Monthly Archives: November 2006

What Are Spammers Thinking?

Yes, I’ve been remiss about posting here recently, but I will skip the usual excuses this time. My ideal of course is to post something every day, as all good bloggers should, something short and pithy at least, but this would entail a controlled, harmonious existence in which interruptions and distractions are minimized, in which the appearance of balance and fortitude are in fact the situation. I like to imagine this might be true for me, someday, and I solemnly note the many other bloggers who seem to manage their output more consistently than I’ve been able to. I can only plead that the website itself takes priority; this blog is a lagniappe, for the 7 people who read it.

Today’s pithy comment is about spammers. I mentioned a while back, facetiously, about going through the day’s 10,000 spam. It was an exaggeration then; it isn’t now. As domain administrator I still try to skim all the emails addressed *@locusmag.com, in hopes of catching the occasional misspelled or invalidly addressed (locusonline@locusmag.com; locsu@locusmag.com, etc.) email for something worth catching, but I’m on the verge of sending it all automatically to the bit bucket. My title query is to wonder what spammers are thinking when they send thousands of spam a day to obviously nonsensical email addresses — moody@locusmag.com, fuller@locusmag.com, AmbroseXTishahick@locusmag.com, to pick 3 from the spam folder at random. Who do they think would ever see these emails? The number of spam received at legitimate addresses — online, locus, mark, and a couple others @locusmag.com — is a small proportion of the total.

UPDATE to reply to commentator Rick — Hi Rick, but this is Mark, not Charles. See upper right corner. Charles does the magazine, I do the website, and this blog. Thanks for reading!

Austin WFC Saturday

I caught a ride to the Renaissance this morning with Mary Turzillo, in time to catch most of a 10 a.m. panel about the “Effects of the Web and Online Publishing on Fantasy”, with Rodger Turner and John Klima and Gayle Surrette and Steve Wilson and Catherynne Valente, who talked about various things — fiction on the web, e-books, wikis — but whose main theme I’d perhaps missed at the beginning.
Outside another panel I caught up with Jeff VanderMeer, whose new book I’m 100 pages into, getting a bit of preview into the WF Awards judges panel on Sunday that I’ll miss. Without giving away details, his theme was that there was remarkable consensus among the judges on this year’s winners.

I rendezvoused with Locus Online reviewing team Lawrence Person and Howard Waldrop — the latter whom I’d said hello to once years ago but had never actually talked to face to face — for lunch, which ended up at another nearby Mexican place, Manuel’s (which was better than Serrano’s), where we talked about Texas politics and speed limits and the history of the space race, one of those many topics on which Howard has remarkably detailed knowledge and recall. And he signed my book.

I attended 2 1/4 panels over the remainder of the afternoon. A panel on “The God or the Machine?”, about the boundary between SF and fantasy, featured Ted Chiang (doing his first-ever panel, he’d told me earlier), Walter Jon Williams, Michael Stackpole, Louise Marley, and moderator Janine Young. They debated what the panel was supposed to be about, then offered various perspectives, giving examples of blends (Star Wars, Pern) and distinctions between magic and technology — the former isn’t the latter because technology eventually gets cheaper and is available to the masses (TC); science is testable and repeatable, a discovery of laws of nature, while magic is about altering those laws (WJW); etc. Most memorable bites: WJW cited George RR Martin, “it’s a matter of furniture” (thus Pern “is” fantasy” and Star Wars “is” SF); TC pointed out that if a solution to the story’s problem depends on the spiritual or moral state of the practitioner, then it’s fantasy; WJW describing fantasy, SF, and horror as being about whether the universe is benign, neutral, or malevolent; LM suggesting that the moral state of her surgeon does matter to her, with WJW countering that, in his recent experience, the best surgeons are bastards.

Second panel was about “phantom books”, with Darrell Schweitzer, Gordon Van Gelder, Don Webb, Hal Duncan, and Barbara Roden. They suggested various attractions of the idea of imaginary books (the most famous being of course HPL’s Necronomicon), and cited a remarkable number of examples: Chambers, Borges, Zafron, Cabell, Eco, Lupoff. An audience member pointed out how the actual original religious texts behind the great Abrahamic religions are in some sense imaginary books.

