Monthly Archives: March 2004

Mysteries of the Web

Here’s an image showing ‘visits’ to the Locus Online website (including the Locus Index to Science Fiction) over the past four months or so.

Each horizontal scale is 5000 visits. The low end at left was during the holidays. After that you can see the weekly profile: the number of visits peaks on Mondays, gradually falls through the week, dips to a low point on Saturdays, then recovers a bit on Sundays.

The two spikes are due to events already noted in this blog: first, posting the Recommended Reading list and poll ballot in early February, then 3 weeks ago when the same Rec Reading list got linked from Those I understand.

One mystery is why the weekly profile has jumped–by almost 50%–over the past two weeks. I have no clue. Has Locus Online suddenly attracted a wider audience?

Another mystery is why the server statistics always report more ‘unique visitors’ (the blue series on the graph), determined by unique IP addresses, than visits on any given day. Isn’t this counter-intuitive? My best guess, based on vague responses from the Wusage people to my queries, is that not all visitors register as visits–if they don’t stay at the site a certain minimum time, say. And my best guess about the first mystery is that a greater percentage of those visits than I’d care to know represents not eyeballs, but robots gathering data for search engines.

You Are You

Wish I were sitting by the pool with the beautiful people in Florida at the ICFA, but I’m not, I’m sitting here slaving over a hot computer (with an intermittently noisy video card fan) updating the website.

Meanwhile, I have decided to attend the Nebulas in Seattle after all. Actually, both Yeong and I will go, making the weekend a little mini-vacation in place of what might have been a more ambitious trip in some other more flush year. The opportunity for a sneak peek at the new SF Experience museum proved a critical lure. We’ll arrive Friday after lunch, and leave Monday morning before lunch.

Submissions are pouring in for Locus Online‘s annual April investigate news issue, where we break the stories, and review the books, no one else dares mention. The inspiration for this tradition began at ICFA, three years ago, and this year’s edition should be a worthy one.

Finally, I spent a few hours this past week engaged with the ‘expansion pack’ downloadable update to the computer game Uru, which was initially released late last year. I mention this despite not knowing anyone in the SF community, or even personally, who’s aware of or interested in this game or its ‘Myst’ predecessors; I fell rather all alone here discussing something I’m pretty sure no one reading this will ‘get’. Anyway. Calling them ‘games’ rather trivializes them, because the attraction for me isn’t the occasional puzzles (though I like puzzles), but the ‘sense of wonder’ charge from being immersed in an alien environment–like stepping into your favorite Richard Powers or Paul Lehr cover painting, brought to life by the latest, most sophisticated computer graphics and sound effects–wandering at will, and figuring it out. It’s a different kind of skiffy experience than any book or film can provide. The ‘expansion’ update released this past week entailed, in effect, being given entry passes to neighborhoods of your favorite city you’d previously only heard vague, mysterious rumors of, where you find key clues to the ultimate solution of the meaning of it all. Except for the teasers of more to come.

Update 30 March: Discovered that one of the concept artists for Uru is Stephan Martiniere, who has a page of samples online, of which only the first four (Kadish) are in the portions of the game released so far.

Updates and DownDates

About 370 Locus Poll ballots received so far; I compiled them Friday evening to see how the results are coming along. Leaders in a couple categories have changed since the first check, 300 ballots or so ago, and it’s fair to say that 5 or 6 of the categories remain too close to call. So don’t forget to vote. There’s a big red button installed on the homepage, at the direction of Locus Management, to keep reminding you.

I regret that I will be unable to attend ICFA this year, again, and Nebulas, though I’ve made the hotel reservation, are in serious doubt. Partly a financial issue, partly one of domestic interference.

Caught up on email today, including a couple items that made it to the homepage despite being a month or more stale. I’m hoping you’ll not be able to tell which they are.

Still have never seen McAuley’s White Devils in a physical book store. I bought mine from Amazon.

No, no word of the cat.

The Known and the Unknown Worlds

It’s easy to come up with rules and prescriptions, but not so easy to follow them. Here’s what I would say constitutes a good blog: 1) update daily, 2) keep it short, 3) don’t talk about what everybody else is talking about, 4) but don’t make it entirely about yourself. Needless to say, this blog fails miserably by these criteria (and no one else seems to follow these rules either, quite), which is why you shouldn’t take any of my rules or prescriptions too seriously.

