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|Thursday, June 25th, 2015|
|Character is who we are when the lights go out?
A couple of friends posted a link to this
(a documentary about the 1977 New York City blackout), and while I have no direct memories of the blackout myself (we were living in Buffalo), the thing that caught my attention about this article was the excerpt from the program's press notes:
"That night, in the city that never sleeps, the divide between the haves and the have-nots became ever more apparent. In some neighborhoods, there was conviviality, as diners at the Windows on the World restaurant in the World Trade Center were treated to free champagne and allowed to remove their jackets and ties. Helpful citizens took to the streets to direct traffic. Impromptu block parties broke out, and bartenders served patrons in T-shirts and shorts. Upper East Side residents had candlelit dinners on the roof.
"But in the poorer neighborhoods of the city's boroughs, the power outage spurred near-immediate mayhem under the cover of darkness. As employees at Con Edison struggled to restore power to the elaborate system, people smashed windows and ripped security gates off storefronts, carting off washing machines, sofas, Pampers, TVs, refrigerators -- whatever they could carry. By the time the power was fully restored more than a day later, more than 1,600 businesses had been looted, over 3,700 people had been arrested, and firefighters had battled more than 1,000 fires."
That "divide between the haves and the have-nots" is the part that bears some thinking. What was it about the black out that highlighted that divide? The haves knew that, sooner or later, the lights would come back on, and life would continue as it had been. The have-nots, on the other hand... knew that, sooner or later, the lights would come back on, and life would continue as it had been. It wasn't that there were more police patrolling the upscale neighborhoods, and that they ignored the poorer places. Everybody was temporarily in the dark, but some of the people took that as a signal to continue living their lives in a temporary power outage. Others took that darkness as a signal to commit vandalism, steal, and basically act like animals. It wasn't that the "haves" were better prepared for a blackout, or that the "have-nots" suddenly felt an overwhelming need for TVs and refrigerators.
I've been poor, and I've been comfortably middle-class. Haven't experienced upper-class wealth, but having been through the other parts of the spectrum, I can't see myself turning to the vandalism and theft and animalistic behavior, regardless of how financially comfortable or not I am. I imagine that part of that is my upbringing. Perhaps it's more than part, but I just can't imagine breaking into a store and stealing appliances simply because the lights are out.
So what is it? How do people living in this country grow up to feel that such behavior is ever acceptable?
|Monday, June 22nd, 2015|
|The illegality of prosecuting crimes
I was trying to write a long screed against Mayor Bill de Blasio's remarks today, but it's too late to go so long, so... In this Newsday article
, he was quoted (at a protest against the Dominican Republic's plan to deport noncitizens) saying "It's clearly an illegal act, it is an immoral act, it is a racist act." If he wants to think it immoral, I'll give him that. It may indeed be racist (I'm not sure; the protesters are saying certain non-citizens are being given the boot for "looking" Haitian). But illegal? No. Deporting illegal aliens is by definition a legal act. One the United States does as well (although in not nearly the numbers we ought to). My ancestors chose to immigrate to the USA, and they did so legally (steerage class, but legally), they jumped through all the legal hoops (proving they weren't bringing in disease, showing they wouldn't be a burden on society, learning the native language, and applying for citizenship as soon as they could). Why have those basic acts of adopting a new country -- and being adopted by it -- become so burdensome that we have to accept "undocumented" immigrants, and that our mayor feels justified in saying that deporting those illegal aliens is an illegal act? Of course it's not easy to become a citizen: nothing worth having is ever easy.
|Thursday, June 18th, 2015|
That strange combination feeling of elation, relief, and malaise. Just finished a big project that consumed me for nearly two weeks, so it's done. I feel great that I finished it, relieved that it's over, and somewhat empty because I no longer have it demanding all my attention. Not to worry, though: I've got a line of six more waiting for my attention, so I'll be jumping right into the next.
Oh, and for those wondering what it was: turning a box of photocopies, computer print-outs, hand-written notes, etc., into a usable electronic manuscript for Dancing Through the Fire
, Tanith Lee's last collection, then editing it, and laying it out. Galleys will be ready and headed out to reviewers in a few days, and publication date is September 19, which would have been Tanith's birthday.
