Oct 302011

Increasing the signal to whatever pitiful degree I can, because I am absolutely gobsmacked (or perhaps more accurately, godsmacked) that this project isn’t fully funded by now. It’s Sean Demory’s voudon noir novel, and it’s about ten times as awesome as that sounds, which is a pretty unmeasurably high level of awesome.

Kickstarter page has excerpts. A measly $5 gets a PDF copy for you crazy kids with your e-readers, and a published dead-tree version is only $20. I spent more than that for Halloween candy.

Desamours felt a hand around his ankle, heard a low, wet giggle.

“Like I say, focus on the future,” Kalfu said. “You’re back, you’re in the game. You need anything at all, let me know.”

Desamours woke up suddenly, a hand over his eyes. He smelled rum and rancid fat, heard Kalfu’s gunpowder hiss as the hand receded.

“Because, the way it’s looking now, baby,” Kalfu said, fading into the shadows of the room, “you could use some friends.”

Sunday book blogging

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Oct 032011

(Shut up. For blog purposes this is still Sunday.)

I don’t have time or energy to do full reviews, as today was probably the least productive day ever recorded in human history, but here’s stuff you should look at:

The Sherlockian (Graham Moore) – a mysterious murder in the world of Sherlock Holmes nerds, intertwined with the story of a murder investigation conducted by Arthur Conan Doyle, who has just rid himself of Holmes in “The Final Problem”. Our nerd-hero is very likeable and the Doyle portrait is very believable. This is a breath of fresh air if you made the understandable error of trying to read The Arcanum.

Getting Off (Lawrence Block) – yes, okay, the cover will have people on BART looking at you funny. I was expecting it to be okay but not great, and it was actually quite good. Not Eight Million Ways to Die good, but well worth a read. Kit, our heroine, has sex with men and then kills them, for reasons that make perfect sense to her. I was expecting this to turn into a cat-and-mouse game with a brave detective investigating the killings, but Block knows better than to pull that nonsense. One finds oneself torn between rooting for Kit and being creeped out.

The Book of Cthulhu (edited by Ross E. Lockhart) – a compendium of stories “inspired by” Lovecraft, which means it’s a very mixed bag. Some of the stories are really well-done (like Caitlin Kiernan, surprise surprise) and others appear to have been phoned in, or missed the point entirely.

How Not to Write a Screenplay (Denny Martin Finn) – on the first page, the author lays out for us that he’s not a screenwriter; he’s the reader. Therefore, as the person who is going to help decide whether your screenplay is rejected or not, he has a great deal of advice on what works and what doesn’t, what used to be in screenplays that is left out, and he compares crappy screenplays (with the serial numbers filed off) with really good writing from actual moves. I found this very interesting from a non-screenwriter perspective because it has very useful information about what goes into a novel that doesn’t belong in a screenplay, and possibly vice versa. The Arcanum, I’m looking at you, damn it.

Art History: A Very Short Introduction (Dana Arnold) – good grid, I love the Very Short Introduction series. The books are small enough to be portable, Oxford gets actual experts to write them, and you can feel especially smart. Instead of reading a “Dummies” book you can pretend you’re reading “Dummies for Very Intelligent People with Little Spare TIme”. This is a good overview of the discipline of art history and approaches to the history and curation of art, and if a Philistine like me can understand it, it should be perfectly adequate for you.

Sep 252011

Well, not sex, in this case, but I remember the College Republicans doing dumb stunts like this back when I was in college, back when we had to carry around textbooks printed on actual paper.

And of course it’s just more elitist horseshit. When they have a bake sale letting students whose parents were alumni get first pick of the cupcakes, or giving out free glasses of milk to students from privileged backgrounds, get back to me; then they might have a point about how higher education gives more benefits to certain groups. Until then, they’re like a sprinter who says nothing while their opponent has 50-pound weights tied to his ankles, and then throws a hissy fit when to offset the weights he’s given a quarter-second head start.

The E-Thing

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Sep 172011

Seanan McGuire, author of One Salt Sea, has an excellent post about the “print is dead” handwaving. (I was initially going to use a more accurate and less polite term than “handwaving” but had a rare burst of restraint. You’re welcome.)

This isn’t a unique problem. It’s just one more of the usual ooh-shiny geek reaction too many people have when a New Thing comes out: the old thing is dead! Onward, comrades, into the glorious future where we will leave behind all those uncool, outdated people with their buggywhips! Like brick-and-mortar stores. Remember ten years or so ago, when “e-” everything was going to totally replace brick-and-mortar stores, and you’d be able use the Web to do everything from ordering groceries to having people run errands for you?

Well. You still can order groceries online, and all kinds of other good things, and some of those stores have gone away. But Safeway and Target still have physical stores, and companies that promised to run around the city for you are out of business. Just as television didn’t kill radio, online availability didn’t kill brick-and-mortar stores or real-life grocery shopping. Turns out there are things it’s not always easy to do online, and that there are people who can’t just hop on their trusty computer to have organic grass-fed steaks shipped to their door, perhaps because the entire world is not upper-middle-class and residents of hip urban neighborhoods.

And so it is with books. E-readers and electronic books are a fabulous thing. They’re especially helpful for books that need updating frequently (textbooks) or to handle accessibility issues (larger type). They are encouraging publishers to re-issue out-of-print materials, and they allow authors to release older and shorter pieces quickly.

