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|Saturday, August 29th, 2015|
|Is reality for those who can't imagine?
I saw a commercial for the forthcoming Muppets series (which I'm dreading for its reality format), and had a thought about the rise of so-called reality TV. Is it a result of an increasingly jaded television audience? Specifically, is it because television viewers can no longer watch the story, the characters portrayed, without thinking about the actors as actual people? In reality television, the characters talk to the camera, explaining their feelings and thoughts (since apparently the viewer can't tell what they're feeling through their acting). But they're also pushing away the conceit of the viewer looking in on another world, and instead inviting the viewer in to the behind-the-camera side of making the television program in this world.
As I'm writing this, I'm also wondering if the appreciation of reality TV is related to a decreasing interest in reading fiction. Specifically, the willing suspension of disbelief that we fiction writers expect of our readers, and that film-makers expect of their viewers. If you can fully immerse yourself in the made-up world of the television program, you accept the characters the actors are portraying as people, and ignore the actors portraying them (just as you can accept clothes draped on a mannequin without thinking about the mannequin). But in the reality version, you're not watching the story; you're watching the people who are making the story. You're not interacting with the characters, you're interacting with the actors portraying the characters.
So, what do you think? Is reality television for people with lazy imaginations? Or have I completely missed the mark again?
|Thursday, August 20th, 2015|
|They're not hacktivists, they're religious extremists
Using the term "hacktivists" to describe those who stole the private data from Ashley Madison and posted it on the internet is imputing to them a certain nobility they do not deserve. They are not champions of an honorable cause: they are the moral equivalent of the taliban, al qaida, and the terrorist group isis. These "hacktivists" have determined what is "moral" and what is "immoral," and are trying to impose their view on the world, just as those other, more recognized terrorist groups have done. But with so many focusing on "cheating" as the main thrust of the story, we're in danger of ignoring the true criminals involved in the act. And if we do accept their action "because the only people injured were 'cheaters'," what happens when these religious zealots in hackers' disguise decide that another secretive group should be outed, perhaps members of Alcoholics Anonymous, or people who've sought abortion counseling, or Masons? Stop using the term hacktivists and call them what they are: religious terrorists.
|Monday, August 17th, 2015|
|Midwest Book Review recommends The Heads of Cerberus
It's one of our reprinted public domain titles (although with a new introductory essay by editor Darrell Schweitzer), but the Midwest Book Review has just recommended The Heads of Cerberus
by Francis Stevens, writing, in part "This novel should be much more available than it has been. It does stereotype its characters, but the author stayss away from insulting stereotypes. It certainly works as a dystopian novel, and is very much worth the reader's time." See the full review in their August 2015 issue
|Wednesday, August 12th, 2015|
|Hurry up, election day is coming!
I'm a big political junkie, even though I rarely discuss my own political views. But there comes a point when even the biggest fans of something will say "enough!" And I think I'm there.
I just heard a CNN anchor ask a Bush campaign spokesperson if the campaign is worried because Jeb Bush has fallen to seventh in some poll, in regards to the upcoming Iowa caucuses. I heard the question, I heard the answer ("he's tenth from the bottom! It's a glass half-full or half-empty question."), and I said "enough is enough. Why am I bothering to listen to the pablum?"
But then I wondered about that poll. I wondered how it was phrased. Specifically, the question I would love to have included in that poll -- and every other political poll that is run in the next six months -- is: "Had we not asked your opinion, would you have been thinking about the Presidential election of 2016 at all? How much of an impact, beyond the non-stop political reporting, does the Presidential election of 2016 have on your life right now, in the summer of 2015? Do you think we ought to even bother talking about the campaign and the candidates at this point, when the Iowa caucus (on February 1, 2016) is more than five months in the future, and it's only 434 days until election day (November 8, 2016)?" Sure, those questions may not be scientifically fair, but the results would probably send every news organization in the country scurrying to find actual news for the next several months, and that wouldn't be a bad thing.
|Thursday, August 6th, 2015|
|The first half of the first Republican presidential "debate" of 2016
Saw the first Republican "debate" this evening, trying to decide if I want to bother watching the second. It's not because I'm a confirmed Democrat (or Republican, for that matter), but because the "debate" is very uninformative. When you put seven or ten people on a stage, and ask them all the same (or similar) questions, and then limit their answers to 60 or 30 seconds each, you don't get anything informative, nor even interesting. Instead, you get a whole bunch of people trying to sound likable and knowledgeable in a series of sound bites that quickly run together so you remember almost nothing. Indeed, you'll have to listen to the pundits after the fact to see who "won," (and if you're like me, you'll disagree with those pundits anyway).
I watched, I listened. All I could take away from it is that I'm partial to Carly Fiorina and George Pataki (out of the seven on stage).
But the other reason I don't like this format of information presentation is that it has nothing to do with the reason we're judging these people. Being President of the United States is emphatically not about speaking in sound bites. I want to know that my President is thoughtful and perhaps a little visionary. I want to know that my President can follow a thought longer than 30 seconds, and that he doesn't shy away from in-depth studying of big issues to come up with potentially complex solutions that may take an hour to explain and a decade to implement. Being President is all about really big issues. Forcing candidates for the office to answer seemingly complex questions in a few sentences in a few seconds is almost as meaningless as requiring candidates for office to be fund-raisers.
