Monday, August 13, 2007

Burning Man Info

posted by Tim Walters @ 11:28 PM

This seems as good a place as any to stash my Burning Man schedule. Updates to follow as needed..

Josie and I will be camping with MathCamp at 7:30 & Intertidal. Here are some events happening there.

I also have a bunch of gigs:

1. Tim Thompson, Craig Latta, and I will be doing two shows as Charm Offensive, playing folk-rock:

-- Center Camp, Saturday, 3am
-- The Duck Pond (Habitat and 9:00), Saturday, 10pm

Here's a glimpse at our material.

2. The same trio will also be forming as fud (substituting for dud, who couldn't make a quorum this year):

-- Mutant Audio Outpost (3:00 Plaza at 11:00), Thursday, 8pm

No demo for this, but it will be experimental electronic music of some sort.

3. Lastly, I'll be subbing on bass for indie-rock band American Winter (warning: MySpace auto-play). UPDATE: The Compound has had to cancel their trip to BM due to a last-minute emergency. We'll be trying to schedule some alternative American Winter gigs. Watch this space.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

It's All About Joe Artist

posted by Tim Walters @ 6:41 PM

First came the self-titled album. As far as I know, no painter or writer has ever titled a work with his name, but somehow, this unimaginative and egocentric convention became common among musicians. It would make some sense for a best-of album*, but instead is most commonly used for debut albums--exactly where one would expect the artist to want to make a good impression, rather than seeming incapable of coming up with a real title.

The advantage, one assumes, is that the artist gets a name so nice, you say it twice. That is, he would, except that it turns out that people find referring to "Joe Artist's album Joe Artist" ridiculous, and will go to some lengths to avoid it: "Joe Artist's debut album," "Joe Artist: s/t," "the White Album," etc. What's a poor narcissistic** singer to do?

If you're Peter Gabriel, the answer is "try it three times and see what happens," but a more common strategy is the elaborate self-referential title. Here are my top/bottom five examples.

5 (tie):

Gary Burton: Who Is Gary Burton?
Dan Hartman: Who Is Dan Hartman?
Waldeck: Who Is Waldeck?
Marix: Who Is The Marix
Mike Jones: Who Is Mike Jones?
Mike Eddie: Who The Hell Is Mike Eddie?
Fletcher McTaggart: Who Is Fletcher McTaggart?

Who gives a shit?

Extra loser points to Marix for omitting the question mark, and a shout-out to Marlena Shaw, who shows these guys how it's done with her album Who Is This Bitch, Anyway?

4. Jill Scott: Who Is Jill Scott?: Words And Sounds, Vol. 1

Taking a bad idea to a whole new double-generic level of suck, with bonus implied threat.

3. The Nice: The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack

Presumably something like The Sorrows Of Young Werther, only with less moping and more sticking of knives in Hammond organ keyboards.

2. Arrested Development: Three Years, Five Months and Two Days in the Life of...

These guys expect us not only to care about, but to dutifully recite, the amount of time it took them to get a recording contract. Also, a five-yard penalty for the coy ellipsis.

1. Terence Trent D'Arby: Introducing The Hardline According To Terence Trent D'Arby

Nicknamed "The Blowhardline" for obvious reasons, and as a sly reference to one theory about what could give a pretty boy named "Terence Trent D'Arby" the impression that he's a badass.


*Great opportunity for a band with cred but low sales: call your best-of album Pop Flies. Because it's pop, but they're not hits. Get it? OK, never mind.

**This has nothing to do with music, but I have to mention it: when working at a personnel office, I once found the file of a guy named Curtis whose four children were named Curt, Curtis Jr., Curtessa, and Curtessina.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Little Women Thelma And Louise Do The Right Thing

posted by Tim Walters @ 11:29 PM

Occasionally one sees two consecutive movie titles on a marquee that together make a complete sentence. But I don't think I've ever seen three do that.

Until today:


Sunday, June 25, 2006

Miss Thing

posted by Tim Walters @ 4:01 PM

After flirting with a couple of library cataloging applications, I've settled on Library Thing. Rather than a desktop application, it's a web application, which means anyone can see my library. From this we can see that I have 2,414 books (although there are still a few hundred I haven't catalogued), which sounds like a lot until you get a load of this guy.

