Thursday, March 31, 2005

Top 10 vestigial organs

Thanks to Shawn Walton for pointing out this cool list of Useless Limbs (and Other Vestigial Organs):
The presence of an organ in one organism that resembles one found in another has lead biologists to conclude that these two might have shared a common ancestor. Vestigial organs have demonstrated remarkably how species are related to one another, and has given solid ground for the idea of common descent to stand on. From common descent, it is predicted that organisms should retain these vestigial organs as structural remnants of lost functions. It is only because of macro-evolutionary theory, or evolution that takes place over very long periods of time, that these vestiges appear.

The term “vestigial organ” is often poorly defined, most commonly because someone has chosen a poor source to define the term. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines vestigial organs as organs or structures remaining or surviving in a degenerate, atrophied, or imperfect condition or form. This is the accepted biological definition used in the theory of evolution.

In the never-ending search for scientific truth, hypotheses are proposed, evidence is found, and theories are formulated to describe and explain what is being observed in the world around us. The following are ten observations of vestigial organs whose presence have helped to flesh out the structure of the family tree that includes every living creature on our planet.

I have to say, the vestigial hind legbones in whales have always been my favorite useless organ. Were I filthy rich (and I'm talking Bill Gates and then some) I'd get myself a secret island stronghold somewhere, and launch a breeding program to develop long-legged land dolphins to guard my base. That's what my plan would be, were I suitably rich (not to mention suitably crazy).

Now Playing: Violent Femmes 3

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

That's not our video. Well, maybe it is...

Why is it that Texas is cursed with the worst governors in the history of human civilization? Ann Richards, was a vapid figurehead whose greatest claim to fame was the ability to speak in sound bites. Mark White alienated every constituent by reneging on every campaign promise he ever made. Bill Clements was deeply unpopular, and headed up the slush fund that resulted in SMU's infamous "death penalty," yet was elected to a second term over White, who'd beaten him four years before. The net result of George Bush's ballyooed "property tax relief" was that rates were jacked up overnight across the state to make up for the difference. I tell you, folks, the reason the Texas governorship is comparatively powerless is because a lobotomy is required prior to taking office. I mean, these people are idiots.

Our current governor, Rick Perry, is the absolute worst of the lot. His idea of leadership is to veto bills he doesn't like, only he chooses not to tell the legislature what he doesn't like beforehand. Democrats despise him, and a lot of Republicans aren't too fond of him, either. So it has come to pass that the state comptroller, Carol Keeton Strayhorn (a Republican) and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (another Republican) are not-so-discreetly mulling a gubernatorial run against him. Perry and Strayhorn have been at each other's throats for years now. They abso-frellin-lutly hate each other. But Perry apparently views Hutchison as the greater threat, according to this story in the Houston Chronicle:
A video snippet showing Democratic U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton speaking kindly of GOP Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison at a Washington event came from a tape made by two men working for Gov. Rick Perry's campaign, the campaign admitted today.

Perry campaign director Luis Saenz confirmed the making of the video in a report published in Wednesday's online edition of the Austin American-Statesman.

"We're being very aggressive in everything we do," Saenz said. "And you ain't seen nothing yet."

Hutchison and Clinton were together briefly at Sewall-Belmont House and Museum in Washington, to celebrate a women's history event. Clearly, a civil showing of bipartisanship was utterly inappropriate for such a communist-centric event. Hutchison, were she a good Republican, would've ripped off Clinton's head and pissed down her neck. Were she a good Republican.

Of course, this being Texas, such a hissy fit can't be a simple and straighforward affair. Nosirre Bob. After the video in question began to circulate, the Perry campaign categorically denied that it was responsible. Only someone forgot to tell the cameramen who actually shot the video, who were only too happy to point fingers at the Perry campaign as calling the shots. The Hutchison camp, predictably, was unimpressed by this gross display of covert incompetence:
Terry Sullivan of Austin, representing Hutchison's campaign for re-election to the Senate, said: "I'm embarrassed they got caught in a lie. I'm a little bit more embarrassed that the governor has nothing better to do than stalk the senator halfway across the country, then be dishonest about it."

Personally, I think the lot of 'em are idiots. I'm voting for Kinky Friedman. But as much as I dislike Hutchison (more on her tomorrow) I would dearly love to see her kick Perry's sorry behind from Austin to Albuquerque. The man's a tool, and the sooner we get him out of office, the better. I mean, really. He can't even slander his opponently compentenly--and this is the guy running the state? Puh-leeze!

Now Playing: The Kinks Something Else

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

For the writer who doesn't have everything, but wants it

Apart from the witty banter and caustic commentary, one of the reasons I always read Bookslut is because Jessa or Michael can always be depended on to come up with weird and wonderful links. Sometimes it's both weird and wonderful in the same link. So imagine my delight when I saw the haunted bookshelf.

This is the single coolest thing I have ever seen (and by cool I mean utterly pointless but infinitely desireable). I will get one for my office bookshelves when all the money from my Voices of Vision royalty checks starts rolling in. And when I say "royalty checks" I mean "probably never." And when I mention my office bookshelves, I mean "when I finish building them." And when I say "finish building them" I really mean "when I actually start building them." But I do have a bunch of nails and a table saw in the garage, and I've looked at lumber at both Lowe's and Home Depot, so it's not such a far-fetched notion.

The good news is that because the the haunted bookshelf costs around $250, I'mm not likely to get more than one, if I get any at all. Because if I get more than one, I'm likely to run out of shelf space for actual books in a real hurry. That is, if I ever get the shelves built in the first place.

Now Playing: Billy Joel 2000 Years--Millennium Concert

Sunday, March 27, 2005

My first review!

