebs these past few days, I've decided that I'd like to have an argument.  Not for sure if I'd like to have a five minute or a thirty minute argument, but I really would like to have an argument, please.

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