SF Editors

February 9th, 2009

I’ve wondered for a long time exactly what it is that SF editors do for a living.  I mean, I know what it is that they basically do, but there are a lot of questions I had about how they do their jobs.  An interviewer for Clarkeworld Magazine recently corralled a bunch of them and grilled them for a while.  The interview is interesting.

What the hell is a “meme” anyway?

October 27th, 2008

Is it “memo” with e, like a backwards e-mail?  Or it refers to the memory funcition of passes along knowledge.  Although this computer is my ancillary brain, I suppose I can buy that.  These things seem to be dominating blogs these days.  This is my first, and since I still cannot figure out how to run a SF book review site, a SF forum and a SF blog, maybe this will be a good way to figure it all out.  Anywho, here goes:

This one’s called “All About Books” and I picked it up from Bill at From a Sci-Fi Standpoing; apparently this one has been passed around like a castrati at a Gothic kegger, meaning that I’m probably the last person to do this one. Here it is.

 Hardback or trade paperback or mass market paperback?

Hardbacks for sure, even if I have have to go to a SFBC copy because the true first edition was a pb original.  There is just something about a hardback that appeals to me.  

Bookmark or dog-ear?

I wont buy a used hb if it has dog ears.  No matter what.

Alphabetize by author or alphabetize by title or random?

I’m anal in my alphabetization.  I currently have five or six new books to work in, and it really bothers me that I have not gotten to them yet.  

Keep, throw away or sell?

I usually keep book around until I have decided whether or not I will ever read them again.  If I won’t, I sell them for credit at my favorite local used-book store, Beer’s Books in Sacramento.  Rarely will I give them away.  I think that people should buy their own books.  I used to give books as gifts, but I got tired of the plain stares I got when I asked the people I gave them to questions about the book later.  They never read them, IOW.  Plus, I’m a tightwad.  

Keep dust jacket or toss it?

There is a special place in Hell for people who throw away dust jackets.  I fully intend to ask God to let my wife out of it for throwing away a few dust jackets I had sitting on top of the bookshelf a few years ago.  

Last book you bought?

Don A. Stuart’s (pseudonym for the legendary John W. Campbell) A New Dawn collection.  Truly a great body of work.

Last book someone bought for you?

Last year for my birthday someone gave me a $50 gift card for Borders.  I bought a bunch of books with that.  Before that?  I can’t remember for sure, but my boss buys me books all the time for professional development, and I read most of them.  The last one was a treatise on insurance coverage law.  

What are some of the books on your to-buy list?

Looking on my Amazon Wish List, I see the following:  Four Ursula K. Le Guin books (The Birthday of the World, A Fisherman of the Inland Sea, The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, and Four Ways to Forgiveness), The Millennium, by Upton Sinclair, Aniara, An Epic SF Poem, by Harry Martinson, Kalki and Messiah, both by Gore Vidal, Fitzpatrick’s War, by Theodore Judson, The Atrocity Exhibition, by J.G. Ballard, and at least three pages of others.  All of these (and everything on my list) is SF.  I have been collecting SF by authors who you would never have suspected of writing SF before, as you can clearly tell.  

Collection (short stories, same author) or anthology (short stories, different author)?

Again, Dangerous Visions, for sure.  I collect these things as I go along, and I have read most of the major ones already.  I want to read some more of the Orbit series, edited by Damon Knight.  Three of the books I mentioned above by Le Guin are collections.

Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket, or the velvety embrace of Death?

A bullet in the head, please.

Morning reading, afternoon reading, or nighttime reading?

On the weekends I’m a nooner.  Other than that, after I wrestle the tots off to bed.

The books you need to go with other books on your shelves?

I’ll get to it when I get to it.  I prefer to buy books based on my more immediate wants and desires.

Do you read anywhere and anytime you can or do you have a set reading time and/or place?

I used to get a lot done on the crapper.  Now I read in bed.

Do you have seasonal reading habits?

Who came up with this question?

Do you read one book at a time or do you have two or more books going at once?

I am currently in the middle of nine books, all in various states of completion.  I keep notes of everything I want to note in my reviews/essays, and I have a life-long habit of reading multiple books at one time, so I’m good at keeping them all straight in my head.  

What are your pet peeves about the way people treat books?

The lemming-like mentality of crowding around the “hottest new thing,” 99% of the time of which is usually the same re-tread crappola.  