The first official review of Voices of Vision has been spotted! And it's a good one, too. It comes courtesy of Booklist, and can be found on page 1257 of the the March 15 edition:
Anthologies of mainstream author interviews are common enough, but similar resources covering sf creators rarely see print, except online. Blaschke, fiction editor for, fills something of a vacuum, then, with this outstanding collection of conversations he has had with leading sf editors and authors since 1997. He sorts the interviewees into four whimsically titled categories. "A Source of Innocent Merriment," for instance, focuses on such highly distinctive voices in speculative fiction as urban fantasist Charles de Lint, and "I Am Legend" targets genuine luminaries of the field, such as Samuel R. Delaney and Gene Wolfe. Standout interviews include those with 800-pound gorilla Harlan Ellison, displaying his usual cynicism about sf films and their fans, and perdurable grandmaster Jack Williamson, who explains how he has kept the creative fires burning since his first publication in 1928. Another section takes note of comic book creators, with Sandman author Neil Gaiman leading the pack. Must reading for devotees curious to see what makes their favorite authors tick.
-Carl Hays

That review, which has been reposted on The Dreaming, along with my listing on The Pulse, Digital Webbing and Locus Online have conspired to increase the number of sales VoV has enjoyed of late. Friday morning, my somewhat pointless Amazon sales ranking was in the depressing range of 1,300,000 or so, which means that no books had been sold in weeks. But by Saturday morning, I'd broken into five figures for the first time ever, with the book topping out (as far as I know) at 50,110. Even though the sales rankings are completely pointless for anything other than snapshot comparison with other Amazon titles at that point in time, a million point jump means a nice number of books have moved, no matter how you slice it. Now if I could just manage to keep the number stable in the five figure range for the next year or so...

Now Playing: Syd Barrett The Madcap Laughs

Friday, March 25, 2005

Locus acknowledges my existence

Locus Online has gotten in a review copy of Voices of Vision, and tells the world about it:
Collection of 17 interviews with SF writers, editors, and comic books creators, subtitled "Creators of Science Fiction and Fantasy Speak".

Subjects include Gardner Dozois, Stanley Schmidt, Patricia Anthony, Elizabeth Moon, Neil Gaiman, Samuel R. Delany, Gene Wolfe, Harlan Ellison, and Jack Williamson. All but one (Scott Edelman) are credited to prior print or online publications (Interzone, SF Site, Green Man Review, etc.)

Also, in case my hordes of fans in the Northeastern U.S. missed it, the University of Vermont libraries now stock Voices of Vision, so you can sleep easy at night.

Now Playing: The Eagles Greatest Hits vol. 2

Thursday, March 24, 2005

&#@%! IMAX

I was dismayed to see this story on CNN.ccom about how IMAX theatres are refusing to show a new film, Volcanoes of the Deep Sea, because it makes reference to evolution.
IMAX theaters in several Southern cities have decided not to show a film on volcanoes out of concern that its references to evolution might offend those with fundamental religious beliefs.

"We've got to pick a film that's going to sell in our area. If it's not going to sell, we're not going to take it," said Lisa Buzzelli, director of an IMAX theater in Charleston that is not showing the movie. "Many people here believe in creationism, not evolution."

Texas, to my horror (but sadly, not to my surprise) was one of the states listed where the film was being blacklisted. So immediately I emailed my local IMAX at the San Antonio Rivercenter Mall, asking when they would be showing it. I just received a somewhat evasive, non-committal reply from Caren Myers that leads me to believe San Antonio is one of those fact and reality are deemed too threatening for the fundamentalist patrons that make up such a large segment of the IMAX audience:
We play films based on what our patrons want to see.

I pointed out to her that I am a patron, and I want to see it--or at least have the opportunity to see it if I so choose--but somehow I doubt that will have much influence here. Once again, the religious right has succeeded in imposing its will on those who do not share their rigid worldview. These morons are so narrow-minded a fly could take a dump in both of their eyes at the same time. Am I pissed? Is the pope Catholic?

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Staying Home to Watch the Rain

Tapping the comic fanbase

One section of Voices of Vision is devoted to comic book creators. Neil Gaiman, Brad Meltzer, Frank Cho, Scott Kurtz and Elliot S! Maggin. This was intentional on my part, so as to potentially tap the comic book market--which is interlinked historically with science fiction fandom. That effort has paid off a little bit.
“I knew from the earliest conception of this book that comics would have to be a part of it,” Blaschke said. “First, I’m a huge fan of the form. But there’s also the fact that comics and science fiction have such an intertwined history--it’s difficult to separate the two. And so many of the genre writers interviewed here have comics backgrounds to varying degrees, it was a natural fit.”

The Pulse has run a little story on my book. I don't know if this will generate any sales, but it certainly can't hurt to get the book exposed to more eyes. I might even get a review of the book on the site. That's something that would really help!

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Piper at the Gates of Dawn

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Batman: New Times

Wow. The sheer audacity of this so-called "Fan Film" leaves me stunned with amazement. Unofficial and unapproved, the producers managed to wrangle the talents of Mark Hamill, Adam West, Courtney Thorne-Smith and Dick Van Dyke for the production. They also conflate the various Bat mythologies--the Tim Burton dark-n-gritty approach, the Adam West goofy camp era, and the Paul Dini Gotham Noir popularized by the long-running animated series. Behold Batman: New Times.

