The World in the Satin Bag has moved to my new website.  If you want to see what I'm up to, head on over there!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Update On Me

...because I'm really so obsessed with my self-importance that I must update you all on what's going on with my life.

Actually, this is more so all you readers out there don't think I've died or been kidnapped by aliens or Sasquatch or even, heaven forbid, the chupacabra. So what's going on:
  • I've moved, successfully. I no longer live in the hell hole I was in before, my new landlord is actually pretty cool and really nice, and it's freaking quiet as hell up here. I now live in the woods, as strange as that might sound, and, well, I like it. I come from a wooded area anyway (Placerville), but what makes Felton (where I live now) better is that it isn't as hot. True, it gets warm up here (I think the hottest thus far has been in the 80s), but because we're relatively close to the ocean it won't maintain high temperatures for long and won't have the peaks like Placerville or Sacramento. So, lots of good things here. Plus, it's really easy to get to Santa Cruz from up here.
  • I've started school (well, I started on Friday, but so be it). It's actually a lot more insane than I expected. My grad course is...terrifying, but at the same time challenging. I'm confused right now, but one of my professors is really happy for me and thinks I'll do well in it. This is something I'm not very used to, perhaps because I grew up with some sort of issue with detaching myself from my family. I don't know why I was like that, or why I still am, but I've never felt comfortable with my family giving me compliments and this has moved in the opposite direction to people who are friends or acquaintances. So, to be told by my professor that I'm a good writer, that I'm intelligent and destined for graduate school and great things is really surprising and wonderful and a lot of things all at once.
    Moving on, I have a lot of work to do for school...
  • The Gaylactic Spectrum Awards are coming to a close soon, so I will be reading like mad over the next few days to catch up.
  • I am hoping to join the staff of a magazine run by UCSC, probably fiction editor or something else. It's pending at this point.
  • I'm applying for an undergraduate research grant and have to have the proposal written in about two weeks so I can go over it with my professor.
I think that's about all. What all that means above is that there might be a severe reduction in posting on WISB for at least two or three weeks, maybe longer. With that in mind, I would love to bring in more guest bloggers. If you're interested, let me know. Seriously. I'd like to keep this thing running, but something has to be put to the side so I don't explode, and it will be the blog for a short time due to school being far too important (sorry if this upsets you, but this blog is not what is going to allow me to get a good job in the future, as much as I love this thing).
I will continue to post, but it might be less than three or four times a week, depending on my time.

So, anyone want to be a guest blogger?

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Novel Ideas to Feed a Starving Artist

Today I received the latest issue of Sirenia Digest. I love this little journal because it's a PDF put together by Caitlin R. Kiernan and Vince Locke. Typically it features two vignettes by Caitlin and artwork by Vince. But the real reason I like it is because by subscribing (via PayPal), I'm directly supporting the creators.

Sirenia Digest is simply designed (it's a Word document with a few images in it, basically, that has been converted to PDF) and the stories in it are always a little raw and personal. There's no editor telling Caitlin what to write; she just writes what she wants. This allows her the perfect medium to experiment and practice her writing.

Often, the stories don't have much in the way of traditional narrative. Such is the way of vignettes. They paint dark, disturbing, usually erotic images, and then move on. Perfect reading for this sound bite generation, methinks.

The power of Sirenia Digest, too, is in what it offers the creator. I'm not sure if Cailtin has any overheads, but writing two vignettes a month should be easy enough and, if she's getting $5 per month per subscriber, it's a decent amount of petty cash. All she'd need is 10 subscribers to pay for satellite. 100 subscribers for a month's shopping. 1000 subscribers for a (cheap) car. That's a nice, easy earner for any writer, for only two stories. To earn the equivalent of a pro sale on each vignette (which are usually under 10K words), she'd only need 100 subscribers. Since most of her stories are around the 2K mark, she'd only need 40. Which doesn't sound so bad. I'm half tempted to do something similar myself. Of course, I'm not Caitlin R. Kiernan and I don't have Vince Locke illustrating my work, but it'd help pay the bills.

Maybe in the future writers will support themselves in this way, bypassing magazines and publishers altogether and selling direct to their readers.

It's a quaint thought, isn't it?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Orbis Call for Subs

Orbis is an interesting little magazine from here in the UK. Their next issue is the Culture issue.

Tell a friend - tell all your friends.

Many thanks.


Capital poems wanted for Orbis 145, Special Issue on the theme of Culture* (see below)

Or Liverpool

Or from poets with some link to the City, eg, used to play in a band there when I was in Uni -

but not if your neighbour used to live near somebody who used to know somebody who said their sister’s friend may have gone out with Ringo…

Deadline: September 30

Via email

2 poems

Or 1 piece of prose; maximum 1000 words (extracts can also be considered), stating word count

Article suggestions also welcome

You are also welcome to join the Orbis Group on Facebook:

Best wishes,


* OK, since you ask, and quite a few have: Culture may be defined in any way you wish, or see below - but nowt to do with petri dishes, please:


a. The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought.

b. These patterns, traits, and products considered as the expression of a particular period, class, community, or population: Edwardian culture; Japanese culture; the culture of poverty.

c. These patterns, traits, and products considered with respect to a particular category, such as a field, subject, or mode of expression: religious culture in the Middle Ages; musical culture; oral culture.

d. The predominating attitudes and behavior that characterize the functioning of a group or organization.

2. Intellectual and artistic activity and the works produced by it.


a. Development of the intellect through training or education.

b. Enlightenment resulting from such training or education.

4. A high degree of taste and refinement formed by aesthetic and intellectual training.

5. Special training and development: voice culture for singers and actors.


Orbis International Literary Journal

144, Summer 2008

Front cover artwork, ‘Airing Out II’; back: ‘Marbles XXVI’

by Candy Witcher:

Featured Writer

Neetha Kunaratnam: Reverie, The Closing Sequence

Knole Park I Fantasy; II Meditation

Marianne Burton: The River Flowing under the Bank of England Dreams of Power

John Temple Finnigan: Cartoon Desert Island Love Poem

Lydia Fulleylove: Prose Sculpture 1 Samarkand

Oliver Rice: Notes for Tell Elvira


Sally Douglas: Nocturne

Oz Hardwick: The Illuminated Dreamer


Pat Farrington: From Paradise to Apocalypse? Some historical contrasts in Nature poetry


Ion Pop, Trei puncte (Three Dots, trans by Adam J. Sorkin and Ioana Ieronim)

At last, bring some sunshine into your world, Travelling hopefully with David Callin, or join Peter Butler and Mr & Mrs Woofit in Paradise. Never mind the snake in the grass (OK, tree), go for A bird in the hand, like Jane Morley. And even if Noel Williams is Skating close, Lynne Bassler can tell you about Meditation After Four Days and Nights. Maybe that’s the result of A Fairytale in Words from Jonathan Attrill - sounds like it, according to June Hall in A Lipping Moon. But if you fancy being an Oneironaut, Catherine Chandler-Oliveira can reveal all.

Please refer to guidelines at before submitting work


Besides poems, and occasionally upbeat doesn’t come amiss, Orbis welcomes prose, 500 to 1000 words, suggestions for cover artwork and features, eg the Past Master Section, or indeed, Past Mistress. 500 to 1000 words; ideas in first instance, not completed articles: subjects for discussion, technical, topical etc:

(we should) use as little punctuation as possible but also think of it as notation -

to speed up lines, slow them down.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Moving Tomorrow

Just a note to all of you who read WISB. I am moving tomorrow and likely won't be online for any of it and probably won't post anything on WISB for a couple days while I attempt to adjust to my new home and get unpacked. This is all for the best, though. I have been living in this godawful place for too long and my good friend Loopdilou has offered to help me get the hell out of here. Many thanks to her and her husband for their assistance here (I really appreciate it and it's nice to know I have friends in Santa Cruz I can turn to if I need help and I hope they know I would do what I can for them too, short of giving them a million dollars because I don't have that).

So, if you don't hear from me for a few days, don't worry. I'm not dead. I'm simply stressed, going to school, and unpacking.

Never fear, though, because I'm excited and happy to be out of here! Especially since I no longer have to deal with this blasted dog howling all freaking day long...


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RIP: Paul Newman

This is sad indeed. He was 83 and died of cancer. He'll be missed. If you've never seen his work, take a look at The Sting and Cool Hand Luke.

Sad day indeed.

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School's In

I'm on my last year at UC Santa Cruz. A part of me is glad to be back. I'm weird, I know, but I actually missed school. But then another part of me is sad, because this is my last year here and I have to start applying for grad school, among other scary ideas like finding a job and what not.

