Tuesday, March 30, 2010

March 30, 2010 Links and Plugs

Not speculative fiction-related, but Nicola Griffith has this essay: Books save lives. Queer books save queer lives.

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Here's a pretty cover from Nightjar Press:

Black Country by Joel Lane

Monday, March 29, 2010

March 29, 2010 Links and Plugs

Still not up at 100%. No more Facebook games for me though.

But congrats to the Bram Stoker Awards Winners.

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Book plug:
Divine Misfortune by A. Lee Martinez

Book/Magazine Review: Walking the Tree by Kaaron Warren

Every Monday, I'll be doing bite-sized book/magazine reviews.

Disclosure: The publisher sent a review copy for the purposes of this review.

I was a few dozen pages into Walking the Tree when a co-walker asked what book I was reading: was it fantasy, horror, or science fiction? Kaaron Warren has dabbled in all those genres and while this novel opened with an utopian/dystopian setting, I wasn't ready to pin it down as fantasy. True to my estimation, by the time I finished the book, Warren has written a story that doesn't quite fit any one particular genre although it did give off a vibe that's reminiscent of Ursula K. le Guin's more popular science fiction novels (The Dispossessed, The Left Hand of Darkness).

Whereas Warren's previous Angry Robot Books novel gripped you right from the very start, Walking the Tree starts slow and requires patience. The pace however is in the service of the story and Warren uses this leeway to develop both her setting and characters, two elements that are intertwined and pivotal to the narrative. While Walking the Tree could be summed up as a concept-novel that explores themes of culture, morality, and gender, it's Warren's execution that is to be praised. One of the recurring themes is subjective morality and the situations presented in the book tends to be gray as opposed to simply being one-sided. Nor are her characters perfect but instead flawed individuals that you come to care for. Feminists will also note the kind of culture Warren builds upon, arguably a setting wherein gender roles are juxtaposed from what we're commonly familiar with. Not that she's the first author to attempt it, but it feels carefully conceived here.

That's not to say the book isn't without its flaws. Arguably one could consider this a fantasy novel due to the proactive interference of the "magical negro" in the plot, an element that I feel weakens the impact the main character could have had. That's not to say that the magical negro was unnecessary, or that she wasn't foreshadowed, but she comes off as too forceful, diminishing in my opinion the role our main protagonist could have played. There is also a certain formulaicness that the novel follows as our protagonist travels from one region to another, although I wouldn't consider this a weakness per se as the journey is the point of the book. But whereas much patience was exercised during these journeys, I feel the ending was a bit rushed and could have used more exploration. As it is, Warren uses a competent info-dump to convey to the reader the epiphany of her main character in the final region she finds herself in. While Walking the Tree isn't the most elegant novel, Warren does fabricate a believable setting and weaves a narrative that's apt for our current generation.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Essay: Fandom and Piracy (Part 4)

Every Wednesday, I have an essay or feature article on any topic that catches my fancy!

Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

The biggest gripe when it comes to piracy--although this probably remains unacknowledged--is that it's become mainstream (and the only thing that's worse than that is for piracy to be legitimized). Take for example the era of cassette tapes and mix tapes. Were record companies hunting individuals who made mix tapes? If you made them accessible however, such as selling pirated music in malls, or making them available for free on radio, then suddenly you have the attention of the rights-holders, and lawsuits were in order.

When it comes to the Internet, all sorts of piracy was happening, but the key factor here is that it was taking place beyond mainstream consciousness. Bulletin boards, chat rooms, and obscure P2P services are the tools of piracy, but there was a certain learning curve the casual user needed to master before they could use them. That's why music labels focused on Napster: it was a relatively easy-to-use service that disseminated music. And the same goes for the various BitTorrent sites. The basic rule of thumb is that if you can access it via a web browser, then you're mainstream enough to warrant the attention. It's also the biggest slap to the face as the rights-holder if your intellectual property is available for free on some Google-able website. (Interestingly enough, this fact can also be used to counter piracy. The reason Apple's iTunes store works is because it's convenient to use if you're familiar with their service.)

