Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Too Busy To Blog

I've been rather busy lately, thanks to school, work and a lot of things going on with Apodis (namely a webdesigner going AWOL, causing a bunch of delays, among other things). Anyway, this is just to let everyone know that I'm still alive and kicking and that I'll have a few interesting things to talk about when I have the time to write it all down - including...
  • White Trash (Put A Shirt On, Fatty!)
  • Teleconferencing (Because Reverb Won't Be On The Exam)
  • Utopia (And How You Can Get Into Mine)
  • War of the Worlds (Possibly - I might see it tomorrow)

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Mighty Aphrodite

My Woody Allen kick continues with this fun, witty film. Mira Sorvino took home a best supporting actress Oscar for her role and, while I can't quite give her that much credit, it's still her best performance to date. My grade: B

Synopsis: Lenny Weinrib, a sportswriter married to ambitious Amanda Sloan, who desperately wants her own art gallery in New York City and is willing to play the game to get it. Amanda convinces a reluctant Lenny to adopt, and they end up with beautiful Max. Lenny soon becomes obsessed with finding out who Max's biological parents are, and he is not exactly happy when he discovers that the mother is a high-pitched actress wanna-be who is also a minor porn star and hooker. Lenny is determined to turn her life around--but at the same time is forced to examine his own marriage, which is failing. (via Yahoo)

Writer and Director: Woody Allen (Annie Hall)
Stars: Woody Allen (The Curse of the Jade Scorpion), Mira Sorvino (The Replacement Killers), Helena Bonham Carter (Big Fish), F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus), Michael Rapaport ("Boston Public"), Peter Weller (RoboCop)

Sunday, June 26, 2005

SF Read of the Week

Vincent knows now that there is no way out of this, that he will die in the asylum. He will never wander the sweet Earth again; his plans, mocked, are in ruins. "There is no hope, Theo," he says. "It is too late for me. It is too late for all of us." Theo looks at him, stricken. Once they were joined, one person in two houses, but this is no longer the case, not since the great burning.

Van Gogh and transubstantiation. A really top notch read by two guys who, between the two of them, have over a hundred books under their belt and have taken home Campbell and Nebula Awards.

It's "The Starry Night", by Barry N. Malzberg and Jack Dann at SciFiction.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Closer

One of the best displays of acting I've ever seen. Unfortunately, the movie is so monumentally depressing that it's hard to have an enjoyable time while watching it. Nevertheless, a powerful drama worth watching. My grade: A-

Synopsis: Set in contemporary London, this is the story of four strangers - their chance meetings, instant attractions and casual betrayals. (via Yahoo)

Director: Mike Nichols (The Graduate)
Writer: Patrick Marber (Asylum)
Stars: Natalie Portman (Garden State), Jude Law (Cold Mountain), Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovich), Clive Owen (Sin City)

Thursday, June 23, 2005

From Scratch

Over the past few days I've been reading and re-reading what I have so far on Glistening Edges and Right Angles and I've come to one final, agonizing decision: It has to go. All of it.

Most of the 10,000 words I have (that's roughly two months of writing for me) were committed to paper while I was waiting for Blurred Line to be published. And that's how it feels when I'm reading it, like another BL, which is exactly the sort of thing I don't want. So, I'm going to be starting over. Not completely from scratch, as I'm going to keep most of the plot elements I have in place, but everything else is going to be rewritten.

On another writing note: I just wanted to thank all the people who sent me their comments on "Between Eternites". It was all very helpful and, FYI, I've decided to get rid of that final scene.

On yet another writing note: The Apodis version of Blurred Line has finally popped up online. It's now listed at BN.com

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Batman Begins

I must say, I don't agree with the critics on this one. Despite Christopher Nolan's great atmospherics and some decent acting, the movie is something of a flop for me. This is due largely to the fact that there's such a silly plot in a film that seems to want quite desperately to be serious. Additionally, with the wealth of talented actors in the movie, almost all of them end up being underused. The highlight of the movie for me was Cillian Murphy, who was terrifically creepy as Dr. Crane. His stilted "It's...the...bat...man" was the best delivered line of the movie. My grade: C+

