Thursday, April 30, 2009

April 30, 2009 Links and Plugs

Off to the Pulp Summer Slam so I need to make this quick (I only have 30 min. to write/research instead of the two-hour daily time sink). If I don't make it back alive, well, you'll know because of the lack of posts...

Here, have fun:
Prador Moon by Neal Asher

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

April 29, 2009 Links and Plugs

Well, will be working on a 16-hour concert tomorrow so whether I'll be able to update before then (or if I survive after that) is up in the air.

Meanwhile, avail of these great promos: Small Beer Press $1 Warehouse Clearance Sale (oh if I only had a credit card) and Cemetery Dance Lifetime Promotional Chapbook Special Offer! (ditto my last parenthetical comment)

From the fine folks over at Small Beer Press:

Essay: A Western Paradigm on Book Orders

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

A lot of the books I want to read aren't stocked in local bookstores (why they're not stocked in the first place is a different essay entirely). A lot of my readers might respond with "just order it from" (or -insert your favorite online bookstore here-) but that's honestly a Western paradigm. I call it a "Western paradigm" because of two things.

First is that book ordering isn't as convenient for us in the East, unless you happen to be Japan. There are two variables that come into play here: time and price. It's time that plays a significant role. If you're a resident in the US and you order a book from an online seller, it'll arrive in a few business days. As someone living in the Philippines, ordering a book from the local bookstore takes at least a month if not more (and within that time frame, a different local bookstore might have acquired that book along with their regular stocks). And I don't think this is limited to the Philippines as I was talking to Jason Erik Lundberg who resides in Singapore and book orders there take just as long.

The other variable is price and yes, you can leverage price (i.e. pay more) to acquire titles faster. Just look at Amazon's international shipping page. If I want to avail of the priority courier services (which arrives in 2-4 business days), it's costing me an initial $30.00 and an additional $5.99 for each item. $5.99 is easily the price of a paperback book so I'm basically paying double (the expedited shipping rate isn't more generous so the rates of local bookstores are actually cheaper). Book aficionados will have techniques to hasten the time or lower the costs, such as shopping at Amazon Japan (which has an English-site feature) or coursing the shipments through Johnny Air Cargo (you can have your orders shipped to their US branch and then they'll deliver it to you in Manila with cheaper rates) but you get the basic idea.

Why is this the case? It brings me to the second part of the "Western paradigm." Well, the reality is, a lot of the books we do read come from the West, whether it's the US or Europe. That's why shipping is expensive and why bookstores have to wait for their freight shipment (and if you think that's expensive, imagine the costs of local comic shops who need to ship their stocks via plane in order to deliver weekly comics on a timely basis). And as inconvenient as all of this sounds, at least I can order Western books. Unless a Philippine-published book is already on the shelves of local bookstores, it's unlikely that the said bookstore will be to obtain it. How's that for irony? It's nearly impossible to order a Philippine book from bookstores in the Philippines! (The best recourse is to order it from the publisher directly who may or may not have an efficient payment and delivery method. It doesn't help that we're an archipelago and Manila-centric.) And how about foreign titles from countries like China, Singapore, or even Japan? Unless a US or European distributor (i.e. Ingram or Diamond) is stocking them, it's highly unlikely that my local bookstore will be able to obtain them.

In some cases, such as the scenario with independent publishers, it's probably best to order direct. Shipping may just be as expensive, but occasionally there's a bargain or two that pops up (see Cemetery Dance or Small Beer Press's current promo). But the reason I recommend shopping at the publisher's site directly is because they have larger returns when you do so (and means they can produce more books that you enjoy in the future). Some publishers, for example, are actually losing money when you avail of the Amazon Prime service. And for US residents, you might want to patronize your independent bookstores (unless, of course, they give you crappy service) and some can also order books in the same time it takes online sellers to obtain them (they're getting their stocks from the same source!).

Unfortunately for us here in Asia, I doubt if these practices will change. Book orders will still be inconvenient and expensive and why a good chunk of a publisher's international sales will depend on local bookstores initially stocking their titles. The only glimmer of hope are eBooks or a variation thereof (for me the Espresso Book Machine is a variant because the titles it can print is dependent on the books stocked in its electronic database).

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

April 28, 2009 Links and Plugs

Saturday's Free Comic Day at Comic Odyssey and Druid's Keep. Fully Booked will have it on May 23, 2009.

And congrats to the 2009 Locus Award Finalists.

P.S. Just a reminder, the Shirley Jackson Awards auction is ending soon.

How about some poetry this time around?

Interview: Paul Graham Raven

Every Tuesday, I'll have an interview posted.

