Monthly Archives: August 2009

All-Time Novels Polls

One topic I talked about with Charles Brown the last time I spoke with him (that May weekend trip to the Bay Area I blogged about earlier, and which CNB wrote about in his June issue editorial), was the idea of doing another, or perhaps several, polls of all-time best novels. A reader had written him suggesting an update, since the last all-time novels poll was done by Locus way back in 1998 (my Locus Index to SF Awards has the results posted here), though I’d done a similar poll for short fiction, anthologies, and collections on the website the following year (here).

As I’ve alluded too frequently in this blog, I’ve been compiling such polls and expert-lists and lists of best sf/f/h titles from reference books for some years now with the intention of supplementing the awards data in the SF Awards Index — and some of that additional data will see the light of day in the next update to the Awards Index, currently planned for early November after the World Fantasy Awards winners are announced. One element of this index expansion will be what might be called a ‘meta-list’ of best SF novels (and, separately, fantasy novels, and perhaps horror novels), in the manner of the Top 100 Books Meta-List that Newsweek magazine posted on its website a couple months ago. A definitive top 100 SF novels list, so far as one can be objectively compiled. (I’ve been iterating results of such a list for some time now, as new source lists keep appearing and I keep refining the relative ranking criteria.)

So new reader polls of all-time novels would be a valuable addition to this resource pool. I’m willing to set up such polls on the website and compile the results, and I’m also open to any suggestions about how best to set up such polls — keeping in mind that this might as easily be a series of polls as a single poll. Separate polls by decade? By novels published before 1980 and since? Separately by SF, fantasy, and horror? Should poll forms include seed titles of likely candidates, as the annual online Locus Poll ballots have done (but which some voters object to), or not? I have some ideas along these lines already, but suggestions are welcome — email me privately, or comment to this post.

Cash for Clunkers Adventure

My partner and I participated in helping to boost the US economy (or at least the fortunes of car dealers) this past month, by taking part in the ‘Cash for Clunkers’ program that made sufficiently inefficient gas guzzlers eligible for a $3500 – $4500 trade-in value toward a new vehicle with sufficiently better gas mileage. Yeong was in China last month when the program became big news for having nearly run through its initial budget of $1 billion so quickly. I emailed him a link to a news story about the program, and added, yr Ford Explorer? His aged 1994 Ford Explorer with 190,000 miles on the odometer had been sitting in a driveway, undriven for months and gathering dust. By the time he and his two college-aged sons returned home, they had speculated on a range of potential replacements, settling on the small SUV solution space, partly to keep some sort of SUV in the extended family and partly to replace for daily commuting chores Yeong’s well-worn BMW convertible, itself with 130,000 miles on the dial and increasingly expensive to maintain, but which he does not want to sell.

So beginning the weekend of August 15th we made the rounds of car dealers, focusing on three candidates that were highly rated by Consumer Reports and which were popular [taking college-aged perspectives into account] — the Honda CR-V, the Toyota RAV4, and the Subaru Forester. Over the course of the weekend we visited three Honda dealers, four or five Toyota dealers, and two Subaru dealers throughout the Los Angeles/Orange County area. The Honda and Subaru dealers had typical customer traffic given the weak economy, i.e. not much, while the Toyota dealers were overwhelmed with customers. The first Toyota dealer we visited had no cars on the lot to test drive at all. The second had two — oh wait, that one just sold, said another salesman running up to us as we prepared for a test drive — had one RAV4 to test drive, and not in the color or model that we had in mind. On Sunday we stopped by Longo Toyota, one of the largest dealers in Southern California — a huge place the size of a mall, with its own Starbucks in one corner and two cafeteria-sized rooms full of customers filling out paperwork at little square tables. There were a dozen or so RAV4s on the lot, but we weren’t inclined to join that customer herd.

So eventually… we bought the Subaru Forester. We decided the Honda was solid and dependable but rather dull; the RAV4 was fun but hard to get (and under the circumstances Toyota dealers were demanding full sticker price); the Forester wasn’t as common (once I’d started noticing, I saw CR-Vs and RAV4s *everywhere*), was fun to drive, and a better value (with all-wheel drive standard, rather than an option, for a similar price). I’ll also admit that one reason we considered it in the first place, and partly what swayed me in its direction, was that Subaru appeals to a specific marketing segment to which we happen to belong, its ads for the Forester appearing in several special-interest magazines I subscribe to…

But wait, the story isn’t over yet. Ironically, car dealers were finding it a bit of a hassle to deal with ‘cash for clunkers’ customers, because the government requirements for clunker rebates were exacting about the necessary documentation. Two requirements are (were) that the trade-in have been both registered and insured for the past 12 months. OK, here are insurance cards, and here’s the current registration out of the glove box. But wait, the registration runs November to November, so that proves only registration for the past 9 months. But who saves old registration forms? Most people don’t. [Well, I do.] So our first attempt to close a deal stalled, late that Sunday night. Yeong had to make a trip to the DMV [California’s Department of Motor Vehicles] the following week to get documentation showing he’d registered the Explorer every year for the past 15 years since he’d bought it. And by that time — sorry, Subaru of Thousand Oaks! — he’d contacted a couple other Subaru dealers via the web and gotten a better offer on the model he wanted. Despite that hassle, it all ended well, with him taking delivery of his shiny black new Forester, for $500 above invoice, last Friday.

