Attention Worldcon Members!

If any of you were members (supporting or attending) of Worldon last year or if you're attending this year, you can nominate works for the 2011 Hugos using the online form on the Chicon 7 site.  You can also nominate of you've already signed up for Worldcon 2013 in San Antonio.You will need your membership info and a Chicon 7 Hugo PIN; instructions are on the form, but hurry because nominations close TOMORROW

I didn't go to Worldcon last year, and I probably won't go this year, but I usually buy a supporting membership even when I don't go for two reasons. The first is that you get the Hugo voting packet, with virtually all the nominated written works in ebook format. The second is that you get to nominate and vote for the Hugos. The numbers are not that big as far as who wins the Hugo—in the hundreds, not in the thousands—and they're even smaller in terms of nominations. Novels have gotten on the ballot with fewer than a hundred nominations.  If there's a book or shorter work out there you enjoyed, and you're eligible, why not nominate it? And if it makes it to the ballot, you will have helped bring it to a wider audience right there. 

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Egyptian hieroglyphics

What makes a story popular?

I have noticed from time to time that people will post about how badly written a best-seller is. This is particularly true for the Twilight series, but also for pretty much any popular fiction. In some cases it's that the writing is weak, and in others it's merely that it's not "literary" enough for some tastes or that it's in a specific genre rather than being mainstream fiction (because everyone knows genre is a synonym for crap, right?). In the case of the Twilight books, it's worth pointing out that many folks (me included) hate aspects of the story more than they dislike the writing. 

I don't know about other writers, but I would much rather have a ton of readers than a ton of good reviews. And popular fiction does, by definition, have lots of readers. What makes a book popular? I've decided it all boils down to the writer being able to make the reader care what happens to the characters. That's story telling (as opposed to writing) in a nutshell. Of course, good writing helps, because it smooths the path to the reader engaging in the story, but if the reader doesn't care about the characters, then it just doesn't matter how well written the story is.

I think this also explains why nothing is universally liked. Personally, I never liked any of Hemingway's novels except for The Old Man and the Sea, and I think it was because I never liked his characters except for that old guy in his little boat.  I think it also explains why a series like Harry Potter could engage adults as well as young folks, and people who never read fantasy before. Rowling made everyone care what happened to the orphan boy who lived in the cupboard under the stairs. Of course, the range of her imagination as far as magical creatures and the meshing of the familiar school setting with unfamiliar magical rules didn't hurt. 

To conclude, I've embedded an amateur but clever video that summarizes the entire Harry Potter series in 60 seconds. I found it on the SF Signal site, even though I linked to the YouTube version.  Enjoy, but beware because there are spoilers!


Secret Garden

Do you reread books?

A recent article in the UK online paper The Mail Online suggests that reading is a better experience the second time you read that particular book. When I was younger, I often reread books. The icon for this post is the cover of The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgeson Burnett (still available as a hardback and free as an ebook, if you don't need the pictures) I must have read that book at least a dozen times, two of them out loud to my children. Of course, kids do like to reread their favorite books. Part of that may be that children learn by repeating. I remember watching a friend's toddler climb in and of an armchair, over and over. He seemed focused but not especially entertained, and I think really he was learning how to climb into the chair to overcome the challenge more than he was having fun. But with a book, kids derive a lot of comfort from the familiar, which often means they want the same story over and over.  

The article in the Mail Online says that rereading offers the chance to get more from the story. And according to a report of an experiment reported last year on Wired, that might be because knowing the ending, far from being a "spoiler," actually made people enjoy reading the story more than learning it as the read. As a writer, that frustrates me! The whole point of building tension is to make the reader want to keep reading. At the same time, I know I still enjoy stories when I now the ending, so maybe there's something in it.  Ergo, I have devised a poll! You need an LJ account to answer it, but please do if you have one. I'd especially like to know which book(s) you like to reread most, so be sure to leave a comment about that.

Poll #1820418 Reading versus Rereading

Do you ever reread books?

No, never. What's the point if you know how it comes out?
Only certain types of books I'll mention in a comment

Do you ever watch movies more than once?

Only certain types of movies that I'll describe in a comment

Do you ever jump ahead to read the end of the book before finishing it?

(Gasp!) No, that would be sacrilege!
Only when I don't plan to actually read the rest of the book
Only when I just can't stay awake to read it and I have to know how it comes out!
All the time. What's the big deal?

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red rose

Video flowers for Valentine's Day

My sister sent me a link to this video. She got my mom's green thumb, so she probably knows the names of all these flowers, filmed with gorgeous time-lapse photography; I know the obvious ones like roses and daisies, but I enjoyed seeing them all.  I hope you do, too!

And Happy Valentine's Day! 

Earth from space

The perils of prediction

A while ago, the folks at Corning glass released a video called A Day Made of Glass in which they illustrated some near-future technology (all using glass!) that they saw us using. It was a pretty cool video and got them a fair amount of attention, but of course, reality catches up with near-future predictions, so they've made a new video called (not very creatively) A Day Made of Glass 2.