Paul Graham Raven is the publisher and editor-in-chief of science fiction webzine
Futurismic and is the publisher, editor-in-chief, and sole staff writer for rock and metal music reviews webzine The Dreaded Press. He also reviews science fiction books for Vector, Foundation, Strange Horizons, Hub Magazine, and SF Site.

Hi Paul! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, you're involved in a lot of projects. Where do you find the time to do all these things?

Hah – good question, and one I ask myself quite often! I guess the upside of being a singleton in his early thirties who hasn't owned a television since the turn of the Millennium is that you have more time on your hands than your cohabiting equivalents... and it helps that my day-job is only part-time. But I find the time by sitting down and doing what needs to be done, I suppose; deadlines are great motivators, even self-imposed ones with no attached penalties. I suspect I could claw back a lot of time by 'working smarter', as the productivity types describe it, but that would require stopping everything for as long as it took to restructure my personal systems... and I have too many balls in the air to do that right now, so it's Catch 22.

What was it about science fiction that appealed to you?

It's hard to say, really, because I didn't analyse books when I was a kid - I just consumed them. I think old-fashioned sensawunda helped at first; I discovered some tatty old editions of Anne McCaffery's Pern novels when I was maybe eight years old, and quite naturally I wanted nothing more than to be a dragonflier (though I'd have settled for owning a fire lizard). A little while after that a friend of my father's – a classic software geek with a big SF&F obsession – gave me Julian May's Saga of the Exiles, and I think that was what really sold me on the genre. Action, adventure, intrigue, complex characters AND cool stuff like alien races, psychic powers and a time gate? What more could you want from your reading? Still one of my favourite sets of books to this day, and hugely underrated in my opinion. But as I've gotten older, I've found sf has an ability to look at the human condition in ways that other fictional forms just can't match. I'd hesitate to describe it as inherently superior, but it certainly flicks my switches.

Who are some of your favorite authors or what are some of your favorite books?

I'm loathe to pick favourites in some respects, because Book A will do something that Book B doesn't, or Author X will come at things from a different angle or with a different voice to Author Y, and there's so much great work out there that it seems churlish to pick a single item to put on the podium, so to speak. So I guess I'm kind of a pluralist... much as with music, the book that I most want to read today may not be the one I most want to read next week, but that doesn't demean the merits of either of them.

But there are some books and authors I'll keep returning to. Saga of the Exiles never loses its appeal (though May's works after the Galactic Milieu series did very little for me); The Helliconia Trilogy by Brian Aldiss always has something new to tell me; Iain M Banks has been pretty consistent in producing work I've adored, as has William Gibson. And I'm an unrepentant card-carrying Bruce Sterling fanboy, partly because he's such a polymathic fountain of awesomeness beyond his fiction as well as within, not to mention a real character – I'd love to meet him in person. But it would be easier to simply show you my bookshelves; there are so many authors I admire, for so many different reasons, that I'd feel I was cheating some of them by placing others above them.

How did you start out writing book reviews?

The second issue of Interzone I received had a brief paragraph in the editorial mentioning that they wanted to expand their stable of reviewers. “Awesome,” I thought, “free books!” I'd just started writing fiction and poetry, and I thought it would be a great way to learn more about writing for public consumption as well as a way to get a byline in a print publication (my taste for which had been whetted by a brief dalliance with reviewing live music for the local paper). I sent off a few samples, and (much to my surprise) they took me on... and then sent me an absolute stinker of a mil-sf novel for my first assignment!

How does one become a professional book reviewer?

Well, I wouldn't know! If a professional is one who makes a living – or even part of one – from reviewing books, then I'm not one; I've been paid for a few reviews at Strange Horizons and Hub Magazine, but the payments are, quite rightly, token gestures. And as far as being a professional critic goes, there's already one John Clute, and he's very deservedly got the UK market sewn up for genre criticism – there's just not enough requirement for paid genre reviews for anyone to make a living doing it, I suspect.

But if you mean how did I come to end up reviewing so regularly and for so many venues, I guess it just happened by osmosis. I really enjoy doing it (or rather I enjoy having done it – the actual writing can be a torturous and frustrating procedure), and so I just kept accepting offers from editors who asked if I'd write for them. I figure they must see some merit in my work to keep publishing it, though I frequently compare myself to other reviewers and wonder why that is.

What's your criteria when doing reviews?

