Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing: Everything You Need to Know to Write, Publish, Promote and Sell Your Own Book, Marilyn Ross and Sue Collier

The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing: Everything You Need to Know to Write, Publish, Promote and Sell Your Own Book (Complete Guide to Self-Publishing Everything)This book looks like a bit of a brick. I have to say that straight off. But, the tantalizing title has titillated me. Last week, while looking at my RSS feed to Ereaderiq, there was a brief spat of free books on writing and publishing. So naturally, I got them all. Being very interested in the field of self publishing, it looks like the kind of torture that might end up teaching me a thing or two about the industry and help me propel my own career into the foray. In essence, it seemed to me like a self inflicted Chinese water torture where every drip and drop represents a page, but it might lead to bigger and better things in my life. So, bring on the Chinese water.

Contrary to my initial impression, however, are 117 five star reviews, 23 four star reviews, and 12 with two and three stars. That suggests a lot of people have found this book extremely useful.

Now, to speak about myself briefly before going into the book itself, I am an amateur writer and a professional English teacher (ESL - in Korea). I believe I know my craft well. However, the few submissions I've made to a small list of publishers (Asimov's Science) has met with rejection. Ah, tis a part of the process, goes the lecture. Too often, great or at least successful writers find their works in the trash bin or otherwise rejected, only for the document to emerge from the bin like a phoenix from the ashes. Well, it's stories like those that inspire. But, there are also the untold stories of the ones that remain as ashes. There's the story of Captain Ahab where he obsesses, to his death, over the capture of Moby Dick, the great white whale. The moral of the story is that sometimes you can ruin yourself and those who are in your care. So, there are two sides of this coin: failure and harming your loved ones, and success, and bringing your loved ones along with you into the lap of luxury or at least comfort, not to mention living 'the dream.' Now, let's talk about the book itself...

So far, however, and we're talking 'introduction' here, I've been captivated by the topic. Maybe it really is a boring book and I'm just very interested in it. But maybe it's something else. In any case, the opening topic is self publishing history. I don't think they've gone all the way back, but they went back into American history several centuries back. It's actually a very interesting look into the quite long history of self publishing. She starts of with Ben Franklin, Mark Twain, Anais Nin, Edgar Allan Poe, and a number of other very famous authors. In other words, the author is saying that there are a lot of examples in the past of very successful authors capturing the imaginations and pennies of a very wide audience. The implication is that you can do it, too. People with good books to sell sell good books, and it doesn't matter so much the publishing house that sells them. Of course, a lot of those people went on to the publishing houses, so maybe that's just a good second step.

For me, a lot of it is about control. I want to control my work. I don't want people to reject it out of turn. I don't want it to tremble on a tall heap of maybes only to hit the recycling bin or the shredder. I like the idea of creating my own destiny. I love the idea of starting my own publishing house. This is just feeding me the idea that this is not only possible, but it's been done, and it'll be done again.

The Mine Field of POD and Vanity Presses

After basking in the glow of those who have self published in the past only to go on to huge success, the authors get into the mine field of POD and vanity presses. Some of the pitfalls include paying a lot of money for books that you wrote and spent money on to fine tune only to discover that you also signed away some of your rights to them, to having them actually turn down bulk sales that didn't meet their profit expectations.

To break it down simply: buyer beware.

Writing Your Book

I have to say that this part does not seem suitable for this book. I got this book to help me understand publishing, not how to write. There are many books about how to write books. I don't believe you can do both the publishing aspect and the writing aspect in the same book. While there is some very good advice, I don't think it's necessary. There is, however, a fair amount of talk about how, despite the difficulties arising from publishing some types of books, ie., poetry, there are those who have found success in many of them. There is also a part about how to name books and how to present them. I do see these as good portions of the book. But how to write the book? It just seems like meandering into a very different topic from publishing. Publishing is about putting your work out there, not about how to write it. Am I right?

There are also a lot of metaphors and similes that are used which don't really seem necessary or particularly entertaining. What's worse, is when she gets down into the details of how to choose words or what words not to choose, I feel like everything she's said is highly circumstantial. She writes, 'Have you ever seen anyone stand down?' Yet, that's the expression one hears from time to time in reference to an attack that's about to be made in a militaristic sense. She writes that one should not write 'early pioneers' and just 'pioneers.' But, some pioneers came to America in 1620. Some might have gone there in 1650. So, those in 1620 would be the 'early' pioneers.

She brings up the idea that one should inject simile and metaphor into writing. While that's true to an extent, it's contrary to her 'brevity is beautiful' statement just before it. Too often I cringe when I read forced simile and metaphor. Sometimes it's not necessary. Too much of it is annoying and poor taste. Another thing she brings up is the analogy. She mentions that one ought to use them. However, too often I find analogies used as a way to avoid trying to express something clearly. Often it does not really serve a useful purpose.

To be frank, the expose on writing fiction seemed pretty cliche in my opinion. It's the formula for tasteless fiction - I mean flavourless, not tasteless as in being bad erotica or sexist or something like that. I'm sure it works for a lot of the novels and other fiction out there, but this is precisely the kind of cliche literature building that I would want to avoid, albeit a lot of writers would probably agree with her. Chances are good, however, that those writers I'd seek to avoid. But, this is a matter of taste. I like to live on the fringe somewhere and not in the mainstream. So, my tastes in how to write will also be around the fringe, not in the mainstream.

Becoming a Publisher

I really like the idea of having my own publishing company. I really, really like that. I could go so far as to say that I would like nothing better than to start one with myself as the first author, and grow from there: graphic novels, comic books, novels, animations, movies. Really, the sky is the limit.

However, to get there, I'm not really willing to spend much more money. The amount of money I've already spent with no return at the present is enough for me. So, the next part where she talks about how to make companies, what you can do to raise capital (10-50k), is squeezing the rock for water. I want to pursue the inexpensive route: free (or very nearly free). There are enough options. She does bring up some of them, and she says beware, but that's the limit of the advice.

In fact, all the stuff she brings up in the chapter, "Establishing Your Publishing Company and Generating Capital" is kind of depressing. Sell your shirt, home, and soul to the devil (see bankers) on the chance that you might have a product worth buying and the ability to wear all the hats necessary to accomplish those goals. Of course, the 10-50k might very well be a part of that staff - but that is some very short-term cash for salaries. That little money might simply end up drying up by the time you've trained someone to do what it is that needs to be done to market the work. So, I think it unlikely that this monetary figure is going to include those kinds of salaries. However, when she writes about dipping into 401k, IRAs (?), Keogh Plans (?), etc., maybe that's the kind of money to make something like that work. Given a few hundred thousand dollars, maybe it would be possible to make some kind of functional company. But even then, the writer not only has to be a good writer, but also a good business manager. But, she doesn't stop there! She writes that if you have bad credit and don't have a golden parachute to melt down and take to the bank, why not go to the pawn shop? Surely you can find those few thousand dollars that way to make your dream come true. Is this lady for real? I'm waiting for the punch-line. I'm waiting... still waiting...

A printing press in Kabul, Afghanistan.Image via WikipediaMy own experience at trying to publish has proven to be very difficult. That is to say, just writing the darned tootin' thing was the easiest part. Getting quality artwork done for it was extremely difficult - that is to say, artwork which reflected what I had in mind when I wrote the thing. It cost me thousands of dollars, and by the time I was done with the first book, I had to go back to work again to fund the ongoing process. Each book that got done, I thought, "This is it! This is the book that'll make it for me." But then I keep running into those last hurdles: the graphic design and layout - which I have for one of them, but not quite complete, and the rest are still awaiting the hand of a graphic designer and layout person. Each of these jobs require a lot of skill and a better eye than what I have. So, what I thought would be a relatively easy exercise of writing a children's book and putting it together has become this huge obstacle course.

