Monthly Archives: October 2007

Up and Down Vermont, to Saratoga Springs

Arrived Saratoga Springs, and uncharmed by the hotel, which does its best to be invisible — from the street, hidden inside a bland ‘conference center’; as you enter from the front, trying to find reception, an unmarked counter; as you enter from the open parking lot in back, trying to find the elevators, which are in an inconspicuous corner by a door marked ‘no exit’. It took registration three times to get me into a room whose door worked and which wasn’t already occupied. And the wifi doesn’t work in my room; after two calls to their help desk (a hotel online provider called ‘stayonline’), they have no idea when they will get around to getting it fixed. Something about having to power cycle one of the access ports. So now I’m sitting in the hotel business center, while a janitor squirts windex on the table tops around me and, oops, on my glasses.

Oh, and my room has the world’s noisiest air conditioner.

Will try to answer urgent emails tonight, but no time for routines ones, or blink posts, etc. Tomorrow maybe, hopefully.

(Note that these posts from the East Coast are written, local time, three hours later than the timestamps you see, which are set to PDT.)

Update Wednesday morning: wifi seems OK today. More later.

Provincetown to Walden to Vermont

Yesterday we spent in Provincetown, fortunate that the weather cleared leaving a brisk, breezy, sunny day. We drove along the National Seashore, climbed the Pilgrim Monument — the tallest all-granite structure in the US, it claims; from the top one can see the towers of Boston, 42 miles to the northwest — and shopped the shops and galleries of Commercial Street. Today was a drive through New England countryside: back around the Cape, up through Massachusetts with a layover hike around Walden Pond, then into New Hampshire a ways before crossing on route 101 through Keene into Vermont, where we landed at a homey bed & breakfast near Chester. The good weather is persisting, and several people have remarked that the foliage color shift is actually a bit late this year, so rather than being 2 or 3 weeks late to see it, we’re fortuitously right about on time. Tomorrow we plan more driving through Vermont, then down to the Berkshires back in Massachusetts, a stop in Albany to send my partner on a flight home (he has to be back for work and then a family trip to China next weekend), before I arrive in Saratoga Springs Tuesday night.

Provincetown

I’m in Provincetown, MA, this evening, after taking a red-eye flight from LA late Friday to Boston, landing in pre-dawn rain, then driving a rental car south and east and northward (the installed GPS navigation system was fun), via Plymouth Rock and the seaside villages of Dennis and Harwich and Chatham and Orleans, to this remote resort town, where by lucky chance I seem to have booked a room in the hotel with the best restaurant in town, the Crowne Point Inn. Between lunch and dinner we’ve eaten oysters, clam chowder, lobster, and other local delicacies. Over the next few days we’ll be winding our way across New England, to arrive in Sarasota Springs on Tuesday, to attend the World Fantasy Con. I have only a couple appointments or commitments for that weekend, so for the rest I’ll be playing it by ear. For those who will be there, I’ll see you then.

New Developments: Fires; E-Mail

The wind died to almost nothing today, which is good news since that removes the major cause of the fires’ spreading. But, as I drove home from work around 5 p.m., the radio traffic reporter noted in passing that “I’m getting reports of a new fire breaking out in Woodland Hills” — !!?! — “near Ventura Blvd and Shoup, no details yet” — ??!??

That would be about a mile and 1/2 northwest of me. I continued driving home examining the horizon for obvious plumes of smoke… nothing. I even drove up onto a ridge near my house to get a view to the west– nothing. At home, nothing on the news, or on the SigAlert traffic map, which might indicate a slowdown in the event of some major fire… nothing. Perhaps it was a small brush fire quickly contained? A car fire on along the Ventura Freeway? Don’t know. Enough to provide a bit of a scare, though. A prompt to actually do some disaster planning.

Earlier today I saw newsgroup posts to the effect that David Brin, who lives down near San Diego, I’m not sure exactly where, was in an evacuated area but has since returned home.

Meanwhile, the CI Host folks responded in a bit more detail this morning, to the effect that the problems with our e-mail service, due to the ‘var partition’ filling up, is due to the enormous volume of spam e-mail that’s coming in; it overwhelms the server. Mm-hmm. I’ve wondered for a while now if our explicit posting of e-mail address on the homepage of our site isn’t an increasingly foolish practice, *inviting* spammer robots to add us to their distribution lists… And so now I’ve started removing explicit e-mail links, and have updated the Contact page on the site with roundabout text descriptions of the e-mail addresses to use should anyone who hasn’t already dealt with us wish to do so… If that doesn’t work, we discontinue the locusmag.com e-mail accounts altogether, and switch to something else — that’s relatively secret.