Currently I'm taking three courses:
  • Love and Madness in Medieval Literature
  • Postcolonial Writing
  • Feminist/Queer Theory in Historical Perspectives (Graduate Course)
I'm not a graduate, but I'm in a graduate course (or will be on Monday). One of my professors offered me a slot, which isn't exactly common for undergraduates. I'm somewhat terrified of that course, though. Part of this is because I'm not all that interested in feminist or queer theory and part of it is because it's a grad course, not a standard course. I should be okay, but at the same time I'm afraid I might not be up to it. We'll see what happens.
The other two courses are simply the ones that managed to fit. I'm curious about the Postcolonial Writing, but I'm also thinking I might get bored of it considering I've read enough stuff on colonialism in the last year to stick the stuff to the back of my brain. Love and Madness is likely to be incredibly boring, but so be it. This quarter wasn't a very good one as far as class pickings go.
Here's to hoping for a good quarter. Next quarter is going to rule! I'm taking a class called International Cyberpunk! Yeah!

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Tech For Writers: I'm In It!

Just thought you all should know that I'm in episode 2.3 of Tech For Writers. I have a short little segment where I talk about some software I use for writing and world building. Check it out!

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Happy Happy Sci Fi

I've often wondered why it is that most of the serious science fiction being written today--and by this I mean SF that is taking itself seriously--takes a gloomy approach to imagining the future. I'm not the only one either; Damien Walter over at the Guardian wonders much the same thing. But Walter proposes we shouldn't be repeating the warnings science fiction has already brought to us, that we should, perhaps, look to the brighter futures of the Golden Age. On the one hand, I agree, and have to agree. We do need futures that aren't layered with dystopias, religion or science gone bad, or post-apocalyptic imagery, but we also can't forget that science fiction is about all futures, not just the happy ones.
And Walter is right that science fiction has become dominated by the negative, offering us futures that suggest there isn't truly any hope. There are exceptions, but unlike the Golden Age, science fiction today deals with the dismal more than it deals with anything else. Why?
Perhaps it's because we, as a society, are living in a time that feels like it isn't going anywhere good. We see our politicians getting away with things the rest of us would be locked in prison for, our environment reacting and changing, and the social framework of our society is falling into disarray. These are the realities of our current world, so it's no surprise when our science fiction takes these things to heart and attempts to view what could happen next.
Perhaps we have largely run out of hope, or can't imagine a future that is better than it is now. Perhaps science has failed to give us the future we dreamed of 60 years ago. New discoveries that reflect something good seem to get little media attention--or we don't remember them, for some reason or another--and now we see science bringing us bad news with Global Warming and threats of pandemics.
These might be the reasons for our negative imaginative futures. Perhaps science fiction is gloomy because the world we live in is gloomy too. We have to imagine the difficulty to dreaming of glorious futures when the future we can see right around the corner, in this world we're in now, isn't the one we were promised or the one we want or hoped for. We should consider, now, that some futures may seem to unrealistic and that people aren't always interested in unrealistic, happy futures. Perhaps it's because they don't want a false hope; they don't want to dream in a world that could be if everything went right, because when it doesn't happen that way, they'll be disappointed, just like a lot of people were when the great things science fiction promised during the Golden Age never happened.
Do I think that it's possible to bring back the glory of the Golden Age? Of course, but it won't be easy to make it realistic. Space isn't the world we thought it would be and neither is the world we live in. It's a different world now where hackers tear down websites or electrical grids and governments violate our civil rights.
Perhaps something reasonable is to begin writing stories that touch on grim futures changing for the better. We can't logically expect this dark period, however mild it may be, to stay consistent. There will come a breaking point, just as there was a breaking put during the Dark Ages, the moments prior to the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, and the breaking points that saw the end of World War II and the breaking up of the Soviet Union. Where are the stories showing that? Wouldn't that be considered positive views on our future?
But then we come into the issue of utopian views, even semi-utopian views, and how no matter how hard you try to create a utopia, someone will be living in a dystopia. Utopias and dystopias must exist together, as balancing factors, if they are to exist at all. 1984 was a dystopia for the ordinary citizens, whose view we saw, but it was a utopia, of sorts, for the people in control, though we never saw this. Perhaps V For Vendetta showed us a breaking point in a world overrun by the an Orwellian government, and also showed what good can come of that, and perhaps the idea of hope as a force to be reckoned with. But that movie was not about ordinary people so much as a handful of extraordinary people who drove others out of their collective boxes to see the light. That might be our future, though I hope without the violent fanfare.
As I think more on this subject I start to wonder if perhaps it would be better to ease back into the science fiction of hope. Abrupt changes are never good for anyone. Ask the nations in turmoil as a direct result of the colonists that changed them irreparably picking up shop and leaving. We should strive for a slow transition. And at the same time we should be asking ourselves what it is we can hope for in our future. Where will our society go if things turn out right? And who will it be right for, if anybody? Perhaps someone should open up a panel somewhere and ask these very questions. Then we might have a good understanding of where this is all going and why science fiction has apparently lost touch with its hopeful side.

P.S.: It should be noted that I like science fiction in all forms, even the darker stuff. Science fiction that shows a messed up future are equally as entertaining as ones that show a happy future. So, I have no qualms with either form.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Book Review Up: Dust by Elizabeth Bear

Well, I have another book review written and you can see it here. This is the second novel I've read from Elizabeth Bear and hopefully I'll get to read some more from her in the future.


Rejection: Archaeopteryx

Well, after being super excited that I got another honorable mention in the Writers of the Future Contest, I've been brought back down to earth by a rejection. "Archaeopteryx" is one of my flash pieces. I'm thinking of perhaps submitting it to a literary magazine next. We'll see.

So, my honorable mention moment was short lived. Sad? Not really. This is just the way it is in the writing business, or rather the I'm-an-amateur-writer-trying-to-get-his-foot-in-the-door business.

That is all.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Graduate Course: Update

After getting some advice from several people I have made a decision on what to do about taking that grad course: I'm going to do it. I appreciate everyone who was kind enough to offer me their opinions (all of it was done off-site, but so be it). I'm taking the course and we'll see what happens!

Other interesting things regarding school is that I am applying for a research grant that is given to undergraduate students here at UCSC. I'm going to do it on a science fiction subject, I just don't know what yet (still working on the ideas). So, that's that.


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Question to Readers About Reviews

I've been thinking a lot lately about how I do book reviews and wondering if perhaps my reviews could use some fixing. I want to improve them because I get the sense that they're not quite right.

What do you think? Are there things you'd like me to do in my reviews that I don't? Would you like to see less of something and more of something else? Any suggestions and constructive criticisms appreciated.

Thanks in advance!

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Honorable Mention: Nobody Gives a Crap About Compsagnathus

My short story "Nobody Gives a Crap About Compsagnathus" is an honorable mention in the 3rd quarter of the Writers of the Future Contest. This is my second honorable mention and I'm totally ecstatic right now. I've already submitted a piece for the last quarter of the year. We'll see how it turns out. I am excited!



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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A "Controversial" Meme

Well, Mr. Wheeler did it, and so shall I!

[01] Do you have the guts to answe​r these​ questions and re-​​post as The Contr​overs​ial Surve​y?​​

[02] Would​ you do meth if it was legal​ized?​​
No. If I wanted to do meth I would have already done it. I have no desire to put that kind of crap into my body. The worst thing that goes into here are McDonald's cheeseburgers and corndogs.

[03] Abort​ion:​​ for or again​st it?
For, with restrictions. I don't believe abortions should be a form of birth control and I think it needs to be regulated so people don't do that. I think it should be acceptable in all instances of rape. I also believe science when it tells me that life doesn't start at conception. Sorry, tough crap. A fertilized egg is a fertilized egg, not a baby. Get over it.

[04] Do you think​ the world​ would​ fail with a femal​e presi​dent?​
I think we've had a fair share of failure male presidents that even if our first female president was a failure it wouldn't matter. So no, I don't think the world would fail with a female president. If she's up for the job and is better than the other candidates, then she should get the job.

[05] Do you belie​ve in the death​ penal​ty?​​
Yes. I see no point keeping people around who cannot be rehabilitated, who have murdered a few to many people, etc. I don't want my tax dollars going to them for anything. Hang them and be over with it. Yes, that might be cruel, but they're going to die in prison anyway and I don't want to pay for it. They had their chance to share in collective freedom and they botched it up. That's not my fault. Additionally, I think all prisons should be forced to reduce the amount of things given to inmates. No toys, special foods, etc. They should eat slop that has all the required nutrients for a human being to survive on and water. They shouldn't be allowed to watch cable television, work out, play basketball, etc. We treat inmates better than we treat some people who haven't broken the law. You call that justice?

[06] Do you wish marij​uana would​ be legal​ized alrea​dy?​​
Yes and no. I think it should be legalized with heavy restriction, but I don't really care if they do it tomorrow or in ten years. If you get caught with pot, you deserve the penalty. You and I both know it's illegal.

