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!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Twenty-five Things (About Me): A Meme

I was tagged on Facebook for this, but because I don't feel like doing this list there, I'm doing it here. Besides, this is what blogs are for. I officially tag anyone who wants to do this. The point is to make a list of twenty-five things about you, presumably stuff most people don't know (or at least isn't clear). This probably is an attempt to make people on the interwebs human or some such. In any case, here goes:
  1. Total Recall is one of my favorite movies for absolutely no logical reason whatsoever.
  2. The Matrix Revolutions is possibly my favorite music soundtrack ever.
  3. I think Battlestar Galactica (the re-imagined show by Ronald A. Moore) is the best science fiction show ever made. Period. It has overtaken Firefly without even a struggle.
  4. I applied to Oxford without any expectation to get in (in fact, I don't even have my hopes up for it).
  5. I have actually gotten an A in a class without reading anything on the syllabus or paying attention to the lectures (not at UCSC, though). This might mean I was a bad student, but you should consider that if a student can not pay attention or read any of the books and still get an A, then the course wasn't all that well put together, now was it?
  6. I have enough books to make the proportion of not-read to read close to 100 to 1.
  7. I have 13 leopard geckos and three common musk turtles with me where I live; my mother and her partner are caring for my bearded dragon and crested gecko (both of which they apparently love to death).
  8. I despise the following words: intrinsic, billfold, and lozenge. And by despise, I mean that I actually get angry shivers when I hear them.
  9. I'm agnostic, despite what anyone may assume from my rants against religion.
  10. I am afraid of horses.
  11. I have no desire to have any sort of wedding, and neither does my fiance. We just want to be married and move on from that moment.
  12. I rarely watch the following movies because they creep me out way too much (mostly because I saw them when I was a kid first): The Neverending Story and Ernest Scared Stupid
  13. I think American Cheese is an abomination and should be destroyed for the protection of all mankind.
  14. I considered, in my youth, converting to Islam, and then to Hinduism, and then to Buddhism, and then to Zen Buddhism, and then to Christianity, and then to nothing at all. Needless to say that none of these religions/ideologies did anything for me at all.
  15. I write short stories because I have limited time to devote to writing and they are somewhat easier for me to write and maintain interest. I still work on novels and have every intention of continuing, but shorts are simply easier for me at the moment.
  16. I have been told by people close to me that I am both a good writer and a crappy editor. Obviously I value their opinions to put up with that.
  17. I have also been told by two professionals in the writing field that I am a good writer (something I'll be talking about later, I'm sure).
  18. I am a cancer survivor. Hodgkin's Lymphoma; survivor of almost six years now. No, I don't want sympathy. It was no big deal.
  19. I don't shave or cut my hair often because I despise the entire process of both (plus one hurts and the other costs money).
  20. I love to argue, so much so that I will even take up positions that are not representative of how I actually think just so I can keep arguing. I don't know why.
  21. I believe that the U.S. Constitution is not all that hard to understand and that people who think it is hard to interpret are not very smart and shouldn't be running this country.
  22. I am lactose intolerant, but refuse to drink or eat soy products because they are disgusting. I continue to drink or eat dairy products, even though I can sometimes have unpleasant reactions to them. I'd probably only quit if I found it it would actually kill me.
  23. I will be close to $21,000 in debt by the time I get my B.A. This is to preserve my ability to not have to waste money on a car or get a job so that I may focus on my schooling and other aspects of my life (such as trying not to go insane). I suspect that I will make someone else pay for it in exchange for me doing something nice for them.
  24. I am politically a moderate and believe that people who vote via party or religious opinion are idiots who shouldn't be allowed to vote at all. Likewise, people who vote because Bill O'Reilly or someone equally as polarizing and moronic tells them who to vote for should probably be put in a mental institution or, at the very least, deemed mentally handicapped and sent to their own island without food or water.
  25. I am a member of the Modern Language Associate of America.
And there you go! Hope you all enjoy.

Website Found: A History of Communications

It's not every day that you find a chronology of every major communications advancement in human history. But that's what this website is all about, or at least this page anyway.

What is it?
A History of Communications is the pet project of Nathan Shedroff, who apparently has not only a lot of time on his hands (the current version took him close to five years to put together), but a lot of patience. The project is an ongoing attempt to chronicle human advancements in methods of communication from paleolithic writings to cell phones.

Why is it cool?
Why isn't it cool? If you've ever wondered just how we've advanced over the thousands of years we've been writing and talking, then this enormous chronology puts everything together for you. You can now see where the intersection between the creation of the Internet and the evolution of the computer is. The only downside as of now is that the timeline is incomplete. It's extensive, but missing everything that occurred after 1998 and small bits and pieces here or there between what Nathan already has laid out. But, that's really sort of irrelevant at this point, because at five years of work, this list is extensive enough to deserve a good look.

So, go check it out and satisfy your historical curiosity (he also has a whole bunch of other strange stuff on his site, in case you're interesting in poking around).

Friday, January 30, 2009

Literary Snobbery (Part Two): To Participate or To Consume

To hinge off yesterday's post, I'd like to talk about a few more of the arguments presented here. Last time I talked about this idea of "artistic expression" and how, generally speaking, it's a load of crap to assume that one form of literature is artistic and the other isn't. This time it has more to do with the issue of the supposed differences between "literature" and "pulps," a distinction that Roby made.

Roby begins this topic with this bit of nonsense:
...there is a very large difference between participating in a dialogue through the written word and consuming a product designed to make you feel good. They are, really, fundamentally, completely different things that share superficial similarities. It’s all just reading, right? Wrong. When you read literature, you are a participant; when you read pulps, you are a consumer. An example is probably in order.
No, not really. There used to be this difference before the invention of the printing press, but the way literature is consumed and produced these days has little to do with the delusional fantasy of being in "dialogue" with the written word. All literature, with the exception of that which is not put into book format and shipped out for us to buy in the store, is a consumable commodity. Literary fiction doesn't get an out simply because it has flowery prose. We consume literary fiction in much the same way as pulp fiction: by reading it. There is no difference except in how we read it. This nonsense about being a participant in reading literature and a consumer in reading pulps is absurd. Since publishers produce based on profit, there is a necessity for all published work, including literary fiction, to be a commodity and, thus, consumable. A publisher doesn't intentionally put out drivel; the publisher, producing any form of literature, is in this to make a profit; that's their purpose. You may be a participant and a consumer, but you don't get to pick and choose unless you get all your books for free and the person that gave it to you didn't pay for it, and so on and so on. Since we pay in some fashion for books, we are consumers of them.

And basing this critique on how one feels after having read a work of fiction is somewhat contradictory. The work he considers to be pulp do not always produce this "feel good" emotion. Literature produces all sorts of emotional connections. Plus, if you consider that human beings are not all the same, our emotional reactions are poor indicators of literary quality precisely because there would be little to no consensus on the matter. Someone might feel quite good reading a literary novel about apartheid, or someone might feel like crap--and, likewise, someone may take joy in reading something literary, or may find it dull and meaningless. What is shared, however, is the joy in the reading experience, which isn't the exclusive domain of pulp fiction, but the domain of all literature.

But the absurdity doesn't stop there. Roby has to give a good example of where fantasy has failed, pulling out George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones from its dusty perch:
When you read George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, you have a very different reading experience. Within the first page or so, you are assaulted with strange words and concepts, none of which are really explained...This is thrust at you without context, but if you are the sort of reader Martin expects you to be — adolescent, introspective, considering yourself to be a little smarter than most of your peers, and versed in medieval and fantasy tropes — you will figure out “for yourself” that the culture the character comes from marks time by the melting down of candles. And you can give yourself a little pat on the back for proving to yourself that you really are a smart fellow.
So, essentially Roby doesn't like GRRM primarily because the work, being a fantasy work and thus the domain of an imagined, non-existent world that you shouldn't know much of anything about in the first place, attempts to make itself authentic in its presentation by having the characters count time by candlewidths and the like; and Roby perceives this as a deliberate attempt on Martin's part to make the reader feel proud of him or herself at having figured it out (but Roby is offended because, I guess, he sees this as patronizing).