SoCal Fires; E-mail Problems Again

The winds abated somewhat in my area today, though devastating fires continue to burn down in San Diego County and in the mountains around Lake Arrowhead to the east of me. The easing winds meant all the smoke isn’t blowing quite so rapidly out to sea; instead it spread a pall of brown overcast over the entire San Fernando Valley today.

So what’s the skiffy, utopian solution to this recurrent problem? Non-flammable, indestructible, houses? That are affordable? Most houses, at least in this part of the country, are still built with wood frames (bricks, obviously, are too prone to earthquake damage), as if inviting to be burned down, eventually.

In other news, Locus is having problems yet again with e-mail service, which keeps dropping out due, it keeps turning out, to some problem with the ‘var partition’ on our dedicated server at CI Host, that’s C I Host, to which I pay a handsome sum annually to maintain said server. These days, a phone number is impossible to find on their site, and their Live Chat never seems to be online, so I resort to posting ‘trouble tickets’ and sending email. Tell me what I can do if anything to keep this from happening again, I plead with them. They close the trouble tickets with a cheery “thank you!” and never answer my questions. And the intervals between recurrences of this problem are getting shorter and shorter.

Firestorm

Last night the Santa Ana winds kicked in around 2 a.m., shaking the house and howling around the eaves, and so it was no surprise that I woke up this morning and saw horrific fires erupting in Malibu and elsewhere. I’ve spent most of today working on the website, with the TV on across the room to watch the continuous, ongoing news, and it’s not getting any better; now fires in Canyon Country, 15 or 20 miles northeast of me, have reached edges of the suburbs and have started to consume homes. (Oddly, it hasn’t been hot — it hasn’t been much above 70 F all day, here — but it’s *dry*, following a record breaking drought year, and the winds, kicking up to 60 and 80 mph last night, caused power lines to arc and subsequently spread sparks.) Other fires have been erupting all day in various spots in southern California, from LA County down to San Diego, in seemingly preternatural coincidence, some dying down or quickly put down, others growing into treacherous firestorms. It’s something I’ve witnessed all my life, living here in SoCal, aware that a nearby conflagration could drop an ember onto my rooftop at any moment…

Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to catch up on book listings before leaving next weekend for New England and the World Fantasy Convention. The reformatted homepage is posted; the Site Map now links this homepage capture from earlier today before the redesign went online. There’s been a curious debate among SMOFs about the difficulties with the yet-again-proposed Best Website Hugo Award, since websites constantly change; how can you vote on the website as it was in the year of eligibility? For what it’s worth, I’ve always kept archived captures of previous homepages, and every redesign, such as today’s, uses a new style sheet link, so older pages are never changed. It seems only the honest thing to do.

Coming Soon: Latest Redesign

…of the homepage. Expanding it again, width-wise. If it’s good enough for CNN and Slate, not to mention SciFi.com, it’s good enough for Locus Online. Not to mention the extra advertising spots the new layout provides (e.g. a square spot underneath the latest issue block). Look for it soon, possibly sometime this coming weekend.

Movie Note: Michael Clayton

It’s quite incidental to the film, but I find it significant as an example of typical, or atypical, Hollywood film-making: late in this new George Clooney legal-thriller (which was excellent), we see a car bomb go off from the point of view of the two tough guys who planted it, on a hillside maybe half mile from the explosion. We see the *light* of the explosion a split second before we *hear* the explosion — just as would happen in real life, though most people wouldn’t realize it. It’s the sort of thing Hollywood films usually ‘correct’ for, to avoid raising questions in ordinary audiences’ minds; but this time they didn’t. Maybe they just didn’t think of it.

Meanwhile, planning my trip to World Fantasy Con. I’ll be arriving the weekend before in the Boston area, and plan to drive across Massachussetts and nearby states, time permitting, to stop in Albany Tuesday evening and arrive in Saratoga Springs on Wednesday evening, to check in. (Thanks to a tip from Jonathan Strahan, I made my hotel reservation like, sevent months ago; I’m in the main hotel, even have an ‘executive suite’.) My con schedule is wide-open; I’m not on the program. Look forward to seeing faithful readers there.