Name one book you surprised yourself by liking

The Martian General’s Daughter, by Theodore Judson.  I got it as a freebie in the mail.  I wound up adding a new favorite author to my list. 

How often do you read a book and not review it on your blog? What are your reasons for not blogging about a book?

About 18 percent of the time, looking at my records for this year and last (the only years I have been reviewing them).

Monster Jam!!!

January 30th, 2008

A co-worker of mine had some extra tickets through a friend of his for the annual Monster Jam in Sacramento last Saturday.  He invited me and my son to go with him and his buddy who bought the tickets.  I have not been to one of these things since I was a yout in VA (where incidentally they called it a “Monster Truck and Tractor Pull, because they had souped-up tractors pulling things), but I had a hell of a good time.  We saw the monster truck called Undertaker, and like five or six others, along with a bunch of regular 4×4’s racing, and some bikes doing some pretty amazing jumps.

Except for my friend, who is 1/2 Japanese, my son, who is 1/2 Filipino, and the odd Mexican or two, it was a sea of white trash.  For those of you who are from the Sacramento area, it was like all of North Sac and Rio Linda emptied into Arco Arena for the evening.  Ive never seen so many mullets in my entire life.  And when I say mullets, I mean the kind like they had on that old show, The Mullets.  Everywhere I turned I saw a racing jacket advertising auto parts that was like two sizes too small, platinum blond hair that had not been cut in years, and dirty little kids running around like mad-people.  It was just a few steps away from freak show.

And boy-oh-boy, were they selling America.  They had the Air Force honor guard there, a Hummer with the faces of Iraqi war dead painted on it,  a 30′ American flag and cranked up Lee Greenwood.  The best part was the guy sitting in front of me with the pierced C-spine and the half-naked (HOT!) girlfriend, who halfway through God Bless the USA raised his hand in a Ronnie James Dio salute and screamed at the top of his lungs,”I love my flag, man!!!”

But the best part of the show was the way my son reacted to it.  He was as excited as I have ever seen him.  He was jumping up and down, pumping his fists in the air, screaming for joy and waiving his Undertaker flag wide and proud.  The next day he told me that he dreamed of Undertaker the night before, and “it was cool!”  I think I’m going to go to this again next year.  It was noisy, it stank, and it was NOT my typical crowd, but the boy and I had a great time.  He usually shies away from crowds and loud noise, but this was definately something not to be missed for him.

Remainder Marks

December 21st, 2007

Occasionally I will see a listing for a book on eBay that says that the book I am considering is “remainder marked.” Ive had a friend ask me lately what that meant, as she had encountered it too on eBay. Basically a remainder in publishing and in the music business is the same thing: Its returned product that the retailer was not able to sell after initial release or after an overzealous printer puts too many copies of a re-release. Here is how it works:

Sometimes publishers overestimate the market for a particular book. Sometimes the publisher will decide to print more than they can reasonably expect retailers to sell and actually anticipate some copies will go unsold. Publishers understand that books, especially hardbacks, have a limited shelf life, and that booksellers only have so much shelf space to display books on. So they allow retailers to return unsold books in bulk. At the point in time that this happens the initial demand has usually died down, so if there are more than a few copies, the publisher acknowledges that they will never be able to sell them in the marketplace, so they make them remainders by marking them and selling them for pennies on the dollar.

How are they marked? Usually in different ways. It used to be that they were marked the same way that unsold albums were marked: By a hold drilled somewhere in the hard cover. These days they usually take an easier approach and draw a thick black line on the bottom of the outside pages. Here is an example of the most typical type of mark:


Someone just aligns the books, turns them all over, and runs down the line with a marker drawing on them all, never picking the marker up. For some reason this guy took a return pass, but thats the way it goes, huh? Ive also seen much more blatant markings, such as one entire edge being painted purple, yellow or black, and Ive seen other marks that are so subtle that you would swear that someone made a mistake and accidentally marked a book. Usually when a publisher is trying to be subtle they will put a small stamp of some figure on the book somewhere, usually never under the covers, but on the spine or the end papers. I have been meaning to send out messages to my list of publishers to ask if they could tell me how they mark remainders, but have not gotten around to doing that yet. I suspect that many will not tell me, especially if they do a subtle mark.

Whenever you purchase a used hardback book, or even a new one, you should be aware to look around for a remainder mark. If a book has one, it is of course worth less on the collector’s market because it is defaced.