But yeah, I'll probably listen to the second debate, too. Because that's the type of person I am. Oh, and remember, it's only a scant FIFTEEN MONTHS until election day, so we have to decide like right now who we're going to vote for (ugh).
|IGMS reviews that I almost missed
Just discovered that Intergalactic Medicine Show
reviewed two of our books... in May. Of Allen Steele's Tales of Time and Space
, reviewer Alvaro Zinos-Amaro said "The collection is... a robust sampler of Steele's recent work... these stories are richly ideated and neatly conceived.... History, and an acute perception of the passage of time, pulse throughout the collection. Alternate pasts, counter-factual presents and retro-futures provide Steele with elegant parallax shifts through which to examine our deepest impulses and drives." To read the full review, see this link
At the same time, but on a different page
, he wrote of Tom Purdom's Romance on Four Worlds
: "Tom Purdom has been writing high quality science fiction for some time... yet despite his tenure in the field and the excellence of his work... he is not particularly well-known with modern readers, probably because his specialty, despite a handful of novels in the 1960s and 1970s, is the short form. Thus it was a particular treat when Fantastic Books brought us Lovers & Fighters, Starships & Dragons
, Purdom's (first!) collection in 2014. And so it is a particular delight again that Fantastic Books has now issued Romance on Four Worlds
, a collection of four thought-provoking, richly realized novellas centered on the subject of romantic love against the backdrop of a Solar System in various stages of human colonization.... these exotic settings and a series of prolific sf-nal extrapolations... recall John Varley at his best.... Purdom's treatment of situations and subjects that could easily be melodramatic, solipsistic, or even embarrassing is consistently thoughtful, sensitive and mature. There is a meditative quality in these novellas that hovers above even the most climactic sequences.... these four novellas convey to us that sense of endless possibility, offering marvelous vistas into splendidly realized futures full of literal and emotional color."
And a request: if you see reviews of Fantastic Books' books, do please let me know. Odds are, I've seen them. But (as in these cases), it's possible that I've missed them, that the authors have missed them, and that we'd love to see them. Thanks!
|Thursday, July 30th, 2015|
|Pi-Con this weekend
Don't recall if I mentioned that this weekend is another science fiction convention: Pi-Con
in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. Actually the hotel is in Bradley International Airport. I will (of course) be in the dealers' room for much of the weekend, but I'm also well-programmed:
Friday, 3pm: "What Editors Look For" (part of the writers' workshop).
Saturday, 10am: "Are SF and Fantasy Anti-Democratic?" with Susan de Guardiola, Lisa Evans, and Carl Fink.
Saturday, 3pm: "Has Fandom Abandoned SF?" with Susan de Guardiola, Walter Hunt, and Catt Kingsgrave.
Saturday, 5pm: "What is a Book Worth?" with Jennifer Bresnick, Nicholas Checker, and, Trisha J. Wooldridge.
Sunday, 11am: "The Pros and Perils of the Prime Directive" with Susan de Guardiola and Ken Kingsgrave-Ernstein.
Looking at that list, I'm realizing they've given me a lot of panels with question marks in the title. Wonder if that means something?
Anyway, hope to see some of you there.
|Saturday, July 25th, 2015|
|Friday, July 17th, 2015|
|Spreading the word about "Dancing Through the Fire"
After doing the proper publicity blitz (at least in regards to sending out pre-publication galleys), I find I still have a few copies of the ARC of Tanith Lee's forthcoming collection Dancing Through the Fire
. Any suggestions as to where they'll do the most good? Perhaps a book blogger with a decent following and a taste for the fantastical? Or a good friend of yours who talks about books in some massive media outlet? I already sent to the usual review outlets (the major sf/f magazines, the major book review magazines).
|Wednesday, July 8th, 2015|
|Locus likes "Tales of Time and Space"
The July 2015 issue of Locus
calls Allen Steele's collection Tales of Time and Space
(which Fantastic Books published in May) a "New & Notable" book. In Russell Letson's review in the same issue, he says "Steele's work has enough range, and his romantic streak is deep enough, to suggest that in an earlier age he might have become the kind of utility-outfielder magazine writer he pays homage to in 'The Jekyll Island Horror'." Letson continues, "these stories... a tightly grouped sample of his work (nine appeared in 2012-13), and setting them in context with the generally autobiographical headnotes gives the collection more heft than it would have had otherwise, and makes it a welcome look into the processes that produce the fiction."
|Tuesday, July 7th, 2015|
|More praise for Fantastic Books' April releases
The September issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact
is out, and in Don Sakers' book review column, two of the five books he comments on are from Fantastic Books. He likes both Tom Purdom's Romance on Four Worlds
and Bud Sparhawk's Distant Seas
Of Romance on Four Worlds
, he writes "...a delightful little book chronicling the travels of a future Casanova.... These are classic picaresque tales, modern comedies of manners in which Baske gets himself into and out of trouble in the most amusing ways. That the characters are engaging and believable goes without saying -- Purdom writes great people -- but the four societies depicted are also a lot of fun." And he says of Distant Seas
, "Sparhawk's descriptions of future sailing technology are ingenious and persuasive.... his depiction of Louella herself is what shines brightest. Intelligent, strong-willed, driven, and heroic -- Louella Parsons has all the qualities she needs to triumph over the many obstacles in her path. It's a delight to accompany her on her adventures."
Read the full review column at this link
|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