Monthly Archives: January 2005

Tally Miscorrections

There were a couple subtle fixes to the online poll this morning, to correct or miscorrect the form with respect to the print version, which I only saw later today when my copy of the February issue arrived. For better or worse, I’m not inclined to make any further corrections.

The drop-down offerings for the ‘best fantasy story’ category will be expanded, however, as suggestions from a few selected experts come in. Again, this is a wide-open category, and when you vote you should think seriously about what your choices for the category might be, using the write-in boxes as appropriate, and only using the drop-down selections as a convenience when they match your choices. is having some trouble with outgoing e-mail today, which is why several responses to emails last night and today apparently haven’t yet been sent. I’m hoping this is the sort of problem that will fix itself (i.e. the problem resides with the hosting service, CI Host, and they’ll fix it); if not, I’ll pursue a fix tomorrow.

Like others, I’m tickled that my blog is among the select 40 or so listed by James Patrick Kelly in his latest online “On the Net” column for Asimov’s Magazine (which I saw via Matthew Cheney’s The Mumpsimus). It makes me want to take this space more seriously, and perhaps to cut back on the latte, or whatever.

Tallying the Bests

The online Locus Poll ballot is up; the recommended reading list is up; as 4E Ackerman once said, please VOGT in our POHL. Special this year is a category for ‘best all-time fantasy story’, which we’ve seeded with a drop-down list of 50 well-known stories, though of course, as always, voters are free to vote for anything they want via the write-in boxes. Providing a set of options biases the vote in favor of those options, of course–that’s the idea of the recommended reading list itself, we freely admit–but in the case of an open-ended category like this one, the alternative might be votes so scattered as to provide no meaningful results. Jonathan Strahan was the inspiration behind this category, and I’ll leave it to him to comment more about it in his blog.

Next up on the site, after I catch my breath, are two special-to-Locus Online best of the year essays, by Claude Lalumiere and Jeff VanderMeer. I’ve had Claude’s piece for 3 or 4 weeks now, while Jeff’s just came today. I’d debated about whether to post them separately or together; as it’s turned out, having been busy the past few weeks with other things, they’ll be posted as a pairing. Early next week, if not before.

Noted, not Blinked

From somebody’s review of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly

To call Dick’s stories (post 1966) science fiction is to insult them. Dick was writing about the nature of God, the human mind, mental illness, drugs, and paranoia in a way that was humorous, dark, intelligent, and entertaining.

Unlike science fiction.

Awards Index Update

is just posted. After many grueling days and weeks of keying in new data, tracking down info on book and website sources, running various cross-checks for mis-matched data, and so on, and so on. A coupla corrections that I made were to errors that I think must have been there… all along… yet which neither I nor anyone else who’d bothered to notify me had noticed. Even now there are slight technical discrepancies that might be evident to any techno-wizards savvy enough to notice extremely subtle inconsistencies…

But I’m sure, no one will notice.

Beyond that, there are always other awards I might include; however many I add each year, there are always more. The Ursa Major Awards, for furry fandom, for instance. Various other romantic SF awards. There’s no end to it.

Pop You Up

No objections today to the pop-up on the homepage–?!. The ad agency asked me to do this today only, and despite the… er, what’s less that minuscule?… revenues from these ongoing agency-provided banners, I acceded to their request.

Still, deep into January, in catch-up mode. Week #2 of new books will be deferred until next week (because, really, of the dozen plus books I have to list, it’s hard to latch on to any one of them as a really significant title), while I devote my attentions to finishing the awards index update. By this weekend. At the latest. Definitely. You have my word on it.

Next week, after that’s done, I’ll have some books to talk about.

It Pours

Lots of rain here in the southland the past few days; today saw the first sunshine since last Thursday. I realize we in SoCal must seem pretty wimpy, to complain about a few days rain and whine about mudslides and collapsed houses, compared to those in the north and east who live with months of hard winter every year. So I’m not complaining about the several new leaks in my house; after all, there are plastic buckets catching drips where I work, and at Barnes & Noble. Fortunately, it doesn’t rain this hard very often in beautiful Southern California. On the other hand, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for those folk in La Conchita, up the coast between Ventura and Santa Barbara, who’ve lived beneath a hillside that previously collapsed in 1995, yet who’ve stayed there — who were still there this past weekend after days of heavy rain — and got inundated by mud. Were they just… feeling lucky?

Today I finished setting up 2005 Directory pages, with a somewhat revised layout and color scheme, and applied the same layout and scheme to the 2004 pages. (Compare the 2003 Directory.) Suggestions for further improvement always welcome.

