More Amazon Book Pricing Controversy: Random Book News

Time for another edition of Random Book News. But time is short, today, so this is going to be short and sweet — a list of links, as it were. No need to rewrite the wheel, so to speak.

Science Fiction Writers Protest Amazon IPG Move

Locus reports that the SFWA plans to remove a number of links from Amazon — links to its authors’ books. Why would it do this? It’s a response to Amazon removing some 4,000 books from distributor IPG over a pricing dispute; IPG distributes many SFWA authors’ books. SFWA is actually redirecting its links to Amazon to other booksellers, such as Powels, Barns and Noble.

Seems like there’s been a lot of weird and problematic issues with Amazon pricing lately.

NY Times Discusses Pulp, Burroughs, His Barsoom Series, and the Disney Movie John Carter

I’ve read the first four Barsoom books, and while they are a guilty pleasure in many ways, I have to agree with the New York Times’ assessment:

… Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Princess of Mars …  is 100 years old and was already a little dated when it came out. Burroughs … published it in monthly installments in the All-Story Magazine starting in February 1912. It was the first thing he ever wrote, after a lifetime of failing at just about everything else, and he was clearly learning on the job.

Edgar Rice Burroughs, more well-known for Tarzan of the Apes, did away with all logic in creating his sci-fi series. The book is filled with inconsistencies and plot threads that are never followed up. And as science fiction goes, Princess of Mars is not very scientific.

Um, yeah, there is all that. Then there is the sexism and racism. But if you can overlook all that, there is pulpy, manly fun to be had.

Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman (a clever book cover)NY Times Review of Tupelo Hassman’s Girlchild

I confess the only reason this stuck out from the list of headlines in my various RSS feeds was the name of author Tupelo Hassman. A nom de plume? One would assume (and one would be rhyming). In any event, this author’s debut novel sounds interesting, if the Times’ reviewer is any judge.

Grim Reaper Tough on the World of Science Fiction

If you look at the most recent news items on Locus, the first three are obits. Ouch.

Paul Haines was an Australian science fiction author, while Ralph McQuarrie was a designer and illustrator who we’re all familiar with, even if we don’t know his name — he created the look of the first Star Wars trilogy. And by first, we mean the original trilogy; not the craptacular one that came much later. Jack Scovil was a noted literary agent; he worked with many famous authors, among other accomplishments.

Stephen King to Narrate The Wind Through the Keyhole

It’s the first time in a decade that King will narrate an audiobook version of his work, SF Scope reports.

 

 

 

Anthony Shadid’s Memoir, Truth vs. Fact and Life Imitates a William Gibson Novel

I don’t know if it’s just because I’ve been paying attention or because of some arcane aspect of the publishing cycle, but it seems as if there is all sorts of interesting news in the world of books these days. Of course much of what I’m blogging about here is particularly relevant to my interests, namely the books I like to read and subjects I’m interested in. So there you go.

Thus without further ado: Random Book News, Vol. V (or thereabouts):

Is There Room for Facts in Truth?

When I was perusing the New York Times ‘book section – online – last Sunday afternoon while feeding my coffee (shop) addiction, I clicked on a link by accident. Or was it fate? Because I discovered a book that I just have to read, one that I likely wouldn’t have discovered had it not been for that errant click.

On a side note, I absolutely loathe using the touchpad on a laptop, but the little mobile, carpal-tunnel mouse that followed me from Viet Nam to the United States and back to Viet Nam finally died recently, God rest it’s tiny little optical sensor. But in this instance it was perhaps fortuitous happenstance. But I digress.

The Lifespan of a Fact is a nonfiction account of a fact-checker at odds with a nonfiction writer, one who argues that art and truth trump facts – particularly when they inconveniently diverge from the author’s sense of timing and aesthetics.

I’ll let the Times’ review tell the story of The Lifespan of a Fact, and author John D’Agata’s head-butting with the diligent Jim Fingal (Fingal … apparently there is at least one of Tolkien’s Eldar that didn’t sail into the West). I will just add that as a writer and former journalist – some would argue that I’m not former, but we’ll save the semantics debate for some other time – truth vs. fact is a subject near and dear to my heart. On one hand, I understand where D’Agata is coming from, but on the other hand, I feel that we owe it to history to not subvert fact in favor of truth, as truth in this sense becomes subjective.

