About Me

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A 40-ish publisher (editor, project manager, etc.), husband, and father of an even number of offspring, I grew up, or failed to, reading fantasy and sci-fi. I still enjoy reading, and now am trying to write. My favorite books include YA fantasy, manga, biography, and advice to authors. I'm also a former history major/grad student/high school teacher and assessment writer. Now I work for a school supplement publisher, specializing in high-low chapter books. I spend a lot of my time controlling reading levels. At night, I cut loose and use long words. W00t!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fantasy cover chart (from Orbit)

I love this. This is a chart of fantasy cover art topics. Bad news for unicorns, good news for the new category "Damsels (no distress)."

For work, I sometimes review cover art of popular books to help plan our covers. I've never yet seen someone else indulge in statistical abstractions based on the same thing. A kindred spirit!

(And all I can think is, "What a loser!")  :)

Monday, August 30, 2010

America's Honor is Found In Its Ideals

I was checking out the political sites today and liked America's Honor is Found In Its Ideals by Ed Brayton at scienceblogs.

Brayton spells out the familiar but timely premise that America's ideals have been the goal, and our execution of them an imperfect but generally improving reality.

I like - but I'm not sure if I agree with it exactly - his assertion that America is living up to its ideals better than before. While we do have more widely and evenly spread and more formally defended rights, we also have taken increasingly devastating military actions abroad. I'm pretty sure sending a disproportionately large number of our second-class citizens to first defend colonial rule and then institute a new protectorate in southeast Asia was in keeping with the high ideals on which this country was founded.

Anyway, you should check it out, too. It's like a salve, which I need after having my honor so ineptly restored.

just picked up from the library...

I was at the library Saturday, and I started reading...

- Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (out of nostalgia for history of science, and because it's been so long I've forgotten which arguments are Kuhn's)
- David Macaulay, Castle (I've been wanting to read this for years, and since the kids are sharing a room, it's good to have material that bridges their age gap)
- Tamora Pierce, In the Hand of the Goddess (because I just finished the ineptly titled and yet very enjoyable Alanna: the first adventure, the first Songs of the Lioness book)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

online manga going legit?

I read manga. A lot of it, actually. I recently started buying it again because I was looking at so much free online manga. The group of publishers who organized to stop free distribution of manga have it right. I'm hooked - now it's time to start charging me for content. (Before the web, I collected manga. I have boxes in the garage. Maybe I should sell...)

I hope they'll start paying creators better in the same move.

Manga creators and fans may get an interesting break from the publishers' stranglehold, though. In After Scanlations: Manga Publishers Look to Offer Legal Digital Access, Kai-Ming Cha tells about several publishers' (Yen, Viz) and distributors' (Crunchyroll) plans to offer paid access online.

This is where the publishers have it wrong, I think. Yen's "Yen Plus" will only offer Yen titles. Viz will offer the much more appealing (to me) catalog of Viz titles.

Would you pay a fee to a music label for access online to its signed artists' work?

That's why I think the iTunes model (I've been going on about this for awhile) - which I'm encouraged to read Crunchyroll (currently distributing eons of anime content for low to no fees) is building a manga reader. They're not publishers, so they just license the content they think will work and for which they can get the rights.

Best of luck to 'em.

By the way, since computer screens are landscape, and manga pages mostly portrait, will the reader be capable of rendering the page legibly in the space available?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Alanna (Song of the Lioness, book 1)

by Tamora Pierce

I read stuff written for kids. Well, teenagers. I find a lot of it more satisfying and worth my effort than littratoor written for adults. I not only slum around in genre fiction, I choose what's published for people less than half my age.

Tamora Pierce's name leapt out at me from the teen fiction shelf at the library Saturday. I'm a regular because my house doesn't have any good spots for tutoring, and as much as I like my students, I don't want them sitting on folding chairs next to my slumping, half-full rice sacks.

My own kids were busy using the computers to play a mind-numbing dragon-fighting game the library staff have given up on banning, so I had a few minutes, and found a fun read.