Now, in my current context, I cannot spend more money on those first four books which are all in disarray. So, these days I am working on a novel, and it's my goal to see that novel through to the end. Where once I thought the part of writing a good story was the hard part and that the rest could fall naturally into place without the aid of a professional publisher is long gone. I still think it's possible, just no where close to being easy. In fact, I have come to believe that I would have been better off going for the novel first, which takes a long, long time to write, and then moving onto graphically intense literature. That would have saved me an awful lot of expense.

Think about it: putting a novel together requires a front page graphic, back page, and the rest of it is about 90k words of writing, rewriting, etc. It's pretty much a one man show. But, nonetheless, I have four books behind me, in a variety of stages of completion. The hardest part for them (maybe aside from marketing them - an experience I don't yet have) is really behind me. Illustrating them was really hard. Laying them out is a little hard and a little expensive. So, I am optimistic.

Getting Technical - Dealing with Printing Presses

There are quite a few decisions to make before you print your book. You need to think about everything from paper size, to paper thickness, opacity, number of pages, each and every single one of them requires a significant amount of thought, and has repercussions.

The authors bring up so many details having to do with the actual printing of the books: binding, paper size, checking for your mistakes, checking for the printers' mistakes, making sure you get the correct number of pages for a whole number of signatures: where one signature = 16 or 32 pages. Thus, it's said, it will cost less to print 320 pages than it will to print 319. Then you have to worry about delivery, etc. etc. etc. All of this is a nightmare of choices and careful precautions that must be taken.

On top of all that, in this world, there are always those who are looking to take advantage of the new people who are looking to gain entry into the industry. Everything from people who suggest that a copyright should be given in the name of the printing press or owner of the printing press to ISBNs being assigned in their name. Essentially, doing either of these things means that you essentially lose ownership over the material. In fact, there is a recent case of this I remember reading about relating Rebecca Black, whose parents paid a lot of money to have a company do a music video for them. Later, when it became apparent that Rebecca was making money hand-over-fist, they brought out the contract which essentially said that they had paid to develop content for the company itself, not for themselves. These people are unscrupulous.

Marketing and Advertising

I really believe that this is where the book excels at. After the clumsy attempts at humour and extremely poor metaphors and other attempts at literary flourish in the early chapters comes a fairly clean, clear, and efficient writing model. Only rarely did I have to further suffer from further poor attempts. Furthermore, the sections on marketing and advertising are like a brainstorm on steroids. It's as if years of experience with trying out different strategies are blurted out in about 30-40k words. Only a very few of them are really pertinent to my situation. However, those few that I got out of this part were things I hadn't thought of before. That's really a big key.

There's a section on just about every current avenue to be used regarding marketing. While none of them are particularly well spelled out, I think it gives a good enough overview to give one an idea of where one can continue studying to flesh out the primer that is provided.

It also helped give me some courage. My book is really unique. As far as I know, there's nothing like it in the world and I believe there's a huge market for it in that niche (which is a hot topic these days). I can make products to both improve publicity and perhaps to even make a few dollars.

There are more pitfalls that this book warns about: everything from getting that first offer from a publisher, to expecting the publisher to do everything once they have your book. Also, some important things to watch out for in the contract and concessions to ask for.


I think the giveaway on Amazon was a real steal. This is a great book. It could be improved with a good index. It could have used a proofreader to take out the few loose screws here and there. But overall, I think this book offers the prospective publisher and writer a lot of business sense. It might even be worth $12.53.

Monday, November 14, 2011

One Year Later - My Magic Book Journal

In a couple of days, it will have been a year since I first got my Kindle. Before the Kindle, I think I had almost forgotten how much I liked to read. I don't know particularly what was preventing me from reading. I have a number of ideas, but I'm uncertain as to which ones are correct, and which ones are incorrect.

Well, when I was going to university, I had a list of necessary reading material, and a very short list of extraneous material. When I finished, I almost stopped reading altogether. At least, I stopped reading books. I was reading short online articles. But, nothing much more than that. I had a decent library of maybe a few hundred books, but I for the most part, I wasn't reading them. I suppose it wasn't long after that that I came to Korea.

The Amazon Kindle 2Image via WikipediaI had to choose a very small selection of books that I could take with me on the airplane. I think that in total there were four, heavy books. There are bookstores in Korea, but mostly they sell expensive paperbacks (expensive to me at least, considering I was a used bookstore kind of guy). Also, I've never been a New York Times Best Seller reader, and those are the types of books that find their way into the typical bookstore in Korea. Therefore, I never did get into collecting books while here.

Now, I have about 300 some odd books on my Kindle now, and thousands of books more to choose from should that number dwindle significantly.

The first source of books I found was Now, Gutenberg is great. You can find all kinds of classic literature from Shakespeare to Edgar Rice Burroughs. I have not exhausted their collection by any stretch of the imagination. There are still hundreds more books to be read from there.

Since late last summer, I was pointed in the direction of a webpage which has an RSS feed which plugs in nicely into MyYahoo. The blog, , gives a list of free books which is updated almost daily. It's very good. But, since then, I found on my own an even better free books list which is at They both have the same books. But what makes ereaderiq better, in my opinion at least, is that all the books are shown in an image gallery with full descriptions, Amazon rating, as well as other brief pertinent information. I believe it's updated in real time. There seems to be some automated process going on. It's a great webpage and it also has a feed which appears on MyYahoo. As far as I can tell, it has every book that ireaderreview has.

Finally, there's the subscription model. There are a number of magazines, periodicals, and newspapers, and this number is growing, many of which can be purchased for a fairly low price. I am currently subscribed to two: Fantasy and Science Fiction and Asimov's Science. Both are excellent publications, with my current preference being for the former, but Asimov's got a lot more material to read than the former. I plan on subscribing to a few more publications, and I am very curious about how to start a magazine service. Some of them are quite bad, but have received good reviews (see eFiction). There is nothing for poetry.

There is one area which I feel is still lacking in the world of ePublishing: graphic intensive literature. Everything from the graphic novel to books about art and even the larger format technical books are lacking. Simply put, the Kindle is incapable of supporting a good colour graphical experience. The new Kindle Fire is simply too small to offer a good experience in this venue. The fact of the matter is that graphically intense material often starts at around A4, or 11.7 x 8.3 inches or 297 x 210 mm. I do not think you can shrink that form factor of media to a tiny screen. Another thing to consider is that a part of the joy of a Kindle in the first place is the fact that it uses eInk technology. eInk is very easy on the eyes. It's even better than traditional novels. This is because in traditional print, sometimes they have to cram a lot of letters onto the page, not to mention the lines on top of each other. With my poor eyesight, that can cause a lot of eyestrain. With the Kindle, you can size it however you wish. So, that is a distinct advantage. There is also the fact that eInk is a lot easier on the eyes than LCD. Because of all these reasons, I do not feel tempted by the Kindle Fire at all, and I am eagerly awaiting the introduction of the first great eInk 11.7 x 8.3 / 297 x 210 mm screen. I believe I have a long wait ahead of me. The stories about eInk and colour are at a trickle and what products there are have had poor reviews. What about next year? Time will tell. When they do have one, though, I think I could part with as much as $300 for it. Also, the market place simply isn't quite there yet. There isn't much by way of ebooks that would take advantage of such a tablet. But, build it, and they will come!

