Sunday, March 27, 2011

March Status

I had been fairly consistent here for a while, updating this blog at least twice a week, if not more often. Alas, that all came to a grinding halt about three weeks ago. I attended Potlatch 20 the first weekend in March, and then the first FOGcon the following weekend; and last weekend was devoted to taxes (more on that in a bit); taxes can be a definite downer after two con weekends in a row! I typically use my weekends to get caught up: on my own projects (this blog), on watching movies, on household chores (laundry, mowing the lawn, hedging, etc.) -- but none of that gets done when I'm attending a convention, and then the weekend work carries over into the following week, or the catch-up work simply doesn't get done at all, which was the case with this blog. Of course, with this March rain -- like 21 days of rain out of the past 27 -- not a lot of yardwork was going to get done regardless, weekdays or weekends.

But I have been doing my part, helping to pay the bills -- honest.

The Monday after Potlatch, I began work (copyediting) on the June issue of Realms of Fantasy magazine. The June issue marks the 100th issue, and the third issue under new publisher Damnation Books. In addition to the 100 pages of content for this "centennial" issue, the publisher has some special goodies planned as well, but I'm sworn to secrecy. (Well, at least my bribe price hasn't been met yet!) So you'll have to wait until the June issue ships (or offer me more money, whichever comes first); better yet, why not subscribe to the magazine. In addition to those extra goodies, Damnation Books has some (if you'll pardon the expression) damn fine stories in issue #100 as well.

In the middle of working on the copyedits for the June issue, I was sent the PDF layout file of the April issue for my review, which I did, as did magazine editor Douglas Cohen. Quite a few hours were invested in this review. April is the "Dark Fantasy" special issue, and the cover art is pictured here. The issue has already gone to print -- so look for it in the mail if you are a subscriber, or online or at bookstores or wherever you purchase your magazines. But back to the June issue: I can tell you that I copyedited 7 fiction files, 11 nonfiction files, and 4 of those "special" files. And I'm serious; I was really knocked out by the fiction in this issue. In fact, I want to bring the June issue to the attention of all the year's best anthologists; they just might find a worthy story (or two) for consideration in this particular issue.

Regardless of my personal involvement with RoF, I was pleased to see the magazine achieve some recognition recently. On February 22, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America announced the nominees for the 2010 Nebula Awards. The link will take you to the official SFWA press release. I just wanted to bring to your attention the two stories from RoF that were nominated for this award: "How Interesting: A Tiny Man" by Harlan Ellison® (February 2010 issue) in the short story category; and "The Fortuitous Meeting of Gerard van Oost and Oludara" by Christopher Kastensmidt (April 2010 issue) in the novelette category.

To continue... My next project was to finalize our taxes. I had completed all the input, but wanted to let the forms and data set for a bit, before I did my final review, after which I would file the Federal taxes electronically, and then print out and mail the State taxes. I made a couple minor changes that didn't affect the bottom-line numbers on Saturday, March 19. When I opened the tax file the next day for my final review, the file wouldn't open. I tried at least 3 times but all to no avail. I thought that possibly it was the TurboTax application itself, so I uninstalled and reinstalled the program, but the file would still not load. Thank gawd I had a backup on an external drive from the previous week; I did not want to be entering my tax data from the beginning, yet again. I made another copy of the backup before continuing; I then redid the 2 minor changes from the previous day, completed my review, printed out, I think it was, four replacement pages, filed the Feds electronically, and all was well with the world. I made the trip to the copy center and post office the following day, so by Monday (March 21) my 2010 tax year was complete. (I have spoken on previous occasions about my redundant backups, so I won't bore you with details other than to say that I automatically back up to an external drive my working files daily, my entire hard drive weekly; and these in turn are backed up to a second external drive.)