Part of my attitude undoubtedly comes from having worked as a professional journalist for 20-odd years (and some of them were quite odd years). There there was the time spent at the hardcore journalism school at Ohio University too (not enough money or grades for Columbia or Stanford) – an errant fact in a story was an automatic “F,” usually.

But on the other hand, when it comes to longer forms of nonfiction writing, there is room for art, truth and fact to coexist – at least there is in the hands of a skilled author. Don’t misunderstand me; in the eternal debate over whether or not writing (as distinct from journalism and news reporting), both fiction and non fiction, is art or craft, I tend to lean toward the former. But that doesn’t mean that creation doesn’t require technical skill. A musician must know how harmony and melody work together; a painter must know how to hold a brush and how to use it. In the same way a writer must now how words go together – beyond grammar and punctuation.

Shadid’s Memoir Serves as an Epitaph

House of Stone by Anthony Shadid (book cover)Speaking of journalism and the New York Times, it seems that esteemed foreign correspondent Anthony Shadid, who died of an asthma attack recently while covering the bloody civil strife in Syria, has published a memoir that was just released this week. Although Shadid died Feb. 16 at age 43 – the same age as yours truly – he accomplished more with his time than most, to be sure.

One would think that his memoir would be about his time covering wars all over the world; and if it had been, it no doubt would be a gripping read. Had that been the case it would be an account of winning Pulitzer prizes and getting shot while covering war and bloodshed, including in his ancestral home of Lebanon (Shadid is an American of Lebanese descent who spoke Arabic fluently).

But Shadid left all of that at the office, so to speak, Rather, House of Stone is about a year spent restoring a family home in Jedeidet Marjayoun, Lebanon, following the breakup of his marriage and family. This is framed by an historical account of his family’s flight from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire to the United States.

But as Times’ reviewer, author and New Yorker staff writer Steve Coll notes, House of Stone is a far cry from This Old House: Lebanon.

House of Stone is an elegant narrative that creates unity from diverse elements, much like the Ottoman-era cemento tiles over which Mr. Shadid obsesses and bargains during one stage of his beguiling restoration work. The book tells the story of his family’s migration from Lebanon to Oklahoma early in the 20th century, and along the way it illuminates the consequences of the Ottoman Empire’s fall; the binding ties of bayt, or home and belonging, in Arab families; the workplace ethics of Mr. Shadid’s small construction site in Lebanon; and the flavors of that battered society’s bitterness and resilience.

I think I’m going to have bump this one up to the top of my long, long list.

Amazon.com Bots: I’m Afraid I Can’t Do That, Dave

I don’t always agree with what Corey Doctorow has to say, and I’ve never read his fiction (although it’s on my list, as I’m curious). But he does tend to frequently post interesting book and publishing-related news on seminal blog Boing Boing.

Take for example this “damned weird story,” as he puts it:

Carlos Bueno, author of a kids’ book about understanding computers called Lauren Ipsum, describes what happens when the cadre of competing bots that infest Amazon’s sales-database began to viciously fight with one another over pricing for his book.

Amazon.com’s many bots feud over book-prices

Apparently Bueno isn’t the only author finding that Amazon’s HAL 9000 is acting strangely.

Veteran author Jim C Hines offered some of his titles independently direct through Amazon’s Kindle store. He discovered that Amazon reserves the right to arbitrarily reprice his books — slashing the cover price of a $2.99 title to $0.99 — and pay royalties on the lower price.

Author discovers that Amazon can reprice his indie Kindle books however they want and cut his royalties

Kind of amazing, stunning even, to consider that the world of ebooks and ebook publishing is really only about five years old or so, and yet it’s come to this already. Perhaps HAL, the errant, sentient computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey isn’t an apt metaphor so much as the Borg from Star Trek: The Cheap Imitation The Next Generation. We are Amazon. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.

Science Fiction Author Dave Marusek Gives It Away

The Wedding Album by Dave Marusek (book cover)I think I originally discovered this on Boing Boing as well. Author Dave Marusek is notably going about things backwards, or so it would seem. Marusek penned the successful novella The Wedding Album, which was originally published in Asimov’s and subsequently reprinted a number of times and translated into five different languages as well.

He recently published the novella as an ebook, along with My Morning Glory, a collection of three so-called flash science fiction stories that originally appeared in the scientific journal Science. What’s more, he gave them away for free, in both Kindle and Nook formats, for one week each. I’m not sure what format the Nook version was, but the Kindle version is in Amazon’s proprietary standard.