Synopsis: In the wake of his parents' murder, disillusioned industrial heir Bruce Wayne travels the world seeking the means to fight injustice and turn fear against those who prey on the fearful. He returns to Gotham and unveils his alter-ego: Batman, a masked crusader who uses his strength, intellect and an array of high tech deceptions to fight the sinister forces that threaten the city. (via Yahoo)

Director: Christopher Nolan (Memento)
Writers: David S. Goyer (Blade) and Christopher Nolan (Memento)
Stars: Christian Bale (Equilibrium), Michael Caine (The Cider House Rules), Liam Neeson (Schindler's List), Katie Holmes ("Dawson's Creek"), Gary Oldman (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later), Tom Wilkinson (The Full Monty), Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby), Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner), Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai), Mark Boone Jr (Get Carter), Linus Roache (Hart's War)

Monday, June 20, 2005

$$$!

For the last year or so, I've really been wanting a new car stereo, since all I had was the original stereo (almost 15 years old - it's a 91 Corolla) and a pair of $30 speakers that I blew months ago. As a result, all I could listen to was the radio and even at that I had to do so very quietly and without any bass at all since nudging the bass dial caused the speakers to emit loud crackling noises.

So, my Dad was extremely generous for my birthday gift and gave me a $250 Future Shop certificate. I figured that I'd lay down $150 for the stereo, maybe $100 for speakers and about $50 to have it installed. I was right on the money for the stereo, but the cheapest set of speakers they had (which are what I picked up) came to $170, and installation was closer to about $150 thanks to the fact that they had to mount the rear speakers in some fancy way due to an oddly placed spring in my trunk.

Anyhow, I suppose I'll just have to sell my body on the streetcorners for a couple nights a month. Of course, if I don't, I can always just live in my car and listen to tunes all day. Mmmmm, quality speakers....

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Beta Readers

I'm looking for some people to give me their opinions on a short story called "Between Eternities", previously known as "Freedom, Virtually" and "Untitled VR Prison Story".

It's been workshopped with good reviews (an overall rating of 4.4 out of 5) but readers have been split on whether I took the ending a step too far.

The story is a cyberpunk-ish piece, complete with profanity, sex, drugs and violence all packed into 4000 words, so if that's not your bag, you'll want to stay away. However, if you're interested, leave a comment or fire me an email.

Blurred Line: The POD Journey

"Gone Away" made a comment to the effect that he wanted to learn all about this new e-publishing/POD trend. Well, this might not be exactly what you're looking for, but I thought it might be interesting to detail how I found out about POD and how I came to publish my book and start my own POD publishing company. Consider yourself warned: This is a long, boring post.

February 2004: I believe I was about midway through writing Blurred Line and I was rather excited about it. It was, after all, the best thing I'd written at that point in my life, but I was realistic enough to realize that it probably wasn't good enough to catch on with a major publisher. So, I turned to Google to make my fated search for book publishers, which, as pretty much all POD publishers utilize Google's AdWords, turned up a number of subsidy publishers. The ones with the most aggressive advertising campaigns, namely PublishAmerica, AuthorHouse (then called 1stBooks) and iUniverse were the first to come to my attention and I devoured all the information I could find on them. I was blown away by the idea that I could have my book published for roughly $500 while earning great royalties.

Later, I turned to POD e-groups to find out more about the various companies. Of course, that's where I heard the unending horror stories coming out of AuthorHouse and PublishAmerica, so they were quickly crossed off my list. I also learned a good deal about the fact that POD books just didn't sell and were mostly by writers who seemed to display little to no ability. Indeed, I spent hours typing the titles of POD novels into Amazon to check their sales ranks and browsing through online excerpts.

July 2004: I finished writing Blurred Line in early July. By this time the veneer had come off both POD publishing and my novel. Mind you, I still believed my novel was decent and had some redeeming qualities (my opinions have since been buoyed by positive reviews). POD, however, wasn't to be redeemed in the same fashion. The further I looked into the industry, the more horror stories I found. It seemed that, at one time or another, every company had bilked an author out of their money. However, I was undeterred. For me, it wasn't really about making money. Most POD novels never sell 100 copies and I was aware that I probably wouldn't either (and I haven't, for those who are interested). It became more about simply seeing what might happen. I wanted to see where my novel would go and, more importantly, what people would think of it. Although I've lost nearly all of my original investment, I still look at self-publishing my book as a positive experience; the book has found its way into the hands of people it never would have otherwise and the reviews people have given me have, more than anything else, inspired me to continue improving my craft.

