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The Library of Babel: A Book Log

"This much is already known: for every sensible line of straightforward statement, there are leagues of senseless cacophonies, verbal jumbles and incoherences." -- Jorge Luis Borges


Monday, August 30, 2004

Worldcon Finale

Sunday and Monday are somewhat lighter than the previous days, so I'm pasting them together into one big post. I know you're all heartbroken not to have this drawn out more...


Sunday 10:00 a

X H206: My Love Affair With JRR Tolkien

When (and how) did it start? Was it a passing fling or eternal love? Who or what is sitting at home waiting for you to come to your senses? Daniel Grotta, Karen Haber (m), Kathy Morrow, Michael Swanwick, Connie Willis

H303: When Did the Future Get So Far Away?

Remember the 1959s and 1960s, when we thought that by the year 2000 we'd have giant orbiting space stations, routine space travel, and human colonies all over the solar system? Stories written today don't talk of such wonders happening within a few decades—instead, they're a century or more in the imagined future. What happened? Did we get more cynical and lose our near-term dreams, or more practical and assume the future would be harder to get to that earlier dreamers imagined? Judith Berman, Steve Carper, D. Douglas Fratz, John G. Hemry, Mike Shepherd-Moscoe (m)

* H312: The Best Books of 2004 (so far)

You know those hateful people who somehow keep up with their reading? They're all on this panel. They'll share which current works of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and slipstream it's a shame you're missing. Charles N. Brown, John Clute, Jonathan Strahan (m)

[It's all about the book recommendations...]


Sunday 11:00 a

H107: Sword and Sorcery: Heroic Fantasy's Punk Kid Brother

Warrior heroes and mighty magicians strutting their stuff across a world of the author's imagination. That can describe both Heroic Fantasy and Sword-and-Sorcery. But why does one sound more up-market than the other? Does it depend on the style of writing—or just the thickness of the book? Peter Morwood

H203: Criticism or Review?

Is there really a difference? Discuss. F. Brett Cox, Gregory Feeley (m), Daniel Grotta, Graham Sleight, Takayuki Tatsumi

H206: Achilles Needs a Heel!—The Problem With Power

Would Achilles have been interesting if he'd been truly invulnerable, or, instead or dying a tragic here would he still have been acting like a psychopathic adolescent thirty years after the Trojan War ended? Can power without vulnerabilities make an interesting story? (Has anyone succeeded?) What sorts of vulnerabilities are needed? How do you avoid the search for the armor's chink turning a story into a puzzle? Alison Baird (m), Carol Berg, Diane Duane, Sheila Finch

H306: DOA: Books that Died Despite Everything

Well-known author, well-developed plot, thorough marketing plan, yet the book fails to thrive. Why? Did it show too much ambition or too little? Was it old-fashioned, or ahead of its time? Were the stars wrong, or the season, or were we simply coming down with the flu? Let us count all the sad ways good books go bad…Our panel will discuss the phenomenon from multiple viewpoints. John Jarrold, Jane Jewell (m), Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Janna Silverstein, Jonathan Strahan, Jacob Weisman

[In a weird way, this looks like it could be really interesting...]

H311: Exotic Mythologies

Tired of fantasy larded with cardboard cut-outs from Celtic mythology? Explore some of the world's great mythologies that fantasy has yet to fully explore. A survey of great ideas from countries and peoples around the world. Suzanne Alles Blom, Anne Harris, Josepha Sherman (m), Vandana Singh


Sunday 12:00 n

H302: The New Weird: What, Who, and Why?

Now that SF has become more mainstream, what has become the new fringe? Who defines what is "weird," and who and what have been declared "weird,"—and why? Paul DiFilippo, Beth Meacham, Delia Sherman, Graham Sleight (m), Jonathan Strahan, Jeff VanderMeer

[I'm not sure I've actually read anything by any of the "New Weird" authors-- China Mieville is the only one I can think of off-hand, and I never did finish Perdido Street Station (not that I didn't like it, I just wasn't in the mood for it right then, and then misplaced it for a while...). I think VanderMeer is one of the canonical examples, as well, but I haven't seen any of his books.]

H304: Hell is Gray: The Banality of Evil

Back, deep in the mists of history, there has always been a sneaking suspicion that evil is more exciting, more fun than good: many writers (from Milton on down!) make evil seem interesting. (Why?)But is it fun? The (fortunately) few times most of us get near a truly bad person, they don't seem to be very joyful or happy—they seen terribly unhappy and frequently pretty dull. C. S. Lewis called this the banality of evil: uncreative, repetitious, and boring. Hell is not fiery-red, it is gray. Who has done a good job, in fantasy or SF, showing realistic heroes combating realistic evil? Barbara Chepaitis, Stephen Dedman, Paula Guran, Elizabeth Hand (m), Tanya Huff, Mary Turzillo

H312: Reading (1 hour)

Terry Pratchett


Sunday 1:00 p

H204: Turning Children's Books Into Film

Putting the Harry Potter books on film is turning out pretty well. Besides Holes, the latest Peter Pan, the recent TV Wrinkle in Time (plus Peter Jackson's promised The Hobbit ) what other kids' stuff would look great on the silver screen? Why? And perhaps most importantly, how? Kathryn Cramer, Susan Fichtelberg, Diana Tixier Herald, James S. Hinsey (m), Kathleen Kudlinski, Bonnie Kunzel

H302: Stories I'm Too Scared to Write

What makes some topics too frightening to write about? Is one person's bane another's delight? Ginjer Buchanan (m), Joe Haldeman, Louise Marley, Robert Charles Wilson


Sunday 2:00 p

H312: Fantasy Noire

Fantasy doesn't have to be sweetness and light, it can be dark without turning into gore-ridden horror. Who is writing dark fantasy today? Are there several traditions, or does it all derive from Lovecraft? Are there motifs in dark fantasy as pervasive as the Quest is in high fantasy? Has dark fantasy gotten clichéd? Jim Butcher, Glen Cook, Faye Ringel (m), Delia Sherman

[A slow couple of hours, here...]


Sunday 3:00 p

H204: LOTR: Looking Back at the Films

The film series is over, the dust has settled, was it all worth it? A look back, and assessment of the series as a whole. MaryAnn Johanson, Laurie Mann (m), Kathy Morrow

H301: The Fermi Paradox: Where is Everyone?

Enrico Fermi asked the question "Where are they?" Everything we know about astronomy, physics, chemistry and biology seems to say that planets with life ought to be common in the universe. If so, where are the aliens? Something is wrong—but what? John G. Cramer, G. David Nordley, Mark L. Olson (m), Stanley Schmidt

H302: Creating Gods

Gods are important characters in fantasy works from mythology to the Silmarillion to Saberhagen's "Swords" novels to Discworld. How does one introduce superbeings into a work without pushing the human characters into insignificance? Gods are often gigantic projections of human characteristics. Can they serve other functions as well? Additionally, why are polytheistic settings so common in fantasy? What are the sources that authors are using, and why? And why do readers find them so compelling? Lois McMaster Bujold (m), David B. Coe, Glen Cook, George R. R. Martin, Tamora Pierce, Jo Walton

H311: My Favorite Novels

Panelists will supply a list of their favorite novels, and the audience will try to match the authors to their lists. Then, they'll discuss their choices. Rosemary Kirstein, Paul Levinson (m), Robert Reed, Robert Charles Wilson

[Followed by another "Let's see you pick between these panels!" block. Evil bastards.]


Sunday 4:00 p

H107: What's New from Tor

A presentation of recent and forthcoming works published by Tor Books, along with a brief Q&A about the books. Come see the pretty pictures (i.e., cover art). Listen to the editors wax rhapsodic. There will be door prizes! David G. Hartwell, Beth Meacham, James Minz, Patrick Nielsen Hayden

H204: This Book Sucks: How and How Not To Write Reviews

What makes a good book review or a good critical piece? What kinds of things should book reviewers do? What kinds of behaviors should they avoid? Tobias Buckell, Thomas A. Easton, Scott Edelman, Janice M. Eisen (m), Steven Sawicki


Sunday 5:00 p

H310: Discoveries That Weren't: Near Misses in Science

Cold fusion wasn't the first. Scientists talk about promising results that turned out to be dead ends. At the other extreme, what experiments might have led to earlier advances of scientific theory if only scientists had known what they were seeing? And then there were the great scientific mistakes…that actually worked! Teflon, Penicillin, post-its…and where would we be without Silly-Putty? A semi-serious look at what science is really all about! John G. Cramer, Ctein, Howard Davidson (m), Robert A. Metzger, W. A. Thomasson

[The Davisson-Germer experiment is my personal favorite mistake-that-worked...]


And then there's Monday:

Monday 10:30 a

XXX H301: The Afshar Experiment: A Farewell to Copenhagen?

Update on Afshar's new quantum 2-slit experiment: does it falsify the Copenhagen and Many-Worlds interpretations of quantum mechanics? John G. Cramer

[Run Awayyyyyyyyy!!!!!]


Monday 11:00 a

* H206: Warping the Classics

Perverse interpretations of classical SF and Fantasy. LOTR as a musical comedy or a Klingon parable? A Christmas Carol featuring Scrooge as a time-traveling mutant? Arrgh! Mike Conrad, John M. Ford, Mark Mandel, John Pomeranz (m), Darrell Schweitzer

[A topic tailor-made for John M. Ford...]