The past week has been hectic and somewhat distressing. Saturday Yeong and I attended the opera, an LA Opera production of Die Frau ohne Schatten, a beautiful, well-staged opera that played out like a supernatural fantasy story–about an Empress of the Spirit Realm whose husband will turn to stone unless she can acquire a shadow–until an odd, weirdly anachronistic resolution in which the two female leads singing ecstatically about the joys of motherhood. We had great seats, because I bought the tickets a year ago, before the move the new house; I couldn’t afford them now.

Which segues to the next topic, my having to budget website expenses more carefully than I have until now. This Monday there was another spike in visitors to the site, which would be good except that big spikes bring surcharges from the hosting service. (And I can’t figure out where the visitors are coming from; my server statistics are not revealing.) Even without such spikes, I don’t have the reserve I once had to finance the site, so that the reluctant conclusion is that I’ll be reducing paid reviews and essays on Locus Online down to nil, after another month or so. (There are some April 1st pieces, and one or two others, already committed.)

The distressing part of this past week was having negligently lost my cat, or one of my cats. Complicated story. Before I moved last year, I had 3 cats, all originally strays, all outdoor cats. When I moved (to a house with no yard to speak of), I kept the female cat and brought her indoors, and gave the 2 male cats to my friend Larry K (no, not that Larry K), who for a time had been my roommate at the old house–so he knew the cats. One of the 2 males–whom I’d both had for over 10 years–was quite old and died shortly thereafter. Recently Larry has been remodeling his house, and he asked if I could keep the other male, Puss’n'Boots, at my house for a few days while sandblasting was going on. I picked the cat up Sunday evening and brought him to my house. Since Puss’n'Boots knew me, he seemed calm enough, once he got here. He and my female cat weren’t pals, so I put Puss’n'Boots in a separate room, with food etc, and cracked the window to let air in. Sometime during the night, he clawed a hole in the window screen, and escaped. By morning, he was gone, loose in a strange, unfamiliar area, 10 miles from what had become his home. I walked the streets and posted flyers and called the animal shelter, with no results–of course. It’s hard to be optimistic that we’ll ever find him. He was a tough male cat, so I’m not concerned that he might not survive. But I feel terrible that I betrayed him, let him get loose, and have no way to find him and take care of him again. You don’t realize how many houses, how many yards and trees and bushes there are where a cat might be huddling, just in your own little neighborhood, until you walk up and down streets for 2 hours. For all that we have such control and knowledge of some parts of our lives, of some things in our technological, SFnal society, it only takes a lost cat to remind us how many things, in practice, remain unknowable.

Summer Breeze

There’s a lovely warm breeze this evening, with occasional dry gusts, like a parched desert wind off the Martian plains; the latest modulation in the transitional weather this past week here in southern California. It was still cool last week, but by Sunday it was balmy, then positively toasty on Monday and again on Tuesday. Today there was a coolish tinge to the midday air, but it failed to dispel the sundown warmth. The sweater vests are put away; the summer shorts are pulled out for fitting.

More rearrangement on the homepage today; the site is more and more becoming a blog itself, with chronological updates and categorized archive pages. It’s the way of the web.

Lost in Locusland

A friend at work, who only occasionally glances at Locus Online, posted an item about the 2003 Recommended Reading list on, one of his favorite sites. Here’s the entire thread, with 100 some comments. Always interesting to see what people think are the obvious titles that Locus somehow overlooked.

The link brings some fresh eyes to the site–traffic the past 2 days has been about 250% of normal–but at a cost. The site has an unlimited bandwidth account, but it’s not free; the spike in traffic last month after the Reading list and poll form went up brought me a surcharge of $150, and I can now expect a similar surcharge for the traffic from

In other news, it seems that negotiations between Locus Publications and Westercon fell through, and the Locus Awards will now *not* be presented at Westercon 57 (July 4th weekend near Phoenix). Where they will be presented has not been determined. I’ve asked Locus HQ if any other details can be released; depending on what I hear, I may post an item on the Locus Online homepage.

And Jonathan Strahan has heard that s1ngularity::criticism is folding, though there’s nothing about that yet on the site itself.

It Must Have Been a Year

Imagine my surprise, after yesterday’s post, at opening this morning’s Los Angeles Times Book Review and discovering a review of the new Gregory Benford novel. The explanation for this rare event must in part be because Benford is a ‘local’ author, where ‘local’ has a generous, California-sized meaning, Benford living in Irvine, some 60 or 70 miles south of LA proper.