August 2004: But, back to the journey. I selected PageFree as my publisher, namely because they charged a low price ($299 US) for books under 70,000 words. Also, they let me select my own retail price and bookseller discount. Of all the companies I'd encountered, PageFree seemed to have one of the best reputations. My experience with them was mostly positive, save for a one month delay in book production caused by a filing mixup of some sort.

What struck me most about the experience, though, was the lack of customer service. I don't mean this as a slight to PageFree - after all, they have a ton of clients to deal with and (apparently) only two people minding the shop. However, this was a big deal for me. I was publishing a book. To some extent, I wanted my hand held throughout the process. Going weeks, or months, without hearing how work on my book was going, was not a very pleasant situation for me. About this time, the notion came into my head that if I were running a POD company, I'd make sure to be in contact with the authors as often as possible.

November 2004: Blurred Line is released. I quickly became a habitual Amazon rank-checker and was disappointed to see that, for the most part, it went nowhere but down. The idea that POD books didn't sell, for me a theory before this point, became a reality. I'd been convinced that I could hit that 100 mark if I sent out a few review copies, paid for a widely-distributed press release and set up a nice website. I did all of those things but, outside of friends and family, few people bought a copy of the book.

December 2004: Those first ideas of "what I'd do if..." start percolating into some concepts of a POD company. I envisioned a small POD company that publishes one genre (science fiction, of course) so as to maintain a small stable of authors that I can be in relatively close contact with. I'd also been surprised by the lack of POD companies that screened manuscripts for quality. Print-on-demand technology, it seemed to me, had loads of potential, but companies that published anything that was sent their way were destined to be nothing but money-making schemes that received no respect from the literary world. So, this was my idea; a one-genre POD company that screened manuscripts.

March 2005: Apodis Publishing is incorporated and I started work on all the specifics of the company. Blurred Line, meanwhile, had begun to show up in all sorts of interesting places: Korean and Italian bookstores, book forums in Bahrain, a British SF&F site, Yahoo news, among others. Unfortunately, it had no impact on sales. However, if the book never sold another copy, I was already satisfied with what I'd accomplished. Of course, if the book did sell, I'd be ecstatic. So, I made the decision to republish the book with Apodis. I'd be able to set a lower list price and make more in royalties from each copy sold. It also enabled me to offer the book as a free PDF download.

These days: Blurred Line hasn't moved a copy from Amazon in months. I've sold some copies personally, thanks to an article in a local paper, a book reading and I've also sold a few through the two physical bookstores it has been stocked in.

The moral of the story: If you're thinking of going into POD publishing to make money, chances are you're deluded. This isn't to say, however, that it hasn't happened. A number of books (mostly non-fiction) have made their way from POD success to traditional publishing contracts. Some POD novelists I've come into contact with have done relatively well for themselves; Janet Elaine Smith has published twelve (if I'm not mistaken) POD novels and has them stocked in Barnes & Noble stores across the country. Apparently, she's also managed to outsell Harry Potter in her hometown store. Diane Newton has taken home a number of awards and I've also heard that one of her books is being looked at by a film studio. So, success is definitely a possibility, but to get there you have to have a top-quality product and the drive to market relentlessly.

Cavan's advice: If you're going to go the POD route, make damn sure you've done the following things...
  1. You've checked out the Books and Tales website. The detailed descriptions of many POD publishers here will help you make a good choice in selecting a publisher.
  2. You've edited your story to perfection. Lots of people will take potshots at POD, saying that most books are poorly written and contain a ton of typos and errors. Make sure you can say, "Not mine."
  3. You've grown some thick skin. People will tell you you're nothing but a worthless hack who degrades "real" authors.
  4. You've got a solid marketing plan. If you want to sell books, this is a must.

Well, that's the story up until now, though I'm positive that I've left some things out. Questions? Comments?

SF Read of the Week

He squinted. A stag was bent over the stream, drinking. It lifted its head and watched him for a while. Then it leaped the stream and cantered around the small hill that had once been the factory where Jamie Barton had once earned three-thirty-five an hour, eight hours a day. Fresh-leaved saplings poked from the soil that covered it.