And no, I don't usually type the manuscripts myself. This was special because of who the author is. Everyone else gets to provide me with a usable electronic manuscript.
|Wednesday, June 17th, 2015|
|Sunday, June 14th, 2015|
|Jurassic World: pretty, but apparently set before the invention of story
All right, since so many of my friends are commenting on it, I'll throw out my three-cents worth of opinion on Jurassic World
(not that the studio or the box offices care: they're raking it in). It's gorgeous. Believable critters in a real-looking setting. Great visuals (although I could have done without the relentless product placement up front: that was just silly looking to my eye). But the problem, which doesn't really impact the viewing of the movie, arises as the credits are rolling and you're walking out of the theatre: I looked at my companion and said "that was very pretty. Too bad they didn't spend one percent of the visuals budget and actually come up with a story to go with it." Yep, apparently this movie is a direct descendant of Avatar
, which I first (and for the only time) saw on a rather small television screen: gorgeous visuals, no story worth the term.
And once again, I noticed the modern movie-making ethic: keep dialogue to a minimum and action to a maximum, to make translations into foreign markets cheaper. Seriously, how many minutes of screaming and running does any viewer need?
Also, we got the 3-D Imax screening experience, which made it even more gorgeous. And once again, I found myself thinking "why bother with 3-D? The glasses are uncomfortable over my glasses, and once again, it added almost nothing to a movie." Still waiting for a film-maker to find an actual, story-justified reason to use 3-D.
But of course nobody actually connected with the picture should care in the least what I think: a $200 million opening weekend and dangling threads the size of—well, the entire island plus dinosaur population—pretty much guarantee even more sequels. Enjoy it in a theatre; you probably won't like it as much on a television screen.
|Thursday, June 11th, 2015|
|Analog likes Tales of Time and Space
Reviewing in the July-August issue, Don Sakers says of Allen Steele's Tales of Time and Space
: "Allen Steele… writes the kind of science-based, extrapolative tales that we all enjoy.… Tales of Time and Space
brings together an even dozen of Steele's stories, and each one is a delight.… "The Big Whale" is a hilarious mash-up of Herman Melville and pulp detective stories.…" Read the full review here
|Sunday, May 31st, 2015|
Yesterday was BEA, the publishing industry's annual celebration of the book, which felt like it was aging a bit. Today was BookCon
, related to BEA, but open to the public, and smaller. Many of the exhibitors at BEA did not stick around for the weekend, but there were quite a few exhibitors who came only for the weekend. So it was a smaller show, and most of the exhibitors were selling their books (rather than offering them free to industry people in hopes of orders and reviews). Nevertheless, there were some freebies to be had. Many of those freebies were samplers, posters, and the like, but the lines to get them (and some books) signed were very long. And most gratifyingly: the attendees skewed much younger. Indeed, there were many, many teenagers (like middle school and high school ages) walking around. I found that a very positive sign for the future of the written word. Also, for a smaller show, I ran into more people I know, including Lawrence Schoen, Fran Wilde, Steve Saffel, Vivian Cheung, Alex Shvartsman, and one or two I'm forgetting at the moment.
So, if you're in New York, and want to support books, and check out what's going on, the show is open Sunday, too.
Below, photo of today's haul of books:
|Friday, May 29th, 2015|
BEA (Book Expo America) seems to be shrinking year by year, as large publishers decide it's too expensive and not worth it, and those who do attend tend to scale down their booths. It also makes it easier to cover the whole show (at least, the pieces that interest me) in one day. However, I didn't do much socializing. Ran into Circlet Press's Cecilia Tan and Peter Halasz on the show floor, and reconnected with Rome Quezada (formerly of the Science Fiction Book Club, now with Sterling). Regardless of the show's size, it's always good to see the relative health of the publishing industry, and the eternal hope for the next bestseller. Also very much in evidence were some smaller publishers and start-ups, taking a risk on the big expense.
I'm headed back to Javits tomorrow for BookCon
, which is an open-to-the-public version of BEA in its second year of existence. I haven't attended it before, so it'll be new to me, too. Maybe I'll see some of you there.
Below is a photo of the haul from this year's BEA. I'm getting more discriminating in what I want to carry home from the Javits Center, and the publishers, too, seem a little more selective in what they give out. But it looks like some good stuff.
|Tuesday, May 26th, 2015|
|Tanith Lee, 1947-2015
Tanith Lee's husband, artist John Kaiine, e-mailed me this morning with the news that "Tanith died peacefully in her sleep late Sunday night. I was with her. She had been very ill for a long time and suddenly deteriorated rapidly. She is no longer in pain."
I've already expressed my private condolences to him. Her friends are saying many wonderful things about her, which only make me sorrier I never got to meet her in person, though John did say she always liked working with me. I'm also sorry she didn't live long enough to see the publication of her forthcoming Fantastic Books collection, Dancing Through the Fire
. It will be out later this year, and I told several Tanith Lee fans about it just this weekend at Balticon. More news on scheduling when it's locked down.