[07] Are you for or again​st prema​rital​ sex?
For. Not sure what else to say. If you want to wait until after marriage, then go for it. I don't care when I do it, I just want to make sure I'm with the right person and it's the right time. If the right time is after marriage, then so be it.

[08] Do you belie​ve in God?
Not the Christian God. That guy is a jackass. Or at least his followers who think they know him are. I don't really believe in a specific thing.

[09] Do you think​ same sex marri​age shoul​d be legal​ized?​​
Yes, because I think America is being killed by the religious right movement who have gone out of their way to circumvent our civil rights all for Jesus. Bite me. Gay people can get married and it does nothing to the sanctity of marriage at all. Maybe you religious nuts should spend more time figuring out why religious people are slightly more likely to get divorced than non-religious people. Yeah.

[10] Do you think​ it's wrong​ that so many Hispanics are illeg​ally movin​g to the USA?
The key word is "illegal". It's illegal to steal a candy bar just as it is illegal to come into this country to live here without authorization from the United States government. So, yes, it's wrong. Send them back.

[11] A twelv​e year old girl has a baby,​​ shoul​d she keep it?
It's none of my business. I would want my twelve-year-old to keep it if I had a twelve-year-old. But that's my personal decision and doesn't represent any sort of "right" decision.

[12] Shoul​d the alcoh​ol age be lower​ed to eighteen?​
No. We have enough problems with dumbass teenagers driving recklessly, we don't need to throw legal alcohol into the mix...

[13] Shoul​d the war in Iraq be calle​d off?
Yes and no. I don't think we should pull out all at once. People who say that are too stupid and narrow-minded for their own good. The situation is exceedingly delicate. You can't just waltz in guns blazing and waltz out saying, "Sorry we screwed up your country. Have a nice life."

[14] Assis​ted suici​de is illeg​al:​​ do you agree​?​​
Bad phrasing for this question, but I know what is meant by it. I think assisted suicide should be legal on a case by case basis. Nobody wants to spend their last days in agony and the people who try to tell people that they just have to deal with it should have to spend a week or more in that person's shoes. Maybe then they'd understand why that person wants to die. Quality of life over quantity of life.

[15] Do you belie​ve in spank​ing your child​ren?​​
Yes, but I don't want to do it. But I believe a spanking every once in a while is necessary.

[16] Would​ you burn an Ameri​can flag for a million dolla​rs?​​
No. Sorry. I love my country and I refuse to desecrate the flag for something as petty as money. I'll burn the Canadian flag or something else, but not the American flag.

[17] Who do you think​ would​ make a bette​r president?​​ McCai​n or Obama​?​​
Obama at this point. McCain is insane and will do everything he can to destroy science while in power, all so he can force our children to become Christians. He's the modern day Hitler with Palin right beside him. I refuse to vote for someone who is so clearly clouded by religious issues. I want a secular government, dammit.

[18] Are you afrai​d other​s will judge​ you from reading some of your answe​rs?​​
I'm not afraid of it, no. I know they are going to judge me and I don't really care.

eReaders: Comparison Study

I've been looking extensively into all the various eReaders to see which one would be most useful to me and thought I would post the data here as a comparison study. The readers I've looked into the most have been the iRex iLiad, Sony eReader 505, Cybook ePaper, and the Amazon Kindle. There are some technical specs for each (they represent the best data I could find and I left out a few things that I didn't think were important, such as some support formats that really won't be of much use for eBook readers anyway). Here goes:
  • iRex iLiad
    • Battery Life -- 15 hours.
    • Charger -- AC wall charger.
    • Formats -- PDF / HTML / TXT / JPG / BMP / PNG / PRC (other formats later)
    • Wireless -- Yes / Ethernet
    • Disk Space -- 128 MB Flash / Expandable w/ USB / MMC / CF
    • Screen Size -- 8.1 in. 768 x 1024
    • Processor -- 400 Mhz.
    • Memory -- 64 MB
    • Weight -- 15.3 oz.
    • Price -- $699.00
      • Pros: What sets the iLiad apart from the others for me is the fact that it is easy to upload different formats. You are not limited to loading DRM only books and from what I've read you can put PDFs on this and they'll work. It's battery life isn't really all that bad, although in comparison to others it's not very good. It also has wireless for updates and you're not limited to a specific network. If there's wireless Internet where you are, you can get online. It also can automatically update your RSS feeds for newspapers, etc. It's also bigger than the others, which is good and bad, depending on your perspective on that.
        It uses a stylus like a PDA and also allows you to take written notes that can later be turned into printed text, which make the iLiad ideal for students. Additionally, because the iLiad isn't limited by its hardware in the same way that other eReaders are, updates to it could very well open the door to the use of other formats, such as Word documents. But, then again, it might not matter because it can do stuff online (blogs and newspapers) and that big screen makes it rather easy. Interestingly enough, to turn the page on this thing you actually have to turn a little "dial" of sorts, which might help simulate the reading experience.
      • Cons: It's freaking expensive. For something that doesn't even come close to doing what a laptop of the same price could do, you're paying quite a big chunk of change. True, the iLiad is more "open" than the others (especially over the eReader and Kindle), but depending on what you're using it for, it might not matter. If you're okay with using Sony's ebook format or Amazon's, then skip the iLiad. However, if you want a lot more freedom to bring all your written content with you, whether they be books, newspapers, blog feeds, etc., then perhaps the iLiad is for you. The iLiad is also a little slower in some respects to the others. This is mostly in reference to the menus as it is faster at page turning than the Sony eReader.
  • Sony eReader 505
    • Battery Life -- 7,500 page turns (whatever that translates to in hours, I don't know)
    • Charger -- AC wall charger or USB
    • Formats -- BBeB / JPG / GIF / PNG / BMP / TXT / RTF / PDF / DOC
    • Wireless -- No
    • Disk Space -- 20 MB / Expandable with USB
    • Screen Size -- 6 in. 170 pixels per in.
    • Processor -- 800 Mhz.
    • Memory -- 128 MB
    • Weight -- 9 oz.
    • Price -- $299.99
      • Pros: What the Sony has over the other eReaders is its price. It's the cheapest of them all, including the Kindle, and yet it's also not that different from it's biggest competition (the Kindle again). It's rumored to have an exceedingly long battery life and pretty much does what it's supposed to.
      • Cons: It's biggest issues are what killed it for me. It functions almost exclusively with Sony's ebook format, which limits your selection, and, while it can view other formats, everything I have read suggests it isn't very good at these things. PDFs especially are said to be notoriously difficult, as are newspaper feeds, etc. It's great with the Sony format, but it falls apart if you want to use it for anything else. It also lacks wireless, which means you have to have all the books you want to read on there beforehand and can't pick something up off the airport wireless if your trip is delayed or something. This also means you have to wait until you can plug into your computer before you can get updates to the machine itself or whatever feeds you might be reading (or attempting to). I'm also told that Sony is pretty much PC specific and requires the use of an iTunes-like Sony platform. Lots of cons, but if you're only going to read eBooks and aren't too picky about selection, it's the best one out there for the price.
  • Cybook ePaper
    • Battery Life -- 8,000 screen refreshes (whatever that means)
    • Charger -- AC wall charger.
    • Formats -- PRC / PDB / HTML / TXT / PDF / JPG / GIF / PNG
    • Wireless -- No (update via USB)
    • Disk Space -- 512 MB / Expandable with SD
    • Screen Size -- 6 in. 600 x 800
    • Processor -- 200 Mhz.
    • Memory -- 16 MB
    • Weight -- 6.13 oz.
    • Price -- $540
      • Pros: The Cybook has a lot of internal disk space for all your books. There isn't a lot out there about the Cybook, and I suspect that has a lot to do with the fact that, well, nobody even knows it exists. Unlike the Sony eReader or Amazon Kindle, the Cybook has been relegated to the land of obscurity. Because of that, I don't know a whole lot about it or how well it works.
      • Cons: The price is the big one. Almost as much as the iLiad for a machine that may or may not be better tan the eReader or Kindle. Some have said it's a decent machine, but I just don't know. I'm not sure it's worth the risk spending $540 to find out.
  • Amazon Kindle
    • Battery Life -- One week (without the wireless on)
    • Charger -- AC wall charger.
    • Formats -- AZW / JPG / GIF / BMP / PNG / DOC / HTML / PRC / PDF
    • Wireless -- Yes / Whispernet via Sprint EVDO
    • Disk Space -- 180 MB / Expandable with SD / USB
    • Screen Size - 19.1 x 13.5 cm. 600 x 800
    • Processor -- 400 Mhz.
    • Memory - 64 MB
    • Weight -- 10.3 oz.
    • Price -- $359.00
      • Pros: The Kindle has quite a lot going for it in comparison to its competitor (Sony eReader). It has free access to Whispernet, making it relatively easy to get a new book on the fly, or a new newspaper, or whatever you might be looking for that the Kindle can support. A great benefit for Kindle owners is that eBooks are tremendously easy to find, since they're all on And you can buy all of that stuff right off the wireless, no problem. An additional benefit is that Amazon offers a free way to convert files like Word documents, etc. into a format your reader can read, which is then beamed into your reader via the wireless through an email specific to your Kindle. Whether or not that conversion proves to be of good quality is up to speculation, though. You could end up having loads of issues with the converted file, which would make reading something pointless anyway.
        It's not a very expensive piece of hardware in comparison to the others. That's a good thing for your pocket, of course. You can also upload and publish your own ebooks, which should probably be a con, because now we'll have to worry about thousands of self-published people, most of which shouldn't be published, throwing their books up there for us to trudge through.
      • Cons: Well, with a lot of good things to say about the Kindle, there are quite a lot of bad too. One big problem is that you have to turn off the wireless manually by going into the settings to do so (the iLiad actually has a button for the wireless, which is convenient). If you don't do this, the wireless drains the battery. The wireless is also limited to Sprint's network, which means you can't use the wireless outside of the United States.
        It also has the same issues the Sony eReader does with PDFs and non-Amazon-ebook files. And the non-Amazon files you want to have on your machine have to be converted first, which means you have to send them to an email system that converts the files and then sends them back to you. You can do it the free way or the way that costs (sending them to yourself isn't free). And there's no guarantee the conversion will work. Go figure. The process is a bit confusing, so I won't get into it, but I imagine it seems more confusing than it really is.
After all of that, what would I buy if I had the money? Well, I'm leaning towards the iLiad. It's the one that fits my needs at this point. The Kindle would probably be second. My problem with the big machines right now is that they all aren't stable enough with alternate formats to be of much use to me. I'd like to try them and see if maybe people are just stupid, but I don't want to spend $300 or more to find out something isn't even going to work. The iLiad, as far as I can tell, will do what I want it to do and with little complication, except its price. If it were cheaper, I'd ask for it for a gift, but since it's not, it'll stay in the back of my mind where I put all the "stuff I want to buy but am not going to shell out X amount of dollars for).