Actually, it might be somewhat difficult to even call this SF. But, no matter, it's an amazingly compelling story. "A Field Guide to Ugly Places" by Patrick Samphire at Strange Horizons.

Hitch

I find it rather difficult not to enjoy Will Smith and he elevates this romantic comedy above your standard fare. Kevin James also displays great comic timing, good chemistry with Smith and (the highlight of the movie) hilarious dance moves - be sure to watch the very end, where all of the leads get down and funky on the dance floor. My grade: B-

Synopsis: Alex Hitchens is "The Date Doctor." He helps men to land dates. Sara is a gossip columnist for a New York City tabloid. Both are very guarded around the opposite sex. Despite their natures, Alex and Sara begin a relationship. Complications ensue when Sara's latest scoop happens to be one of Alex's clients. (via Imdb)

Director: Andy Tennant (Sweet Home Alabama)
Writer: Kevin Bisch
Stars: Will Smith (I, Robot), Eva Mendes (Out of Time), Kevin James ("The King of Queens"), Amber Valletta (Raising Helen), Julie Ann Emery ("Taken")

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Ruminations on Adulthood

I turned 21 yesterday. It's the last real legality-based milestone in a person's life, although a minor one for me, since all it means is that, if I ever happened to be in the States, I could legally buy all the booze and porn I wanted. Here in Ontario, the legal age is nineteen and downtown Ottawa is just across the river from Hull, Quebec (seriously, cross a short bridge and you're in another province) where the legal age is 18. So, for all intents and purposes, I've already been legal for three years.

Anyhow, turning 21 did make me give some thought to the nature of adulthood itself. Specifically, at what point in your life do you become an adult? I tried to come up with a profound moment in which most people's lives undergo that change from adolescence to adulthood. Turns out I'm not a very profound kind of guy. So, instead, here are three very un-profound moments in which you become an adult.
  1. You buy a notebook, ledger, computer program or whatever for the purposes of keeping records of your financial transactions - implies responsibility and the beginnings of a disturbingly necessary form of anal retentiveness that exists in the adult world.
  2. When a telemarketer calls and ask if you're the person responsible for the household's long distance, you can no longer say 'No' and have a clear conscience - implies that you have your own place and probably a long distance plan, too. Bonus points if you need a long distance plan to call your parents.
  3. You devise your own system of organizing your utensils - aside from being a grand statement of independence (or liberation, depending on how you look at it) this implies that you own cutlery. And the idea that you've had to purchase kitchen utensils is rather impressive in itself.

Now, if you'll excuse me, all this maturity has put me out of touch with my inner child. Think I'll go for a visit.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Blurred Line - Free!

That's right, now anyone who wants a copy can download the free PDF version of Blurred Line. Click here or find the link in the right-hand side column just a few lines below my picture.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Smoke and Mirrors

Yep, "Smoke and Mirrors" is now up in Byzarium's June 2005 issue. Check it out by visiting the ezine at www.byzarium.com. Here's a preview to get you interested...

Sound approximating speech.

I wake, dream receding into the back of my mind. Like some monster with glowing eyes disappearing behind a bush. Perforated edge of imagined reality tearing away as my senses start to record the real world.

Sun coming in through a window. Bed with soft sheets. Smell of fresh coffee in the kitchen. All very nice.

I start to swing myself out of bed. Stop, surprised by the lightness of my body. Lifting the sheets up, slowly. Scared. Knowing what’s coming. Seeing how my legs come to a stub halfway to where my knees would’ve been.

Not so nice.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Two Days!

Just two more days until Blurred Line is re-released by Apodis Publishing (I figured it would be a nice birthday present for myself). I'm not sure if it'll be available on Amazon by then, but everyone out there in cyberland will be able to download a 100% free copy of the novel in PDF form.

For those who are interested, there hasn't been much progress on the book's sequel, Glistening Edges and Right Angles, as you might be able to tell by the progress bar. I've been rather busy working on Apodis stuff and am working on the final scene of a short story. If all goes according to plan, though, I'll have GERA up to 20,000 words by the end of the summer.

I Hate Max Barry...