Marusek explains why he’s ebpublishing an already successful print book in an lengthy and interesting post on his blog:

Not to make too big a deal about it, but this is more than just a book launch. It’s also the launching of my new role as e-publisher. The synergistic, skill-extension effect of the personal computer and the Internet has finally caught up with authorship, and all hell is breaking loose. With the introduction of the Kindle only three years ago, the traditional barriers to book manufacture and distribution have been battered down. Tens of thousands of aspiring authors have rushed in where only traditional publishers used to tread. Now, literally, anyone who’s ever wanted to publish a real book (in both digital and POD editions) and sell it around the world can do so at minimal cost and fuss. (Grammer, speling & punctuation is optional; )

Suddenly there are channels to put books into the hands of the reading public that do not involve traditional publishing. Trailblazing authors have already racked up digital bestsellers without NYC’s input. Traditional publishing is reeling with the changes and trying to adapt, and someday it may figure out a new business model (transmedia novels, anyone?). In the meantime, we mid-list authors of the old regime are scrambling to stay afloat in the new. One thing many authors are doing, now that we’ve been given the tools, is to bring out our backlists in ebook format. I’m giving that a try; in my case I only own the ebook rights to my short stories, and I’m only planning on e-publishing these few. (You can already buy “MMG” and “TWA” along with 8 other stories in my Del Rey collection, Getting to Know You.) If all goes well, I may self-pub my next novel, Camp Tribulation, (partly because I’m doubtful any legacy publisher will touch it–it’s that good!–or, maybe it’s no good at all; I don’t know; still too early to tell; it’s about two years away from completion).

One may wonder why I am e-publishing “TWA.” After all, it’s been reprinted about a dozen times and translated into five foreign languages and is easily found on pirate sites. Hasn’t everyone already read it who’s going to read it? I hope not. The fact that it has done so well for so long suggests that, given a little nudge, it might have the right stuff to find new readers on its own who may become new fans.

I may be one of those new fans. I’ll let you know before too long; I took advantage of the giveaway and downloaded both. But as someone who has been through the violent crash of print journalism and the Internet – literally at ground zero, in Silicon Valley – I can sympathize with the Marusek’s of the world and the a changin’ times. Believe me.

Grove Press’ Barney Rosset Dies

I’m only passingly familiar with Grove Press, having read a few well-thumbed volumes published by this imprint back in my university days, Beckett, Burroughs and whatnot – the kind of books that I wanted to read in college, but never really seemed to get around to reading. Yes, a bit cliché, I know.

Anyway, Grove Press’ founder Barney Rosset died last week at age 89.

Download the Universe: Niche Reviews for eBook Niche

As Carl Zimmer notes on the inuagural blog post of Download the Universe, science books have been around for about as long there have been books – and important books at that. Look at all the trouble Darwin’s Origin of the Species has caused.

Download the Universe is a new book review blog dedicated to science ebooks – not the print ones, but specifically the electronic ones. As Zimmer says:

Many of the necessary elements are falling into place for this experiment. Programming is becoming painless and powerful. Readers can buy ebooks with a tap on a sheet of glass. And there are enough readers now that they can conceivably support a community of ebook authors.

But there’s something missing in between. It is still tough for readers to discover new science ebooks. Traditional book reviews limit themselves to works on paper. Some ebooks may appear in computer magazines, but buried in reviews of laptops and printers. In between, we need a community.

Download the Universe is a step towards that community. It is the work of a group of writers and scientists who are deeply intrigued by the future of science books.

Among the editors – many of whom are authors themselves – listed on the site, I spied some familiar names (to me, at least, being the nerd that I am). Among them are: Annalee Newitz, whose byline has been popping up in alternative pubs for some time and who is currently editor-in-chief at Io9; Jennifer Ouellette, science writer and blogger (Cocktail Party Physics, anyone?); and Maggie Koerth-Baker, who I’m familiar with from her work on Boing Boing.

An interesting and worthy endeavor, Download the Universe is. Among the reviews there already is an essay on a subject near and dear to my heart: The state of the eBook, early 2012, by John Trimmer. It’s a nice overview of where the market and the technology stands at the moment. As I noted earlier, it’s hard to believe that the ebook market has only been around for five years, and the Kindle for three.

Living in the future is cool.