The source of such pirated material, however, isn't on websites. As I mentioned before, pirates are organized, and some even develop brand names for themselves: "This pirate comes out with releases quickly." "That pirate produces quality releases." The key here is that the pirate has their own community and thrives within it. Without the said community, the pirate loses motivation to continue what they're doing (in the same sense that real pirates lose out if no one wants to buy their stolen goods). The problem with current piracy counter-measures is that the rights-holders aren't suing the original pirates, merely the middle-men. And unlike authentic criminal organizations, these middle-men aren't under the employ of the original pirates, but fans (misguided as they may be) who think they are doing a service to fellow fans by perpetuating piracy. Eventually, one of these middle-men comes out into the open (and putting up a website or a Torrent host), but for the most part, the original pirates are content living in their enclosed community. The best analogy here is that Internet piracy is like an infinite chain letter, with the scapegoats being the most recent propagator. Does this end the chain letter link? Not really.

Now the question is, where are these safe and private communities? Message boards and bulletin board services (BBS), while sounding archaic by today's Internet lingo, is actually quite prevalent to this very day. What prevents message boards from being mainstream is that they don't look pretty and are far from intuitive. It requires some knowledge of code (even if it's as simple as using opening and closing tags) for example (today's Internet user is more used to user-friendly services that replicate the features of message boards such as Facebook and blogs). It also requires registration (and verification via email). More exclusive message boards even have tiered membership benefits, with casual users not having access to certain forums. The piracy innovation brought about by this decade is the availability of file-sharing services such as Megaupload and Rapidshare. Pirates can simply upload a file to those services and post the link to bulletin boards. While it's not the most convenient of methods, it's relatively simple and easy, and doesn't tax the servers of the said message boards.

Bulletin boards are useful for pirates because it allows for collaboration, even among pirates who don't know each other. This is best seen in the manga scanlation industry. One person uploads a raw (uncleaned and untranslated) scan in one forum. Another person reads that forum and makes the translation. A third person might clean up the original scan. A fourth person combines the efforts of the last two.

Another such community is chat rooms. The barrier to entry here is similar to message boards. You need to be familiar with certain codes and commands (to enter a channel for example, you need to type "/join #name"). In some chat rooms, you also need to have a registered account or an authorized member of the said channel. The third mainstream hindrance is that you usually need a third-party application to access chat rooms.

If the specialty of bulletin boards is that it allows collaboration (the same applies to chat rooms as well), chat rooms on the other hand are the original peer-to-peer distributor of pirated material. Because complex code is allowed, there are scripts that have been developed which facilitate the distribution of media. Bots typically operate in this area and all you have to do is send them a specific command and the pirate's chat avatar sends you a list of pirated material they have (some would even do Ray Kroc proud with their signature mentioning "XX millions served"). Another command snags you the pirated material you requested for. Rinse and repeat.

Because both of these are taking place "underground", there's a plethora more material there than what is typically found on, say, a Torrent site. For example, nothing concrete comes up when you put in SF author Rudy Rucker's name in torrent search engines but in chat channels that specializes in eBooks, his name pops up with (not a lot) some frequency. A rule of thumb is that the more popular you are (i.e. J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, or even just a Robert Jordan), the likelier you'll appear in mainstream pirate venues such as BitTorrent. Cult sensations might remain in the sphere of these cloistered areas, while obscure writers remain obscure.

What's interesting to notice is that while there are pirates in various industries, be it anime, manga, eBooks, comics, movies, music, etc., they tend to operate the same way. They use either message boards or chat rooms (or both) to disseminate their material, and each one has similar membership rules. There are variations of course. One might bar the use of the "@search" command in a chat room, while another encourages it. At the heart of it though, a pirate community operates like a fan community, and follows the same guidelines the latter would (except for the pirating part).

March 24, 2010 Links and Plugs

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Try out this magazine:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

March 23, 2010 Links and Plugs

Will be away over the weekend due to a compulsory company outing so no updates for me on Friday...

