Tuesday, December 14, 2010

More Bad News for Canadian Book Lovers

Last week DB Media, the Canadian branch of Direct Brands Inc., closed down due to bankruptcy. What does that mean? DB Media was a direct marketing company that operated Columbia House Canada and, more relevant to this blog, Doubleday Canada Book Club. DB media had operated for more than 70 years in Canada and was known as the largest direct marketer of books in Canada.

Not suprisingly, they blame the internet.

Which is ironic, because I actually was looking at joining through their website last year. I have an alternate theory based on the two reasons I ultimately did not join. They were:

1. The book club really didn't have enough selection for me. I barely found enough books to fit my introductory order of $1 books (plus $14.95 for shipping). I just could not see how I could justify fulfilling the obligation to buy 4 more books at cover price, plus shipping and taxes, over the next two years when I have better selection and prices elsewhere.

2. I was a former member of clubs like BMG and Columbia House movie club. Enough said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Canadians are out of work, with no severance pay, just weeks before Christmas. Nice move guys Smiley

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies!


Excellent fun!

I just finished reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Deluxe Edition by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. If you have not read this one yet, and you have read the original Jane Austen novel, I highly recommend it.

Here's hoping that this nascent genre has not reached its pinnacle with its first specimen. . . and further, that such works do not cause Jane Austen to rise from the dead in outrage.


Monday, November 22, 2010

A Lazyman's Catch-Up Post

Look at that - another gap in time.


Ventus by Karl Schroeder - This book actually takes place in the same universe as Lady of Mazes. And it's almost as good. I really enjoyed this Fantasy/Science Fiction cross-over.


Tuck by Stephen R. Lawhead - A Great ending to a great series.


The Winds of Darkover by Marion Zimmer Bradley - After a clumsy intro, this obvious potboiler actually gets interesting. But it is too short. The author even admits she wrote this one because she needed some fast cash.


If I pay thee not in Gold by Piers Anthony and Mercedes Lackey - The first half is slow and plagued by heavy foreshadowing. The second half is just not very compelling and ultimately results in an unsympathetic protaganist.

BTW the conclusion of the book's title statement is (spoiler):

I'll have freaky three way demon sex with thee.

Distant Early Warnings Ed. Robert J. Sawyer - Warning, avoid! Okay, there are a few good stories in there, Sawyer's work notwithstanding.

Note to RJ: If you have to come up with justifications not to include better authors than yourself in a compilation and then put two stories of your own in there, chances are your compilation sucks as much as your stories.


The Green Trap by Ben Bova - Abysmal.


On T.V:

Warehouse 13 - I finally gave this show a chance. I like it!

Sanctuary Season 3 - Why did they change the music? And why did they change it to something so inferior?

Stargate Universe Galactica - I may abandon this show soon for the same reason I abandoned Battlestar Galactica. I just don't like any of the characters.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Proofreading an Old Favorite, Wildside by Steven Gould!

I just finished a long overdue re-read of Wildside by Steven Gould. While this is not my favorite novel by Mr. Gould, it is the book that first introduced me to his work, and that's not to say that it isn't one of my favorites. It's a great read! Look for a review soon. . .

Also, it gave me a chance to try out a few ebook formats.

That's right, I read it in an electronic format. You see, over on his blog, Steven Gould announced that he needed some volunteers to proofread Wildside since he had to scan and OCR the text before composing the ebook. I jumped at the opportunity of course (no pun intended). What happened to his original computer file I don't know, but he has already released Jumper and Reflex as ebooks, at very reasonable prices I might add.

I recieved copies in both Mobi and EPUB formats, but since I haven't bought a handheld reader yet, I read them on my computer. I think I prefer the EPUB format over Mobipocket. There is a handy plugin for Firefox that lets you read .epub files and lets you change the background colour, font, margin width, etc. The Mobipocket reader is available as a free download, and it looks slick, but it just wasn't as convenient for me.
And now to start proofreading Helm. . . Smiley

Update: Get it here.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Amazon Vs. Canada and the Introduction of E-book Commerce

Sadly, my favourite place to buy books, the bargain books section at McNally Robinson, has been significantly downsized. This is hardly surprising, I suppose, following the news that McNally Robinson declared bankruptcy and closed two of its four Canadian locations at the end of last year.

Yet, defying all odds, American book retailers are apparently doing better during the recession as Amazon.com has moved to enter the Canadian market.