I can also see all the books I've read since the last time I blogged one:

Ken Macleod: Learning The World (see Hugo commentary)
John Varley: Red Lightning (not as good as Red Thunder, but then again that was pretty damn good)
Neil Hanson: The Confident Hope Of A Miracle: The True Story Of The Spanish Armada (fascinating)
Kate Wilhelm: Storyteller (see H.c.)
Michael Moorcock: Between The Wars (Byzantium Endures/The Laughter Of Carthage/Jerusalem Commands/The Vengeance Of Rome) (This long, vexing masterpiece deserves a real essay. Fortunately, John Clute has provided one.)
John Varley: Millennium (very grabby, wild ending)
Harry Partch: Bitter Music (his hobo journal, and many essays; reminds me of The Motion Of Light In Water, and it's almost that good)
Yevgeny Zamyatin, We (prescient 20s dystopia, beautifully done)
Lin Carter, ed.: Flashing Swords #1 (the Anderson story is excellent, the Vance good, the rest so-so)
Ian Watson: The Embedding (more thriller-y than I remembered, but some good SF aspects as well)
David Deutsch: The Fabric Of Reality (mind-roasting epistemology/science weirdness)
Roger Zelazny: Roadmarks (mid-grade Zelazny; there are worse things to be)
Richard Dawkins: The Blind Watchmaker (we are devo!)
Conjunctions #39: The New Wave Fabulists (very nice slipstream anthology, almost every story is good-to-excellent)
Gene Wolfe: The Fifth Head Of Cerberus (his magnum opus; one of the best books ever)

Gernsback a-go-go

posted by Tim Walters @ 3:36 PM

Here's the current state of my Hugo opinions, having read all the fiction. See also Nicholas Whyte's overview, which agrees with mine to a fair extent, even though I was careful not to read it until I had made my rankings.


1. Spin by Robert Charles Wilson. Here's what I said on Making Light:

Started Spin last night, finished it this morning. I liked it a lot, but unlike the Washington Post I felt that the "literary novel" half of the marriage didn't quite pull its weight. The characters are well-developed and credible, but Wilson achieves that with too much tell and not enough show for my taste, and he has a habit of summarizing conversations that should be written in dialog, which made me think of those Fifties movies that couldn't afford sync sound. I also think that he didn't give the narrator a distinctive enough voice to justify writing the book in first person.

These aren't serious problems, though, and the SFnal aspects are first-rate; once they kicked into gear about halfway through I put off everything else until I finished it.

2. Learning The World by Ken MacLeod. Quite engaging, but I felt that it needed, for lack of a better word, payoff. Still, a pleasant surprise, as I didn't really like The Cassini Division, the only other book of his I'd read.

3. Accelerando by Charles Stross. Good singularity scenario, if very trendy; it's going to seem dated even five years from now, but maybe that's part of the point. Not much novel to go with the scenario.

4. Old Man's War by John Scalzi. Glib Heinlein homage that wisely avoids most of Heinlein's worst habits, the main exception being the narrator's rather smug quality.

I decided not to read the Martin. Life's too short.

Category notes: it's a solid set, but none of them blew me away, or (except for Spin) gave me that frisson of new strangeness I want from the best SF.


1. "Magic For Beginners" by Kelly Link. Best in show. With her new collection, Link has gone from excellent to brilliant; I can't recommend it enough. I also can't explain what's so great about it. You just have to read it. This isn't even the best story in the collection (my vote is "Catskin"), and yet it makes everything else on the ballot seem a little ordinary.

2. "Burn" by James Patrick Kelly. Beautiful, exotic, original and morally complex--a very worthy winner if the other Kelly wasn't kicking so much butt. I will definitely be reading more by him.

3. "The Little Goddess" by Ian McDonald. The elements are a bit stock--the life of a young girl chosen for godhead, nanotech smuggling--but the combination is original, and extremely well done.

4. No Award

5. "Inside Job" by Connie Willis. Not disastrous, but thoroughly mediocre; the sort of story where the main character is an expert on a particular subject, which means both that that subject will, quite implausibly, turn out to be very important to the action of the story, and that the author will make sure that you know how much research she did. Connie Willis' popularity continues to mystify me.

6. "Identity Theft" by Robert Sawyer. Mid-seventies Varley given a radical pleasurectomy.