Well hold on a second. What did Roby expect? Did he think he would dig into this book about a place that doesn't exist and find familiar references? This is equivalent of someone from the U.S. reading a book from a country he just found out existed and then expecting it to reference American pop culture (and then being disappointed when it, in fact, stays true to its cultural roots). When you read work set in a place you've never been and know very little about, there is always a lack of context, even if it is literary fiction. I certainly know little about Nigeria, and if I were to read a fiction novel written by someone from there who remained culturally true, I certainly wouldn't be upset that I had to figure out some of the references on my own. And I wouldn't see it as a patronizing moment on the part of the author that I had figured it out.

To add, I suspect that Roby is not that well read in the fantasy genre, which explains his dislike for GRRM. One should really attempt to understand the roots of the genre if one is going to take it so seriously.

And to top it all off, there is this from Roby (speaking about fiction like GRRM's A Game of Thrones):
If that wasn’t enough of an insult on its own, this sort of bad pulp works by coopting the tropes of actual literature that preceded it...
It may come as a surprise here, but I'm actually going to defend fantasy on this front. When Roby refers to literature here, he's talking about the works of fantasy that developed the fantasy genre into what it is today (Tolkien, Lewis, etc.). It seems like a long shot on his part to be able to make the claim that those works are literature, but works that followed after them, and thus borrowed from them, are not.

Literature in its entirety is not a wholly original endeavor. To claim otherwise would be to ignore hundreds, if not thousands of years of written history. We borrow, steal, adapt, and change things we discover as writers all the time. I'm constantly adjusting my prose styling to try things, and in doing so I take what I have learned from other writers and attempt to make it my own. Likewise, all writers borrow elements of plot, character, setting, etc. from others. This is the way it goes. If that never happened, we would have no written literature at all. In short, literature is a hodgepodge of the same elements borrowed and manipulated to serve the author's purposes (whatever they may be).

Having said all this (over this post and the last), I should make a point to clarify that I am not suggesting that all literature is the same as far as quality is concerned. In fact, if you asked me, I would tell you that there are, in fact, lesser forms of literature, ones which fail to be anything but quick reads that don't make you think, etc. But, I don't believe in separating them just because I don't like them. The separation between good and bad literature is a subject I don't think any body of individuals can make, and, for the most part, I don't think an individual should be able to impose his or her personal preferences in literature as a gold standard. The problem with determining quality is that most of us don't agree. What one person may deem of literary merit, another may not. Should we value less the opinions of those who happen to like the New York Times Bestsellers most? Or the opinions of those who like literary fiction (say, Nadine Gordimer fans)? Where exactly can we draw the line?

I don't think there is a line. The academia wants to have a line, but generally they ignore entire segments of literature that are unable to hold up to their stylistic standards. We've seen this with science fiction, how it was pushed back into the masses of "unimportant trash," but now is finding itself in school curriculum far more often. Most science fiction has to be read differently than a Nadine Gordimer novel, which complicates matters even more. Are we training our children to be readers who can shift between different styles?

Alright, so that's enough from me. If I don't shut up now, then I may go on forever. As always, comments are welcome and, in fact, encouraged. Let me know what you think, even if you disagree!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Literary Snobbery (Part One): The Idiocy of "Artistic Expression"

I try not to dig into these sorts of issues primarily because, generally speaking, the arguments against genre fiction (specifically science fiction and fantasy) are almost all the same, almost always utterly ignorant, and almost always the mark of someone who, unfortunately, takes pride in thinking he or she is above someone else because he or she reads a certain kind of book (which is like saying that George W. Bush is better than Al Gore just because he won; I think we all now wish Gore had won).

But, on occasion I come across an argument that is particularly idiotic and makes points that are largely irrelevant or contradictory. And that is what this post is about. I use Google Alerts to send me blog posts based on a set of keywords, and this post sprung up for "fantasy literature." After reading it, I knew immediately that I had to blog about it. For identification purposes I'll stick to calling the author Roby.

Roby is one of those folks who, while apparently not someone that dislikes fantasy as an idea or mode of expression (he seems okay with a literary novel containing fantasy elements), but holds a particular disdain for fantasy as a genre (the popular form as we know it today). His argument, however, offers a lot of explanation as to why it is that fantasy is popular and literary fiction has largely fallen to the wayside, and why it is that literary purists simply do not understand literature at all.

Roby starts off by saying that fantasy isn't literature, but pulp fiction, and goes on to make this distinction:
Literature is created out of a desire for artistic expression, commentary on life, and contributing to humanity’s understanding of itself. It’s part of a giant, centuries-spanning dialogue that informs our identity as a species. Yeah, this is all high-minded, but really, it boils down to this: if the author sat down and wrote something they thought was important and worth others’ time, it’s literature.

The pulps, by contrast, are written purely for your entertainment. The author sat down and tried to figure out what you would like, and then tried her level best to serve you exactly that on a silver platter. There’s no attempt to communicate there, nothing that the author thinks is important. The book or short story or whatever is purely intended to allow you to spend time enjoyably. It’s fluff.
I'm sorry, but what? Let's break this down: literature is about artistic expression and the author's intent to produce something that is worth our (the reader's) time, while pulps are there for entertainment purposes. That doesn't compute, at all. First off, sitting here and presuming we understand every author's intent in creating some piece of written work is foolish; often times we don't know. Secondly, he just said that literature and pulps are the same thing. Both forms have to be "worth others' time," otherwise nobody would read either of them. It stands to reason that the problem with literary fiction is that it fails to connect with most readers and is, as such, not worth their time, while popular fiction forms, invented to be worth their time, are, well, popular as a result (and none of this is an indication, in my book, of whether one form is necessarily superior to the other, as this is often up to taste).

Then there's this bullcrap that you constantly see in the literary world about how literature is about expression and yadda yadda. Yes, of course it's about expression, but no individual can sit there and say that a fantasy novel written in a modern, popular fiction style isn't an attempt at expression. It's just a different kind of expression. While literary fiction places heavy focus on language to convey hidden meanings, etc., popular fiction tends to shift focus to the plot and ideas. That doesn't make it fluff; that makes it different, just like rock music is different from pop. Just because you don't get it doesn't mean the expression isn't there; there are many ways to show artistic expression and literary fiction isn't the only way.

And I'm calling bull that there is no attempt to communicate in fantasy. If anything, fantasy authors are attempting to communicate to the human imagination, offering an escape from the mundanity, or banality, of the real world so they can play the hero or heroine. That communication, that allowing for the reader to become a part of something that isn't real and thus be consumed into the fantasy, is as important and valuable as the communication provided through clever uses of language that make up literary fiction.

Because this critique of Roby's argument is quite extensive, and I understand that folks don't like reading extremely long posts (the same can be said of myself), I'm going to cut it up based on the theme. So, stay tuned for other installments and feel free to leave a comment with your opinion!

Rejection: Irlgem

Well, that was fast. I guess it's off to someplace else. Wonderful!

Hope all of you are having better luck.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

RIP: Realms of Fantasy Magazine

According to SF Scope, Realms of Fantasy Magazine is closing down, their April 2009 issue being the last one. Needless to say, I am quite upset by this because RoF is/was one of my favorite fantasy magazine (fiction, that is, as I don't care much for anything else). It's one of the few magazines that succeeded in putting two stories in the same issue that eventually became personal favorites. I loved the fiction in this magazine (didn't much care for their customer support) and I am sad to see it go. I even have a story out to them right now, which obviously will be coming back to me unread.

For those saying "see, I knew magazines were going to die," you should take note that this death has little to do with the supposed decline of short fiction, and more to do with the faltering economy, which is doing a fine job of destroying everything now that people are being idiots by not spending money they should be...


Steampunk Reading List?