Maybe the Kindle is better than I'm hearing. Maybe Amazon would like to let me borrow one for a month so I can see how it works for class. Or maybe the iRex people would do the same...hint hint.

Yeah, I know that won't work. So be it.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Religion and Schools: One Man's Voice

The next time I hear someone spouting the great idea that religion/creationism/the Bible should be taught in schools, I'll just think about these words:
Secular schools can never be tolerated because such a school has no religious instruction and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character and training must be derived from faith.
Adolf Hitler said those words. Adolf frakking Hitler. Not some guy running around handing out hugs, but the guy who waged war against the world, killed off millions of Jews and other folks for no real reason at all, and did a lot of other terrible things, or had other people do those things for him.

Yeah, because that's the kind of world I want to live in...

Free Stuff: Giveaways!

I thought it might be nice for some of my readers to know about some giveaways that are out there. Free books are always good, right?

There are three giveaways over at Blood of the Muse, a new blog I just discovered that looks beautiful. They are:
Then there is a giveaway at Walker of Worlds:
Also, check out Fantasy Book Critic, as there are always a bunch of giveaways there, plus over at F&SF Lovin' Book Reviews there is usually something going on.

That is all!

(Don't click the read more, there isn't any more after this!)

Interview w/ Tobias S. Buckell

Here is my interview with Tobias S. Buckell. After reading three of his novels I think it's about time. We went off on some interesting tangents, so I hope you enjoy. Here you go:

Thanks for doing this interview with me. First, tell us a little about yourself: who you re, where you came from, and why you started writing (for fun and then seriously).

I'm Tobias S. Buckell. I was born on Grenada in 1979, moved to the US and British Virgin Islands when I was about 9, and moved to the US when I was 16. I really got writing when I was in high school, right around when reading novels in class stops being cute and starts being something you get in trouble for. I started writing them instead of taking notes. I started submitting short stories when I was 15. I sold my first professional short story to the magazine Science Fiction Age when I was 19.

Speaking of publishing and writing seriously, can you talk a bit about your first experiences with submitting and rejections? Did you take rejection well or was it something you had to grow used to?

I submitted my first short story to the Writers of the Future contest when I was about 15. When the story came back rejected I was surprised I'd been rejected, I had thought the story rocked and was miles better than anything I'd ever written before: it was actually a fully completed piece! So I wrote another story and sent it in. And that came back as well.

What happened was that I got determined to succeed the more I got told 'no.' It wasn't that I took it well; it was that I hardened and resolved to keep at it. Four years later, as a sophomore in college, I sat down and hardened my resolve even further. While reading some self improvement books I was struck by the idea of focusing on goals that you could achieve. I couldn't snap my fingers and be published. But I could focus on the building blocks leading up to it. So I resolved to get 100+ rejections a year, which meant I had to submit a certain number of stories a month, and write a certain number of stories a month (2-3, it turned out).

Once I passed 100 rejections I stopped paying attention to them. They were just notches toward a goal.

Sly Mongoose, your newest novel, is, on the surface, about zombies in space, but looking beyond the coolness of that very idea, it is a novel that shows governments making poor and, perhaps, evil decisions out of fear and sacrificing innocent lives to achieve a goal. It also challenges your characters--and even your readers--by bringing back old enemies, but presenting them in a different light, a light which examines the complexities of your invented future in which humanity still isn't invincible. Why do you think that we find these things--governments making mistakes, fallen enemies becoming loose allies, etc.--not only fascinating, but entertaining (looking both from the eyes of a reader and a writer)?

Well, even benign decisions by governments have incredible consequences, so I certainly enjoy showing that off. The fallen enemies thing, I think you're referring to the 'Azteca', is my attempt to show a slow evolution of the civilization there. The religion and government are almost treated like a character over a 3 book arc. They go from sacrificing people to living gods, to deciding th
at maybe gods aren't visible but something more hazy and distant, and maybe agrarian offerings are better.

This is something that really took me by surprise actually. I remember
absolutely hating the Azteca in Crystal Rain, but in Sly Mongoose you made me forget that at one point they were doing mass human sacrifices to appease their "gods". This will sound strange, considering what it actually means to be human, but you made them "feel" more human. And that's something I think is really present within your work: this discussion of humanity. Your human cultures and human characters are all so diverse, each saying something about what it is to be human. What about the definition of what it is to be human do you think so occupies us as a species and how would you say your novels deal with issues of human-ness?

Well, I love humanity and all its complications and quirks. I always hope that some of that comes through. Even when we're in our darkest hours, there are always these amazing stories that come through. So I am trying to show the complexities and evolution of a society with the Azteca as they continuously adapt to externalities and to moderate forces from within. The Tolteca who migrate to Capitol City in Crystal Rain embody that, and their vision is the one that is blossoming as times goes by in these books, though in Sly there is some penance almost being done, though that societal penance, which makes sense if you have read all 3 books, is completely unfair to the individual, Timas, who didn't do those things in the past.

One of the enemies in your novels are the Satraps. At first they come off as being on the bad side of things, but, as with many of your "bad guys," they move into that gray area of things, with motivations that make sense, but that still makes our skin crawl. Can you talk a little about your bad guys? Do you feel that you developed them to act as opposing forces to your heroes or in conjunction with you heroes, or did they "come of age" on their own?

The Satraps in this novel are lifted entirely from my reading Rudyard Kipling. They believe in Kipling's 'White Man's Burden,' a rationalization that once the colonizing nation had invaded and taken over another nation's resources (both geographical and human), that they would justify it by saying it was a paternal need: the invaded civilization was childlike and needed this other nation to do all that and be steward.

When India was granted independence its one-ship Navy was laughed at by the British and it was theorized that the country would never stand on its own. Now India has a large Navy, is a world player, and a lot of people's jobs are over there. The Kipling follower then points to a given country in Africa that failed as a way of showing that national paternalism should be continued. But the thing is, you can't predict who'll fail and who'll succeed. That's the whole thorny issue about self determination that sucks: people self determine wrong things.

In my books the Satraps have taken humanity and added it to their collection of races that they guide and patronize. Humanity is not allowed to determine certain technologies for its own good. It's kept in check. And the Satraps point out that if humans are given freedom they'll fight and many of them will screw it up.

And in Sly Mongoose, that is exactly what is happening. Some humans have a pretty rocking society set up (New Anegada, the Aeolian Cities) and others don't and are making horrible choices. But they're free to make their choices.