In 2009, she was named a World Horror Grandmaster. In 2013, she received the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award. And this year she received the Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award. You can find longer obituaries of her proliferating across the web.tanith-lee.com
|Friday, May 22nd, 2015|
|Tangent likes "Romance on Four Worlds"
Colleen Chen, reviewing for Tangent Online
, says of Tom Purdom's Romance on Four Worlds
: "One can't help but fall for the charm of Joseph Louis Baske.... I got increasingly excited by Baske's adventures as I went through, and I particularly enjoyed a subtle mellowing-out of the writing in the later stories, a humor from Purdom that made Baske even more likable. Overall, the collection is a fun read with some depth, excellent world-building, and some interesting character building that makes the reader wonder what character even is. These are a strong bunch of stories that are even better together—definitely worth a look." Read the full review at the link!
|Thursday, April 30th, 2015|
|#1 New Release
Not entirely sure what this ribbon means, but I assume it's good. Glancing at the Amazon page
for Allen Steele's Tales of Time and Space
just now, I noticed this orange "#1 New Release" ribbon just under the stars. Woo hoo! (I think.)
|Monday, April 27th, 2015|
|A big idea
Back from Ravencon, which was fun, but not terribly profitable. Anyway, I found this: John Scalzi has featured Bud Sparhawk's new novel Distant Seas
in his The Big Idea blog feature
. In it, Bud talks about the creation of the novel, and his love of sailing. Recommended reading.
|Thursday, April 23rd, 2015|
|Ravencon this weekend
Another weekend, another convention. The next month is going to be filled with opportunities for me to get exhausted.
This weekend, it's a new one for me: Ravencon
, in Richmond, Virginia. As always, I'll be spending a lot of time at the Fantastic Books table in the dealers' room. And since we're launching three books this weekend (Allen Steele's "Tales of Time and Space", Bud Sparhawk's "Distant Seas", and Tom Purdom's "Romance on Four Worlds" -- all of which received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly
), I'm hoping to be very busy. But I won't be chained to the table all weekend, because I'm also on programming. My schedule, as far as I know it at the moment, is:
Friday at 6PM in Ballroom C: "85th Anniversary of Astounding Stories" with Bud Sparhawk.
Saturday at 3PM in Anna: "The Business End" with Rob Balder, Karen McCullough, and D. Alexander Ward.
Saturday at 5PM in Bon Air: "Fantastic Books Book Launch" (where we officially debut those books) with Tom Purdom, Bud Sparhawk, and Allen Steele.
Saturday at 9PM in Cove: "Schmoozing 101" with R.S. Belcher, Kevin Kelleher, and KT Pinto.
Saturday at 11PM in Chesterfield: "The Eye of Argon" with Gail Z. Martin and Michael A. Ventrella.
Sunday at 1PM in Ballroom E: "Let's Build a Space Habitat" with Jim Beall, Paula S. Jordan, Allen Steele, and Michael Z. Williamson.
Okay, that's a lot. Looks like I'm going to be busy this weekend. Hope to see some of you there!
|Friday, April 17th, 2015|
|Locus likes "Romance on Four Worlds"
Paul Di Filippo has some very good things to say about Tom Purdom's new book, Romance on Four Worlds
. In his review in Locus, Paul writes, "This whole moderately transhuman milieu of the initial adventure... llustrates Purdom's ability and desire to write the best postmodern SF that he can.... it's not any off-the-shelf inhabited Solar System scenario, but a clever fleshing out of trends visible in our present day." and also "Purdom succeeds in fashioning some farcical yet genuinely speculative and authentic romps along themes that are noticeably and regrettably absent from so much SF." Read the whole review at this link
. And chuckle (as I did) as Paul says "For two decades now, Tom Purdom has slowly and slyly, regardless of my dim-witted inattention, been building up a series of stories centered on a fellow who might be succinctly -- if reductionistically -- described as an 'interplanetary Casanova.'"
|Thursday, April 16th, 2015|
|Foolishly jumping into the Hugos mishegas
I told myself I wasn't going to get involved. I don't have the time or interest to argue Hugo rules. But enough of my friends are involved in the current debate that I keep hearing about it, so I have formed an opinion, which I want to share:
The Puppy Power people have changed the Hugo Awards, quite probably forever. You can cry about it or laugh about it, bemoan their evil deeds or try to take the moral high ground. But what you can't do is close Pandora's Box and shut them back in it.
What we're witnessing right now with the Hugo Awards is nothing more or less than the rise of party politics.
I'm a Presidential historian. When I think about party politics, I think of the early debate over the formation of parties (and George Washington's warning against it). I think of the schism within Washington's Cabinet, when the Federalists and Democrat-Republicans staked out their ends of the political spectrum. That was a real-world example of what we're seeing now: when there is a prize of some perceived value, people will naturally come together to exert their joint influence to try to take that prize.
