Snapshots 16

Here are ten developments of interest to fans:

(1) The original graphic novel The Last Dragon by Jane Yolen will be published by Dark Horse in 2010. “The action-fantasy, with art by Rebecca Guay, will join other titles that the publisher says have successfully attracted a large young female audience.”

(2) Book-A-Minute offers the ultracondensed Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.

(3) The April issue of Apex Magazine will be edited by Michael A. Burstein: “Ever since we published Michael’s collection I Remember the Future, we’ve been hoping that Michael could find the time to edit an issue,” said Jason Sizemore, publisher and editor-in-chief of Apex Magazine.

(4) Follow this link to “Wrath of Khan – The Opera as performed on the Cartoon Network/Adult Swim program Robot Chicken.

(5) Viz Media is launching Haikasoru, a new science fiction imprint that will bring the best in Japanese science fiction and fantasy to English-speaking audiences.

(6) For this SF Scope story about the return of Warren Lapine, Andrew Porter says he would have preferred the headline “Sauron Not Dead After All.”

(7) Sam J. Miller’s blog has lots of insightful analysis about sf on television, including Lost and Battlestar Galactica:

Watching Lost last night, after the initial euphoria died down, I realize – I don’t trust these people. I love the show a ton, I really do, but there’s something about Lost that makes me feel like the producers are used car salesmen trying to rush me through a shiny showroom so I won’t notice how flimsy and cheap all the merchandise is.

(8) There are big cuts at Publishers Weekly. Among those on the chopping block are Sara Nelson, editor-in chief since 2005, and Daisy Maryles, executive editor, who had been with the magazine for more than four decades. Andrew Porter says, “Daisy Maryles always helped me a lot when I was doing my SF/Fantasy at the ABA guides.”

(9) BookViewCafe.com has been invited to participate in New York Review of Science Fiction’s monthly reading series. On Tuesday, February 3, BVC members will be reading at the NYRSF’s new meeting place, 12 Fulton Street in the South Street Seaport in New York City. Scheduled to be on hand include Laura Anne Gilman, Susan Wright, and Sue Lange.

(10) New Zealand’s 2010 Natcon, Aucontraire, will be held in Wellington August 27-29, the weekend before Aussiecon 4, to accommodate fans travelling “down under.” Australian SF Bullsheet recommends visitors to Wellington at that time of year bring sturdy shoes and wet-weather gear.

[For their links included in this post, I thank John Mansfield, David Klaus, Sue Lange and Andrew Porter.]

Selling with Bookmarks

Francis Hamit has become a regular contributor to Henry Baum’s new blog Self Publishing Review. “I will mostly be talking about marketing matters. SPR is already attracting a lot of traffic because it’s very professional in look and Baum is an editor with vision.”

His first bylined piece tells how he uses bookmarks to help sell The Shenandoah Spy. Logically enough, Hamit displays its cover on his bookmarks:

We spent a lot of time on it and we use that image on posters and postcards as well. It sells books, because it gets people to pick up the book. At sixteen cents each, I can’t just give them away to everyone I meet, however. I make them ask. I carry a few in my shirt pocket now, everywhere I go. Sooner or later someone asks and then I give them one. If they don’t buy it then, they probably will later.

Toss Those Awards in the Trash?

Via SF Signal, I read a portion of Adam Roberts’ denunciation of awards:

But awards lists and best-ofs are rubbish […] The problem is timescale.

It is a convention, no less foolish for being deeply rooted, that the proper prominence from which to pause, look back and make value judgments, is at the end of the year in question. This is wrongheaded in a number of reasons. One has to do with the brittleness of snap-judgments (why else do you think they’re called snap?). Take those fans and [awards-panelists] of the 1960s and 1970s who really really thought that the crucial figures of the genre were the often-garlanded Spider Robinson or Mack Reynolds rather than the rarely noticed Philip K Dick. They weren’t corrupt; they just spoke too soon.

It wasn’t Roberts’ rejection of awards that set me off: they’re not everyone’s cup of tea. What hooked me into responding was his superior sneer at a false version of awards history.

