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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in ianrandalstrock's LiveJournal:

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    Saturday, December 20th, 2014
    6:11 pm
    Grammar query
    And, on a different topic, the use of the question mark. My knowledge and use of English grammar is mostly gleaned from absorbing it, rather than specifically studying it. So on one particular point, I may have stumbled (but as the publisher here, house style does have some sway ).

    At any rate, the question of the question mark: in a novel, when a character asks a question in dialog, it seems to me that using both the question mark and the speech tagged "asked" is redundant, and that a question ought to use one or the other:
    "Are you coming to the party," she asked.
    "Are you coming to the party?"

    But now I'm wondering if I'm wrong, and the proper formation is actually:
    "Are you coming to the party?" she asked.

    I don't like the look of it with both the question mark and the asked tag. Am I right? Am I wrong? Is there a definitive ruling on this point? (Couldn't find anything for it in Strunk and White.) Thanks.
    6:10 pm
    SF standards?
    Looking for group-mind input. When I first started working in science fiction, there were a few stories that were assumed reading. As in, talking with anyone in the field, you could assume they had read (or at the very least, knew) certain stories and books. Back then, those stories included "Nightfall" and "The Cold Equations" and books like "Foundation," "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress," "Stranger in a Strange Land," "Childhood's End," "Dune," and "The Dragonriders of Pern." But of late, the field has fractured sufficiently that I'm no longer sure which stories (if any) have been widely read (the number of people who need an explanation of who Isaac Asimov was always depresses me). So I'm asking you: when you're talking science fiction, are there any stories you assume others have read? The focus is short fiction, but novels are acceptable. Either way, I'm talking written, not television or movies. Thanks for thinking.

    The query is for an upcoming panel which will be dissecting a few stories to see what works and what doesn't. I thought it would be more effective if we could start with a few stories that the majority of the audience had probably already read.
    Thursday, December 18th, 2014
    1:49 am
    Ascension descending
    I wound up sitting through SyFy’s “Ascension” “three-night event” (their words, not mine). I’m disappointed with myself.

    A screener showed up a few weeks ago, and it looked interesting, but I had misgivings about it. Then life and work intervened, and I forgot about the screener. Tuesday night, I was in a zoning-out moon, flipped the channels, and discovered that part 2 would be on just after the re-broadcast of part 1, which was starting in a few minutes, so I tuned in. I wound up getting a lot of work done while watching the program (my preferred way to watch television these days, but for very few special programs).

    The show came on, and I was quickly impressed with the design, style, look, feel of it all. It really did feel like a subset of 1960s society aged half a century. There were a few things that pulled at my willing suspension of disbelief, but I consciously shushed them for the sake of the show. Then came the end of part 1, which was telegraphed but some of the interwoven scenes, and it told me the producers had been lying to me.

    Warning: here there be spoilers, although I’m not giving away the ending.

    The show opened (as many space-based shows will) with an external shot of the spaceship in flight and some typing on the screen. In this case, I think it was “Orion-class spaceship Ascension, 52 years into flight.” Something along those lines. As we see at the end of part 1, Ascension is a spaceship-simulator in a giant warehouse. The crew on board doesn’t know they’re in a simulation. The people outside the ship do know. We, the viewers, are told late in the episode (though we’ve figured it out a little earlier). The lie, however, is to show us the ship in flight. When you start a show lying to the audience, you’ve broken faith with us right off the bat. Also, for those of us who pay attention to such things, “Orion-class” means the first ship built to these specifications was the Orion. Since this vessel is named Ascension, we know that at least two of them were built. Thus, again, when we learn it’s a simulation, we realize that the show-runners are trying to cheat (especially since the concept of the vessel Orion doesn’t crop up in the show, so it was just a lazy mistake).