There has also been a happy side effect to all this extra reading I've been doing. I'm writing a lot more now than I have in years. Maybe I'm even doing more writing today than I have in my lifetime. What with school far behind me, a teaching gig that has a lot of hours of idleness, and a burning itch on the tips of my fingers, I've been producing more than I can ever recall. I also have the strong desire to become a writer by profession. So, these are good times.

So, there you have it. One year with the Kindle. Here's to year two!

Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine - January 2012

 Introduction - Getting to Know my Kindle Subscriptions
These last several weeks have been very strange for my subscription to Asimov's Science Fiction. First, I had November's edition. Just as I was winding down to the last stories when suddenly it disappeared and was replaced by the December copy. This then quickly disappeared and was then replaced by January's edition. Now, to be fair, the issue is quite simple: they can be found in the newly formed 'Periodicals: Back Issues' section to the rear of my Kindle's library, on page 13. However, it was quite confusing to me. I actually tried to download it again, but still could not find it until I did a search for the copy. Even this did not show me where it was, but it did allow me to open the November edition again so that I could finish it before opening the January edition.

So, I thought that I had been hallucinating about the December edition or something since it was there and then gone so quickly. So, I went to the Kindle FAQ and read the part about the 'Periodicals: Back Issues.' Shortly thereafter, the whole mystery of how periodicals work on the Kindle is solved.

I will be reading the December edition after I've finished reading the January edition I guess. Vital statistics for the main body of fiction: 48,487 words, 1 Novella, 1 Novelette, 5 short stories, and 2 poems. There is also a short essay by Robert Silverberg.

In the House of Aryaman, A Lonely Signal Burns - Elizabeth Bear

Elizabeth Bear's name was oddly familiar. I didn't know from what or why, but somehow I knew that name. After doing a little digging, it's no wonder why. Surely I've seen her books scattered throughout the science fiction and fantasy dens of second hand book stores aAmerican science fiction writer Elizabeth Bear.Image via Wikipediand libraries. She has done a lot of writing and a lot of her writing has been published. She has a generous article about her on She also has an active and attractive web page/blog of her own, There is a lot of information on her webpage about her various interests and activities in her profession and some personal anecdotes and photographs. On second thought, I was thinking about Greg Bear or Grizzly Bear. Is there any relation to the three? I didn't find a connection. I guess this Bear is a new Bear to me.
The setting is in India, in the somewhat distant future. One thing that kind of threw me off is her use of the word 'farang' to refer to foreigners, or Caucasians in India. It's odd because that's the word that Thai people use. It's a Thai word. Why would it be used in the context of India? Well, that's always a potential pitfall about writing a story in a country you're not all that familiar with. It's a bit easier if it doesn't exist at all. The editor wrote that the story is 'set in a stunningly rendered future India.' I think I agree and disagree with that statement. First, I disagree with it because it doesn't really feel much like India to me, future or present. More importantly, I agree with it because it is an excellent picture of a certain future. I enjoyed the forays into the alternate reality cyber world. I also enjoyed the playing with genetic engineering which appears quite often throughout the story: it affects Ferron to obey her mother when really she doesn't want to; there's a cat which is engineered to be blue with golden eyes. Not only that, but it can also learn how to talk.
The story is written in third person limited point of view from the perspective of a detective, Ferron. A murder has been committed, and it's quite an extraordinarily brutal one at that. In the apartment of the deceased, or so it's assumed to be early on, the victim - one Dexter Coffin, is not so much beside himself as he is inside out of himself. Much of what we're led to believe early on gets turned inside out, however, much like the corpse which leads to the investigation.

Eventually everything is sorted out, and the mystery is solved. I don't think it was a particularly good mystery. Maybe I've been watching too much CSI. It turns out that the corpse is a matter of mistaken identity and the murderer being thought of as the victim who had taken on someone else's identity. The charm of this story is definitely the setting, as well as the relationship between mother and daughter (with the mother being hooked on the cyber world).

Bruce Springsteen - Paul McAuley

Paul McAuley has an impressive bibliography that can be found at I did not find anything else worth mentioning in terms of a personal or professional webpage.

This story is set on earth near Las Vegas. The setting is not so distant future. Things change in a hurry when an alien species, the 'Jackaroo' makes first contact with humankind. From there, the changes are rapid. 
A man on death row for some murders is confessing his story leading to the crimes to an alien from the culture called !Cha. He was working in a substandard casino when he ran into a woman, Rachel, who talked him into going on an adventure with her to steal an artifact. They succeed in getting the stone she was after, but not without committing some acts of murder in the process. They bring it to the tombs of the alien when the girl hits him over the head with a flashlight and attempts to make a getaway. The authorities are able to stop and kill her, however.

When the authorities are about to pick up the narrator, he first smashes to bits the stone that they had brought there in the first place. He swallows one of the pieces and thereby makes himself a host to one of the ghosts which inhabit the tomb.

Recyclable Material - Katherine Marzinsky

This is Katherine Marzinsky's first story. She has no webpage or any information about her anywhere in the top 100 Google results. However, I really enjoyed this very short and simple story.

The story is told from the perspective of a sanitation robot. Out of the first three tales I've read thus far, I enjoyed this one the most. It's very short, almost 1,200 words. A robot is cleaning the streets as his function requires when he runs into a discarded baby. He brings it to a hospital for recycling. On the one hand, it horrifies the nursing staff in the hospital. What's left unsaid, though, is what the other robots might have done with other abandoned babies. It might have been the first time a machine came in with a baby, but it's unlikely that it would have been the first time a baby had been encountered.

Maiden Voyage - Jack McDevitt

Jack McDevitt has a webpage,, of his own and there's also a article on him. Evidently, according to, he started off on his writing career in his early 50s. That sure gives late bloomers the message that you can get started at any time.

The story is told in third person. Mankind has enabled himself to go beyond his own star system and is visiting the first planet which is truly suitable for human habitation. It's verdant beyond belief and puts Brazil's Amazon to shame.

Those who were sent there to study it discover an extinct culture. There are cities, but no one is left in them. There is the mystery of what happened to them which may never be answered. This is due to the pilot's opinion that the discoveries should not be revealed to the human community. The reason for this is that she doesn't like the commercialization of untouched places. She remembered how the craters on the moon were being 'ruined' by humanity.

I don't know if I believe in that sentiment, but, it is what it is. Morally, I suppose, he's trying to suggest that some tombs in Egypt ought not to be touched, and ought to be left to time to destroy. Well, he doesn't put it that way, but I feel that inference. I figure if they're dead, well, it's not going to bother them at all if we explore their culture. If anything, it is what brings them back to life. King Tutankhamen is more alive in the last twenty years than he has been in the last two thousand because of the archaeologists who have painstakingly pulled his remains apart and examined them, and the things which he 'possessed' in death. Commercialization is unfortunate, but it's also an enabler for people, individuals, to visit an area for themselves.

The War is Over and Everyone Wins - Zachary Jernigan

Zachary Jernigan has a nifty little blog:

This story has its roots in racism and genocide. In essence, the white race has been annihilated. The main character is an Indian who married a Vietnamese and then produced offspring together that looked white. As a result, they were murdered. His father was a part of the army that introduced the virus that killed every white person. His father also had no sympathy for his son's loss and attributes the murder of his son's family to the fact that his family was too white.