Oh, and it's computer animated. Computer animated LEGOS.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Atom Heart Mother

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

I'd break my leg for a monster

Remember that commercial I filmed for Freebirds a while back? Well, apparently they're beginning to run some of the series in various Texas markets. I've wondered up to now if they planned on actually using me in the campaign. According to this press release, I can stop wondering:
One of the spots will highlight a loyal Aggie fan who drops from the stands onto the field during a University of Texas/Texas A&M baseball game and breaks his ankle. He grabs a broom from the stadium as a make-shift crutch. On his way to the hospital, he realizes that he won’t have the opportunity to eat for hours. Freebirds is open. He stops on his way to the hospital for a Monster Burrito.

True story. What can I say? I was hungry, the hour was late, and from past experience I knew they wouldn't let me eat or drink anything once I got to the hospital. That burrito didn't make my leg any less broken, but at least I wasn't hungry anymore...

Now Playing: The Kinks To the Bone

Monday, March 21, 2005

More cover commentary

Nebraska's Frontiers of the Imagination Series is, in my opinion, a laudable book series that is hampered by poor cover design. Consisting mostly of science fiction and fantasy reprints from that hazy period prior to the "Golden Age" of the 1930s, many titles are obscure and long out of print. Some are poorly written, but the influence they had, and the ground they broke make them important landmarks in the history of the genre and worthy of continued availability. Below are four examples of titles in this series:


Looking at these cover designs, a reader will see instantly that they are a part of the same publishing line. That's good, as far as it goes, but I believe the design falls short. The font chosen, a pseudo-woodcut style evocative of a kind of early-20th century motif simply isn't very attractive or easily readable. Choosing a color combination such as orange on black doesn't help matters much. The heavy black border is overwhelming, and oppressive. Individually, these elements seem like a good idea, but when combined fail to stir passion to buy. The cover designs, while technically accomplishing what they set out to do, aren't very attractive.

The first book here, Gladiator by Philip Wylie, has long been rumored to be an influence behind the creation of Superman of DC Comics fame. Unfortunately, there's nothing super about the cover art. Who thought a silhouette of a muscular man flexing his bicep against a salmon-colored sky was a good idea? The cover portrays none of the conflict, anguish or alienation of the book. It's an unforgivably static cover that look more appropriate for a bodice-ripper, and a boring one at that.

The next cover, When Worlds Collide by Wylie and Edwin Balmer, is a bit of an improvement. The pinks and oranges have been replaced by yellow and red, which are stronger. But the swirling ball splashing down into agitated waves is very much a let-down. I can appreciate the retro style inherent in the waves, but is there anyone out there that thinks a subject as dramatic as worlds colliding couldn't produce a more dynamic, evocative picture? With this one, it'd probably have been better to go with an over-the-top 1950s disaster style, to capitalize on the George Pal film version. Again, the design is hampered by the black border and woodcut font.

Gullivar of Mars by Edwin Arnold tries hard to break out of the static approach to cover art. Gullivar is pictured on the cover charging the barbaric Thither Folk, one of whom is cruelly choking the Hither Folk's princess. There's a heavy influence of Burroughs' Barsoom stories at work in this painting, which is understandable--Burroughs fans are a major target audience for this title. I simply don't feel the painting is that good. The images are surprisingly flat, and I get the feeling from looking at it that the artist was simply trying for a quick Frazetta pastiche. The art reminds me of the cover art from the Science Fiction Book Club, circa 1980--yes, it's kind of an accurate representation of the book, but it just isn't very attractive. The overall cover design strikes me the same way. With those old SFBC titles, you bought the book in spite of the covers, not because of them. Go find an old, browning copy of Theodore Sturgeon's More Than Human if you don't believe me. Yuck.

The final image, The Disappearance, again by Wylie (I swear, I didn't realize I loaded up so much on Wylie when I was downloading these) is one of the most successful designs in the series. The translucent nude figure is eerie, and in this instance the framing design works to the book's favor, creating the impression that the woman is boxed in and trapped in some fashion. The heavy blue tones in the image also sets it apart from the oranges and reds and yellows so dominant in the rest of the line. Unfortunately, the stubborn commitment to the same woodcut font, along with the use of orange and yellow accents clashes with the art and blue color scheme. How can someone look at this design and not see that there is an uncomfortable dissonance there? That a different font, and more subdued, complementary color for the font and borders, would create a far nicer, more visually appealing package? Close here, but no cigar.

The failings of the Frontiers of the Imagination Series is particularly frustrating because Nebraska has some very talented graphic artists on staff. I've seen their work. They just don't seem to work on the science fiction titles. Look, for example, at these two books:

Larry Dierker is a former pitcher for the Houston Astros who became a fan-favorite radio announcer before making the jump to team manager. Despite the naysayers, Dierker led the team to three consecutive playoff appearances. Through it all, he kept his laid-back perspective, and continued to wear his trademark Hawaiian shirts at every opportunity. This book design captures that perfectly, with a single baseball sitting against a white background. What initially appears to be random colorful scribblings on the ball are, upon closer look, the palm trees and surf boards so common in Dierker's wardrobe. I'm not sure I like the pink color chosen for the subtitle, but overall the simplicity and straightforward playfulness of the design and art grabs me. It's intriguing. If I were to see this in a book store, I couldn't help but pick it up.

At the opposite end of the spectrum we have Ekkehart Malotki's Kokopelli: The Making of an Icon. I absolutely love this cover. It does a fantastic job of meshing a petroglyph background with a super-imposed modern silhouette of the ubiquitous Kokopelli. The texture of the design simply begs for a reader to pick up and touch the book. I'm particularly impressed with the font work as well--a simple sans serif that isn't too harsh or too angular, presented in three layers of different sizes and colors does a great job of balancing the page and creating a sense of energy where--when you take all the individual components on their own--there isn't any. It also creates the illusion of telling the potential reader more about the book than it really does. I have this book, and may have some problems with the content and approach taken to the subject matter, but that doesn't change the fact that I absolutely love the cover.