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Go go go:
Realms 2: The Second Year of Clarkesworld Magazine edited by Nick Mamatas and Sean Wallace

Monday, March 22, 2010

3rd Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards Links Part 2

Here are some Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards coverage and Neil Gaiman interviews/testimonies.

March 22, 2010 Links and Plugs

Your not-quite-zen-photos for the day:


The Legion of Substitute Neils
(via Neil Gaiman 1, 2)
If that freaked you out, check out this video of Neil's entrance (3 min. in)

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Go buy:

Book/Magazine Review: Shine edited by Jetse de Vries

Every Monday, I'll be doing bite-sized book/magazine reviews.

When I first heard of the proposal for Shine--an anthology of near-future optimistic science fiction--there was a part of me that was skeptical. Not because it couldn't be done, but it's one of those criteria that's difficult to write for. What exactly is optimistic science fiction? It's not simply a science fiction story with a happy ending as that's quite common. It's also not the opposite of dystopian science fiction, writing about a utopian society. Rather, to me, optimistic science fiction is about solving a real-world problem, but without sounding contrived or saccharine.

What really bugs me about the concept however is how to weave a narrative around it. At its worst, the story might have no conflict at all, or one that's not convincing. Another temptation that lesser writers might fall prey to is that the story will sound didactic, and would better serve as an essay rather than a short story. Now I've read Jetse de Vries's "Transcendence Express" and it's the perfect example of the kind of story Shine is looking for. It's hard science fiction, causes positive change, and there's a believable tension surrounding the piece. But the problem there is that de Vries is the editor for the anthology. Would he be able to find other writers capable of writing such fiction?

The honest answer is that Shine is a mixed success. All the stories, no doubt, are optimistic. But some do fall prey to my fears. "Russian Roulette 2020" by Eva Maria Chapman for example falls into the trap of utopian didacticism as the protagonist is reduced to merely being a foil in what is a one-sided narrative. There are also stories which are quite competent , but simply fail to be striking, such as "Sustainable Development" by Paul R. Stiles and "Scheherazade Cast in Starlight" by Jason Andrew.

Interesting for me to note are the stories which easily could have been dull but because of the technique the author uses, ends on a high note, albeit one that's predictable. "The Solnet Ascendancy" by Lavie Tidhar and "Seeds" by Silva Moreno-Garcia are, for the most part, trickster stories, but they work within the context of the theme.

Shine has its share of good stories such as "Overhead" by Jason Stoddard and "The Church of Accelerated Redemption" by Gareth L. Powell and Aliette de Bodard, but what I want to highlight are the stories that grabbed me by the balls so to speak. Originally, I didn't think this anthology would contain much of them, but by the time I read the closed the book, the number of memorable stories was surprising.

"Twittering the Stars" by Mari Ness could be interpreted as gimmicky due to its use of the Twitter format but Ness makes the most out of her medium. The story immediately engulfs you in the drama and wins you over to the protagonist's side. What's deceptive about the piece is that it's quite lengthy but because Ness uses Tweets, it doesn't feel overbearing. Another bonus is that the story could be read in reverse order and would still be just as relevant. "Twittering the Stars" is arguably the bleakest story in the anthology, and perhaps that's part of its charm, the fact that there's a complex yet immediate dilemma for the character to wrestle with. This is also a good example of science fiction that's relevant today: the story is set in the 2050's and I honestly doubt if Twitter will still be relevant four decades from now.

"At Budokan" by Alastair Reynolds is a story wherein the author isn't afraid of giving his imagination free reign. Reynolds manages to combine elements that on paper seem ridiculous for a science fiction story but here, he makes it work. What's surprising is that whereas the other stories tackle massive and ambitious social change, "At Budokan" has modest goals. This perhaps isn't the most socially-relevant piece you'll read in the anthology, but for me this was the most fun.

