Mark Owings (1945-2009)

Mark Owings, a founding member of the Baltimore Science Fiction Society, died of pancreatic cancer on December 30.

As the late Jack Chalker told the story, BSFS was created at the suggestion of David Ettlin, who in 1961-1962 was attending Washington SF Association meetings with Chalker, Mark Owings and Enid Jacobs:  

Coming back from a WSFA New Year’s party, crowded in the back of a bus, Ettlin proposed that we form a club to meet on the weekends between WSFA. We weren’t math majors, so we picked second and fourth Saturdays (WSFA was and is first and third Fridays) and these days are often not a week after WSFA but the next night!

The first meeting was in Dave Ettlin’s family basement, with the principals present, and Joe Mayhew from DC. In the early days Ettlin was the big recruiter and the club mushroomed to a dozen or fifteen people. The meetings, held in members’ homes, were popular and we became a nationally recognized SF club. Mark, Joe, and I are still members of the club [Jack was writing in 1996]. Dave Ettlin, now editor of the Baltimore County edition of the Sunpapers, still keeps in touch.

Chalker and Owings collaborated on two major bibliographic works, The Index to the Science-Fantasy Publishers and The Revised H.P. Lovecraft Bibliography.

[Via Elspeth Kovar.]

Writers Overboard!

Andy Hunter takes arms against a sea of troubles besetting the publishing industry today:

In these stormy times, large publishers are jettisoning everything they can in order to lighten their sinking ships. What are they tossing overboard? Among other things, promising authors who haven’t found an audience, as well as anything too literary, difficult, or narrow in appeal. As Random House clings to the desperately inflated Dan Brown, hoping a 5 million print-run and gargantuan promotional budget will keep its head above the waves, what becomes of the cast-offs? Might some happy-go-lucky independents haul a few brilliant writers into their skiffs? And what steps can independents take to ensure they are able to support the new writers and roles they’ll be taking on?

[Thanks to Francis Hamit for the link.]

Digital Outsells Paper on Christmas Day

Amazon reports that it sold more books in digital format than in paper form on Christmas Day.

Just coincidentally — Diana gave me a Kindle for Christmas. Honestly, I did not mortgage the house to buy the entire Boxcar Children series for Sierra! I only bought Patrick O’Brian’s Navy and accidentally bought something else they quite readily cancelled with a second click of the Kindle. I’m enjoying it a lot so far.

Also in e-book news — Borders has joined the digital bookselling gold rush via an investment and business relationship with Kobo. 

[Thanks to John Mansfield for the story.]

2010 FAAn Awards Ballot

Corflu Cobalt has released the 2010 FAAn Awards ballot.

Fans aren’t required to have a membership in Corflu Cobalt to vote. But there is an eligibility requirement – “Anyone with the necessary knowledge of the people and their work is eligible.”

Any voter whose acquaintance with the field may not be self-evident to administrator Mike Meara should use the space provided on the ballot to name a fan (including contact information like an email address) who can vouch for them. Incidentally, should you be tempted to turn the tables on him, Meara published Lurk and Knockers from Neptune in the 1970s and 1980s and is currently active on various e-lists and in attending UK conventions.

The fanzine fans’ convention takes place March 19-21, 2010 in Winchester, UK. Attending memberships, which include the Sunday brunch banquet, currently go for £45 (UK) or $65 (US). Rates will go up after January 16. Supporting memberships are £10 (UK) or $15 (US).

[Via Ansible Links.]

Christmas Traditions

Toppers on the Hugos from Millennium Philcon, L.A.con II, Aussiecon 2 and L.A.con III.

Toppers on the Hugos from Millennium Philcon, L.A.con II, Aussiecon 2 and L.A.con III.

Every newly married couple has to reconcile the holiday traditions they grew up with. Probably the most difficult conflicts to negotiate are the mutually exclusive choices. 

For example: To top the Christmas tree with an ornament or not? Diana and I took years to find an answer that pleased both of us. 

I grew up in a family that always topped the Christmas tree with a star-shaped ornament. Diana, on the other hand, likes a Christmas tree without anything on the top branch. 

Eventually she thought of an alternative that works for us. Now we put the tree-topping ornaments on my Hugos, not on the tree.

Taral Wayne: Defending Ursula Le Guin

Ursula Le Guin’s resignation from the Authors Guild over its acceptance of the Google book search settlement has elicited all kinds of response, not all of it positive. One of the snarkier posts has brought Taral Wayne to her defense:

By Taral Wayne: I read a blogger who ridiculed Ursula Le Guin for writing a socialist utopia, The Dispossessed, and then complained about her property rights.