If you mean how do I assess whether a book is good or bad, then that's a tricky question – not to mention one that has been debated with varying degrees of heat at conventions and online forums in recent times. I take the view that a review is inherently a statement of opinion based on my own preferences, but I try to blend in as much objectivity as possible – this ties in with my pluralism, my belief that a novel I loathe may be the ultimate book for another reader, and vice versa. So I guess my objective when reviewing is to describe the book fairly enough that even a reader who has totally different taste to me will be able to make an assessment of whether or not they might like it. Like that mil-sf novel I got sent from Interzone... it was a struggle (especially for my first piece) but I made every effort to show that the very properties and styles that I found so irritating would make it a great read for someone who liked their fiction fast-moving and action-packed. 'Good' and 'bad' are incredibly subjective terms; I want people to be able to make their own decisions rather than taking mine as gospel.

What made you decide to set-up

I didn't! I became Futurismic's Editor in Chief by osmosis, too - I started out as a blogger there in late 2004, and did a few columns too. But over time Futurismic's founder Jeremy Lyon found himself with less and less time to devote to the site thanks to changes in his family life and work commitments; at the same time we had some problems with the software that was running the site, and there was a lengthy period where we stopped publishing fiction and were little more than a futurist blog. So I became Non-fiction Editor and drafted in some new bloggers, and eventually suggested to Jeremy that he hand over control of the site to me entirely, which happened earlier this year. Since then I've been doing my best to ramp us back up to full steam – there's a lot of work yet to do, but I like to think I'm getting there slowly. I was lucky in that Jeremy had made a good name for the site already, which gave me a great platform to build on rather than starting from scratch.

What exactly are your duties in the magazine?

Pretty much everything apart from reading the slushpile, which is a duty met with admirable patience and commitment by Chris East, who co-founded the site with Jeremy. So I blog daily, I wrangle our columnists and bloggers, I maintain the back-end of the site, deal with enquiries and fiddle with the advertising. It doesn't look like much on paper, but it's amazing how much time it can chew out of my day!

What were some of the challenges you encountered starting out?

Well, I had to get us onto a new webhost, as the old one was less than useless at customer service and server maintenance, and they finally terminated our account for allegedly causing traffic spikes that simply could not have been our fault. Once the domain was moved and I had access to the statistics, I noticed an awful lot of referral hits from dubious Russian websites, so I suspect they either had crap security or were renting out hosting to people doing nefarious things. That cured a lot of our technical issues, along with a move to Wordpress as the software engine.

But the real – and ongoing – challenge is to raise Futurismic's profile in the world of genre publishing. Ultimately, I'd like it to be seen as a professional venue for fiction writers, bloggers and columnists alike, but that's a fair way off yet. But I think I've managed to get us back in the public eye – which is more than half due to Chris's excellent fiction choices, and the contributions of my volunteer bloggers and columnists, all of whom are good enough to work for free. If I do say so myself, we've published some great stories and posts this year, and there's more to come in the future.

I hope you don't mind me asking this but is the site self-sufficient (i.e. it pays for itself or it's making a profit)?

In a word, no – although it used to. When I first joined Futurismic, the Golden Era of blog-based advertising was still in effect, and Jeremy had a bunch of ads from the Pajamas Media network that met the hosting costs and fiction fees. It was a bit of a double-edged sword, though, as Pajamas is a very right-wing organisation, and it was odd seeing their ads next to our content, which I think could be fairly described as 'small-l liberal'.

But the change of software platforms meant we lost a lot of our archives, and that always gets penalised by the search engines so our daily hit rate is much smaller than it was back then. I'm not going to go into precise figures, but suffice to say that at the moment the fiction fees come predominantly out of my earnings elsewhere, and I predict that will be the case for a good while yet. But that's something I accepted when I took it on; what matters to me is making Futurismic the best site I can. I believe the old rule of thumb with print magazines was that you'd expect to wait at least five years before turning a profit based on a solid reputation, so I'm quietly confident that I can grow Futurismic into something self-sustaining without ever having to compromise on quality or my personal ethics. How long it will take is another question entirely!

How about
The Dreaded Press? How is that working out for you?

Hah! The Dreaded Press has never made me a penny. But then that's not really why I started it; I had been reviewing for some other sites, but was becoming frustrated at their lack of editorial input. It might sound very vain, but I felt that having my work published alongside pieces riddled with typos, poor punctuation and bad grammar wasn't exactly the best way of establishing a reputation as a reliable writer - I didn't want to be tarred with the same brush, if you like. I'd developed a taste for the free albums and gig tickets, though, and so I though “what the hell, I'll start my own site”. It's been running for a year now, but I really need more time to devote to thinking up some strategies for raising the site's profile and making a bit of money back from it.

In your opinion, how has the Internet changed the industry?