I think that the editor's note at the start of the story was attempting to difuse a bomb before it went off. The author quoted Margaret Atwood, "I hope that people will finally come to realize that there is only one 'race'-- the human race -- and that we are all members of it." If we are to follow that line of thinking, not in terms of the intent of meaning but how it might mean if followed in another direction, it might suggest that genocide would not cover the active extermination of a certain race. But, there are races. There is but one species, the human species, but of race, we have many. I know that the intent was to say that every division within the species ought to be thought of as equals, but following the line of thinking to its edges will reveal that it is a poorly worded sentiment.

Writing about genocide is bound to be a hot topic. Writing about genocide about an alien culture is one way to avoid the controversy. However, Jernigan chose to write about Caucasians being exterminated.

Now, one thing that is suggested in the text is that Caucasians are the glue that keeps the races together. After the extermination, all the other races quardoned off themselves from the others, literally built walls around them, and began to war between districts within cities which had concentrations of the remaining races. He writes that "we're not violent because there are no Caucasians around to keep things peaceful." However, what else are we to infer from the fact that suddenly all the races left (all non-Caucasians) are fighting hand-and-foot. The culprit is suggested to be the last vestiges of white culture left behind, with certain people being targetted as being too white and perhaps the cause of the current friction in Jernigan's world.

In any case, the grandfather of the narrator (narration is in first person) has died. He was half white, and a little too white for his father. His father is only quarter white, and therefore much darker. Thus, the father is quite happy that his own father has died. The narrator, however, despite being unable to remember white people, remembers his grandfather as a good man, and loved his Vietnamese wife and his daughter. Therefore, he is upset by the genocide.

I suspect that if this same type of story was to be written about Africans being excised from the human race, it wouldn't be tolerated. Nor would it be tolerated of any other race. Imagine a story based on the extinction of the Jewish people? What kind of story could we infer from that? But, shoes never do fit on the other feet.

The Burst - C. W. Johnson

I couldn't find anything decent about C. W. Johnson online when I went looking for it today.

One thing that bothers me a little bit that I often run into is the idea that somehow physicists are intellectually superior to everyone else. I see it on a comedy show that I've really been enjoying, "The Big Bang Theory" where Sheldon is at the top of the intellectual pecking order of his friends. There was even an article about it somewhere. Often I see the sentiment that liberal arts degree holders ought to be considered less intellectually capable than those who hold science degrees. It usually bothers me. Especially considering that understanding the basic premises and principles of what the current generation of scientists believe is mostly old hat and quite simple.

The reason I'm bringing it up is because of the conversation Cayla has with her boyfriend, Rish. They are discussing the basics of Big Bang Theory. When the super intelligent Cayla asks if Rish remembers the conversations he replies, "Talk, yes. Understand, no. All I remember is, dark energy something something expanding universe something something accelerating something something, or something." His degree is in history. How it is that we're to assume that someone who enjoys history has somehow ignored the history of science or cannot comprehend it is pretty lame and a tired old sentiment.

In any case, to round up the plot: girl is a student. She's really smart. She finds a bit of data and forms a theory about how it shows that dark matter has been observed. She tries to tell her professor, but his dog just died and he's torn up over it. Turns out that it was his wife's dog, and the wife had died six years earlier.

This story was definitely not my cup'o'tea and perhaps a tad offensive. Perhaps he should do a bit of research on the Wright brothers. A high school dropout dispelled the myth then held by the brightest minds in the physics community that technology would never lift man into the sky. Quite frankly, a lot of the problems facing the physics community look quite simple with simple solutions and explanations. Sometimes, they remind me of priests with followers rather than people who are genuinely interested in the phenomena in the universe. I guess this story has brought out some of those old feelings and disgust.

Friendlessness - Eric Del Carlo

Eric Del Carlo has a webpage of his own. It looks like some of the books that he's selling have same-sex relationships going on. That is to say, on several of the covers, actually more than half, there are two scantily clad men. I have nothing against same-sex relationships, but taking a look through it made me wonder if there was any relationship between homosexuality and the sad character of the story.

One interesting sci-fi spec, and this is the only thing that makes this story sci-fi, is the 'socweb.' The socweb is not really explained fully. However, it seems like an implanted number which gives everyone who sees each other with one of the devices a score of how socially valuable the character is.

In this case, the character is some kind of extremely socially awkward individual. He briefly had friends, but these friends were not really friends. But once he lost his job and his money was gone, so too were his friends (nobody knows you when you're down and out).

He hitchhikes back to his home town. And, when it seems he's about to commit suicide, though subconsciously, an old acquaintance stops him. That friend had not only lost his socweb implant, but had grown to like not having it at all. He offers friendship and assistance. He doesn't care about socweb scores. He just wants to help an old friend in need.

I had wondered if there was some homosexual element to these characters, but there's nothing to suggest that at all in the story itself. Also, having briefly scanned Johnson's short autobiography, I don't think he is either. So, I don't think that is an element to the story. It was just a thought. I thought that maybe there was some shame in the main character which was causing his extreme feelings of social awkwardness. But, nothing is said explicitly to reveal the reason for this. He's just naturally antisocial.

The Essays

Reflections: Rare Earths, Getting Rarer--Robert Silverberg

We are facing some kind of crisis. I don't think many people are even aware of the problem or even know what rare earths is. They probably don't know that they are essential molecular components of all of our advanced technogadgets: computers, cell phones, lithium batteries, etc. They probably don't know that China likes to inflate the cost of the materials from time-to-time, and that we're in just such a time now. This causes artificial scarcity, but the truth is that eventually they will be very scarce materials.

There is not much effort being made to recycle components so that those molecules might be reused. Apparently mining is still a cheaper way to get these materials.Perhaps one day we won't have a choice, and we'll have to get raw materials from our waste. Wouldn't that be nice?

On the Net: Son of eBooks, the Next Generation, Vol. III--James Patrick Kelly

James Patrick Kelly writes a brief essay about how ebooks are growing. I have to agree with that sentiment. Wow... has it almost been one year since I bought my Kindle? It's the best thing I've bought for myself in years - aside from the netbook I'm using right now. I'm reading more than I have since I left Concordia University in 2005. Back in 2005, when I came to Korea, I had to pick and choose gingerly what texts I could bring with me to savour as I suffered in a country with little to offer the literary aficionado. Well, the Kindle has completely changed all that.

I now carry around with me more than 300 books wherever I go. Just a few months ago I started some subscription services, and I'm considering ordering some more. I'm eagerly anticipating the time when I can hold a coloured version of the Kindle that's about A4 in size so that I can read graphic novels and graphically rich content with the same gusto as I do text on my b&w Kindle.

Also, the amount of subscriptions on Amazon is small, but slowly growing.

These are really exciting times in the publishing industry. I do believe James has the right idea when he wrote, "Certainties are profound: at some point the ascending digital line must cross the descending print line. not if, friends, but when. The Two Certainties point to a future in which ebooks inevitably dominate paper books."

I don't think paper books will ever disappear. However, I do expect that market to fluctuate. I believe that the print-on-demand presses are just getting started. Micro publishing will rise up in a tide as have the micro brewing industries of beer. I think this is a great thing, and it excites me tremendously as I ponder my own existence in this universe. I also fully believe that the world of professional publishing will eventually look to the success of self published writers before committing to trying a new writer. Or, perhaps they'll just start offering a lot less money. Maybe they're doing that already. Maybe someone can enlighten me.

In conclusion, he writes, "Oh, and FYI: ebooks are here to stay. you read it here first." I think I can also say the same about pbooks (paper books). They are here to stay. They will transform into something that is more crafted and elegant than it has been in the past. I think this is a great thing.