...for writing exactly the kind of book that I've always wanted to write. I finished Jennifer Government last night and am pleased to say that it was absolutely fantastic - it's a funny, right-on-the-mark satire about corporate values. Be sure to run out and get yourself a copy of this one. Read more here or at the author's very cool website here.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

SF Read of the Week

The sidewalks overflowed with people, many with PreCort. Even those without mid-stage lesions were identifiable by cartoonish expressions—impossibly wide grins, brow-knotted frowns, jaw-clenched terror. The expressions were the external reflection of whatever the PreCort virus happened to be raping and pillaging in their victims’ brains at the moment. They struggled past in alarming numbers—as if the undead had been added to the city’s stew of diversity.

A quality plague story. "The Existential Cure" by Will McIntosh at Futurismic.

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion

This comedy is never really laugh-out-loud funny, but its consistent wit and charm make it a relatively enjoyable experience. My grade: B-

Synopsis: CW Briggs is the top insurance investigator in New York in 1940 - or so he keeps telling the firm's new efficiency expert, Betty Ann Fitzgerald. Briggs prides himself on being able to crack any insurance caper by getting into the mind of the thief, but now, thanks to the hypnotic powers of the Jade Scorpion, the mind of a thief is getting into Briggs. (via Yahoo)

Writer and Director: Woody Allen (Bullets Over Broadway)
Stars: Woody Allen (Annie Hall), Helen Hunt (What Women Want), Dan Aykroyd (Grosse Pointe Blank), Charlize Theron (The Italian Job), David Ogden Stiers ("MASH"), Elizabeth Berkley (Showgirls), Wallace Shawn (The Princess Bride)

Saturday, June 11, 2005

WestFest

After work, I spent a couple hours down at WestFest, an outdoor festival in Westboro (a somewhat trendy district in Ottawa that's just a couple blocks from the house I lived in during my high school years). Actually, I have connections to someone who runs a used book shop down there and, since the place was participating in WestFest, I thought I'd set up shop there and try to sell a few books.

Well, the afternoon was a total bust. Only one person expressed an interest in my book (and that was a two-minute 'out-of-politeness' thing). And, to top it all off, there was a $40 parking ticket on my car when I left - but the no parking sign had been enveloped by the leaves of this massive tree/bush thing. Argh!

P.S. Read of the Week will be up tomorrow. Promise.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Spreading The Joy of Canadian Rock

(Or We're Sorry About Nickelback, Really)

A post for those of you who are really into their rock music (all the rest of you, well.....hey look, a unicorn!)

Every summer the radio plays one rock song that's so unbelievably infectious I have to make a crazed beeline for the record store. In 2003, it was "Every Inambition" by The Trews (another great Canadian band, but not the subject of this post). In 2004, it was (and most of the rest of the world agreed with me) "Are You Gonna Be My Girl?" by Jet. Well, 2005 is the year of "All Used Up" by Sloan, a band that's been among the biggest bands on the Canadian scene since the mid-90s, but never really managed to break out overseas.

They're one of my faves and I'm really digging this new tune. Watch the video by checking out this site and clicking on 'multimedia'. (Note: You'll have to navigate away from that page once your video player opens, thanks to the page's background music.)

Bubba Ho-Tep

This comedy-horror has quickly earned cult status and great reviews. And, for once, I disagree with critics. Sure, I expected loads of camp, but this just wasn't that funny and it felt somewhat gimmicky. My Grade: C-

Synopsis: Bubba Ho-tep tells the “true” story of what really did become of Elvis Presley. We find Elvis as an elderly resident in an East Texas rest home, who switched identities with an Elvis impersonator years before his “death”, then missed his chance to switch back. Elvis teams up with Jack, a fellow nursing home resident who thinks that he is actually President John F. Kennedy, and the two valiant old codgers sally forth to battle an evil Egyptian entity who has chosen their long-term care facility as his happy hunting grounds… (via Yahoo)

Director: Don Coscarelli (Phantasm)
Writer: Don Coscarelli (Beastmaster) based on the story by Joe R. Lansdale
Stars: Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead), Ossie Davis (Doctor Dolittle), Ella Joyce (Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot), Heidi Marnhout

Getting To Know Your Bloggers

With the demise of my giveaway, I was going to grumble about how no one in the world reads anymore, but I still can't bring myself to buy that argument. So, here's what I think the problem is: No one wants to risk giving away their shipping address to a random internet guy. I mean, sure, maybe I seem like a normal guy, but I could just as easily whip out a gun and ask you to hand over your wallet.


