Monthly Archives: April 2004

Information on the Web

I just posted a letter from Neil Barron soliciting inputs about worthy websites to list in the next, 5th, edition of his reference book Anatomy of Wonder. It is interesting to compare his list of criteria for what makes a website worthy to those I expressed back in February. I told him I would respond with *my* opinions on the subject within the next week or two, but as his letter indicates, your feedback is welcome too.

Meanwhile, I spent some time this weekend initiating the final phase of the Locus Online website, or of the Locus Index to SF Awards, or perhaps both, as I’ve vaguely envisioned it for several years now. This would be a superset of the author and book and story information currently in the Awards Index, in part to document those books and stories that are truly ‘canonical’ (which awards can only partially indicate), and in part to provide a more *useful* set of bibliographic data that seems to be currently available anywhere on the web. (Here is where this topic dovetails with the previous item.) As an example, if you happen to hear the new Grand Master Robert Silverberg has written 74 novels, where on the web is the best/quickest/more authoritative list of those 74 novels? Bill Contento’s Locus Index is invaluable, but it does not collate entries about various editions of each book into any kind of handy list–its chronological lists are cluttered with all the short fiction entires, omnibusi, anthologies, etc., and the Index has only spotty entries for books published before 1984. The ISFDB has lots of data, but its coverage is patchy, and any lengthy list of author’s books is likely to list novels that are not actually novels (they’re collections), and so on. Similar comments could be made about SciFan, about, and every other site offering such data that I’ve been able to find. (Several of these sites are obsessed by identifying *series* of books, to the detriment of simply identifying novels, collections, etc.) My favorite model for useful, simple bibliographic listings are those found in John Clute’s Illustrated SF Encyclopedia (though I do have a quibble or two about his categorizations), and so now I’ve started boiling data from my various databases down into such listings, to serve as entry points, or expansions, of the Awards Index listings. Not sure how this will work out, but perhaps I’ll post some ‘works in progress’ sample listings in the next week or two.

And the Hills the Greenest Green

Back from Seattle, site of the Nebula Awards Banquet, as scheduled. Nebula weekends are low-key, without an intensive schedule, thus allowing attendees to spend most of the weekend playing tourist, as I and Yeong did, wandering around downtown, exploring the Pike Place Market, taking an Argosy Cruise tour of the bay, dining in the Space Needle, and finally touring the still-under-construction Science Fiction Museum. More about that later.

I knew this: Seattle is overcast most of the time, but has less actual rainfall that most people think; less than Houston. Weather last weekend was very pleasant. Puffy white clouds or clear blue skies, the only sporadic sprinkle during the entire weekend on Sunday afternoon, as Yeong and I sat inside Vivanda, sipping drinks before dinner.

I caught up and met with David Herter, finally, though email contact is still sporadic.

More later.

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Tomorrow morning for Seattle. But I do know that I expect to be back Monday afternoon. In the meantime I hope to post the announcement of the Nebula Awards winners Saturday night after the banquet, and report here next week sometime about the pre-opening tour of the SF Museum that’s being offered attendees of the Nebula weekend on Sunday afternoon. (I’m even one of some unknown number of ‘Online Community Advisors’ for the museum, which so far has involved exchanging a handful of e-mails with a liaison for the museum, and nothing else. The real advisors get their names listed on the SFMHM website.)

If anyone knows David Herter, tell him I keep replying to his queries (at his hotmail address), but they apparently are not getting through, because he keeps sending me cautious follow-ups as if I haven’t replied…


Though I think I’m more careful than most PC users about protecting myself from computer viruses, I’ve found myself twice in the past week hijacked by purveyors of trojan software programs that presume to infiltrate themselves into your operating system and pretend they’re *helping* you be more effective or productive. First it was a program–which I will not dignify by naming–that replaced my IE homepage with its own search engine/portal page, and that in addition *edited* any page I opened–even a local copy on my own harddrive–by inserting links to searches on certain keywords, such as ‘computer’, ‘book’, and ‘game’, which caused an intolerable delay of 5 seconds or more before I could move about that page, scroll up or down, or click on anything. Then, this evening, it was some program that endeavoured to use any available processing time so that my CPU Usage maxed out, causing any programs I was trying to use to become intolerably slow. If I sought the offender out via Task Manager and deleted it, another process, under another name, sprung up a few seconds later to take its place.