Again, I enjoyed this edition of Asimov's Science magazine. I was kind of happy to see a few essays to the rear of the magazine, but I still feel that this is a weak point of the magazine. They could do a lot to bolster that section. Also, sometimes I find the language of the writers to be a bit ill under educated sounding, especially when that language is handled by these allegedly superior intellects in their dialogues in the stories. One of the reasons I like watching the TV comedy series, "The Big Bang Theory", I realized, is because of the rich geek-speak that I hear from the characters. It really is like they're speaking my language.
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Monday, November 7, 2011

Fantasy and Science Fiction - November, 2011


This is the second edition of Fantasy and Science Fiction that I have received since I purchased my subscription last September. Since then, I have read a lot more fantasy and science fiction through reading my first instalment of my Asimov's Science subscription. My mission was to make myself more familiar with modern literature in the genres that I like best: science fiction and fantasy. It turns out that Asimov's Science is not entirely science fiction, as I had previously guessed.

This second copy of Fantasy and Science Fiction that I have received for November consists of two novellas, four novelets, and one short story. In total, that's nearly 82,000 words worth of short fiction for about $1.98 (it's bimonthly). For new work that's filtered and edited by skilled editors, I still think that's a good deal.

After having read the first and more than half of the second of the novellas, I have to say that this November/December edition is much better than the October/September edition which I read last month. A lot of the stories from Asimov and Fantasy and Science Fiction from the last few months have ranged in quality between a bit of poor, lots of mediocre, and a few good stories. The first novella, "Quartet and Triptych" by Matthew Hughes, was hands down the best short fiction I've read out of the five short-story style magazines that I've read of late.

Quartet and Triptych - Matthew Hughes

This story has been around for a little while. Buying it in book form is prohibitively expensive. I have to wonder what Matthew was thinking when he decided to sell this 90 page book on Amazon for about $40. So, really, buying the magazine is a cheaper way to get your hands on the story. I don't think this novella is worth $4, let alone ten times that amount. Wikipedia has a short article on the author, but I couldn't find very much else about the author.

The protagonist of this novella is one Luff Imbry. He is not the stereotypical hero of Hollywood or even the novel. He is a heavy man. Hughes refers to him on one occasion as being of epic proportions. Being a large man myself, I often find common portrayals of large men to be inaccurate and somewhat insulting. That is to say, we occupy the comical arena and little else. I cannot think of any non-comical movie where the hero is of 'heroic proportions.' This story is somethin of an exception.

I say something of an exception because Imbry is a thief by profession. When we're introduced to him, he is described as piggish. He is swilling and stuffing his face. But between that moment and the end of the story, he is transformed from a barnyard animal into a sophisticated and well disciplined thief. He is enlisted to retrieve an item of incalculable worth. He manages to get that thing, but is essentially caught red-handed with it. However, the circumstances of him being caught, in the clutches of the owner of that item called the Triptych, by a high ranking Archon enforcer, suggests that the whole time Imbry has been a tool in an Archon's hands (think of the Archon as a kind of emperor's organization). There is more evidence to support this theory.

The essence of a man or woman can be held in a type of mask. By wearing that mask, one of the living can join the 'essence' or soul of the occupant. Inside the mask he discovers the daughter of the man who ran an estate and owned the valuable art. She agrees to help Imbry if he promises to help her find a certain Broosh, a young man whom she loved and whom her grandfather had covertly killed. This was in exchange for her help through her father's defences which ultimately result in Imbry being caught up and trussed and on the very verge of being dismembered by the robotic spider which housed the essence of her grandfather. In going after the love interest, Broosh, Imbry had to penetrate a great storage complex where the essences of all the high ranking aristocrats were kept. The only way to do this was to go through the very hub of their security. A mysterious caller to the caretakers of this area allows Imbry to secure the essence of Broosh, and lets him finish his mission. Of course, if the Archon emperor (my word choice) was involved, he could have been the one ordering Imbry's access to whatever he wanted allowing him to get further than he really could have otherwise.

Matthew never does name who the emperor is, but I suspect that the person who met with Imbry to send him on this chase was the Archon emperor himself. However, I cannot say this conclusively.

This tale is well told. Matthew Hughes is a talented writer. I really enjoyed the story. His language skills are very good. His play with the plot is very entertaining and well controlled. This was a story I thoroughly enjoyed. I really think Matthew Hughes ought to do something to improve his visibility online. It would probably really help his career.

The Ice Owl - Carolyn Ives Gilman

Gilman is another author who hasn't done much to control her appearance in Google searches using her name as a keyword. In the first 100 items, I could not find a personal website. She has some pages that show bibliographies and reviews of some of her books, but there is no information on Wikipedia or personal page for prospective fans to discover. She has a number of books around for sale.

The story is about a young girl who lives on a planet where cities are built within bubbles. She lives in a bad part of town in the middle of a political upheaval. She's actually about 141 years old. The reason for this is that she has been travelling from planet to planet using lightspeed travel. So, if a planet is 17 lightyears away, she doesn't age, but it takes 17 years for her to get there. The planet is a bit dystopic. The ruling class is far from ideal. It is corrupt, but in its corruption, it allows the underground to thrive provided they pay for that right. Under the incoming system of 'incorruptibles,' they have no place at all. In essence, it's a culture of corruption that is destroying the corruption and everything else in its path.

The little girl, Thorn, from whom the story is told, has been doing this for quite some time. She finds herself an interesting teacher who takes it upon himself to become her mentor. Her mentor turns out to be someone who inadvertently helped in the genocide of a culture. He's trying to make up for it by hunting down the perpetrators of that crime. After he kills his target, in the middle of the revolutionary bedlam, he abandons Thorn.

The title of the story is related to a bird which can survive in hundred year winters and defrost to live again. Thorn is given this bird by her teacher to take care of which is kept in a small freezer. However, through some carelessness and neglect,  the freezer is unplugged and the bird dies.

Under Glass
- Tim Sullivan

Tim Sullivan is all over the place. He's a director, a writer, and many other things I'm certain. He is a man of many talents, as one may find in any number of databases, including an article on Wikipedia.

In essence, the story is told about a friend of an oddball collector who recently died and left the narrator as the executor of his will. After a somewhat interesting character description of the recently deceased, Bob Krovantz, we are led to his more unique collection of souls. That's right... he collects souls which are encased in a type of glass. The essence, as Matthew Hughes would have called it, can be put into a glass container and held indefinitely, or until the glass container is destroyed.

The character of Bob is somewhat interesting. The narrator, a lot less so.

They That Have Wings - Evangeline Walton

Evangeline Walton is long gone. However, some of her unpublished work has surfaced, and this is one of those stories. She has a generous wikipedia article about her that can illuminate her achievements. This is the first fiction of hers that has been published since 1981.

This story is set in Crete circa WWII. A handful of Allied soldiers are stranded on the island. They have no support, no way of returning to their comrades, and are very much on the verge of starvation when a bird of mercy comes to rescue them.

Though, it is not so much of a rescue as it is drawing the prey into the lair of the predator. I sort of saw this one coming a long ways off - but that's not a complaint. As the saying goes, if you can't see it coming, you'll scratch your head and wonder if the author thought of it at the last moment.

Two witches of particularly good craft are shape shifters, and can turn into dark birds at will. However, when they draw in the men, they are half starved and too skinny. The witches then determine to fatten them up before consuming them. However, the younger witch falls in love with one of the men, and dies to protect him. The protagonist and Ronnie, the witch's love interest, manage to escape their fate.

The story is a good old fashioned myth used in a WWII story. It was an enjoyable short piece of fiction.

Object Three - James L. Cambias

James has a short article on wikipedia and a short autobiographical article. It appears that he writes material for games and books.