H302: Best Short Stories of 2004 (So Far…)

Short stories are the lifeblood of the field, where new writers build their reputations and established writers do their best to yank the field in new directions. But how do you keep up, or just find the best? A panel of editors of "best of the year" anthologies give an overview of what's happening in short fiction right now, the best stories of the year (so far!), and what just might be on next year's award ballots. Kathryn Cramer, Jack Dann, Ellen Datlow, Gardner Dozois, Gavin Grant, Jonathan Strahan (m)

X H304: Images of Loss in LOTR

Much of the power of LOTR comes from the deep sense of loss that fills it: the elves' loss of Middle Earth, Men's loss of life, Frodo's loss of the Shire, Arwen's loss of immortality—and there are many others, even Gollum's loss of the Ring. Bittersweet images all. Is this sense of loss essential to the enduring strength of Tolkien's universe? Would we love it as much without the final image of the magic leaving Middle Earth, as the elves (and ring bearers) take the straight path across the sea to the West…? Debra Doyle, Mary Kay Kare (m), Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Jo Walton

H311: It's a Mystery…

Why do so many SF fans enjoy mysteries? In fact, why does anyone enjoy a mystery? And what's the appeal of occasionally crossing genres to dabble in both? Discuss what makes a good mystery and why this sometimes works so well with science fiction. Joshua Bilmes (m), Charlaine Harris, Jay Caselberg, Toni L. P. Kelner, Wen Spencer

H312: The Serious Side of Terry Pratchett

Other writers examine the message behind the merriment in the works of one of our Guests of Honor. What themes occur throughout? How does he combine wisdom with humor? Esther Friesner, Tanya Huff, Peter Morwood, Graham Sleight (m)


Monday 12:00 n

H302: SF: Transcendent Adventure

What is it? How does this term capture the essence of stuff that couldn't possibly be written in any other genre? Jim Frenkel, David G. Hartwell (m), Charles Oberndorf, Patrick Nielsen Hayden


Monday 1:00 p

H304: Hard Fantasy

Even in genre circles, fantasy is often dismissed by saying that we can just make it all up. But many fantasy writers go to a good deal of trouble to research and extrapolate their worlds—everything from finding period maps of London to checking the etymology of period words or delving into other belief systems to give their magic a sense of reality. It is the factual underpinnings which give a good fantasy the solidity it needs. How is this best done? Duncan W. Allen, Stephen Leigh, Susan Shwartz (m), Liz Williams

H306: The Abuse of Biology in SF

How does SF stack up when it deals with the biological sciences? Grievous errors and how writers might avoid them. Bad examples and good examples. Zara Baxter, Perrianne Lurie, Samuel Scheiner (m), Ronald Taylor, W. A. Thomasson

* H309: Hitting "the Wall"

The inverse of "the singularity" is "the Wall," a technological barrier that can't be surmounted and imposes fundamental limits on progress. The Wall for interplanetary travel is the speed of light; SF writers either accept it or tunnel through it by waving their hands about hyperspace or the Infinite Improbability Drive. The Wall for commercial aviation is the sound barrier; with the demise of the Concorde, airline passengers can fly no faster than they could in a 707 40 years ago. Physicists and engineers talk about ultimate limits to things like information density and the smallest possible transistor. What Walls are coming up? Can we dodge them and what can we do if we can't? Thomas A. Easton (m), P. J. Plauger, Charles Stross

H312: How Stories End

Happily ever after? Well, perhaps not always. But—what makes a satisfying ending? And, in fact, does a story really need to have an ending anyway? And does it need to have a "happy" ending to leave the reader feeling good? Discuss favorite endings and why they work so well. Suzanne Alles Blom, Suzy McKee Charnas, James Patrick Kelly (m), William Tenn, Charles Oberndorf


Monday 2:00 p

H305: Force Fields: what can electromagnetism do for us?

What can electromagnetism do for us? Are there any other forces that might be used? How do new materials, potential superconductors, or ultra- fast computer reactions create new possibilities? Dave Clements, Howard Davidson (m), Jordin T. Kare, G. David Nordley

H306: 2024: Technology that We Can't Imagine Being Without

Twenty years ago it was hard to imagine what it was like before copy machines. They had changed the work environment a lot and had gone quickly from being a novelty to such an essential part of business that nobody could imagine what it would be like if we didn't have them. The pace of such "essential" inventions has quickened. How did we ever get by without computers? The Web? VCRs? (Kids today—and adults, since we've changed as we've gotten used to things—can't imagine the days when you had to eagerly scan the TV listing for late-night movies, hoping that somebody would soon re-run the movie you hadn't seen in years or had always wanted to see.) And we're beginning to feel that way about our DVD players. What things that we don't have now will be considered so much a part of life that they'll fall into the "can't imagine life without them" category? Kenn Bates, Marc Gordon (m), P. J. Plauger, Shara R. Zoll

* H310: All I Learned about Science I Learned from SF

Like what? Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Can we trust the science in SF…do we want to? Jane Jewell, Steve Miller (m), Rebecca Moesta, Jo Walton

H312: How Do You Know When You're Dead?

The movie The Sixth Sense was not the first fiction to feature a character who is dead. Niven's Inferno, Connie Willis' Passages, and Philip José Farmer's Riverworld series all have protagonists who are dead or die and continue to be featured players. What other fiction features dead people? (And we don't mean vampires—but why not?) Are there any restrictions on the actions of dead people? What are some of the reactions of the characters who find themselves dead? Are there advantages to having a dead protagonist? Should we always fear the walking dead? What do they have to tell us? (Must we listen? Do they lie?) Do they return to harm or advise us? Do they come to warn or blame, comfort or prophesize? Do they offer us forgiveness or courage, or perhaps death itself? Discuss the use of the returning dead, and explain why they are such fascinating subjects. Scott Edelman (m), Neil Gaiman, Larry Niven, Terry Pratchett, Uncle River, Connie Willis

Posted at 7:47 PM | link |
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Sunday, August 29, 2004

The Dresden Files

We interrupt this series of Worldcon schedule updates to talk about some actual books. Six of them, in fact: the "Dresden Files" series by Jim Butcher (Storm Front, Fool Moon, Grave Peril, Summer Knight, Death Masks, and Blood Rites). The books follow the various adventures of Harry Dresden, Chicago's only openly practicing wizard. Yes, wizard-- he even advertises in the Yellow Pages:

Lost items found. Paranormal investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates. No love potions, endless purses, or other entertainments.

This is probably an inevitable concept, given the popularity of the hard-boiled private eye genre, and fantasy in general. Numerous people have written about ordinary (and often skeptical) private eyes facing supernatural evil in the modern world, where nobody believes in magic, and Glen Cook has gotten something like eight books out of the idea of a hard-boiled private eye in a fantasy world where magic is an accepted part of life-- it was only a matter of time before someone flipped this around, and wrote about a magic-using PI surrounded by non-believers.

Happily, these are well-done examples of both serial PI novels and urban fantasy. Harry's no Vlad Taltos, but he does a credible First Person Smartass, and he's got a typical array of PI novel acquaintances: Karrin Murphy, the tough cop with a heart of gold; Susan Rodriguez, a crusading reporter who's always looking for a new story, a series of by-the-book cops who hate his guts. He's also got the collection of unusual sidekicks you'd expect in an urban fantasy novel: various faeries and familiar spirits, the wizards and Wardens of the White Council, a crusading knight with a magic sword. He faces both ordinary criminals (crime boss Gentleman Johnny Marcone) and rampaging demons, vampire madams, and a variety of evil sorcerors.

These aren't Great Literature by any means, but they're fun reads. Butcher does a nice job of balancing dark psychological material with comic-relief moments exploiting the essential absurdity of Harry's situation. Each book has a self-contained plot, but there's enough of an overall story arc to the series to make you want to read the next one. And while there are elements of formula to the story (almost every book contains at least one potion-making scene, and at least a cameo appearance by all of the major characters), these are more comforting than annoying.

There are a few rough spots here and there-- I've spotted continuity goofs in a couple of the books, and the third book introduces a major new character in such an abrupt fashion that I wondered whether I'd gotten the fourth book bound in the third's cover by mistake. The sixth book may also spring at least one big revelation too many (I'll have to think about it more to be sure). But on the whole, they're good, fun, comfort reads. Probably the highest praise I can give them is to say that I read all six in the span of about three weeks that, professionally speaking, have been utterly miserable, and I still enjoyed them all.

Posted at 7:49 PM | link | no comments


Worldcon Saturday

Various Saturday events that look interesting. You can also get useful recommendations from checking the appearance schedules of Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden and John Scalzi, as well as Kate's list of interesting things (which has remarkably little overlap with mine-- I don't know what she sees in me...).


Saturday 10:00 a

H302: Doorstops: Truly Enormous Books and Series

Huge books... a never-ending series. Why are these herniators so popular? Why does it take so many words to tell a good story? Does anyone edit anymore? Daniel Abraham, Kevin J. Anderson, William C. Dietz, Beth Meacham (m), Martha Wells

[This one's a tough call. It may well be nothing but a bitch-fest about how long books have gotten, which would be annoying, as I actually like a lot of the long books and series.]

H303: Imaginative Fiction: A 3rd World Perspective

Why are science fiction and fantasy important to the Third World? And in what way could the Third World be important to science fiction and fantasy? Fans, readers and writers around the world are embracing imaginative fiction, and adapting and transforming it to reflect upon their societies and their possible futures. Much Anglo-American SF glorifies humans colonizing other worlds, but writers from post-colonial cultures are more likely to identify with the conquered aliens. As imaginative fiction crosses national and cultural border, how can we-Anglo-Americans and others-sample, learn from, and enjoy the resulting rich brew? A personal take on the subject from a writer born and raised in India, with discussion to follow. Vandana Singh

[Also a tough call. Maybe I'll just sleep in...]

* H304: Reading (1-hour)

Neil Gaiman

[Probably the best bet if I decide to wake up. I've heard him read before, and he's very good.]


Saturday 11:00 a

H302: Reality Ain't What It Used To Be: Secret Histories and Urban Fantasies

Science fiction has always challenged conventional notions of reality, but recent years have seen a growing interest in speculative stories that dwell on ancient conspiracies and secret histories, parallel dimensions which interact in strange ways with our own and hidden corners of great cities in which lurk creatures of myth and legend come to life. Panelists can explore these cracks in consensual reality and their implications for the future of SF itself as a genre based largely on developments in science and technology. There are more and more books where the author, such as Tim Powers, re-examines the past and reveals the "real" secrets hidden there. Supernatural conspiracies may explain what we might have always thought of as dull historical trivia, and underlying connections between the most disparate events are elucidated with great verve. What the hell is going on here? Are secret histories gaining on alternate ones? Why are they so addictively enjoyable? How might the fantastic reinterpretation of history practiced by such authors relate to current events? And, in a world where Mae West slept with Ho Chi Minh, what even stranger connections might make intriguing reading? Paul DiFilippo, Daniel Hatch (m), Alex Irvine, Steven Sawicki

[I'm a sucker for a lot of this stuff, so it could be very interesting, and a good source of book recommendations. But it's opposite Pratchett...]