J.K. Rowling to Pen Adult Novel

I’m sure a lot of copy editors initially wrote headlines like this when the news first broke a few weeks ago that Harry Potter author Rowling has a new book in the works, this one aimed at big boys and girls. Then said editors paused and thought “wait, no, that sounds like she’s writing a pornographic novel.” And then they opted for headlines that were perhaps more clear.

To wit, this new book is to be for an adult audience, in that it’s not going to be written for children – not, ostensibly, an adult book in the sense that Anne Desclos’ The Story of O is a decidedly prurient adult novel.

Not that prurience is necessarily a bad thing. And judging by some of the freaky, twisted Harry Potter fanfic out there, there would be a market should Rowling decide to turn to erotica. Just think: The Story of H. As in Hermione’s erotic awakening at the hands of a dashing, elder professor at Hogwarts — we know she has a penchant for dashing professors, after all.

Moving on …

“Although I’ve enjoyed writing it every bit as much, my next book will be very different to the Harry Potter series. … ” Rowling said in a statement – statement meaning that this was her marketing-and-PR-approved quote composed by some poor sap at Little, Brown and Company’s PR firm, and not words that she actually said in front of a journalist (God, as a former journalist I have always wanted to write that. Now I have). “The freedom to explore new territory is a gift that Harry’s success has brought me.”

Anyway, there apparently aren’t any more details out there beyond that. Publisher Little, Brown and Co. merely announced that it acquired the rights to Rowling’s next novel; there is no word on when Rowling’s next effort will appear in bookstores.

Having said that, I will I say that I enjoyed the Harry Potter series. I reread all the books while on a recent vacation and can say that they stood up to the scrutiny of a second reading, for the most part, particularly the earlier works. They are not without minor faults here and there, but then most published works rarely are, and it’s to Rowling’s credit that she was able to maintain the quality of her writing across the seven works. So many sequels to initially successful popular fiction books today are clearly half-assed attempts to cash in on said success; it’s often painfully clear when an author is phoning it in and subsequently cashing in.

On the other hand, Deathly Hallows could have used some editorial pruning. But then given Rowling’s rock-star status and the tendency toward bloat in popular fiction today, I suppose that’s no surprise. In any event, it will certainly be interesting to see where Rowling’s muse leads her post Potter.

Life Imitates Art: Gawker Editor Lives William Gibson Novel Pattern Recognition

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson (book_cover)This is a strange post-modern tale, if there ever was one. Someone sets out to discover the creator of a Clickbank ebook seller website – ostensibly just one plot in an entire Clickbank content farm. Why would someone do this? Well it seems that creator of said horse-related ebook site, in order to get around Twitter’s spam bot filters, has set up an automatic scrape of random books and websites, publishing them out of context as tweets several times a day, ostensibly to pad the obvious spam bot tweets.

This random text has apparently developed a genuine cult following.

About seven times a day, Horse_ebooks spurts out bits of context-free nonsense, like: “Worms – oh my god WORMS,” and “I noticed that my hair grew faster from spending time in my pyramid.”

The feed’s strangely poetic stream has been embraced like a life-preserver by internet users drowning in a sea of painfully literal SEO headlines and hack Twitter comedians. Since it appeared in August 2010, word of Horse_ebooks has spread steadily, propelled by blog posts and Twitter chatter by internet obsessives. But unlike many internet culture phenomenons, it never truly went viral. Horse_ebooks is too weird, too much of an acquired taste to break into exponential growth.

Being one of the obsessives, Gawker editor Adrian Chen — quoted above — set out to find out who was behind Horse_ebooks. But it seems that some among the community were afraid this revelation might dispell the magic, prompting threats.

Seriously, this is straight out of William Gibson. Chen actually manages to discover the identify of this person, after doggedly pursuing his identity through the WhoIs information of his many websites – he’s a Russian web developer, but of course – and confirming it through a Facebook page, where there was a link to the developer’s personal portfolio website.

Ah brave new world, that has such webpages in it.

Now this is only tangentially related to books and book reviews. But if you’ve read Gibson’s 2003 novel Pattern Recognition, then you can see the parallels between this work of fiction and Chen’s story are downright eery – so much so, that I just had to comment on it.

Life imitates art — specifically that of William Gibson. As he himself has observed, he no longer has to write about the future; the present has gotten plenty weird as it is.