The story is that of an archaeological adventure. There is an awesome object which is impervious to the great technological efforts of super advanced alien and human study and effort to penetrate. ie., Despite the fact that it lays in space as an object occupying about 32km2.

The main character is hired to secure what is suspected to be the key into the object. To obtain the key, they must first steal it from someone who may not even know what it's supposed to be used for. After an adventure, a fight with her co-thieves leading to their respective deaths, the protagonist is left alone with the key on the object. We do not discover what's inside the object or even if she ultimately manages to win her way inside.

How Peter Met Pan - Albert E. Cowdrey

There is a funny introduction to this story. It's the editor's defence in having a lot of stories set in worlds where global warming has come true. Well, it's true that this is a common and reoccurring trope in this magazine. That's true of this story, which is set in the wilderness near Edmonton, which is now a fairly hot and super urban city (18 million people). Cowdrey is all over Fantasy and Science Fiction. He's been publishing 3-5 stories in it every year for more than a decade.

Somehow, the story seems more like something set in the southern part of the US, due to the accent of some of the characters local to the forested area - the small town's denizens that is. They seem like hillbillies, but not the type you'd find in Canada. More the type you'd find in the US.
Nit picking aside, onto the story itself. Basically, two guys are off hiking. While hiking, they run into a couple. They hear a scream, which is the result of a super sized bear ripping to shreds the second couple. The two guys run to see what's going on, and into the bear, which gets one of them. The other runs off, eventually runs into the girl who also ran off, and eventually they find salvation.

I was not all that fond of this story. I think it's mostly language related things that I didn't like. For example, instead of saying binoculars, he wrote "'nocks." I think I can accept stuff like that in dialogue - after all, the writer is supposed to reflect the character. But in the general descriptive text, I don't think that's the right place.

The Story I didn't Read and Final Thoughts

"The Klepsydra: A Chapter from a Faunary of Recondite Beings" I did not read. I did not read it because it's a sample. Maybe if it was the first of a series, I would have reluctantly read it. As it stands, I refuse to read a sample chapter from a book. I could do that on Amazon's website. Most books have a sample that one might read for free. Why is Fantasy and Science Fiction  printing a sample? It really ought to have a better explanation. Here's the deal: if you like it, you can't buy it. That's because it doesn't exist yet. It's either not finished or it's finished and not printed or available in any form. So, even if you do like it, you have a wait, or, at worst, it never gets finished or printed and you'll never hear the end of this story.

I think this was a poor taste choice by the editors of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine. I suppose I would be more upset if not for the excellent fiction toward the beginning of the book. In this edition of Fantasy and Science Fiction, there definitely seemed to be a downward sloping curve of quality with the first stories being at the top of the curve, and the last stories being at the bottom.

The first stories of this edition were good enough to keep me signed onto the magazine subscription.

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Asimov's Magazine - November 2011 - The Short Stories

Fin Whale from the air.Image via WikipediaThe Cult of Whale Worship - Dominica Phetteplace

Dominica Phetteplace has a small webpage with a link where you can say 'hi.' On the front page, there is a nice little picture of a whale in blue. The page is very micro - there are probably less than six sentences spread out over the entire webpage.

I think whales are pretty awesome creatures. Octopi, too, are pretty amazing. I admire them for their intelligence. Octopi I admire, also, for their amazing ability to adapt to their environment. They can also be extremely beautiful creatures. Nonetheless, there is a large market for both of these animals. That is sad. I suppose everyone probably has an animal or two in mind that they object to the killing of. However, it is a little easier when it comes to killing for food. Japanese people eat the whole whale: bones, organs, meat, and even the semen I've heard. In other words, they waste nothing of it at all. When western European nations hunted for whales, they did so for the oil it would give their lamps. When they did so, they pushed the populations of whales to the brink. I have an easier time accepting that people might eat them without waste than I do using them for lamp oil. That bothers me a lot.

The protagonist of this story is Japanese. A scientist, Tetsuo, has accidentally infected himself with a disease that had been created as a biological weapon to be used against the eaters of whale meat. The disease causes the infected to have an abnormal love for these whales. It works so well that Tetsuo, after becoming infected, fantasized about being eaten by one of the whales.

This Pretty Face - Jason K. Chapman

 Chapman actually has a pretty decent webpage for himself. It's really a blog, but it's actually pretty well crafted. It's much better than a lot of the other personal webpages I've found over the last few months while reading these short story magazines. It offers a small list of his published work and links to get your hands on it.

This is a story about time travel. A very distant descendent from the future is travelling back in time to try to change the future. That is to say, the protagonist will begat offspring who will be extremely destructive to the culture, according to the individual who is travelling back in time to try to change the past so that the protagonist, Kyle, never begets the child who will beget the child who will... etc. 

He is faced with the task of having to kill himself and his family. However, in his recent history, he had lost the love of his life in a terrorist attack on a Parisian cafe. Later, he meets another woman, and it's this relationship that will cause him to have the children who will lead to the children, who ultimately have that destructive individual.

Rather than kill himself and his family, however, he decides to send a message 200 years into the future that they should contact him in his own past, just before the terrorist attack, so that he might save his first love, Anna. This is successful, he goes back in time, and everything gets changed from that point. 

The SimpsonsI am not a big fan of these types of stories. They never really work because of the paradoxes. He does talk about there being multi-universes or dimensions, or as the author wanted to coin the term, quantiverse (due to his love for quantum mechanics, most likely). However, it is a kind of weak work-around. However, this is not new, and my objection to it is not new either. Time-travel stories are too often incapable of working seriously. The Simpsons did it successfully because it was a comedy and it was funny. H.G. Wells' Time Machine kind of worked, because it did not try to go to the past to try to change the present. Although, he does try to change things so that the future changes. Star Trek IV kind of worked, because it had something to say about what we were doing wrong in the then present (90s), and it was a very funny critique of the past and comparison of the present to Roddenberry's vision of the future. However, flying around the Sun really fast was a dumb idea to make time travel work. It's always a dumb idea. This story, in my opinion, like so many like it before and after, simply fails in the logical side of making it work.

The story is OK, I guess, but not really my thing.

The Pastry Chef, The Nanotechnologist, The Aerobics Instructor, and the Plumber - Eugene Mirabelli

Mirabelli does not have her own webpage. At least, it was not in the first ten hits. There are a lot of links to other sites that talk about him. The best webpage I found was at the author's guild.

This story is kind of funny. It starts with the nanotechnologist who is something of an ass. The story's setting is at the 'other woman's house' far from the wife and kids. 

The pastry chef, his live-in lover, can hear the faucet talk. It talks in Italian. Later, the toilet speaks Turkish. Finally, the shower is Italian. Everyone can hear it except the nanotechnologist. 

I guess the story was a little funny, but I didn't really enjoy it much.

Free Dog - Jack Skillingstead

Jack does have his own webpage. It's actually pretty slick looking. Nice picture, good theme, with lots of information about his other work.

When I first started reading this magazine (Asimov's), I thought that I would find a magazine all about science fiction to be too much of a good thing: science fiction. However, I was wrong. In fact, I'm starved for science fiction, and here I am near the end of the magazine.

This short fiction was actually pretty interesting and good science fiction. It actually plays with an idea that I've had for awhile, which more-or-less came from a Boston Legal episode. That episode, I cannot remember the name of it, centred around the idea of DNA and who owned the rights to it: the hospital or lab that took it from the man, or the man who gave the DNA to the lab. That is to say, they patented his DNA, and he no longer had control over what they would do with it. Combine this with P2P and Napster style copying of intellectual property (songs), and thinking about Star Trek's replicator technology, it isn't difficult to piece together the idea of stealing intellectual property and replicating things that are much more advanced.