H305: Sweat and Blisters: How Much Reality Can We Stand in Fantasy Quests?

Why do people on quests in fantasy literature never sweat? How do you handle all the inconveniences like potty breaks, rain, bugs, rocks under your blanket, carrying enough food and water, etc.? Does it matter? Kage Baker, Glen Cook, Sean McMullen, Peter Morwood, Josepha Sherman (m), Andrew Wheeler

H310: Space Opera Noire

Space opera used to be all about optimism, excitement, and fun. Now it's about darkness, danger, and fun. How and why have modern masters such as Banks, Vinge, MacLeod, Reynolds, and Hamilton driven so far into the dark? (And why are they mostly British?) Jim Frenkel, David G. Hartwell, James Killus (m), Toni Weisskopf, Scott Westerfeld

* Grand Ballroom: Terry Pratchett GoH Speech

Our Guest of Honor became Britain's best-selling author by writing funny fantasies. He once said, "We are trying to understand the fundamental workings of the universe by a language devised for telling another where the best fruit is." Come by and he'll probably say more things like that. Terry Pratchett


Saturday 12:00 n

H203: The One-Foot SF and Horror Film Reference Bookshelf

There are many film reference books, some general, some aimed specifically at genre films. The panel examines film reference books and tries to decide the truly essential ones are for a fan of SF and horror films. After all, you can't get ALL your info off the Internet or in the gutter… Bob Devney, MaryAnn Johanson (m), Daniel Kimmel, Mark R. Leeper

H301: What is the Rock's Motivation in This Scene?

How do you keep control of your cast of characters and explain them to the reader without stopping the story? Theodora Goss, Stephen P. Kelner (m), Chris Moriarty, Martha Soukup, Jo Walton

[More likely, lunch...]


Saturday 1:00 p

H301: Technological Cusp Points and Alternate Histories

Many alternate histories focus on political and/or war aspects, or some form of "what if this great man/woman's life were different?" But much of the great sweep of history has been due to technological events. What are they? Consider what would have happened if they had been delayed, discovered elsewhere, or usurped by other methods. Movable type…the assembly line…the telephone…MS- DOS? All fair game… Duncan W. Allen, Michael Dobson, Sean McMullen, Robert A. Metzger, Isaac Szpindel (m)

H304: The Next Fifty Years: Where Will the Next Big Things Come From?

In December 2003, the Sunday New York Times identified "some developments today that could have profound effects tomorrow…the causes of the next big things." These included a growing elderly population in developed nations; unanticipated epidemics; pressures on democracy from religious fundamentalism and the campaign against terrorism; the Internet and the rise of movement politics; high tech warfare; and the spread of global capitalism. What wild cards and longer-term trends should be added to this list? With what consequences? Leading SF authors are invited to explore key factors expected to shape society over the next fifty years. Gregory Benford, John G. Cramer, Thomas A. Easton (m), Larry Niven

* H311: Reinventing Genre Fantasy

With so much genre fantasy being published, what can be done to refresh our jaded palates? Hilari L. Bell, Debra Doyle (m), Elizabeth Hand, Alex Irvine, Katherine Kurtz

[At the last few Boskones, Alex Irvine has been a fairly reliable source of recommendations for oddball things to read, so this looks like it might be good.]


Saturday 2:00 p

H301: What Do You Passionately Read?

Besides Fantasy and SF? Of course you want to finish that new trilogy (which has suddenly expanded to five books), but even the most devoted fans have other interests. Bibliophiles get together to discuss the non-SF/F books they love, from historical fiction to murder mysteries to biographies, and other stops in between. Chris Barkley (m), Laura Anne Gilman, Mary Kay Kare, Toni L. P. Kelner, Lawrence Watt-Evans

? H304: Great Cliches in SF and Fantasy

Hidden powers, quirky sidekicks, true names…bookish teens, rebel cops, sexy robots, haircut aliens…Devils' bargains (quashed by lemon laws), and Dark Lords without impulse control…splitting up to look for the monster!…Dueling till the death (or, the sequel?). Take a look at the really good (well, maybe in the eye of the beholder?) cliches of the field, and tell us what makes them so popular. Don D'Ammassa, Craig Gardner, David Levine (m), Josepha Sherman, S. M. Stirling

[Good topic, bad panel...]

H305: Lies I Learned at the Movies

Let's discuss at least a few of the thousands or scientific facts that movies teach us-that turn out not to be true. Our favorite: the title of the 1969 "historical" epic about a volcano disaster, Krakatoa, East of Java …um…it's WEST… Bob Devney (m), Tamara Jones, Peter Morwood, John Pomeranz, John Scalzi

H306: Alternate Prehistory

Do new discoveries in paleontology offer ideas for alternate history? Is this prehistory an untapped resource for alternate history? Robert Buettner, David C. Kopaska-Merkel, Robert J. Sawyer (m), Michael Swanwick


Saturday 3:00 p

H206: Tough Love for New Writers

Give it up: there are already too many writers. Let's face it, even with a lot of help, the best to be expected from most new writers is that they will produce a lot of mediocre sludge. In fact, most people who attend "how to" panels at conventions won't even do that well. Moreover, there are is already so much good to read that the field doesn't need such sludge. The panel's advice to wannabe writers: give it up now and get a real job. (An honest appraisal of the new writer's chances.) Gavin Grant, David G. Hartwell, Steve Miller, Priscilla Olson (m), Teresa Nielsen Hayden

H302: Novels You Write/Novels You Talk about in Bars

Well, first of all, are they your own or someone else's? And if they're your own, are you just talking instead of actually writing them? Will the story you end up writing be as good as the one you talked about? Ellen Kushner (m), James Macdonald, James Morrow, Charles Oberndorf, Charles Stross, Robert Charles Wilson

[A toss-up between this and "Tough Love."]

? H305: Alternate History Challenge Match

Panelists get a weird alternate present, and have to reverse-engineer how it came about... Michael Dobson, Mitchell Freedman, Peter J. Heck, Evelyn C. Leeper, S. M. Stirling, Toni Weisskopf (m)


Saturday 4:00 p

H107: Eos Presents Upcoming SF/F Titles

Eos Senior Editor Diana Gill and Jack Womack present the upcoming titles of interest from Eos and HarperCollins, including books by Neal Stephenson, Terry Pratchett, Dave Duncan, Sean Russell and more. Join us for handouts, contests, and candy, plus the best new science fiction and fantasy for Fall 2004.

[With very few exceptions, I'm just not aware of who publishes what, so it's nice of them to list some authors. I have no real clue if this will be useful or interesting.]

X H206: Speculative Physics and Space Travel

Wormholes, quantum teleportation, and other ideas on the edge of modern physics are all fair game! Dave Clements, John G. Cramer, Les Johnson (m), Henry Spencer

? H301: Why is Everyone So Scared of Genre Poetry?

Or is it just that people are scared of poetry? John M. Ford, Joe Haldeman, David C. Kopaska-Merkel (m), Janna Silverstein

[My first answer is "Because 90+% of it is very, very bad." The other 10% is mostly by John M. Ford, though, so it might be interesting to hear what he says.]

H302: The Numinous in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Okay, we know that "numinous" isn't a noun, but there is something, well, noun-like in the way some authors can invoke a feeling about stuff beyond our everyday experience. But the numinous does seem to show up more in our genre than in most others. Why? Why can some authors do this so effortlessly, while others try to get us there and don't quite make it? (And it is so often missed!) And why would a bunch of rational, science oriented people care about that kind of thing in the first place? Is this because SF is at its roots interested in the same things as fantasy and fantasy has a particularly close relationship with the numinous, or is it just that the numinous is a great way to get a Sensawonder fix? Lois McMaster Bujold, James Macdonald (m), James Morrow, Deborah Ross

Saturday 4:30 p Exeter: Reading

John Scalzi

[Having missed the chance to read his novel while it was on the web...]


Saturday 5:00 p

H205: How Does SF Portray Islam?

What portrayal of Islam? The religion and culture of the Muslim world are infrequently the subjects of SF stories, which says something about the parochial nature of much of the genre; and when they do come up, it is in stereotypical ways. Yet Islam has evolved and diversified in as many ways as Christianity; there is no reason to think it won't continue to do so, on this world or others. Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Shariann Lewitt, Harry Turtledove (m), Sarah Zettel

H206: Pulp Eye for the Art Guy

Wherein the Rubber Science Guy, the Stereotype Guy, the Bad Prose Style Guy, the Twisty Plot Guy, and the Fan Guy all offer advice to the hopeless artiste! Keith R. A. DeCandido, Alex Irvine, Matthew Jarpe, Kelly Link, Allen Steele (m)

[Could be horribly lame, but some of the people involved are pretty funny, so...]

H302: The Monster in the Maze

There is a monster. It's lurking in the shadows, waiting. There is always a monster. It might be the Minotaur in the Labyrinth of Crete or an alien aboard a deserted spaceship, but it is always there. Why? What is the monster, if it's more than the dark shadow of the self. Explore the monsters that haunt our sleeping and waking hours, and how we may (with luck and wisdom) find and defeat them. Discuss some works that did this (and examine if they did it successfully) Stephen Dedman, Neil Gaiman, Simon R. Green, Yves Meynard, Robert Sheckley


Saturday 8:00 p Auditorium: The Hugo Awards

Bestowing the most famous honor in science fiction, the Hugo ceremony is indeed The Big One. Come watch some of our most towering talents endure hours of squirm in hopes of one magnificent minute of squeal. Neil Gaiman, William Tenn, Terry Pratchett, Jack Speer, Peter Weston

[Well, duh.]

Posted at 5:54 PM | link | no comments


Worldcon Friday

Here's a listing of interesting-looking panels for Friday, with the same annotation conventions as the previous post, plus a ? for those panels where I'm sort of torn about whether it'll be good or not (for example, things where I like the topic, but have concerns about the panelists). These are, of course, even more subject to change than the Thursday listings, as I'll actually see some of these people in action on Thursday.


