Author Archives: Josh Jasper

Watching the Reading Public

Photographer and storyteller Ourit Ben-Haim has a great site of pictures of people reading on the New York City subway system. It’s called Underground New York Public Library. There’s something luminous about the readers in the photographs. It’s the intense focus of a reader in a moving setting that’s been captured and made to stand still. I wonder how many genre fiction readers will show up over time. Perhaps we can get a shot of someone reading Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, Matt Ruff’s Sewer, Gas and Electric, or other genre novels set in the underground.

Reviewing Can Be Hazardous

BoingBoing reports on a tit-for-tat battle between a video game reviewer/author and a video game art designer who,  wounded by a bad review, directed members of the game company to pan the reviewer’s book on Amazon.com .

This level of vindictive back and forth is not necessarily unique to Amazon, but I feel that, because Amazon is such a massive choke-point for book buying, a group of vindictive reviewers can do a lot more damage there than they can anywhere else.  In many ways, this is a taste of the future.

BoingBoing also lings to a Marooner’s Rock post on the situation, which has a really good explanation of professionalism in reviewing, including harsh reviewing.

Is there a solution to the problem of vindictive review-sniping on Amazon?  Or is the free nature of bad reviews for any reason something we just need to learn to accept, and possibly work around with pen names or PW-style anonymity?

New York Genre Fans Get a Treat

John Scalzi’s Whatever blog mentions that Scalzi, Scott Westerfeld, Cat Valente, and Lev Grossman will be appearing at the NY Public Library, Mid-Manhattan branch (across the street from the famous lions), on Tuesday, May 24, 2011,  at 5:30 p.m.  Musical accompaniment with be provided by author and musician Brian Slattery.

Rose and I both hope to be there, and see as many of you as can fit into the room.

The World’s Best, Smartest, Funniest, Most Energetic Book Club

If you’ve ever wanted to feel like you were in a room surrounded by writers without leaving your house, Twitter is possibly the best way to do it.  Just yesterday, I was watching Ta-Nehisi Coates, Atlantic editor and blogger about race, nerddom, and pop culture, get details on Jane Austen from Macmillan anti-pirate Nina Lourie.  Today, I’m watching horror writer Joe Hill talk offhandedly with William Gibson about fun things to read.

Joe Hill tweeted, “Twitter is pretty awesome. I feel like I’m in the world’s best, smartest, funniest, most energetic book club.”

And he’s right.  I had a lot of mixed feelings about Twitter before I started in on it.  It’s still hard to keep up with, but it’s worth peeking in on when I have time for it.

New Stross from Orbit

Commissioning editor Bella Pagan at Orbit Books UK has announced the acquisition of three new titles from Locus and Hugo Aaward winning cross-genre author Charles Stross.  The titles are The Apocalypse Codex, Neptune’s Brood, and The Lambda Functionary. The first title is a new book in Stross’s popular Laundry Files novels. Stross informs his readers that Neptune’s Brood is a space opera set in the Saturn’s Children universe and The Lambda Functionary is a near future thriller set in the Halting State and Rule 34 universe.

Saturn’s Children, Halting State and the previous Laundry Files novels were released in the US through Ace.

Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker Wins the Printz Award

Via Farah Mendlesohn, we’re pleased to know that Paolo’s Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker has won the ALA’s Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature.

It’s worth noting how serious many of the Printz Award winners have been. Criticism and praise for Bacigalupi have both singled out the cynical nature of his work. Many SF readers appreciate more optimistic futures, and decry trends in what Josh Ellis calls “grim meathook futures.”

Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, while presenting a potential grim future, shows the protagonist defeating it.  That’s far more positive than the future of Ship Breaker, where the depressing thing has already hit, and nothing stopped it in time.  This doesn’t prevent personal triumphs, however, and a dark background can provide a sharper contrast for those triumphs than a shining future. Also, as Ellis points out, what we would consider a dystopia  is part of life for kids in some places in the world. Bacigalupi’s work says that science fiction can and should address that reality as well as painting a picture of rosy possibilities.

Isn’t there room for both viewpoints?

Bacteria and Old Lace

The news is out on NASA’s recent exciting discovery.  No, it’s not alien life on Titan, and  it’s not the answer to David Bowie’s question about life on Mars either.  It’s pretty amazing, though, and might well change things for writers of hard science fiction.

Gizmodo reports that bacteria whose DNA is made with arsenic in place of phosphorus have been found at Mono Lake in CA.  This changes a lot about our understanding of how life can operate.  The official NASA announcement is not out yet, but it will probably provide a lot of rich material for SF authors to use in future books.

On a personal note, I remember from my California days that “Save Mono Lake” bumper stickers were popular.  I’m glad we saved as much of it as we could.  A photographer friend of mine, Joe Decker, has a photo gallery of the natural beauty of Mono Lake, though none of us knew it would hold such an amazing secret.