I believe the designers tried a similar approach with Voices of Vision, but the horror connotations simply escaped their notice. From a purely technical standpoint, the cover design of VoV is balance nicely. I like the pseudo-typewriter font, and the nested subtitle set apart in strong red ink. Ditto the way my byline is offset below the title. Hopefully, if Nebraska ultimately decides to give the green light to a follow-up volume (More Voices, More Visions anyone?) we'll be able to purge the horror elements from the design and make it more unambiguously SFnal.

Now Playing: Dire Straits On the Night

Friday, March 18, 2005

Anniversaries come and gone

Huh. I've just noticed that yesterday was the one-year anniversary of my first post in this blog. Or any blog for that matter. I didn't celebrate, didn't get liquored up. Didn't do much of anything, as the fact of the momentous occasion escaped my notice entirely. Over the past 365 days I've averaged 8 posts a week and written more than 78,000 words. Who'd have ever thought that I'd have enough blather inside me to keep Gibberish going that steadily?

Don't answer that.

Now Playing: Billy Joel Fantasies & Delusions

Let's talk covers

Jayme Lynn Blaschke, Voices of VisionI've made comments here on occasion regarding the appropriate nature of the cover art for Voices of Vision: Creators of Science Fiction and Fantasy Speak. The good people at Nebraska have taken note of these comments, and done some google searching and such in order to, apparently, find out more. To their credit, they haven't called me up and cursed me out for my criticism, vague though it may be. Since there isn't much public commentary available, I think it appropriate at this juncture to express here what my informal research (and personal opinion) have turned up regarding the cover. I want to clarify that I'm not making these pronouncements wholly in a vacuum--I've got a good deal of layout and design work to my credit, and while I don't claim the talent necessary to make a living at it, I do have the background that allows for reasoned criticism and evaluation.

Firstly, it's not a bad cover. I want to make that abundantly clear. It is very striking, and grabs a potential book-buyer's attention, which is what book covers are supposed to do. But I don't think it's an appropriate cover for my book. Early on in his Sandman run, Neil Gaiman introduced a nightmare called the Corinthian with mouths for eyes. It was a nightmarish image (appropriately enough) in an unabashed horror storyline. I know what the designer was going for with the graphic--conflating "voice" and "vision" led him to replace the eyes with mouths, to visually represent the title. I've got no problem with that. But the sum of the parts still promises "horror," and that's something of a false promise where this book is concerned. Were this an interview collection featuring Dean Koontz and Stephen King, no problem. But screaming eyeballs just don't seem to mesh with Samuel Delany and Jack Williamson.

I've solicited opinions from members of the Slugtribe and Tryptophan writers' workshops in Austin, professional science fiction writers who've been around the block and understand covers and the publishing process. The verdict was 50/50. Half of the respondants--mostly women, interestingly enough--were outright repulsed by the cover and would actively avoid buying the book. Coincidentally, my daughters and wife also dislike the cover, because it's "too creepy." The other half--mostly men--found it striking and eye-catching. They felt it a good cover, inasmuch as it will likely catch potential readers' attention in bookstores, which jibes with my thoughts on the matter. Maybe half of those who liked the cover concept also thought it not an accurate representation of the book, but that the benefits of the cover outweighed the negatives.

At ConDFW I spoke with Rick Klaw--who's been a book buyer for years for Adventures In Crime & Space, BookPeople and Half Price Books--and is adamant about what makes a good book cover (from a bookseller's perspective) versus a bad cover. He's done panels on this very topic. Voices of Vision stumped him. He couldn't tell me if he thought it a good cover or not, because of the conflicting positives and negatives. Which I found very interesting, because Rick, although a friend, has never minced words with me before. The one thing we do agree on is that John Picacio, a fantastic San Antonio artist I've known for years, would've done an unambiguously phenomenal cover. I lobbied hard with Nebraska to use him, but the reality is that very few authors have any influence over their cover art or book design. I am no exception to this rule.

In any event, as I've said before, I think it's a stronger cover than other books in the Bison Frontiers of the Imagination Series have. It's not fair for me to toss out blind criticism without clarifying my opinions, so later on--after I've uploaded some example images so as not to steal their bandwidth--I'll discuss how I think those other covers are great examples of a number of good ideas that, when combined, the whole is somewhat less than the sum of its parts.

Now Playing: The Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo De Silos Chant

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Fanning the media flames

I work for Texas State University, in the media relations department. We put out new releases when our professors have books published, or present research papers, or are invited into certain literary anthologies. Well, as of now, we also put out releases when media relations staff members publish science fiction books:
Voices of Vision examines speculative fiction with a Texas State lens

SAN MARCOS – Science fiction, fantasy and graphic novels are among today’s hottest properties nationwide in bookstores and cinemas alike, and the new interview collection, Voices of Vision: Creators of Science Fiction and Fantasy Speak, works to peel back the curtain and expose the inner working of what makes the genre tick.

Authored by Texas State University-San Marcos media relations specialist Jayme Lynn Blaschke, the book gathers 17 conversations conducted with some of the top writers and editors working today. The book was recently published by the University of Nebraska Press, as part of its Bison Frontiers of the Imagination Series.

“I’ve been very, very privileged to sit down with so many talented artists over the years,” Blaschke said. “It’s humbling, frankly, to look at the table of contents and see all those important names. I still find the discussions fascinating. These aren’t people reciting the same tired answers time again--they have something to say.”

Several interviews have been revised and significantly expanded for publication, and the interview with current Science Fiction Weekly and former Science Fiction Age editor Scott Edelman appears in print for the first time.