    So the second episode started, and I was already predisposed to distrust everything about the show, ruining the enjoyment of experiencing it, because I was trying to peek behind the curtain. And it was a continuation of the good and the bad of part 1. A nifty alternate present based on the inflection point of our crew leaving Earth society in 1962, and not knowing anything that happened after that. Unfortunately, we know it’s a cheat, and instead of giving us an interesting story of a crew off to colonize Proxima Centauri (or even of a crew experiencing a social experiment in a warehouse), we’ve got conspiracies within conspiracies in an attempt to keep the interest through a hidden story line. Who owns the project? What do they want to get out of it? Is it purely for the scientific research (somehow, these 600 people, trying to survive inside what they assume is a slightly rundown spaceship have managed to invent Norplant and several other things that are making the project’s owners rich in the real world)? There is the briefest passing mention of the morality of keeping 600 people as guinea pigs in a maze, but not so we’ll consider the question, so much as to give one of the characters in that maze a reason to be different.

    The second episode ended, and I was disappointed with myself for watching. But at that point, I’d seen two-thirds of it, and they said it was only a three-night event, so what the heck, I tuned in tonight to watch the finale. Unfortunately, I wasn’t surprised. It devolved even further into conspiracy mystery, almost completely giving up the science fiction adventure ghost.

    Apparently, two generations of selective breeding among humans can cause some serious divergence. And apparently, the world’s greatest minds, when locked into a tin can for a voyage to the stars, have absolutely no way of discovering they’re not in space. And also… well, that’s TV-making flaws; maybe I’m being too picky.

    But the ending… well, that’s when goes off the rails from “it looked good” to “the people watching this are just customers, completely undeserving of our respect.” They don’t bother to answer any of the big questions they’ve posed. Instead, all we get is a mystery teaser for the upcoming series, assuming they’ve sucked in enough people to justify making a series.

    Thinking back on it now, I’d love to edit it. I’d cut out just about everything taking place outside the ship, and throw away the “it’s just an experiment, not really a spaceflight trope.” Because what’s happening inside the ship (aside from the mystical breeding a superhuman substory) was pretty good. It was a TV depiction of a generational ship launched in the early 1960s that immediately lost contact with Earth. In that, it’s a classic sf story line, and they did a pretty good job with it. Okay, yes, that’s my opinion. They took a good classic concept, did a good job with it, and then ruined it by wrapping it with the current TV producer sensibilities which require a TV program to be nothing but an ongoing mystery, requiring the viewer to tune in each week to discover what the story really is. So, overall, it was just a disappointment. Oh, and “No, SyFy. I wouldn’t tune in for the series.”
    Sunday, December 14th, 2014
    3:40 pm
    Internet video fairness?
    I've pretty much decided that I don't like video content on the internet. I've had an unreasoned aversion to it for a long time, but as it becomes more ubiquitous, I figured it was a good wind storm to shout at.

    The first reason I don't like it is that video content forces me to absorb it at its own rate, rather than at my chosen rate. With text, I can read as quickly or as slowly as I want, and I can skip back or scan forward with ease. With video, I must sit and watch the video at the speed it is presented. I can scroll back, but there's no easy way to skip back three paragraphs, reread a sentence there, and then scan back to where I'd left off.

    The second reason is that I usually have music or the television playing in the background while I'm on the internet. When I'm reading something on the internet, the music continues to play in the background. But if I'm looking at a video, I have to turn off the music, and then, more than half the time, the audio track with the video I'm looking at turns out to be nothing useful, but just its own chosen musical background.

    Then there's advertising. How many times have I clicked through to see a video, only to first be presented with a 30-second video advertisement? I recognize the need/utility of these ads, I accept their presence as the cost of receiving the other content for free. But what's annoying is when the ad loads easily and quickly, plays for 30 seconds, and then the video I'm looking for won't load, has glitches, or just breaks. I'm willing to watch your ad in exchange for getting the content you've promised, but I'm no willing to watch your ad if you then don't hold up your half of the exchange.

    Which leads to the final point: watching a 30-second ad, only to then discover that the video hiding behind it is 9 seconds long. This sure feels like a cheat to me. A 30-second ad for a 90-second video: I consider that a fair exchange. For a longer video, certainly. But a 9-second video that isn't nearly as informative as I was hoping? That feels like a cheat. The specific video I have in mind at the moment was one on weather.com just now, with the headline "What happens when you step on lava?" A complete waste of video -- background noise, a boot pressing atop a bubbling floe of lava, some laughter, and that's it -- but I got the full 30-second lead-in commercial experience first.