Striking the balance between sense of wonder, hard science fiction (be it biological or sociological), and social relevance is "Sarging Rasmussen: A Report (by Organic)" by Gord Sellar. This one immediately catches your attention with the author's style, and actually manages to sustain it until the very end. To me, this is optimistic science fiction done right, even surpassing de Vries's own fiction. The conceit here is that the short story doesn't read like it's preaching an agenda to you, and Sellar's enthusiasm for the story is conveyed in the text. There's a Second Foundation vibe to it and reminiscent of Nicola Griffith's "It Takes Two" from Eclipse Three but Sellar takes the concept into a different direction.

I had heard praises for Madeline Ashby before but it was only after reading her story "Ishin" that I had the realization that this was the Madeline Ashby other people were talking about. Ashby writes compelling hard science fiction that's both imaginative and very down-to-earth. I could easily see this author giving Ted Chiang a run for his money down the line, and while "Ishin" isn't the best story in the anthology, it's certainly reason enough to buy the book.

Shine isn't by any means a spectacular failure nor is it one of those rare anthologies where majority of the stories align with your personal taste. Rather, it's a mixture of hits and misses, although thankfully the good stuff outweighs the bad. The question that I ask every anthology is whether it contains enough stories that stand out to warrant its purchase and Shine is one such book.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Thursday, March 18, 2010

3rd Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards Links Part 1

I have some media files here.

First up is ANC's (local network) interview with Neil Gaiman up on YouTube: (Part 1|Part 2)

Edit: Rocket Kapre has some videos from the event.

And here are some files I uploaded:
  • Jaime Daez's introduction to the event. |MP3|
  • Neil Gaiman's introduction speech. |MP3|
  • Neil Gaiman reading an original poem. |MP3|
  • Neil Gaiman's speech on why he sponsored the event. |MP3|
  • Prose judge's criteria for picking the winning stories. |MP3|
And here's Neil Gaiman's feedback on the winning stories (MP3s also):

1st:
"A Kind of Flotsam" by Christelle Rhodamae Mariano
2nd:
"Filipina: The Super Maid" by Irene Carolina A. Sarmiento
3rd:
"Cherry Clubbing" by Kenneth Yu and "Remembrance" by Dean Alfar

3rd Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards

The title for the 3rd Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards was Revelations: Stories of Light and Darkness and was held at the Rockwell Tent last March 17, 2010. Sponsors for the event were Pelicola, San Miguel and Globe.

Here's the list of this year's winners:

Prose: (Judges: Gabrielle de la Rama-Talan, Luis Katigbak, Angelo R. Lacuesta)

1st: "A Kind of Flotsam" by Christelle Rhodamae Mariano
2nd: "Filipina: The Super Maid" by Irene Carolina A. Sarmiento
3rd: "Cherry Clubbing" by Kenneth Yu and "Remembrance" by Dean Alfar

Comics: (Judges: Gerry Alanguilan, Arnold Arre, Jaime Daez)

1st: "I See" by Manuel Abrera (disqualified but nonetheless recognized)
2nd: "Douglas" by Genevieve Go
3rd: "(Love) at Last Sight" by Heubert Khan Michael

Film: (Judges: Topel Lee, Quark Henares, Erik Mati)

2nd: "Kumot ng Panaginip" Jedd Chris P. Dumaguina
3rd:
"Squatters from Mars" by Rommel Sales

There was also a People's Choice Awards category:

Prose:

1st: "Filipina: The Super Maid" by Irene Carolina A. Sarmiento
2nd: "A Kind of Flotsam" by Christelle Rhodamae Mariano
3rd: "The Street Child and the Dwarf" by Diabelle Joy M. Pazcoguin

Comics:

1st: "Hunger" by Jeremiah D. Faustino and Norman Jim Faustino
2nd: "Raisinhead: A Tale of a Modern-Day Tiyanak" by Christian Oliver A. Cruz
3rd: "Traffick" by Alarice A. Francisco

Film:

1st: "Kumot ng Panaginip" by Jedd Chris P. Dumaguina
2nd: "Anak ng Tikbalang" Desiree Ann C. Samson
3rd: "Embrace" Ron Sapinoso

Here's the original Short List:

Prose:

1. "Babymakers" by Laura Jermina R. Abejo
2. "Leg Men" by Dominique Gerald Cimafranca
3. "Cherry Clubbing" by Kenneth Yu
4. "The Sweet Stranger" by Michael A.R. Co
5. "A Kind of Flotsam" by Christelle Rhodamae Mariano
6. "Won't You Be My Friend, Mr. Faceless Creature of Evil?" by Karlos de Mesa
7. "The Street Child and the Dwarf" by Diabelle Joy M. Pazcoguin
8. "Filipina: The Super Maid" by Irene Carolina A. Sarmiento
9. "Remembrance" by Dean Alfar
10. "Pursuit of the Litaniera" by Elyrose G. Punsalan

Comics:

1. "Traffick" by Alarice A. Francisco
2. "Raisinhead: A Tale of a Modern-Day Tiyanak" by Christian Oliver A. Cruz
3. "The Revolutionary" by Kevin Justin T. Ang
4. "Hunger" by Jeremiah D. Faustino and Norman Jim Faustino
5. "Mekanix" by Romir Sucaldito and Jhem Manalang
6. "(Love) at Last Sight" by Heubert Khan Michael
7. "Douglas" by Genevieve Go
8. "I See" by Manuel Abrera

Film:

1. "Lost and Found" by Jethro Trogo and Gharawi Usman
2. "Squatters in Mars" by Rommel Sales
3. "Anak ng Tikbalang" by Desiree Ann Samson
4. "Blogog" by Rommel Tolentino
5. "Black Worms" by Khavn dela Cruz
6. "Panibugho (Jealousy)" by Alvin Yapan
7. "Takot Ako" by Jules Dan Katanyag
8. "Kumot ng Panaginip" by Jedd Chris Dumaguina
9. "Embrace" by Ronnie Sapinoso
10. "Kulob" by Camille Jensen Hirro and Liezl Ortacio

The 3rd Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards was also the launch of the Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards anthologies (one for comics, one for film) which includes the winners from all three competitions:


Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards Prose (P550)

Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards Comics (P699)

March 18, 2010 Links and Plugs

Have cold. 4 hours sleep. Lots of stuff to do.

Best thing I can do right now is quote Theodora Goss: "Support your local medical examiner -- die strangely."

Congrats to the winners of the Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards. Rocket Kapre has the list here.

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From Marjorie Liu:
A Wild Light by Marjorie M. Liu

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

March 17, 2010 Links and Plugs

DHL package arrived. It contained one book. It costs UK$7.99. I was taxed by customs for UK$7.99. Philippines complying with the Florence Agreement? Yeah right.

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Not Less Than Gods by Kage Baker

Essay: Fandom and Piracy (Part 3)

Every Wednesday, I have an essay or feature article on any topic that catches my fancy!

Part 1 and Part 2.

Despite my discussion of anime/manga piracy, note that this is a unique phenomenon and not applicable to other forms of media. Music and books, for example, don't generally owe their current popularity to piracy in general, although some authors have leveraged the habits of pirates in their favor as a promotional tool (which is the case of authors who have works under the Creative Commons license).

When it comes to the book industry, the appeal of pirated books isn't just the "free lunch" mentality (although I eventually will talk about the mentality of a pirate). One point in their favor is that they're simply better and more efficient at packaging an eBook as opposed to publishers. Now this shouldn't really be surprising. Pirates are usually ahead of their time. For example, they were circulating mp3s before there were iPods (I even remember the days of mp2) and MPEG-2 quality videos before there were DVDs. Pirates simply have had more experience with technology. That's not to say they have everything figured out, but they learned from earlier production mistakes--errors which publishers are only making now. For example, one complaint with some eBooks is that they're not formatted correctly, contain inappropriate breaks or indents, spelling typos, etc. Pirates however are passionate and thorough--two assets that are otherwise invaluable in other industries--and makes these adjustments to the eBooks that they create. In PDFs (and this is evident in the RPG piracy "industry"), this could mean inserting comprehensive bookmarks, making sure all the text is OCR, etc. Contrast this to some official products which is riddled with inconveniences, such as the lack of bookmarks or an index.