BSG Razor, saw it this morning

November 25th, 2007

I just watched it, and I thought it was good. I’m pretty sure that it was always written not as a bridge but to placate fans in between the long season breaks. And I personally don’t care too much that it had very little to say directly about the action in the series.

I really liked the wartime imagery focus on WWII rather than Iraq and Afghanistan. It was a nice break that kept the action totally ramped up, which I think is the strong point of that show. Did anyone else notice the WWII visual metaphors? Pearl Harbor, the “just following orders” mentality, Kamikaze Cylon ships, small force attack/rescue missions, Mengele-like experimentation and the like? It definately made the war elements of the show much more dire, as it invoked the end-of-life-as-we-know-it Nazi threat instead of the attack-as-funds-are-available al Queda threat. And considering this show’s facility with that kind of imagery, that really is saying something.

As for Kendra being a Cylon, I really hope not. That would totally undo all the gravitas her character accumulated in dealing with her guilt. If its revealed that she is a Cylon, then everything she went through means nothing, as all she was doing was killing things that she is not, and apparently only shares a dim and stolen genetic heritage with. Revealing her as a Cylon later on would basically be taking her entire character back to zero, which would be really confusing as the end of the show is probably going to have enough loose ends to wrap up. Besides, we all already have a hope for who the last Cylon is, and making it a character nobody has seen before would really piss some fans off.

I also thought the throwback Cylons were pretty cool. “By your command,” indeed!

Oh yea. I almost forgot. Did I really need to be reminded in the ad breaks, twice no less, that there were a coupla’ lesbians on board? Gee, thanks for the update Quiznos. I think I got it the first time I saw it. Honestly now….did anyone else record it? Go back and look at the first Quiznos Moment where they remind us that Six is gettin jiggy with captain deathmonger. They give it to us like a secret whispered between 13-year old boys.

Overall, it was a win for the show.  And it certainly quenched any and all frustrated desires I have for the regular seasons to come back.  Plus, its gonna get those producers more money, and they certainly deserve it and all the other measures of success we can heap upon them, and hopefully encourage more intelligent and worthy SF programs.

Moby Dick

November 7th, 2007

How many of you have ever read Herman Melville’s Moby Dick? I don’t think it was required reading for many people my age, as lit classes in high school during the 1980’s were less concerned about the hefty volumes. So unless you’re older than 40 or so, you may not have read it before. Well, if you are a SF genre fan then you may want to go pick it up and give it a try. Im not saying that Melville was a genre writer, but this odd story about man vs. nature definately has something in it that will be of interest to genre readers. That is: The white whale! I think that the whale is a proto-SF beast, and even though may not have come at all from an SF tradition, Melville definately influenced those who came after him.

Think about it: Its a giant inhuman beast that displays intelligent thought and motivation when looked at closely, but still on the surface seems to act as an animal. It was animalistic, strange and powerful, and at the same time it acted with purpose, just like a pulp alien monster would. Just like an alien monster would Its definately more than just intelligence. The whale intends to do what it does, for an intelligent reason? That presumed intelligence creates mystery around it. That and the fact that its a non-human really do, in my opinion, make it the proto-type for SF monsters that came later. Like Godzilla. Godzilla differed in one critical way in that it was created in an atomic blast, and Moby Dick was just a whale in the ocean. But there is kind of an other-worldly oddness about them both, isn’t there?

Compare the whale and the shark from the movie version of JAWS. That story was really a man vs. nature story. In the end the shark bought it because it was an animal and couldn’t understand mans technology (it bit onto a container of gas, and the container was shot). The shark in that movie was just hunting to eat, and we the viewers were terrified by that, and the ferocity of its attacks. Now that may have been confused a little bit by the film makers who were trying to scare the pants off of the viewers, but the shark really didn’t become anything larger than its place in the food chain.

In Moby Dick it really was the captain vs. the whale, not nature itself. The whale’s status as an adversary was raised to that of a worthy opponent. Ahab hunted it because of vengeance, not for public safety. The whale took on the role of a villain in a way that the shark in Jaws never really did. And in the end the whale overcomes Ahab, despite his technological advantage. At the time that this was written I think that was to show the futility of Ahab’s purpose, and the consequences of giving up on the world. But I also think that later authors took that victory to heart and the concept morphed to become in additon to the costs of hubris, the victory of unknown technology over the unprepared (of course, only in the rare case when the hero lost to the alien/monster, which was almost always a temporary loss to be rectified by the end of the book).

