Monthly Archives: October 2004


Arrived in Tempe as planned, following a 400 mile, 6 1/2 hour drive from LA — the first half slogging through city freeway traffic, the second half cruise-controlling across the desert as the just-past-full moon rose ahead of me, listening to R.E.M., Peter Gabriel, and Elliott Smith — checking into the hotel just past 8 p.m., and just as the traditional Friday evening mass-autograph signing session got underway. Hastily packing earlier in the day, I’d scanned the convention’s participants list and chosen half a dozen authors to grab books by to get signed, and having arrived, foregoing dinner until a late-evening room service, I wandered the central courtyard of the hotel where the authors were situated, hauling in successive tote-bags of books, and did manage to get signed most of the books I brought, in the course of having nice chats with Gwyneth Jones and Jeffrey Ford and Joe Haldeman and Patrick O’Leary and, yes, even Lucius Shepard, whose new Viator I bought on the spot from a dealer sitting next to him. Then to my room, where the hotel’s wireless internet connection works just fine, and where a dinner from the reduced late-night menu was delivered by a nice boy from room service. And so to email, and checking the critical websites one last time for the day, and a blog post, and to bed.

Level 5

The news was good this morning at work. The company site received the highest possible rating against all four disciplines of the ‘Capability Maturity Model Integration’ (CMMI), which is a government sponsored method for assessing how well companies plan, manage, and optimize technical projects. The model is new enough (though there was an earlier software-specific model) that only a couple hundred companies worldwide have been assessed to it, and of those, only about 10 have gotten the highest, Level 5, rating in all areas of the model. (10 sites, to be more accurate, since the rating applies to only a specific site at best, and sometimes only to a specific program at a particular site. Our rating today was the second full-model Level 5 rating at a Boeing site, the first being the Boeing facility in Anaheim CA, the second, the site in Canoga Park CA where I work. A couple other Boeing sites have been rated Level 5, but only on a specific program, or to a limited version of the model. Even counting separate sites, there are still only 10, or so, full-model Level 5 ratings to date. Too much information, I know.)

That news being good, I’m taking Friday afternoon off (and probably Monday too) and will drive to Tempe for the World Fantasy Con. Since I’m driving I’ve packed a big box of books to get signed…

Configuration Management

Whether I make it to World Fantasy this weekend depends largely on the outcome of a kind of audit procedure occurring at work this week, whose results will not be revealed until tomorrow morning. This is a CMMI appraisal, the preparation for which has been my primary reponsibility these past couple years. If the results are positive, I won’t feel guilty about slipping out by noon or so, to come home and pack and drive to Tempe; if the results are not as we’ve hoped, I’ll feel obliged to stay the day, and return to work promptly on Monday, to plan recovery actions.

Update Friday morning: Last night’s configuration management issue has been, er, managed.

My friend’s neighbor’s brother’s accountant saw a movie star last week…

On Tuesday we had a big rainstorm here in LA, pounding through the night and lingering with thunderstorms the next afternoon, rare circumstances for southern California where rain, when it does happen, is more typically described as extended drizzles. I discovered leaks in the house I’d not previously known.

Monday a film crew worked all day at my neighbor’s house. Film crews are a routine in SoCal; you can’t avoid seeing them from time to time while driving past boulevard shops or private residences. This time, my neighbor, whose house has a sleek contemporary design, hosted a cable movie crew for a day. Big white diesel trucks full of filming equipment started pulling up about 6 a.m., amidst early morning rain. Later, when I got home from work, the film crews were all inside the house, though I could see some action through the windows at the back. A cable movie involving stars I had never heard of, according to my neighbor. By 8 p.m. or so they entirely and efficiently vanished. Good timing, before the Tuesday deluge.

The difference between good and great

Interesting Economist article by one of the Booker judges about the experience of reading 132 books in 147 days, and his conclusions about what it takes for a novel to stand out. (Emphasis added)

A great deal is made of the transforming power of literature, but what does it take to become a transformer? Writing a novel as fine as “The Line of Beauty” or “The Master” requires skill, but more than that it takes courage and immense clarity of vision. In some books, such as Gail Jones’s “Sixty Lights”, those attributes show through most obviously in the strength of a single character who lingers with you long after you have put the book down. In others, like “A Blade of Grass” by Lewis DeSoto or Justin Haythe’s “The Honeymoon”, it is the single moment in which the whole tension of the book is shattered, or in “Becoming Strangers”, the only book to have been voted on to the longlist by all five judges, it is Louise Dean’s astringency of language that makes you wince — and then read on.