The divorcee wins his dog from his wife, but she wins the ability to copy the dog for a holographic representation. She then makes that copy available online for download. Before long, there is a copy of Travis Larson's dog everywhere. He hates the way it detracts from Cory's (the dog) uniqueness. He does hold that there is no dog like his dog, even thought there are copies. In the end, he is bothered further by the fact that Cory gets sick and is lethargic, whereas the copies, named Corky, are lively, even if they are just holographic.

It was an interesting idea, which is what science fiction should be about.

To Live and Die in Gibbontown - Derek Kunsken

Derek Kunsken is an author who lives in Quebec. Hey, that's where I'm from. He's got a wordpress webpage where you can learn more about him and follow his activities. However, his posts are very rare. One is a year old, and the other two years old. I don't know if there is anything better available.
This story is set in a world of primates who are quite evolved. Species of apes are represented in much the same way as races are in humans. The main character, Reggie, and the narrator of this first person tale, is an assassin. But, he's no ordinary assassin. His job is euthanasia. He is contracted by people who want to die. In this story, they are all elderly people.

I suppose one might say that this is kind of like Assassin on the Planet of the Apes, but without the humans in the story.

A Hundred Hundred Daisies - Nancy Kress

Nancy Kress has a nice little webpage where you can learn more about her.

The premise of the story is based on a lecture that Nancy heard that proposed the idea that one day we'd be fighting wars over water. One day, the Great Lakes will run out of water, and that might very well be the end of it for life as we know it.

Though, I don't buy the premise. She talks about how they hold 4/5 of the earth's water. OK, I will take her word for it on that one. However, the rest of the world lives off of the remaining 1/5 of the earth's water. How am I supposed to buy the idea that if, suddenly, the Great Lakes lose most of their water that water will somehow become incredibly scarce?

Also, no matter how much global warming we have, we will never lose all our water. Water does not evaporate into space, at least not while we have air to breathe. There are also the awesome contents in the ocean. I realize that we would have to desalinize the water first, but this would be a challenge we could meet. If Abu Dhabi can do it, I feel confident that we could as well. Simply put, when you have your life to save, you can do an awful lot.

The story is about a family of terrorists who are trying to sabotage water pipelines which lead water from the Great Lakes to Tucson and other southern properties. The protagonist, a young man in highschool, remembers the time before the great drought. There had been beautiful fields and flowers, and many other things that they could appreciate. They're all gone. The boy is about to stand trial for murdering someone his father murdered in order to hit the water pipeline.

The story is well told, I just don't think the story holds water.

Concluding thoughts

Well, I think it's pretty much a mixed bag in terms of quality of literature here. Some of it is good, some is really good, a good chunk of it is mediocre. Overall, though, I have enjoyed this edition of Asimov's fiction. This goes for the novellas, novelettes, and short stories. There's definitely less science fiction than I would have liked. $2.99 is not a bad price for a good mixture of work, styles, and ideas.

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Monday, October 31, 2011

Asimov's Magazine - November 2011 - The Novelettes


Well, I thought I would have more rather than less to say about the novelettes. But, as it turns out, I have less to say. Therefore, I have decided to combine my experience and interpretation of the two novelettes into a single post.

The Outside Event

The introduction to the author, Kit Reed, gave me a double take. Initially, I read 'transgendered' when 'transgenred' was written. In any case, she has her own webpage if you want to learn more about her and/or find more works written by her. It's not a great website, but it's certainly better than nothing.

The Outside Event is written from the perspective of a young teenage protagonist. She has gone off to what is a haunted house as a participant in a sort of reality show for writers. The competitors are a mix of young adults. However, it does seem that it's their social relationships that dictate the winner rather than their writing or the quality of their writing. While there are several mentions of how one writer or another manages to write six lines or a page or a few thousand words, this does not really seem to make much of a difference. It is not always clear what the real reason why a single member is eliminated or a swathe of members. There is no voting, there are no competitions or trials for them other than to follow the basic rules set in the beginning of the story.

I think it would be a very interesting topic: scifi reality show. However, I don't know if this novelette is particularly interesting or accurate to the genre. I think she could have done a much better job in this way.

I did not find the story all that interesting, but it did give birth to several ideas of my own. That in itself can be more important than just about anything you can find in a short story.

My Husband Steinn

Eleanor Arnason has a rather healthy list of published credits posted on her Wikipedia article.

Trollet som grunner på hvor gammelt det er, 19...Image via WikipediaThis is a story set in Iceland. Superficially, it's a story about a girl who lives in a hermitage. Far away from civilization, a girl, Signy, ends up winning the admiration of a married troll. That troll she kills or freezes by exposing him to full spectrum lights which resemble the sun's actual rays. He turns to stone as a result. Of course, one could reverse the myth and say that as soon as light appears, it turns out that it's not a troll and it's just a rock that kind of looked like a giant man.

In any case, the troll's wife comes along and finds him frozen in stone. She inquires about the reason, and finds out that her husband had been trying to cheat on her. Rather than get angry at Signy, she forgives her and blames her troll of a husband. Feeling bad for her, Signy takes it upon herself to feed her children.

There is a large hydro dam being built near Signy. As a result, nature and the magical creatures which hide in her embrace, are under a serious threat. Despite the elves best attempts at stopping the construction, it goes on, and they all decide to leave. Signy gets to be a witness of it all, and is asked to keep a historical account describing what happened.

A little further past the surface of this story, there is something a little more interesting. Again, this seems to play with the trope of conflict between religion, substituted with myth, conflicting with science (the building of the dam). It is about  how the further science and engineering encroach upon nature, the further back myth and nature get pushed.

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Asimov's Magazine - November 2011 - The Man Who Bridged the Mist

Kij Johnson readsImage by Philip Weiss via FlickrKij Johnson is a very busy writer. I say this because of her webpage which is uniquely and glimpse at her page on  to see that she is very active. Apparently, she writes a lot, she publishes a number of her efforts in a variety of venues, and she gets nominated for awards. She's even won a few awards, including the Nebula.She also teaches the craft of writing from time-to-time. That all said, time to dig into the relevant work, "The Man Who Bridged the Mist."

This story is very low profile. There is not a lot of action in it. There is some suspense. I'm not sure it's what I would call science fiction, but more maybe something I would liken to fantasy. I don't see anything wrong with that, and since my experience with Asimov Magazine is limited to just the first two stories in this particular edition, perhaps it's not uncommon, or perhaps it is common, for what I'd call a fantasy work to coexist with science fiction.

I suppose, considering the fact that it is about the building of a bridge, that could be considered science. Kit, the protagonist of the story, is an engineer who is building a  bridge... over some funky mist.

The mist would have to be the main antagonist here. Kit's job is to build a bridge over this sort-of river. It's a river of mist, not water. Within that mist lives fish the size of large whales. These whales-sized-fish are fairly common, and are often attracted to certain types of noise. From time to time, a ferry in the act of crossing this river of mist gets swallowed up by one of these 'big ones'.

The culture in which Kit lives is rather primitive. Locomotion is provided by work animals. The ferries are paddled across. So, there are no engines to speak of. He becomes involved with a semi-celebrity of the area, Rasali Ferry, whose name is no coincidence. She is the one who ferries folks across the river mist in her boat.