Category notes: Huge gap between the first three--any of which is better than any of the novel nominees--and the last two. I'm going to be somewhat annoyed if Link doesn't win, but I'm going to be extremely annoyed if Willis or Sawyer wins.


1. "The King Of Where-I-Go" by Howard Waldrop. Nothing new here--a fairly standard time-travel plot--but Waldrop gives us well-drawn characters and a strong sense of place.

2. "Two Hearts" by Peter S. Beagle. Many things to like here, but it's just a touch too sentimental for me to give it the top spot.

3. "The Calorie Man" by Paolo Bacigalupi. I have a bit of a bias against SF stories that seem inspired by current headlines, but this is well enough written that I can't really complain.

4. No Award

5. "I, Robot" by Cory Doctorow. I couldn't suspend my disbelief enough to swallow the premise, the plot twists are visible a mile off, and there isn't enough texture to make up for these problems. It's by no means terrible, but I just can't quite give it a vote.

6. "TelePresence" by Michael A. Burstein. Clunky, cliched, and useless.

Category notes: Seems like the novella is where the action is this year.


1. No Award. I feel like a big ol' curmudgeon, but I just can't get it up for any of these.

2. "The Clockwork Atom Bomb" by Dominic Green. A decent enough thriller, but he throws in a bit of gratuitous callousness at the end that put me off.

3. "Down Memory Lane" by Mike Resnick. Well-written, but doesn't get away with its dubious premise, and reminds one too much of a very famous, much better story.

4. "Singing My Sister Down" by Margo Lanagan. Given all the praise for this, it's very likely that I'm missing something... but if so, I'm still missing it after reading it twice. For one thing, there's no discernible genre content; that probably wouldn't bother me if it were a better story. Unfortunately, it seems both contrived and gloppily sentimental to me. What's the point of a slice-of-life story that doesn't have credible, or at least compellingly strange, humans in it? More than anything, this reminds me of a story I wrote in seventh grade about the last thoughts of a guy falling into a blast furnace. That's not a good thing.

5. "Tk'tk'tk" by David D. Levine. A story of human-alien miscommunication, very reminiscent of "The Moon Moth." Fatally, Levine lacks Vance's deft touch, and the story just plods.

6. "Seventy-Five Years" by Michael A. Burstein. I have a hard time believing this was even published. Now I know how much "multiple Hugo nominee" means on an author's bio.

Category notes: I can't believe these were the best five short stories of the year. I may have to start paying more attention, and nominating.


The only one I've managed to read is Storyteller by Kate Wilhelm, which was kinda meh, so I won't vote in this category unless I somehow manage to round up a reasonable percentage of the other four.


I've only seen two of these--Serenity (good, but not stellar) and Goblet o' Fire (not good). I seem to be immune to the charms of Wallace and Gromit, and Batman for that matter, but I should probably see Narnia before I vote. I'm told that the Harry Potter series gets better again after this one, but I'm not sure I care.

I don't know enough about the rest of the categories to cast a meaningful vote, and probably won't by deadline.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

CAMOUFLAGE ambushes the pack

posted by Todd T @ 5:35 PM

I see that Joe Haldeman's novel CAMOUFLAGE has won the Nebula. I was surprised. I haven't read the other nominees, but CAMOUFLAGE is not what I think of when I think of Nebula work.

I like Haldeman's work, and I liked this book too, really, for what it is. But it does not seem to me to be the pinnacle of the sf writing craft.

It's a near future thriller, pretty well done and certainly entertaining. Two plot threads alternate at first. In one, a creature that has lived in the ocean for millennia, mimicking various species, but cannot remember how it came to be there, comes ashore and stumbles on a human, and by accident and cleverness begins nearly a century of learning about humans and science in an effort to find out if there are others like it. It can change shape given a bit of time, and also size by consuming or dropping mass. As it studies humans, it gains in skill in passing as human, though it needs none of the same resources to be essentially immortal. Just about all of its adventures are fascinating and well thought out. The other thread: a former admiral hires an oceanography company to work on a secret project to recover and study an apparently alien artifact sunk deep in a Pacific trench. This plot is much more routine for the most part - could be straight out of Crichton. Perhaps you will guess that these plots converge eventually.