Friday 10:00 a

? H204: New England in Science Fiction and Fantasy

The locale of SF stories is often an important element of plot and style. LA, New York, London, New Orleans-these and other cities have served as the distinct locations in many stories. What about Boston and other places around New England? A lot of writers live in this region, but how do they use it in their stories? Does locating a story in Boston, Providence, rural Maine and so on make a distinct contribution to the look and feel of SF & fantasy plots? Or would a story set in this region have the same grounding if it was located anywhere else? Elizabeth Hand, Faye Ringel (m), Allen Steele

[I sort of like the topic, but I'm not sure about the panel. Also, why is this opposite the NYC in Fantasy panel? Is this a Yankees/ Sox thing?]

H205: A Group Reading from The Thackery T. Lambshead Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases

Join Drs. Cory Doctorow, Jay Lake, Paul DiFilippo, Liz Williams, and presiding physician Jeff VanderMeer for a brief "medial conference" on outlandish and ridiculous diseases, including props and giant microbes. Paul DiFilippo, Cory Doctorow, Jay Lake, Jeff VanderMeer, Liz Williams

H305: Dr. Seuss Appreciation

The late Springfield, Mass. writer/illustrator Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, created fantastic worlds where the Grinch stole Christmas, the Cat in the Hat could disrupt a household, Horton heard a Who, and Sneetches worried about whether they had stars on their bellies. How do his surreal and amusing stories prepare young readers for the world of SF? Kathryn Cramer, Susan Fichtelberg, John F. Hertz, Beth Hilgartner, Kathleen Kudlinski (m)

H311: The Enchanted Apple: New York in SF and Fantasy

The very first history of New York City, written by Washington Irving (under the name of Deitrich Knickerbocker) in 1809 was a work of fantasy. Since that time, NYC has appeared repeatedly in works of science fiction and fantasy. How has The City been portrayed? What makes it such a perfect locale for the fantabulist? Michael A. Burstein, Esther Friesner, George R. R. Martin, Madeleine E. Robins, Susan Shwartz (m)

H306: Continuing the Series: A Dialogue

Suzy McKee Charnas, P. C. Hodgell

[What, Daniel Keys Moran was busy?]


Friday 11:00 a

H301: What is Genre?

Ellen Kushner has informed us about the recently formed website of the Interstitial Arts Foundation A browse shows lots of great reading and fiercely intelligent discussion on a range of topics that span literature, art, music and performance which cannot easily be classified by conventional genre boundaries or any boundaries at all. We will skip the paradox of such "interstitial arts" forming its own genre and cut to the chase. What does it mean to be part of a "genre"? If you don't fit comfortably in SF or fantasy or horror or mainstream or fiction/nonfiction, where do they file you in the bookstore? What is the larger cultural significance of crossover material? What does it imply for the future of SF literature? Who is writing stories that fall between the cracks? Ellen Asher, Jay Caselberg (m), James Minz, Takayuki Tatsumi, Carrie Vaughn

H311: What Should Good Fantasy Do?

Should it inspire, teach, intimidate, educate? How about divert, relax, amuse, or awaken? The panelists will choose their own verbs-and in the process, explain how good fantasy differs from not-so-good fantasy. Daniel Abraham (m), John Clute, Justine Larbalestier, Laura Underwood

Friday 11:30 a Hampton: Reading

P. C. Hodgell

[Depends on what she's reading...]


Friday 12:00 n

H203: Novel Educational Approaches

In the past three academic years, a group of second-grade students have been taught a mixture of karate and science. What was tried and how well did this mixed instruction seem to work? Student notebooks and other items will be available for view. Keith G. Kato

[This makes it on the list just due to the "Huh?" factor.]

? H205: The World Map of 2100-What Does it Look Like?

The map of Europe has been redrawn several times in recent decades; many people have the experience of being born in one country, growing up in another and dying in a third without ever having moved. There is no reason to think this process will stop. If you could see a a world map of 2100, what's familiar, what isn't? united Europe? disunited US? Canada still there? rearranged Africa? internet/virtual communities more important than geographic ones? regional ecotopias? corporate empires? David McMahon, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, S. M. Stirling, Scott Westerfeld, Jim Young (m)

[I've encountered S. M. Stirling on Usenet, where he's an ass, which makes me think that I probably don't want to see this. On the other hand, though, Will Shetterly uses the medium of online argument in mystifying ways, and yet in person is a very nice soft-spoken kind of guy (based on seeing him at Boskone once). If Stirling is similar, this might be interesting...]

H306: Archetypes in Fantasy: The Princess, Alone

Who is she, and why is she alone? How can she ever find her way out of the Tower? Diane Duane, Justine Larbalestier, Michelle Sagara West (m), Jo Walton, Paul Witcover


Friday 1:00 p

H203: The Two Cultures in F&SF: Science Confronts the Humanities

Decades ago, C.P. Snow defined the "Two Cultures" of technical intellectuals and literary intellectuals. The split is still with us. How does it influence our fantasy and science fiction? What works, what authors manage to bridge the gap? What works or authors make it deeper? Ctein (m), Matthew Jarpe, Nancy Kress, Justine Larbalestier

[As a scientist at a small liberal arts college, I've heard C.P. Snow cited so many times, that I almost have to go to this. Either to see whether SF fans put a different spin on it than humanities professors, or just to throttle everyone involved for bringing this up again...]

H301: 15 Years of The Simpsons

It's now one of the longest-running TV shows, and shows no sign of slowing down. (Maybe that's because someone always seems to be chasing them, for something they shouldn't have done. There are still a few states that haven't yet run the family out.) How does the show manage to stay fresh? Is it the large number of characters? The loose sense of location? The fact that their family looks like ours? (Don't we all have a Homer and a Lisa?) What subjects would we still like them to cover? Should Skinner and Edna tie the knot? And do we think Bart will someday become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court? Michael A. Burstein (m), Pam Fremon, Daniel Kimmel

* H304: Looking Backward: the 20th Century

It was a time of terrible wars and great evils and unparalleled progress, ending with democracy triumphant, right? Well…It was also the time of Milton Berle and Cheese Whiz&tm;, love beads and Elvis, and…OK, so will the writers and fans of the late 21st century look back on the 20th with nostalgia, with surprise, or with horror? How will people in far future times look at us? Imagine what things about the 20th century that those in the future will look back on in the same way as we view the Roman gladiators… Esther Friesner (m), Craig Gardner, Terry Pratchett, John Scalzi

[Realistically, this is probably the best bet for this hour.]

H310: The Cassini Mission

NASA's Cassini spacecraft went into orbit around Saturn on June 30 and will continue exploring the Saturn system during Noreascon. This is the first spacecraft to visit the ringed planet since Voyager 2 passed through in 1981. What has it already learned? What more will it learn during its four-year mission to Saturn and Titan? What more do we want to know? What's next? It's another neat space stuff panel. Jeff Hecht, Bill Higgins, Geoffrey A. Landis, Larry A. Lebofsky, Carolyn Collins Petersen


Friday 2:00 p

H304: Kennedy Survives Dallas-Then what?

It's Boston, it's 40+ years since Dallas, politics abounds-how can we not do this? This panel takes for granted an alternative past to explore an alternative present-what if JFK was not killed at Dallas? What does the present look like? For example: the base on Mars is now 10 years old. Bobby Kennedy was impeached for violating civil liberties. what Vietnam war? Who would the parties be nominating this year? Once you change one fundamental aspect of the past, how do you spell out the ripples through the near future? Or…is history so chaotic that thirty years later much of the detail of life would be unpredictably different?…or not much changed at all? Mitchell Freedman, Joseph T. Major, Mike Resnick, Shane Tourtellotte (m)

H310: The MIT Media Lab: A Visit From the Future

What's cookin' at the Media Lab? MIT's well known research organization has garnered a reputation as a leading-edge center for developments in machine understanding, affective computing, advanced interface design, nanomedia, silicon biology and digital expression, among other fields, that may influence how we use technology in the years ahead - not to mention provide fertile ideas for science fiction stories. This panel features presentations from Lab researchers on a sample of current activities. Bill Higgins, Marvin Minsky, Sandy Pentland

* Friday 2:30 p H301: Physics vs. Fiction

Discussion of the differences between looking at science as a working scientist, vs. looking at it as a science fiction writer. David Stephenson


Friday 3:00 p

H203: Teaching Science With Science Fiction

Many of today's scientists were inspired to start their careers by science fiction, but how effective is SF in introducing science to a non-science oriented student? How effective are SF conventions as venues for presenting science to the public? Which books work best in conveying not only the facts of science, but how science is actually done? What strategies work best in a typical college classroom? Which authors are most popular with the students? Which books just "don't work"? Guy Consolmagno, Bill Higgins, Larry A. Lebofsky

H302: The Character of Death

Death personified appears in a number of works. Just who is this character, and why do writers use him/her/it? Can Death be sympathetic? (YES.) P. C. Hodgell, Tanya Huff, Beth Meacham (m), James Morrow, Terry Pratchett

H306: The Future of the Future

The future looks different to many of us now than it did just a few years ago To what degree is the concept of an open, freely imagined future under attack in our own culture, from either the right of the left. To what degree have larger cultural currents affected the SF portrayal of the future? And how does SF imagine its own future, or is it, too, stuck in a cycle of recurrence, of hankering for a restoration of its own golden Age? What is the outlook for the future? Elizabeth Bear, Judith Berman (m), Daniel Hatch, Dennis Livingston, Walter Jon Williams

H309: Rhythm, Meter, and the Use of Language

Unresolved anapests? Short. Choppy. Sentence. Fragments? Changing viewpoints mid-paragraph? What are some of the ways to vary the "beat" of prose, and how (why?) are these methods used? How can they be used well? Badly? How can particular writing styles attract or repel readers? Greer Gilman (m), Lee Martindale, David Marusek, Martha Soukup, Jo Walton

H311: I Can Explain That!-The SF/Fantasy Challenge

Test the wits of our panel, as they offer the silliest scientific (?) explanations for SF and fantasy cliches, suggested by the audience. Deconstruct the standard tropes (e.g., faster than light travel, trolls, genetic engineering, enchanted objects as so forth)…could that magic sword be created by straight physics, or might there be a reason for a clan of elves to build a starship? Catherine Asaro, Chris French, Jordin T. Kare (m), Robert A. Metzger, Isaac Szpindel, Lawrence Watt-Evans

[In keeping with the iron laws of the universe, multiple interesting things must always be scheduled at the same time.]