The language is very fluid. It is skillfully written and it is well polished. Overall, I enjoyed the story - even if there weren't any laser firing spaceships and light sabre wielding green midgets.
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Friday, October 21, 2011

Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine - November 2011 - Stealth

Asimov's 2011 04-05Image by sdobie via Flickr"Stealth" is the first story in this edition of Asimov's Science Fiction. The author is Kristine Kathryn Rusch. She is credited with a number of accolades including winning a Readers' Award, AnLab from Analog, and she apparently now has a series of novels behind her and near fruition projects which will be published shortly.

Overall, I have a mixture of feelings for this novella. There is an overarching sentiment that I am getting from a number of stories, as well as a character type, which I'm starting to find not entirely to my tastes. In fact, I often like to start with a negative that I might leave off with positives. Kind of like eating your salad before you eat your meat or dessert. That said, the protagonist of the story is a 'galaxy's greatest scientist' faced with serious repercussions to her research (people die) which has given her a great deal of guilt over the accidents, and a fear that the technology, if mastery is achieved, might result in the ruling empire's having control over a technology which would give it an overwhelming advantage over her competitors. Thus, it becomes her mission to do her best to destroy the technology as best she might. She therefore becomes something of a terrorist, blowing up facilities while posing as a lead researcher.

Most of the narrative is told through third person limited, confined to the perspective of "Squishy"/Rosealma. Despite being described as a top level genius, there are times where her thoughts seem to parallel those of someone with not much education at all. For instance, the phrase, "She hadn't bothered to learn him in the same kind of depth that he had learned her." I have a hard time living with that line. It's not the type of phrase that a learned person would think. She doesn't use language in the way a scientist would.

One of the strengths of this novella is Rusch's interesting approach to a nonlinear story. It is relatively simple and easy to follow. Each reference to the past which has an effect on the 'now' has its own heading. Using this formula of switching between past and present, she manages to develop her protagonist's history with Quint, a minor antagonist/former-husband who works as security for the very empire she is working to undermine, as well as her reasons for blowing up the research station and showing that this is not her first time.

Rusch also has an excellent ability to fill out scenes with adequate descriptions that add to her story. She is an excellent storyteller. Again, my only quibble is with the sort of language that she uses from time-to-time as it's 'transcribed' from the thoughts of this super-galactic-scientific mind.

In the end, she gets away with sabotage. I don't really like the characters. I don't really like the plot. The only thing I really liked are her excellent descriptive passages and strong ability to conduct a temporally complex story in a very easy to follow way.

Just one thing I'd like to add: the subscription model deletes issues when a new one is loaded on, automatically. It is possible to go to Amazon's website and download a past issue. But then I had a hard time finding it. To be honest, I was not able to find it by hunting for the title. I did make a search for 'Asimov' and was able to find it and continue reading it. However, I think this is a poorly thought out idea. What they really ought to do is query the reader of whether or not they want that edition deleted or not. Also, it was impossible to predict when this would happen. I have a December issue even though it's not quite November yet. I find this annoying. 
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White Stains, Anaïs Nin

Portrait of Anais Nin taken in NYC in 70s by E...Image via WikipediaAnaïs Nin is something of a legend in soft core erotic literature. I remember finding her book on my father's bookshelves. I find most erotic 'literature' to be extremely boring and lifeless. Her stories are incredibly fresh (despite being decades older than I am), based on extremely interesting situations, which all have had a major impact on the development of my erotic psyche. Therefore, when I found the ebook, White Stains, on sale at for 99 cents, I was happy to pick it up.

Now, before I go any further, all of my real problems with this purchase have to do with the formatter who formatted this book. It's really awful. These are short stories which have no table of contents, no marking which one might fast forward to to find a favourite story, one must page through this book page-by-page rather than story-by-story or finding it in the table of contents and linking to it from there. This has got to be the worst ebook I've ever seen for this reason. Even to review it is a bit onerous. Imagine buying a paper book and not being able to navigate except by flipping every every page to get to it, one by one.

That said, as to the stories, they were not bad. There was one about deflowering a virgin which I wasn't terribly fond of, but it was still unique in situation. This gave it an interesting hue despite being in territory that isn't all that interesting to me. I'm not a fan of the deflowering erotica. The setup and buildup, however, are pretty erotic and it's well written.

Another story I liked was a story written in first person from the point of view of the sexual history of a man from the time of his youth. I enjoy it because it makes me think of my own situations which are still fresh in my memory.

Kama Sutra IllustrationImage via WikipediaThere is also an encyclopedia of f**king at the back which was interesting. Her reason for writing it was because she was not aware of any erotic literature that might be the basis of education for the erotic arts. I don't think she knew anything about the Indian Kama Sutra or the Japanese Shijuhatte. Thus, she decided to make one for people to study and read. 

I did not find this section particularly interesting. Also, she uses less than scientific terminology and more sort of the rough vocabulary more likely used by sailors. It's somewhat amusing, but I didn't find it particularly interesting, erotic, or informative.

Maybe it's worth the 99 cents. I guess it is. Ok, it is worth it for 99 cents. But, the formatter really made this book not-so-hot.
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Asimov's Magazine - November 2011

It's Been a Good LifeImage via WikipediaWhat can I say that hasn't been said about Isaac Asimov? Nothing at all, probably. The guy was a phenomenal writer and contributor to the genre of science fiction. Since 1977, this magazine has been publishing a lot of the finest science fiction in short form for 34 years.

On Amazon's site, there is a subscription service which costs $2.99 for a monthly magazine. There are a number of stories in the ebook totalling about 95,373 words, plus four poems, an editorial, three articles including one from scifi legend Robert Silverberg, and a book review. This puts it on par with a 300 page novel. While there are a number of novels on Amazon and for free or significantly reduced prices, Azimov's stories were written by skilled authors and edited by skilled editors. Thus far, the only real competition to this magazine that I have read would be Fantasy and Science Fiction. That magazine is a bimonthly for $.99 for, if I remember correctly, roughly 60k words. Thus, the two magazines seem to be on-par with each other when using a strict words vs. cost comparison. It is likely that my thoughts about Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine will weigh heavily in my mind as I analyze the value of this current edition of Asimov's magazine.

Before writing these initial thoughts about the November 2011 issue, I actually read the first novella and a substantial fraction of the following. Thus far, I am not disappointed with this side of the equation in determining the value of the subscription. I will go into details later. In fact, due to the length of this magazine, I have determined to critique each novella and novelette separately, and the short fiction together with the poems and articles.

Other initial thoughts are that the formatting of this book is very easy to navigate. Controls are clear and intuitive. The table of contents are very clear and easy to navigate and use. The job the designers did on this is excellent and, I think, equal to what Science Fiction and Fantasy magazine did.

One critique I have that is common for all eMagazines thus far is that they seem to review hard cover books exclusively rather than ebooks. I'm reading an eMagazine, not a paper magazine. It ought to reflect that the audience is interested in ebooks rather than paperback books. After all, if we were interested in the paper version, would we not have a physical subscription?

Also, I would not mind seeing a bit of science with the science fiction. I know it's not a science journal. But, surely, they could add an essay section to the online version without too much trouble. There are no constraints in length (practically speaking). I think speculative essays would add a very nice dimension to the magazine.

I do not really like how Kindle magazines cannot be organized by putting back issues into collections. The magazines are immobile from the general titles navigation. This is a problem I have with all the different magazine subscriptions thus far. That said, despite the limitations, I do not regret ordering an eSubscription, and I will likely keep it active for a long time. There are positives that are obvious, but I feel compelled to outline: I'm in Korea, mailing to here is very expensive. I can take the collection on a plane without worrying about adding weight. I do feel that the benefits of eBooks and eMagazines outweigh the drawbacks.
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