Is there any kind of SFnal connection here? Well, I’ll say this: I appreciate cars and have been attentive to car designs since I was, what, 10 years old. I’ve saved a cool pictorial of future cars from a mid-1960s Boys’ Life magazine that perhaps I’ll scan and post someday. As a driver, of family and rental cars for a couple decades, I’m one of the legion of customers who’ve been so unimpressed by US cars that their makers have been going bankrupt lately. (Thus our solution space of Japanese makes, though of course actual vehicles are mostly built in the US or Canada.) All of that aside, it’s worth noting how far car technology has advanced. All cars, even the US models I get when I rent on business trips, are better built, more solid, and with more features, than those ’50s and ’60s “classics” revered by collectors. Features that were unimaginable a couple decades ago are standard now. Navigation systems are especially cool, and our new Subaru has a Nav screen that displays current location with an ever-shifting map display that orients itself to the direction the car is driving. It’s just one example of how, for those us paying attention, the future we’ve imagined and thrilled about for so long is arriving in reality, day by day.

Roundtable Renovation

As promised in the previous post, the Roundtable Blog has now been recast to a format matching the rest of the site. A detail or two still needs adjusting, e.g. the Contributors list is offset a bit, because Blogger wants to format it as an unordered list, and I’ve managed to remove the automatic bullets but not yet the automatic indentation. So many little details…

I’m glad to see more activity on the Roundtable lately, especially in the comments. We’ll never be Tor.com, I suppose, but the idea of the Roundtable has always been to attract the kind and volume of serious discussion that has been appearing lately. Always open for reconsideration is how to present this on the homepage; is the block beneath the current issue block appropriate? Should the Roundtable block be more or less prominent?

Next up: resetting the News Blog. After that: the next phase of the Awards Index expansion. (I have a topic I’ll post on the Roundtable myself, in the next couple weeks, based on some of the work I’ve been doing on those expansion projects.)

Meanwhile, Behind the Scenes…

I have, off and on, for several days now, been working to complete the final phase of the Locus Online Redesign Project, which means specifically to convert the two initial site blogs, News and Roundtable, to the format of the site homepage and the other blogs (such as Reviews), with the same page width, the same menu bar across the top, and a similar right sidebar.

Converting those two initial blogs is not a trivial task, alas; those blogs descended from different stylesheets, and different Blogger templates, than the current batch, and, well, it’s like trying to plastic-surgically modify cousins a couple times removed to appear identical. But I expect to resolve the details soon, in another day or two.

Meanwhile, I’ve read a few books lately (as displayed in the right sidebar here), and plan to resume my own style of brief book notes/reviews in this blog shortly…. as soon as I finish those redesign tasks.

We Also Serve Who Sit Home and Post

No, I am not at this year’s Worldcon in Montreal, I am sorry to report; I’m missing Worldcon for only the second time in 20 years (the other time being two years ago in Japan); the economy has affected Locus Online’s discretionary budget for convention trips, leaving only the upcoming World Fantasy Con as a potential con attendance for this year. (Needless to say, there is no corporate (Locus) travel account for business trips, at least not for electronic editors-in-chief; advertising revenue from the site is down some 50% from last year; and day-job income has been cut via furlough days, never mind annual merit raises.) I’d looked forward to Montreal, a city I’ve never visited, but it has not worked out. Maybe someday.

I’ve used some extra time this past week to catch up on posts to the website, and to work those continual background projects I keep alluding to and which I promise will see the light of Google searches real soon now.

I understand that a wake for Charles N. Brown was held earlier today, Saturday, at the convention, and presumably a report and photos from that will appear in Locus Magazine. Various awards results have been announced at the convention, I’ve seen from other websites, and I’ve posted breaking news links on the homepage since the Locus editors now responsible for the site’s News blog are preoccupied at the con.

I see that the motion to eliminate the Semiprozine category failed — though I also saw a post somewhere (I’ve lost the link) that said a motion passed to re-examine the definition of the category (to specify that no one makes a primary income from the publication) in such away that might well make Locus Magazine ineligible anyway. As a recipient of a Hugo in a category that was eliminated for whatever reason, I sympathize. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.