Monthly Archives: December 2005

Holiday Interlude

After several days of holiday obligations, I’m back, more or less; I’ve managed to finish and post the pages for the new issue of Locus Magazine, as well as this week’s bestsellers, just one day late. More tomorrow; lots of e-mail to catch up on, and best-of-year comments.

The comment monitoring is working; I’ve accepted a couple attempted posts, and intercepted several other attempted spam posts.

The Books of Adventure

I found the announcement of a UK readers’ poll in which adults voted for their favorite books for children interesting, since the winner was a series, the ‘Famous Five’, by a popular but now rather disreputable author named Enid Blyton. She beat series by C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. I found it interesting partly for the curious fact that Blyton is pretty much unknown in the US, but also because a different series by Blyton, not any of her series that placed in this recent poll, were my own favorite childhood books — namely, the ‘Adventure’ series.

The ‘Adventure’ books, beginning with The Island of Adventure and continuing with 7 more volumes, each title designating a different place — The Castle of Adventure, The Sea of Adventure, etc. — concerned two brother & sister pairs who meet at boarding school and go on holidays together, in Wales or Scotland or at an aunt’s remote coastal abode, and one way or another stumble into ‘adventures’, typically involving secret passages, isolation from parental figures, and encounters with criminals of some sort, gun-runners or smugglers or even mad scientists. The books were written in the late ’40s and early ’50s, and their racial and social stereotypes, not uncommon for the era, have made the books, and Blyton’s books in general, anachronisms of a sort, disregarded by librarians and scholars, despite being fondly remembered by actual readers.

Growing up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, I discovered 5 of the books — Castle, Valley, Mountain, Circus, and Sea — at the Reseda public library, and checked them out and reread them endlessly. Something about the Britishness of the books gave them an exotic appeal to me; a different landscape, a different language (“wizard!”). My favorites were The Mountain of Adventure, which had a fantasy element, about a mad scientist ensconced inside a Welsh mountain inventing anti-gravity wings, and The Valley of Adventure, in which the 4 kids are inadvertantly flown to and stranded in a remote European valley where they discover a cache of artworks stolen by the Nazis. In later years I found the first book in the series, The Island of Adventure, that turned up in a US paperback reprint (none of the others ever appeared in the US), and eventually I ordered the whole set from Britain — via Fantast Medway — and finally read the two I’d missed, River of Adventure and Ship of Adventure. They were OK, but of course didn’t kindle the same excitement of the other books that I’d read at an earlier age.

I’ve never read any other Blyton, nor been inclined to. But every once in a while, home in bed with the flu, I’ll pull down one of the Adventure books for a revisit…

Live, from Starbucks

For the first time ever, I’m sitting in a Starbucks working on my laptop, checking e-mail and updating the website. (I just posted Howard and Lawrence’s King Kong review.) Yes, I am in a faraway mountain location, but unlike the others in my group, I don’t ski (tried it a few times; not worth the fuss and expense), though I still enjoy the mountains and trees and snow once in a while. Yesterday’s surprise snowstorm (the weather forecasts had offered no clue) was suitably winter-wonderland, with fluffy white powder falling all day, the accumulation challenging drivers without chains. Today the snow has stopped and the streets are slushy; not quite as charming. Still a nice change of pace from sotuthern California…

PS, I’ve turned comments back on, this time enabling a ‘moderation’ feature that lets me see them before posting. That way I can delete the comment spam…

PPS, I should have explained that the reason I went to Starbucks is that the condo where we stayed had no high-speed, let alone wifi, internet access. I actually tried connecting to the internet via AOL, but the 2600 bps connection was so agonizingly slow — with 2500 emails to download — that I gave up.

The Sites with No Names

I have a perhaps unjustified suspicion of websites that do not identify their authors or hosts. That’s one reason I’ve never added to my Links pages; despite its evident scope, its frequent citation as a source for bibliographic data on SF authors (cited almost as often as the ISFDb), and its frequent high placement in Google search results, the only hint of authorship (much less authority) that it offers is ‘’. Given that, and the fact that (like, ahem, ISFDb) its content is not always highly reliable, I’ve not permanently linked it.

Similarly Big Dumb Object, an SF blog covering both media and literary topics, by ‘James’. Who be ‘James’?

I suppose this is unfair. Does it matter who is behind these sites? (Maybe, as the joke goes, they’re dogs.)

For that matter, Wikipedia, which has undergone some recent criticism and vindication in recent days’ news stories, is written, as far as is evident, anonymously. So there. In fact, I was impressed enough by the detail on its Kenneth Bulmer page that I linked it with Bulmer’s death notice, posted earlier today. The article isn’t much more than a detailed list, but still.


… I’m tentatively planning to be away for an extended weekend, to a distant mountainous place where wifi connections may be few and far between. So there may be no posts, or even email replies, for a few days.

Print to Screen

Whatever else you may have heard about Brokeback Mountain, the just-[limited]-released film directed by Ang Lee, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger, and based on a [novelette-length] story by Annie Proulx, with a script by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana — OK, the ‘gay cowboy movie’ — let me pass on to you (while endorsing all the superlative reviews) that it is the most faithful screen adaptation of a literary work that I’ve ever seen. Virtually every scene, almost every line of dialogue, from the original story is up there on the screen. This is all to the good. The story, in 30 pages, followed the relationship of two men over two decades, necessarily compressing time and eliding many years. The screenwriters have interpolated, very well, those missing passages, while preserving every ounce of original intent, and without in the slightest way giving in to Hollywood-ization; they don’t simplify situations to pander to popular prejudices, they don’t alter the story’s ending to a feel-good finale.