The publishing industry? To paraphrase Douglas Adams, you can't see the change the internet has wrought in the publishing industry for the same reason a person stood in Trafalgar Square can't see England. It's too early to say, because the change is still happening. What is certain is that it has yanked the rug out from beneath some long-standing business models, and the repercussions of that can be seen everywhere at the moment, magnified by the current economic climate. It is my firm belief that the demand for fiction will not disappear, however, and that for niche products like genre fiction the low overheads of web publishing are a great way to keep the short story scene alive. But I have no wish to see the printed word die off (although it surely will after a few more decades); I love physical books, and always have. And as has been pointed out, books will be a hard technology to fully replace because they have so much going for them – small, portable, error-free. Economics will hasten their demise far more than technology will, I suspect.

How did you end up developing websites for authors and agents?

Well, when I started my current day-job, I did so with the intent of building a freelance career as a writer in the spare hours I would gain. What should be plain immediately is my lack of business acumen – if the majority of your contacts are writers, you're going to struggle selling your writing services to them! But what with one thing and another I'd absorbed a fair chunk of web development knowledge, so I started pushing that to people as well.

But the turning point came from the beneficence of a good friend and thoroughly decent bloke, Darren Turpin. He'd been doing freelance web development for genre authors for some time, so when he got offered his new job as web publicist for Orbit Books, he asked if I'd take on his portfolio of existing clients, which I was very glad to do. As a result, I've got more work coming in by word of mouth, and I'm learning a lot by getting my hands dirty with new projects. Much like writing, the actual process of web design can be infuriatingly frustrating, but the satisfaction of launching a new site and having the client tell you how pleased they are with it is pure gold... and very addictive!

How did you end up being the publicist for PS Publishing?

See above! PS Publishing were another of Darren's clients, and so I took them on as well. Of all the aspects of my work, this is where I'm learning the fastest – but also where I need to learn faster still. PS is a super little outfit, and Pete is utterly dedicated to quality – both of the fiction he publishes, and the books that the work is published in – and my challenge is to make sure everybody knows it.

What's your routine like as a publicist?

At the moment it's about an hour a day of sending and answering emails, blogging new artwork or reviews and interviews at the newsroom, and putting together the newletters – very unglamorous, I'm afraid! But the goal is to expand my remit in the near future, to start reaching out to the genre community at large, and to properly put PS on the map. We have many plans... so I'll just say “watch this space”!

In your opinion, what skills have proven to be useful as a publicist?

Because of the nature of the work in this case, a lot of the same skills a blogger acquires come into play – not just the communications skills, but the web technology stuff. What I really need to develop further are my outreach tactics and strategies, and that's a case of studying the organisations that do it well and attempting to reverse-engineer their techniques. I suspect the core skill – as with almost any creative job – is a willingness to learn and a hunger to improve yourself. I sincerely hope I have them both in sufficiency!

How's your writing and poetry going?

At the moment, it isn't going, and that's my main frustration. I started blogging back in 2004 to develop a discipline of writing daily, and things have kind of snowballed since then to the point that I have less spare time than I ever had before! Professional writers always repeat the mantra that you have to make the time for your writing, or you'll never commit to it, and every time I see it said it makes me feel rotten. But I simply have too many balls in the air at the moment, which can't be dropped or fumbled because they are business commitments – as a relatively new business, my reputation for reliability must come first. And I've tried sleeping less, but then the quality of all of my work suffers, so that's not a viable solution either... basically, I've reached a point where something has to give. I suspect the time may have come to take the plunge and cut the cord of regular employment for the freelance freefall, but it's a scary prospect given the current economic situation. But recently I've been feeling that I could probably live with being a little poorer if I had time to write and read for pleasure, or play guitar for an hour without constantly thinking there's something else that needs doing. I kind of miss having a life, you see...

What was it like editing Illuminations?

Thrilling, stressful, educational, and challenging! Another very addictive experience – seeing a physical book come out of all that work was a very intense rush indeed, and I'd love to do more anthology work in future... though hopefully on a slightly longer schedule than Illuminations provided!

How did you end up editing the anthology and what was your criteria in picking the stories?

It kinda just happened – you're probably noticing a pattern here, aren't you? When the Fictioneers were discussing the project, we realised that someone would need to do the editing, and so I said I'd do it. Arguably I had editorial experience, but there are editors and editors; it was a very different job to, say, running Futurismic.

