Monthly Archives: June 2005

Quills SF

Not quite a news story for posting on the website, but interesting nonetheless, is the long list of ‘finalists’ in the SF category for the Quills Awards… those are the awards, sponsored by the parent corporate owner of Publishers Weekly, which will draw on industry nominators and reader voters to determine winners in a wide range of literary genres, culminating in a *TV broadcast* awards ceremony in October on NBC… I happened to check the site today and found this list of SF/F/H finalists. It’s a pretty peculiar list, until you realize what the guidelines were that determined it: quoted from this PW article, “To make the long list of nominees, a book must have been published in its original format in North America between August 1, 2004, and July 31, 2005, and marketed in the United States. It must also meet one of the following criteria: a starred review in Publishers Weekly, Barnes & Noble’s Discover Great New Writers Program selection, one of the ABA’s Book Sense Picks, a Borders Books & Music Original Voices title or has made it onto the bestsellers list of Publishers Weekly, Book Sense, Barnes & Noble or Borders.” Thus, Dan Simmons’ Olympos, just released today [though I haven't been to the bookstore to see a copy, yet] is on the list.

Summer Awards…

are upon us, with three sets of finalists announced today [well, today partly because I didn't get around to posting the Campbell and Sturgeon finalists until today, though I've had them since Monday] and four major awards due to be announced in the next three weeks — that would be the Stokers, this weekend; the Locus winners, over July 4th weekend; and the Campbell and Sturgeon awards, the weekend after that.

I’m over the flu pretty much, though still behind, as usual. A review from Rick Klaw soon; 3rd week books; classic reprints; etc.

I’ve managed to get on the program for Interaction, the Worldcon in Glasgow this August, if only because they felt obliged to invite all of the Hugo nominees. I’m doing a panel on reviewing, Thursday at 5pm — even though I’m not currently a reviewer, though I certainly have opinions about it — and an ‘in memoriam’ panel Friday at 7pm, presumably because I post death notices here on the site.

Read Michael Cunningham’s Specimen Days this week, and will plan to comment about it soon…

Please Stand By

Just a note to say I’ve been in bed with the flu most of the past two days and so am behind posting to the site and answering emails. Hope to be back up to speed tomorrow.

Results Pending

This past week I finished compiling the results of this year’s Locus Survey and the special all-time best fantasy story poll, both conducted in parallel with the Locus Poll itself, and both results scheduled for publication in the August issue of Locus Magazine. (The Locus Poll results will be in the July issue.)

The fantasy story poll was problematic in that the scope of potential votes was so great that even the candidate list of 300 stories on the ballot — compiled from the tables of contents of a dozen or so anthologies of fantasy classics, plus recommendations from several prominent editors and reviewers — was criticized by many voters in their comments as being too restrictive or as omitting too many obvious candidates. If there’s a better way of conducting such a poll, let us know and we’ll use it next time.

On another note, I’m happy that someone noticed my matter-of-fact quotation of the bizarre self-description of a certain recently received and listed book. It would be unprofessional of me to express or imply too much of an opinion in such listings (since anyway I cannot begin to approach the delicate, wry tone of the master, Mr Langford), but I do hope that perceptive readers will notice the occasional droll tone of my typing of such quotations, including some of those ‘opening lines’ quotes at the bottom of each new books page…

Follow-up to the Book Meme

1) I realized as I thought about the 5 ‘books that mean a lot to me’ that I couldn’t think of anything I’d read in the past decade.. or two.. that I could include in that very exclusive group. (Actually the Robert Wright book is only about 10 years old. But I was trying to think of SF novels, or collections.) Is this because my tastes and values were formed early, and nothing has had an impact on me because I’m less suggestible to new influences? (Another way of saying the golden age is 12.) Or is it because my reading has become more routine (such as the drudgery of reading for review) and less adventurous? This isn’t to say I haven’t read many books over the past decade or two that I’ve enjoyed and admired. I suppose it’s just that the more one has experienced in life, the less likely any particular new experience will make an impact that means more than all the others experienced so far…

In any case, this book meme exercise did boost my resolve to seek out some of those neglected ‘classics’ that so far I’ve never gotten around to reading. Surely there *are* life-changing books out there I’ve yet to read, if only I make time for them.

2) I’m sure I buy more books that I will ever have time to read, but I never buy a book that I don’t think I would enjoy sitting down to read, if I could find the time.

3) I’ve noticed in some of the answers to these meme that ‘culling’ or pruning one’s collection is a frequent comment. I’ve done this a couple times — 15 or 20 years ago now, a couple hundred books at a time — and ended up regretting it. In later years I find myself thinking of books I want to look at and realizing that I disposed of them in some misguided housekeeping move years before. Sometimes it’s just for the nostalgaic sense of holding a book that, in some long ago time and place, excited my imagination. Since resolving never to prune my collection ever again, I’ve gone so far as re-purchasing books I’d once pruned when I happen to see copies at convention books dealers. Fortunately my present household situation is that I have enough room to have everything unpacked and on shelves. Every one of my 8650 books is out on a more-or-less well-ordered shelf, where I can find it in short order… And I realize how lucky I am to be in this situation.

Book Meme

1) Total number of books owned?