Some time ago I found this list of Steampunk novels that someone had put together as a sort of preliminary reading list of the genre. Interestingly enough, it splits the list into three categories: proto-Steampunk, early Steampunk, and recent Steampunk. I'm not sure that there really is that big a difference between the first two categories (as named categories, not by what they contain), but so be it. The list is as follows:
Gormenghast Novels (esp Titus Alone), Mervyn Peake
Worlds of the Imperium, Keith Laumer
Queen Victoria's Bomb, Ronald W. Clark
A Nomad of the Time Streaks, Michael Moorcock

Early Steampunk
The Anubis Gates, Tim Powers
Homunculus, James Blaylock
Infernal Devices, K W Jeter

More Recent Steampunk
The Difference Engine, William Gibson and Bruce Sterling
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Alan Moore (Comic)
Steampunk, Ann & Jeff VanderMeer (Anthology)
Girl Genius, Studio Foglio (Comic)
A Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snicket
It's an interesting list, to be sure, and I'm curious what you all would consider to be good Steampunk reading that could be added to it. I, for one, think that a Steampunk list is required to have at least one Jules Verne novel, considering that he was sort of the unintentional father of the genre. But that's me. What about you?

Edit: These are some suggested books from the comments, etc.
The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt
The Kingdom Beyond the Waves by Stephen Hunt
The Rise of the Iron Moon by Stephen Hunt

RIP: John Updike

Apparently John Updike passed away today at the tender age of 76 (from lung cancer). That's somewhat disheartening for some reason.

He will be missed!

(Thanks to Grasping For the Wind)

Author Conduct: A Slippery Slope to Insanity (Part Two)

Now to part two of my Author Conduct deal.

The Cole A. Adams/Kevin W. Reardon/Steve Berman Fiasco
Alright, so basically here is what happened:
Steve Berman is an editor who said of Kevin W. Reardon's story "The Portico Angel" that "a bad opening crippled this story for me plus the various relationships felt off." Shortly after Reardon sent a rather unprofessional and rude email to Berman, to which Berman replied as any professional should and let it go. Then, Berman, who is also a writer, made some comments about his writer's block and depression over writing (such an unusual thing for us writers, I know) only to receive a strange comment from someone calling themselves Cole saying the following:
You should really just kill yourself.

Obviously, that'd be no great loss to literature.

Just do us all a favor and take down your blog first.
Of course, this didn't sit too well with folks, for obvious reasons. But, it didn't end here (of course, why would it?). No, this Cole person (now calling himself Cole A. Adams) on a different, but related post, took matters to a different level by saying:
There--you said it yourself. It is all futile. You write for attention, and while you are getting attention here, it will never be enough. It will never satisfy. Writers who are in it for attention or money usually burn out at middle age, as you are doing now. You have accomplished nothing. You will accomplish nothing.

You mentioned, in one of your posts, that you live in an apartment with windows. Is it a high floor? If it is, you should go now to the window, and look out. Twilight, of the day, of your life. Open the window and feel the wind. If Dault will come to you, take your cat in your arms and jump. Jump, Steve. Don't fear the reaper. You can make this sense of emptiness end. The pain can be over.

Life is futile, but for the desperation. You have the power to bring a stop to that, Steve.

Give in. Give up now.

You know I understand.
And that's shortly before Berman broke the news that it was Kevin W. Reardon all along (I'll direct you to the full post and Reardon's responding comment because it's too much text to re-post here: the short version is that Berman caught on, Reardon pretended like he never meant to be anonymous or some crap and made it seem like the whole thing was about getting the review removed and some other nonsense that defies logic).

What do I make of all this? Well, as everyone has pretty much already said, if Kevin W. Reardon has any sort of successful writing career after this it will be a miracle, maybe an act of charity out of pity for the pathetic state this man has put himself in. SteveBerman isn't just some random guy who sprung up yesterday. He knows quite a few people, and so does Elizabeth Bear and many of the others who have spoken. Add in the fact that the blogosphere has latched on to this story, spreading it, as it should, like wildfire, and you really have a writing career that has just been stomped to dust and by no fault of any publisher, editor, reader, etc. Berman's review didn't kill Reardon's career. In fact, Berman's review likely only helped Reardon's career by driving new readers to Reardon to see what Berman was really talking about. Reardon killed this all on his own.

What surprises me most about this whole thing is the manner in which this career was killed. Reardon didn't kill it by accidentally misspeaking, nor by failing to publicize or get reviews. Reardon killed it by telling someone else that they should commit suicide and then claiming that Berman isn't really a writer because Reardon, being the oh so literary, in-it-for-the-art/love (bullshi*t), wouldn't want to live if he couldn't write.

Let's not ignore the fact that Reardon called Bermans' anthology a "competing anthology," which goes counter to Reardon's claim that he's not "in it for the money." If he wasn't he wouldn't give a sh*t what Berman had to say or whether there are supposed "competing" works out there (which is another pile of b.s., by the way, which is for another post). People who do this for the love aren't going to be concerned about competing anthologies. In fact, if you really write "for the love," then you're not submitting at all. As soon as you submit, you're not doing it for the love anymore. You're doing it for entirely selfish reasons. For the love goes right out the frakking door. This is the same for people who post their fiction online. You may think "oh, yeah, I'm just doing this for the love," but the reality is that you're doing it so people will see it and perhaps enjoy it, otherwise you wouldn't do it and keep it all to yourself (like certain poets that Reardon mentions). This is what a writer does: reach out to an audience, no matter how small.

But Reardon, of course, is supposedly the "high and mighty" one, telling us that he would kill himself if he couldn't write. If anyone honestly believes that they should die if they are unable to write (even for a short while), then they should immediately seek psychological help. It's clear to me that Reardon is actually mentally unstable. There is nothing normal about telling someone to commit suicide or believing that death is the only solution to most of our problems. This is a sign of a pathological behavior. Reardon is insane and if any of his family, who I pray have not abandoned him for the same reasons that the writing community has, will try to get him help. If Reardon were to pay attention to any of this, or any of the stuff going on about him out there, I would ask him: Why? What made you think, for a moment, that this was okay? Is this normal where you come from?

The William Sanders deal pales in comparison to this, because Sanders never technically hurt anyone. He pissed a lot of people off and offended most, but his comments and words only hurt people that allowed themselves to be hurt. Reardon, if he had been so "fortunate" to have latched on to an individual who might have actually killed himself, could have caused serious damage. What if Berman was actually suicidal? What if it had crossed Berman's mind? And what if Berman had killed himself? Would we even be having this discussion over whether writers should be careful what they say here?

No, we'd be having a different discussion over the limits of free speech on the Internet and Reardon would likely be on his way to prison. We should remember that when we say things on the Internet it can have an affect on people. We should all stick to some sort of moral code with our words. It's all well and good to make fun of people, to say mean things, to use foul language, to ridicule religion, politicians, etc., but there is a line, and Reardon crossed it. This is something that isn't isolated to just this incident either. There have been many other cases where similar things have occurred, even cases where an individual made the suicide public via a webcam feed and people sat there enjoying it (presumably because they thought it was a joke.

This isn't a laughing matter. While we are welcome to say just about anything we want on the Internet, we have to face the consequences of those words should something happen. And we shouldn't have to face them if we play it smart. Go ahead, ridicule people, rip on politicians, call people f*cking morons and other such things, but know the limit to that.

But perhaps all of this talk of limits and lines is wasted on Reardon. You'd think that a mentally stable individual would be capable of knowing the limits. I certainly would never tell someone to kill themselves, even if that someone pissed me off. It takes someone with poor reasoning to ignore that little man or woman in the back of our heads telling us, as Jim Carrey would put it: "Ah, ah, ah. Driving into oncoming traffic is counterproductive!"

I guess common sense is really dying these days. If it's not one thing, then it's another.