Lucky for you, I'm Canadian, so that'll probably never happen (see, if I wanted to rob you, I could just go into the government and charge you ridiculously high taxes and, if you complain, I've got the perfect response - "Well, you want free health care, don't you?" And if you're American, well, no one here wants to risk being associated with Americans - mostly because we're all rather averse to President Bush - so I just wouldn't bother).

Anyway, the point this brings me to is; how well do you get to know the bloggers you read everyday? And, perhaps more interestingly, how does your respect for a blogger as a person actually affect your blog-reading? My two favourite blogs, Scalzi's Whatever and Dave's Blogography, have managed to ascend to that position not just by the quality of their content, but by the fact that I feel like their both pretty good guys I wouldn't mind hanging out with. In fact, it always seems to be the quasi-personal blogs that I read the most - and by that I mean not the people who rail on at length about their personal lives (ie. relationships, kids, etc.) but the people who always have something interesting to say and, in saying it, have some side of their personality presented in a relatively obvious way.

It seems to me that, to make reading a blog worthwhile, you either have to really like the personality that comes through in the posts, or really hate it (because reading stuff from the opposite side of the spectrum is interesting, not because you're masochistic). So, Scalzi and Dave, congrats for coming off as such cool guys. We'll do lunch sometime. In a public place. A beach BBQ, maybe. You can't hide a gun in swim trunks.

And, for those of you who like memes, this might be an interesting one. Think a bit about how important the personality of the blogger is to your reading and make a post. Or, make a mention of bloggers you wouldn't mind hanging out with.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Giveaway Shutdown

I've decided to do away with the book giveaway, thanks to a complete and utter lack of interest. I mean, I get about 100-150 hits a day, and after nine days of running the giveaways, only six people had bothered to show any interest. To those who did show an interest, thanks - and to Week 1 winners, don't worry, you'll still get your books.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Last Chance For Week 1 Giveaway

I'm going to be up late tonight working on an essay, so I imagine I'll still be conscious when the clock strikes twelve and the week one book giveaway closes. So, that means you have five more hours to get your name in on Week One's draw.

Your chances to win are pretty good at the moment....here are the current number of entries for each book:

Pastwatch: 4 (physman_wiu, Tyler, chasmyn, Dale)
Altered Carbon: 2 (Tyler, Dale)
Perdido Street Station: 1 (Tyler)
The Sun Also Rises: 2 (Melissa, Tyler)

Check out the original post for more info and get those entries in!

Six SF Books for the non-SF Reader

After yesterday's post, I was thinking about how to spread a little bit of goodwill for science fiction. Maybe we could have some sort of Read Out Of Your Genre Day (I'll go grab a historical romance). But, before I start petitioning for new holidays, I'll put a list of SF six books every non-SF reader should try to pick up (not including 1984, Brave New World, or Fahrenheit 451, because everyone's read those already). So, in no particular order...

The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula K. LeGuin - The story of a diplomat on an icy world where the inhabitants are of both sexes. LeGuin's exploration of gender roles is especially intriguing.

Lilith's Brood - Octavia Butler - Keeping on the exploration of gender roles, Butler's trilogy follows the relations of a group of humans with an alien species that mates with them. Also an interesting look at human sexuality.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - Philip K. Dick - If you've seen the movie Blade Runner, you know the plot, but the movie fails to use Dick's take on spirituality. A good 'what does it mean to be human' type of read.

Neuromancer - William Gibson - This book brought cyberpunk and computer hacking into the mainstream (if it wasn't there already). The story of a young hacker named Case makes for an interesting near-future dystopia.

The Dispossessed - Ursula K. LeGuin - This book is to society and politics what The Left Hand of Darkness is to gender roles. LeGuin's novel tells the story of a brilliant scientist's life in an anarchic utopian society and his travel back to the society his people broke away from.