The writing is good. Haldeman is a fine craftsman. He was shooting for thriller, and he hit the mark. I was always drawn on to see what happened next. But on the way, one finds Haldeman leaving some gaps unsealed, some potholes raced past and not filled. One must accept right off the bat that all the key players will jump in with both feet on a crazy sounding plan. The artifact reveals immediately that it has a perfect mirror surface – does it make sense then to test it at length with ever more powerful lasers? And why let these tremendously powerful lasers bounce up and into the air where they could hit a helicopter full of reporters and other snoops, which we are told are all over the place? No matter, the plot barrels forward. The climactic scene is tense but far too brief and not visually clear enough to be spectacular. The big problem for me, though, is that much of the behavior of two major characters in the latter parts of the book, critical to the plot, simply struck a clanging false note. Impossible to discuss without spoilers, so details are put farther below. Superb writing could force me to believe it, but although there’s plenty of convincing characterization here, I just never did buy the buildup to the climax, nor thus the climax itself. Not a disaster, given the fun along the way, but if we're judging for the ultimate trophy of writerly accomplishment in sf, points must be deducted, I'd think.

So, a Nebula? Not if I were king. Fun? Sure. Maybe Haldeman's sixth or seventh best novel. But I can't really believe that this was the novel most revered by other sf writers in 2005.


After a series of shocking events, some quite intimately personal, it seems to me that Russ is far too slow to grow cautious, far too reliant on a single piece of evidence that convinces him that everything is normal in the face of lots of evidence that just about anything could be way weird. His world should be rocked to the foundation. A still bigger flaw is that I just never believed that the alien could love the human. Haldeman after all has done an excellent job imparting to us just how alien it is, and it should be too alien to form an emotional attachment, though we are told mimicking humans so long is rubbing off on it – but how? Is he going all Sturgeon on us in the last 20 pages? Don't forget that the alien itself has had a number of big revelations - isn't it too distracted by those to think about how to include a human in its life?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

I give up

posted by Tim Walters @ 3:23 PM

It's just been too long, so I'm not going to even try to do actual reviewlets. Just a list, not even in order.

Douglas Hofstadter: Gödel, Escher, Bach (re-read)
Steven R. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner: Freakonomics*
John Crowley: The Girlhood of Shakespeare's Heroines
Bernard Wolfe: Logan's Gone
Greg Egan: Schild's Ladder
John Scalzi: Old Man's War
Daniel Dennett: Freedom Evolves (re-read)
Colin Wilson: The Outsider
Poul Anderson: Fantasy
Peter S. Beagle: Tamsin
Milan Kundera: The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
Flannery O'Connor: Wise Blood
Philip Pullman: Lyra's Oxford
Robert Charles Wilson: Spin
T.J. Bass: The Godwhale
John Varley: Red Thunder
Pat Cadigan: Tea From An Empty Cup

Currently I'm reading a very long multi-volume work, very slowly. Maybe when I finish that I'll something to say. After that I need to work through the Hugo nominees so I can cast informed votes.

Which brings up an interesting ethical question: do I need to read George R.R. Martin's A Feast For Crows? I've read the first two in the series, and decided not to continue--it's not bad, by any means, but there's way too much of it. Now the fourth doorstop is nominated, which means 2300 pages of reading just to make absolutely sure I don't think it's Hugo-worthy. I'm inclined to take a pass.

*Okay, I do have to mention one thing about Freakonomics: I don't think I've ever read another book where the epigram for each chapter was taken from one co-author's puff piece about the other co-author. That's just embarrassing.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Form Follows Failure

posted by Tim Walters @ 8:38 PM

Henry Petroski, The Evolution Of Useful Things.

Did you know that the can was invented decades before the can opener? Neither did I. Petroski sets out to debunk the maxim "form follows function," and succeeds--although it does seem like a bit of a straw man, as I always understood that maxim to be an aesthetic prescription rather than a theory of technological development. In any case, he paints a vivid picture of generations of inventors getting fed up with the limitations of everyday objects, and fixing them--for a while.

Tell The Bees

posted by Tim Walters @ 8:24 PM

Graham Joyce, The Facts Of Life.

This is very different from The Tooth Fairy, and surprisingly, well, normal. In fact, it verges on chick-lit, with that currently popular whiff of magic realism. There's even a handy book-club primer in the back. It's the story of a large extended working-class family ruled by a canny, benevolent matriarch who talks to ghosts, and while I can't think of another novel with exactly those ingredients off the top of my head, it does seem like well-trodden ground.