Would you say, then, that both sides of colonialism are fundamentally flawed? Perhaps the colonizer's presence is sometimes necessary, but that the colonizer rarely approaches the situation in a time of necessity; and the colonized might
demand freedom, and rightly, when perhaps complete freedom results in instability? Your Humans and Satraps, for example, are fighting against one another for control, one relying on its "genetic" need to be in control of its own destiny and the other relying on controlling another's destiny to produce stability, which humans, unfortunately, seem to lack--the Satraps, of course, do have logical reasons for their need to control. In the end, though, your Satraps (or at least one of them) and one segment of humanity are perhaps forced to realized their own faults in order to work together for a common goal. (I hope this one makes sense; that's a doozy to put together.)

I just cannot wrap my head around a situation where a colonizer's presence is necessary. I don't see it historically. Do you have examples in mind?

Actually, I can’t, although I imagine there has to be an example out there somewhere. The problem with colonizing, from my perspective, is not just that the colonizer never should have been there, but that after having been there and establishing "order"--which is usually a positive sort of order for the colonizer, and a negative one for the colonized, a lot of the time due to racial differences and almost always because of cultural differences where European cultures clash with indigenous cultures due to the European's inability to accept differences often as a result of stern religious beliefs--their presence becomes "necessary", in the most negative way possible, in order to maintain that order. We've seen too many examples where the colonizer left the colonized on
their own, and shortly after chaos ran its course. The same happens with forced installments of democracy, where nations that have never had that sort of "order" before are suddenly struck with conflicting views on how things should go, some wanting to return to traditional values of government--using "government" loosely here--some wanting to maintain the democracy that was initially installed, and others wanting to take control for themselves, which seems to quite often be dictatorial in nature. True, the colonizer should never have been there, but once the colonizer is there, it's almost impossible to restore the colonized to their original state, which was likely much more stable than the state they will be left in when the colonizer skips town. True, there are probably a few instances in which the colonizer left and all was well, or eventually became well, but even Australia has its issues and only until recently was willing to acknowledge publicly--its government, I mean--that it was wrong in its treatment of the aboriginals, which seems a major disservice to a people that considers themselves to be a rather forward thinking nation to begin with. Of course, I suppose you could say that Australia never became a nation ruled by the colonized. So, when I think of the flaws of colonialism, I think about what happens to the colony after the colonizer leaves, and how that influences and affects what happens in the immediate and far future. I don't believe that the colonizer is actually necessary in the sense that the colonized must have them there or else they'll never be taken seriously. I think one of the worst things that the colonizer can do--aside from raping the land of the colonized and its people--is to leave without having a slow transitional period. The abruptness of picking up shop and moving elsewhere is traumatic for a nation now left with mixed feelings, mixed messages, and mixed understandings of government, especially considering all the types of manipulation enacted by the colonized during their reign. The problem is I didn't mean any of this in my original question, but was relating it to Sly Mongoose where the Satraps had taken control of Mankind, or colonized them if you will, for a very real and logical purpose because of what they knew was going on elsewhere in the universe. True, their understanding of the situation led them to commit wrongs, to violate a species' right to govern itself, and there certainly were other ways they could have gone about it, but they chose the path that seemed the most logical and the humans just didn't like that—

Ah, yes, but if you look at the book, it's what the Satraps are *giving* as the reason, and it's only from their POV. In other words, they're justifying something with reasons that we're not given an objective POV on. In fact the Satraps aren't even sure what side they're on; they're as out to lunch as anyone else. But I do gray things a lot, by mentioning even worse Satraps exist in the universe and so on.

—perhaps a little more research on Earth's own history with colonization could have given them the information they needed to avoid their own near-extinction. But, after having beaten the Satraps, broken their rule and restored order to themselves, mankind is now faced with a decision of its own on what to do about a threat that is worse than the Satraps. Without the Satraps, mankind will likely never be able to effectively govern itself because it doesn't have the knowledge or understanding on how to operate the technologies provided by the colonizer, so in a way the Satraps become necessary, for entirely different purposes. Pepper and his pals don't like it--and what human would?--but a decision had to be made that went beyond history.

Yeah, that makes sense. Hard choices have to be made. But the Satraps also decided to deny these things to humans, destroying things as they realized they were failing to remain on top. They could have chosen instead to enable and assist, but their own dogma prevents it.

All interesting stuff. The part of the problem is that I'm making some of this up, so it doesn't map 1 to 1 on past colonial situations, although if you read the history of Haiti becoming independent and its interactions with France and the US you'll see where I get a lot of my material.

Let's switch modes a little and talk about religion in your work. In Crystal Rain you had the Azteca, who were basically the Aztecs, minus the "a", human sacrifice and all. They reappear in Sly Mongoose, but in a far different position than they
were before, since their "gods" had been exposed as frauds in Crystal Rain. Would you mind talking about religion in your work and how it might have shaped your world and your characters? What makes religion such a compelling theme or subject, both in your work and fiction in general (in your opinion of course)?

Religion is a big part of the human experience. One of the ways in which SF/F is valuable is that by saying 'what if' we can duck some of the baggage someone has about a certain issue by letting them slip into a story. For me in Crystal Rain there were two things I was trying to wrap my head around.

The first was that as a young kid you're learning history, and the teacher mentions that the Mexica practiced human sacrifice... and then moves on. As a kid I was like 'woah, woah, hold on a sec, they did what?' But all my attempts to get people to explain to me the reasoning behind it, in a way that made sense, failed. Until I was reading some old translations and came across a conversation where one Mexica explains to a Spaniard that it's not that they didn't value human life, it was that a human life is the most valuable thing there is. If you read the bible, it asks for gifts for gods, and what is the most precious gift? A life. I read that and though 'well that makes an odd sort of sense.' It's not something I *agree* with, but there is a reasoning there. I wanted to show some of that.

The second thing is that I've always found the biblical story of Isaac to be morally repulsive, even when I was kid and going to church. Here's a dude, Abraham, who's asked by god to sacrifice his son. So with a heavy heart he goes and gets ready to do it. And he's committed, until god basically says 'just kidding, I was testing you. Here's a ram, sacrifice that instead.' And
Abraham is held up in Sunday school as a *great man.* Basically what I took away from that was that if my parents heard god tell them to kill me, as good Christians, they were going to be all over that.

This bugged me.

It still does. Because it basically from my point of view it puts lie to the idea of a personal guiding morality, because morality becomes 'whatever my god commands me.' That's easily perverted into 'whatever I think my god commands me' (which is a problem for people who hear voices) and 'whatever someone who claims to represent my god commands me.'

(As a complete aside, when I took biblical literature courses in college and reread the Old Testament I was fascinated to realize that sacrificing first born children to put in the cornerstone of buildings. It ties directly into my Mexica human sacrifice fascination.)

So I created a character who has a god (what he's been told all his life is one, at least) ask him to do something that the character morally doesn't really want to do. But since whatever a god commands *is* moral, he undertakes his task. The character Oaxyctl is ostensibly the villain, but it’s more the belief structures and traditions that entrap that are. He's been given an Abrahamic choice.
And that's how I figured out how present the Mexica beliefs to my readers, by using some of those biblical hooks, as the basic religious impulses are similar when you dig underneath.

And with that statement I'll probably piss a lot of people off, but it's not a condemnation of either belief system for me, just a fascination with how and why they tick.

I've always been curious about the Caribbean aspects of your fiction. You've gone from showing us a single planet with a heavy Caribbean flare, to a large collection of planets and open space with that same heaviness. How did you come up with this very different view of the future?

Well for one that's where I grew up, and I was always felt a bit left out of the genre. I mean, the Caribbean was influencing music, and other elements of pop culture. Why not genre work? I saw some rastas in William Gibson's early novels and Bruce Sterling set a third of Islands in The Net in Grenada. So I figured I'd fix their mistakes of not going full force and write books Caribbean dudes where the main characters! I also was spurred on in part by a couple conversations I've heard around genre circles by some people who don't believe people who're not from the Western world have the technical capacity or wherewithal to ever get into space.

Say what? North Korea is well on its way to having manned space missions and it's not exactly a first world country. This seems like an elitist idea, as if "we", the chosen first worlders, are the only ones that could ever rise up to get to space. It's not that far out there to think that countries that are still developing might get their own space programs, is it?

If private space initiatives and the cost of access comes down, it wouldn't be surprising. It's like condemning a developing world nation for having airplane travel. I think at heart it's an elitist reaction, and it's one I react against.

One of the interesting things about your work, and something that I find pretty amazing when an author can do it right, is the use of dialect. Some of your characters speak with that Caribbean twang (if that is the right word) and yet it's easy to read and seems to flow nicely. How hard was it trying to work this into your fiction? Did it make Crystal Rain a tough sell with publishers or were you concerned about it when shopping it around?