And Then I Read: Bova and Gibson

Trying to be more diligent in recent months about keeping up with important books, including books that have won awards and that I’d not previously read, I got around to Ben Bova’s Titan, winner of this year’s John W. Campbell Memorial Award, last week. Bova is a writer I sampled a few times back early in my reading career, about the time he was beginning to write ‘big’ adult novels — Millennium, Colony — as well as items like The Starcrossed, a fictional account of the development of the infamous Canadian TV series for which Harlan Ellison wrote the pilot, dutifully novelized by Edward Bryant under the original title Phoenix Without Ashes, and which Harlan subsequently disowned… but I’m drifting off-topic. Point is, Bova struck me as a competent, reliable SF writer, but not one I felt compelled to keep up with. So many books, so little time. One moves on. Anne McCaffrey was another writer I followed for a while in the same manner…

So now after 20 years or so I’ve read another Ben Bova novel, and I can’t say I feel I’ve missed anything. My reaction to Titan is that it’s bloated and contrived. It’s about a cylindrical habitat in orbit of Saturn, full of refugees from oppressive religious societies back on Earth, which sends a probe down to Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, to search for life there. The probe promptly malfunctions and refuses to upload its data to the habitat. Meanwhile, there are political intrigues aboard the habitat, as the current leader schemes to retain his power, and a rival candidate for his re-election takes up the habitat’s Zero Population Growth policy as her campaign issue. By ‘bloated’ I mean that the narrative constantly repeats issues already established; this is a book you might easily set aside for 3 weeks, then pick up again, and the next chapter would recount everything already established, sometimes but not always from a different character’s perspective. (It’s the Platonic opposite of the precise narratives of writers like Gene Wolfe, who never repeat anything.) By ‘contrived’ I mean that the issues that drive the narrative are simplistic or hinge on false dilemmas — e.g., if women start having babies in spite of the ZPG policy, scientific research aboard the habitat will be doomed! (Yes, that’s what they say…)

I did track down a couple reviews (Adam Roberts’ recent review for Strange Horizons nails it in excruiating detail), though I didn’t see any of them note the odd resemblances — I’m not sure they’re intentional enough to call them allusions — to 2001: A Space Odyssey. To wit: a robot (the probe on Titan) takes seemingly independent action in response to apparent conflict in its primary commands; parts aboard the ship seem to malfunction but when replaced check out perfectly; weird things happen when the moons of Saturn [Jupiter in the film version of 2001, but it was Saturn in the book] line up; and at the very end [slight spoiler here] of the book, something triggers a signal into deep space…

Nevertheless, if Bova’s novel isn’t literary or cutting edge by any means, it does strike me that it’s a sort of ‘meat and potatoes’ science fiction that presumably attracts steady readers, book after book, by exploring basic SF themes in a way that doesn’t require the reader’s knowledge of sophisticated genre tropes to understand…

And my impression of recent winners of the Campbell Award… is that winners are being selected as much on the basis of their bona fides as writers of true blue hard science fiction, as on the qualities of any particular book; and by the same token, are as much career awards as they are awards to individual novels.

And then I read… William Gibson’s Spook Country, a polar opposite to Bova’s novel in many ways. Gibson is sophisticated and is cutting edge and is and precise — and concise… The novel is a designer thriller; Gibson is a writer of surfaces and images, but also of convoluted and complex scenarios that don’t play off formula notions of good guys and bad guys, and even though the entire book boils down to a mystery about a certain shipping container (those big box containers that ride ocean-going cargo ships and are then transferred onto railroad flat cars), it’s the details and filigrees that make it fascinating and vibrant. That it’s set in the present day — well, 2006 — makes it all the more compelling and realistic, if perhaps in a secret-history sort of way.

And that I happened to visit Vancouver just a few months ago, and drove around the city just enough to apprecite Gibson’s descriptions of those docking gantries, and the bridges, and the island and the suspension bridge and the looming mountains to the north, made it an especially interesting read for me. (Not to mention the very specific sites early in the book along Sunset Boulevard, in my home town…)

Enough for now; I should be catching up on e-mail, and writing book listing descriptions…