Friday 4:00 p

* H305: Rumors at the Speed of Light

The downside of rapid internet communication. Charles Ardai, Sharon Sbarsky, John Scalzi (m)

H306: The Civil War and SF

The U.S. Civil War is a popular theme, revisited by writers time and time again. How has it been represented, both in and out of the subgenre of alternate history? And can we think of something more creative to do than ask the perennial question "What if the South had won?" Duncan W. Allen, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Harry Turtledove, Toni Weisskopf (m), Peter Weston

X H311: The Future of the News Media

Things have changed in many ways over the last year. How is the current political situation affecting the news media, and where will this take us in the future? Sally Wiener Grotta, Daniel Hatch (m), Allen Steele, Rick Wilber

[Again, I am baffled at the scheduling of two panels that ought to draw more or less the same audience directly opposite one another. The choice between the two is fairly clear, at least.]


Friday 5:00 p

H304: Where Did That Story Come From?

History hidden in well-known SF, for the historical illiterati. David B. Coe, Alex Irvine, Mark L. Olson, Harry Turtledove (m), Sarah Zettel

* H310: Drunk on Technology?

We're living in a science fiction world, and its technological magic is getting wilder (and more wonderful?!) by the minute. Are these marvels going to our heads? (In a "good" way?) How do we deal with the intoxication of "present shock"? Cory Doctorow (m), Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Charles Stross

[Now, I've never met Cory Doctorow, but from looking at Boing Boing, it's hard to imagine him acting as a "moderator" for this topic, in anything other than a fission reactor kind of sense...]


Friday 6:00 p

H203: The Archaeology of the Future: Reading Science Fictional Futures/Learning About the Past

[No panelists are listed on the web page, so this is a provisional listing...]

H204: Dialogue

Michael Swanwick, Jo Walton

On Kate's LiveJournal, Jo adds:

The secret title for the dialogue is "Beyond the Fields We Know", and we're going to talk about fantasy and SF from the starting point of Swanwick's comments in June's Locus "There is a greater freedom in fantasy than SF affords, but it comes at a price. The payoff has to justify that extraordinary license. In fantasy when you've got giants and ogres and dragons wandering around, you've borrowed a great deal of patience from your readers and you've got to pay them back. At the end of the story they have to think, 'That rewards me for having believed in these children's fairy tale elements'."

I think I could probably converse for an hour on just the places where I disagree with that statement...

Friday 6:30 p H206: Technobabble Quiz

We're going to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow of our panelists as they compete to (a) explain in their best technobabble just how to do some SF cliche, (b) catch science errors in published SF technobabble, and (c) determine whether a particular selection of technobabble is real science, published SF, or something made up just for the quiz! Howard Davidson, Bill Higgins (m), Jordin T. Kare

[If the dialogue doesn't pan out, this looks like goofy fun.]


Nothing scheduled after 6:00 really grabbed me, so I've at least got a clear idea of when I'll be getting dinner before going to parties...

Posted at 9:55 AM | link | 2 comments


Saturday, August 28, 2004

Worldcon Thursday

I steal all my good ideas from Kate (she's much smarter than I am), so I'm cribbing this one, too. The following is an approximate list of stuff that I'll probably go to next Thursday at Worldcon, unless something better comes up. Because Blogger doesn't have an easy way to do cut tags, I'll do this one day at a time, to keep the posts to moderately reasonable length.

This is chosen by the ultra-scientific method of trolling through the online program and highlighting things that look particularly noteworthy, with occasional comments (italicized in square brackets ([])). Any program item marked with an asterisk (*) is the thing in that hour that I'm most likely to go to. Since I'm not as nice a person as Kate, I'll also mark a few things that I plan to stay well clear of (either because the topic makes my teeth itch, or I know that I dislike one of the panelists, or just because it's been a bad week and I'm cranky)-- those get a big X.

So, if you're going to be in Boston next weekend, and want to find me either to buy me a drink or throw one in my face, here's where to look on Thursday.

Thursday 2:00 p (We should have arrived and checked in by 2:00. I hope.)

H306: X H306 How Possible is Time Travel?

Physics suggests FTL travel may be possible under limited circumstances. Could this be a gateway to time travel? If we get time travel, will nature somehow contrive to preserve causality? Panelists will discuss these and other "timely" issues… Dave Clements, John G. Cramer, Mark L. Olson, Jack Speer (m), Allen Steele

* H307 (Really) Hard Science for Beginners

So much of the current SF literature talks about quantum physics and other recent hard-to-understand concepts in modern science. An overview, in layman's terms, to help the fan without a heavy science background get more out of the new hard SF. String theory? Quarks? And (best of all), no math! Our panelists will answer the hard questions for you! Susan Born, Michael A. Burstein (m), Keith G. Kato

[I don't recognize any of these names, but I'm interested to see what they do with the topic...]

H312: Mind the plot holes dear, dear

Give examples of various discrepancies/problems with details from any piece of SF/F and try to categorize them (examples: temporal, silly, boneheaded, etc). How could the story be saved? Grant Carrington, Sharon Lee (m), Louise Marley, Tamora Pierce, Connie Willis


Thursday 3:00 p

H203: Good and Evil in Genre Literature

Do science fiction, fantasy and horror have underlying moral perspectives? What are they? Do they differ? If so, why? Craig Gardner, Nancy Kress, Paul Levinson, James Macdonald (m)

* H205: Must-See TV and Movies

Are you cineliterate? Can you call yourself a fan if you can't recognize "Klaatu berada nicto?" Do you know who Tom Corbett is? Why you should stay away from pod people? We'll talk about the classics, and even the good stuff, from Metropolis to Rocketship XM to Princess Monomoke… Chris Barkley, Daniel Kimmel, Craig Miller (m), John Scalzi

H302: The Art and Science of Glamour

Looking at layers of reality, at "Lords and Ladies" -- elves (and humans) who bury their natures. How do they do it? Why do we love it? Greer Gilman, Simon R. Green, Terry Pratchett, Madeleine E. Robins (m)

H311: Writers We Don't Understand

Charlie Stross loads his stories with so much IT jargon it makes the head spin. A PhD in Physics is necessary to get full enjoyment out of a Greg Egan novel. China Mieville is best read with an open dictionary handy. Are these writers doing this on purpose? Are they that much smarter than the rest of us, or are we getting a year of painstaking research downloaded into us in a compressed format? Is there a good stylistic reason to confuse your readers? Paul DiFilippo, Carl Frederick, Eileen Gunn, Matthew Jarpe (m)

[This is a close second to the movie panel.]


Thursday 4:00 p

X H204: Tolkien's Techniques

It has been said that if Tolkien had been a professional writer (in the usual sense of the word) he would not have dared to do some of the things he did (such as tell large chunks of the story in flashback.) His techniques worked very well…why? How hard is it to pull off, anyway? Discuss. Daniel Grotta, Pete Grubbs, Elise Matthesen (m), Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Jo Walton

H301: How to Lie With Statistics

Surely advertisers, activists, industry and government would NEVER abuse your trust by playing fast and loose with numbers. Especially after this ever-popular program arms you with the straight dope on scads of crooked digit tricks! Michael F. Flynn

[Flynn might just do my homework for me...]

* H305: As You Know, Bob: The Positives and Negatives of Infodumps in Writing

Exposition can be quick or subtle, or straight, or with a twist. It can stop the story cold, or provide plot (and stylistic) impact. It can be smooth or lumpy, necessary or gratuitous. The panel will discuss expository theory and practice, and answer the eternal question: "What does Bob really know?" Debra Doyle, Terry McGarry (m), Teresa Nielsen Hayden

[I may have seen something very similar to this at Boskone a while back, but TNH is reliably entertaining. ]

H311: The Singularity and the Eschaton: Compare and Contrast

Vernor Vinge has popularized the concept of the Singularity as a point in the (near?) future where advancing technology changes the human condition so radically that it becomes quite literally incomprehensible to anyone whose world-view was formed before that point. This sounds a lot like the religious concept of the Eschaton, the End of Time, when divine intervention destroys the world as we know it and replaces it with "a new heaven and a new earth". Without debating the validity of either concept (which would be futile and open-ended), let's discuss the points that these two ideas have in common and the points on which they differ. It might also be worthwhile to tie in some other arguably Eschaton-like ideas, such as "the withering away of the State" in classical Marxism or the "end of history" in some modern Neoconservative thinking. Janice M. Eisen, Mark L. Olson (m), Timothy L. Smith, Charles Stross, Janine Ellen Young


Thursday 5:00 p

H206: Rocket Talk, with Fizz and Fuse, the Reactor Brothers

Got a problem with your starship? Attitude thrusters making funny noises? Can't agree with your spouse on which model light sail to buy? (And should you *really* change your dilithium crystals every 3000 light years?) Come ask Fizz and Fuse, who, like their ancestors Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers, will take questions from the audience and offer advice on repairs, purchases, and personal relationships, all unencumbered by the constraints of physics *or* common sense. Bill Higgins, Jordin T. Kare

H301: Deconstructing Mary Sue

Could it be the most useful literary concept of our Me Millennium? We'll discuss myriad examples, from fanfic, flicks, and major SF works that should be ashamed of themselves. You see, in the classic Mary Sue story, a character happens to be amazingly like the author, except said MS is incredibly more attractive, accomplished, and most of all accepted nay beloved than anybody outside of a blatant wish fulfillment. The Audience is Warned, however, that the latter portion of the hour may turn into a rant on the subject of Ambient Misinformation about Writing and Publishing… Teresa Nielsen Hayden

H304: Predicting the Next Ten Years

Our brave (or foolhardy) panelists each make five predictions about science or society or the SF community that they believe might well materialize within the next decade. We'll publish at least one of these predictions a day in the con newsletter. Keep copies, everyone, and see you for the panel's second half in 2014! Justin Ackroyd, David Gerrold (m), Joe Haldeman, Chris Moriarty

[The Mary Sue panel is the most likely of these three, but I've definitely seen that before, so I might well go for one of the others.]