Twin Tufa

Twin Tufa • Mono Lake State Tufa Reserve, California • January 2003 • Joe Decker/Rock Slide Photography

Project Gutenberg in Dispute with Poul Anderson’s Estate

eReads reports that Greg Bear and Astrid Anderson Bear (Poul Anderson’s daughter) are disputing Project Gutenberg’s right to scan and release works Poul Anderson wrote and published in magazines during the 1940s and 1950s.  The legal details are at the eReads site, along with a note from Greg and Astrid warning authors and people in charge of an author’s estate to make sure Project Gutenberg hasn’t overstepped its bounds on other works that were  protected by copyright.

Blogging Against Sexual Harrasment

Author Jim Hines is known on LiveJournal for his insightful discussions of feminist issues in the genre fiction world.  After hearing of a friend’s sexual harassment at a science fiction convention by an unnamed person working in the industry, he put together a resource for people who have been harassed by publishing house employees and want to report it.

Jim sensibly concludes that personal safety is paramount, and no one is obliged to complain if they feel unsafe and unsupported in doing so, but resources exist, and discussion of the topic with support from members of the industry might help a victim feel safe naming their harasser.

We hope this resource is of use to our readers, and that all of you work in whatever way you can to prevent harassment where you can, and help people who have been harassed.

Copyright for Dummies

In a rare mostly non-genre related post, I’d like to take the opportunity to add to the criticism of editor of Cooks Source, who surprised author Monica Gaudio by informing her that, because she had posted her content on the web, it was therefore free for all to use, with no permission required, and that because they edited her work she ought to compensate them, not vice-versa.

Nick Mamatas, author, and editor at Viz Media’s Haikasoru imprint boosted the signal, which soon made it to John Scalzi’s  Whatever blog and was tweeted by Scalzi and retweeted by Neil Gaiman, so there’s the genre connection, however tenuous.  In the age of social networking, sometimes any publicity is not good publicity, especially when it exposes an egregious wrong by way of insulting an underdog.  Already, people are muttering about contacting advertisers in Cooks Source (which can be found by poking through the magazines articles via the image gallery on its Facebook page, for example here and here). For a savvy net user, direct action takes under an hour.  An apology, and some negotiation for the rights to the article, would have been  faster, cheaper, and far less damaging to the magazine’s reputation.

Update: It turns out that the author who first complained she was plagiarized was not the only one.  Some claims allege that Martha Stuart’s Whole Living site, Weightwatchers.com.au, The Food Network site, and National Public Radio’s site were also plagiarized.

Update II: Several people report that the advertisers have been contacted and are very aware of the problem. An advertiser comments below: “As one of the advertisers who DID pull our ads from Cooks Source and DID lose a month or 2 of our advertising funds as a result, and who HAS been inundated with emails, I thank you for seeing that most of us are small local businesses who stand to lose a lot of revenues from bad publicity, the threats of boycotting, and general disruption of our daily operations. We agree that this publication acted irresponsibly and should own up to that fact by issuing an apology publicly to Monica, as well as to the advertisers such as our business who were caught up in this debacle and who continue to deal with the fallout. We are not looking for compensation (other than the lost advertising money we already requested from Cooks Source, which seems to have been ignored). We would just like a genuine apology to all parties affected and some responsibility to be taken.”

My Airship!

Charlie Stross complains about unscientific zombies and implausible steampunk, and calls out Cherie Priest.

Cherie responds.

A Kate Beaton comic from a while ago provides a meta-metaphor about the whole thing.

Complaining that steampunk is insufficiently scientifically correct only matters if we’re to judge literary metaphor by how well the physics works.  When Stross confesses to being a fan of Girl Genius, it seems like he’s admitting to some sort of dark shameful secret in context: the sin of liking a work of art that talks about science, but really means what is essentially magic.

John Joseph Adams to Oversee Fantasy Magazine

John Joseph Adams, bestselling anthology editor and fiction editor at Lightspeed, will be taking the helm at Fantasy Magazine. He promises a new look, and a new approach.  The full announcement on his blog is here. This puts him in charge of both a major science fiction magazine and a major fantasy magazine.  Will that result in any boundary blurring, or a sharpening of the divide?  We wish him the best of luck whatever course he takes.

Tuesday funny

Overthinkingit .com has a great flowchart of female characters in fiction. Of note is that there’s pretty much only one path to a strong female character:

Can she carry her own story  (yes)-> Is she three dimensional (yes)-> Does she represent an ideal (no) -> does she have any flaws (yes) -> Is she killed before the third act (no) -> STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER.

Sad News

Genreville notes with sadness the passing of Benoît Mandelbrot.  Both Rose and I were fortunate enough to have met him in person at the Ig Nobel Awards.  For those not in the know, Mandelbrot was best known for his work in the mathematics of fractal geometry.  He formulated the classic fractal formula for what became known as the “Mandelbrot Set“.