What we did is that everyone self-selected a batch of their own stories from the Friday Flash archives of their own sites, each of them choosing the ones they felt were the best – so a certain amount of the picking and choosing was done for me in that respect, which was probably a mercy! What fell to me was to assemble the resulting mass of stories into something that had a narrative flow of its own; rather than arranging by author or chronology, I decided to arrange thematically, so that if you read a few stories in order you'd feel there was a sense of logical flow to it, while you could also open up at random and cherry-pick if you chose. It was quite a task because there were so many pieces to the puzzle. In the end I used a bunch of index cards with the story titles on them, which I then 'tagged' with a few terms that I felt described the tone or style of the work. Then there was a day of shuffling them around and into a sort of order – very lo-fi, but it got results! You can see the process in action here.

What's the appeal of flash fiction for you?

The advantage it has over longer forms is that it reminds you - as both reader and writer - that brevity is a virtue, and that you don't need a lot of words to produce a real emotional or intellectual impact. And the speed of it, from the point of view of the writer; if you've been intimidated by the thought of writing a novel, or even a 'full' short story, it's very liberating to constrain yourself to working in a form that you can complete in a few hours. It lets you see your own work in finished form very quickly, and while that can sometimes be a little embarrassing it means you're fulfilling Heinlein's admonition to “finish what you start”... and that's a real confidence booster, not to mention a great way to learn from your mistakes.

Plus it's fun – fun to write and fun to read. I wonder if it won't become a lot more popular in years to come... it seems ideal for the short attention spans of the internet age.

Can you tell us more about your day job as a British library assistant? How did you end up becoming one?

Osmosis, yet again! I was working in an electronics factory and loathing every minute of it (due to the people more than the work), and so when I saw a job advertised in my local public library I thought “what have I got to lose?” and applied. And against all the odds (which included me turning up for interview in a borrowed dress shirt that was way too large with a Sideshow Bob mop of recently-done dreadlocks barely contained with a pink hairband, and waffling a lot about how much I liked science fiction) they took me on.

I left that job for my current one for a couple of reasons: firstly because I wanted to go part time and they were unable to renegotiate my hours, but secondly because it was incredibly frustrating working alongside other people who, just like me, were immensely passionate about books and their social value, but who were obstructed at every turn by accountants and managers who insisted on treating libraries as you would a bookshop. I don't know how it works elsewhere, but in the UK public libraries are funded and run by local government, and it is at the feet of the feckless bureaucrats and beancounters of local government that the blame for the ongoing and seemingly inevitable decline and collapse of the service must be laid. Libraries produce social capital – a form of worth that enriches people's lives at a very deep level. But you can't put social capital on a spreadsheet, so now public libraries are full of internet terminals and can't afford to buy new books. As a result, less people go to the libraries; the resulting fall of usage statistics is used as justification for cutting budgets further. A sad downward spiral that is leaving communities without a vital resource, and that is putting committed library professionals out of work in favour of hiring pen-pushers, desk-jockeys and management consultants. As you can probably tell, it makes me pretty bloody angry.

In my current job as a museum library assistant, I principally answer enquiries from all over the world regarding naval history. It's quiet, and very intellectually stimulating. I had no interest in (or knowledge of) naval history before I started there, but I never cease to be amazed how much of it I have picked up... and how fascinating it is!

You know, Paul Raven's an iconic name. If you were to be fictionalized, would Paul Raven be a science fiction hero (or anti-hero as the case may be) or a rock star?

Can I not be both, then? :) Maybe something like a character from Gwyneth Jones's Bold as Love series...

I don't know, really. Rock stars tend to come to sticky ends (wherein, ironically, lies a lot of their heroism), but science fiction heroes tend to experience some pretty crazy stuff... I think ultimately I'd rather be neither. I don't think I'm cut out for the sort of focal-point heroism that a lot of fiction tends to feature, and I've misspent enough of my life to know that most of the glamour of the rockstar lifestyle isn't as glamorous as it gets portrayed to be. Maybe I could be characterised as an ageing eccentric in a city gone feral and abandoned to coastal climate change, who lends from his collection of tattered novels to the other residents who've stayed behind, and who occasionally gets a bit drunk and maudlin before climbing on to his roof and playing electric guitar at a moon distorted by heat shimmer... or maybe that's how I'll write myself into one of my own stories!

That said, British writer and editor Ian Whates recently told me that he plans to use me as a character in a book he's writing; apparently I will be portrayed as a scruffy know-it-all who holds forth on bizarre subjects in a particular drinking establishment. I suspect this is what Hollywood refers to as 'type-casting'...

Any advice for aspiring book reviewers?

Write from the heart as well as the intellect. Be true to the book, but be true to yourself and the reader as well. Assume you will never be paid; if you can't do it for the love of books alone, you're probably best not bothering.

Aspiring publishers?

See a psychiatrist.

Aspiring publicists?

Be honest. It may hurt a little in the short run – both your pride and the business – but in the long run you'll be respected for it.