All this is occurring at a time when consumers are starting to move toward electronic books, lured by shiny e-readers and handy apps for the i-phone. Canada's largest book retailer, Indigo has entered the arena with its new Kobo ebook reader which retails for about $50 less than Sony's entry model. But this comes as the market is entering a price war that some predictions say will bring the price of e-readers down below $100 by the end of the year.

Personally, I don't think I will be lured away to the e-format until the prices reflect the actual value of the product. Seriously, shouldn't e-books be cheaper than books of the old dead tree variety?

Conventional books start in electronic format on an author's computer. Then trees are cut down, shipped to a mill, pulped, pressed, trimmed, shipped to a printing press, printed on, cut up again, bound and covered, shipped to distribution hubs, shipped to stores, and finally take up shelf space until (best case scenario) someone buys them. And that's just my simplified version of the process.

Conversely, e-books live entirely in cyberspace. Distributors only need one copy on a server in order to sell millions.

So why do e-books cost as much, if not more, than paper books? Why are we charged hardcover prices when there isn't even a paperback being placed in our hands? Didn't we already buy an expensive reader?

I'm guessing it's the same kind of scam as ATM fees, cell phone charges, and other vapourware that rich people use so that they don't have to live like the rest of us mortals.

And then there is the worry that even though money has changed hands, ownership has not.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Sampling of Steampunk

I recently finished an odd compilation of short stories in the genre called steampunk. Strangely enough, that was also the title of the book.

Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this book to anyone. Ann and Jeff Vandermeer nearly succeeded in eradicating any interest I ever had in the genre.

I'm going to break this down into individual stories to try and give you a better picture of what this book offers than what the back cover tells you. (spoiler alert: the word 'absurd' will be used a lot)

The first story is actually an excerpt from a novel called The Warlord of the Air by Michael Moorcock. This short snippet of a story provided by the editors dumps you into the middle of the plot, shows a bit of dirigible action, and then. . . well, then it stops. There really isn't enough of a narrative here to show any potential and feels more like an incomplete sentence than anything else.

Next up is Lord Kelvin's Machine by James P. Blaylock. This story maintains much of the 'unfinished' feeling of the previous excerpt, jumping breathlessly from situation to situation without much explication. That said, it was probably the best story in the collection and probably the only one to preserve any connection to Jules Verne or H. G. Wells, the supposed progenitors of steampunk. Fortunately, this short story was later reworked into a full novel. I would suggest you look for that instead of this book.

Following that is The Giving Mouth by Ian R. MacLeod. How this story can be called steampunk is beyond me. With it's bleak and depressing tone and reliance on poorly defined magical forces, Dark Fantasy would be a better fit. Hardly worth the time it took to write these few sentences.

A Sun in the Attic by Mary Gentle is a decent story. I admit that the failing here may be mine as I simply find it hard to invest any interest in a story about an alien planet with pseudo Victorian themes that are themselves superseded by the odd juxtaposition of a matriarchal, polyandrous society.

The God Clown is Near by Jay Lake is a celebration of the perverse, yet it is otherwise pointless.

The Steam Man of the Prairie and the Dark Rider Get Down: A Dime Novel by Joe R. Lansdale is not a novel, nor is it worth ten cents. Steampunk? Maybe. Splatterpunk (Gore Horror) / rape porn / snuff porn / bestiality porn? Certainly. This is the most disgusting thing I have ever encountered and I stopped reading less than 1/5th of the way through. This story sounds like it was written by a psychopathic teenager during a stint in Juvie. If I keep this book I will be removing these pages.

The Selene Gardening Society by Molly Brown is quite absurd but better than average for this collection.

Seventy-Two Letters by Ted Chiang is set in an alternate Victorian age in which steam power and clock work devices are replaced by Kabalistic magic. Is that still steampunk? Well written but absurd.

The Martian Agent, A Planetary Romance by Michael Chabon is slow, overwritten, and pointless.

Victoria by Paul Di Filippo is absurd, perverted, and puerile all rolled into one.

Reflected Light by Rachel E. Pollock is boring and pointless.

Minutes of the Last Meeting by Stepan Chapman - Nuclear bombs, nanotechnology, a powerful artificial intelligence. . . why is the Tsar still riding around in a steam powered train and fighting with measly old guns? Must be Baba Yaga, or whatever. Oh yeah, I almost forgot to say that it's absurd.

Finally, the book ends with Excerpt from the Third and Last Volume of 'Tribes of the Pacific Coast' by Neal Stephenson. This is a really good story, but it is post apocalyptic cyberpunk, not steampunk.

All in all - if this is what steampunk is, I'll have none of it.

