Archive for March, 2010

Book Proof Received:
Little Women and Werewolves

Monday, March 29th, 2010

No, really.

Louisa May Alcott and Porter Grand’s Little Women and Werewolves
Del Rey, 2010, $14.00

I try to create a parody, and instead it comes out as prophecy.

Mocca’s “I Would Never”: No Ironic Hipster Value Whatsoever

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

Ever now and then you stumble across something that, given your general tastes and outlook, you shouldn’t like, but you do anyway. “What, you like that?” asks your friends. “That is so not you.”

Take Mocca’s “I Would Never” as an example, a simple, charming pop song done in an easy-listening style that went out of fashion at least 40 years ago. I chanced across this a few years ago searching for something else, and every now and then get a yen to hear it again, which then necessitates trying to remember the name of the artist. And then I find it again, only to discover that, yes, it’s still not on iTunes.

So I’m embedding the video here as much as a blog sticky note to myself as sharing it with others…

Mocca seems to be a Indonesian pop band which has done several albums of material in this style: Poppy, upbeat, cheerful, and deeply un-ironic, which must be a crushing disappointment to jaded hipsters everywhere. It’s just well-done and…pleasant.

Sometimes that’s enough.

Seems A Little Steep

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

This video was posted to a Fark thread on rickety bridges.

The view is less awe-inspiring than bowel-clenching, especially when you get to the parts where part of the trail has fallen away…

Books Read: Kage Baker’s The Women of Neil Gwynne’s

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Kage Baker, The Women of Neil Gwynne’s
Subterranean Press, 2009.

By now you’ve probably heard that Kage Baker died of a particularly aggressive form of cancer on January 31 of this year. I did not know Baker (I may have said hello in passing one Armadillocon), and thus have no particular insight into her as a person. Her death probably makes The Women of Neil Gwynne’s, the tale of a bordello in the employ of a cabal of Victorian Steampunk inventors, a prohibitive Hugo and Nebula favorite.

Alas, I have the same response to this that I had to Or Else My Lady Keeps the Key, another Subterranean novella from her I read last year: Competently executed work that largely failed to engage me. Not everyone can be Tim Powers, but there’s an art to writing mock Victoriana, and Baker just didn’t nail it here. There’s a certain dry English reserve, but nothing from Ben Johnson/Oscar Wilde axis of cutting dry wit that really makes a work of this sort sparkle. Plus it doesn’t help that the real plot doesn’t get started until a third of the way into the book.

Books Read: Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

I know Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris is regarded as a classic, and the version I read (the U.S. first edition) evidently suffers from being “double-translated” (Polish to French to English), but this is still a bit of a dated slog. The characters combine the flat-effect of stereotyped scientists with the foolish incompetence of a horror-movie protagonist. Strangely enough, the only time the book really came alive to me was when all action ceased in favor of a an entire chapter of infodump on the various forms the living ocean created on the surface; it’s a shame Lem decided to spend the majority of the novel on the truly tedious psychological struggles of the deeply uninteresting characters examining the living ocean rather than the ocean itself.

A Photo Tour of Depopulated Rural Japan

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

Just what the title says, and quite fascinating. For all the urban bustle, many parts if rural Japan are turning into ghost towns, driven by the relentless population decline and aging demographics.

In 2010, Japan is the oldest society that has ever existed in the history of humanity on the planet, and will remain so, not remotely challenged, for several decades at least.

(Hat Tip: Fark.)

Upshot: Never, Ever EVER Buy Cars From Texas Auto Center

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

I had glanced at the headline on this story about a rogue auto-dealership employee disabling people’s cars using a remote black box, but didn’t realize this had occurred in Austin.

The dealership used a system called Webtech Plus as an alternative to repossessing vehicles that haven’t been paid for. Operated by Cleveland-based Pay Technologies, the system lets car dealers install a small black box under vehicle dashboards that responds to commands issued through a central website, and relayed over a wireless pager network. The dealer can disable a car’s ignition system, or trigger the horn to begin honking, as a reminder that a payment is due. The system will not stop a running vehicle.

Not withstanding the fact that: A.) This was a rogue employee, and B.) People should pay their car payments, I for one vow that I will never, EVER do business with Texas Auto Center under any circumstances. I’m not going to let Big Brother monitor my car, and I’m certainly not going to let this dealership’s Little Brother do the same.

If anyone can point to step-by-step instructions on how to disable this device, I’ll post a followup link here.

Bruce Sterling’s Other Evil Twin

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Austin skiffy fans with long memories may remember that I won the Bruce Sterling Rant Off at an Armadillocon lo these many years ago. This means that I am authorized to act as a Low Calorie Bruce Sterling Substitute, should the need arise.

What you may not know is that Bruce Sterling has another evil twin, or at least one Sandeep Gupta, who blatantly plagiarized the text of Bruce’s book The Hacker Crackdown and republished it as Hacking in the Computer World.

And for those that didn’t know it, Bruce released the entire book as literary freeware back in 1994, a copy of which can be found here.

Sayeth Bruce: “This is awesome! I always wanted to be a globally-aware Indian-writing-in-English. Me and Rushdie, man! From now on I’m gonna be ‘Sandeep Gupta’ whenever I please!”