I happened to see it on a blog I follow called The Digital Reader (a cool blog if you're at all interested in ereaders and tablets). Nate, the blogger, predicted that by the time we could actually make some of the tech in the video we would actually use tablets very differently. I think that's probably true. Predictions are tricky things; it's even possible to hit one nail on the head and knock another sideways. Look at 2001: A Space Odyssey. That movie was totally wrong about space travel, but it did show a "news tablet" that's very similar in concept to an iPad or other tablet. I confess I never read the short story on which it was based, so I don't know whether to credit Clarke or Kubrick, since he helped develop the script. 

But anyway, the Corning video is a cool video. One of the things shown that I covet most was actually very simple. The cars of the future might have windows where you can tint them on the fly, when the sun is from the wrong directcion, and untint them the rest of the time. Privacy glass was also cool.  Who needs curtains in the future?

I also like the concept of a teaching tool that let you see dinosaurs in place as you walk though the woods. Of course, it would work as well for tigers and other real but endangered wildlife, not just those that are actually extinct. 

Anyway, here's the video.  Enjoy and let me know what you think of the future as envisioned by a glass manufacturer. 

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DC skyline

DC noir goes blue light special

I am so pumped! George Pelecanos, DC-based crime/mystery novelist and screenwriter has published a new novel, a 1970's era crime piece called What It Was. It's not so much that I'm a Pelecanos fan (I don't read a lot of crime fiction, except maybe Elizabeth George) as that I'm tickled pink at his publishers' (Reagan Arthur Books/Hatchette) marketing plan: they're bringing the book out in a pricey limited edition slipcase hardback, a $9.99 trade paperback, and an ebook. For the first month the ebook costs only 99¢! After a month, the price will go up to a still-very-affordable $4.99. 

According to the Wall Street Journal article about the new book, Pelecanos has not sold more than 29,000 copies of any single novel he published since 2005. Mind you, this man has been nominated for and won awards and honors. He wrote for The Wire and Treme, two shows respected for the quality of their scripts. But his recent novels were always released as $24.99 hardbacks, because publishers love hardbacks. 

Pelecanos makes only 17¢ on each 99¢ cent sale, which sounds terrible, but percentage-wise, it's not a whole lot worse than the $2.27 he made on the $12.99 ebook version of his previous novel The Cut. And hopefully, he will sell a whole lot more books!

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tree in snow

When did if get to be almost-Christmas?

Has it really come to this? Blogging once a frigging month! Wow, that is really bad. But I have been busy, really busy. Yesterday I went to a friend's Cookiepallooza cookie exchange, It's a great idea; you bring four dozen home-baked cookies and take home four dozen different cookies (minus any you eat there). And if I hadn't gone to that, I couldn't tell you about my friend's new site called Nook Lovers, which is, no surprise, for folks who like to read on the Barnes & Noble Nook.  Stephanie writes romance as well historical fiction and fantasy, and she's also into digital reading, so she decided to create this site to alert other Nook lovers about free and cheap ebooks for the Nook.

But that was just one weekend (and  didn't even make the cookies myself; my daughter made them for me). What other excuse could I have?

really ugly striped wallpaper

Well, we got new phones, Droid Bionics, and it took a while to learn to use them.  And then between work and the leaking shower (soon to be replaced in a total makeover of the entire bathroom), I have been swamped! In an effort to garner sympathy, I used my new phone to take a picture of the doomed wallpaper in my bathroom. If you know of a contest, feel free to nominate it for the world's ugliest. I have been looking at that wallpaper for over 20 years, so cut me some slack!

See you after Christmas, I promise! 

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Tower Bridge London

The Primeval Conundrum

If you have been to a convention lately in which Connie Willis was a speaker, you will have heard about Primeval. The show is a British science fiction series that also runs on BBC America. Part Jurassic Park and part The Time Tunnel, it posits that ruptures in time allow creatures from other times to come through to ours (always in the UK, for some reason). The series has been on for five seasons and older shows are also available as DVDs and as streaming video. Connie Willis adores this show; she talks about it every chance she gets. And since I respect and like Connie Willis, I thought I would give it a try.  Following her advice, I started with Season 1, episode 1.

Most of the seasons are six or seven episodes but season 3 has 10. I'm only to the end of season 2, so I have a ways to go, but so far I have a love/hate relationship with this show. I love the character development, the way the plot arcs from one episode to the next, and the variety of creatures. What drives me absolutely crazy are the plot holes, especially those that seem to be driven by the need to make the characters look a specific way.

When a team of soldiers are facing monster insects, they don't have on any kind of helmet. These days cops don't face student protesters without Plexiglass face shields, and yet these guys wear body armor but nothing on their heads and necks, leaving them conveniently vulnerable to insect attacks.  Plus, in the first two seasons, our heroes, the team of scientists who are always sent to deal with the creatures that arrive from another time, often go running into danger with no real weapons or protection. What government agency is going to send a handful of scruffily-dressed science geeks to deal with dangerous monsters?

It's annoying because the writers clearly know how to build suspense and hook a viewer, but somehow the marketing department has gotten hold of some of the scripts. Although some of my problems with the stories are the writers' fault. The degree with which the government is able to keep these incidents a secret seems unrelated to the events. A Pteranodon (or something like it) flies over central London in broad daylight and there are no photos or videos posted on FaceBook and YouTube? Have these writers never heard of Twitter? Do they not know how impossible it is to hide anything that happens in the smart phone age, when everyone is a) armed with cameras and b) connected to the web 24/7? These things make me grit my teeth.