The second point in favor of pirates is that they don't recognize international borders--and neither does the lay person. I've heard complaints from eBook consumers as to why they can't purchase an eBook in an online store due to regional licensing reasons (i.e. It's a US vendor and the customer is living in Australia). Now I understand the rationale behind it (and these are laws drafted before there ever was an Internet) but to most people, such an enterprise seems counter-intuitive. To them, the Internet is worldwide and is supposed to facilitate transactions between various countries but due to current legislation, the eBook retailer only has rights to a specific region (they can certainly purchase a worldwide license but is it feasible for their business?). Pirated eBooks, on the other hand, are not only DRM-free, but are as convenient as simply downloading it: No EULAs to read, no accounts to sign into, no checking of your region, etc.

The third problem is availability: publishers don't publish their entire backlist. Pirates, on the other hand, have no restriction (which isn't to say that every book in the world is out there). Sometimes, consumers don't have a choice between picking a publisher's eBook or a pirate's: only the latter exists. Also, not everyone keeps softcopies of everything they've written--not even the authors themselves (whether it's due to technical failure or simply because the manuscript was written on a typewriter). One of the most ridiculous incident I've come across is a publisher seeking a pirated copy of a prospective author's work because the latter didn't have a softcopy. Or hearing about editors having to scout pirate sites to search for polished manuscripts. (Unfortunately, both incidents are true.)

At least from this paradigm, the best way to combat piracy is to simply be more efficient and deliver a polished product (or, at the very least, produce some form of product). Similar to the pirates in anime/manga, the mentality of some pirates is that they exist to fill a void--in this case, either because the product doesn't exist (a publisher's backlist for example) or because the existing product is inferior in some way (i.e. sloppy formatting, lack of bookmarks, etc.). That's not to say all pirates are like this, and there are definitely pirates out there who pirate even when the publisher does produce a quality product (and sometimes, disseminates that very product), but there's definitely a segment of pirates who is best discouraged not by copyright-protection measures, but by simply producing a good product in the first place.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Monday, March 15, 2010

March 15, 2010 Links and Plugs

Neil Gaiman dropping by the Philippines on Wednesday...

Also, help John Klima Make a science fiction magazine showcasing underrepresented cultures.

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Looks fun:
Chicks Dig Time Lords edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Tara O'Shea

Book/Magazine Review: The Best of Joe R. Lansdale

Every Monday, I'll be doing bite-sized book/magazine reviews.

Disclosure: The publisher sent a review copy for the purposes of this review.

Reading The Best of Joe R. Lansdale is peculiar for me because for the most part, this is my only exposure to Joe R. Lansdale. I've heard of his reputation before, whether it's his Drive-In series or how his stories have a Texas-flavor to them, but if we're talking about a genuine acquaintance with his writing, for me it's the new frontier.

The first thing noticeable with this collection is that the order of the stories aren't arbitrary. The first quarter of the book, for example, are stories that tackle old age and senility--geriatric fiction if you will. It's a theme you don't encounter in speculative fiction often but is quite relevant. On one hand, you have the cheesy "Bubba Ho-Tep" (yes, I've seen the movie), and while at times the story itself feels manipulative (our protagonist for example is spoon-fed all of the relevant information), it nonetheless hits the gut when Lansdale talks about the aging of man (and an icon). Lansdale's technique is also quite diverse, as can be seen in "Fire Dog" which is more fable-like but is one of his most effective pieces. And sometimes, it comes down to the framing device the author uses. "Mad Dog Summer" could easily have been a coming of age story--and it is--but the way Lansdale precedes and concludes the narrative with the perspective of the narrator as an old man makes all the difference. Suffice to say, the experience was refreshing and welcome.

And then we get the rest of the collection. Again, I can't stress Lansdale's diversity. Some of the stories aren't speculative in nature but feel more Western. Others are simply unlabeled stories, although they do have an agenda. The closest approximation I have when it comes to Lansdale's writing is that they're modernized pulp, possessing chauvinistic male bravado and racism of a certain period. That's not to say Lansdale is racist, simply that he was writing about a culture that, unfortunately, was. "Mad Dog Summer", "The Big Blow", and "Night They Missed the Horror Show" for example features compelling African-American characters but they also contain foils which hate them simply because of the color of their skin. The first two are immersive and dramatic, while the last one is a flat-out horror tale in the same way dystopias are chilling.