Thursday 6:00 p

H205: Tall Tech Tales

Panelists, with considerable audience participation, tell real life amusing anecdotes about the sciences. Example: at one point the MIT AI Lab built a robot to play ping-pong. Marvin Minsky, one of the founders of AI, happened to walk by and the robot almost decapitated him, since it mistook his bald head for a ping-pong ball…Beat that! Guy Consolmagno, Jeff Hecht (m), Robert A. Metzger

* H304: Riding the Slipstream

In between the genres is a new non-genre called slipstream. Can it really be defined? Should it be? How is it enlivening long-standing genres? F. Brett Cox (m), Theodora Goss, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Benjamin Rosenbaum, Delia Sherman, Andrew Wheeler

H311: Take the Blue Pill… no, wait

Ooops…giving antipsychotics to kids was, well, crazy…sorry, that new diet turns out to be fatheaded…OK, take those breast implants back out of the fridge, little lady… When medical science keeps changing its mind, how (and why?) do we keep up? Bridget Coila, Perrianne Lurie, Ronald Taylor, W. A. Thomasson, Karen Traviss (m), Trish Wilson

H312: The Quest

For what? Irregardless…how are quests really about a search for identity and "adulthood"? Mindy Klasky, James Macdonald, Madeleine E. Robins, Jeff VanderMeer (m)


Thursday 7:00 p

H205: Future House: a Tribute to PBS "House" Shows

We envision a mixed group of average folks from the USA of 2004 living for 3 months in a typical 2104 biopodplex. Imagine adjusting to IV plumbing and the 1000-hour workweek alone! How long till the sex, lies, and betrayals begin? OK…describe your experiences in the Future House… Rusty Hevelin, James Patrick Kelly, Ellen Kushner, Connie Willis (m)

* H209: Ask Dr. Mike

What can you get for the man who knows everything? Science fiction's wildly acclaimed answer to Drs. Hawking, Ruth, Phil, and Laura asks only for the gift of your most challenging questions about science, philosophy, history, the meaning and origin of life, and that awkward con restaurant invitation thing… John M. Ford

ConCourse: Terry on Trial

…for such charges as "failing to stop at a trilogy", "writing with undue care and attention," "cruelty to animals," and "being a rich bastard!". Celebrity witness will include Death, Nanny Ogg, and others. Caselberg as prosecutor, Friesner as defender, Bacon as judge… James Bacon, Esther Friesner, Jay Caselberg (m), Mary Kay Kare, Terry Pratchett

[The other two are just in case the room for "Ask Dr. Mike" is so completely jammed with people that it's not physically possible to force my way in.]


Thursday 8:00 p

Nothing in the 8:00 hour really grabbed me, so this will probably be the time when I go grab some dinner, or get roped into helping with party set-up.


Thursday 9:00 p

H206: A Scene a Minute?/Whose Line Is It?

How well can our teams of participants act out well-known scenes in a minute or less…and have the audience guess what they're doing! Michael A. Burstein (m), Nomi Burstein, Solomon Davidoff, Michael McAfee, Michael Rennie, Josepha Sherman

H209: Readings from the Published Works of Absent Writers

The doorknob opened a blue eye…open mike reading of your favorite excerpts. Bring your own favorite 3-minute pieces (that are particularly meaningful to you) and read the, Join the read-in. jan howard finder, Mary Kay Kare


And that's about it for Thursday.

Posted at 2:23 PM | link | 4 comments


Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Hugo Awards Ballot

I started off my previous post by mentioning that I was voting for the Hugo Awards this year, and then didn't actually mention who I voted for. This was because the post in question was already roughly the same length as one of the books I was talking about, and I wanted to hold things to a reasonable length.

Anyway, the nominees for Best Novel are:

Paladin of Souls — Lois McMaster Bujold (Eos)
Humans — Robert J. Sawyer (Tor Books)
Ilium — Dan Simmons (Eos)
Singularity Sky — Charles Stross (Ace Books)
Blind Lake — Robert Charles Wilson (Tor Books)

In the end, I voted Blind Lake first, because I thought it was the best novel of the five. It's got all the nifty SF fireworks you could really ask for, along with some great creepy atmosphere, and well-drawn characters. The interpersonal conflicts are almost too melodramatic, but Wilson never loses control of the plot, even as it spirals outward from the intensely personal to the gee-whiz cosmic.

I put Ilium second, with some slight misgivings. It's a fun book, and has all sorts of cool gadgets and plots, but it's half a story. I probably would've voted for it first, were it not for that. A real judgement of the story will have to wait for the second half to be published, and Simmons's track record in the matter of sequels leaves room for a lot of doubt. I wouldn't be upset it it were to win, but I might be upset if I voted for it, and the second book turned out to really suck.

Singularity Sky came third. This is a more seriously flawed book than the other two, but it's marvelously inventive, and a fun read. Again, I wouldn't be particularly upset if it won, but I'd prefer to wait for a slightly more polished book before giving Charlie the Hugo that he will no doubt richly deserve one of these days.

Paladin of Souls ended up fourth for me. Bujold's popularity with awards voters is something I don't quite get. I enjoy her books, but they're just light reads for me., without the suspense or psychological depth that a lot of other people find in them. There's nothing wrong with that-- if you look through the booklog indices, you'll find a lot of popcorn books-- but it's not award-worthy. This book is no exception; if anything, I'm slightly less impressed with it than some of her other stuff.

The Sawyer book is the middle book of a trilogy, so I gave it a miss. Nothing I've read about his books really suggests that I would enjoy reading his books, so I don't feel particularly bad about it.

As for the short fiction categories, I didn't have time to read most of the Novella nominees-- I read "The Green Leopard Plague" by Walter Jon Williams and "The Cookie Monster" by Vernor Vinge in the hours just before the voting deadline, and then gave up. Of the two, the Williams is the better story, though the viewpoint shifts are a little confusing on-line, and the parallel plots aren't especially well integrated. The Vinge is good, but didn't really grab me.

In Best Novelette, "The Empire of Ice Cream" was my favorite of the nominees, followed by "Legions in Time" and "Hexagons", in that order. I didn't read Jay Lake's "Into the Garden of Sweet Night," as it was only available in e-book format, and I couldn't get past the first couple of paragraphs of Charlie Stross's "Nightfall". I eventually gave up, as the voting deadline was approaching. "Bernardo's House" was just kind of annoying.

Speaking of annoying, we come to the Best Short Story category, where both "Paying It Forward" and "Robots Don't Cry" were both pretty dire. "Robots Don't Cry" especially-- it felt like it should've been up for a Retro-Hugo, where I also would've voted it below "No Award."

Of the remaining stories, I thought "The Tale of the Golden Eagle was clearly the best of the lot. Joe Haldeman's "Four Short Novels" is trying too hard to be David Foster Wallace, while Neil Gaiman's "A Study in Emerald" is cute, but had the feel of a clever joke that I just wasn't getting (I read the Sherlock Holmes stories a long, long time ago, and remember almost nothing about them).

I didn't vote in most of the rest of the categories, as I don't really move in fannish circles, and thus have no idea who most of the nominees are. Return of the King was an obvous pick for Dramatic Presentation. I don't watch Buffy and I've never seen Firefly, so the "short form" category was a total loss.

In the "Retro-Hugos" (which are of dubious merit, but whatever), I'd rank the novels Fahrenheit 451, Mission of Gravity, The Caves of Steel, and Childhood's End, in descending order. Bradbury doesn't quite get the credit he deserves, while the Clarke book irritates me. Other than that, I didn't really know enough of the nominees in any category to make a sensible voting decision.

And there you have it.

Posted at 8:40 PM | link | 4 comments


Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Ilium/ Singularity Sky

Kate and I will be going to Worldcon for the first time this year, which means that we actually get to vote for the Hugo Awards. Being all young and naive and stuff, we both felt some obligation to, you know, read most of the nominees before voting. Kate's already posted her comments and discussed her vote.

When it comes to the Best Novel category, I had already read Bujold's Paladin of Souls and Wilson's Blind Lake. Sawyer's Humans turns out to be the middle book of a trilogy, and everything I've read about his books suggests that one would probably be my limit, so I decided to give him a miss. Which leaves Dan Simmons's Ilium and Charlie Stross's Singularity Sky as the two I needed to read before voting.

Dan Simmons made a big splash in the SF community with Hyperion, which presented a sort of far-future Canterbury Tales: a diverse group of pilgrims on a distant planet tell stories to pass the time. Of course, in Simmons's book, the stories are all autobiographical, and all fit together to give some clues to the mystery of the planet Hyperion and the momentous events that are about to take place there.

The book is a little too true to the original, in that it ends rather abruptly, right in the middle of the stories. The sequel, Fall of Hyperion was still good, but didn't really live up to the promise of the first volume. It's a good thing he never decided to write another duology set after Fall of Hyperion, because such a set of books might've really sucked, and retroactively lowered my opinion of the originals.

So, this pretty much brings us to the dilemma of Ilium, at least where Hugo voting is concerned. In many ways, it's similar to Hyperion in that it builds off a classical model-- in this case, Homer's Iliad, which is being re-enacted on Mars, and observed by a bunch of resurrected human academics (the main narrator is one Thomas Hockenberry, late professor of classics). These "scholics" are observing the key events of the story, under the direction of a rather nasty Muse, and are regularly asked to confirm for the gods on Olympos that the re-enactment corresponds to Homer's story.

Of course, as with Hyperion the Classical parallel is just a part of a bigger mystery, involving the fate of Earth. In this world, the Earth has been radically transformed and then largely abandoned by our post-human descendents, leaving behind a very small population of relatively unmodified humans, some of whom begin to become curious about what happened to the post-humans. There are also some robots out in the Jovian system and the asteroid belt who become curious about what, exacty, is going on on Mars, and send an expedition to find out. These plots all eventually intersect, in various ways.

It's a terrifically fun read, and sets up all kinds of fun mysteries and interesting plots. The problem is, it takes after Hyperion in one other important respect: it stops right in the middle of the story. The sequel, Olympos, will be along one of these days, to provide the other half of the tale. If this sounds maddening, that's because it is, but the first half of the story is a damn fine read.

Singularity Sky, on the other hand, is a more or less complete story. I say "more or less" not because the main story arc goes unresolved in any important way-- it doesn't-- but because there's so much... stuff here that it sort of slops over the edges of the book.