But speaking of TurboTax: I always have some kind of problem with the application every single year, and I've been using TT for 10+ years. I always write in my numbers on copies of the forms, do some of the basic calculations, and double-check TT's results every step of the way. I do not inherently trust any of the program's numbers; I've found too many calculation errors in past years. I know, I know, yet I still keep using the bloody program. So, who has a better alternative?

Future MediaOnce I got our taxes out of the way I was able to move on to the next project: the Future Media anthology, edited by Rick Wilber for Tachyon Publications. I had responsibility for copyediting the front matter, all the fiction, as well as the mini introductions to each of the fiction and nonfiction pieces. The project wasn't difficult, but it was time consuming as I had to double-check the text of each manuscript against the "official" published version of the story (or excerpt, in the case of novels by Ray Bradbury, Aldous Huxley, and Norman Spinrad). Some of the authors included in Future Media were quite prescient in their ability to predict the impact of technology on media, as well as the overwhelming impact of media technology on our lives. After reading the min intros to the nonfiction articles, I'm looking forward to some fine reading when the book is published in July.

In between all of the above, I have been dutifully working on finalizing the contents for my Alien Contact anthology forthcoming in November from Night Shade Books. But that's for another blog post...soon.
I also want to write a blog post about a panel/interview/talk that renowned editor Alan Rinzler did at Potlatch 20, but I need to put some thought and time into this first. Rinzler may have edited some exceptional books in years past -- Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, and Dr. Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, to name only three -- but his current thinking and opinions on the state of publishing do not always mesh with mine. I think he skirted some issues during the talk, specifically avoiding answering my question in particular with some sleight-of-hand comments. More later....

[Update: 29 March: I've reviewed my sparse notes regarding the Rinzler event at Potlatch 20 and, unfortunately, I realize that too much time has passed -- and I've been involved in other projects since that event, read too many stories, and articles, and tweets, and Facebook posts, etc. -- to write a cogent discussion. So I'll simply move on to something else. I'm sure that Alan Rinzler doesn't care, one way or the other.]

Friday, March 25, 2011

Do You Know This Story?

My friend, author Andy Duncan, published an interesting query the other day on his Facebook page.

Andy has a colleague who asked for his assistance in tracking down a story that she read when she was much younger. Here is her description of the story:
A lost woman stumbles onto a house party. While trying to find the host, she finds people unmasking in various horrible ways, some of them alien. She eventually flees the house and is found in a ditch trying or having tried to pull off her face. This is something I read as a kid, so it would have been published before 1975.

By the way, the colleague can't recall if she read the story in a book or magazine. So, can any of the readers of this blog help with this one? I actually have an interest in learning the title and author of this story as well, particularly in light of my interest in "alien contact" stories.

The Comment section is now open....

Friday, March 11, 2011

Kazuo Ishiguro on Science Fiction (Oops... Sci-Fi)

Less than 3 hours after publishing my previous blog post on Earl Kemp's Who Killed Science Fiction? -- Christopher Barzak1 posted a quote on his Facebook page from Booker Prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro. The quote specifically mentioned the ghettoization of science fiction, which I had touched upon in the Kemp piece. I was so taken with the quote that I queried Christopher on the source, and he pointed me to a February 4 article in Scotland's Herald online, entitled "When 21st-century sci-fi meets human emotion."2

For those unfamiliar with Kazuo Ishiguro: According to Wikipedia, he "is one of the most celebrated contemporary fiction authors in the English-speaking world, having received four Man Booker Prize nominations, including winning the 1989 prize for his novel The Remains of the Day." By chance does that 1993 film title ring a bell?

Ishiguro is also the author of the 2005 novel Never Let Me Go. The film adaptation was released in the UK on February 11, which explains why he was in the news -- and being interviewed for this Herald article -- a week earlier. Last year I had read Never Let Me Go (courtesy of my local San Jose library system) after learning that the novel was being adapted into a movie.