I stayed for only a bit of a third panel, about “forgotten masters” of fantasy, with David G. Hartwell, Paul Park, Jess Nevins, and Victoria Strauss; the room was hot, my schedule constrained. I did a final round of the dealers room, then shuttled back to my hotel to check e-mail — as it happened, news came in of Nelson S. Bond’s death, so I spent half an hour researching that, miscalculating his age [soon corrected], and posting the news on the website — take a nap, and change clothes for the banquet. I got back to the convention hotel about 6:45, in time to mill about with the banquet crowd for a few minutes before the doors were opened and we all went in to find our tables. I was at a satellite HarperCollins table, shared with overflows from another publisher, which meant in practice sitting with Alma Alexander and her husband, and with Steven Erikson and his fellow writer Ian ‘Cam’ Esslemont, who are both writing stories in the former’s “Malazan Empire”.

The banquet food was decent, the toastmaster Bradley Denton excellent, presenting a lively history of Texas’ six flags keyed to introductions of the convention’s guests of honor — Dave Duncan, Robin Hobb, Gary Gianni, Glenn Lord, Glen Cook, and John Jude Palencar. Then followed announcement of the British Fantasy Awards from a month ago, before David Hartwell and John Douglas did their usual presentation of the World Fantasy Award nominees and winners. There were some surprises, perhaps, and in fact Hartwell made a point of mentioning that novel-winner Harukami, whom he’d met, had said he’d read everything by Lovecraft and Howard and followed F&SF faithfully while growing up — i.e., he’s one of us. Then there were photos and parties, but for now it’s late and I need to be up early for my flight home. More details, and probably amendations and format fixes, in the next day or two as time permits.

Austin WFC Friday

I slept in a bit and caught the 11 a.m. shuttle from my outlying hotel to the convention hotel, chatting with F Brett Cox along the way, then poked around the dealers room and art show for a while. The latter was larger than I’d thought at first glance yesterday; it surrounded the dealers area on two sides, not just one, and had excellent pieces, many NFS, by John Jude Palencar, Gregory Manchess, Mike Dringenberg, Chad Beatty, Gary Gianni, John Picacio, Charles Vess, and others. In the dealers room I bought a couple books (including Howard Waldrop’s latest), got a few others gratis for listing on the site, and took ‘sighting’ notes on numerous others for listing on the site. After lunch from the Starbucks island in the lobby I attended a panel, “Fantasy Roundup: Should Reads of the Last Year”, which like the similar panel at Worldcon consisted of expert readers naming their favorites of 2006 so far. Another long list, a few listed here:

Charles N. Brown: James Morrow’s The Last Witchfinder; Paul Park’s The Tourmaline; Tim Powers’ Three Days to Never; Julie Phillips’ Tiptree bio; M. Rickert’s collection Map of Dreams

Ellen Datlow: Terry Dowling’s collection Basic Black from Cemetery Dance; two Gene Wolfe stories; Margo Lanagan’s Red Spikes;

Alan Beatts: David Keck’s In the Eye of Heaven; Sergei Lukyanenko’s Night Watch; Glen Cook’s reprinted Dread Empire novels;

Susan Allison: Morrow’s novel; the Tiptree award anthology; Naomi Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon and sequels; Ian MacLeod’s House of Storms [a 2006 reprint of an earlier book, technically];

Jo Fletcher: Joe Hill’s first novel Heart-Shaped Box, coming next year; Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora

…and other titles by Joe Abercrombie, Charles Stross, Maurice Sendak, Jeffrey Ford, Kat Richardson, Carrie Vaughn, Elizabeth Hand, China Miéville, and others.

Following the panel I chatted with an old college friend, Kenn Bates, whom I only ever see at conventions, then met HarperCollins editor Diana Gill for our semi-annual chat. (I’m grateful to HarperCollins for being by far the most frequent client for Locus Online homepage banner ads… which revenue supports the movie reviewers and other special contributors to the website.) We attended a Scotch tasting party thrown by Borderlands Books in San Francisco, whose proprietors Alan Beatts and Jude Feldman poured Macallan and Balvenie and Laphroig and a couple three I’d never heard of. I chatted with John Klima (about stocking libraries with SF) and Gavin Grant and Juliet Ulman and Ellen Klages (about her new novel).