Random News on Books, Vol. II

All sorts of miscellaneous book news to catch up on while I’ve been slacking lo the past week and a half or so. I have a good reason for this slackness: I’ve caught the graduate school bug yet again – it seems to strike every three years or so, but this time it feels likely to be terminal. I’ve even got it narrowed down to specific MFA programs I will try and get into (and the backup MA programs if I don’t, which is a distinct possibility). So the next six months is going to be spent studying for the GRE (again) and writing and workshopping (no, not technically a verb) the piece(s) I will submit with my applications.

But that’s neither here nor there.

First off: yet more awards are in the offing. Must be that time of year, I suppose.

Nothing is Absolutely So

Theodore Sturgeon in 1972 (reportedly). Not sure who took it or holds the copyright; if anyone can supply that info, please do. The above headline – or text in between the title tags – is Sturgeon’s Law, as stated by the man himself. Of course most people, myself included, have come to think of Sturgeon’s Law as the old saw about 90 percent of science fiction being derivative crap. Reportedly his actual quote was this:

Ninety percent of science fiction is crud, but then, ninety percent of everything is crud.

One wonders what he would think of this year’s crop of his eponymous award finalists (and that’s not meant as a comment on this year’s field one way or the other). In case you are wondering, the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas administers/curates/decides Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award; is  by its intent is to honor outstanding short stories or other short works of science fiction.

Sturgeon, of course, was one of – some might even say “the” – authors of the Golden Age of Science Fiction, a contemporary of Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, and van Vogt. Not everyone includes Arthur C. Clarke in that list, but I most assuredly do. Anyway, without further ado:

  • Eleanor Arnason, “Mammoths of the Great Plains” – (chapbook)
  • Damien Broderick, “Under the Moons of Venus” – Subterranean (Spring)
  • Elizabeth Hand, “The Maiden Flight of McAuley’s Bellerophon” – Stories: All-New Tales
  • Geoffrey A. Landis, “The Sultan of the Clouds” – Asimov’s, September
  • Yoon Ha Lee, “Flower, Mercy, Needle, Chain” – Lightspeed, September
  • Paul Park, “Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance” – Fantasy and Science Fiction, January / February
  • Robert Reed, “Dead Man’s Run” – Fantasy and Science Fiction, November / December
  • Alastair Reynolds, “Troika” – Godlike Machines
  • Steve Rasnic Tem, “A Letter from the Emperor” – Asimov’s, January
  • Lavie Tidhar, “The Night Train” – Strange Horizons, 14 June
  • Peter Watts, “The Things” – Clarkesworld, January

You know, I’ve never read Sturgeon’s seminal novel, More than Human. I’ve read plenty of his stories in anthologies over the years, but somehow I’ve never read this novel. I think I need to remedy that forthwith.

One other interesting tidbit about Sturgeon: he had a profound influence on Star Trek and the subsequent Star Trek universe. He wrote the screenplays for two of the more popular episodes of the original series. Including “Amok Time,” the one in which Spock has to get his groove on – or die. Among the enduring impact of Sturgeon on Star Trek, he gave us: the concept of pon farr, the aforementioned Vulcan ritual for getting it on, i.e., mating ritual; the concept of the Prime Directive, which has helped fashion all manner of plots across the entire spectrum of Star Trek series; and then there is the peculiar Vulcan greeting, including the hand salute and the phrase “live long, and prosper.”

The proper, polite response to this is, of course, “peace, and long life.” Yes, I am a nerd in general and trekkie in particular. And yes, I opt for the phrase that most of my brethren shun. Bones is doctor, dammit, and I am a trekkie, not a trekker. Reclaim the word for our own, I say.

But I digress.

Nod to a Golden Age with the John Campbell Award

While Sturgeon is a seminal author, John Campbell was a seminal editor of science fiction, so much so that if it weren’t for him, there might not have been a Golden Age of Science Fiction; it might never have emerged from its pulp roots and into the realm of literature. Of course there are a lot of stuffed shirts who think that it still hasn’t, but we, dear gentle reader, know better, of course.

Anyway the Golden Age certainly would have been somewhat less gilded had it not been for Campbell. Without him it might have remained the Stone Age of Science Fiction; the field might have managed to make it to the Bronze Age of Sci Fi at best. Really if we were to continue this metaphor to its conclusion a more apt name would be the Steel Age of Science Fiction as opposed to the Golden Age. I’m just sayin’ (and digressing).

The good folks at the University of Kansas and the Center for the Study of Science Fiction are also responsible for the eponymous Cambell Award. This is apparently the center’s nod to the science fiction novel.