But: they require a reader, which costs money, and has to be kept charged, and stores the books in a format selected by a vendor. The books themselves can go into the memory hole. It’s not easy to lend e-books, because they have to be controlled with DRM. They’re not “green” (perhaps the stupidest argument made in their favor), and not just because they require electricity to use; they are not spun out of recycled pop bottles and repurposed copper wire, but are manufactured under pretty crappy (and sometimes deadly) working conditions, and let’s not even get into what happens after their life cycle is over. They also, as McGuire pointed out, are largely out of the reach of anyone other than the sort of person with a spare couple of hundred bucks to spend on a new reading medium.

The sales figures waved around to suggest that e-books are “overtaking” print books are also misleading. Amazon, whose motives are not exactly pure,  reports figures for any kind of e-book sold at all, from badly-formatted copies of public-domain works to actual books that someone chose to buy instead of a print copy. Those figures don’t reflect sales from Wal-Mart, or independent bookstores, or second-hand bookstores; they tell us very little reliably that would suggest people hate paper books and are eager to entire the Glorious Kindle Future.

Print books are going nowhere except in the minds of people who have a progress fetish. And those people need to check their privilege.

Labor Day

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Sep 052011

Growing up, half the people I knew swore that a great-uncle or cousin or grandpa was on the bridge that day:

Battle of the Overpass

And while I also like the Great Big Sea version this is hard to beat:

Sep 032011

I kept my face hidden as I rushed through the hospital. Wouldn’t do to be spotted now, the father who lobbied for his daughter’s just-paroled murderer to be allowed a heart transplant, citing Christ’s teachings on forgiveness.

I found the room where they kept the brain-dead donor on machines. Cassie had been about her age when he slaughtered her. My hands shook as I injected her with blood from Cassie’s dog. He died of rabies yesterday.

Soon the transplant doctors would arrive. He would get her heart. And it would come with a parting gift from Cassie.

Aug 222011

To everyone’s profound nonsurprise, various pundits and public figures are attributing the UK riots to the old favorites: lack of parental discipline, and the degenerate culture of Those People. (You know; the ones who don’t need as high an SPF rating on their sunscreen.) In typically remote fashion, the Economist goes back through historical Kids These Days panics in recent history.

In talking about the “Negro music” aspect of this panic, dzik makes a spot-on observation about jazz that should be tattooed on the inner eyelids of all cultural snobs:

Of course, the real scandal of Miles, Sun Ra et al was that they took these “deplorable”, “tribal” roots and cultivated an art form capable of engaging with the European classical tradition and commanding respect on its own terms — that is the negro’s revenge and that is the negro’s revenge. To listen to the critics you’d think some people would have been less offended if they’d merely destroyed Western Civilization.

Damn straight.

Jun 252011

(First, a note to the media: When you’re writing about a new law, post a link to the text of the new law. It shouldn’t be this hard to find. Kthx.)

What apparently led some of New York’s Republican lawmakers to support the Marriage Equality Act were the religious exemptions, protecting religious groups that object to same-sex marriage. This is one of the most common scare tactics raised by opponents of same-sex marriage, and one of the most dishonest: the Establishment Clause absolutely protects religious groups from having to administer their rites in violation of their faith. Same-sex marriage rites are about civil, not religious, marriage.

The “religious” protections are therefore redundant at best; these protections already exist, and not merely in the area of same-sex marriage. The only useful purpose they serve is cover. Same-sex marriage proponents can assure those who don’t understand the Establishment Clause, and politicians with more conservative constituents can trumpet their protection of the sanctity of marriage. This is particularly true as the law has a poison pill; it states that a court cannot simply overturn part of the law, such as the religious exemptions, but has to decide on the law as an all-or-nothing deal. This uses same-sex marriage as a sort of human shield; try to force a church to rent its gazebo to a gay couple and risk eliminating same-sex marriage entirely.

(Interestingly, groups opposed to same-sex marriage also oppose “religious protection” laws. The ostensible reason is that they don’t want anything that even hints that SSM is okay. The real reason is that it takes away one of their favorite arguments; it’s a lot harder to lie to people and tell them their churches will have to marry gay couples when there’s a law explicitly saying that can’t happen.)

Outside of same-sex marriage,it’s obvious that if you don’t like a religion’s rules, you can shut up and go to a different church, or to City Hall. We would laugh at a couple suing the Catholic Church because a priest refused to perform a marriage ceremony for two Protestants, or for a divorced Catholic seeking to marry a Buddhist. So would the courts. Yet even though there are likely far more interfaith and ‘rulebreaking’ couples who would like to marry than same-sex couples, neither churches nor lawmakers seem particularly concerned about protecting the sanctity of their religious practices.

Yet this seems unfair to religious groups. The Marriage Equality Act spells out quite clearly that it offers protections from civil actions to religious groups that object to same-sex marriage. But most religions have greater limitations on who can marry than “one man and one woman”. Where is the protection for faiths that prohibit interracial marriage? Why is there no protection for a church that refuses to rent “facilities” to interfaith couples? Why does the law exempt a rabbi refusing to marry a woman to a woman, but doesn’t protect a rabbi refusing to marry a Jew to a Gentile?

Obviously these are rhetorical questions; the reason is bigotry. Opponents of same-sex marriage simply don’t feel the same revulsion toward interfaith or interracial couples. And there’s a strong sense, among the less-zealous, that while a church may decline to marry such couples, that actually condemning those marriage is wrongheaded and, perhaps, even bigoted and unfair.

I look forward to the day when the majority recognizes that trying to stop same-sex couples from marrying at all is also bigoted and unfair.