Bestsellers are Different from the Books You and I Read…

And not just because they sell better.

I’ve come down from my holiday-bestseller-reading mode, having finished not only the Michael Crichton novel discussed earlier, but three subsequent titles from the bestseller lists as well; books easy to read during the hustle bustle of holidays and airplane flights. Actually, if you include the Roth and Clarke novels as bestsellers, I’ve been reading bestsellers for nearly a month or so — but I don’t think of those two as bestseller-books; they’re literary books that happened to become bestsellers.

Whereas… Crichton’s State of Fear is geared for mass audiences. Its prose is simple and unadorned, its theses vastly oversimplified (one must assume) to talking points form, its heroes and villains obviously identified. If you’re not sure that the Martin Sheen stand-in is a Hollywood liberal sap, Crichton has him eaten by cannibals. And so on.

Still, it’s an interesting book because it is, fundamentally, about ideas. If you think Crichton is being contrary about global warming for the sake of selling a thriller, you’re probably right, but at the same time he suggests what I think are perfectly valid challenges to conventional wisdom. Arguments made in mass media are oversimplifications; the truth is always more complex. The most fascinating section of the novel is a discussion with a renegade professor, Norman Hoffman, who talks about the ecology of thought [this is around pp440-460]; the way certain ideas remain fads in the public imagination long after they’re discredited by legitimate scientists; the way the word ‘crisis’ came into vogue after the fall of the Berlin Wall, as if the ‘politico-legal-media’ complex needed something else to keep the public engaged (in a ‘state of fear’), and so overplayed issues such as the cancer danger from power lines, and…global warming. Well, yes. We know not to take mass media too seriously. The idea that ‘they’, the media and politicians and lawyers, are in some sort of conspiracy to manipulate the public is a perfectly valid and fascinating SFnal premise. The trouble here is that Crichton insists that you believe it. More to the point, does Crichton ever explain why the idea of global warming, if it’s really a hoax, is taken seriously by so many real scientists? No. (Let’s leave aside the horrific irony of Crichton presenting an artificially generated tsunami as a ploy by his conspiratorial eco-terrorists, in a book published weeks before a real tsunami devastated hundreds of thousands of people.)

And then I read… Christopher Moore’s The Stupidest Angel. Intelligent fluff. A black comedy take on It’s a Wonderful Life; an angel comes to Earth at Christmas time to grant a wish–but the angel is stupid and screws things up (2/3 of the way through the book). It’s amusing and rife with satire of small towns and Christmas spirit, but the entire story is no more complex than what could easily be translated in a 90 minute Hollywood script. You wonder if the author had this in mind.

And then… Jon Stewart’s America: The Book. I like what I’ve seen of Stewart–I’m on his side–but am never up late enough to see his show. The book is fun, full of pictures and graphics and sidebars, often hilarious and savage in its satire, only occasionally dull and tasteless. At its best, subversive.

And… the first novel I’ve read by Dean Koontz in 30 years (since I read 3 of his early SF novels, including A Werewolf Among Us, the first time I noticed another author explicitly citing Asimov’s three laws of robotics) — Life Expectancy. Reading Koontz (now) is liking reading air. Every couple sentences is a new paragraph. Every scene is described in meticulous detail, para by para: here’s what happens, then this happens, then this, with occasional pauses for reflection about what it means; and then this happens next. Like a transcriber recording every mundane detail of real life. The premise is intriguing–on the day the narrator is born, his dying grandfather exclaims prophecies about five future dates on which ‘terrible’ things will happen. The novel follows the narrator’s life as he anticipates and survives each of those days. Yet each date is the focus of an elaborate setpiece that lasts sometimes upward of 100 pages –what another novelist might adequately convey in a fraction the space. You see how Koontz can put out a novel every year. Moreover, the source of all these traumatic events is…a family of insane clowns. And revelations of incest. And apparently unrelated characters who turn out to be twins. And…

I will probably keep reading Crichton. And Moore. I don’t need to read any more Koontz.

And now… I’m back to reading ‘real’ books, halfway through books by Sean Stewart and John Scalzi.


Several commentators to the previous post said yes, Hero and House of Flying Daggers *are* fantasy, of a particular variety (‘wuxia’), which is fine, I won’t dispute that. So then, is Kill Bill fantasy? :) I’d say no, at least not in the same sense; KB is a metamovie about other movies, more than it’s a movie of any particular genre. I finally saw KB2 after being less than overwhelmed by KB1, but I felt the second half redeemed the first. Though I admit my initial reaction was: Uma Thurman–best actress!