  • Yarn, Jon Armstrong (Night Shade)
  • Hull Zero Three, Greg Bear (Orbit)
  • Zero History, William Gibson, (Putnam)
  • C, Tom McCarthy (Knopf)
  • The Dervish House, Ian McDonald (Gollancz/Pyr)
  • New Model Army, Adam Roberts (Gollancz)
  • The Quantum Thief , Hannu Rajaniemi (Gollancz/Tor)
  • Veteran, Gavin Smith (Gollancz)
  • The Waters Rising, Sheri S. Tepper (Eos)
  • Aurorarama, Jean-Christophe Valtat (Melville House)
  • Anthill , E. O. Wilson (Norton)
  • Blackout/All Clear, Connie Willis (Spectra)
  • How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, Charles Yu (Pantheon)

Notably, Nebula award winner Connie Willis is on here for her duology Blackout/All Clear. I just finished reading Blackout, and am reading All Clear. Also, I’m – somewhat – surprised that Gibson’s Zero History keeps showing up on all these award lists. Not that it isn’t deserving, because it is, but it’s not really science fiction. The so-called Bigend trilogy, of which Zero History is the third, is set in the current day, and none of the technology depicted in it, while advanced, all exists today, so technically it’s not science fiction, by the strictest definition of the term.

Of course if we take his entire oeuvre, we can call Gibson a science fiction author, so I suppose I’m splitting hairs.

Alison Bechdel Becomes a Fellow

An excerpt from Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir, Fun Home. Copright is hers, of course.I love comic artist Alison Bechdel, the author of the long-running comic Dykes to Watch Out For. If you aren’t familiar with DTWOF, as you might guess from the name it’s a so-called alternative comic strip; you would not have found it in your daily mainstream hometown paper. You might have found it in your hometown alt weekly, however. If you missed it the first time around there are several collections of DTWOF comics; I can highly recommend them. Dykes was probably one of my favorite comics of all time; it ranks right up there with Bloom County and its successors in my humble estimation.

Bechdel is also known for her graphic novel, the autobiographical memoir of her relationship with her father, Fun Home. Fun Home is a wonderful work, a truly moving piece. Some may debate whether the graphic novel is literature; to them I would suggest they read Fun Home and then tell me that it’s not.

Anway, Bechdel is going to be serving as a Mellon Fellow at the new Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry at the University of Chicago; she will be co-teaching a course on autobiographical comics.

Attention New York Times: Hüsker Dü Wasn’t Metal

Despite this assertion that Bob Mold made “metal music for the kind of people who don’t like metal” — the ironic  umlauts in the name must have fooled ’em — it’s cool that the New York Times reviewed Bob Mold’s autobiography See a Little Light, The Trail of Rage and Melody. Bear in mind I’m almost but not quite a nerd when it comes to metal and punk; I’m more of a geek in that respect, as opposed to a nerd (if you want to get fussy about the terms, and being such, I do).

I suppose some of his music might be classified by the ignorant as metal, but doubt any serious connoisseur/anyone who came of age in the 1980s and early 1990s would. But then labels are subjective. One person’s garage rock is another one’s proto-punk, for example. ]

Anyway, Bob Mold has published an autobiography. That’s news in and of itself. If you had asked me back in oh, 1989 or so, that someday I’d be reading a review of Bob Mould’s autobiography in the New York Times, I would have said something along the lines of “No way! GTFU!”

More Bad News

It has been a tough spring for science fiction and fantasy authors and artists, to say the least. Now we learn that British author John Glasby, a contemporary of the aforementioned Golden Era greats, died June 5; he was 82. A prolific author, he started out writing science fiction in the 1950s, but is perhaps better known for his later work in the fantasy and horror/supernatural genres. He continued to write almost up to the time of his death; his last work, a science fiction novel, Mystery of the Crater, came out just last year.

According to Locus many of his earlier works are soon to be republished here in the United States, and also has a few works yet to be published.

I also see on Locus that author L.A. Banks is in the hospital with late stage adrenal cancer. I’m familiar with her work – L.A. is short for Leslie Esdaile, presumably – from a few fantasy/paranormal short story anthologies; but she is quite prolific in several genres, including crime/suspense and romance. If you want to leave an encouraging note for Leslie, or even make a donation for her mounting medical expenses – no employer-supplied health insurance for authors – just follow that link.