“Occasionally you run up against length limits when you’re writing for a magazine, and have to make edits to fit the space available. I always hate to do that, but sometimes there’s no way to avoid it,” Blaschke said. “Fortunately, preparing the interviews for the book offered me the perfect opportunity to restore the missing sections.

“Now readers and fans will finally get to see the thoughts Harlan Ellison shared with me about working on the TV series Babylon 5 and Hollywood in general. Elizabeth Moon gets to discuss her novel Once a Hero and some other projects,” he said. “The biggest addition, of course, is the Edelman interview. I don’t think a full account of the origins and launch of Science Fiction Age has appeared anywhere before.”

The wide-ranging interviews are by turns intimate and thought provoking, irreverent and outrageous. Blaschke talks shop with writers such as Robin Hobb, Charles de Lint and Patricia Anthony; revered authors of comic books and graphic novels, including Neil Gaiman, Frank Cho and Brad Meltzer; and icons such as Samuel R. Delany, Gene Wolfe and Jack Williamson. Editors such as Gardner Dozois, formerly of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine and Gordon van Gelder, of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, discuss their publishing philosophies and strategies, the origins and probable directions of their magazines and the broader influence of such ventures. For devoted reader, aspiring writer, and curious onlooker alike, these interviews open a largely hidden, endlessly engrossing world.

All I can say is that it's nice to have resources such as these to draw upon. Hopefully, I'll have some positive news to report here before too long regarding my efforts to set up some book siginings in the area.

Now Playing: Aerosmith Greatest Hits

Andre Norton has passed on

SFWA Grandmaster Andre Norton died last night in her sleep. Given her recent health troubles, this does not come as a surprise. That it was semi-expected does nothing to mitigate the loss to the science fiction and fantasy community. I never had the chance to meet her, but from all accounts she was a gracious and friendly person.

Further information is to be posted at her official website when it is available.

Now Playing: David Shire Original Music from the Motion Picture 2010

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

New car

Well, it's new to me. Uncle Sam came through with the tax refund, and I made my way northward to Austin to secure the purchase of a PT Cruiser I'd been watching online for several months. Actually making it to Austin was touch-and-go, as the red Neon (vintage '95 model with 160K miles on it) kept wanting to stall out. When it wasn't trying to stall (or outright die) the engine seemed to want to shake itself to pieces. Not a fun trip to say the least. But the dealership did give me $200 in trade-in for it. I almost feel bad for ripping them off like that (heck, they should've made me pay them $200 for that clunker), but then I remember the car had half a tank of gas, so that's $20 for them right there.

The PT Cruiser, as you see in the picture, is dark blue. It's an '02 model with 33K miles on it, so it's practically new, had at less than half the price of a new one. It runs quite nicely, and the interior is clean and well-maintained. I was surprised that the retro styling extends to the instrument panel. Very cool. Reminds me of my grandfather's old '53 Chevy. The Cruiser has a 5-speed manual transmission, which is why I suspect it stayed on the market so long--people only want automatic transmission these days. But as I took it for a test drive, I suddenly remembered why I liked manual transmissions so much. I haven't driven one in years, but it all came back instantly. It just feels like driving, an active participation, rather than the passive experience automatic gives. I like it.

A PT Cruiser wasn't my first choice, mind you. I wanted a Jeep. I still desperately want a Jeep. But they're popular and pricey, and the only ones in my price range were rode hard and put up wet. I need something dependable now, that can double as a family vehicle if the minivan is in the shop (which, as coincidence would have it, is now). As far as compromises go, the PT Cruiser is a pretty good one. Plus, it has the added bonus of not really driving like a car--it feels more like the little S-10 Blazers I used to drive. Not exactly, but more that than the scrape-the-ground design of the Neon. I suspect I'm going to like this car (fingers crossed).

Now Playing: The Police Message in a Box

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Dead Cepheids Society

Rusty Allen is looking for information on former members of Cepheid Variable--the Texas A&M University science fiction club--who have died over the years. He wants to honor them at the upcoming Aggiecon:
I plan to buy a page in this year's AggieCon Program book and list the Cepheids (and others) that have died.

Most of my contacts are of the 70's - mid 80's eras.

Know of any names or anyone else that would want to add someone, please contact me.

I am also using my blog ( to build the list.

If any of you out there know of someone who was once involved with Aggiecon or Cepheid, who is no longer with us, drop Rusty a line.

Now Playing: Michael Giacchino The Incredibles

Friday, March 11, 2005

Cover strife

I've posted here several times about how I don't feel the cover art for Voices of Vision is entirely appropriate for the book. That it conveys a horror message, whereas my book is emphatically not horror. But I've refrained from kicking up a fuss mainly because it is a striking cover, and in that regard much better than the design work of the other books in the Bison Frontiers of the Imagination Series.

But I've recently learned that Ted Chiang didn't like the cover art for his short story collection put out by Tor. I mean, really, really, really, REALLY didn't like it. I mean, wow. Nebraska should send me flowers for my pragmatic attitude!

Now Playing: The Eagles Greatest Hits vol. 2

Blood will be spilled this review...

An interesting chain of events has apparently been unfolding over at The Alien Online this past week. It seems that a profoundly negative review of the novel Gene by Stel Pavlou. Shortly thereafter, apparantly there was an equally negative reaction from Mr. Pavlou. Readers chimed in on Wednesday with their own opinions, and on Thursday the publisher announced he was pulling the plugs on reviews. Period.
Sorry folks, I'm backing down, doing a u-turn, throwing in the towel... I've removed the Gene review from the site, I've apologised to Mr Pavlou for publishing it in the first place (which I realise shouldn't have done in its original form), I've apologised to Mr Lovegrove for publishing something in a public forum which has probably damaged his reputation far more than mine (and let's face it, as a literary sf author his career basically lives or dies on the strength of his reputation, and he's a bloody good literary sf author, too), and I've made a decision.