    That's why I almost never click on video links. Like I said, I know I'm just shouting at the wind, but if you want to join me in not clicking video links for a few days, do you think anyone will notice? #internetvideofairness
    Tuesday, December 9th, 2014
    11:36 pm
    Rave review for T. Jackson King's "The Memory Singer"
    Don Sakers, writing in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, really likes T. Jackson King's novel The Memory Singer, saying it is "a coming of age story reminiscent of Robert A. Heinlein or Alexei Panshin. Jax [the main character] is a fun character, and her world is compelling. The social patterns of Ship life are fascinating, and the Alish'Tak [the main alien species] are sufficiently alien to make for a fairly complex book. Very enjoyable."

    Read the full review on this page.
    Saturday, November 29th, 2014
    11:11 am
    Book suggestions?
    For the current work in progress, I'm currently reading "Harry S. Truman" by Margaret Truman, which is filled with the stuff I need to bring the character of Harry to life: "Dad felt this, even though all his advisors disagreed," or "Dad always said this, except in public," or "Dad was worried about this, but he didn't say anything until Mom left the room because he didn't want to worry her." Just what I need. So, does anyone have any suggestions for similar books about Herbert Hoover or Dwight Eisenhower? Thanks,
    Thursday, November 20th, 2014
    12:12 am
    NorthEast Comic Con
    Other things coming to mind (and coming up on the calendar): Fantastic Books will have a booth at the NorthEast Comic Con 2014, which will be December 6 and 7 in Wilmington, Massachusetts. It's a bit different from the usual shows I've been doing, but I'm looking to expand, and they seem to be doing things well, so I'm going to try it. Admission tickets are cheaper than the average sf convention, and if you register by the end of November, you can use my discount code for an extra discount: NECCGRP5.

    Among the man guests they're hyping are Xander from Buffy, the original Mike TV, and the original Eddie Munster. Should be an interesting weekend.
    Wednesday, November 19th, 2014
    10:11 pm
    Philcon this weekend
    The latest freelance project is out the door, invoice and all, and now I get to catch up on everything I've missed the past week. Of course, I only have 36 hours to catch up, because them I'm off to Philcon. If you're heading to Cherry Hill (New Jersey) this weekend, you can catch up with me in the dealers' room pretty much all the time (at the Fantastic Books table). Beyond the confines of that room (filled with really cool stuff), I've got a fairly light programming schedule:

    Sat 6:00 PM in Crystal Ballroom Two: "Can Good Stories be Based on Bad Science?" with Inge Heyer, Anthony L. Selletti, Diane Kovalcin, and Christie Meierz.

    Sun 10:00 AM in Plaza V (Five): "Separating the Author from the Work" with Muriel Hykes, Sharon Lee, Peter Prellwitz, and Oz Drummond.

    Sun 1:00 PM in Crystal Ballroom Two: "Conspiracies and SF" with James L. Cambias, Muriel Hykes, and Alexis Gilliland.
    Wednesday, October 29th, 2014
    2:55 pm
    Amazon sale
    For some dumb-ass reason, Amazon is currently offering Fantastic Books' original fantasy anthology, Trafficking in Magic, Magicking in Traffic --- edited by David Sklar and Sarah Avery --- for $4.47. I don't know why, other than that Amazon does stupid things and never bothers to explain them. But if you're interested in picking up a copy (or a dozen, for really cheap, wonderfully entertaining holiday gifts), get in while the getting's good. The book is Trafficking in Magic, Magicking in Traffic
    Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014
    7:31 pm
    Running for what?
    Is it just me? I've noticed an inordinate amount of campaign ads this season that don't bother to tell me what position the candidate is running for. Indeed, many of them don't even bother mentioning which state they're in (in New York City, we get ads for New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut).
    Tuesday, October 21st, 2014
    7:18 pm
    Hoverboards ho!
    Looks like someone really has taken up the challenge of inventing the hoverboard (which was recently discussed on "The Big Bang Theory"). Hendo Hover promises to deliver the first ten on October 21, 2015 (the day Marty McFly arrives in the future). Surprisingly, they've already sold five of those ten on their Kickstarter campaign. Anyway, it's neat: Hendo Hover.
    6:17 pm
    It's not just monopolies that are bad, but monopsonies, too
    Uh, yep. Paul Krugman is saying something a lot of people won't like, but something many people ought to pay attention to. Amazon’s Monopsony Is Not O.K..
    6:16 pm
    The Freelancer's Lament
    All right, freelancers, I assume I'm not the only one in this situation, but...