Cons before pros:

Ms. Pierce does not waste her writing talent on creating interesting names - not for her characters, nor places, nor objects, nor the books themselves (though agents and publishers may have had more of a hand in enforcing the dull verbiage squatting on the cover of this book). That said, there is considerable storytelling talent inside.

Alanna: The First Adventure is the opening salvo of four novels. My guess is they're adventures. And feature Alanna. Really - are there no more interesting things to call the book?

Too little other than hair and eye color is disclosed about characters when they are introduced.

Oh, and there were three typos.

The Pros:

This was a fun, fast read, with well-defined and interesting characters doing things that mostly mattered. Pierce put in a lot of plot twists that, while not shocking, kept my attention, and didn't fall into too much of a pattern.

Yes, it's a story about a plucky girl, magic, sword-play, thieves, horses, ruins, knights, and cross-dressing, and who hasn't read a dozen of those this past year, but at least there are no vampires!

The pacing is just about right for an upper elementary to middle school reader, and the words and situations are suitable for anyone whose parents got over what's in the Harry Potter series.

All in all, a bit formulaic, but successful anyway because the author had a clear idea of her characters and their stories.

An admission:

I might not have borrowed and read this book if it hadn't been about twelve year old fraternal twins who get separated and have adventures. That's about the extent of the commonality between this book and what I'm writing (if you can call 300 words a day writing), but it was enough to snag me. It might not mean the same to you, but if you have a ten to thirteen year old girl (or boy - Alanna's a good character for both) in your life who is looking for an adventurous read, and who hasn't said she (or he) was sick of fantasy, this is a promising start to the series.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

satisfyingly wonky Foriegn Policy article on Chongqing

I get Foreign Policy magazine updates monthly by email, and if you are anything like me...

Wait, let's parse that. Twentyish years ago, I taped NPR programs and stored them, cut out foreign affairs and public infrastructure news stories and stored them in binders, categorized and underlined, and wrote lots of (mostly unpublished) letters to the editor of the SF Chronicle. 

...then you'll be able to appreciate this cooooool one - "Chicago on the Yangtze" -  on the growth of Chongqing in western China, and what it means historically, economically, and for the evolution of national politics in China.

Even my inner SimCity geek (filed away so long now I no longer see every freeway interchange and building crane as something I can affect with a sweep of the demolition tool or the zoning tool) loved the bit about the land pressure, multiple bridges, and swallowing up of suburbs (impossible, for the record, in any version of SimCity I've played - are you listening, Electronic Arts?).

Anyway, the current edition of FP also has intriguing articles I might yet read on urban versus suburban futures, how cities are replacing nation-states, and prospects for economic development and diplomatic gamesmanship in the Arctic.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Hotel California

Ever have a song you liked decades ago flit through your mind for a moment and then stay there, gnawing at your every thought process, till even breathing became hard to accomplish, and you simply had to find out what the lyrics were, or meant?

Yeah, that's what the Internet is for.

For me, it was the Eagles' "Hotel California," at least today. Tomorrow (if I'm not so afflicted more than once today) it will be something else, probably from MC-Lyte or Iron Maiden or Daniela Mercury. I have been an ardent fan of all of these. Fortunately, I have never subjected myself to the discognitia (my new word!) that would inevitably result from listening to more than one of them in any single day.

The nice folks over at Wikipedia (Hey! That includes me!) inform me that the Eagles had something specific in mind when writing the lyrics, and it appears I should be sorry I missed it, or maybe not. And that dopey interviewers got smacked down for trampling on art by asking what the lyrics meant.

Which is another thing the Internet is for. (Not getting smacked down for asking a question. I hate that.)

Anyway, if by this time you are not already humming along to the same internal soundtrack I've been enjoying for the last couple of hours (do people raised with only digital music technologies repeat the same lyrics in their heads like a broken record as we analog babies do?), then there's no point continuing about this, because you're not likely to care. And if you are so afflicted, then you'll be motivated to look it up on your own.