Oh, I still get hate mail for the dialect! It's hard to pull off, and I worked hard, on three passes, to make it as easy to read for non-dialect speakers as possible. It was a tough sell, yes, and I still get a lot of readers who say 'I just read and loved Crystal Rain, but when it was described to me I thought 'oh that doesn't sound like fun.'' A lot of people say it takes 50 pages or so, then something clicks and they're in. It's not for everyone, I know, but I'm excited to bring it to the genre.

Did dialect take a lot of time and research to develop or did you have a fairly decent grasp of it considering your history in the Caribbean?

Most of it was my just trying to replicate what I heard growing up on the page. I drafted Crystal Rain three or four times with an ear toward making it easier for Americans. No phonetic spelling, just a few new words, and mainly some grammar tweaks by the time I was done. There are some heavier and thicker first drafts. Even Crystal Rain upsets some people though.

Some people don't think there is much, if any, world building in science fiction, yet your works have clearly shown a lot of effort in terms of coming up with plausible technologies and cultures. Can you talk a bit about world building, both for your Ragamuffin Universe and in general? Do you think you do just as much world building as fantasy writers?

I really throw myself into it as much as I can. I spent a lot of time while writing Ragamuffin reading about laying data over reality, geo-data, that sort of stuff, which influences the concept of lamina in the book. I did my best to show zero gravity inside the spaceships, instead of magically having characters walk about, and zero gravity actually plays a plot point in one over-the-top action scene, which even though everyone finds to be quite action oriented, has its origins in my creating a spreadsheet with calculations in it. Plug in a person's weight, the weight of their bullets, rate of fire, and I can tell you how fast they can propel themselves in zero gravity by firing a gun.

I've said in the recent past that you and John Scalzi are part of a movement to bring back a lot of the high-flying adventure and excitement that made science fiction so fantastic during the Golden Age and the couple of decades immediately following it. This is most likely not intentional, but have you at all been influenced by science fiction from way back when and can you think of any other authors who are perhaps doing much the same with their own work?

Karl Schroeder is doing some very fun, over-the-top stuff with his Sun of Suns series. Everyone has to read Karl Schroeder! I do love the aesthetic of the golden age pulp. I'm a huge fan of space
opera, myself. And even though I'm 29, I actually read a lot of 1950s era SF in reprint anthologies and just random books. I think a ripping good read is something may have gotten lost in the mix, and it's one reason that for a while I'd stopped reading SF/F and was getting all my genre work from the YA shelves. Those 60,000 word novels were straight arrows, no diversions, with lots of stuff happening in rapid sequence, which just got me psyched to lean my own novels out a lot and discard with a lot of the extraneous feature creep in order to give a dragster-like run.

Any YA titles you are particularly fond of? (I'm thinking of Scott Westerfeld at the moment)

Philip Reeves Hungry City Chronicles, particular Mortal Engines is one of my favorites. Nancy Farmer's House of the Scorpion was one awesome piece of SF/F. Pratchett's Wee Free Men. Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus Trilogy. The Abhorsen series by Garth Nix. Pullman's His Dark Materials. The Redwall books.

That's just off the top of my head.

Additionally, do you feel that the future of science fiction is as grim as some say? What do you think are some things that could help science fiction grow and survive as humanity catches up to it technologically?

Science Fiction is following the mode of a lot of other pop culture, it's fracturing into a large number of niches in an attempt to cater to more aesthetic ranges. If paying too close attention, it may be alarming. But on a large scale, I think it's a bit of a Cambrian explosion where we're trying a lot of different things right now. It's really interesting to me.

It's well know that you were influenced by your life in the Caribbean and Caribbean culture. Were you at all influenced by the literature either from Caribbean authors or other authors writing about the Caribbean? If so, how, and are there any particular works you are most fond of?

A lot of oral culture. The stories of Anancy, legends, superstitions, retellings of past historical events stuck with me more than particular authors. I'm not a huge fan of V.S. Naipul, which is probably heresy in some quarters, but I feel like he left the islands and sits at home abroad and rags on them in his fiction, though he's a good writer. Junot Diaz just wrote a wonderful book. Nalo Hopkinson rocks, or course! Edwidge Danticat, Jamaica Kincaid, Kamau Brathwaite, Derek Walcott, and Jean Rhys (Wide Sargasso Sea) are some other names that pop to my tongue.

You've written three novels set in the same universe--Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, and now Sly Mongoose--and have recently announced that you're writing a novel for the Halo game series. What are some not-so-obvious differences between writing novels that expand upon your own universe and novels that expand upon someone else’s universe? Do you find yourself restricted by either type?

Well, 3 books into a set of books exploring the universe I've set up here and I have to work around a set of constraints, so it's not really all that new. Writing the Halo book does mean I have to pay attention to what came before and other people do get the final say on what I can and can't do, but if you are playing the games (like I do) and have read the books, you know from the get go what you can and can't do, so it's not that big of a deal.

What other projects do you have coming up, or planned, etc.? Can you tell us a little about these?

John Scalzi, Elizabeth Bear, Jay Lake, Karl Schroeder and I did a project called Metatropolis for that will be coming out in a couple months. Five novellas, all riffing off a world building jam session we did via email about the future of cities. I think that will be something to check out, some very interesting stories came out that.

What would be one piece of advice you'd give to new writers out there (a golden rule if you will)?

My golden rule is that the biggest part of the word 'writer' is the word 'write.' Too few people want to have written, and to be a writer, but not spend the hours a day needed to get there. Including me, some days. But it takes practice and commitment to keep at it.

Now for a silly question: If you were to turn your universe from a serious one to a comedic one (a la Douglas Adams), what silly thing would you do?

I'm stumped, to be honest. I'd take suggestions!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Help: Need Your Advice

I already asked one friend and he gave me a good perspective on the matter, but I thought I would ask all of you who read my blog or stumble upon it for your thoughts on something that recently came to my attention.
Last year in the final quarter of my first year at UC Santa Cruz I took a required course called Lit. 101, which, at the time, had the theme of "Animal Theory". It was an interesting course, to a certain extent, though not perfect, and I developed a relationship with the professor because we both share some common interests--science fiction, actually.
So, when I found out one of the professors I wanted to do another independent study course with wouldn't have the time I decided to ask the professor of my Lit. 101 course. And she emailed me back saying that she didn't feel she would have the time to do so, but offered me a slot in her graduate course this fall.
Now, for those that don't know, I'm an undergraduate. I have no degree, yet, and this will be my second year at a real university as opposed to the five I spent figuring out what the hell I wanted to do in community college. That means I've never taken a graduate course; the highest course I've taken is actually the Lit. 101 course, which is the second highest level course you are required to take for a literature degree.
I'm hesitant to take her up on her offer only because I don't know a lot about graduate level seminars and fear that I'm not up to something like that. At the same time, I like this professor and this is a great opportunity. It will offer me a challenge, which I feel I do need, and might help me on my way to applying for graduate school.

So, what do you all think on this matter? Do you have any advice or suggestions? Or perhaps you've had a graduate school experience and could enlighten me to what it's like?


(Don't click the read more, there isn't any more after this!)

What's in a Review?

I found a rather interesting article on reviews today, and it struck me as a useful tool for any reviewer out there. Check out this link for details.

I'd like to know people's thoughts on this, personally. What criteria do you use to judge a work? Do you consider yourself a critic? What kind of reviews do you like?

I personally like funny reviews from time to time. Oh, sure, I want to know if it's good or not, but I also don't want to read a dry treatise on a novel/film/whatever. I'm a fan of the Popbitch/Pop Justice school of comment, and that means I like you to take the piss every now and again. If something's rubbish, say so. If something is so trashy you love it, say that too.

Then again, there's having fun and being cruel. Critics don't have to be objective, because any critic who pretends to be is lying, but that doesn't mean a critic should forget a creative work has been made by an individual. Vitriol just tarnishes the reviewer rather than the reviewed.

Anyway, thought on the matter are appreciated . . .

Website Found: PhD Comics

I keep stumbling upon this site and think it is worth mentioning here.

What is it?
PhD stands for Piled Higher and Deeper and is essentially a great source of post-graduate ridicule. The humor found there is pretty much focused on the stereotypes of post-graduate research and humorously crushing the dreams of graduate hopefuls everywhere--like me.

Why is it cool?
PhD has a lot of great features for graduates with an MA or PhD., for one, which is completely useless to me at this point (but will be useful some day). Their comic section features a huge archive of comics, some of which are downright hilarious. I particularly like how they make humor with graphs.
Additionally the site features book versions of the comic, "Grad Gear" (t-shirts and the like), and a job section where folks with MAs or PhDs can potentially find work. There is also a forum.

So check it out. It's a neat little site and the comic is pretty funny!