That said, it's excellent. The evocation of post-war life (and the Blitz itself) are near-perfect (although a premature Sixties vibe crops up in places), the creepy bits are, as one might expect, quite successful, and the characters are a pleasure to visit. While I wouldn't rate it as high as The Tooth Fairy, I'm glad to see that Joyce is versatile.

Bridge To Terabithia

posted by Tim Walters @ 8:14 PM

Katherine Paterson, Bridge To Terabithia.

A children's book with what is in some ways a very standard story: two outsider kids get together and become best friends. But two things make a big difference:

--It's much better written than usual, without the overdramatization that so often accompanies this trope, and with all characters well-drawn, and

--there's a big surprise. At least, it would have been a big surprise, if it weren't trumpeted on book flap, and even the LoC classification. However, knowing it in advance didn't ruin anything.

First-rate kidlit. I'm not at all surprised that it won a Newberry.

Being-Hit-On-The-Head Lessons

posted by Tim Walters @ 7:59 PM

Evelyn Waugh, Put Out More Flags.

When one's first name is of the wrong gender*, and one's last name is a sound effect, perhaps one inevitably grows up a wee bit misanthropic. But Waugh's curse is our blessing. This is some seriously ballsy satire--not only does he expertly walk the fine line between pitilessness and cruelty, but he savaged the war effort (specifically the "Phony War" period, between the invasion of Poland and the invasion of France) in 1942, with Britain still hard beset. It's hard to believe that some official didn't harrumph and hand him a line about the paper shortage.

This seems to be part of an ongoing series--it begins and ends in medias res--but that was no problem for me. While I'm not sure I'd want to read a lot of this at once, lest I lose my faith in human nature, in a one-book dose it's wonderfully wicked. Recommended.

*Turns out his first wife's name was also "Evelyn." Ye gods.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Logrolling in our time

posted by Tim Walters @ 10:47 PM

For the delectation of our hypothetical readership, I've added a bunch of nifty stuff to the links section of the sidebar. Check 'em out!

Inside-the-park home run

posted by Tim Walters @ 12:08 AM

Michael Chabon, Summerland. Given Chabon's reputation as a non-genre writer, I was somewhat surprised to find that this was a straight-down-the-middle YA fantasy, to the point of predictability. However, it's beautifully done, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Interesting that it's always baseball (and not, say, football or basketball) that gets fantasy novels written about it. I guess it's just too much fun to make the designated hitter rule a step toward Ragnarok.

Sunday, December 11, 2005{ "I will blog books right after I read them".postln })

posted by Tim Walters @ 10:11 PM

David McCullough, John Adams. I didn't know much about John Adams except that he was the second president. Turns out he had an interesting diplomatic career during the Revolutionary War, and had a lot of influence on the Constitution (largely due to writing Massachusetts' earlier constitution, the earliest in the world). The contrast between the Founding Fathers and the current kakistocracy is... instructive.

Tove Jansson, Moominpappa's Memoirs. As strange and wonderful as the other Moomin books, with the added benefit of introducing children to the concept of the unreliable narrator.

Edward O. Wilson, The Diversity Of Life. Good subject, good writing, but as such books often are, a little long on discussions of specific critters.

Christopher Priest, The Prestige. Speaking of unreliable narrators, this is one of my favorite examples. A feud between two Victorian magicians is outlined in their competing memoirs. The reader can piece the real story together just well enough that it's fun rather than frustrating, and it was an enjoyable re-read even though I remembered most of it. The final denouement is wonderfully creepy. Highly recommended.

Dan Simmons, Ilium and Olympos. As seems to be Simmons' standard pattern, the first book brings the sensawunda like a Nolan Ryan fastball, with great oversize and audacious (reenacting the Trojan war on Mars?) concepts flung at the reader in rapid succession. Unfortunately, the second book has to slow down and resolve the sixty bazillion complicated plot elements, and that's when the little tics that were minor irritations in the first book start to blossom into genuine annoyances. The characters, one realizes, are all obsessed with our period despite living in 4000 A.D. or so, to the point where they make Star Trek jokes and compliment each other on their knowledge of Lost Age slang--and that's just the robots (excuse me, "moravecs," named after Hans Moravec). Simmons always lays on the literary references, but in this case they're more like obeisances--to the Iliad, of course, but also to Shakespeare (who more than one character thinks is the bee's knees despite having encountered him shortly after learning to read as an adult) and Proust. Now I like Shakespeare, and would probably like Proust if I ever got around to reading him, but I definitely don't like long conversations where all the characters kiss their asses cluttering up my space opera, kapeesh? Also, the second book makes the mistake of shifting to the gods' and heroes' view for several chapters, the problem being that, as one might expect, the gods and heroes are both dim and dull.