The Federalist Party faded from the political scene, and in 1820, James Monroe was re-elected almost unanimously, because there was no concerted opposition to the Democrat-Republicans -- they were the only organized party. In 1824, with no real external opposition, the Democrat-Republicans splintered, causing a four-way election to be thrown to the House of Representatives, which chose John Quincy Adams as President. In 1828, the fractured party turned into the Democratic Party (which backed and elected Andrew Jackson), while the other pieces slowly coalesced into an opposition party. In 1836, that opposition party finally got its act together as the Whigs, but they weren't consolidated enough to make a strong showing in the election, and Martin Van Buren won over a variety of Whig candidates. In 1840, the Whigs figured out that power came from everybody in the party supporting one candidate, and William Henry Harrison was elected. In 1856, the remnants of the Whig Party spawned the Republicans, and in 1860, they won their first Presidential election with Abraham Lincoln. Since then, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party have maintained their shared stranglehold on American politics, recognizing that a hundred million random voters are not nearly as powerful as an organization of fifty million voters, and that keeping them organized requires both an articulated set of goals and a strong opposition.
So, to bring this back to the Hugo Awards: we have something which a significant number of people value. And it's something that has a set of operating instructions, which can be followed and gamed. Now, after sixty years of giving out Hugo Awards, some of the voters have realized that acting in concert gives them power within the system, and the Puppies Party has been born and instantly proven its viability.
Many people who are not part of the Puppies Party are decrying their actions, rending their garb, declaiming their love for the Hugos, and announcing their hatred for those people who would dare to "hijack" the award with concerted effort. The Puppies Party appears to have issued an ultimatum that they will keep doing what they've done in the future; I don't doubt they can (I do doubt the value of doing it, but not the ability to do it).
So, to those opposed to the Puppies Party, I can only say: welcome to party politics. If you don't like what they've done, you have a few choices:
1. You can do away with the Hugo Awards, simply retire them as a concept.
2. You can change the rules to make party politics impossible (though off the top of my head, I can't see an easy way to do so).
3. You can embrace the not-so-modern paradigm and form your own political party.
You can hate the concept of politics within the "purity" of the Hugo Awards, but now that a party has been formed and started operation, complaining about its existence will be a futile exercise. The Puppies Party has the power of unity that those who oppose it don't yet have. So, who among you is going to step up and start the conversation to form your party?
And for our European viewers, none of this thinking is to deny the validity of the parliamentary system. Perhaps the Hugo Awards may evolve into a multi-party system. Although the awards, as winner-take-all prizes, do tend to lend themselves more to a two-party system.
|Friday, April 10th, 2015|
|Tuesday, April 7th, 2015|
|Double Publication Day
Today is the official date of publication for two brand new Fantastic Books books:Tangled Ribbons
by Carren Strock - a paranormal romance novelThese Words are Haunted
by Scott Edelman - a horror collection
For all the details, see this press release
|Monday, March 23rd, 2015|
|Tuesday, March 17th, 2015|
Hey, fellow US numismatists: I was just rolling some coins, and had a potentially crazy idea.
We keep hearing the grumbles about the cost of making the cent, and calls for its abolition (though that probably won't happen anytime soon). But what about a major revamp of the smaller coins? Ignoring the hassle of the massive re-education program that would come with the changes, how would it be if we swapped the sizes of the little coins? Make the cent the size of the current dime, the nickel the size of the current cent, and the dime the size of the current nickel? Then, the coins would be in increasing order of size and value equally (except for the half and dollar coins, but those are a different windmill; and I miss the cartwheels), and the cost of the metal to make a cent would drop down to about the value of the coin.
So, am I nuts, or should I make this proposal to the Mint?
|Monday, March 16th, 2015|
|PW Clean Sweep
I hate to make my books share the spotlight with each other, but in this case, it's almost inevitable. The March 16 issue of Publishers Weekly
has starred reviews of two forthcoming Fantastic Books books.
Reviewing Allen Steele's new collection Tales of Time and Space
writes: "...eloquent... a wonderful introduction to Steele's work, in which he stretches his talents..."
Reviewing Tom Purdom's fix-up novel Romance on Four Worlds
writes: "...delightful... a surprising amount of depth and sympathy... These deeply human post-human romances exemplify a new and exciting way of combining romance and SF, and they are a pleasure from beginning to end."
That makes it a clean sweep. Counting last week's issue of PW
, all three books that Fantastic Books is publishing on April 24 now have PW
starred reviews hanging on them. I'm thrilled!