Aspiring writers?

Much the same as the book reviewer advice, really, with the addition of “sit down and write”! Also, try to avoid going so far as to start a freelance career in various related fields of business in what probably appears to be the most baroque form of displacement activity ever manifested...

Anything else you want to plug?

The artists who make it all happen. All of them, even the ones whose books or stories or music I can't stand. Without them, our lives would be much much poorer in many ways. Buy a book, go see a concert, keep them in business. Humans will always need stories and stimulation, but the people who create them will always need to eat.

*Paul adds that the crunch he spoke of finally arrived, and that as of 1st February this year he's full-time freelance!

Monday, April 27, 2009

April 27, 2009 Links and Plugs

Got this in my inbox over the weekend: Vote for the Top 100 Philippine Books of All Time. Admittedly, I haven't read a hundred Philippine books and I'd expect some people will simply vote the books that they've read as opposed to the ones they're genuinely enthusiastic about.


Here's an anthology from John Joseph Adams:

Federations edited by John Joseph Adams

Book/Magazine Review: Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden

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

Sometimes, the sad fate of illustrated novels is that they are repackaged into a paperback, discarding most if not all of the illustrations and sacrificing a good chunk of the form. In such a scenario, Baltimore will still be a wonderful read. However, the reader will never witness Mike Mignola's artwork gracing the pages, showing snippets and facets of the story instead of a single, huge illustration that is the norm for such books. And then what will happen to the chapter openings, a pair of tin soldiers flanking the title and sub-title, along with an apt quote from Hans Christian Anderson? Again, Mignola's art is by no means essential, but his unique sensibilities and style contributes to the gothic atmosphere the book evokes and this is, simply put, a gorgeously illustrated dead-tree product.

When it comes to the fiction, one would expect from the title that this is a vampire-hunting slugfest but both authors surprise us as they give us something else. Baltimore reads more like a menagerie of horrors, almost like an anthology, but one that is grounded by a common theme and focus. Mignola and Golden write a very character-centric novel, fleshing out motivations and tragedies. Piece by piece, it builds on the reader's sympathies until one is swayed, and the book can't be put down even if your eyes were sleepy an hour ago. This is partly due to the way the authors play with reader expectation as while some of the stories might seem familiar, the authors subvert them into a refreshing tale that both surprises and leaves an imprint.

The language has a functional tone to it, always in the service of the story rather than making any attempt at drawing the reader away from the text. Another element to be praised is how the parallelism of our protagonist and The Tin Soldier is maintained. Last but not least is the novel's culmination and while Mignola or Golden could have taken the easy route and provided us with a cliche ending, they instead take the more difficult road which feels apt and inevitable.

This was an enjoyable and dark read. I love it how Baltimore defies expectations rather than relying on staples that we're familiar with. There's a synergy when it comes to the layout and the text making this an effective illustrated novel.

Book/Magazine Review: Business Secrets from the Stars by David Dvorkin

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

If we're just talking about titles, Business Secrets from the Stars is as good fit for a novel such as this: it's a plausible name for a nonfiction work and leaves little doubt as to what it's trying to teach. But since this isn't that type of book, the reader is immediately keyed to the metafiction and one gets a sense that humor will somehow play a role in the narrative. David Dvorkin's Business Secrets from the Stars follows the story of Malcolm, a wannabe fiction writer who ends up writing a best-seller. Along the way, Dvorkin inserts social and political commentary through satire.

The book has some good points and bad. When it comes to the former, Dvorkin writes a compelling first chapter that dives immediately into the novel's premise. Unfortunately, the succeeding chapters are flashbacks and while those particular scenes are enjoyable in small doses, I feel the author overextends himself and there's a point where you want to get it over with as reading becomes too self-referential (i.e. the trials and tribulations of a fiction writer). Eventually, the book picks up as the protagonist finally succeeds in publishing the fictional Business Secrets from the Stars although by this point, Dvorkin inserts a tangent storyline featuring a caricature of US politics. Personally, I felt the insertion of this subject matter worked when it was limited to a few scenes but that's not Dvorkin's intent as a good chunk of the book dovetails into the presidency and the Republican system. While there are hints early on that this is the final destination, I feel the author spreads himself thin and there's a lack of synergy between the differing agendas. It doesn't help that our protagonist, Malcom, has little redeeming qualities. For the most part, he feels like a tool to tell a dystopic story--albeit one sprinkled with comedy--and while there are certainly characters like him in real life, he's reduced to being a two-dimensional character that only reinforces the single-track direction of this novel.