    What do you do after (metaphorically) sitting on your hands for a month or two, and then one of your big clients contacts you with a job for a certain week. The next day, the other big client asks for that same week. And two days later, client number three requests you to do an on-site project for two days that very same week?

    Other than bitching about it on a blog, that is. Grump grump grump.
    Sunday, August 24th, 2014
    10:49 pm
    George Washington's Rules of Civility
    Before he was President of the United States, before he was a military tactician leading his nation to independence, before he was a surveyor or an officer in the French and Indian War, George Washington was a school boy, just like millions of his fellows then and now. And as a school boy, one of his assigned tasks was hand copying a list of 110 "Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation." Based on a 16th-century set of precepts compiled for young gentlemen by Jesuit instructors, the Rules of Civility were one of the earliest and most powerful forces to shape America's first president.

    Most of the Rules are concerned with details of etiquette, offering pointers on such issues as how to dress, walk, eat in public, and address one's superiors. But these maxims are much more than "mere" etiquette; they address moral issues, but indirectly. They seek to form the inner man (or boy) by shaping the outer.

    Gray Rabbit Publications is proud to present a modern printing of the Rules. This volume, which Moncure D. Conway compiled a century and a half after Washington wrote them, are taken from his original papers. Conway's research resulted in a collection that includes not only 110 maxims, but their histories and origins as well. His detailed introduction also offers a view into how these Rules made their way into young Washington's life. He also explains the import of this volume, writing "I am no worshipper of Washington. But in the hand of that man of strong brain and powerful passions once lay the destiny of the New World, in a sense, human destiny. But for his possession of the humility and self-discipline underlying his Rules of Civility, the ambitious politicians of the United States might to-day be popularly held to a much lower standard."

    More than a century ago, Conway also expressed the desire that "the time is not far distant when in every school right rules of civility will be taught as a main part of the curriculum." We can still hope.

    For more information, see this page.

    Wednesday, August 20th, 2014
    1:08 pm
    Speeches of Benjamin Harrison
    In honor of Benjamin Harrison's 181st birthday today, Gray Rabbit Publications has published the Speeches of Benjamin Harrison in a newly typeset modern edition with brand-new maps detailing Harrison's journeys. The book is available in both hardcover and trade paperback.

    Compiled by Charles Hedges in 1892, this book is a complete collection of Harrison's addresses from February 1888 to February 1892, in chronological order, including all his campaign speeches, several important letters, and the numerous speeches delivered during his tours. It also includes extracts from his messages to Congress.

    Unknowingly contrasting his subject with the politicians of today, Hedges writes in his introduction: "it is not the purpose of this book to present a few selections of oratory, laboriously prepared and polished, or occasional flashes of brilliant thought. From such efforts, prepared, perhaps, after days of study and repeated revision, one can form but an imperfect idea of their author. Such a compilation might show the highest conceptions of the man, and evidence a wide range of thought and a surpassing grandeur of expression; but it would be but a poor mirror of the man himself in his daily life." Instead, he wrote, the people deserve "to observe the character of their public servants, to come into closest touch with their daily thoughts, and to know them as they are—not when prepared for special occasions, but day after day and all the time." The vast majority of the speeches presented here "were delivered during the presidential campaign of 1888, often four or five in a day, to visiting delegations of citizens, representing every occupation and interest, and during his tours of 1890 and 1891, when he often spoke eight or ten times a day from the platform of his [train] car."

    For more information, see this page.