Mandelbrot’s influence on genre fiction is huge, ranging from Piers Anthony’s whimsical Fractal Mode to Connie Willis’ arguably hard SF novel Bellwether.

He will be missed.

Talking About My Generation

Like many fans, I grew up on the classics like Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke for science fiction, and Tolkien, Eddings and Anthony for fantasy. For me, those were the voices of an older generation, well established as the masters of what they were doing.  My mother introduced me to some of her favorite books, and friends who I played Dungeons and Dragons with told me what they liked to read.

It was only after I really started thinking about genre fiction in depth that I started looking at the voices of my generation.  Unlike the classics of my youth, there’s a sense of literary lineage, and an awareness of the artifice of it all in so many of them.  These are writers who have studied literature outside of what the genre contains.  You can see the clear footprint of noir stylings in China Mieville’s The City and The City, and classical literary studies in almost anything by Pamela Dean, especially in Tam Lin.  Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death has elements of postcolonial African culture you’d never see in anything Eddings touched.  Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey draws on the work of Jane Austen.

My generation’s science fiction and fantasy thinks not only about ourselves and the future, or ourselves and the fantastic, but also about the history of literature, and where what’s being written fits in with that, references it, and plays with it.  My perspective is that we’re seeing more of this, and it’s independent of any in-genre literary movement.

I think I might be seeing it more often in fantasy, but The City and The City is arguably science fiction. Sometimes when we’re lucky, Catherynne M. Valente dips her hand into science fiction as well.  I think science fiction has a lot of room to expand if writers are willing to play around with existing literary movements and experiment stylistically.

Where might this experimentation lead us to?  Who else is doing it, and how are they doing it?

The Future of News is the Future of Book Blogging?

If you’re a regular blog follower, you might notice that some non literary focused blogs have began trends in book blogging.  Outside of places like Tor.com and John Scalzi’s Whatever, blogs with communities in their comments section are starting to house part time book clubs.  Ta-Nehesi Coates’s blog at The Atlantic hosted a long term, in depth discussion of Battle Cry of Freedom that caught my attention.  On a more genre focused trend  Firedog Lake, a progressive political blog is covering China Mieville’s new novel, Kraken.  While blogs like Instapundit were good places for John Scalzi to get a recommendation, I’m more interested in the idea of well known political and social blogs being courted by publicists in the same way that TV talk shows are.

Kraken‘s appearance on Firedog Lake includes a discussion in the comments section with the author. This takes advantage of the interactive nature of blog comment sections.

Do you think I’m overhyping a nonexistent trend?  Has it already gone as far as it’ll go?  Is it the future of book clubs?  Have publicists for fiction, specifically genre fiction already turned to big league non-genre blogs for attention? Let me know what you’ve heard.

[Edit - readers or detractors of Instapundit, please take notice, this blog entry is not an appropriate place for you to air your approval or disapproval of Instapundit or to debate said topic, thank you.  Comments of that sort will not pass moderation]

Knight of the Fallen Star?

Sir Terry Pratchett has reportedly dug up his own iron, added in meteoric iron, smelted it (with the help of a metallurgist friend) and brought it to a swordsmith, in order to have a proper knightly blade fashioned.  He has also hidden the sword to avoid trouble with Britain’s “knife crime” laws.

One wonders if this will convince Jerry Pournelle to get his own orbital death ray.

Early Morning Cuppa

Erick, a barista at my local coffee shop, the Indian Road Cafe, hasn’t read a science fiction or fantasy book in so long he can’t remember the last one he read.  I can think of several genre novels that celebrate the love of coffee, which he might appreciate.  Perhaps Genreville’s readers can help with more.

Erick at The Indian Road Cafe

Erick at The Indian Road Cafe

Firstly, there’s the Callahan’s Place/Mary’s Place/The Place books by Spider Robinson, which include loving descriptions of Irish coffee, and eventually a machine–referred to as The Machine–that quick roasts, brews, doctors, and serves coffee according to an individual’s preferences.  Personally, I like the concept of coffee as a form of alchemy, so separating myself from the brewing process is not my goal.  But a machine like the one in those books would be appreciated on groggy mornings.

Larry Niven also wrote a love note to the powers of Irish coffee in Playgrounds of the Mind.  He contests that it’s the ultimate beverage: it wakes you up and unlocks your inhibitions at the same time.  Far preferable to the bane of good taste, the Red Bull and vodka cocktails that are served in clubs these days.  The Niven & Pournelle novel The Mote in God’s Eye features “helpful” aliens who modify a coffee maker to remove unwanted oils from the brew.

Representing fantasy is Steven Brust, whose anti-hero Vlad Taltos is a fiend for a drink called klava, which appears to be based on “Hungarian egg coffee” or very milky coffee made in a French press with some vanilla.  Brust’s elaborate descriptions of making the beverage fit my idea of coffee alchemy, which involves artistry and an intimate connection between the person and the process.

What are your favorite genre novels that include discussion of coffee?