Perhaps if Ms. Le Guin could walk down the street and help herself to a free meal in any restaurant of her choosing, pick out furniture in a store without charge, and order all the books she likes from without getting billed, then she would be content to let freeloaders read her books. Whatever convictions Ms. Le Guin has or has not, she doesn’t live in a socialist utopia. She lives in the same world we do, and has to obey the same economic realities. That being the case, I see no incongruity in her asking her novels to be paid for, just like any other product or service.

As an artist, I create and sell “intellectual property” myself. Images are the easiest form of intellectual property to take from the creator and share around the internet, and it happens to me all the time. I try to take a balanced view of it. As long as it does not undermine my income, it may do me a little good to have my work shown around. I’d like to have more control of the process, but that’s just not going to happen. On the other hand, it does me little good when art is taken and posted somewhere without credit, as does happen. And the practice of pirating art also fosters a culture of entitlement to free access to intellectual properties that may not benefit creators in the long run.

The truth is, I don’t know what to hope for. For creators, there is a good side and a bad side to the internet. Which will prevail is impossible to say. I wouldn’t like to see the great paintings of the world locked up on pay-per-view sites operated by a handful of museums, or owned by Google or the Encyclopedia Britannica. But neither do I want to see a world in which no free-lance artist is every paid for his labours.

What is the middle ground? How do we provide openness to our culture, but not drive professional creators into amateur status?

John Hertz: Loscon XXXVI Report
November 27-29, 2009

By John Hertz, from Vanamonde 863-865: About 1,100 attended Loscon XXXVI, our local convention, currently at the L.A. Int’l Airport Marriott Hotel; Author Guests of Honor Steven Barnes & Tananarive Due, Artist GoH Tim Rickard, Fan GoH Christian McGuire; Art Show sales $6,800 by 47 artists.

In the Art Show, building the Rotsler Award exhibit of the 2009 winner Dan Steffan, I had the help of Jan Bender & Gary Echternacht, Robert Jansen, and Wolfcat. I found Rickard finishing his exhibit and brought him over. Drawing Brewster Rockit since 2004 he knew not our community. “That’s professional,” he said; “you mean this guy is an amateur?” Chris Garcia’s Fanzine Lounge was full of fanzines, fanart displays, and fanziners; España Sheriff and Leigh Ann Hildebrand hosted the Fanzine Lounge by Night on the party floor. I finally brought something Hildebrand would drink.

On Friday afternoon I moderated “Women in S-F,” D.M. Atkins, Due, Shauna Roberts, Sharan Volin. Roberts said publishers think boys won’t read about girls but girls will read about boys. Atkins said her 13-year-old son was very particular. Due said she had a 17-year-old protagonist who was indecisive, like other 17-year-olds. Volin said some games let one pick a female or a male character. A woman in the audience said she missed femmes fatales. Then a book talk on The Man in the High Castle. Bruce Briant in the audience said “Where’s the science?”; in ch. 7 Betty & Paul Kasoura take up that very point. We noted the wealth of falsities: even Mr. Tagomi has an empty briefcase.

After Regency Dancing, I took Sheriff who was off duty awhile to the party Paul Turner threw in memory of Bill Rotsler, though we missed Jerry Pournelle and Tim Powers. Then Keith Kato’s chili. Then the Seattle for Westercon LXV bid party. Two a.m. in Operations, Chinese-style Mah Jongg going strong. Someone said “I’m sorry I didn’t say goodbye to you, I was talking to the police.”

Saturday morning at 10, to moderate “Blurring the Lines,” Atkins, Laura Frankos, Val Ontell. Atkins said different genres have different expectations. I noted how Frankos’ husband de-Anglicized his name to Turteltaub for a different book. Computers, she said, look at an author’s name, and order according to how many the last book over that name sold. Ontell noted how the 2001 book Seabiscuit drew interest outside the horse genre.

Toni Weisskopf took my tour of the Art Show. I was glad to see a set of woodwork spaceships by Johnna Klukas. One, dark as the void, gleamed with stars. Guessing right I used my magic tour-leader power to open the ships: they were boxes. “For the rest of you,” I said, “try this only at home.” Then a talk on From the Earth to the Moon. We liked the pace and wit. It detailed conceiving the project, building, and firing, then ended. I loved Michel Ardan’s superb four words “I won’t come back.”