As of the end of the month, TAO will no longer accept books (or graphic novels, or anything else) for review.

I can understand his frustration and desire to just walk away from the entire mess. I can sympathize. But as I come from a journalism background, giving in to the catcalls simply irks me to no end. When you write something, you invest a great deal of yourself into that work, and there's a degree of personal identity wrapped up in it. I understand that as well as anybody. But when a book is submitted somewhere for review, that free review copy is not payment guaranteeing a positive review. It's not payment for diddly squat. The reviewer owes the author nothing.

Reviews are, to put it bluntly, free advertising. Authors hope that even half the review copies their publisher send out get reviews--positive or negative. Anything to get the book's name out in front of the book buying public. Fame works well as a sales driver. Infamy works pretty darn well, too. Anonymity is the sales-killer you want to avoid. No book will sell if it's unknown.

I've written a bunch of reviews in my time. Most of them are good, simply because I'm selective in what I read and tend to avoid things that give me a queasy feeling the first few pages. But I have written some negative reviews. In every instance where my review has run on SFSite (the only one I've ever tracked) an immediate spike in the sales ranking has followed for the book in question on Amazon. And the spike has been comparable whether the review was positive or negative.

When a person writes a review, they are expressing an opinion. In a positive review, some of that opinion will clue in a reader somewhere that what the review likes and sees as a virtue in prose is not what the reader is seeking. And a sale is lost. Likewise, the flaws outlined in a negative review--even one that's passionately negative--will convince someone to check that book out, because their interest has been piqued. For example, consider John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, hailed as a modern literary masterpiece. Many people love it, worship it. Personally, the only use I have for that godawful wretched book is to wipe myself after a particularly nasty bout of dysentery--and then only if Mr. Wipple was all out of Charmin. Different strokes.

Voices of Vision will start getting its own reviews before long, and while I hope everyone will love what I've put together, I know that someone--perhaps several someones--will take exception to my interviewing style, subjects, questions, or perhaps even the typeface used in the page layouts. I don't know what they'll find, but something will turn them off my book, and they'll write a dismissive review. And it will hurt when I read it, and I'll take it personally and be unpleasant to be around for a few days. But I won't write a scathing letter questioning the reviewer's parentage in response. All I ask is that they spell the name of my book, and my name correctly, because I, too, want that next-day spike in Amazon sales.

What makes the fact that The Alien Online is abandoning reviews particularly sad is the apparent fact that Mr. Pavlou fully deserved the review he received, if reviews of his previous novel are to be believed:
Stripped down to comic book proportions for the big screen, with a deafening soundtrack and a teenage audience anesthetized to a vocabulary largely dominated by four-letter cliches, this often gruesome tale might make a middling SF adventure flick. The often ludicrous dialogue and the ham-fisted handling of human relations and motivations, however, make for an unfocused novel, one patched together like Frankenstein, with every stitching line, every unnatural feature, unblushingly exposed to the most casual glance.

Now Playing: Electric Light Orchestra Balance of Power

Tiptree Awards announced

The James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award Council is pleased to announce that the 2004 Tiptree Award has two winners: Joe Haldeman’s novel Camouflage (Ace Books 2004) and Finnish author Johanna Sinisalo’s novel Troll: A Love Story (Grove Press 2004).

The award ceremony will be held at Gaylaxicon, in Boston, Massachusetts, July 1-4, 2005. Each winner will receive $1000 in prize money, an original artwork created specifically for the award, and the signature chocolate that always accompanies the Tiptree Award.

The James Tiptree Jr. Award is presented annually to a work that explores and expands gender roles in science fiction and fantasy. The Award was created in 1991 to honor Alice Sheldon, who wrote under the pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr. By her chance choice of a masculine pen name, Sheldon helped break down the imaginary barrier between writing by women and men.

Now Playing: Electric Light Orchestra Afterglow

Thursday, March 10, 2005

I, Robot. You, Jane.

I saw the Will Smith SF actioner, I, Robot, tonight with the wife. This is the first time I saw it, having missed it in the theaters due to a severe allergic reaction to movies that have nothing to do with the source material they're purported to be based upon.

You know what? I didn't hate it. It wasn't nearly as bad as I was fully prepared for it to be. It had nothing to do with Asimov's writings at all, despite the window dressing of "The Three Laws" and naming a charater Dr. Susan Calvin. It was, in almost all ways, your standard, run-of-the-mill Hollywood action piece, with the standard set pieces and twists that aren't twists because everyone already knows to expect them. The area where I, Robot mainly comes up short in is lack of imagination. Throughout the movie I kept being reminded of Minority Report by the designs, the action sequences and the police interaction. Only Minority Report was far superior in those areas, so I suppose the latter film could be dismissed as a pale imitation of the former. Except that I, Robot didn't lead me on for nearly two hours, thinking that it was a great film, only to abruptly turn into the biggest stinking pile of regurgitated fecal matter this side Battlefield Earth. No, I, Robot maintained consistency in its mediocrity, and if there's one thing I can appreciate, it's consistency.

I do have to own up to one unfair cheap shot I took at the movie before I saw it, however. When I make mistakes, I 'fess up to them in public, and don't shirk responsibility for my errors or make excuses. In the feature article I wrote for RevolutionSF back in the months preceeding I, Robot's release (Aye-Yai-Yai Robot!), I made a snarky, bold prediction intended to denigrate the creative abilities of Hollywood screenwriters. In the article, I bet $20 that by the end of the movie it would be revealed that Will Smith's character is actually a robot. I was wrong. Will Smith's character is revealed to have only a robot arm. Screenwriter Jeff Vintar can email me at to arrange pickup of his $20. I hope he'll take a check.