And then the author’s vision must stay clear until the very end. All too many of this year’s books began well, but then got lost. No book with a poor beginning ends up improving. By contrast, Nicholas Shakespeare’s “Snowleg” and Ronan Bennett’s “Havoc In Its Third Year” both started strongly and got better and better, and leaving them off the shortlist was particularly hard.

The third requirement, in addition to courage and vision, is about language. In order to capture a reader, an author must first duel with them and force them to submit to the writer’s vision. Nowhere is a writer’s guile and weaponry more finely honed than in their choice of words and metaphor. Here, more even than in the ability to draw a character, more even than in the skill needed to shape a plot, is where the difference between good and great can be seen. It sometimes took Gustave Flaubert a week to write a paragraph that pleased him, and with good reason. Mr Hollinghurst was one of the finest of wordsmiths this year, but there were others too whose work was lifted in particular by the quality of their writing, among them Shirley Hazzard and David Mitchell.

About the Booker

Despite the loss of the skiffy-associated favorite, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas — which I haven’t read — I’m very pleased to hear that the Booker prize went to the novel by Alan Hollinghurst. I haven’t yet read The Line of Beauty either, but I did just happen to read his first novel, The Swimming-Pool Library, a couple months ago, and was sufficiently impressed that I immediately ordered every other book of his I could find — which numbers only two other novels, The Folding Star and The Spell, prior to this new one that came out in Britain a few months ago and in the US just this past month. I ordered the UK editions of them all.

He’s a terrific writer, for reasons that have nothing to do with the current novel’s Thatcher-era social criticism, or the gay-protagonist themes of all his books. I can only explain it by saying that he writes descriptions of characters and incidents that make you aware of things you’ve been witness to without actually having been conscious of. He shows you dimensions within the ordinary that you didn’t suspect existed. It’s exhilarating writing. Michael Dirda reviewed the US edition just 2 or 3 weeks ago — though I can’t seem to find the link just now. When I have more time I’ll find a paragraph to quote.

It Does Rain in Southern California…

And when it does, sometimes it pours. A series of tropical storms has blown through the area the past few days, beginning Saturday night, when, very uncharacteristically for socal rainstorms, the rain gusted in bursts of two or three minutes, loud enough to wake me from sleep in the wee hours several times during the night, before dying down to long intermittent inaudible drizzles. More rain on Tuesday, and Tuesday night.

Rain is good, especially this time of year, since it dampens the dry foliage in the hills that otherwise might erupt into firestorms, as happened almost a year ago, when I blogged about the glows of fires 50 miles east.

Checking In, Securely

Busy week, with little time to post here, though I have several topics to write about that I’m reluctant to specify in much detail lest I defuse the latent impulse to discuss them in full detail–about R.E.M. and music, about Joe Haldeman and reading.

I will mention that the security certificate for has been installed, so those concerned about such things can go ahead and order or subscribe without worries. The general format is such that any page on the site, usually accessed as http://www.locusmag.whatever, will also work as https://secure.locusmag.whatever, where the latter format will make available the details of the secure certificate. (It pops up in some browsers; in others, go to view/properties.) Links from the homepage to the various order forms have been revised to the secure format, e.g.

It Was an Honor

I had a note on my calender to check the results of the German Phantastik awards, scheduled for October 9th, because was nominated in the ‘International Internet Site’ category. Alas, the site didn’t win; it came in last, behind,, (a German site), and

Thursday evening

Nothing substantial this evening. One (1) person responded about ‘compleat’; thank you. Compiling notes on new books this evening; my ordered copy of Liz Williams’ collection arrived today, and I saw new books by Hamilton and Koontz today at Borders. Hope to have page updates on the website, for the past two weeks’ new books, by this weekend.

Also will have something to say about the new R.E.M. album… (hi, Jonathan!)… which I’ve listened to about twice now.