Books Read: Joe R. Lansdale’s Vanilla Ride

Monday, March 15th, 2010

Joe R. Lansdale
Vanilla Ride
Random House, 2009, $24.95

It had been nearly a decade since the last Hap & Leonard novel, so it was good to catch up with them again. The last one, Captains Outrageous, occasionally suffered from having too many people on stage at the same time, which is why it was a good thing that Leonard’s boyfriend remained off-stage for this one. Hap and Leonard retrieve their old friend Marvin Hanson’s daughter from the clutches of a drug-dealer, only to have the Dixie Mafia come down on their heads. A pretty hefty body count ensues. I would rank this in about the middle of the Hap & Leonard novels, not as good as Mucho Mojo or The Two-Bear Mambo, but as good or better than the rest. (And just in case you didn’t know, I have a ton of Lansdale (most of it signed) over on the Lame Excuse Books page.)

ABE Books Doesn’t Know Dick

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

I stopped dealing books on ABE Books eight years ago because it was obvious they wanted to nickle-and-dime dealers to death, as well as force us to sign up for third party re-sale programs that were previously voluntary. Plus the people in charge didn’t strike me as the smartest knives in the toolbox.

Speaking of ABE stupidity, over at SF Signal I noticed this link to an ABE article on the most valuable first editions of Philip K. Dick. Below some boilerplate on Philip K. Dick’s life (generally accurate, but nothing anyone couldn’t have written by skimming Wikipedia or Clute & Nichols) there’s a list of “Top 15 Most Collectible Philip K. Dick titles sold on AbeBooks”. The problem is, anyone with a knowledge of Philip K. Dick first editions who looks at the pictures accompanying those fifteen titles can tell the people who put them up didn’t have a freaking clue, as many don’t match the edition they’re illustrating:

  1. The picture accompanying Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is not the Doubleday first edition of 1968 described, but a later UK edition. An example of the real dust jacket for the first edition (albeit an Ex-Library copy) from my own collection is shown below.

  2. The picture accompanying the listing for a UK Gollancz edition signed by Dick could not have been the edition Dick signed, since it is part of the Gollancz Masterworks editions published about two decades after Dick’s death. FWIW, my copy of the true Putnum first edition is shown below.

  3. The edition of Valis shown in the image is not that of the Kerosina Press lettered hardback edition, but the more recent trade paperback reprint. (I have a copy of the slipcased numbered edition signed by Kim Stanley Robinson, but not one of the lettered copies with the Dick signature tipped in.) A scan of the cover of the Kerosina edition is shown below.

  4. The copy of Dr. Bloodmoney shown is not the Gregg Press hardback described, but the true paperback original (PBO) edition mentioned in passing. (All a scan would show is the usual Gregg Press plain green cloth.)
  5. The copy of The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick shown is not one of the 1/100 deluxe editions with Dick’s signature tipped in, but rather the regular unsigned edition (which is also the edition I have).
  6. The picture of Solar Lottery shown is not the Gregg Press (first US hardback) edition described, but the PBO. (Again, all a scan would show is the usual Gregg Press plain green cloth.)
  7. The copy of Confessions of a Crap Artist shown is not the Entwhistle hardback described, but one of the trade paperback editions (I own the hardback first, a scan of which is shown below, but I don’t own the paperback, so I can’t tell from sight whether this is one of the essentially simultaneous first edition in wrappers, or the second printing.)

So, out of fifteen books, seven have the wrong picture. That’s pretty piss-poor for an article on collectible books. Then again, ABE frequently does things in a piss-poor manner. Anyone with any familiarity with Dick first editions would have spotted the discrepancies between the text and pictures right away.

And when I said “generally accurate,” there is a significant error in describing why Dick’s works are so valuable:

Because of his relative obscurity throughout much of his life, most of Dick’s works received modest initial print runs. As a result, signed copies of those titles remain very scarce, making Dick one of the most collectible names in modern science fiction.

No, Dick’s early PBOs had runs in the hundreds of thousands (as did most SF paperbacks of that era), and the print run for Dick’s hardback books from mainstream SF publishers, while modest by the standards of bestsellers, were not any smaller than the runs companies like Doubleday did for their other SF writers. Signed Dick books are particularly valuable because he didn’t go to a lot of conventions or do terribly many signings. Also, many of his works published as paperback originals had later small hardback print runs from either small press or UK publishing houses, but they were not initial print runs, they were later editions for the collector or library markets, and they were done not because Dick was obscure, but because he was quite popular among SF readers.

For more reliable information of Dick first editions, I would direct you to L.W. Currey’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors: A Bibliography of First Printings of Their Fiction and Daniel J. Levack’s PKD: A Philip K. Dick Bibliography.

For the record, of the 15 Dick titles they list, I have the first hardback editions of 12 of them (though not in the signed states that made many of the copies listed in the ABE piece so pricey); I lack Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, the Gregg Press Dr. Bloodmoney and the Rich & Cowen World of Chance, which was the first hardback edition of Solar Lottery. I do, however, have a copy of the Cape first hardback edition of The Penultimate Truth, which is rarer than about half the books on their list…

Updated 3/17/10: At least someone at ABE seems to have been paying attention, as many of the wrong images have now been replaced, and the text I singled out as erroneous has been rewritten.