Rating: */5

An Update

Hi all,

I started a second blog a while ago where I can go off and rant about anything. Mostly that means politics or things I heard on the news but sometimes it will be about non-SF&F pop culture or some other minutiae of my life. It's called I Don't Buy That.

My second update is a notification that I am discontinuing my use of the mini reviews in the 'Just Finished' portion of the left hand column. I will continue to post the names of books I have recently completed reading, but the mini reviews will now be placed as blog entries.

Update - Here are the last of the "Just Finished" blurbs:

1491: New Revelations of the Native Americans Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann

An excellent compendium of new discoveries and emerging theories in archaeology. While some will find the conclusions controversial, I support virtually every claim in this book. It will be interesting to see the results of some research that was still ongoing when the book was released.

History of the Hobbit Part 2: Return to Bag End by John D. Rateliff

I admit, I skipped the last portion of this book. Otherwise, I found it intriguing.

The Space Opera Renaissance by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer

I stalled out on the last story, but I enjoyed all the others!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Avatar in Three Dimensions

Following swiftly on the heels of my viewing of Disney's A Christmas Carol in 3D, I went to see James Cameron's new, record smashing, hit movie Avatar. I'm not sure what I expected going into the theatre. Certainly the previews showed a visually stunning movie, but one that I suspected would have a fairly straightforward, and thinly veiled, story about military exploitation.

One feature that I was really looking forward to was the supposed innovation in 3D technology. I guess I fell for all the hype. It really wasn't all that impressive. Sure, there are a few sparks and other floaty things that stick out, and some sort of weird holographic computer interface that has prominent screen time for about a second. Other than that I really felt let down. I suspect that the real difference between Avatar and Disney's Christmas Carol in regards to the 3d projection is the forced focus in the former. By that I mean that far too often in Avatar the only thing in focus is the main character. I suppose this is more a limitation of real world camera technology vs. computer animation, but I found it very annoying, especially when the story's pacing flagged and my eyes tended to wander around the frame.

I'm not going to go into a plot breakdown, I'm sure most people have seen the movie already. I will say that the movie is not really anti-war, as some have claimed.

Instead I want to focus on three other areas where I felt the movie failed. They really are nothing more than nits that I'd like to pick, at least when one considers the sheer number of movie and T.V. shows have the same problems or worse.

The first problem is the rubber-faced aliens. While I realize that rubber has been exchanged for CGI, the Na'vi are still just humans done up just to look wierd - and stereotypically tribal, for whatever reason.

My second gripe is the use of the word 'unobtainium'. Even to those viewers who have lives more interesting than a nerdy blogger who knows about many types of literary tropes and memes, the name unobtainium should be ridiculously transparent; the writers of this movie have no imagination, and so they have snarkily decided to co-opt the language of their critics.

And finally, the voice-overs. . .

I once read that a sure sign that you are watching a bad movie is when the voice-over starts - and I cannot say that I disagree. However, I think James Cameron really missed an opportunity with his use of the voice-over. Obviously, the choice to use voice-overs in Avatar was made, just as in the case of the theatrical release of Blade Runner, bcause the producers felt that the audience would be comprised of utter morons who couldn't understand what they were seeing without being told. Once again, I cannot say that I disagree - at least not completely. It baffles me how such a mediocre movie can generate so much box-office revenue while great movies like Serenity barely make back their budget.

That being said, I think there can be a place for character driven voice-over narration. For instance, the video journals are a great time saving device and were vital to protraying a story that takes place over a long period of time in a movie that is only (or should be) two hours long. Used properly, the effect is tasteful and unobtrusive.

The problem is that there are voice overs that clearly are not part of Jake Sully's video journals. In fact, they can only be explained as an omnicient expository device, and as such I found them to be disruptive to my state of suspended disbelief. I feel the extraneous voice-overs could have easily been lumped into the video journal conceit, or omitted alltogether. Actually, I'm not completely convinced that James Cameron wasn't attempting a much subtler effect but had his efforts co-opted by some marketing team.

Rating ***/5

Edit (01/10/11): I've just finished watching the 'Collector's Extended Cut' version of Avatar (2D). I now see that Cameron intended all the voice overs to be part of Jake's video journal. There is, however, still no explanation as to why the normally taciturn and private ex-marine is so verbose when making such an easily accessible recording. Why would he even include his back story if he's just supposed to be documenting his experiences with the Na'vi? I can only assume that the intro and some of the other voice overs are meant to be part of his final message before shedding his human body. The whole movie, including the other video journal entries, is then simply a flashback. Without clear distinction between the two sets of voice overs, things become a little confusing.