Here's the quote:

It's almost like they've given us older writers licence to use it [science fiction]. Before, it was ghettoised and stigmatised. For years there has been a prejudice towards sci-fi writing, which I think has been to the loss of the literary world, and not vice versa. But with things like graphic novels now, people are taking it seriously.
—Kazuo Ishiguro

Though the quote speaks positively about SF, I would suggest that were you to ask authors Alex Garland and David Mitchell, whose work is specifically acknowledged in this article as examples of this "science fiction in lit" trend, both would vehemently deny that their stories have anything to do with "sci-fi." Rather, they would argue that their stories are about people, and real emotions, and the human condition in a setting that is different from our own reality. Heaven forbid these authors -- and their publishers -- should be associated with science fiction.

My point is made two paragraphs later when Ishiguro goes on to dis SF readers and moviegoers. The article reads: "In truth, the sci-fi label is misleading, says Ishiguro. 'I'm just wary like everybody else that it'll bring in the wrong audience with the wrong expectations.'"

I guess Ishiguro is worried the theatre attendees will be nothing but freaks and geeks -- Spock-eared, light-sabre-wielding, loin-cloth attired -- expecting onscreen space ships and/or dinosaurs.

Never Let Me Go, the film, stars Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and The Social Network's Andrew Garfield. The film was adapted by Alex Garland, an old friend of Ishiguro's, and directed by Mark Romanek. It opened last year in the US.

If you did, in fact, see this film last year, I do hope you dressed appropriately, and viewed the film with the proper respect, sophistication, and expectations.

As to my take on the novel itself. This blog is not a "reviews" blog, per se, but I will say that, though I enjoyed the novel (it was indeed well written), it left a lot of questionable holes, sort of what I would expect from a writer, writing SF, but with no experience in the genre.


1. Christopher Barzak wrote the foreword to M. Rickert's first collection (and first book) Map of Dreams, which won the World Fantasy Award for best collection. I acquired and edited this collection for Golden Gryphon Press.

2. Gawd, I absolutely detest the use of the word "sci-fi" -- one can always tell when an outsider (read: mainstream) attempts to discuss "science fiction." Am I a snob? Well, yes, I guess I am. So be it. A snob proud of my involvement in the genre.

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Monday, March 7, 2011

Earl Kemp's Who Killed Science Fiction?

Paul Di Filippo, in a recent column in Barnes and Noble Review, recapped the state of science fiction and its various subgenres through the first decade of the twenty-first century. I'll leave the details of Paul's reviews and commentary for you to indulge in at your leisure, but Paul does mention that some continue to proclaim the demise of science fiction. Paul writes:
Of course, as we all now realize, the twenty-first century is proving both more and less science-fictional than the literature imagined, in strange and perhaps essentially unpredictable ways. This condition bedevils SF to some extent, as both its continuing credibility and utility come under question. Some authors and critics have recently even gone so far as to pronounce the mode deceased. Such statements regarding the death of SF are eternal. In 1960, for instance, a famous seminar was conducted under the heading "Who Killed Science Fiction?"

So for more than 50 years now, we've been hearing about the death of SF, especially with regards to genre magazines. I even freelance for one such magazine -- Realms of Fantasy -- that has seen three different owners/publishers in as many years, and yet the magazine's 100th issue will be published in June!

I was intrigued by the "Who Killed Science Fiction?" seminar -- actually, it was a survey rather than a seminar -- to which Paul referred, so I followed the link he provided to a fanzine -- eI29, December 2006; this particular volume is entitled The Compleat and Unexpurgated Who Killed Science Fiction? by Earl Kemp1. eI29 includes the original 1960 edition of WKSF? plus the updates Kemp wrote in 1980 and again in 2006, all with new introductions.