Hm. That's a lot of complaints, but Olympos isn't bad. It's just that I feel there's a much better book struggling to get out, and that's not a feeling one wants to maintain for 700+ pages. And given that both Hyperion pairs (duologies?) had very much the same pattern--first book a blast, second book a mess--it's even more frustrating. Recommended, but caveat lector.

Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity Is Near. The Singularity, as you may recall, is the point where technological development turns an exponential corner and everyone learns to croon with an intensity currently unimaginable. Oh wait, that's the Bingularity.


Is Kurzweil right? Beats the heck out of me. He makes a convincing case, and I don't have any clear refutation to offer, but I can't help but feel that the whole scenario is a little too tidy for real life. It's a lovely daydream, regardless.

Daniel Dennett, Brainchildren. Essays about artificial intelligence and robotics. Very enjoyable, but I'm failing to dredge up any blogworthy insights about it.

Roger Zelazny, Jack Of Shadows. I hadn't read this in a very long time, and had forgotten how much of a bastard Jack is. He Learns Better, though, and it's very strange and enjoyable in that early Zelazny way.

Samuel R. Delany, The Jewels Of Aptor. Another new-wavey science fantasy, in this case Delany's first novel (published at 19!). There are some rookie mistakes (e.g. as you know, Bob infodumps), but the writing and atmosphere hold up very well. Recommended.

James Herriot, All Creatures Great And Small. No wonder this was huge--Herriot is a near-perfect anecdotist, and gives an impression of utter frankness. Certainly the disgusting parts of veterinary medicine, and the embarrassments of courtship, are not glossed over. (Don't worry, though, he gets the girl.)

Samuel R. Delany, The Motion Of Light In Water. The chain of association is clear here: Delany + "frank autobiography." Fearless and brilliant--the only problem is that it stops at 1965. More, please!

James Branch Cabell, Some Of Us: An Essay In Epitaphs. Ten (of course) essays on writers of the Twenties. Strictly for hardcore Cabellians, but, well, I am a hardcore Cabellian.

Richard Powers, Plowing The Dark. Powers, as usual, straddles C.P. Snow's "Two Cultures:" you probably don't have to be able to pick up less-than-explicit references to the Douanier Rousseau and VR theory, but it helps. As usual, though, he never seems to just be showing off or post-modernly cool--his books are unashamedly heartfelt. Plowing The Dark combines two threads: an artist coming into a high-tech research lab to give life to their virtual reality system (while battling her own insecurity about her work) and an English teacher kidnapped by terrorists in Lebanon. The stories seem unrelated, but do come together ambiguously by the end, and perhaps more importantly, complement each other thematically, one being about sensory overload, the other about sensory deprivation. Recommended, but read The Gold Bug Variations or Galatea 2.2 first.

Poul Anderson, Flandry Of Terra. I usually like Anderson's fantasy (including borderline stories like "The Queen Of Air And Darkness") better than his science fiction, and this didn't change my mind. It's not bad, though, just a little dated and repetitive, the three stories being much of a muchness in both description and setup, and to some extent in plot.

John McPhee, Coming Into The Country. An excellent description of Alaska and its people, written in the Seventies. Clearly he loves both, but at times it's hard to tell what's scarier, the grizzly bears or the small-town politics.

Winsor McCay, Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend. My friend Greta Christina gave me this after we'd had a discussion of newspaper comic strips. I had maintained both that the domain was limited enough to talk meaningfully about a best-ever, and that Calvin & Hobbes was it; she stumped for Winsor McCay, and won by default, since I'd never read him. That omission is now rectified, and I'm very glad of it. I don't put it quite on the C&H level for pure enjoyment, but given that the things that slightly bug me (the strange wordiness and erratic punctuation of the dialog; the strict adherence to the formula) are features of its period, while the art and concept are far ahead of it, I have to say that's a worthy contender for the best-ever title from an objective point of view.