Anywho. Feel free to leave a comment telling me to kill myself!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Author Conduct: A Slippery Slope to Insanity (Part One)

I'm not the first one to discuss this issue and most certainly not the most prominent to do so. In recent days/weeks/months there has been an (sort of) out pour of stupid authors/artists doing stupid, if not psychotic, things to other folks in similar fields. Both instances have floored me, in a way, not because I'm at all surprised (after the "entertaining" William Sanders fiasco I can't say I will ever be surprised in this field unless I find out that some of my favorite authors are actually white supremacists who eat non-white babies for breakfast), but because it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But, since this post is about two entirely different incidences, I'll separate my arguments/rants/discussions into two separate posts. Here goes:

The Sciborg Sam/Erik Secker Fiasco
I'm about sick and tired of this sue-happy culture we live in. I get the need to sue people who cross the line and to punish them, but more often than not people cross the line, suing people for millions of dollars when a hundred thousand would do just fine. We've gotten to the point where lawsuits are done for profit on the side of the plaintiff, which to mean screams of an ethical problem, if not a moral one. And yes, free speech is often squashed in these suits (almost every time, actually), and yet the people who do the suing have absolutely no issue with that, usually stating that free speech is still alive and well as a way of navigating responsibility away from themselves (don't look at me, I'm the good guy--no, you're not).

Sciborg Sam is the latest in this attempt to silence free speech. Apparently Erik Secker recently posted a "review" (for lack of a better word) of this Sciborg Sam character's attempts at music (or whatever it is that this person thinks he or she is doing). The following horrible video was posted (which I will post here in hopes that I will get a similar treatment as Secker):

Then, Secker received a cease and desist letter telling him:
This letter is to inform you that your website is in violation of United States copyright laws.
There is an image of my artwork posted on it and a music video produced by my band and also text copied from my website. These were posted without permission or contract. Your website portrays my work in a negative way, which I believe may be libelous.
I'm sorry, what? Now, first off, this is just idiotic at best. For someone to claim that you are violating copyright laws and yet be so oblivious to them is like a racist who gets banned from the local pub for trying to kill black people claiming that everyone else is discriminating.

Now, Secker has done a good job laying out all the legal mumbo jumbo (that copyright does not protect you from negative or positive review, that one may use small portions of material for reviews or criticism with proper attribution, etc.), so if you want all that, go read the post. I'd like to chime in that Sciborg Sam clearly wasn't paying attention to Youtube, because allowing for his video to be embedded constitutes a willingness to have it used elsewhere (otherwise that option would be deleted). The same can be said about the ability to comment on the videos.

What stands out in all this is the fact that Sciborg Sam is threatening a lawsuit over something you can't technically sue somebody for. Secker's only crime is...wait, he didn't commit any crime. He posted a "review" or "criticism," using small snippets of text, embedding a video from a public video site, and using a picture from the same location for the same purposes. This is not illegal. If it was, then there would be no book reviews, no movie reviews, no nothing, because if you could legally sue people for criticizing your work, then nobody would be criticizing at all. We'd all have to figure out whether a movie is good on our own and then be careful about what we say in public, lest we be sued for imaginary libel.

This is a clear case of attempting to stifle free speech. Seckler never did anything other than speak his mind. His review was somewhat negative, which is perfectly acceptable. But Sciborg Sam doesn't seem to understand that. Libel is intentionally lying, to say something not true about someone else in a public forum. If the local newspaper wrote that I murdered children for fun, that would be libel. I have not, to my knowledge, murdered any children, and I doubt if I did that I did it for fun. If a local newspaper wrote that I have a habit of procrastinating, then that wouldn't be all that untrue. In fact, that would be 100% true, as I am procrastinating while writing this. I'd probably be pissed off about the comment, but there's nothing I can really do about it short of writing an nasty letter-to-the-editor.

This all leads to my discussion of Author Conduct (or Artist Conduct). Where do we draw the line in protecting one's intellectual property? Where do we draw the line on hurt feelings? Sciborg Sam may have been upset by those supposed mean words, but if he wanted nothing but positive comments, he wouldn't have put his stuff online in the first place. No artist should ever expect positive words on everything.

Tobias S. Buckell has received a mixture of comments on his work (good, bad, and neutral) and yet I have not seen him run around throwing a tantrum (he apparently likes driving off of icy roads into ditches, though--kidding Mr. Buckell!). But, you see, Buckell is a professional, as most people in the writing and artistic worlds are. He knows he's going to get criticism from people. He knows that not everyone will love his work or him. And in knowing this, he doesn't get upset when someone gives a negative opinion on something he has written. Sciborg Sam hasn't learned this lesson yet.

Writers and artists alike need to take a step back and realize that this sue-happy culture that we have created is dangerous. It's a threat not only to our ability to be artists (no matter the form), but to society in general. The more common and more profitable lawsuits become for the plaintiff, the more dangerous it will be for all of us to express ourselves. As soon as we begin to make it acceptable to sue people for disliking something one person wrote or created, then the entire notion of free speech will collapse along with freedom of expression. We lose what it means to be an artist or a writer or a musician.

And ignorant people running around pretending to be lawyers-in-the-know should be ashamed of themselves. Most people don't know enough about copyright law to be able to ignore Sciborg Sam. People will take him seriously. Just as Wikipedia largely misinforms the viewing public, so do people like Sciborg Sam. Sooner or later it will become commonplace for us to believe that one can sue for the same reasons Sciborg Sam is threatening Erik Secker. This is dangerous and frightening. We live in an ignorant society. Let's not make it any worse.

And that is all! Comments welcome.

Note to IE Users

Apparently there was an issue with the right sidebar for those of you who use Internet Explorer:  the right sidebar didn't show up and the footer often wasn't there.  This seemed to have something to do with the amount of posts on the main page and should be fixed for those of you who make up 20% of my traffic.  I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you in the past.


P.S.:  I forgot to thank Mulluane for her help, which was quite rude of me.  Thanks Mulluan!

Movie Review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Mama always said, when something isn’t broke, don’t fix it. In 1994 Eric Roth adapted a screenplay and made the film Forrest Gump. It was instantly loved by critics and audiences alike. It was nominated for thirteen Oscars and won six , including best picture (a prize that Shawshank Redemption deserved). This year Eric Roth adapted another screenplay about a man who ages backwards and gave us an extraordinary tale over this magnificent man’s life.
The movie stars Brad Pitt as the titular character Benjamin Button, a man who was born as the ugliest child you’ve ever seen, (To give you a better idea as to what he looked like, he was referred to as “A miracle you don’t want to see” “non human” and and 80 year old woman’s “ex-husband”) He is diagnosed with many diseases and disabilities that come with old age and he is expected to die very soon. His mother died giving birth to him and his father ran through the streets and left him at the porch to a retirement home, where he was picked up by his new mama, and began his incredible journey.
There’s not much to say about the plot without ruining too much, Benjamin ages backwards, he falls in love with a girl who is almost exactly his age (Cate Blanchett) but is aging regularly so while he looks eighty she looks ten, and he travels the world and encounters many life changing events. Eric Roth has given us a tale surrounding love and death with a surreal twist and done his best to make it as powerful as he possibly could. However, as original and new as this movie tries to be you simply cannot shake off the parallels between the stories of Benjamin Button and formerly mentioned Forrest Gump.
Benjamin Button is Forrest Gump, plain and simple. Their stories follow nearly exact plotlines and events with only a few details changed and tries to make it as magical as it can. And the surprising thing is that it works. David Fincher has crafted himself a masterpiece in this borderline copy of a previous great. He has made the character of Benjamin Button endearing and loveable, his tale timeless and pure. He fuses comedy and drama seamlessly and turns Eric Roth’s screenplay into ony hell of a majestic ride. Not only does he make the movie great, but he makes it look incredible. The special effects used here are some of the greatest I’ve ever seen. Many people think explosions and gunfights are the maximum use for special effects but they’re wrong, it’s all right here in this movie. Making Brad Pitt look like an eighty year old man and making it believable is simply jaw dropping.
The story of a man who ages backwards is interesting on it’s own indeed but Fincher adds his own style to take it to the next level creating a believable love story, told through the diary of Benjamin by the daughter of Cate Blanchett, and crafting one of the best movies of the year. The Oscar Nominations have come out and this movie deservedly gotten Thirteen nominations (Forrest Gump … …). So despite it being almost a carbon copy plot wise, it copied a perfect film and did it well. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button deserves many of the awards it’s up for (Though Visual Effects is the one that it has in the bag)and it will probably get them. If Forrest Gump had never been made no one would doubt this movie’s excellence, so I’m going to forget about FG momentarily and give Benjamin Button what it deserves, a 5/5 for it’s never dull three hour runtime.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Garden of Doubt on the Island of Shadows

Click here to see the book on Goodreads

rating: 4 of 5 stars
There is something elegant and yet simple about this chapbook from ISMs Press. It's presence is undoubtedly raw. The sole flower on its cover is beautiful and unimposing; the text clean and easy to read, yet haunting.