Dvorkin's prose is quite accessible and there's no mistaking his intent when it comes to humor. Comedy isn't this single, definable layer and each writer has a different take on how they present it. In the case of Dvorkin, it's not on the slapstick level (although there are slapstick scenes), but it's not an intellectual's satire either. Personally, I find his comedy better suited to shorter work as the jokes can get quite repetitive, especially when it comes to the political allusions.

Overall, Business Secrets from the Stars is too mediocre for my tastes and Dvorkin is heavy-handed at times. Which isn't to say that he isn't funny but his material feels too transparent and direct (which isn't necessarily a bad thing for some readers).

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Friday, April 24, 2009

April 24, 2009 Links and Plugs

For some self promotion, check out Andrew Wheeler's review of a couple of comics by Filipino creators.

Also watch the Nebula Awards site for the latest updates on the upcoming Nebula Awards and you can monitor @mythicdelirium (Mike Allen) and @sfwa (Mary Robinette Kowal) as they *hopefully* twitter the event.

And from Marty Halpern: Friends R invited to Ken Rand Departing Party on Sat. Apr 25 at Dave & Shelley Devey's home, 1867 W 10740 S., South Jordan, UT, 1:00-3:00 PM.

And from Nebula-nominee Vera Nazarian:

Salt of the Air by Vera Nazarian

Top 10 Best-Sellers as of 2009/4/19

From USA Today's best-seller list (you can find out their basis here):
  1. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
  2. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
  3. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
  4. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
  5. Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto by Mark R. Levin
  6. Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man by Steve Harvey
  7. The Shack by William P. Young
  8. Tribute by Nora Roberts
  9. Angels & Demons by Dan Brown
  10. Hungry Girl: 200 Under 200 by Lisa Lillien

Thursday, April 23, 2009

No More Tabletop RPG Podcast Links

When I woke up today, I was honestly planning on compiling a link list but everything else quickly took over and I realized I didn't have enough time to do so (and this is me waking up at 3:30 am). A lot of it, of course, is due to enthusiasm and haven't found a lot of time lately to listen to the podcasts (thankfully there's still some semblance of gaming in my life).

Right now there's been a shift in priorities so unfortunately, I don't think I'll be continuing the RPG podcast link round-up. is a good resource though and I recommend you visit that site.

April 23, 2009 Links and Plugs

RIP Ken Rand.

Here's your daily plug:

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

April 22, 2009 Links and Plugs

How romance is different from the writing life: you can love your story all you want but your story will never love you back (it can give you pleasure though).

And today's cause is the Interfictions 2 Auction.

For your daily book plug:
The Best of Abyss & Apex Volume One edited by Wendy S. Delmater

2008 Shirley Jackson Awards Ballot

I'm posting this mainly to promote the awards but also to include links to works that are available online.

Source: The Shirley Jackson Awards

  • Alive in Necropolis, Doug Dorst (Riverhead Hardcover)
  • The Man on the Ceiling, Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem (Wizards of the Coast Discoveries)
  • Pandemonium, Daryl Gregory (Del Rey)
  • The Resurrectionist, Jack O’Connell (Algonquin Books)
  • The Shadow Year, Jeffrey Ford (William Morrow)
  • Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan (Knopf Books for Young Readers)
  • Disquiet, Julia Leigh (Penguin/Hamish Hamilton)
  • "Dormitory," Yoko Ogawa (The Diving Pool, Picador)
  • Living With the Dead, Darrell Schweitzer (PS Publishing)
  • The Long Trial of Nolan Dugatti, Stephen Graham Jones (Chiasmus Press)
  • "N,", Stephen King (Just After Sunset, Scribner) (online comic adaptation link)
  • "Hunger Moon," Deborah Noyes (The Ghosts of Kerfol, Candlewick Press)
  • "The Lagerstatte," Laird Barron (The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Ballantine Books/Del Rey)
  • "Penguins of the Apocalypse," William Browning Spencer (Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy, Subterranean Press)
  • "Pride and Prometheus," John Kessel (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, January 2008)
  • The Situation, Jeff Vandermeer (PS Publishing)
Short Story
  • A Better Angel, Chris Adrian (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)
  • Dangerous Laughter, Steven Millhauser (Knopf)
  • The Diving Pool, Yoko Ogawa (Picador)
  • The Girl on the Fridge, Etgar Keret (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)
  • Just After Sunset, Stephen King (Scribner)
  • Wild Nights!, Joyce Carol Oates (Ecco)
  • Bound for Evil, edited by Tom English (Dead Letter Press)
  • Exotic Gothic 2: New Tales of Taboo, edited by Danel Olson (Ash-Tree Press)
  • Fast Ships, Black Sails, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer (Night Shade Books) (Boojum short story)
  • The New Uncanny, edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page (Comma Press)
  • Shades of Darkness, edited by Barbara and Christopher Roden (Ash-Tree Press)