8560, at the moment. Since 1997, I’ve logged everything, books acquired and books seen, into a [Microsoft Access] database, which I use to generate pages of the website — the Monitor pages, the Directories. When I set up the database, I keyed in ledgers of book and magazine purchases I’d compiled since I was a teenager, representing my entire personal library, excepting sundry encyclopedia volumes, cookbooks, and whatnot. While I’ve never gotten around to verifying those records against physical volumes on my shelves (I’ll get to it someday), I’m reasonably confidant those database records are 99% accurate.

The total does include ‘review copies’ sent to the website, or sent to me when I was reviewing short fiction, books which get logged whether I intend to keep them or not (let alone read them). They account for about 500 of the total (accumulated over 15 years).

Of the 8560, I’ve read no more than a third.

2) The last book I bought?

Two shipments came from Amazon on Wednesday: the new books by Stross, Varley, Gerrold, McKillip, Cunningham, and Hartwell/Cramer. A couple of these I’d already seen at the bookstore and are listed on the site; the others will be next week. (And I actually intend to read 2 or 3 of these.)

3) The last book I read? Fully or tried?

Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner. Before that, Everything Bad Is Good For You by Steven Johnson. Before that, The Disappointment Artist by Jonathan Lethem.

4) 5 books that mean a lot to me?

  • The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury. The rare early SF ‘classic’ that I can still be charmed and moved by.

  • The Masks of Time, by Robert Silverberg. Silverberg, as I may have mentioned once before in this blog, was the writer who expanded my conception of what SF could be, beyond my earlier experience of reading Asimov Clarke and Heinlein. I like all his late-’60s to mid-’70s work a lot, especially the short fiction, and have always had a particular fondness for this one novel.
  • The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories, by Gene Wolfe. And beyond Silverberg, in a way, Wolfe, with stories of subtlety and beauty rarely matched any time by anyone (including, for my money, most later Wolfe short fiction).
  • On Human Nature, by Edward O. Wilson, and The Moral Animal, by Robert Wright. Nonfiction that demonstrates how the assumptions and verities of human existence are shaped by evolutionary contingency, representing views of ‘reality’ that might well be different in other times and other places… which for me has always been the most vital ‘message’ of science fiction.
  • Four Quartets, by T.S. Eliot. My formal literary education is scant, but this is one modern ‘classic’ I stumbled upon early and which has always had a SFnal resonance for me, from “Time present and time past/Are both perhaps present in time future” to “We shall not cease from exploration…” Even though I realize my understanding of these words is probably remote from the author’s intent.

Some follow-up thoughts next time.

Books in the Home

I just read Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner, a pop-science book of a sort about economics — which they nicely define in the phrase “Morality is the way people would like the world to work; economics represents how it actually does work.” The thesis of the book is that ‘rogue economist’ Levitt has an unconventional way of examining social issues in that he actually analyzes data (!) to arrive at conclusions that challenge ‘conventional wisdom’. His most controversial conclusion is that the declining crime rate in the US over the past decade isn’t due to advanced police techniques or stricter gun control laws, but is a result of the legalization of abortion in the ’70s, which resulted in an entire generation of unwanted children — those mostly likely to become criminals — to have not been born.

More pertinent to the world of books is the chapter on being a good parent, which looks at results of a late ’90s study of grade school children that used regression analysis to isolate the effects of many hundreds of varibles on school performance. (Actually it identified correlation, not causation.) Among possible factors were

  • The child has many books in his home
  • The child’s parents read to him nearly every day.

The perhaps surprising conclusion is that the first factor does correlate with high test scores, but the second doesn’t. The authors speculate this is because books in the home are indicators of intelligent, well-educated parents, who pass such traits to their children directly; books in the home are indicators, not causes. These are other results suggest, to generalize, that it matters more who the parents are, rather than what they do. (See pp172-174 of the book.)

My own parents were only moderately well-educated (neither finished college–because of military service, and marriage) but made the laudable gesture of furnishing our house with at least some books, mostly encyclopedia and Harvard Classics, though neither of them ever read for pleasure. And they never read to me. The world of books I pretty much discovered on my own. (Which reminds me, perhaps I’ll respond to that ‘book meme’ that’s been going around…)

We get E-mail

From: Antichrist & Mephistopheles []

Remove Faust-related books.

I send a curse of Daemon Mephistopheles that will manifest if you don’t listen and remove that title ‘Faust among equals’ and whatever else you have. Business ruin!

Fair warning. Be well and listen to me.

Neffy News

Via Cheryl Morgan’s Emerald City blog this morning I discovered today that 1) there is something called the Neffy Awards, presented by the National Fantasy Fan Federation (N3F) [which I have heard of]; 2) they presented their awards this past weekend at Baycon; and 3) that according to this page, Locus Online has won in the category for “Best Web Site or Reference (non fiction)”!

This was the first I’d heard about it. Awards comes in all sizes of course, from the obsessively-ruled and documented Hugos and Nebulas on down… to the more casual affairs where publicizing the event or alerting nominees and winners might perhaps seem… presumptuous? Or merely neglectful? In any case, I’m pleased to have won, grateful to the voters, and thank the convention and committee.

Meanwhile, with today’s posting of the usual pages representing the June issue of Locus Magazine, the conversion of all regularly posted pages of the website to new leaner and css-style-meaner html formatting is complete. It took longer than I expected; I’ve hardly read a book in the last month. Now back to plan.