This is the story of a missing musician and a love that reaches across the grave (but not in your stereotypical manner). The plot revolves around a secret island, ghostly in its almost-here/almost-not-here ambience, and the protagonist's journey there to find her lover. Of course, find him she does, but he's not quite what she expected.

A superb promise of things to come.

View all my reviews.

Contests Around the Blogosphere

Firstly, Blood of the Muse has a giveaway for Betwixt by Tara Bray Smith.
S. J. Day is giving away a bunch of EVE stuff.
Stella Matutina is giving away a Ranger's Apprentice book.
Then Mulluane was kind enough to link up a whole bunch of book giveaways around the blogosphere. So, go enter some contests and win some free stuff!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Book Review Up: Seaborn by Chris Howard

Another book review up! I really enjoyed this novel (certainly one of my favorites now). Check out my review and let me know what you think.

The Haul of Books Volume Four

This is a very special Haul of Books volume! Why? Because I got some nifty stuff in the mail recently and I'm excited to share it!
First up:
On SF by Thomas M. Disch (got it on sale at the UCSC bookstore), Marcher by Chris Beckett, and The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart (these last two were purchases from Amazon so I could get free shipping for some of my school books).
And then there are these lovely comics from Asylum Press: Warlash (Zombie Mutant Genesis), Warlash (Dark Noir), and Undead Evil. I got them for free for signing up for their newsletter thingy.
And then these (also from Asylum): Promo Poster for Undead Evil and DTOX.
And there you go! Did you get anything new recently?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Guardian's Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels Everyone Must Read: The Meme

I stole this from Neth Space, though apparently SF Signal has done it as well (or they started it, or something of that nature). Here's how it works:
  • Bold the books you've read.
  • Spread this list like a virus, only be nicer about it, because being mean isn't nice, and you wouldn't want to be not-nice, would you?
Here is the list:
  1. Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979)
  2. Brian W Aldiss: Non-Stop (1958)
  3. Isaac Asimov: Foundation (1951)
  4. Margaret Atwood: The Blind Assassin (2000)
  5. Paul Auster: In the Country of Last Things (1987)
  6. Iain Banks: The Wasp Factory (1984)
  7. Iain M Banks: Consider Phlebas (1987)
  8. Clive Barker: Weaveworld (1987)
  9. Nicola Barker: Darkmans (2007)
  10. Stephen Baxter: The Time Ships (1995)
  11. Greg Bear: Darwin's Radio (1999)
  12. Alfred Bester: The Stars My Destination (1956)
  13. Poppy Z Brite: Lost Souls (1992)
  14. Algis Budrys: Rogue Moon (1960)
  15. Mikhail Bulgakov: The Master and Margarita (1966)
  16. Edward Bulwer-Lytton: The Coming Race (1871)
  17. Anthony Burgess: A Clockwork Orange (1960)
  18. Anthony Burgess: The End of the World News (1982)
  19. Edgar Rice Burroughs: A Princess of Mars (1912)
  20. William Burroughs: Naked Lunch (1959)
  21. Octavia Butler: Kindred (1979)
  22. Samuel Butler: Erewhon (1872)
  23. Italo Calvino: The Baron in the Trees (1957)
  24. Ramsey Campbell: The Influence (1988)
  25. Lewis Carroll: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
  26. Lewis Carroll: Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871)
  27. Angela Carter: Nights at the Circus (1984)
  28. Michael Chabon: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000)
  29. Arthur C Clarke: Childhood's End (1953)
  30. GK Chesterton: The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)
  31. Susanna Clarke: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (2004)
  32. Michael G Coney: Hello Summer, Goodbye (1975)
  33. Douglas Coupland: Girlfriend in a Coma (1998)
  34. Mark Danielewski: House of Leaves (2000)
  35. Marie Darrieussecq: Pig Tales (1996)
  36. Samuel R Delaney: The Einstein Intersection (1967)
  37. Philip K Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)
  38. Philip K Dick: The Man in the High Castle (1962)
  39. Umberto Eco: Foucault's Pendulum (1988)
  40. Michel Faber: Under the Skin (2000)
  41. John Fowles: The Magus (1966)
  42. Neil Gaiman: American Gods (2001)
  43. Alan Garner: Red Shift (1973)
  44. William Gibson: Neuromancer (1984)
  45. Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Herland (1915)
  46. William Golding: Lord of the Flies (1954)
  47. Joe Haldeman: The Forever War (1974)
  48. M John Harrison: Light (2002)
  49. Robert A Heinlein: Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)
  50. Frank Herbert: Dune (1965)
  51. Hermann Hesse: The Glass Bead Game (1943)
  52. Russell Hoban: Riddley Walker (1980)
  53. James Hogg: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824)
  54. Michel Houellebecq: Atomised (1998)
  55. Aldous Huxley: Brave New World (1932)
  56. Kazuo Ishiguro: The Unconsoled (1995)
  57. Shirley Jackson: The Haunting of Hill House (1959)
  58. Henry James: The Turn of the Screw (1898)
  59. PD James: The Children of Men (1992)
  60. Richard Jefferies: After London; Or, Wild England (1885)
  61. Gwyneth Jones: Bold as Love (2001)
  62. Franz Kafka: The Trial (1925)
  63. Daniel Keyes: Flowers for Algernon (1966)
  64. Stephen King: The Shining (1977)
  65. Marghanita Laski: The Victorian Chaise-longue (1953)
  66. Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu: Uncle Silas (1864)
  67. Stanislaw Lem: Solaris (1961)
  68. Doris Lessing: Memoirs of a Survivor (1974)
  69. David Lindsay: A Voyage to Arcturus (1920)
  70. Ken MacLeod: The Night Sessions (2008)
  71. Hilary Mantel: Beyond Black (2005)
  72. Michael Marshall Smith: Only Forward (1994)
  73. Richard Matheson: I Am Legend (1954)
  74. Charles Maturin: Melmoth the Wanderer (1820)
  75. Patrick McCabe: The Butcher Boy (1992)
  76. Cormac McCarthy: The Road (2006)
  77. Jed Mercurio: Ascent (2007)
  78. China Miéville: The Scar (2002)
  79. Andrew Miller: Ingenious Pain (1997)
  80. Walter M Miller Jr: A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960)
  81. David Mitchell: Cloud Atlas (2004)
  82. Michael Moorcock: Mother London (1988)
  83. William Morris: News From Nowhere (1890)
  84. Toni Morrison: Beloved (1987)
  85. Haruki Murakami: The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (1995)
  86. Vladimir Nabokov: Ada or Ardor (1969)
  87. Audrey Niffenegger: The Time Traveler's Wife (2003)
  88. Larry Niven: Ringworld (1970)
  89. Jeff Noon: Vurt (1993)
  90. Flann O'Brien: The Third Policeman (1967)
  91. Ben Okri: The Famished Road (1991)
  92. Chuck Palahniuk: Fight Club (1996)
  93. Thomas Love Peacock: Nightmare Abbey (1818)
  94. Mervyn Peake: Titus Groan (1946)
  95. John Cowper Powys: A Glastonbury Romance (1932)
  96. Christopher Priest: The Prestige (1995)
  97. François Rabelais: Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532-34)
  98. Ann Radcliffe: The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794)
  99. Alastair Reynolds: Revelation Space (2000)
  100. Kim Stanley Robinson: The Years of Rice and Salt (2002)
  101. JK Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997)
  102. Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses (1988)
  103. Antoine de Sainte-Exupéry: The Little Prince (1943)
  104. José Saramago: Blindness (1995)
  105. Will Self: How the Dead Live (2000)
  106. Mary Shelley: Frankenstein (1818)
  107. Dan Simmons: Hyperion (1989)
  108. Olaf Stapledon: Star Maker (1937)
  109. Neal Stephenson: Snow Crash (1992)
  110. Robert Louis Stevenson: The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886)
  111. Bram Stoker: Dracula (1897)
  112. Rupert Thomson: The Insult (1996)
  113. Mark Twain: A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court (1889)
  114. Kurt Vonnegut: Sirens of Titan (1959)
  115. Robert Walser: Institute Benjamenta (1909)
  116. Sylvia Townsend Warner: Lolly Willowes (1926)
  117. Sarah Waters: Affinity (1999)
  118. HG Wells: The Time Machine (1895)
  119. HG Wells: The War of the Worlds (1898)
  120. TH White: The Sword in the Stone (1938)
  121. Gene Wolfe: The Book of the New Sun (1980-83)
  122. John Wyndham: Day of the Triffids (1951)
  123. John Wyndham: The Midwich Cuckoos (1957)
  124. Yevgeny Zamyatin: We (1924)
Well, I have read a pathetically small amount of these novels--seventeen. I apparently don't read enough.