The book is set in yet another post-human world, where the Earth went through a Vingean Singularity a long time earlier, which led to the creation of a godlike intelligence calling itself the Eschaton. For reasons beyond human comprehension, the Eschaton dispersed the vast majority of humanity over a huge range of space, settling colonies on a huge number of terraformed worlds, and providing them with the means of survival.

FTL travel and communications are possible in this world, and are fairly widespread (as the various human worlds have expanded out to make contact with one another, with all the fun interstellar politicking that you would expect from such a situation). The Eschaton has imposed one important rule on all these groups, however: Thou Shalt Not Violate Causality, Or Else. Attempts to use FTL technology to violate causality are punished by the Eschaton, in spectacular fashion, often involving the destruction of entire worlds or star systems. Whatever it is, it's not subtle.

This, of course, is just the backstory. The actual plot is almost indescribable, involving an encounter between a free-floating band of high-tech tricksters calling themselves "the Festival" and a conservative semi-feudal empire, which places strict limits on the use of technology. The Festival offers infinite resources in exchange for entertainment, which predictably enough has dramatic consequences for the society in question. The geniuses in charge respond with a plan that would involve a potential causality violation, thinking that they might be able to slip one past the Eschaton...

...and hijinks, as they say, ensue.

This is a tremendously inventive book, with all manner of cool gadgets and neat ideas and nifty scenery. It's also a bit of a mess, overflowing with gadgets, ideas, and scenery, not to mention subplots, hidden motives, and secret agendas. It's fun stuff, but taken all together, it gets to be a bit much.

It didn't help that I read these two books not long after Newton's Wake, which involves a similar Singularity sort of event (called the "Hard Rapture," with typical MacLeod wit). Elements of the three all sort of started to melt together, so by the end of Singularity Sky, I was trying to figure out why Scottish gangsters were working to stop Greek Gods from overthrowing the existing political order on New Harmony. It was all very distressing.

Anyway, Singularity Sky was a fun read, in spite of the flaws. Its failures are mostly a matter of reach exceeding grasp, and if Stross learns to keep better control over his plot, he'll really be something else. Not that he's not pretty damn good already-- I picked up another of his books in Berkeley, and it's in the queue.

Posted at 10:08 PM | link | no comments


Monday, August 23, 2004

Why Baseball?

One of the nice touches in One King, One Soldier is the recurring use of baseball as a connection to magical things. Jack Spicer lays out the symbolism:

"Baseball is our rite of spring," he said. "A game based on completing a circle, dying in the fall with the crowning of a new king and then resurrected when the trees are starting to bud. Played on a field that's bounded only on two sides. And the players, they're our real kings. You think Eisenhower's ever going to be as loved as Joe DiMaggio?"

and later notes that "In baseball, you're always trying to get home, but every time you do, the score is different," which is pretty much every quest story from the Odyssey on. There's also a scene where another character uses the box score of a Yankees-Tigers game for divination purposes.

It's a nice riff, but it raises one obvious question for me: Why is it always baseball? Whenever there's a book or movie in which sports are granted mystic significance, it's always baseball. W. P. Kinsella has made a career out of mystic baseball stories, the best known being Shoeless Joe (which became Field of Dreams). Michael Chabon has the fate of the Universe depending on a baseball game in Summerland, and I've probably read a dozen SF riffs on "Casey at the Bat."

Whenever sports references play a key role in SF, it always seems to be baseball. Why is it that I've never seen a novel in which the fate of the world depends on the outcome of a football game? Or socccer, or basketball, or rugby, or anything else. It's always baseball.

I thought this was a generational thing at first-- baseball was, after all, a tremendously important part of the American psyche back in the middle of the 20th Century. But football caught and passed it in popularity not all that long after I was born (early 80's at the latest), and it's no longer the most important sport. I'm not sure it's held that position at any time since I really started paying attention. So, I thought, maybe all those baseball books were just relics of a bygone age. But Alex Irvine is just about the same age I am, and Michael Chabon isn't all that much older.

An uncharitable interpretation would be to observe that the fetishization of statistics in baseball makes it much more attractive than football and basketball for the bookish types who later grow up to write novels in which sports take on mystic significance. The anti-intellectual image of football and (to a lesser extent) basketball would tend to support this, but I'm not really comfortable with a theory that depends on all authors being nerdy children. That kind of stereotyping makes my skin crawl. Also, I was pretty bookish as a kid, and I really don't care for the game.

Another possibility might be that it's just the boring sport issue again. An anthology of rugby stories that I read a long time ago offered the theory that the amount of literature about a given sport is directly proportional to the amount of time players spend standing around doing nothing. There's probably something to this, as I can think of only a couple of really good stories featuring basketball (Bruce Brooks's The Moves Make the Man and Jonathan Lethem's excellent "Vanilla Dunk"), against a huge pile of baseball stories.

By this logic, though, we ought to be neck-deep in novels where the fate of humanity rests in the hand of a plucky young golfer. And whole cities should've disappeared under piles of books about the mystic significance of cricket (and no, Douglas Adams doesn't count).

Of course, this might just be my American view of the world showing through. For all I know, there are simply dozens of Indian novels in which the forces of evil are beaten back with a good stout cricket bat. I doubt I'd appreciate them if I found any, but it'd be interesting to know.

Posted at 9:33 PM | link | 11 comments


One King, One Soldier

Earlier this summer, I picked up a copy of Alex Irvine's new novel, One King, One Soldier. He's reliably interesting on convention panels, and his first novel, A Scattering of Jades, was impressively inventive, so I grabbed this as soon as I saw it.

There's a well-known theory in fandom regarding Guy Kay's Fionavar Tapestry books (written shortly after he helped bang the Silmarillion into shape) that he needed to write them in order to get Tolkien out of his system, so to speak. This is usually offered as an explanation for why many readers find the trilogy much less satisfying than his later books (start with Tigana).

There's a similar sort of feel to One King, One Soldier, only the author needing to be worked out is Tim Powers. This is a Fisher King story, of approximately the same subtlety as an asteroid impact: one of the protagonists is named Lance Porter, he's just been sent back to the States after being seriously wounded in the leg in the Korean War, he's looking for his girlfriend Elaine, and has a brief fling with a woman named Gwen. Happily, this isn't one of those stories where the characters all bumble around pretending to be unaware of the blindingly obvious symbolism of all this, but still, it's a little over the top.

Lance is actually only one of three viewpoint characters caught up in the Fisher King mythos, the other two being a minor-league baseball player in the late 1800 named George Gibson, and the poet Arthur Rimbaud. Gibson makes an ill-advised nighttime visit to Oak Island, and winds up hauling a magic artifact across Africa, where Rimbaud is rattling around trying to position himself to become King. These two plotlines are bound to intersect sooner or later, and both will affect Lance's quest in important ways.

Irvine rings some interesting changes on the Grail story, dragging in baseball, Oak Island, deranged American poet Jack Spicer, and a big chunk of African mythology to go along with the obligatory Crazy Templar Guys. But in the end, it's such a worked-over subject that it feels like someone else's book. Not that I really have enough of a feel for his writing to really say what an Alex Irvine book would be, but this is pure Tim Powers, and not nearly as novel as A Scattering of Jades.

I also found the ending sort of rushed and unsatisfying. I won't explain in detail, for the sake of anyone who might yet read this, but the resolution depends on a rather dramatic change in personality, which didn't really feel true to the characters.

There's some good stuff here (the baseball bit is clever, but underused, and the African sections have a wonderful magic-realism-meets-Steven-King sort of feel), but ultimately, I found it disappointing. I hope that, for his next book, Irvine will return to ground that's less well-trodden.

Posted at 8:33 PM | link | [ hide comments ]


Re: Fionavar: I usually bring out the theory to explain why it's so _different_.

I haven't read the Irvine and probably won't, so I have nothing to say about the actual topic of this post.

Kate, 08.24.2004, 10:15am | permalink


Saw this in the bookstore last week and was wondering about it.

Curious that this is "pure Tim Powers", since I thought A Scattering of Jades imbibed fairly heavily from the Tim Powers stream. Is it "pure Last Call", what with the Fisher King and all?

Trent, 08.24.2004, 11:09am | permalink


Curious that this is "pure Tim Powers", since I thought A Scattering of Jades imbibed fairly heavily from the Tim Powers stream. Is it "pure Last Call", what with the Fisher King and all?

I don't think of A Scattering of Jades as being "pure" Tim Powers, just because the Aztec stuff wasn't really Powers's sort of thing. It also felt a little darker in a hard to specify way (I think it has to do with the nature of the struggle-- in a lot of the Powers stuff that I've read, the heroes have a chance to not just stave off destruction, but actually improve the world. I didn't get that from A Scattering of Jades. But I could be wrong about that.).

This book, on the other hand, felt exactly like Powers's Fisher King books (not just Last Call, but also Expiration Date and Earthquake Weather). It's not badly done (it's certainly not worse than Earthquake Weather, which I never did finish), but the similarity weakens the book significantly.

Chad Orzel, 08.24.2004, 11:35am | permalink


(Behind the times here, but hopefully Chad will get my recommendation to read some Jack Spicer sent straight to his inbox. "The Collected Books of Jack Spicer" is the pure product.)

Steve, 09.06.2004, 9:43pm | permalink


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Kings of Infinite Space

I enjoyed James Hynes's The Lecturer's Tale quite a bit-- I'm a sucker for well-done academic satire-- so when I was in the library, and saw his new book, Kings of Infinite Space, on the shelf, I picked it up right away. This one leaves the academic setting behind (though the hapless protagonist, Paul Trilby, was a Ph.D. student of one of the characters in The Lecturer's Tale), and as a result is somewhat less successful.

Paul Trilby is an English Ph.D. who has fallen far from the heights of academe-- all the way to a temp job for the Texas state Department of General Services. As the book opens, he's working as a tech writer for a typist's salary, living in a hovel, and being haunted by the ghost of his ex's cat (long story). It quickly becomes apparent that his office is not your usual cubicle hell, and that something much darker is afoot.