On another topic, I’ve been on the lookout for the John Scalzi novel Old Man’s War for several weeks now, since I read Scalzi’s blog and he’s been crowing about its appearances at various retail outlets; and it sounds like a fun book, and the starred PW review doesn’t hurt. But it hasn’t appeared at any of the several Borders or Barnes & Nobles’ in my area that I circulate among. Today I finally queried the Borders database: sold out(!), it says. Without ever a copy having passed through their stores, apparently. OK, fine. I came home and ordered it from Amazon.

Fantasy Is Where You Find It

Actually I’m not quite as caught up on the website as I said the previous post; I’m overdue on the ‘classic reprints’ page for December, I still haven’t done the couple end-December magazines seen, the January issue pages are yet to be done (usually I try to post them the date the issue is mailed, but not this time), and of course the SF Awards index is still to be updated. I’ve compiled all the data for the awards index; now it’s a matter of synch’ing data, checking biblio info on sources, etc., and then executing all the steps to generate the updated site, fixing a couple reported bugs along the way.

Ironically, it will be easier to get back up to speed on the website once normal work schedule resumes, on Tuesday, and the so-called holiday break, which one might naively suppose consists entirely of free time, is over.

Saw two excellent movies the past couple days: Hero and House of Flying Daggers, both directed by Zhang Yimou. From reviews I’d gathered the first was excellent and the second even better; despite which, I prefer Hero, for its more epic theme, or perhaps just because we’ve now seen it twice (today again with Yeong’s son Michael) and the other only once.

Of this ‘genre’ of Chinese martial arts art films I’ve only seen one previous, the acclaimed Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and so I have only a vague idea of what the genre ‘means’. That is, with their surrealist battle sequences — filmed with actors suspended by cables, performing beautiful acrobatic maneuvers impossible in ‘real life’ — are these films fantasy?? If so, they’re certainly as exciting and beautiful and epic as…say…The Lord of the Rings. Have genre reviewers noticed?

Or are they to be understood as extreme examples of the way all movies idealize real life, enhancing it and fictionalizing it for the sake of the story and its emotional effect–the way any of dozens of standard Hollywood flicks exaggerate gun shots and car explosions and never let the hero be hit by gunfire or swordplay, while dozens of bad guys are easily mowed down.

Or both?

Happy 2004

Back from New York City. Cold and windy there; it was snowing last Sunday night as we stood in the taxi line in Newark, and again Monday morning, as we walked from the Incentra Village House, the 150+ year old lodging where we stayed at the recommendation of Ellen Datlow, with its narrow stairs and tiny rooms reminiscent of Amsterdam lodgings, to the nearby coffee house, Grounded, where I popped open my laptop and accessed the local wifi network to download my email, to see the latest from Arthur C. Clarke about the Indian Ocean tsunami. (Later, I intermittedly accessed the linksys wifi network from the room itself.)

We rode a freezing bus tour, we stood in line for the Guggenheim (we gave up on the Empire State Building), we shopped at Saks and Bloomingdale’s, we ate at local breakfast cafes and Greenwich Village restaurants and also at the Gotham Bar and Grill. We had dinner on Tuesday with Ellen Datlow at a local sushi place, and got the tour of her New York City apartment and its art.

Flights were cancelled and delayed or rerouted in both directions. It was the holiday season. At least we made it back home, eventually.

I mostly caught up on the website today, Friday, with a couple magazines still to post, and a number of books to post– books scheduled for publication in January or February or even March, which I’ve been sent in advance, a generally unusual situation. I prefer to post descriptions of books only once they’re available for purchase– in stores, or available via Amazon.

It’s been a good year generally, better than the past couple years. There are still things to do: website improvements to make: complete conversion to blog posting of news and blinks; updating all the links pages; consolidating the style sheets to make the format of all the pages more consistent (e.g. the colors and styles of the links); tweaking those same style sheets to a more consistent font size and style; and so on. On the plus side, I’ve managed this past year to increase postings of new book and magazine pages pretty much as often as it is feasible or reasonable to post them: weekly for books, semi-monthly for magazines, monthly for new paperbacks and classic reprints.

It’s been a good year in that I’ve read more than in the past 3 or 4 years, as I’ve tried to indicate by the cover thumbnails along the right margin of these blog entries…though still not enough. How much one should read, how much one should want to read, how much one should be able to read, are issues I’ve always struggled with, issues I’ll perhaps discuss in more detail in some future entry or entries.

For tonight, here in southern California, the air is cool and clear, the winter rainstorm has passed for today, the new year is nigh. Tomorrow will be another day, another year; a fresh beginning. We observe these transitions because they give us the chance to begin again.