Lansdale's morals are also evident in his flash fiction, such as "Duck Hunt" and "Cowboy". They're too agenda-driven for me however, in the sense that they come out as didactic and lacking the finesse of his other stories. "Cowboy" for example is simply an African-American airing his complaints as to why there are no Black cowboys. Which is true enough and that's perhaps the true horror here, that that's the reality we live in, but as a story, there's not enough conflict to draw me in.

For the most part however, I did enjoy Lansdale's fiction. Consistently, the setting and voice of his characters are fully developed. The territory he treads is also unconventional, whether it's the aforementioned geriatric fiction, or the way he tackles the horror motif ("Incident On and Off a Mountain Road" is quite memorable). I wouldn't say The Best of Joe R. Lansdale blew me away in the sense that a collection of Ted Chiang or Jeffrey Ford stories would, but they're the next best thing and his writing is a category of its own.

Friday, March 12, 2010

March 12, 2010 Links and Plugs

Can I get a mulligan for this week?

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And for Norilana Books:
Sounds And Furies by Tanith Lee

The Failure of Spinrad's "Third World Worlds" from a Technical Perspective

For those unfamiliar with the title, what I'm referring to is Norman Spinrad's On Books column. It's drawn a couple of reactions (myself included) in the past week but what I want to focus on is how the essay itself falters as an essay, as opposed to its morality, ethics, or simple awareness (other people, from N.K. Jemisin to Nick Mamatas, cover that ground already).

Spinrad's "Third World Worlds" falters at two points. The first is his introduction: his thesis can be summed up as "American/British writers writing about other countries." What's drawing the ire of most people, however, are his opening lines, everything from his unfamiliarity with science fiction outside of the First World to Octavia Butler not being African American. This fails because most people don't even get to Spinrad's main argument: they're already incensed by his faulty opening. His entire discourse on Third World countries and Mike Resnick is honestly there to prepare the reader for the succeeding paragraphs and not his main points. If we edit the article for example and started with "Paul McAuley is a British writer...", Spinrad's thesis would have remained intact and wouldn't have resulted in this week's conflagration. Nick Mamatas would have still called him on his interpretation of Ian McDonald's Brasyl, and Saladin Ahmed would have still rightly summed it up as "Please, please, please, if you are not Brazilian or Thai or Turkish, don't tell me how convincingly or authentically American (or British) author #3462 depicts Brazil or Thailand or Turkey!" but at least it wouldn't be this big of an issue.

That's not to dismiss Spinrad's opening paragraphs. They are legitimate concerns but when you analyze it, the article could have discarded them. With their inclusion, however, Spinrad is operating from a false supposition. If this were fiction, it's akin to Spinrad writing a murder mystery except his prologue doesn't actually result in the murder of any victim, without which, there can be no investigation that drives the rest of the narrative (and it's not the type of investigation that ends with "he/she was never murdered to begin with!").

The second failure of Spinrad is what he focused on. For example, we have this contentious paragraph:
"So, for now at least, and in the apparent absence of a significant body of science fiction written by born and bred Africans, this Caucasian American is probably the closest thing there is or has been to an African science fiction writer, with the exception of Octavia Butler. Who did write the same sort of thing, and did it well, and was Black to boot, but I use that politically incorrect word rather than “African American” because aside from her genetic heritage she was no more African than Mike Resnick."
Spinrad could have elaborated on this further and made it his central thesis, instead of talking about other American and British writers and their Third World fiction. It wouldn't make him any less erroneous, but at least the controversy would have been intentional, instead of a throwaway paragraph.

In fiction, this is the equivalent of creating a very compelling character, and making them an extra. In Star Wars, it's like demoting Han Solo to a random rebel that dies in the initial skirmish.