We - Yevgeny Zamyatin - The book that inspired Orwell to pen 1984, Zamyatin's dystopia had him expelled from both czarist Russia and the newly formed Soviet Union after the Bolshevik takeover.

Edit - 4:21 PM: I was thinking this post over a bit today and decided I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Nicola Griffith's Slow River. This might be a more palatable book to the non-SF reader because its prose is as accomplished as most books coming out of the "literary" tradition these days. Additionally, the themes it deals with (child abuse, homosexuality and self-realization) are not explicitly societal and cultural (as in the above examples) but have more to do with the book's protagonist, as one might expect to find in a character-driven work.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Criminal

A con-man movie with an ending that falls flat. Good acting and some decent dialogue save it from complete mediocrity. My grade: C+

Synopsis: The story of an extremely odd couple: a young Latino man who will do anything for his family and a 30-something scheming white guy who will do anything TO his family. One wants to save his father. The other wants to get rich, in any way possible. So when they come across one of the most valuable pieces of currency in U.S. history, they're suddenly stuck together, and that's just...criminal. All they have to do is sell it, which is where the real problems begin. And of course the only way out is family: the one person who can help them, hates them: the schemer's sister. (via Yahoo)

Director: Gregory Jacobs
Writer: Gregory Jacobs and Steven Soderbergh (Sex, Lies and Videotape) based on the film Nine Queens
Stars: John C. Reilly (The Aviator), Diego Luna (The Terminal), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Mona Lisa Smile), Peter Mullan (Trainspotting)

Pet Peeve

POD-dy Mouth has irked me this morning, after remarking that she almost discarded a book because she thought it was science fiction.

Now, if you happen to be one of those people who turns up their nose at anything that's not literary fiction, that's fine. It still pisses me off because I think they're wrong in asserting that genre fiction has absolutely no literary value. My reading habits are split about 50/50 between literary fiction and science fiction and I can honestly say that I find a good deal of literary value in both. This, of course, is probably dependent on reading a certain type of science fiction - ie. not Star Trek or Star Wars books or anything with a guy holding a raygun in one hand and a buxomy girl in the other (although I won't go so far as to say that none of those have literary value, I just think it's a lesser percentage than, say, LeGuin, Gibson, and Dick, among others).

Anyhow, here's the issue that really bothers me: POD-dy Mouth has, from time to time, reviewed mysteries and thrillers on her blog. Now, what is it that makes these genres better than science fiction? No, really, I'm asking, because it seems to be a commonly-held belief these days. Is it because people are associating SF with the pulp magazines and Flash Gordon-type shows of the 40s and 50s? Is it because no one wants to be seen reading a science fiction novel because they think it'll instantly make them social outcasts?

Personally, I doubt that the best thrillers out there could even come close to equalling the literary value of the best SF out there (and feel free to tell me if I'm horribly wrong, I only need two hands to count the number of thrillers I've read). The reason for this is that the entire thriller genre is the equivalent of a blockbuster movie; it's tons of fun, but it probably won't stay with you for very long after you've finished it. The best SF, on the other hand, is really all about thought experiments and social commentary (anyone who disagrees with me can go read a copy of LeGuin's The Dispossessed and then maybe we'll talk). As a result, the very nature of the genre (keeping the "rocketship and rayguns" subgenre out of things) is intellectual.

So, fill me in....what's your beef with SF?

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Garden State

If you've heard anything about this film, it's undoubtedly been good. And all the reviews are right. Quirky, funny and emotional. Highly recommended. My grade: A

Synopsis: When Andrew Largeman returns to his hometown in New Jersey for the first time in 10 years to attend his mother's funeral, he is reconnected with the world he left behind, and meets a girl, Samantha, who may change his life forever. Having recently stopped taking the powerful antidepressants he had been prescribed for years, Largeman's journey of self-discovery prompted by his return causes him to have a more healthy rediscovery of himself, which includes confronting his psychologist father and helping Samantha through her own psychological issues. (via Yahoo)

Director and Writer: Zach Braff
Stars: Zach Braff ("Scrubs"), Natalie Portman (Closer), Peter Sarsgaard (Boys Don't Cry), Ian Holm (The Lord of the Rings)

Saturday, June 04, 2005

SF Read of the Week

"The exact wording was 'I wish for my daughter to be cloned from my DNA, so that I may give her a secure future in every cell of her body.' Your mother was giving you a gift—badly, perhaps, but she meant well. Now, will you go see her as she's dying?"