Superior sneer: Should the Hugo and Nebula be condemned for failing to ratify Philip K. Dick’s current popularity 40 years in advance? These awards don’t exist to predict the literature that people two generations in the future will value, they celebrate what the current-day community of fans and/or pros value and admire.

False version of awards history: “…the often garlanded…Mack Reynolds”? He wrote hundreds of stories, received exactly one Hugo nomination and two Nebula nominations, and never won either award. And it seems rather sad to pick on Spider Robinson, since according to Dick’s bibliography, Dick had zero short fiction published in the three eligibility years for which Spider received nominations, so how did Spider’s name even enter this conversation? Of course, it’s easier to win an argument if you’re allowed to make up your own facts.

I also challenge Roberts’ belief that fans of the ’60s and ’70s overlooked Philip K. Dick.

Had they done so, it might have been because he did not worship at the altar of technological optimism. In fact, they didn’t overlook or ignore him, he was often up for awards. If he didn’t write Analog stories that was no detriment at all to his fame, merely his pocketbook. In the ’60s, psychological exploration and social satire abounded in sf, no physics degree required. Yes, Dick was pessimistic. Paranoid. It was impossible for Dick to think of something bad enough that the authorities would hesitate to do it, seductively using technology to make us betray ourselves. Yet anybody who thinks these things disqualified a writer from recognition in the ’60s has never seen the stacks of awards in Harlan Ellison’s office.

Now, as a fan who lived through the era in question, I can testify that I really enjoyed Dick’s stories. Time Out of Joint was the first of his novels I read: it was captivating. And when I was in college the SF Book Club brought out editions of his new novels, so I read them all as time went by. Somehow I managed to enjoy his stories without suspecting that he was a dominant voice in the literary dialog of the day. His latter-day reputation as a great sf writer has taken me by surprise, though as far as that goes, good for him! We can only wish he’d lived to enjoy it.

When I’m flying out of Denver there’s an airport bookstore I pass which has the names of top writers decorating the wall around the border of the ceiling. Philip K. Dick is up there. I pass it right before I enter the TSA security line. What could be more Dickian than the future I live in? No wonder he’s widely read.

Returning to Adam Roberts’ critique, he may have no idea who won the awards, but he is certainly right that Dick won very few of them during his lifetime. Was this actually an injustice? I’ll lay out the record, and you tell me if you disagree with my take on the question.

Dick won the first Hugo he was ever nominated for, The Man in the High Castle (1963). So I guess justice was done that year.

His novelette “Faith of Our Fathers” made the final ballot in 1968 and lost to Fritz Leiber’s “Gonna Roll the Bones,” which I have always tried to like, and which must in some sense be a helluva story because it also beat “Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes” by Harlan Ellison who was winning everything in those days (such as the two Hugos his work did win in 1968 for “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” and Star Trek’s “City on the Edge of Forever.”) Dick’s story wove together some wonderfully paranoid ideas. It seems to have haunted Dick, who wrote in 1977: “I think, with this story, I managed to offend everybody, which seemed at the time to be a good idea, but which I’ve regretted since. Communism, drugs, sex, God – I put it all together, and it’s been my impression since that when the roof fell in on me years later, this story was in some eerie way involved.”

His third and last Hugo nomination was for the 1975 novel Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said. It finished behind Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed. I found the Dick novel a more entertaining read, but (confession time) I felt the same way about Anderson’s Fire Time and Niven and Pournelle’s A Mote in God’s Eye. On the other hand, there seemed a general agreement among the rest of fandom that Le Guin’s novel was the most substantial and ambitious, the most deserving of the award. The same Dick and Le Guin novels faced off for the Nebula, with the same result. Does anyone today think Flow My Tears surpasses The Dispossessed? Let’s hear from you.