Just don't follow any of the links to covers of the song, or you're done for the day, no matter what you were up to - working, studying, breathing...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Years of Rice and Salt

by Kim Stanley ROBINSON

This was a great read, long but worth the effort. I was pleased and not surprised to find that my fellow San Francisco Bay Area resident Kim Stanley Robinson earned a Ph.D in History. After all, I had been slogging through his series on sudden climate change (or Science in the Capital) series, in which his attention to philosophical and cultural connections and distinctions almost overwhelm his palpable descriptions of place. (His descriptions of place would be cinematic if they did not also trigger the sense of heat or scale or sound that they do - they're beyond cinematic.)

While I was impressed with his character and plot development in Forty Signs of Rain and Fifty Degrees Below, something about the protagonist, Frank Vanderwal, nagged at me. It was as if he were more than one person - not inconsistent, but too busy and inventive. I've struggled to figure this out for a year now, and only after reading The Years of Rice and Salt am I satisfied with my own explanation. I think our discomfort with change and violations of convention - our inherent, visceral conservativism - makes it unrealistic that a person could withstand, never mind thrive on, as much thwarting of social norms as Vanderwal seeks out and/or causes.

My reading list is long, and my hours short, and my distractions many and effective, so I have little tolerance for books I am not enjoying. (That's where all my bookmarks go - the middle third of books I regretfully gave up reading, like The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood or The Stone Raft by José Saramago.)

But Rice and Salt was a different matter. For one thing, it's an alternative history, and despite the odiferous sludge I've forced down my optical gullet because it was classified as such, I have a soft spot for the genre. It's also fantasy on a grand scale - like The Lord of the Rings or Anne McCaffrey's Pern books. You can read it just for fun - that is, if you're a weirdo like me who is entertained by philosophical discussions and historical (or alt-historical) narratives. The fun part is the thrill-ride adventure many of the characters experience.

In a way, Robinson has packed a roller-coaster into an encyclopedia. It's a pretty cool read.

The book begins with the premise that the bubonic plague has killed 99% instead of 33% of the peoples of Europe. It covers over seven centuries of the subsequent history, and occupies six of the seven continents. (Okay, five of the six, since a depopulated Europe is even less of a continent than the Europe of our reality.)

How Robinson weaves this into a narrative is the second premise. At first, the reincarnation scenes - which are all fascinating, and used to move a meta plot along - struck me as a little too enthusiastic, as if Robinson wanted to share the joy Buddhism with his readers. I now think I was hypersensitive to a fault I am guilty of - becoming a fan of what I study - and that Robinson treated all of the characters and cultural traits and civilizations he touches with balance and fairness.

Okay, maybe not the Hodenosaunee. I can cut him that much slack.

The Years of Rice and Salt is divided into ten "books," each the length of a novella (I think), for each of the reincarnations of the group of characters. My favorite were the first book, which prepares the reader for the sweeping geographic scope of the novel, "The Alchemist," which I think collapses a bit too much of our real history into a few characters in the alt-history, but does it in a compelling and enjoyable way (I especially like the parallels to Niccolo "Tartaglia" Fontana, intended or otherwise), and "The Widow Kang," which is a bit long, but seems to have been the first written.

There was a point in the middle, set in Mecca, at which I realized how much I appreciated the research and thought that had gone into Robinson's work. And he published it during a time in America when thinking critically and openly about Islam, about empire, about the justifications for war, about the interplay of civilizations, was considered unpatriotic and dangerous. And it was probably partly from this consideration that I gained an appetite for the rest of the book, about 400 pages then remaining, of which all were a rewarding read.

There was also, for me, a personal/geographical indulgence. Robinson and I live near San Francisco and San Pablo Bays, where he sets a few key sections of his narrative, including the most straightforward part of an exciting and nuanced chapter, an odd and perhaps unintended echo of Gavin Menzies' idea about Admiral He's treasure fleet. The section in question seems to have been set within a few miles of where I grew up. As with the use of Mount Tamalpais as a location in the fourth (?) Percy Jackson book, this made me feel an unearned and silly pride, but it was still fun.

Poor Frank Vanderwal. I couldn't believe the range of actions he took in the parts of the Science in the Capital series I read. If only he were reincarnated, I could apparently have accepted almost anything!

This was my favorite book in years.