How did you do?

Visitor Milestone: 50,000!

Apparently I crossed my 50,000 hits milestone the other day. Not bad. Of course, it would be lovely if that were 50,000,000, but I'm not John Scalzi. In any case, thank you all for sticking around, visiting my blog, commenting, etc. I appreciate it. Here's to another 50,000!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Website Found: Secret and Complex Literatures

I had at one point been mulling around in my head an idea for a young adult fantasy/science fiction novel centered around the Voynich Manuscript, a mysterious collection of pages written in an unknown and undecipherable language accompanied by bizarre illustrations. Presumably it's one of those incredibly clever creations that we'll likely never understand, since the person who wrote it died before it was found. The problem for me was finding a book that put all of the pages of the Voynich Manuscript into one place, but without all the writing of an author discussing it crammed between the pages or in the margins.

With that in mind, I present to you Secret and Complex Literatures.

What is it?
Secret and Complex Literatures, which needs a different name, by the way, is a fascinating site filled with ancient texts, strange invented languages/alphabets, obscure and relatively forgotten elements of ancient writing, and, of course, the Voynich Manuscript. If you're interested in invented languages by people other than Tolkien, particularly people you might not have known had invented languages, this is certainly a site for you.

Why is it cool?
Well, aside from the fact that it's a site that puts all this wonderful stuff right in front of your face, it includes a section of thirty-six beautiful manuscripts, a page of ambigrams, a page of calligraphies/micrographies/calligrams, six palimpsest manuscripts, twenty-three variations of secret writings and invented languages, and much more (Voynich, for example). It's all there. Fantasy fans will love this site, I imagine, because it puts all this wonderful stuff in one place; no need to Google search it (unless you want to know more about a particular item). The only downside is that much of the site is written in French, but that shouldn't deter you.

Give this site a look and let me know what you think!

A Reading Challenge (by Decade)

While I could probably do this challenge without having to select new books (since my reading list for school is from all over the place), I think that would be cheating and will simply sit out this time around. But perhaps some of you, my lovely readers, will get a kick out of trying this, so I'm going to post the link to the Decades Challenge and give you the basic layout of how it works:
  1. Read a minimum of 9 books in 9 consecutive decades in ‘09.
  2. Books published in the 2000’s do not count.
  3. Titles may be cross-posted with any other challenge.
  4. You may change your list at any time.
There are a few other rules on the website, but those are the most important. If you're interested in doing this, let me know in the comments and feel free to keep me updated on your progress. I'm curious what books people will pick!


Edit: A correction has been made. This challenge is for 2009, not for 2008. It would be rather difficult to do a challenge that happened last year, don't you think? Problem solved!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Show Review: Stream Episode One

I've been fascinated by the push for web-based television shows (not web-extensions of TV shows, but original works placed on the web in small 3-5 minute episodes). The recent incarnation is Whoopi Goldberg vehicle Stream. The show has only one episode up at the moment, which is the one I'm reviewing, but the description of the show is quite intriguing:
Thanks to a drug she took when she was seventeen, moments from various points in Jodi's life become intertwined, effectively letting her experience two moments at once.
Jodi has spoken with her future husband; she's visited the psychiatric ward where she will reside in her twenties, and she has come face to face with a vision that will haunt her throughout her life.
Ultimately, Stream is about a woman who spends a lifetime wrestling with her personal demons, and gathering the strength to face her worst fears.
Stream snaps back and forth through three phases of Jodi's life: her past as an intelligent but headstrong teen; her present in a psychiatric facility, and her future as an adult clinging to a normal life after years of tribulation.
The story unfolds in and around New York City, as we travel with Jodi from the wealthy suburban home of her youth to the nebulous world of an institution, and the unforgiving streets of the South Bronx.
The first episode of this mind-bending psycho-thriller clocks in at three minutes and thirty seconds, but immediately establishes, or tries to at least, the basic premise: that Jodi can experience time as if it were stationary; she can experience her past and her future together.
The production quality is decent and thankfully aims for a more minimalist approach than a clouded CG-infested approach. It also seems like this is a series that is well cast, what with Whoopi Goldberg at the head and a collection of unknown, but seemingly capable actors and actresses supporting her.
I should say that I'm a Whoopi fan. I don't know why, but I enjoy Goldberg's movies. Stream is, for me, another of her projects I intend to stick with. It's hard to judge this series effectively on one episode, but after seeing it I can say that I am interested. I want to know more about Jodi, about how she ended up the way she is, and where she will end up when this is all over.
Give the first episode a look and let me know what you think. It's only a few minutes out of your day and you might find yourself as interested as I am in the end.

The Haul of Books Volume Three

I have more books to show the world. The books in this post are part of the huge box my friend gave me while she was packing to move, and there should be two or so posts more of this stuff before I run out of the freebee books. Of course, with school already started I have plenty of other books to show you all, but that will come at another time. For now, here's this edition's haul:
First up are Starman by Sara Douglass and Broken Blade, King of Shadows, The Western King, and Kingmaker's Sword by Ann Marston. The latter group are apparently Scottish semi-fantasy, which sounds interesting to me!
And then there are March Upcountry by John Ringo and David Weber, Requiem For the Sun and Prophecy by Elizabeth Haydon, and The Woad to Wuin by Peter David. If you look closely in this picture you can actually see the edge of the box from whence these books came.
Thoughts on any of these books are certainly welcome!
Expect at some point in the relatively near future--once my last school book comes in from wherever it's coming from--there will be a collection of posts dedicated to my reading list for this quarter. I thought last quarter was bad, but this quarter is certainly kicking my butt. Twenty-eight books to be read in about ten weeks. You do the math...

Rejection: Archaeopteryx

Alright, so I guess it's about that time when all the rejections start rolling in. The good news is that I'm not bothered by it! So, this story is off to someplace else...


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

To Market, To Market?

I was looking at where to submit my latest story today, and I began thinking, What criteria does a writer use to select which markets to submit to?

Is it just payment? Well, no. I've known established writers to submit to non-paying markets simply because they liked the look of them. I myself have occasionally seen a market and, becoming obsessed with it, written a story specifically, despite the pay. Of course, professional paying markets matter if you live off your short fiction or you want to apply to the SFWA/HWA, but not if you write simply for the love of it.