    Friday, July 25th, 2014
    6:04 pm
    Rave review for Tom Purdom's "Lovers & Fighters, Starships & Dragons"
    Paul Di Filippo, writing in Asimov's Science Fiction, really likes Tom Purdom's collection Lovers & Fighters, Starships & Dragons. Talking about F. Scott Fitzgerald's opinion that "there are no second acts in American life," Di Filippo finds the exception to the rule, writing "...there are indeed some rare second acts in the lives of American creators and businesspeople and scientists and politicians and altruists. And we have a brilliant example right here in our genre, in the career of Tom Purdom.... In effect, Purdom hauled himself back on stage, in a world and field that had changed immeasurably -- a field that had essentially, save for old-timers, forgotten him -- and proved himself utterly cutting-edge and au courant."

    He also writes "An affectionate and insightful introduction by Michael Swanwick… kicks off the volume. Then comes 'Fossil Games,' a story that illustrates right away all the powers of Purdom's comeback writing. He combines the best of his old-school training with the best of twenty-first-century attitudes and techniques. It's as if Samuel Delany had been one of John Campbell's stable, or John Kessel had been groomed by H.L. Gold, or Maureen McHugh had been tutored by Anthony Boucher."

    Read the full review on this page.
    Thursday, July 24th, 2014
    1:12 pm
    Time Out's top 100 sf movies
    London’s Time Out has polled a whole slew of “experts” to find the 100 top sf movies. For some reason, they included me in their list of experts.

    The results of that survey are now available here: http://www.timeout.com/london/film/the-100-best-sci-fi-movies (warning: it’s strewn over a whole host of pages, begging for multiple clicks).

    My responses are on this page: http://www.timeout.com/london/film/the-100-best-sci-fi-movies-film-critics-and-experts-g-k

    Also, check out Dan Kimmel’s responses on this page: http://www.timeout.com/london/film/the-100-best-sci-fi-movies-film-critics-and-experts-a-f
    Tuesday, July 15th, 2014
    12:05 am
    And again, briefly home
    I'm back from Readercon. Had a better time than I expected, probably due to the people I was there with. Thanks, all, for making it a really good, nearly sleep-free weekend (see the recently posted photos).

    Now I'm only briefly back in New York, because I'm leaving early Wednesday for Detcon1 in Detroit. There, I'll be in the dealers' room at the Fantastic Books table (Thursday 4-8pm, Friday 11am-8pm, Saturday 10am-6pm, and Sunday 10am-3pm). I'll also be on three panels:

    Friday at 1pm in Mackinac West, "ROI: Do We Still Go to Space if It Won't Pay?" with Cindy A. Matthews, Laurie Gailunas, Raymund Eich, and Sean Melissa Mead

    Friday at 10pm in Nicolet A, "Iron Author Detroit--Late Night Edition" with Richard Flores IV, Anne Harris, Balogun Ojetade, and Carrie Patel

    Saturday at 12n in Ambassador Salon 1, "Where's my D@m! Flying Car?" with Jonathan Stars, Douglas Johnson, Cindy A. Matthews, Bill Higgins, Dr. Charles Dezelah, and Dr. Nicolle Zellner

    Hope to see some of you there after the long car trip!
    Wednesday, July 9th, 2014
    3:20 pm
    12:19 am
    Last weekend in Boston, this weekend at Readercon, next in Detroit
    In the midst of a really busy month, I'm getting ready to head back to Massachusetts for Readercon this weekend.

    As usual, I'll be spending most of my time in the dealers' room at the Fantastic Books table. The dealers' room will be open 3-7pm Friday, 10am-6pm Saturday, and 10am-2pm Sunday. Come visit!

    In addition, I'll be on three program items:

    Friday 12 noon, Salon G: "Being an Editor Who Writes," with Scott Edelman, Michael Kandel, Sandra Kasturi, Barbara Krasnoff, and Warren Lapine.

    Friday 1pm, CR: "The Science of Space Colony Living," with Lisa "LJ" Cohen, Glenn Grant, Geoff Hart, B Diane Martin, and Allen Steele.

    Sunday 11am, Salon G: "Publishing and Marketing," with Neil Clarke, Liz Gorinsky, Kameron Hurley, and Tom Purdom.

    Hope to see some of you there!
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