Anyway, Melville was writing a long time before SF really got going. he wasn’t trying to make a SF beast, but it seems to me that he did influence those SF writers who came later. And for that reason, I keep a copy of that book in my SF collection.

Used Book Condition Guide

November 5th, 2007

One thing you should always remember in reading someone else’s rating of a particular book, it is subjective. You will not be able to know the true condition of a book until you see it. Book dealers are notorious for upgrading slightly every book that they list, especially on the web. Make sure to either check the book yourself before purchase, or buy from someone you trust who will honor the agreement you will have to make before purchase to return books that don’t match the advertised condition.

Condition of a book is usually in the form of New/New, VG/VG, Fine/Good, VG/–, etc. The first part is the condition of the book, the second is the condition of the dust jacket. If a “/–” is present, it usually means that the dustjacket is not present or that the book didn’t come with a dusk jacket, though the ad may say “W/O dust jacket, as issued.”

Plus (+) and minus (-) may be used to signify a better description. Note that any defects such as missing pages, loose pages, markings, etc. should be noted in the description.

New – This is a new book, in print and generally available from most general booksellers. Prices are based on suggested retail price. This is the same as “Mint Condition” to coin collectors. Some dealers will insist on individual wrapping if that is how the book was issued.

As New – This is a book that is in immaculate condition similar to how it was published. This book had no defects, no missing pages, no library stamps, etc., and the dustjacket (if it was issued with one) imperfect, without any tears. Some dealers will insist on individual wrapping if that is how the book was issued.

Fine (F/f or FN/fn) – This book is close to being as new, but it lacks the crispness of a new book. There must also be no defects and if the jacket has a small tear, or other defect, or looks worn, this should be noted. I have seen the designation of “Near Fine,” but I don’t think that there is any difference between this and Fine.

Very Good (VG/vg) – This describes a book that show some small signs of wear – but no tears of the binding or paper. Any defects should be noted. For many collectors this is the minimum acceptable condition for all but the rarest items. There may be some small stains.

Good (G/g) – Good traditionally means, to a book collector, not very good. This book is in average worn condition. It has all pages or leaves present.

Fair – This is a worn book that has complete text pages (including those with maps or plates) but may lack endpapers, binding, jacket, etc.

Poor – This book is sufficiently worn, to the point that its only merit is Reading Copy because it does have the complete text, which must be legible. All missing maps or plates should still be noted. This copy may be soiled, scuffed, stained or spotted and may have loose joints, hinges, pages, etc. Any defects should be noted. There is no standard term for books in a condition below poor. Their normal fate is to be discarded or to be broken into individual pages if these have any value, unless they are ex-library books, or are very very hard to find otherwise.

X-Lib: Indicates book came from a library, normally a public or school library. This includes library stamps, markings to identify the book and probably pockets glued in. Additional information will be added for a better description. Example (X-Lib, in VG + condition).


October 30th, 2007

Tomorrow is Halloween, and are my kids ready for it.  The boy is going to be the blue Power Ranger and the girl is going to be a fairy.  They have been wearing their costumes so much that I was afraid that they would wear them out before the big day came.  Unfortunately the boy has a bit of a stomach bug and is pretty much shitting water.  Not that that’s gonna stop him from his manifest destiny of candy acquisition.  That boy is so psyched.

Oh, and more book reviews are up.  Ive asked my brother, the god of all things silicon, to get some cool stuff put up on the book review page.  Cant wait!

Book Reviews

October 26th, 2007

More book reviews are up.  I think I’m going to try to pawn myself off as a real reviewer and see if anyone is willing to send me free books to review.  Hmmmm.  I’ll have to put some thought into this.  Maybe a webcounter will help convince someone that I’m for real.


October 23rd, 2007

The best goddam thing in this world is kids. Heh. Last night she was running all over the restaurant, getting under everybody’s feet, but somehow managing to make everyone smile. I took her outside to talk to her about how she was acting. She looked up at me with a huge smile and I just decided to chase her around after that.

Tonight? Tickle fights. I have found that I am capable of giving sweet light tickles with my right hand while assaulting my boy in an all-out tickle battle with my left. I have skillz.