I think I would've enjoyed this more had I not read William Browning Spencer's Resumé With Monsters first, as the two are working very similar territory (Spencer's book is Dilbert meets H. P. Lovecraft, while Hynes is drawing on H. G. Wells (a fact that is more or less given away by the jacket copy, so I don't feel I'm spoiling anything by saying it here)). Which is not to say that there's only one book worth of material in the idea of great evil lurking beneath the surface of corporate culture, just that this doesn't quite have the manic energy of Spencer's book.

In fact, it takes quite a while to get moving. The same is true of The Lecturer's Tale, to be sure, but the earlier book had clever academic satire to carry the reader along. Tech-writing temps in cubicle farms are more or less tapped out as a source of good satirical material, though, so Hynes's effort, while better written than most, ultimately falls a little short. Once things get going, the plot is interesting enough, but it takes a while to get there. The romantic subplot didn't really work for me, either, relying as it does on extreme mood swings.

In the end, it's still a good read, but not quite to the level of The Lecturer's Tale. If you're interested in the collision between corporate America and supernatural evil, I'd recommend Resumé With Monsters instead.

Posted at 6:25 PM | link | no comments


Saturday, August 21, 2004

Old Recommendations

I am going to try to cover as many of the books I read during my hiatus as possible, but there's really quite a bit of stuff. So I'm going to cover a few books by shamelessly cribbing something I posted to my other blog quite some time ago. Yeah, it's lame, but it's quicker than writing out new entries for all of them.

The original piece was in response to this call to action (via Sideout):

"It is not enough to give kids books. We must give them ones that don't suck ass."

After the obligatory Lemony Snicket plug, I went on:

[W]hen it comes to kids' books that don't suck ass, it's hard to go wrong with Terry Pratchett, who has another YA book (A Hat Full of Sky, sequel to The Wee Free Men) out. It's quite good, in both the British and American senses-- the book is very well executed, but it's not his best. It's sort of reminiscent of of recent Westlake (not The Road to Ruin, alas): admirable craftsmanship, but not Great Litratchure. Still, if you know a Young Adult who'd like something to read, you could do much, much worse.

Of course, I'm no longer a Young Adult, so most of what I read is pitched to a slightly older crowd (chronologically, at least). Moving to more adult fiction, I picked up a few books on a visit to Tor during our Manhattan weekend a little while back. Having said nasty things about one of his earlier books, I feel compelled to say that Ken MacLeod's Newton's Wake is really good. It's a stand-alone space opera novel, featuring Scottish gangsters making a bid for control of the known universe, dogmatic Marxist terraformers, inscrutable post-human technological marvels, and theater on a grand scale. If you're trying to map MacLeod onto Iain Banks, this is Against a Dark Background, only the Shakespearean pastiche "The Tragedy of Leonid Brezhnev, Prince of Muscovy" is funnier than the Lazy Gun.

The other book from that visit that I've read was pushed by Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who called it his favorite book that was published last year and did absolutely nothing sales-wise (or words to that effect): Kim Antieau's Coyote Cowgirl. This is a Southwestern magic-realist novel about a young woman who sets off in search of a stolen family heirloom with a talkative crystal skull for a companion, and ends up as a guest chef cooking magical food. The cooking scenes are sort of a literary equivalent of Big Night or Eat Drink Man Woman, only the recipes are provided in an appendix. It's enthusiastically blurbed by Charles DeLint, with good reason-- move his books a couple thousand miles south and west, and this is what you'd get.

Speaking of magic realism in the southern US, Sean Stewart's latest, Perfect Circle, is out from a small press. In terms of his other books, it's basically the male protagonist from Galveston dropped into the family-centered plot of Mockingbird, and it's very good. I have no idea why this is being published by Small Beer Press-- if it's because his publisher dropped him, they're idiots, because this is right in line with his other recent books-- but everybody should go buy a copy.

Sandwiched in between those two, I read The Arcanum by Thomas Wheeler. This was recommended by Alex Irvine (author of A Scattering of Jades) on a panel at Boskone, as a book he'd been asked to write a blurb for. As with the DeLint blurb on Coyote Cowgirl, you can see why: this is sort of kitchen sink secret history. Every bizarre mystical conspiracy theory you've ever heard of turns out to be true, and only Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry Houdini, and H. P. Lovecraft can save the world from a deranged killer stalking New York in 1919. It's a little bit Tim Powers, a little bit The Alienist, a little bit The Apocalypse Door, and an all-around good read. A review I read of it (possibly in Locus) observed that it's written in a way that would make it really easy to turn into a movie, and in this case, that's a good thing.

Posted at 5:01 PM | link | 3 comments


The Hostile Hospital

Speaking of series books, and the booklog backlog, I think the book I was supposed to do next when I stalled out may have been the latest Lemony Snicket, The Hostile Hospital, eighth in the Series of Unfortunate Events. As with the Fforde books mentioned in the previous post, there's really no way to describe the plot that wouldn't confuse anyone who hasn't read the previous seven books, and bore those who have.

I'll just note, then, that there's probably a fish-out-of-water movie to be made, as a vehicle for some latter-day Brendan Fraser, about a kid who learns everything he knows about the world from reading Lemony Snicket books. The deadpan infodumps are just so brilliantly twisted:

Operating Theaters are not nearly as popular as dramatic theaters, musical theaters, and movie theaters, and it is easy to see why. A dramatic theater is a large, dark room in which actors perform a play, and if you are in the audience, you can enjoy yourself by listening to the dialogue and looking at the costumes. A musical theater is a large, dark room in which musicians perform a symphony, and if you are in the audience, you can enjoy yourself by listening to the melodies and watching the conductor wave his little stick around. And a movie theater is a large, dark room in which a projectionist shows a film, and if you are in the audience, you can enjoy yourself by eating popcorn and gossiping about movie stars. But an operating theater is a large, dark room in which doctors perform medical procedures, and if you are in the audience, the best thing to do is to leave at once, because there is never anything on display in an operating theater but pain, suffering, and discomfort, and for this reason, most operating theaters have been closed down or have been turned into restaurants.

If you liked the previous books, you'll like this one. If not, go read something else.

Posted at 4:35 PM | link | 2 comments


The Well of Lost Plots/ Something Rotten

British publishing evidently runs on a much different model than its American counterpart. Even big-name US authors rarely publish more than one book a year, but it seems fairly routine for British authors. Hence, there have been two new Thursday Next (The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book books by Jasper Fforde in the past few months, more or less lining up with my big booklog blockage. I bought and read The Well of Lost Plots back in March or April, right around the point where I stopped doing regular updates, and I got Something Rotten (a signed copy, boasting what may be the lamest author signature ever) last week, finishing it on the plane to San Francisco.

These are both very much series books, in that attempting to summarize the plot will be of absolutely no help to anyone who hasn't read the first two. If you liked the initial volumes, you'll probably like these, as they're more of the same. If you didn't like the first two, stay well clear of these, and if you haven't read the first two, don't start here.

Of the two, I liked Something Rotten more, which is a bit surprising, as I was in a really foul mood when I was finishing it (for reasons unrelated to the book). I think it had something to do with getting more of the literary references-- many of the jokes in The Well of Lost Plots are references to Great Expectations, which I've never read. Something Rotten, as you might guess, has more to do with Shakespeare, Hamlet in particular, with the gloomy Prince of Denmark himself playing a role. At one point, he even offers Thursday a Cunning Plan: "Pretend to be mad and talk a lot. Then-- and this is the important bit-- do nothing at all until you absolutely have to, and then make sure everyone dies."

The plotting also struck me as much stronger in Something Rotten. The Well of Lost Plots read rather like the sort of book in which a series begins to spin out of the author's control. In order to keep up the furiously inventive pace of the first two, Fforde piled on so many new plot elements, characters, and bits of scenery that the whole fictional edifice seemed to be in danger of crashing down. Something Rotten, while no less frenetic in terms of plot, is much more tightly controlled, to its overall benefit. The plot has a recognizable shape, and brings a number of long-running plot threads to a conclusion.

The book ties things up neatly enough, in fact, that it looks like it may be the end of the Thursday Next story (which may be supported by the fact that the last page says "Look for the next Jasper Fforde adventure in 2005," rather than "Thursday Next adventure"). Which would be unfortunate in one sense, but might herald bigger and better things. Whatever his next book is, though, I'll definitely buy it and read it.

Posted at 4:03 PM | link | no comments


The Library: Reloaded

Back in July or August of 2001, Kate and I had lunch with Teresa Nielsen Hayden. She asked us what we had read recently that was good, and we both drew a complete blank. Not only were we not able to come up with anything that was good, but we couldn't remember anything we'd read at all.

Shortly after that, Kate hit on the idea of a book log: keeping a list, with comments, of every book she read. And, of course, the Web is ideally suited to this sort of thing, so she started Outside of a Dog. Not long after, I put up the first incarnation of this site (swiping a title from Jorge Luis Borges, Kate having beaten me to Groucho Marx), doing the whole thing by hand (FTP'ing HTML files up to the server directly). Book-logging got me into reading weblogs in general, and in June of 2002, I started a general-interest weblog of my own, Uncertain Principles. I've always enjoyed doing the book log, though, and it's forced me to read a little more carefully (so as to have something intelligent to say on-line), which is a Good Thing.

What with one thing and another, though, the original conception of the site has become a little burdensome. I kept getting behind, both because I have other things to do, and because I kept getting stuck trying to find something to say about a particular book, and I couldn't log the books after it until I did, but it was such a chore to find something worth saying, and ultimately it's a lot more interesting to read new books than to try to log the Nth book in some series or another. Things eventually reached a breaking point of sorts, as I've now gotten so far behind that I don't even remember what order I read things in, and I'm probably forgetting some of the books that I've read. Deja vu all over again.

So it's time to start over, sort of. I'm still going to try to at least note all the books I read, but I'm going to be a little more casual about the order, and grouping similar books together, and that sort of thing. And if I can't think of anything to say, I'll just move on to something more interesting to write about. I'll also probably throw the occasional book-related non-review post in over here, just because.

As long as I'm re-launching the book log, I figured I might as well re-do the site design, and move over to using Blogger (which will allow me to post from places other than my home computer, which will make updating a little easier). Which led to the site you're now looking at. Constructive comments about the design are, of course, welcome. Snide comments about the color scheme and whatnot should at least try to be entertaining.

And that's enough of my yakkin'.

Posted at 2:26 PM | link | one comment


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