(Don't click the read more, there isn't any more after this!)

Jason Sanford, Interzone, and a Contest

Recently Jason Sanford has opened up a contest to celebrate the publication of one his stories in Interzone. Basically: help spread the word about his story and Interzone and you could win a free one year subscription to the magazine. Sweet deal, right?

Well, that's what I'm doing. If you want to participate, go here and read the "rules".

One of the things that is cool about this contest is that you get a free copy of Sanford's new story--"The Ships Like Clouds, Risen By Their Rain". While I haven't gotten a chance to read it just yet, I'm looking forward to it. I spent a week in England in March of this year and one of the things I had hoped to find while there was an issue of Interzone and some other British magazines. I came back home empty handed, unfortunately, but I still want to read Interzone. The problem has always been that in comparison to magazines printed in the states, Interzone is extremely expensive--for obvious reasons. I still want to get a subscription to it, but it's a little pricey for me, unfortunately--I've asked for it as a Christmas gift though.

If you want to know more about Interzone's history, check their about page. They've published a lot of amazing authors like Elizabeth Bear, Brian Aldiss, and Iain M. Banks. The about page has a whole list of great authors they've published. Interzone is to England what Analog, F&SF, and Asimov's are to the United States.

So you can see why I jumped on this opportunity. I'll read Mr. Sanford's story pretty soon and post again when I'm finished with a review. But this is it for now. Good luck to anyone else who decides to enter!

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

eReaders: Suggestions?

I have probably been a tad bit critical of eReaders in the past, and with good reason, but I've been warming up to them somewhat as of late. The reason is that there are a lot of online magazines and magazines that release in PDF format that I would like to read more of, but I can't because reading online for extended periods of time actually gives me a headache or bores the hell out of me.
But recently I've decided to accept some eBooks for review, only because the publisher is a itsy bitsy in size and while I would love to have hard copies I thought it would be beneficial to this small publisher if I just bit the bullet and read a few books in eBook format. I'm not, at this point, going to do this for every publisher, or every author, but special cases will be made because I can stand to read the occasional eBook, just not eBook after eBook.
Things are changing in the book market, though, and particularly in the short fiction market where online publishing seems the more "common" route than traditional publishing. I think this has pros and cons, but I think, all in all, this is possibly a better model for some publishers and probably something the big three are going to have to embrace to stay alive. Currently there are several online magazines that I read on and off, and I would like to read them more regularly, but there's that "reading from the computer" thing and I'd rather spend my computer reading time editing my work or writing.
All this in mind, I thought I'd talk to all of you about eReaders and get your opinions on the matter. I'm thinking of trying an eReader--possibly asking for one for Christmas--so I can start reading online magazines more regularly and news stuff. If I find the eReading experience good enough to extent that to eBooks I might change my entire review model and take eBooks almost exclusively to save the publishers a bit of money.
The thing is, a lot of the eReaders I'm seeing have tremendous limitations for file format. So, what would you suggest? Is getting non-Kindle format books onto a Kindle too difficult to bother? What about Sony's new eReader? Can I get PDFs onto eReaders or are there tools to help me convert to the correct format? What about plain text or txt files or .doc files?
What do you suggest or what are you experiences with eReaders?

Secular Heaven?

Can I please go to secular heaven when I die at the tender age of 4,312 ? It just looks like a fun place, don't you think? Who wouldn't want to play volleyball with Einstein?

For those wondering how I'm planning to live over 43 centuries: nanotechnology and lots of pills. I suspect there will be an Apple iPill one day and a handy device called the iMed that will cure you of diseases. Then there's the iShot and the iScan, which will do wonders to keep us all healthy until some disgruntled employee with a broken iMac creates the iFlu and screws everything up.


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Book Review Up: Wicked Gentlemen by Ginn Hale

Well, another book review is up. You can read it here. I really liked this one, by the way. So read the review and decide for yourself if you like it.

Just a note: Blogger is being really weird right now so if you notice anything going on that I'm not aware of, such as comment posting issues, page viewing issues, etc., please let me know. Thanks.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Missile Silo + Retirement = Coolest New Home Ever

A home built out of an old missile silo! This is possibly the coolest thing to be made out of old military crap ever!

Do I want it? Yes, oh god yes!
Can I afford it? Nope. It's probably millions upon millions of dollars and I doubt they'd take my old book from the 1800s as collateral.

Someone buy it for me. Please. I want it!

(Don't click the read more, there isn't any more after this!)

Troglodyte Goes Live!

Check out and check out 'Who is Troglodyte Rose?'. Further updates to follow every week.

I've Been Sanderized

So, apparently William Sanders noticed my blog post about him the other day, which was partially in response to some things that Joe Sherry posted. And, in typical Sanders fashion, he's opened up a lovely discussion about me, even though he claims to not care what I think. We all believe that.
I don't much care to go into a rant about his comments this time around, partly because I've already discussed it in the comments section of the original thread he's upset about. A few points do need to be made, though, but I'll be relatively brief. I think at this point we're more than aware of Sanders's (yes I used the correct apostrophe this time) attitude and the manner in which he addresses people, particularly those he doesn't like. Sanders may very well be a nice guy in real life, Internet personas being what they are, but professionalism is certainly not his strong suit.
So, to the points:
  • Yes, I was aware that the "interview" that Sanders did was a mock interview. That's sort of the whole point, isn't it? Am I the only one that finds it remarkably pathetic that someone has to create a fake interview with themselves in order to do whatever it is that Sanders is doing? Setting the record straight, perhaps? Sanders isn't nearly as clever as the people over at The Onion, who actually do trick people from time to time. But, I'm glad he got a sense of joy out of it, silly as it is.
  • There's certainly plenty that was not correctly understood about Sanders's statements in his rejection. Still, the word "sheethead" is not the same as "shithead," as he so aptly claims, and rightfully shares similarities to slang terms used for blacks or certain groups of Asian descent. Perhaps one should look at the comments in this post to get a clear idea of what "sheethead" means to some people. Sanders may very well think that he's just referring to a small group of people, but other people can't possibly know at any time what he's actually thinking, and for him not to realize that many people are aware of the more negative aspect of the term he used, or at least not to acknowledge it when it was brought to light, is one his failings. So Sanders meant something else by the term, but he wasn't man enough to acknowledge that other people don't see it the same way and that it was an error in judgment, or at least a moment of educational clarity and that he was at least sorry for the misunderstanding? Apologizing for something that simple is really not that hard. This is like the Don Imus of the interwebs. Wait, no it's not. Imus publicly apologized.
  • I did incorrectly state "ads" in my original post. I meant to say links. That was an incorrect assumption on my part when I read a blog post referring to the removal of advertising for Helix. What they meant was link advertising--such as a blogroll.
  • I said "if" Sanders works in this business, not when. Whether he wants to work in it again or not is irrelevant, as is the fact that he's retired. One can still work and be retired. Helix might have been a non-profit venture, but work was still done on the project. It's not like Sanders just went, "Poof. There you go." Unless he's Jesus or something, which is highly unlikely.
  • I'm actually quite happy that Sanders took the time out of his day to open a discussion about me, being so unknown as I am. I'm glad he got a laugh too. I certainly laughed at his post about me, and the previous things he's said in regards to this whole issue. He wouldn't be saying the things he says if he wasn't enjoying it would he? Well, maybe, but so be it.
    I also appreciate the free traffic. True, it's negative publicity, but I checked my feed thing today and I've gained several new readers on both email and RSS. So, that makes me happy.
  • I think it's pretty silly that one of the things being discussed is my first name, as if Shaun is really the worst thing to happen to English-language names. Really, there are worse names to be concerned about, like Apple or Pilot Inspector. Shaun is a relatively common spelling and really not that big of a deal. It's not like I'm named Schauwnne.
  • I was criticized for my misuse of copyright stuff at the bottom of my site. I admit, I don't know a whole lot in regards to copyright or Creative Commons. I've changed it a bit, but if anyone still has suggestions on how to improve that section, feel free to let me know.
  • I have been misusing the apostrophe. Having been corrected and having researched it, I can say that I was improperly taught on the use of apostrophes at the end of names with Ss. Now I know and knowing is half the battle. Thanks for the help--to the people who left comments on my original post.
  • Mr. Sanders: it's not too late to grow up, even just a little. Really.
I think that's all. If anyone else has something to add, go for it.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Hue Test: Giving Your Eyes a Whirl!

I recently took this silly little test to see how good my color vision is and got a perfect score, which means that I apparently have perfect color vision. It's kind of strange, I suppose. I thought I would do decent, but not great.

Take the test and see how you do!