An interesting story on identity and cloning. Vylar Kaftan's "She Called Me Baby" at Strange Horizons.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Big Bad Short Story Meme

Generally, I'm not a fan of memes, but this one was too tempting to pass up. See the original post here. (Oh, and my apologies - I'm coming up with this at the top of my head at 6:30 in the morning.)


Her mother sighs. They've been coming down all week. She draws her phone out of her purse and calls up the custodial staff. "Another one, at the intersection of Third and Queen."

"Yes, ma'am. We'll be there shortly."

"Oh, and make copies of the photographs, will you? I'll have to file a report."

"Yes, ma'am."

The little girl coughs gently. Her mother tries to disguise the noise by rummaging around in her purse, but people along the steet eye her child suspiciously. It's a bad sign these days. Means you might end up like one of them. Up there. She shudders, thinking about it. She wonders if they're jumping, stepping off the edge even though they can't see the ground.

She's glad her daughter doesn't have to bear this burden. She doesn't want to watch her daughter's eyes change, they way her own did. Doesn't want to see that metallic edge, those steel tears.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Book Giveaway: Week 1

So, here's the deal: If you want one of these books, leave a comment or send me an email telling me which one (or two, or three, or maybe you'd like all of them). I'll be drawing at the end of the week and shipping once the month is out. Below, I've taken a bit of info from Amazon to let you know what the books are all about.


Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus - Orson Scott Card
-From the author of Ender's Game

In a thought-provoking work that is part science fiction, part historical drama, Orson Scott Card writes about scientists in a fearful future who study that tragic past, then attempt to actually intervene and change it into something better.Tagiri and Hassan are members of Pastwatch, an academic organization that uses machines to see into the past and record it. Their project focuses on slavery and its dreadful effects, and gradually evolves into a study of Christopher Columbus. They eventually marry and their daughter Diko joins them in their quest to discover what drove Columbus west.


Altered Carbon - Richard Morgan
Winner of the Philip K. Dick Award

In a society in which death has been rendered practically obsolete, suicide and murder take on different significances. After a particularly brutal offing, former UN envoy Takeshi Kovacs finds himself "resleeved"--that is, his consciousness has been put in a new body--and hired as a private investigator by Laurens Bancroft, one of twenty-fifth-century society's old rich in Bay City (formerly San Francisco). Bancroft claims he was murdered, but the police say it was a suicide. After Kovacs gets hit at his hotel within hours of being resleeved, he sees the possibility that Bancroft was, in fact, murdered, and that someone wants to keep it very hush-hush. As he investigates, he uncovers a far-reaching conspiracy with ties to the most unsavory characters in his generally unsavory military and criminal past. This far-future hard-boiled detective story is a lovely virtual-reality romp distinguished by a conspiracy whose strands have the potential to generate several successful sequels, which is just what its publicity promises.




Perdido Street Station - China Mieville
Winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award
Nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Tiptree and World Fantasy Awards

Scientist Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin and his lover, an insect-like creature named Lin, discover the risks of meddling in the affairs of mobsters, renegades, and revolutionaries when they fall afoul of the powers that rule the sprawling city of New Crobuzon. The author of King Rat delivers a powerful tale about the power of love and the will to survive in a dystopian universe that combines Victorian elements with a fantasy version of cyberpunk. Mieville's visceral prose evokes an immediacy that commands attention and demands a wide readership. Highly recommended.



The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway

The Sun Also Rises was Ernest Hemingway's first big novel, and immediately established Hemingway as one of the great prose stylists, and one of the preeminent writers of his time. It is also the book that encapsulates the angst of the post-World War I generation, known as the Lost Generation. This poignantly beautiful story of a group of American and English expatriates in Paris on an excursion to Pamplona represents a dramatic step forward for Hemingway's evolving style. Featuring Left Bank Paris in the 1920s and brutally realistic descriptions of bullfighting in Spain, the story is about the flamboyant Lady Brett Ashley and the hapless Jake Barnes. In an age of moral bankruptcy, spiritual dissolution, unrealized love, and vanishing illusions, this is the Lost Generation.