In mid-1960, Kemp put together a questionnaire on the state of SF magazines (keep in mind that by 1960 the earlier, prolific pulp magazines had all ceased to exist) that he sent to 108 individuals, a virtual Who's Who in Science Fiction at the time: Isaac Asimov, Poul Anderson, Alfred Bester, James Blish, Robert Bloch, artist Hannes Bok, Ray Bradbury, Marion Zimmer Bradley -- and that's just a few of the names and only from the first two letters of the alphabet!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

February Links & Things

This is my monthly wrap-up of February's Links & Things; you can receive these links in real time by following me on Twitter: @martyhalpern. Note, however, that not all of my tweeted links make it into these month-end posts. Hopefully, you will find some value in what follows; and if you are new to my blog, you may want to catch up on my previous month-end posts: just look for the "Links and Things" tag in the right column of this blog.
  • I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the passing of author Melissa Mia Hall on January 28. I never met Melissa personally, but knew her from her stories in such acclaimed anthologies as Razored Saddles (Lansdale & LoBrutto), A Whisper of Blood (Datlow), and Post Mortem (Olson & Silva), to name just three. Melissa might very well be alive today had she been able to afford health insurance; sadly this is the situation for many new, midlist, and freelance writers, and editors. I've written about this previously and don't wish to dwell on it. But isn't it ironic that Melissa's tax dollars contributed to the government-sponsored healthcare for those very same individuals who are now attempting to dismantle the new healthcare law. Ironic, indeed. If you didn't know, or know of, Melissa Mia Hall, you can read PW editor Peter Cannon's heartfelt eulogy; if you have a need to know more about Missy's health and health insurance issues, please read Sarah Strohmeyer's "The Least Among Us" on The Lipstick Chronicles blog.
  • The Ooh Tray blog describes itself as "a digest of film and literary culture -- independent, investigative and satirical.... written for those [who] want more from their criticism [with] less hyperbole." The Ooh Tray has been reviewing books that it terms "Modern Classics," which includes the recently reviewed The Empire of Ice Cream, a collection of stories by Jeffrey Ford. The reviewer, Richard McCarthy, writes: "Ford has looked at the nature of story-telling and understood that its power can lie not just in evoking, informing and sharing but also in reshaping that which we consider to be already known." [Note: I acquired and edited The Empire of Ice Cream for Golden Gryphon Press. The stories contained therein have won numerous awards: "Botch Town," original to the collection, won the 2007 World Fantasy Award for best novella; title story "The Empire of Ice Cream" won the 2003 Nebula Award for best novelette (and was a finalist for the Hugo, World Fantasy, and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial awards); "The Annals of Eelin-Ok" won the Speculative Literature Foundation's 2005 Fountain Award; and the collection itself was selected by Publishers Weekly as one of the best books of the year.]
  • On K. M. Weiland's (@KMWeiland) WordPlay blog, guest blogger Victoria Mixon (@VictoriaMixon) writes about "The 4 Most Common Mistakes Fiction Editors See." Victoria writes: "Before you rush your beloved manuscript off to an editor, here are the four most common mistakes fiction editors see:" 1) Unfocused structure; 2) Misplaced backstory; 3) Underdeveloped character; and 4) Unpolished prose. For the details behind these points, and to read the more than 50 comments, do click on the link to WordPlay.
  • Thanks to Robert J. Sawyer's Facebook post for this: Canada's Globe and Mail online asks: "Where have all the book editors gone?" And the answer? "With the publishing industry in turmoil, beset by competitive challenges unknown a decade ago, the long-lunching gentlefolk who once managed the mysterious process of literary midwifery are being replaced by fast-paced production workers, paid by the paragraph and often operating from home. If Jackie O were still in the game, she would likely be outsourced.... Authors, finding today’s downsized publishers increasingly unwilling to invest their own resources in the often laborious process of polishing rough diamonds into marketable gems, are now often forced to hire their own editors -- before even submitting their manuscripts for publication." Though the article focuses on specific Canadian publishers, the comments and analysis pertain to the industry as a whole. [Note: As previously noted, I am a book editor; I am available to work with authors on their manuscripts.]