Each strip is a dream which gets progressively stranger and ends with the dreamer waking up and regretting eating Welsh rarebit. What's amazing is (1) the brilliant drawing style and (2) the fact that the dreams are entirely credible. I've had a couple of them myself. Highly recommended, and you can check out some examples online.

Monday, November 14, 2005

World Fantasy Con 2005

posted by Todd T @ 8:13 AM

I don't know how I shall summarize in just a few paragraphs, but I thought you might want to hear about it a bit.

Usually I miss WFC, with regret, but this year it was in Madison, WI, so I was able to combine it with visiting relatives and friends thereabouts, and rationalize away the expense a bit more reasonably. It was a wonderful time.

GOH was Graham Joyce, who turns out to be very funny, very warm and very sage about what makes books and readers tick. He's a great interview. His tales of his discussions about books and his future with his miner father were right out of Playwriting 101 but he made them very funny. The story of the TOOTH FAIRY movie was again so typical as to be cliche but was riotous when told by Joyce. (After insisting on being able to write the screenplay himself, he found himself conceding right and left - cut the pike and the toe, cut the whole pond, and the scouts, and half the characters - then finally he got a call in middle of the night from a Hollywood idiot who announced in a palsy way "hey, we've figured out what to do, we're going to cut out the tooth fairy.") On the other hand, his comments on the events and symbols in FAIRY were quite interesting. Other tales: because he thought it was how writers write, he quit his job and moved to a remote end of Crete to write his first book. His only neighbors, shepherds, called him Karlos, because Prince Charles was the only Englishman they'd ever heard of before. The story of the phone call from his agent in London to the one phone in the village near his shack is quite amusing if told by the man himself - without the accents and language issues it wouldn't convey. I'm told he has a web site where some of this background appears, and I'll have to check into it.

I had a 21st century experience in that I met a bunch of old friends for the first time. About 8 or 10 of the on-line ghost fiction community were there. I'd met none of them before. It was like meeting a bunch of pen pals. They all turned out to be just as great company as I had expected. Two of them, Barbara and Christopher Roden, who created and run Ash-Tree Press, won the WF Award for Best Anthology (also the International Horror Guild award), and it was fun to help them celebrate.

I don't have the juicy details that one usually must have to blog about a con, but I thought a quick note might be OK. I was certainly reminded of how far apart this particular one is from the run of the mill convention. It's all about books, and perhaps bit of art, and every single person there loves them as much as you do. Perhaps half of them are active in providing us with the elixir we crave. Very hard to return to the daily routine after a week of that.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Big roundup

posted by Tim Walters @ 3:31 PM

Two weeks back from Different Skies, and I still haven't recovered--I threw my neck out and caught a cold. I was hoping to wait until I became compos mentis before doing the catch-up post, but instead you'll have to settle for this.

Roger Zelazny, The Chronicles Of Amber. I hadn't read this from the Seventies, and remembered it as the start of Zelazny's downhill slide, but when I saw it in two volumes for übercheap, I couldn't resist it. It turns out that as five-volume omnipotence fantasies go, it's pretty tight. The beginning is very grabby, and although some of the tension is inevitably lost when Corwin regains his memory, the super-twisty intrigue plot just keeps on coming, with hints from earlier books paying off in later ones. I wouldn't hold it up to Lord Of Light, or even Doorways In The Sand (my favorite "light" Zelazny), but it was well worth spending a day with.

W. S. B. Mathews, A Popular History Of Music. Published in 1891. I was quite intrigued by the Victorian mindset here--Western functional harmony is the goal of all musical striving; modes were correctly abandoned in favor of "true" major and minor; equal temperament is the scientifically correct tuning; etc. Little did Mr. Mathews know what was coming! That said, there was a lot of interesting material here. How accurate it is in light of current scholarship I have no idea.

Harold L. Berger, Science Fiction and the New Dark Age. A Seventies study of dystopian SF. I was surprised to find out how few of the books I'd read.