I eventually found the means to remove the offenders and went on with my work, but not without a delay of a couple hours, in each case. A computer consultant friend who advises me on such matters is becoming increasingly pessimistic, predicting the imminent demise of the entire Internet, due to spammers and the like. Could it be true? Perhaps. Take them out and shoot them, like any other hijackers? Why not.

Skiffy Flix

I tend to avoid most current SF/fantasy films, but I have a weakness for *old* sci-fi movies, meaning ’50s era, preferably in black & white. Before my time, even retrospectively while growing up; except for the occasional Day the Earth Stood Still or War of the Worlds, I’d never seen any of them until the past 5 years or so. First I discovered a well-stocked video rental shop in Studio City, a few miles from me, called Video West, and more recently I’ve subscribed to Netflix, where I’ve discovered that an improbable number of obscure skiffy films from the ’50s and ’60s have become available on DVD. This weekend, in between posting awards news and catching up on my reading (I’m trying to read all the Nebula nominees before attending the awards ceremony next weekend), I watched two of them.

First was Target Earth, a 1954 b&w film in which a small group of people find themselves alone in the middle of an anonymous city being ravaged by invading robots. It has a classic opening of sorts–a woman wakes, discovers her neighbors are absent, and wanders the mysteriously empty streets. The robots are amateurishly constructed, and their purpose is never explained–but they’re defeated by certain radio wave frequencies (just as in one of those episodes of Star Trek). My favorite moment is when a military officer makes this assessment.

The consensus of theories points to the planet Venus–assuming of course the invaders are human beings like ourselves.

This mind-boggling non-sequitur is expanded upon a bit later by another character, who’s learned in college that Venus is shrouded by clouds, which implies an oxygen atmosphere [right?], and apparently assumes that any invading force must be human in some sense. The film stars Richard Denning, whom I recognized as featured, in the late ’60s, as the governor in the TV series Hawaii Five-O, and the anonymous scientist who figures out how to defeat the robots is the inestimable Whit Bissell.

The second DVD I watched was The Angry Red Planet, a 1959 color flick that apparently, according to one of the SF movie reference books on my shelves, has something of a cult following. It concerns the return of the first rocket ship expedition to the planet Mars, crewed by 3 men and 1 woman, where they encountered menacing vegetation, a giant amoeba that engulfs their rocketship, and an ominous warning from the modernist Martian city in the distance that since humans are still emotionally primitive, they should stay away from Mars and not return. The film is notable principally for the weird FX used whenever the astronauts are outside their ship on the Martian surface: overexposed and pink-orange filtered, it makes the vegetation and distant mountain peaks look like animation. (Not to mention the one crewmember who keeps kissing his sonic rifle, and the other Casanova-type crewman who manages to leave his shirt unbuttoned through half the film to expose his hairy chest.)

I think my fascination with these old movies is that they reveal something about the biases of unsophisticated imagineers about what the future, or other worlds, should be like. And I fear that even our most sophisticated visionaries–our best writers–can’t entirely escape such biases. I wonder if an academic study might be done, if it hasn’t already, on this subject. We can’t truly know what alien intelligences are like, or even alien planets, and all our speculation on such topics says more about ourselves than about what’s really out there. Even our best speculation.


This will be a busy weekend, and I’m not even attending one of the many conventions that are happening around the globe (though I was invited to one, a rare occurrence). It will be busy because of all the news that’s due: the Philip K. Dick award winner will be announced tonight; the British SF Assoc and IHG awards are due; the Hugo nominations are imminent. And news about a certain magazine that’s been discussed privately for a couple weeks is ready to go public. And I’ve got listings of recent magazines and books in work.

Some months ago I made a point of submitting Locus Online to Google News as a news source they should scan regularly for new stories, and they accepted. Meanwhile I’ve streamlined the format of the website so that most news items are only summarized on the homepage, blog fashion, using links to original sources wherever possible. Makes it easier for me to keep up to date. Trouble is that Google doesn’t recognize those items; it only recognizes stories that are posted on new pages, one per page. (It doesn’t pick up the items on my archive pages either.)