Now Playing: SixMileBridge Unabridged

Promotional update

Nebraska has sent me a complete listing of all the media outlets and individual reviewers who the publisher has sent review copies of Voices of Vision to. I know that the books have reached their respective destinations, because at last count, there were no fewer than 18 offered up for sale as "used" or "nearly new" at Amazon. sigh. Nobody warned me about this, that some recipients would hawk the copies online before they even got the book unwrapped. Naturally, I expected some to wind up in used book store, but out of sight, out of mind, you know?

Besides that, I'm fairly impressed with Nebraska's efforts. More than a hundred review copies have gone out to almost as many reviewers and/or venues. Some are names I suggested, others Nebraska came up with on their own (and some are places I never would've thought of). Recipients include Publisher's Weekly, Science Fiction Studies, Locus, Minnesota Public Radio... interesting places, which I may or may not have a decent shot of getting a writeup in. One destination, The New York Times Book Review, signifies an act of boundless optimism on my publisher's part, however. Books like Voices of Vision simply do not get reviewed there. But that's sort of like winning the lottery, I suppose--the benefits of winning are such that you almost have to take a shot at it, even though you know the odds are obscenely long.

I'm hoping that some reviews (positive, I'd like to think) start popping up in the next few weeks. Well see. As of now, the book's listing over at Amazon still lacks so much as a single reader comment.

Now Playing: The Kinks Sleepwalker

Wednesday, March 09, 2005


Since I my last post was about a bad packaging and dubbing (or lack thereof) job done to a high-profile anime release, I suppose it's only appropriate that this post be about a good job done (more or less).

My review of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is now online at RevolutionSF. It's a good film, though uneven in places, and should appeal to anyone who's a fan of intelligent science fiction. Check it out.

Now Playing: The Kinks Muswell Hillbillies

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

An uncouth virus has been rampaging through the family. The weekend was a lost cause for me. I haven't been able to write (or blog), and have generally spent my time hacking up globs of vile substances that would give a HazMat team the willies. The girls are faring no better, although we seem to be coming out the other side of it now. Thank goodness.

So last night, when everyone else turned in early, I had a chance to finally watch Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. I wanted to see it in the theatres last fall, but never managed to work it into my schedule. It is, without a doubt, one of the most stunningly beautiful works of animation I've ever seem. The producers blew a ton on money on their computer-generated showpieces, and it shows in the lavish colors and lush, complex visuals. It's simply a joy to watch. Unfortunately, they went overboard, and a tremendous amount of background and incidental animation done as CGI simply doesn't interact well with the characters in the film, who are done in a traditional hand-drawn style. The integration between traditional and CGI in the original film was handled much better. It also would've helped if they'd spent as much effort on the plot. What we have now is a 30-minute story padded out to almost two hours. I found myself nodding off halfway through the movie despite the pretty pictures on the screen. I mean, really, there are 10 minute blocks at a time where literally nothing happens. Even so, the movie is an impressive accomplishment.

What's unforgiveable is the piss-poor package Dreamworks has put together for this DVD release. First, there is no English dub. Granted, the dub of the original movie wasn't great, but it got the job done. With the fantastic dubs Disney has been producing for the Studio Ghibli releases, you'd think Dreamworks would want to one-up the House of Mouse. No dice. To make matters worse, the subtitles have got to be the worst I've ever seen from a major studio. Yeah, the Cowboy BeBop subtitles are riddled with typos and plain old mistakes, but at least they're subtitles. Dreamworks apparently doesn't know the difference between subtitles and closed captioning for the hearing impared. Why else would they feel the need to subtitle [BACKGROUND NOISE] or [BREAKS SQUEALING]. The worst of it comes when an English-language song is playing on the radio, and the subtitles translate the English lyrics into English! Seriously, folks, this one is a disaster from start to finish.

Now Playing: The Kinks Word of Mouth

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Amarillo World Headquarters

Tee-ball practice went well. Thanks for asking.

So I call the headquarters of Hastings, and get a fellow by the name of Jason Haugen on the line. And, naturally enough, his first reaction toward me is one of guarded suspicion. He suggests that I send a copy of my book to the chain's book buyer, Mollie Quinn. This strikes me as Not Right, as Nebraska has a pretty solid grasp on the whole book distribution concept, and I'd seen titles from the "Frontiers of the Imagination Series" in Hastings before. I ask if there's any way to check if Quinn had already received a copy, so he agrees to check the company warehouse database (or whatever their distribution equivalent is) and is obviously surprised when my book turns up. At that point, he starts giving me real, useful advice. I am to email him with the locations of any stores I want to do a signing at with at least six weeks' advance notice, so they can can arrange marketing and order stock. After a bit of discussion, he decided that early evenings (around 6-8 p.m.) on Fridays and Saturdays would likely offer me the best chance for a successful signing, as the younger (and presumably more science fictionally-inclined) crowd, comes in at those times. He suggested that the College Station and Round Rock stores should be high priorities for me, as they've always had particularly strong SF sales for the chain, and have SF fans in management. He also suggested that I always maintain an author's cache of 10-15 books to take along to signings. Occasionally a title will be backordered, or a shipment misdirected, and the easiest way to kill a booksigning is to not have any books available. In that event, consignment is a viable option for me. It saves me the loss of my time and effort, and the bookstore presumably makes sales they wouldn't have otherwise, while being impressed by my professionalism.