The review is OK, mostly descriptive, though the reviewer, a ‘regular contributor’ to the Book Review, can’t help point out the way in which SF novels work somewhat differently from the presumed norm of literary fiction…

Science fiction, as Benford notes in an afterword, is an “idea-intensive genre,” and the value of this book lies more in its speculations about “where evolution and technology might take us” than in its mixture of a coming-of-age story with an extended chase sequence. At one level, “Beyond Infinity” is little more than a girl-and-her-dog yarn in which the dog, like Lassie or Rin-Tin-Tin, is smarter than the girl and protects her from successive perils.


The library is a handy device that helps Benford with the chore that burdens every science-fiction writer: having to spend so much time describing and explaining new things. Lecture material clogs the action and interrupts emotional continuity even after mysterious forces from space scorch the Earth…

Still, it’s nice the LAT notices us, once in a while.

Genre Recognition

Here’s a curiosity. Most literary prizes–the National Book Award, the NBCC, etc.–ignore genre fiction candidates, let alone offer separate categories for genre fiction. That’s probably due to the usual literary snobbishness about genre fiction, though one could easily argue that genre fiction (especially SF/F/H!) has plenty awards of its own.

But not the Los Angeles Times Book Awards, whose finalists have just been announced. They have an entire *category* for “mystery/thriller”.

A year can pass between reviews in the LA Times of books even remotely resembling SFFH. And then they’re by Michael Crichton or Ray Bradbury.

Straw Daylight Desire

Spent some time today weeding the Links Portal page, under the SFFH news/reviews/fiction column, consigning several dead links, or year-or-more stale sites, to a little heap in the bottom left corner, where they will duly be swept away. At the same time, I mined several other sites for new links, and added them both under this heading, and the SF Blogs & Journals heading. There’s no exact science to this–I don’t add every possible link I see; I add those than within 30 seconds or so appear to be worth checking back on. (I suppose I’m old-fashioned about this, but what is it about bloggers who provide no clue about who they are or what their blog is ‘about’? Granted I don’t have a personal page myself… but… I have references.)

Cheryl Morgan has a nice post today about why a Best Website category would be worthy addition to the Hugo awards.

Working the past month’s magazines this week, to finish a Monitor page tomorrow, or this weekend at the latest. Then another New Books page. Somehow not enough new-in-paperback or classic-reprint titles seen this past month to warrant pages, so those will wait until third week of March or so.

(It’s what I’m listening to. No idea who the Eskimo is, though.)

Bookstore Day

Tuesday; therefore. Once or twice a week I stroll the bookstores looking to see what’s new, using the selected forthcoming books list (which is compiled by the magazine staff, and resorted by me for website posting) as a spotting guide. I’m not so deep in the book biz that I don’t still enjoy browsing the tables and shelves at Borders and Barnes & Noble. The advantage of brick and mortar shops is finding the unexpected, in ways that don’t happen while surfing Amazon.

Today, the US edition (Del Rey trade paperback) of Morgan’s Broken Angels is out; I buy that, and the trade pb of the new Nebula Awards volume, which I already saw last Friday. These will show up on the next Monitor/New Books page in a week or so. Perplexed currently about several MIA February Tor books, including one I’m actually looking forward to reading (by Paul McAuley) that was listed in various places as due on sale February 2nd, or February 24th, and yet which still is not for sale anywhere yet, even though a couple *March* Tor titles have appeared on the shelves. No, I don’t get review copies, since I don’t commission reviews (it never being the intent of Locus Online to compete with Locus magazine, but rather to supplement it, and leaving the selection of the occasional book reviews I do run to the reviewers)–well, actually, I do get a smattering of review copies, seemingly at the whims of individual publicists (or self-published writers); nothing consistent, and too rarely anything I would actually have bought myself or am interested in reading.

My previous posts about potential Hugo Award website categories have brought about thoughtful responses from both Cheryl Morgan and Ariel (of The Alien Online). Now in rereading my original remarks I worry that I overstated my case, or sounded self-serving, or blah blah… but I will leave well enough alone. Meanwhile, the SMOFs debate on the subject has evaporated.

275 Locus poll ballots received so far, including some paper ballots transcribed by the Locus magazine staff. Ahead of last year’s pace.