And unlike the more typical film adaptation of a novel, this film doesn’t have to leave out huge chunks of the original. It’s a demonstration of the principle that a novelette or novella length story, not a novel, is best suited for faithful adaption to a 2+ hour film.

My previous standard in this regard was the 1981 TV miniseries Brideshead Revisited, (a 350 page novel dramatized in 12 hours of film), which I saw first and read later, the result being that my reading of the original novel by Evelyn Waugh struck me as flat, like a summary, lacking the emotional expression and nuance of the dramatization. Of course I realize that had I been familiar with the novel first, my reaction would almost certainly have been different, favoring the original literary version. It was for this reason that on Saturday, having already purchased tickets online for Brokeback Mountain that evening, I sat down with Proulx’s book Close Range and read the story “Brokeback Mountain”. I wanted to give the literary original the advantage, and no, I didn’t worry that I would ‘spoil’ my experience of the film; my opinion is that only the most superficial, formulaic stories are ruined by knowing the endings, while any story of lasting value is only deepened by revisits in whatever medium. In this case I think I was well-rewarded; while the original story is brilliant in many ways — in its minimalist expressionism, in its depiction of a circumstance that is both startling and inevitable, and true — the film dramatization visualizes where the story describes; expresses where the story tells. It’s a rare case of a film expanding on, rather than diminishing, its literary source.

Meanwhile, my home DSL connection has been dicey all weekend, which is why certain book and magazine listings are still not posted…

Wooden Rockets?

Anyone heard anything about this year’s Wooden Rocket Awards ( Voting opening back in September, supposedly, but there’s no indication of when voting was to have closed, much less results. I spent a couple minutes poking around on their website looking for an email address, and not finding one (website sin #7, if I recall the numbering). I’m wondering not because I’m especially concerned whether I won again (Locus Online won the ‘print to website’ category the first two years of the WR awards), but because it’s the end of the year and I’m starting to compile awards data from the past year in order to update the Locus Index to SF Awards. Which, I’m thinking about planning to resolve, I will try to figure out how to update more frequently than once yearly. (It’s easy to post individual pages without the links between the various indices; more effort each time to update all the indices and links.)

Update 16 Dec: an e-mail reply from Stephen Hunt (who just sold three fantasy novels, beginning with The Court of the Air, in auction to HarperCollins Voyager, for five figures!) assures me that counting is underway, and an announcement of winners should be due around January 1st.

Thanks for Your Visits

Cheryl Morgan mentioned a while back that

November now being over, I can happily report that for the first time ever Emerald City has averaged over 2000 unique visitors per day.

Now of course there are few things more fraudulent that web site statistics, and in the case of unique vists a major problem is knowing how many of them are real people and how many are software bots of various sorts…

I was checking my own stats the other day, in response to an advertising query, and was pleased to see that Locus Online has been attracting some 50,000 visitors per week… anywhere from 8 to 11 thousand unique visitors per day. (See for yourself.) This is up from 20,000 visitors per week only a year or so ago.

My point is not to upstage Cheryl, but to echo her realization that these statistics are of dubious significance. What is a ‘visitor’? How many of them are bots, as opposed to real people who might buy stuff? I’ve always found the difference between ‘visits’ and ‘unique visitors’ perplexing, since the latter is always higher, sometimes by a significant fraction. How can there be more visitors than visits? (As best as I’ve been able to determine, it’s because a ‘visit’ is defined as some series of requests from the site lasting a certain overall minimum time, and some ‘visitors’ might take a stab at the site then quickly disappear, thus not counting as a ‘visit’. But I’ve never gotten an answer on this score from my hosting service.)

In any case, I’m happy to be able to claim that Locus Online attracts several times more visitors (per week) than there are subscribers to Locus Magazine (per month). Now if only all my visitors would send me a buck a month…

More about Hugo Fantasies

David Williams writes,

Instead of creating a new Hugo for editors, why not do the decent thing and create separate Hugos for SF and fantasy? Each year’s award administrators could have the power to designate which novels are SF and which fantasy; their decisions could provide many hours of wholesome entertainment for all of us.

Interesting idea, and a plausible suggestion, at least for novels — a Hugo for Best SF Novel, and one for Best Fantasy Novel — though I can’t help but think the Hugo smofs have thought of this already and rejected the idea, perhaps if only so as not to increase the number of categories, ever a dreaded possibility.

Meanwhile, via Gwenda Bond, I found this response to my previous post about the fact that four of the last five Hugos for best novel have gone to fantasy novels. Wondering if I should or should not have been surprised by this factoid, and setting aside any subjective discussions about the relative strengths of SF vs fantasy writing in recent years, I went and checked the full shortlists for the past five years, and found…

In 2005, there were two fantasy and three SF nominees; fantasy won. [For purposes of this survey I'm counting China Miéville's books as fantasy.]

In 2004, there was one fantasy and four SF nominees; fantasy won.

In 2003, there was one fantasy (China) and four SF nominees; SF won.

In 2002, there were three fantasy and three SF nominees; fantasy won.

In 2001, there were two fantasy and three SF nominees; fantasy won.

As for this year, 2005, what might be the potential Hugo nominees? Glancing through this year’s directory of novels, I spot fantasy candidates by Bujold, Butler, Ford, Gaiman, Martin, and Park. And potential SF candidates by Marusek, Morgan, Robinson, Scalzi, Simmons, Stross, and Wilson. Though despite many years of following and compiling awards, I wouldn’t think to guess what the actual nominees might be, let alone the winner.