As I was in the process of posting this and double checking a link, I saw a notice that author and editor Alan Ryan had died. I am more familiar with the many short story anthologies he put together and edited. But he also published a lot of short fiction in the horror genre as well. A more complete obituary for Alan Ryan can be found over at the Too Much Horror blog.

Obituary: Joel Rosenberg

Fantasy and science fiction author Joel RosenbergScience fiction and fantasy author – and presumed card-carrying NRA member — Joel Rosenberg died June 2; he was 57.

I confess I’ve never read Rosenberg’s work, but do know of it, thanks to my Dungeons and Dragons-playing friends back in high school. I believe Rosenberg was one of the first, if not the first, to to take the setting of DnD and similar role playing games and use them as the setting for several of his fantasy novels. That would include his first and perhaps most well-known series, Guardians of the Flame.

This series had an interesting conceit – very “meta” as the kids say today; it is literally about a group of college kids playing a DnD-like RPG who get magically transported to the realm depicted by the game. Suddenly they presumably have to wield actual swords as opposed to graph paper and 20-sided dice.

Let’s think about that a moment. So we have Tolkien and Lewis, et al, creating fantasy worlds that inspired the settings for tabletop RPGs. Then that came full circle with Rosenberg and everyone that came after him; today we have any number of authors writing fantasy series based on RPG games. It’s sort of the ultimate fan fiction, or perhaps meta marketing.

As I say, I’ve never read any his Guardian books, but I heard them discussed often enough; the first one in the series, The Sleeping Dragon, came out in 1983; over the next 20 years Rosenberg published nine more books in the series. I remember more than one DnD or some similar game getting an impromptu pause to compare and contrast the game in front of us with the one from Rosenberg’s novels.

More than once the dungeon master was compared to Rosenberg and found wanting.

The cover of The Sleeping Dragon by Joel Rosenberg, first in the Guardians of the Flame seriesNow that I think about it, I’m not sure how I never got around to reading any of his work. Many friends have read his stuff over the years; he was quite prolific, writing other fantasy series, such as Mordred’s Heirs – an alternate fantasy, so to speak, in which Arthur loses to Mordred. I know all this off of the top of my head, just from having listened to other people discuss it (okay, I did have to go to Rosenber’gs Wikipedia to look up the date Sleeping Dragon was published.

Apparently Rosenberg has also published science fiction – “I do write about Jews in space with big guns” – and mysteries (thank you Wikipedia). The Jews in space I believe refers to his Metsada Mercenary Corps series.

What I also didn’t know, having read a few other obituaries on Locus and whatnot today, was that Rosenberg was apparently quite the activist when it came to his Second Amendment rights – that would the be the right to bear arms, for those of you not paying attention in history and civics classes. No mention on whether he ever joined his state militia – arming state militias being the original intent of that amendment (something that gun lobbyists seem to be inclined to forget – sorry, couldn’t resist pontificating just a little bit; I’ll stop now).

Anyway, Rosenberg was a staunch advocate of gun rights and ownership; apparently he was involved in a legal brouhaha stemming from an incident in November of last year in which he walked into Minneapolis city hall wearing a handgun. How staunch was he? Very – I submit to you yon Youtube video in which Rosenberg demonstrates all the different ways one can wear a holstered handgun.

His wife posted the details of Rosenberg’s death on her blog:

On Wednesday afternoon, June 1, 2011, Joel had a respiratory depression that caused a heart attack, anoxic brain damage and major organ failure. Despite the very best efforts of the paramedics and the team at Hennepin County Medical Center, Joel was pronounced brain dead at around 5:37pm Thursday June 2nd, In accordance with his wishes, he shared the gift of life through organ and tissue donation.

He is survived by his daughters, Judith Eleanor and Rachel Hannah, and his wife, Felicia Herman. Today, June 3rd would have been his 32nd wedding anniversary.

Felicia

It really is a shame to lose someone like that at only 57; surely there were more books to be written. Regardless of how one feels about the gun lobby, he sounds like an interesting character, and I know my young friends always spoke highly of his works.

Postscript: I cadged the photo of Rosenberg from his author entry at the Fantastic Fiction site; no credit is given on the photo. Should anyone happen upon this who does know who took the photo, please let me know.



Obituary: Jeffrey Catherine Jones

Yellow Man by Jeffrey Catherine JonesArtist Jeffrey Catherine Jones died last week on May 19, age 67. I just learned about it a little while ago after checking in with the blog of one of my favorite contemporary authors, Caitlín R. Kiernan (actually  I was looking up how to spell her name; I usually peruse her blog in what passes for morning for me/afternoon for everyone else).