Essay: Writer Envy

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

Just last week, I mailed a friend a copy of the local anthologies here in the Philippines and she emailed me that she was distressed that I didn't sign them. My goal is to be a fiction writer and right now, I don't feel like one. In my mind, the people who purchase the anthologies I'm part of are reading it for the other authors, either the ones more famous than me or those who are more skilled at the craft. Right now, I'm wondering, who would want my signature? And while that could the basis of my rant here, that's not what I really want to talk about. What I want to focus on is me as a fiction writer. I've admittedly accomplished a lot in the past two years, especially with all the websites I'm participating in, especially this blog. Yet as proud I am of these, it's not fiction!

Now don't get me wrong. That's not to say all the nonfiction writing I'm doing isn't aligned with my goals. One of the authors I admire is Jeff VanderMeer, not just because he's a writer who's not afraid to experiment and utilize various styles, but because of his holistic approach to publishing: he's a publisher, editor, promoter, book reviewer, blogger, and more. The guy just can't stay put and you can't pigeonhole him! And while I hope to become someone like him some day, I really need to focus on my fiction writing. For all the multitasking miracles VanderMeer accomplishes, his fiction is still the core of his goals and he hasn't neglected them.

So I want to be a fiction writer. Easier said than done, right? A reminder for me of what I want to accomplish is looking at other writers, whether those that have come before me or my peers. Some are getting their work published left and right. Others are slowly honing their craft through participation in seminars and workshops. It's the latter that worries me more than the getting published part. How does one improve one's writing? There's no single route and unfortunately, it's not always evident how useful one particular path will be. It's up to each person to decide and find ways to improve their writing.

Which leads me to my next problem: I'm not writing enough. I wish I was the type of person who kept a regular writing schedule--and I admire those who do--but I'm not. The only time the writing muscles are stretched is when a deadline comes looming. Of course I have a repertoire of excuses why I'm not writing fiction. One compelling argument (at least in my mind) is that I have my book reviews. Well, writing book reviews is relatively quick (half an hour or so). The bigger time sink is actually reading the book and formulating my thoughts on the subject matter. I tell myself that my writing improves due to all the reading that I'm doing (and it does). But improving one's writing without actually writing only goes so far and that's something I need to work on.

And then there's this fear that your quality of writing isn't good enough. For the past few months, there's this story that I've been passing around various markets and it keeps getting rejected. Honestly, I'm weird in the sense that rejection doesn't really hurt me. My mentality is "if it gets rejected in this market, there's always another venue I can sell it to." (Unfortunately, one can't have the same mentality with real-life relationships: one's crushes are unique individuals and there literally is no "other market" to shop around your affections.) Be that as it may, there's a part of me that wonders: the stories I submit in local markets are getting accepted, but the ones internationally aren't (and sometimes these are the same stories). Is there that big of a gap when it comes to the expectations of the local publications compared to the global marketplace? That's a reality one has to eventually come to terms with.

Lastly, as much as I want to disconnect myself from the Internet and get some writing done in isolation, I can't. Somewhere along the way, I've been championing Philippine speculative fiction and I never thought I'd be that person to do so (every Filipino thinks it's Dean Francis Alfar and deservedly so). It's a good problem to have, mind you, but it's a dilemma nonetheless as personal writing time clashes with time spent promoting the genre*. In 2007, I was doing a podcast with a friend and she asked me when I'd come out with a book of my own. Five years seemed feasible at the time and so that was the number I mentioned. 2009 is year two and I honestly don't have enough stories to fill a book. My goals however have changed in the sense that instead of coming out with my book by the end of 2012, I want to see a book on Philippine speculative fiction published internationally by that time frame. Only time will tell whether that'll succeed or fail spectacularly but again, there's this tension between my editor (or "producer") persona and my writer persona.

To steal Mur Lafferty's tagline, I should be writing.

*And for those who are wondering what this exactly entails, it means mailing books to various people, reading local publications to find fiction that's often overlooked, contributing an article or two when invited to, and brainstorming various projects.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

April 21, 2009 Links and Plugs

How romance is different from the writing life: If a market rejects your story, you can always submit to a different venue. Or send them a different a story.

And if you enjoy this blog, I'd like to point you in the direction of the Shirley Jackson Awards auction. Lots of great titles and bidding starts at $100.00!

And today's book plug is from Wyrm Publishing:

Tides from the New Worlds by Tobias S. Buckell