I noticed this today because my Google News Alert daily email on “science fiction” turned up the story about Interaction’s Website Hugo as posted on The Alien Online today, April 9. Hey, I posted it on Tuesday April 6! But Google didn’t see that. (And nor would anyone else, using Google to search for the story.) Hmm. Is it worth re-engineering my website (yet again) to enhance its visibility in this Googlized world? Or wait for Google’s search mechanisms to catch up? (If they do; there might be good reasons for not tracking single items on a blog-type page.)

Hugh Goes There?

I was surprised as anyone by today’s press release that Interaction, the ’05 Worldcon to be held in Glasgow, will include a ‘Best Web Site’ Hugo Award category. (The news still isn’t on Interaction’s website, as I type, but the press release, first distributed via SMOFs, went out to two dozen SF news-sites later in the afternoon.)

Coupla points to keep in mind. There was a big debate among SMOFs a month or two ago about whether to establish a Best Website (or Web Site) Hugo, but this debate concerned the permanent establishment of such a category, which would entail (as I understand it) the passage of an amendment to the World SF Society‘s constitution by one year’s Worldcon committee, and the subsequent ratification of such an amendment by the following year’s Worldcon committee–a two year process before such a permanent category would be established at the next Worldcon. (Conceivably, an amendment proposed and passed at this year’s, ’04, Worldcon, and ratified in ’05, would establish the permanent category starting in ’06.) Today’s announcement apparently concerns only the latitude that an individual Worldcon committee has to add a single ‘special’ category to the Hugo awards presented at its convention–that’s why only a single ‘best web site’ category is involved, rather than the two (professional vs fan, or sponsored vs independent, or whatever) that were debated among SMOFs.

Second point: the fact that this special category will next occur at the *Glasgow* Worldcon–the first European Worldcon since Glasgow in ’95–means that this ‘best web site’ category is very much open, and no one–least of all me–should consider potential nominees or winners to be fore-ordained. It was at the ’95 con, after all, that Locus Magazine *lost* the Semi-prozine Hugo (to Interzone, by no means an unworthy winner), which has happened only 3 times in the past 20 years.

April Foolishness

It has become a tradition. Reaction to today’s ‘special features’ has been mostly positive, though I did see an alarmed “could this be true??!” post on one of the message boards. Some have asked why the April 1st dateline is so explicit. It’s to deflect the occasional truly angry response we’ve gotten in previous years about how such a professional publication as Locus could run such irresponsible items about Norman Spinrad, or whoever. But you can’t tell a decent joke without risking that someone just won’t get it.

You can however fool the robots. Steve Silver sent an email this morning pointing out that searching for “science fiction” at Google News turned up several of Locus Online’s April 1st spoofs as apparently serious news articles. (Curious how the “April 1st Feature” subtitle that I pointedly planted in the html title tags–what’s displayed at the top of your browser window–of those pages got omitted from the Google output listings.)

Now if only Google could realize, and indicate, that those 5,271,009 obits of Robert Merle are really the *same* AP obit printed in that many papers.

Back to the April 1st items, I’m not sure that everyone realizes there are real–big name–contributors behind the funny bylines. I’m sacrificing marquee value for the sake of the jokes, I suppose. OK: the bylines are all anagrams. (I was Karl Kerrybot Lem a couple years ago, with my middle name added to the anagram mix.) There are extra clues in the brief bios at the bottom of each article. And the articles are indexed–just updated this afternoon–under the real names. No, I won’t give you the link to the index–you can do that much work yourself.

Meanwhile, I’ve been subscribing to more and more newsgroups lately, whose email posts now rival spam in my inbox (easily 250 items total a day now). One benefit is hearing about developing news stories before they’re ready for official release. One about a magazine; one about a bookstore; one about an award. Well, the award I’ve already mentioned: no Locus Awards at Westercon. Where will they be? I think I know, but I’m still awaiting an Official Response from Locus HQ before anything more can be said online.