Philip K. Dick’s problem with the Nebula, the first time he was nominated, is that he had to compete against a great classic of the genre. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and Dr. Bloodmoney both received Nebula nominations in 1966. They lost to Frank Herbert’s Dune. I hope nobody’s complaining about that.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? made the 1969 Nebula ballot (though not the Hugo final ballot) and lost to Alexei Panshin’s Rite of Passage. Consulting the fanzine I was publishing at the time, I see that Richard Wadholm and I never ran out of critical things to say about the Panshin book. On the other hand, I regarded John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar as the novel of the year, not Dick’s story, and Brunner won the Hugo (with no help from me, I didn’t have a vote in 1969). If there was a great schism in the awards scene that year, it had nothing to do with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

I’d say that the ultimate reason Philip K. Dick won few major awards is not because the voters were blind or ignorant, it’s because he wasn’t the only person writing excellent stories in those years.

Austin Road Sign Warns of Zombies

Austin zombie road sign

You think your commute is dangerous? Want to trade those snowdrifts for what some Texans were facing this morning?

Austin drivers making their morning commute were in for a surprise when two road signs on a busy stretch of road were taken over by hackers. The signs near the intersection of Lamar and Martin Luther King Boulevards usually warn drivers about upcoming construction, but Monday morning they warned of “zombies ahead.”

Hamit’s “Do-It-Yourself” Book Tour

Hamit's display

Francis Hamit’s “The Do-It-Yourself Book Tour” was the lead story at Self-Publishing Review on January 28:

Big publishers, when they are trying to make a bestseller, put authors on a 20-city book tour. The idea is to create media buzz, so these combine media interviews and book signings, and are rather expensive. A self-published author, however, can do something similar without breaking the bank. It won’t be 20 big cities, but you will sell books if you do it right.

I was fascinated by the analysis — recommended.

Tor Books Moving?

Well, not this week. However, the offices of Tor Books are housed in New York’s Flatiron Building, which an Italian investor has announced plans to convert into a luxury hotel. Reports say hotels take so long to construct that it might be a decade before the Flatiron Building comes online in its new capacity. If the project goes forward, sf’s leading publisher may be changing addresses in the foreseeable future.

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]

John Updike Dies at 76

Leading American writer John Updike succumbed to cancer in a hospice on January 27. His mainstream fiction attracted the critics, and he also interested sf/fantasy fans for reasons Andrew Porter sums up:

Updike was the author of 61 books, including  The Coup (1978), set in an imaginary African country; The Witches of Eastwick (1984), made into a film starring Jack Nicholson, Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer; Brazil (1994), a venture in magic realism; Toward the End of Time (1997), whose story occurs in 2020, following a war between the United States and China; and The Terrorist (2006), a fictional study of a convert to Islam who tries to blow up the Lincoln Tunnel. His last novel, The Widows of Eastwick, was published in October.

Taking a Pounding

After hitting a 23-year low last week, the British pound has recovered some ground. Still, writes Andrew Porter, Monday’s $1.42 exchange rate is “far from the heady days a few months ago when the exchange rate was $2.04 to the pound. I know one person who has decided not to attend the Montreal worldcon because of the cost.”

Are British fans are finding it more of a struggle to attend North American cons this year?

Porter sighs, “I wish now I hadn’t engaged in my own little bit of currency manipulation, taking £300 home with me from my UK trip in October 2007.”

Nimoy Napkin Message Blots Up Cash

David Klaus reports that last weekend “A Leonard Nimoy-autographed napkin as seen on the sitcom Big Bang Theory was auctioned for the charity Beit T’Shuvah, which is a 12-Step Jewish residential recovery program in L. A.”

The Trekmovie site has the story:

…the Trek-crazy CBS sitcom Big Bang Theory incorporated the gift of a Leonard Nimoy autographed napkin into their Christmas episode. As it turns out, there really is a genuine Big Bang napkin signed by Nimoy, and it is being auctioned off for charity…

David adds: “At this link are further linked a clip from the show with the napkin, and a TV Guide clip with actor Jim Parsons talking about it. The show scene is very funny — I had avoided it, as I had heard it nastily stereotyped sf fans, but I may start watching it now.”