But damn, those people do know how to wrap up a season and set a hook for the next one!


BAD Internet Laws Heading Your Way

Originally posted by write_light at BAD Internet Laws Heading Your Way

From the flist: 

Spread the word, even you're not a US citizen, it is important for everyone!! It easy to do and it can change everything. More info by clicking on the banner.

Website Blocking

The government can order service providers to block websites for infringing links posted by any users.

Risk of Jail for Ordinary Users

It becomes a felony with a potential 5 year sentence to stream a copyrighted work that would cost more than $2,500 to license, even if you are a totally noncommercial user, e.g. singing a pop song on Facebook.

Chaos for the Internet

Thousands of sites that are legal under the DMCA would face new legal threats. People trying to keep the internet more secure wouldn't be able to rely on the integrity of the DNS system.

Read this analysis from

Get on the phone and call your representative. Express your disapproval. Tell him or her exactly how you feel, and that you don't support this. Tell your friends to call their representatives, their Congressperson, and complain. Mention that you are a registered voter that takes your civic responsibility seriously and that you will use that vote to express your feelings about this.

“We support the bill’s stated goals — providing additional enforcement tools to combat foreign ‘rogue’ websites that are dedicated to copyright infringement or counterfeiting,” the Internet companies wrote in Tuesday’s letter. “Unfortunately, the bills as drafted would expose law-abiding U.S. Internet and technology companies to new uncertain liabilities, private rights of action and technology mandates that would require monitoring of websites.”  The chamber-led coalition in support of the bill includes Walmart, Eli Lilly & Co. and Netflix.

Google and other opponents of the legislation argue that restricting the Internet in the U.S. sets a bad international precedent and that the language defines infringing too broadly.


WFC Wrap-up (finally!)

I had this all written up immediately after WFC, and then Chrome crashed on me!  LJ is usually great at saving the draft but this time it let me down and a bug chunk was missing.  I always take longer to rewrite than to write, so here you go at last, my wrap-up of the con.

WFC 2011
Except for the Dead Dog party, the World Fantasy Convention is over for 2011. In the interests of continuity, I will pick up with where i left off with my last post.

The one event I left out on Friday was the artist Guest of Honor panel with Ruth Sanderson showing some of her work, illustrations as well as covers. I liked one painting so much I bought a print of it in the dealer's room.

Saturday started with coffee and a muffin from the very well run con suite, and then continued with a panel on the importance of speech and language in fantasy, featuring our very own bogwitch64, who did very well at speaking up, especially when moderator Ellen Kushner wanted to just read aloud from Ursula K LeGuin's treatise on the subject. This being WFC, the audience contained people every bit as knowledgeable as the panel, including the inimitable Carol Berg, who pointed out the exposition in a first person book is really just internal speech by the narrator.  I wished they had used mics, though, because I could not hear well for all of it.

We took a break and went to the nearby shopping center for lunch, and really enjoyed the visit to Stacked, where every table had an iPad with a custom app that function as the menu/order interface. It was actually easy to use and very efficient. It doesn't replace wait staff; liver servers bring your food to your table, but not always the same one.

The afternoon held readings, specifically Daryl Gregory, who read a really nice not-really-SF story about a woman with a brain injury, and a shaggy dog story/dirty joke.  After that was Connie Willis reading the first chapter of her Roswell novel (working title: The Road to Roswell) which was flat out hilarious.

Sunday the big event is the banquet, but first I went to the fantasy artists' panel where John Picacio, Todd Lockwood, and Tom Kirk talked about how they create art. I loved that they were all so different.  John Picacio creates components, some by hand, using paper and similar media, and then assembles the parts in Photoshop.  Todd Lockwood works almost entirely digitally now, and users an application called Painter to draw/paint his art on a tablet using a stylus.  Tim Kirkwood is, among other things, a Disney animator and had some examples of how a Tokyo theme park was designed and created.

Thanks to Rani Graff, I also went to the panel titled Intellectual Property Rights versus the Free Web, which I had not planned to go to, but he pointed out it would be mostly about ebooks, so I was hooked. The panel was interesting partly because literary agent Ashley Grayson pointed out that intellectual property battles are as much about the relationship between authors and their publishers as authors and ebook pirates. The panel also debated the fundamental difference between pirate sites that provide copyrighted books for free and pirate sites that sell books. The second group are much worse partly because customers may not realize they are buying an illegal copy. It was mentioned that geographic restrictions on the sale of ebooks make such sites ubiquitous. 
After dressing up for the banquet, we met up with scottedelman and found a wonderful table right in front of the speaker's podium. The food was okay, and hearing all the award winners announced was very exciting. 
All in all, it was a lovely con. The time zone change hit me more than it ever has, but San Diego is a really nice palce to visit. After the con, we changed hotels and went to some tourist destinations like the zoo, the USS Midway and toured the town by bus and the harbor by boat. 


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