In addition to the two stores I mentioned above, I'm also strongly inclined to schedule signings in New Braunfels and San Marcos (no-brainers) along with Seguin, Killeen, Waco and Victoria.

I have no delusions of selling dozens of books with people crowding up to get my signature. But if I could sign maybe 10 books at each stop, and get them to stock another five or so on their shelves, that would begin to add up after a while.

Now Playing: Wilson Pickett The Best of Wilson Pickett

Friday, March 04, 2005

Now I know how Mormons feel

I made my first foray to the San Marcos Hastings with book in hand and promo flyers from Nebraska with ISBN and all that good stuff. And the first thing they said when I asked for the "book buyer" was "We don't buy back used books." Er. Right. Let me rephrase that. I'm a local author and I'd like to speak with the inventory manager. Right then the two staff at the counter exchanged knowing looks, and said they generally handle "local authors" on a consignment basis. I swear I could almost see the air quotes when they talked, like the heiroglyphics scene in Bubba Ho-Tep. So I spend 10 minutes convincing them that no, I'm not a vanity press sucker, and I'm not peddling unedited dreck out of the trunk of my car. I don't think I convinced them, but they eventually caved and called over the book manager.

Pretty much the same routine with him, until he checked the inventory system and discovered that, yes indeed, the Hastings corporate office considered my book a legitimate publication. He was significantly more friendly after that, turning out to be a SF reader (a Peter Hamilton fan to get specific). He put me in touch with the corporate office, which he said would help me set up book signings and make sure all the stores in the chain stocked at least a few copies. He seemed genuinely interested in VoV, and even offered some suggestions regarding signings and how to deal with the individual stores.

I spoke with Hastings World Headquarters earlier today on the phone. I'll write about that experience a little later. Right now I've got to take off for a pending tee-ball practice.

Now Playing: Gipsy Kings Volare!

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Unexpected score

I've been lusting after The Art of Spirited Away since around Thanksgiving, which is right when I stumbled across a copy on the shelves at the New Braunfels Hastings. I intend to get it, but the $35 price is more than I usually have on me in the form of disposable income. So I usually fondle the book for a few minutes, flipping pages and admiring the gorgeous artwork within. The stills from the movie are gorgeous enough, but what really draws my attention are the watercolor-and-pencil illustrations of Miyazaki's reproduced in the book. Part storyboard, part concept art, there's a richness of texture and organic creativity in those simple images that simply grabs me and refuses to let go.

So yesterday I stopped by Half Price Books to look for a certain book Lisa has been wanting. As luck would have it, they actually had one in stock. But on my way to the checkout, something caught my eye. Mark Schilling's Princess Mononoke: The Art and Making of Japan's Most Popular Film of All Time for just $9.95, exactly the same lush, oversized hardback format as the Spirited Away book. Wow. It is simply gorgeous. And now I find out that it's the American version of the Japanese release The Art of Princess Mononoke, only it's been translated (naturally) and expanded with additional material. I've just barely scratched the surface, but already I'm dazzled. Not that I don't still lust after The Art of Sprited Away, but this does take some of the edge off of it.

I also picked up a CD of Johann Sebastian Bach's harpsicord concertos for Lisa, since she's a fan of the harpsicord and it always pays to keep the wife happy. Now, if I could only find a disc of Mozart's glass harmonica compositions, all would be right in the world...

Now Playing: Johann Sebastian Bach Harpsicord Concertos 1

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Crass guerrilla marketing

So, the raging question on everyone's mind is "Just what did Jayme do all weekend at ConDFW?" I'll tell you: Marketing. For one weekend, I became an unabashed marketing whore. I figure I'm either a publisher's dream author, or their worst nightmare. I haven't decided which yet. I had some advanced copies of Voices of Vision with me, that I placed in the dealers room for sale. I knew well in advance that books might be available for the con, but even if they weren't, ConDFW was my target audience, the people who would boost my sales figures from 300 or so copies bought by adacemics and librarians to the several thousand that would net me royalties and ensure publication of a follow-up volume.

What would make an impact, potentially driving sales a month or so later when the book was officially released? Bookmarks and cover flats are a dime a dozen. And my book's an odd bird, not traditionally what SF readers go for. So what could I do--on a budget--that the average congoer would appreciate and respect. And then it struck me that I must exploit the average congoer's mortal weakness, a weakness that cut across gender and ethnicity lines to encompass the whole of fandom. No, I'm not talking kryptonite. I'm talking free beer.

Will my grand homebrew scheme pay off? I dunno. It was certainly a tactical success. Lots of people called me a guerrilla marketing genius. Four separate parties were coopted into impromptu book launch parties. Lots more people drank the beer, and nobody went blind. Two of the conventions whose parties I coopted invited me as a guest on the spot (the other two already have me on their roster). But was it a strategic success? Will the collectable bottles and good will toward me and my book translate into sales? Only time will tell.

Now Playing: Aerosmith Just Push Play

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Why, it's a Major Award!

I'll do my post-convention wrap-up a little later on. Trust me when I say it was an interesting weekend. But right now I want to share the letter that was waiting for me upon my return to work this morning:
Congratulations! Your entry titled "Texas State Astronomers Unravel Marathon Mystery" has been selected to receive an award in Category 41: News Writing in the 2005 CASE District IV Awards compensation.

CASE is the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, and District IV encompasses Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Mexico. I don't know where my story placed (that's announced April 4), but I have to say it's pretty darn cool to be recognized when you consider all the major universities in competition.

For anyone interested, my winning entry can be read online here (the SpaceRef reprint has better formatting, and therefore is more readable than the Texas State posting).

Now Playing: George Strait Strait Out of the Box