Arthur Conan Doyle, The Lost World and Other Stories. I had never read any of the Professor Challenger stories before; this volume seems to have them all. The Lost World itself is quite enjoyable; Challenger is as funny as he's intended to be, and the adventure aspects hold up well. After that Doyle seems to have lost interest. "The Poison Belt" isn't even a story, exactly; the Earth passes through a section of bad aether, with unlikely effects, while the characters don't do much besides sit in a room. "The Land Of Mist" starts off quite well, but the central mystery is resolved early, after which the story turns into a tedious, didactic tract. The last two stories are short and gimmicky, but OK.

John McWhorter, The Power Of Babel. Fun linguistic anecdotes, supporting the serious point that language is highly fluid.

James P. Blaylock, All The Bells On Earth. Rather similar to The Last Coin and The Paper Grail: an eccentric protagonist and his well-drawn friends confront bizarre, scary magic in contemporary California. Like those books, though, it's very good, and very distinctively Blaylock.

Ursula K. LeGuin, City Of Illusions. For some reason, I had never gotten around to this one. It's minor LeGuin, but that's just fine by me. Books set after the collapse of civilization, with one character setting out to find out what's going on, are a dime a dozen, but this never feels cliched.

Larry Niven, Ringworld. Good clean fun.

John Varley, Steel Beach. The Heinlein influence is more pronounced than ever in this return to the Eight Worlds, a prequel of sorts to The Ophiuchi Hotline (although there's an auctorial warning not to look too closely at continuity). However, unlike Heinlein, Varley's discursiveness doesn't (usually) get annoying. A worthy successor, but read TOH first.

Doris Piserchia, Earthchild. Wow! Very strange, very good. The closest I can come to describing it is Drinking Sapphire Wine crossed with Hothouse... but that's not very close. Suffice it to say that it's a far-future post-human Earth story that defies all expectations. I'll definitely be reading more by her.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Baseball rules redux

posted by Todd T @ 9:35 AM

Last night's Red Sox - Blue Jays game featured a play that brought two little-used rules into play. I did not even know that one of them exists. The outcome of the game hinged on what happened, vs. what could have happened.

Down 2, the Sox had Gabe Kapler at first with Tony Graffanino at bat and two out. Graffanino hit a deep fly, and Kapler took off on contact. After he touched second, he realized the ball was out for a homer, and he slowed down, and somehow his achilles tendon snapped in the process. He was off base and unable to move at all, and here comes Graffanino towards second.

Luckily Graffanino was aware of events and stopped at second, thus avoiding passing the trapped Kapler on the basepaths and eliminating the tying run. There he waited to find out what the hell to do, which I would have wondered also.

What I did not know is that there is a rule specifically covering a runner who injures himself, dies, retires, is carried off by giant eagles or what have you, such that he cannot continue around the bases on a homer. His team is allowed to pinch run for him in the middle of the play, and that's what happened. Kapler was carried off to the discard pile, someone touched third and home in his place, and the Sox went on to win. I wonder when the last time this rule came into play was.

Dhalgren and New Orleans

posted by Todd T @ 8:45 AM

Here's a very good column comparing the two:

Thursday, September 08, 2005

New Blumlein

posted by Todd T @ 9:34 PM

Somewhat to my surprise, there's a new Michael Blumlein novel out:

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Lois McMaster Bujold

posted by Todd T @ 8:31 AM

I decided I had to read a Lois McMaster Bujold novel, to see what all the fuss is about. She's won several Hugos for novels in the Vorkosigan series, and her panels at cons are packed with fawning fans. I read THE WARRIOR'S APPRENTICE, and it's space opera in the romantic tradition all the way. Well rendered, no sloppiness even though the plot races headlong and some could be got away with. The characters are memorable in a sort of Errol Flynny way, including many of the lesser ones. Miles Vorkosigan, the son of a general in a militaristic society, handicapped since birth and thus unable to take his intended place in the military academy, uses cleverness and bold bluffing to stumble through a series of hairy escapades and wind up the admiral of a hodgepodge but intensely loyal mercenary force - a crime punishable by death back home. And his father's political enemies are using this to try to bring down their old adversary for good. Oh, and he has to sacrifice his beloved's hand (not literally, this isn't Orson Scott Card) for honor. Speaking of maiming, even though it's here alongside plenty of death, torture and blaster shootouts, plus emotional suffering, the tone somehow seems to remain light and unthreatening. OK but nothing to run out and grab.