At 2:30 to moderate “There’s a Bimbo on the Cover of My Book,” Laura Brodian, Amy Casil. Brodian, widow of Kelly Freas, said he read all he illustrated, often several times; yet authors might not grasp illustration, and he used to crack “I prefer my authors dead.” Casil with a lapsize computer showed 200 color images of book and magazine covers suitable to the topic. Then Lisa & Harold Harrigan’s 32nd-anniversary party, where pleasant signs explained 32 = 24 + 42 and 11 + 22 + 33. Then España Sheriff’s Art Show tour. Then shopping with co-hosts Becky Thomson and Tom Veal for the Prime Time Party at which, every Loscon from 1 a.m. Sunday till dawn, we try for good food, drink, talk.

Ten a.m. Sunday, to moderate “World Domination,” Brad Lyau, V.J. Waks, she saying everyone had an internal ape that made us dominate, he full of overseas experiences which, like Lao Tzu, said maybe not. Then a talk on Brain Wave. We praised its poetry, in both the small sense of its choice of words, and the large sense of its choice of incident. We discussed whether its vignettes, which carried breadth, left loose ends. This was a book of pain and hope. Then cleaning, the Dead Dog party and another in the Fanzine Lounge by Night, and eventually home.

LeGuin Quits Authors Guild
Over Google Settlement

Ursula LeGuin resigned from the Authors Guild on December 18 in protest of its acceptance of the amended Google book search settlement. The full text of the letter has been published on her website. LeGuin emphasized that she is continuing her membership in SFWA and the National Writers Union, both part of the  Open Book Alliance that opposes the settlement.

In October, after the Department of Justice advised the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York not to accept the proposed class action settlement in The Authors Guild Inc. et al. v. Google Inc., the judge gave the parties another month to come up with an amended settlement. Then, as reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Though [Google, the Authors Guild, and the Association of American Publishers] kept the world waiting until the last legal minute, the parties to the proposed Google Book Search settlement managed to meet their new November 13 deadline to file a revamped version [Settlement 2.0 ]with the federal judge overseeing the case.

Now the legal clock has resumed ticking.

The Association of Research Libraries news reports that the Court set a January 28 deadline for class members to opt out of the amended settlement agreement or to file objections. The Department of Justice has until February 4 to file its comments. Then the Court will hold the fairness hearing on February 18.

LeGuin’s resignation from the Authors Guild came about a month after Settlement 2.0 was submitted to the judge. Her letter states:

18 December 2009

To Whom it may concern at the Authors Guild:

I have been a member of the Authors Guild since 1972.

At no time during those thirty-seven years was I able to attend the functions, parties, and so forth offered by the Guild to members who happen to live on the other side of the continent. I have naturally resented this geographical discrimination, reflected also in the officership of the Guild, always almost all Easterners. But it was a petty gripe when I compared it to my gratitude to the Guild for the work you were doing in defending writers’ rights. I went on paying top dues and thought it worth it.

And now you have sold us down the river.

I am not going to rehearse any arguments pro and anti the “Google settlement.” You decided to deal with the devil, as it were, and have presented your arguments for doing so. I wish I could accept them. I can’t. There are principles involved, above all the whole concept of copyright; and these you have seen fit to abandon to a corporation, on their terms, without a struggle.

So, after being a loyal if invisible member for so long, I am resigning from the Guild. I am, however, retaining membership in the National Writers Union and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, both of which opposed the “Google settlement.” They don’t have your clout, but their judgment, I think, is sounder, and their courage greater.

The Authors Guild answered that it regretted LeGuin’s resignation and admitted (in a summary published by the the Guardian):

that “in many respects” it agreed with her position. “We hold the principles of copyright to be fundamental – they are bedrock principles for the Authors Guild and the economics of authorship. That’s why we sued Google in the first place,” it said. “It would therefore have been deeply satisfying, on many levels, to litigate our case to the end and win, enjoining Google from scanning books and forcing it to destroy the scans it had made. It also would have been irresponsible, once a path to a satisfactory settlement became available.”

Offering to discuss the deal with Le Guin “at any time”, the writers’ body pointed out that if it had lost its case against Google, anyone, not just the search engine, could have digitised copyright-protected books and made them available online, prompting the “uncontrolled scanning of books” and “incalculable” damage to copyright protection. “The lessons of recent history are clear: when digital and online technologies meet traditional media, traditional media generally wind up gutted. Constructive engagement – in this case turning Google’s infringement to our advantage – is sometimes the only realistic solution,” it said.

There are many online resources about the amended settlement and objections made to it, among them The Public-Interest Book Search Initiative of the New York Law School’s “Objections to the Google Books Settlement and Responses in the Amended Settlement: A Report.”

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]