Is it exposure? This, too, is a difficult one, because a short story magazine with a distribution of 1000 or so doesn't provide much exposure to someone like Clive Barker. Furthermore, why would he need further exposure anyway? Surely his readers know of him and new readers who're looking for genre work will know to consider him.

Perhaps it's being 'part of the club'. If you're published at a given venue, you become part of a cabal of writers who have all been published there. Appearing alongside writers you admire, or in a beautifully designed and highly selective magazine is always a good thrill, whether or not you need the exposure. So perhaps all writing is selfish and all publishing is vanity, but this probably comes as no news to most writers, who've secretly been hiding this info from the rest of the world and making them dependend on us for, well, everything :D

Website Found: Blade Runner Insight

I'm a Philip K. Dick fan, to say the least, and while I don't consider Blade Runner to be an entertaining film, I think as far as aesthetic value is concerned, it is top notch. Blade Runner Insight is a website I stumbled onto a while ago and I've been meaning to put it up in my Website Found feature.

What is it?
Blade Runner Insight is a website dedicated to the analysis of the film. It's not a fan site, per se--certainly not in the sense that you will find gushing fan raves over the latest director's edition or anything of that sort--but it is a site with a mission to expand upon the already well-rehearsed criticism of the film.

Why is it cool?
Well, if you're interested in reading and commenting on deeper discussions of the Blade Runner film, then this site is definitely for you. The site is run partly as a blog (with news and information added into the mix) and partly as a forum (not an actual forum, but as a forum) for the authors to present their arguments and thoughts. The archives are considerably extensive, thus providing, I think, plenty of material to keep you interested during their occasional lulls in posting.

Check out this fascinating site and satiate that Blade Runner hunger you have in your lower intestine (because it's much more interesting to think of hunger in your lower intestine than in your stomach).

Advice on Writing Reviews Part Three

(Read Part One and Part Two)
Moving on from all the general stuff, we get to some specifics. Now, since I write "Comprehensive Reviews," I can't provide any specific advice for any other form. I assume that the emailer likes the way I review books, so I'll offer some insight on that front.
When writing a review, I immediately place into focus three things:
  1. Synopsis/Hook
    The basic story, the plot, etc.
  2. Pros/Cons
    What's good and what's bad.
  3. Like/Not Like
    Did I like it or did I dislike it? Why?
Anything that fits around these isn't necessarily important, because the three things above are what I look for in a review (#3 more so than the others). Ultimately, everything ties into #3, because what a reader of these kinds of reviews generally wants (or I assume they want, because it's what I want too) is the answer to the question: do I want to read this? There are too many books published every year for any one person to read, and a reader's time is precious. They have to know whether or not they want to read a book and fast.
On top of these elements, however, I tend to toss in some personal reaction. I like to tell the reader my personal reactions to elements within the story. Was a particular scene emotionally gripping? Did I cry? Did I grimace? Did I actually have a visceral reaction to something that a character did? I consider this to be an important aspect of my reviews because I get the sense that readers want books that are engaging on multiple levels. If a book did something for me on an emotional or physical level, that's something they'd like to know so they don't go and buy some book that turns out to be emotionally empty. Personal opinion doesn't have to be specifically in this vein, though. You can fiddle with the imaginary "conventions" of book reviewing all you want.

What you do in your reviews, however, is up to you. Don't let me determine how you write your reviews (or anyone else, for that matter). Sit down and give it a shot. When I started writing reviews, I was horrible (I've gone back to look). I don't consider myself a particularly good reviewer today, but I can see how I have improved. There's nothing wrong with starting and sucking (just like in writing fiction).
What is important is determining what you want to do with your reviews, how you want to present them, and then doing it. Everything else can fall into place one piece at a time.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Rejection: Artemis

Got another rejection the other day. Yippee! I'm just racking them up, aren't I? Love it.

Anywho, it's off to some other place.

SF Crowsnest Tickles Your Gaming Side

Apparently SF Crowsnest has added a new section to their website called Sci Fi Play. From the email I got:
You can now beat your Monday morning global depression economic woe-filled lunchtime blues by introducing orcs to your bloody axe or blasting enemy starships to pieces. Your bank of choice will probably still end up being nationalised, but at least you'll have a high score to show for it.
Glancing over there I saw a few games I'd like to try out, but don't have the time at the moment. You all should check it out though! It's free!

Advice on Writing Reviews Part Two

(Read Part One and Part Three)
Alright, so I've gone through the types of reviewers, but what about reviewing in general? Well, before you sit down to actually write reviews, you should really think about what you're doing. Consider what kinds of reviews you want to write, what kinds of books you want to write them about, etc. Once you've decided these things, you should stick to some basic reviewing "rules" (they're not really rules as much as good ideas):
  1. Be Honest
    This can sometimes be difficult, even though people constantly say "well I'm honest about all my reviews." The fact is that it can take some practice to actually be honest on reviews. It takes guts to actually say "this book was horrible." After all, we're human beings and often times we like to avoid hurting someone's feelings. There are other factors that play into this too, such as horror stories of authors throwing tantrums over a review, and even some cases where the author actually told the reviewer to commit suicide. These things can happen. Thankfully it doesn't happen often. A good way to start out is to follow the second rule, because you aren't inhibited by such factors as trying to please the publisher, the author, etc.
  2. Read Your Library First
    Don't immediately start asking for review copies. First, it's stupid because no publisher is going to send you ARCs (advanced review copies) if you haven't even started reviewing. The primary reason for reading books you've bought is that you're not obligated in any way, even just by some internal argument with yourself, to do anything but be honest. It's a great way to hone your abilities too.
  3. Read Other Reviewers
    A great way to pick up little tricks and such is to see what others are doing and trying it yourself. This can lead to altering it to fit what you want to do with reviewing. Don't go overboard, though. Find reviewers you enjoy reading and try to figure out why you like their reviews over others. That's likely the kind of thing you want to include in your reviews.
  4. Write For Yourself, Kinda
    Reviews are obviously meant for other people to read, but unless you like writing in styles that aren't your own or doing things that you generally wouldn't do, I suggest sticking to what you like about the form. Write reviews you would want to see, but also pay attention to how you write them. You don't want to alienate readers, but you also don't want to have cookie-cutter reviews. Writing reviews for yourself can add a bit of personal flavor.
  5. Try Things
    If you get an idea on how to improve your reviews, try it. There's nothing wrong with experimenting. After all, a long time ago someone on the Interwebs sat down, saw blogging, and thought, hey, why don't I try doing a book review blog? Trying new things can help improve your reviews. I recommend not going overboard though. Don't just throw random things in there in the name of experimentation; be reasonable and logical.
Anyone reading this post, feel free to add your own little rules in the comments. I think we should try to consider this as some sort of unofficial, slightly comprehensive guide to book reviewing, or something on that order.

There will be a third installment after this that will dig into how I do reviews, to a certain extent. Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Book Review Up: Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Well, after writing this review, Neth over at Nethspace made a lovely suggestion on how to review book you really love. Just say: Buy it! So, I'm going to say that here, because Stardust was absolutely wonderful. However, you're welcome to read my in-depth review here (which I suggest, because it's nice to drive traffic to a great book reviewing blog that I am a part of).