Like many popular cover artists or comics illustrators, Jones is an artist that you and many others may not know by name but nevertheless would recognize her work, even though you may not know it as such when you see it. But if you read fantasy or science fiction you have most likely seen it, at least on bookstore or library shelves. She was quite prolific in the 70s and 80s — she did the art for some 150 book covers through 1976, according to Wikipedia — although she worked right on up until she died, apparently.

Silver Robe by Jeffrey Catherine JonesI first noticed her work on the cover of an Andre Norton novel — which one it was escapes me now — but it was the first time I was so captivated by book cover art that I actually sought to learn more about the artist and see more of their work. This was long before the Internet, which meant consulting card catalogs, making requests for books through librarians, and waiting  — a foreign concept in these days of instant digital gratification.

But I can remember how cool it was when The Studio art book finally arrived at my library, having been reserved for me; this was a collection of Jeffrey Jones’ work, along with artists Bernie Wrightson, Michael William Kaluta and Barry Windsor-Smith originally published in 1979. Jones shared studio space with them in the 1970s, and I subsequently got turned onto other artists — but Jones’ work captivated me the most.

It was that book that lead me to discover the adult illustrated fantasy magazine Heavy Metal, which featured a comic that Jones drew; it (and the magazine in general) made quite an impression on my pre-teen self (probably explains a few things). And comic doesn’t seem like quite the right term — graphic serial, perhaps.

Voyage by Jeffrey Catherine JonesI’ve always hated obituaries — as a reporter I’ve had to write a few, back in the day.  How can you sum up a life in a few words? You simply can’t — certainly not as a stranger.  You could write thousands of pages and still not cover the meaning of a person’s entire life, not really — certainly not those that knew them.

Nevertheless, for what it’s worth …

Jones received a fan artist Hugo Award in 1967 and captured the professional artist Hugo Award in 1970, ’71, and ’72. She received a nomination for a World Fantasy Award for best artist in 1975 and won it eleven years later in 1986. In 1999 she received a nomination for a Chesley Award for artistic achievement; in 2006 she received the accolade of Spectrum Grandmaster.

Born in 1944 in Atlanta, Georgia, Jones went on to lead an interesting life by anyone’s measure before a combination of emphysema and congestive heart failure took her life 67 years later. You can read more about it here in Jeffrey Catherine Jones own words; much of her artwork can also be found at her website. If you’re wondering about the “Jeffrey Catherine,” as she relates in her biography, she had always identified as being a girl, despite having been born a boy.

Some of my early memories come from about the age of 4 or 5. By then I knew I wanted to be a girl. Maybe I was born with a kind of gender inversion —  some call it a birth defect. I know nothing of these things. I do know that my identification has always been with females– in books, movies, art and life. My best friends have always been female and I have always been exclusively physically attracted to females.

So, along comes puberty. Whoa! We were all confused, I know, but within that maelstrom was my desire for, and the desire to be, a girl. Until the age of 12 I knew nothing regarding sexual matters. I saw boys with girls. That’s what I saw. In the south, in the ’50s there were no gays and no lesbians, and certainly no one like me. So I became secretive. In my own mind I became ashamed, guilty and worthless — this was the road I started down so long ago.

Of course I didn’t know back when I first discovered her work that she was transgendered; back then as a kid growing up in Cincinnati in the early 1980s, I would have had no idea what that word even meant. And it goes without saying that it doesn’t matter to me as someone who admires her art, but it seems to me it bears mentioning in her obituary.

Despite identifying as female all her life, she didn’t begin transitioning to a woman until 1998. How difficult that must have been I can’t begin to fathom. Certainly puts one’s own traditional troubles with the opposite sex (or the same sex, if one is so inclined) into perspective — at least I never had to question who was looking back at me in the mirror.

One can’t help but wonder how this psychological trauma influenced her art; she doesn’t really delve into this in her autobiography on her website that I can see (I confess that I’ve only skimmed it at the moment — I didn’t even know she had a website until just now. But she does have some interesting observations on women as artists). If she had never had gender identity issues, what would her art of have been like? The same? Different? If the latter, than how? Then there is the larger question — are we the products of our genetics or our environment? Or some combination?

Jeffrey Catherine Jones, 11/10/1944-5/19/2011

Amazon 0, by Jeffrey Catherine Jones

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