After that I descended to the lobby to troll for a dinner date, hooking up with Ellen Datlow and a huge group of Clarion students for dinner at (as it turned out) the same nearby TexMex restaurant I’d eaten at the night before, Serrano’s. At my end of the table I talked mostly with Leslie Howle, who’d seen an advance screening of The Fountain and was very enthusiastic about it, having interviewed Darren Aronofsky and offering to let me see it for the website. We’ll see. The meal went long — there were over 20 of us, with one over-worked waiter, and we didn’t get food until an hour and half after we’d arrived…

Friday evenings at World Fantasy Con is the traditional mass autograph session, with virtually every writer in attendance situated along tables eager for fans to sign their books. There were sufficient nibblies and petit fours on tables outside the room so one could have noshed for the evening without actually having eaten dinner. I had two books to sign, and couldn’t find either writer — one of them, I knew, had gone off on the traditional power dinner held by agent Howard Morhaim, and didn’t return until the autograph event was folding. I stood in the lobby outside chatting with Ted Chiang and later Scott Edelman and John O’Neill, about Lost and HP Lovecraft and other things. There was a Del Rey-sponsored party that I checked into briefly, before catching the shuttle back to my hotel, where I caught up on e-mail and started, though did not finish, this entry about Friday.

Austin WFC Thursday

I flew in to Austin yesterday, actually, on Wednesday, to see an old friend of mine who’d moved from LA to the Austin outskirts just a few weeks ago. He’d scheduled his retirement in the nick of time, considering the recently flagging real estate market; he cashed out of his hillside Studio City house and bought a newly-constructed twice-the-size house here in Texas for rather less than half what he sold for in LA. It’s waaayyy out in the country though, in the next county in fact, southwest of Austin in a new development where the residents align philosophically between those who scorch-burn the native vegetation to plant sod and palm trees and those who attempt to cultivate their property using native plants. My friend is in the latter camp, and even took me to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center a few miles from his house to look at the varieties of plantlife native to central Texas. I noticed how much the native plants resembled those of the southern California foothills and deserts, though apparently the soil acidity here makes plants from the two areas mostly incompatible.

The World Fantasy Convention is large this year, perhaps oversold — the advertised ‘cap’ of 750 or 850 members being a polite fiction, apparently, if more memberships can be sold. A consequence of this is how many members this year have become stuck at outlying hotels; though the main hotel, the Renaissance Austin Hotel at the Arboretum, seems impressively large, a square layout with a huge central lobby and nine floors of room balconies and hallways looking down from above, many of us could get reservations only at the likes of the Fairfield Inns and Suites, some two or three miles up the road and along the freeway, accessible to the convention hotel via an hourly shuttle van. My relocated friend dropped me off here mid-afternoon, and after connecting my laptop to the internet (after an interval of over 24 hours — his DSL connection and my laptop not having got along), I shuttled over the Renaissance to check in with the convention, procur my weighty freebie book bag, and wander around the hotel. The dealers’ room is a bit cramped, but amazingly contains nothing but book dealers — no plush toys, no jewelry, no videos or CDs, no armor. The art show, such as it is, is even tinier, an arranged corridor along one wall of the dealers’ room. The lobby is large, with a generous bar area and a couple lounge areas.

There was a bit of programming this afternoon, but I didn’t make any of it. I connected with Liza and the Charles in the bar, visited with them and Ted C for a while before heading off for a quick dinner at a local TexMex place with Beth G before returning to the hotel for the International Horror Guild Awards ceremony at 8 p.m., efficiently conducted by a sharp-looking John Picacio. The ceremony was unfortunately notable for having none of the winners in attendance, except for Living Legend Award recipient Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. (Later some of us speculated that were such a recipient, presumably notified in advance, be unable to attend, surely the award itself would be postponed.) After that I hung out in the lobby and bar, chatted with John JA and Lawrence P, met Sarah L and others, until catching the shuttle back to my remote hotel, to go through email, post the IHG results, and this blog entry.

I suppose I wasn’t paying attention, but when I saw that this year’s WFC scheduled its awards banquet Saturday evening, rather than the traditional Sunday noontime, I assumed the convention itself would be over then, and so I scheduled my return flight for Sunday morning. My assumption is not the case; it turns out there’s a full day of programming on Sunday, including the always-fascinating judges’ panel, where the year’s judges debrief the result of the year’s awards. Alas, I shall miss it; I have to be back to work on Monday anyway.