Advice on Writing Reviews Part One

I recently received an email from a reader asking for advice on reviewing books and book review blogs. I figured the best way to answer would be to write a post about it (names excluded, of course). Here is what the reader wrote:
The main reason I'm writing this e-mail is to ask you for some pointers on how to actually review books. I've been thinking of starting a review blog myself, but my reviews always seem to just consist of "I liked this book, and recommend it". I want to be able to say more than that, but I don't know how. I don't suppose you have any tips you might be willing to share? Rest assured, you won't get any competition for readers from me.
First things first, this is a rather loaded question. There are a lot of different kinds of book reviews, both professional and amateur, and the way I review books is not necessarily the same as someone else. There are different classes or categorizations of book reviewing and each type has advantages and weaknesses. So, with that in mind, you have to decide what kind of book reviewer you want to be. The most common types of book reviewers are as follows (note: this post is not going to be a discussion of which kind of review style is the best one as I am not interested in discussing such matters; people read different kinds of reviews for different reasons; I would, of course, enjoy discussion about these review types and welcome additions to the pros and cons as you see fit):
  1. The Literary
    These are folks like Larry of OF Blog of the Fallen who delve into the text, citing examples, pointing out themes, analyzing, etc. You might consider this to be along the lines of literary criticism. They can be quite interesting forms of reviews when done well and offer an in-depth perspective.
    Pros: These are designed to please those that are interested in more than whether or not they will like the book. Usually insightful and useful to those wanting to know whether a text is more than just another book about whatever.
    Cons: They can take a bit of time to do, especially if your reading practices are not already inclined to this sort of thing, and your audience will be relatively select (although not as select as you might think primarily because there aren't a lot of blogs that do these kinds of reviews).
  2. The OMG
    Go on the Amazon, look up any popular book (Eragon, Twilight, Harry Potter, etc.) and find any 5-star review that essentially opens and closes with some derivation of "OMG this book was teh awzums." That's basically what this is, although to varying degrees of literacy.
    Pros: Quick and easy. These reviews are essentially about how you feel about the work and are not reliant upon objective opinion, informational dialogue (synopsis, plot information, etc.), etc.
    Cons: Because they don't rely on objective opinion, informational dialogue, etc. these reviews tend to have value only to people who are already fans of a particular work, or fans of similar works. These reviews lose a lot of the value offered by other formats and really should be kept to convention meetings and Twilight fan clubs (I don't even think they should be allowed on Amazon, because they provide absolutely nothing of value about a work: people read reviews to find out if they will enjoy a book, not whether you think it's the best thing since sliced bread).
  3. The Reverse OMG
    Take the opinionated feel of #2 and add in some literacy. Essentially the Reverse OMG is a review that is based on personal opinion, but attempts to present that opinion in a less flamboyant manner. Consider this to be like an expanded #2 if you want.
    Pros: Tend to be much more interesting for the writer, which makes writing them rather easy.
    Cons: Suffers from some of the same issues as #2, although to a much lesser degree. Often times these sorts of reviews are placed on a personal blog, rather than a review blog, since they coincide with the writer's personal opinions. These aren't necessarily bad, though, and often can be interesting for people who like to get that more personal approach. Plus, they're readable.
  4. The Comprehensive
    Well, it's like the name sounds. Comprehensive reviews, to varying degrees (obviously), attempt to bring a little of everything into the mix. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but by fusing a little personal opinion (I liked it) with informational dialogue (what was the plot, etc.) you end up with a review that tells the reader what the book is about, tells them whether you thought it was good, and informs them on whether they might enjoy it too. Now, this one breaks down into a lot of subtypes, but I'm not going to go into them (mostly because I haven't the time for the absurdities of review semantics).
    Pros: Well, you've probably read these kinds of reviews in newspapers, magazines, etc. They benefit from being primarily about whether the experience of reading a particular work will be of value to someone who hasn't read it. That's the whole point. It's meant to be clear and decisive on the matter by presenting information, opinion, and relevant comparisons.
    Cons: Less personal than #3 and generally not literary. Some of the depth of reviewing that is provided by the extremes (#1 and #3, respectively, as both are on different ends of the spectrum and offer insight into two different approaches) is lost here. (I attempt to write these).
Those are the basic categories. From those, you have to decide what you want to do (and there is certainly plenty of overlap, to a certain extent, between these). I recommend avoiding #2 like the plague, because we have far too many of those kinds of reviews in the world as it is.

That's all for this edition, though, because to put all of the information I have into one post would be absolutely absurd. Stay tuned!

(Read Part Two and Part Three)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Random Literature List (Volume One)

(I'm stealing these lists from, in case anyone is wondering.)

Here's a list of ten random bits from literature, as responded to by me (feel free to comment with your own entries or steal it for your own nefarious purposes):
  1. Best short stories I’ve ever read
    "Sandkings" by George R. R. Martin and "Call Me Joe" by Poul Anderson. The former more so than the latter. Both stories are brilliant though and the Martin one is particularly clever. I'd recommend both. "Sandkings" was actually turned into an episode of Outer Limits starring Beau Bridges, which is pretty darn cool in my book.
  2. Book I finished reading and wanted to re-read straight away
    I've never been in a position where I have finished the book and immediately wanted to reread it. To be honest, I'm usually itching to try something I have reread 1984, however, and will probably do so again, but there are just too many books out there for me to continuously reread things.
  3. Favourite books from my childhood
    I don't actually remember much of my childhood, let alone any books I read during that time. The only stories I remember from that time are vague in details, mostly involving frogs and all emitted from my grandmother in the brief moments before bedtime. Books that are perhaps the first that I remember and still favor would be 1984 by George Orwell, Watership Down by Richard Adams, and Midsummer Night's Dream by Shakespeare.
  4. Best film of the book I have seen
    Lord of the Rings, all three of them. Absolutely gorgeous and I don't think you could possibly have brought the books to life any better than the makers of those films did. Simply stunning and memorable (and will be for a long time, I'm sure).
  5. Most overlooked/underrated novels
    Duncton Wood and the books that follow it by William Horwood. I rarely, if ever, hear about this series and it surprises me. Either people don't know about Mr. Horwood or there's a conspiracy keeping him in the dark. His series puts Brian Jacques's books to shame. Brilliantly complex animal fantasy, but without all the ridiculous nonsense of sword-carrying hamsters and what not. If you liked Watership Down, then you will undoubtedly love Duncton Wood.
  6. Books that should be on the national curriculum
    I would like to see some of the classic SF/F authors in the national curriculum, particularly Isaac Asimov, Margaret Atwood, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Poul Anderson, H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, and others. The thing that needs to be done with the national curriculum is an increase of variety. It's wonderful that we have staple texts, but those texts don't have to always be taught. Charles Dickens wrote more than A Tale of Two Cities; Mark Twain wrote more than Huckleberry Finn; and Shakespeare wasn't the only playwright of consequence in his time. It's okay to shift things around, try different books, modern books, older books, middle-age books. The more variety, the better chance you have of getting kids interested in literature. Wouldn't you have found reading more enjoyable if you got to read books in genres you were interested in?
  7. Most famous author I have met who acted like a prat
    Honestly, I can't think of a single author I have met who acted like a prat. I've met William Gibson, Kim Stanley Robinson, Karen Joy Fowler, and many others (even film directors) and not a single one of them has ever been anything but courteous to me. Maybe I'm not meeting the kinds of people this particular item is directed towards and I suspect that I will never meet those kinds of people.
  8. My favourite bookshop
    Oh boy. I have a problem. I can't pick a favorite. Santa Cruz has three bookstores in the same area (downtown) and all of them are good to a certain degree. I'm going to toss out Borders for being a chainstore and focus on actual independent stores. But then I have another problem. There are two independent stores downtown: Logo's and Bookshop Santa Cruz. Both have strengths that I like. Logo's is fantastic for finding old, obscure, long-forgotten used SF/F titles (and for finding relatively new or popular used titles too). Bookshop Santa Cruz has the luxury of being staffed with people who actually know what the hell they are talking about and a good catalogue of books.
    On a non-local scale, however, I would have to say that Powell's City of Books is by far the greatest place for book lovers. It's enormous (and in Portland)!
  9. Authors whose work should immediately be translated into English
    Well, to be honest, since I only read in English, I can't rightly say. I don't know any non-English authors who haven't already been translated. So, I guess what I will say is that anyone who is writing science fiction or fantasy and isn't translated, well, they should be.
  10. Deceased author I’d most like to meet
    Poul Anderson. That is all!
And there you go! Hope it's interesting. Leave a comment!