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Writing and the Credit Crunch

So today I was reading one new author's account of how she struggled as a starving artist in New York, even after receiving her first advance. Then I heard one of the magazines a colleague regularly contributed to was no longer able to pay him. The London Magazine, too, which was initially set up by T. S. Eliot, is unable to pay any more, since the Arts Council ceased their funding. Whilst this last is directly attributable to the London Olympics swallowing much of the funding, I've had to ask myself, with Lloyds TSB and Halifax Bank of Scotland today announcing a drastic merger to avoid another Northern Rock scenario--with writing being merely 'entertainment', will writers continue to suffer in today's economic climate?

I remember someone telling me that rates of pay for spec fic writers have remained the same since the 1920s. Non-fiction rates aren't always what they should be if you're freelance, either. Usually, unless you get a cushy job behind a desk in a glossy mag, you can never expect much anyway. Or you can become Anne Rice, but it's very difficult to predict which authors will become big. So we're already at the mercy of whim and circumstance. But aren't we just fluff anyway? How necessary is the job of the writer--particularly the fiction writer--in a world of increasing literacy but without the disposable income to afford aspirational magazines and glossy new hardback books?

Journalists will always be needed, but there are many different types and a true journalist is different to a writer. They get out there, find stories, please their editors and only write incidentally. The news is more important than the writing, and the journalism more important than the writer.

I haven't bought a non-literary magazine in a long time. They never appeal to me any more when much of the stuff I used to read in them can be found online for free. I buy lots of literary magazines, but often grimace at the contents or commend their effort and tuck it away only partially read. I buy them more for display, these days, because there are so many writers and too few great stories.

So will we begin to struggle even harder to find the few meagre jobs we need to pay the rent? If banks are folding, it's only a matter of time before frivolities like books begin to decline in sales.

Or is literature immortal? Will we need it whatever time period we're in?

You're thoughts are welcome.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Disney Genetically Engineers Their Stars

I got this from Peggy over at Biology in Science Fiction. What's amazing about this isn't just that it's the most bizarre and hilarious things to ever be said about Disney (and I really hope Disney was behind this), but that everyone in the video are absolutely, 100% dead serious. They don't crack up or anything. I can just see kids thinking this is real all over the place and wishing they could be genetically grown by Disney too.
Watch it, because it's hilarious:

Disney Lab Unveils Its Latest Line Of Genetically Engineered Child Stars

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William Sanders: At It...Again

It's amazing really. This man has no off button. None, not even a pause button. Instead of doing, as Joe Sherry has intelligently pointed out, what he should have done, he has done the opposite and probably should earn the award for most angry, foul-mouthed, horrendously pathetic and cranky editor to ever grace the publishing industry. In Joe Sherry's words:
Not to get too deep into the initial issue, as this has all been covered before, but what bothered me most about this whole situation was not necessarily the opening statement (bad as it came across), but rather in how Sanders responded to the appears that Sanders was so angry that anyone would possibly be offended by something he said and no longer wish to be associated with his magazine that he accused those writers of having their panties in a wad (more or less) and of being cowards, among other less complimentary things. This is what bothered me the most.
Well, this is what bothered me the most as well. You see, I saw the comments in the original rejection letter and thought, "Well, I understand what he means, but these are stupid words." And then I read Sanders's responses and started to get the impression that these weren't simply stupid things said by people that don't always think through things all the way--I'm guilty of this at times. I saw his anger, his hatred, and his violent words towards the people who disagreed with him and thought his comments were offensive. He never once made an honest apology, but continued shoving his foot into his mouth in a display of close-minded anger, the kind of anger we'd expect of the extreme religious right who still think the Earth is only a few thousand years old and refuse to accept that science has made the world a better place.
Now comes word that Helix is closing its doors. It seems true that Helix has had plans to close for a while, and I'm willing to accept this as truth as one of the contributors of Helix, quoted in Joe Sherry's article, has stated that it is true. But, considering the controversy over this whole thing, are we at all surprised by this? Let's just say that Helix wasn't planning to close their doors before the incident, do any of us honestly think that Helix would last much longer anyway? Some places have already withdrawn their support by removing *links* to Helix and the blogosphere has turned William Sanders's name into an alternative to searching for the anti-christ. Authors have been requesting that their work be removed from Helix's archives. Many were denied (and still are being denied, with Sanders's grumpy, and very "professional" comments attached). In all honesty, the market has become so tainted by Sanders's inability to save face for even a moment, or at least shut his mouth and stop fuming like delinquent teenager.
And now we're left with these comments about those of us who spoke out about him:
At this point the Blogtrotters and other hostile entities will be leaping grasshopperlike
about, emitting shrill piping sounds of joy, clapping their tiny hands, bursting into "Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead," and other childish expressions of triumph. One hopes that they do not injure themselves patting themselves on the back.
The point is, all this was decided long before the Blogtrotters went into their latest shit-flinging frenzy. So as much as it no doubt pleases them to believe that they were responsible for taking down the Great Monster, they should rather offer thanks to the freeloaders who, simply by sitting on their rumps and doing nothing to support the magazine, did more to terminate Helix than all the silly whining bastards put together.
Of course they won't believe this; they will choose to believe what they want to believe, just as they always do. If there is one thing the Blogtrotters and the Silly Righteous Girls have demonstrated throughout this affair, it is their total imperviousness to reality.
Yeah, and if that wasn't enough you can see his continued spewing of hatred here, in which he's apparently interviewed about his comments and tries desperately to make himself sound like a rational human being who never did anything wrong. I read about three or four questions worth and realized this is the same garbage he's been spewing the whole time since the beginning of this fiasco, with the same style of language, the same unapologetic attitude, and the same anger and bigotry that got him flamed by bloggers in the first place.
So a word to William Sanders: Grow up. If you ever work in this business again, pray you get hired by someone that doesn't know what kind of person you are, because you've yet to learn what it means to be an adult. No human being should be as angry as you. Maybe some therapy in your near future would help you deal with whatever deep-seeded psychological damage has turned you into this grumpy person.

And with that, I think I'm done with this whole thing. We'll see if he can get his foot any deeper down his throat in the next few months or years.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

MEME: Top 100 Books of All Time!

Stolen from here (I'm only using the top 100 because 778 is way too big). I'm going to mix up the rules a bit this time.

  • Bold the titles you've read.
  • Italicize the titles you really want to read.
  • Put ** by titles you hated or couldn't finish reading or won't read again.
  • If you've read the book more than once, put the number of times you've read it in ( )s somewhere.
  • Tag people.
I'm tagging SQT, Tia, and Carraka. Anyone else who wants to do this is more than welcome.

Here goes:
  1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (2)
  2. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  3. 1984 by George Orwell (5)
  4. The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien (3)
  5. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  6. The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien (3)
  7. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  8. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  9. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (2)
  10. Night by Elie Wiesel
  11. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  12. The Bible
  13. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  14. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
  15. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  16. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
  17. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  18. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
  19. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  20. Dune by Frank Herbert
  21. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  22. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  23. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
  24. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  25. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  26. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
  27. The Stand by Stephen King**
  28. Ulysses by James Joyce
  29. Paradise Lost by John Milton** (2)
  30. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
  31. Watership Down byRichard Adams
  32. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  33. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  34. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  35. Roots by Alex Haley
  36. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  37. The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien (3)
  38. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  39. Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
  40. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
  41. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  42. Macbeth by William Shakespeare
  43. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  44. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
  45. The World According to Garp by John Irving
  46. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  47. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
  48. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  49. Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden
  50. King Lear by William Shakespeare
  51. A Theory of Justice by John Rawls
  52. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  53. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  54. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  55. Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer** (3)
  56. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  57. If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
  58. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
  59. Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence & Robert E. Lee
  60. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
  61. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
  62. The Inferno by Dante Alighieri (2)
  63. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
  64. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  65. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
  66. Death in Venice and Other Stories by Thomas Mann
  67. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling**
  68. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
  69. The Trial by Franz Kafka
  70. Ada by Vladimir Nabokov
  71. Middlemarch by George Elliot
  72. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
  73. Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter
  74. Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut
  75. The Way Things Work by David Macauly
  76. Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut
  77. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  78. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
  79. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
  80. Confessions by St. Augustine of Hippo
  81. Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche
  82. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berndt
  83. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
  84. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  85. My Name is Asher by Lev Chaim Potok
  86. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
  87. A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn
  88. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien
  89. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
  90. Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
  91. The Princess Bride by William Goldman
  92. Neuromancer by William Gibson
  93. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein
  94. Prufrock and Other Observations by T.S. Eliot
  95. Run with the Horsemen by Ferrol Sams
  96. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
  97. The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman
  98. Exodus by Leon Uris
  99. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More by Roald Dahl
  100. Anarchy, State and Utopia by Robert Nozick
And there you go. So I've read a pathetic 29 of the 100 on this list. Very sad indeed.

What about you?