Category Archives: Writing

New Sources of classic Pulp and Horror fiction magazines on the Internet



Just one of the Zines in the Hevelin Project

A posting by John Shirley on the Lovecraft Eternal group on Facebook tipped me to the efforts to digitize a voluminous collection of old paper magazines for a library collection at the University of Iowa. The original collector was Rusty Hevelin, a noted collector of pulp magazines. Hevelin began collecting pulp magazines in the 1930s when they were just published. Pulps were cheaply produced weekly fiction magazines. They got their distinctive nickname because of the poor quality of the paper used to print the magazines on. Pulpy paper might have been cheap, but it doesn’t last long due to the high acid content– so the Hevelin Collection is an important glimpse into the worlds of many early writers that became classic science fiction greats. The pulps were the training ground for many of the most famous science fiction writers like Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. So in a very real way, if you value the content of this archive Rusty Hevelin is a bit of a Godsend. The collection contains thousands of pulps, ranging from the early Thrilling Wonder Stories, Weird Tales, The Shadow, The Spider, and Doc Savage, and many examples of mystery, western, and aviation pulps. More importantly, it’s perhaps the largest collection of fan created magazines (fanzines or Zines, as we called such things back in the day)

The digitization process just started.. if you are interested in accessing it it will be reported on regularly by the lady in charge of the project, at the Rusty Hevelin Project on Tumblr. Nothing really new to report at the moment but work has just started.  If you’re a pulp/noir/weird fiction geek, and goodness knows, I am, this is exciting news from a lot of angles .. not just that the original work of some famous (and some obscure) authors will be saved for future generations– that’s a big plus.  However, I’m even more charged about the fanzine content.   Before the internet, social media, Facebook, Twitter, even email, we had Fanzines.  This was how geeks networked over the years. It’s great to have this window into the past, I think.

In the meantime, someone else turned me on to Internet Archive Pulp Collection
on the Internet Archive.. you can’t beat that!  Many (not all) Weird Tales from bygone eras and magazines I’ve never heard of.  A couple of examples (these are supposed to embed on WordPress.com, but that doesn’t seem to be working so I left the link to the digital copy in the titles):

Here’s Seabury Quinn’s DEVIL’S BRIDE in “The Magazine of Horror, Vol. 5, no 226

Here’s Weird Tales 1937 with the Hounds of the Tyndalos by Frank Belknap Long:

Thanks, Internet!

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NaNoWriMo… the pitfalls and the pratfalls


ImageOkay, so I have to be honest with myself.  I’m not going to finish a novel this month.  I’m not a quitter, but realistically the pace isn’t picking up sufficient to get the job done.  I had high hopes, since I had cheated and written some of the novel already in blog post format, and wanted to revisit the story and make it a real plot instead of a lot of random vignettes.  It’s a doozy of a story, involving a middle-aged cavalry officer in the 19th century being kidnapped to “the Celestial Kingdom” (China) by a brutal Warlord in a quest for vengeance.  The setting is a parallel Earth with certain fantastical elements–  there are many very familiar faces (Frederick Ward, Chinese Gordon, Friedrich Engels and David Lloyd George show up) along with several secondary characters that would be familiar to our world in the 19th century– British Secret Agents, American Sheriffs,  Pinkerton agents, and Chinese bandits and warlords. Alongside the familiar is a whiff of magical realism.  Ward existed in this timeline (in the past), as does the Ever Victorious Army he created, but he was also rumored to be a wizard of no small reputation.  Engels exists in the current timeline, but he is a mechanical enthusiast who putters about as chief of Engineering in a mostly Russian expeditionary force and training cadre.  I’m gradually salting the narrative with some well-known characters from pulp fiction as well, only somewhat rewritten to fit the time and place of the storyline– so expect to see a thinly veiled Nayland Smith in tow, lofty in his disdain for the protagonist.  Where will this polyglot go?  To a remote province of the Celestial Kingdom, where a power maddened Warlord and a 300 year old Wizard are hatching a devious scheme to wrest control of the Kingdom from their rival warlords and European interlopers, and become the new Son of Heaven.

I like it, it’s a grand story with a big scope.  The problem is it’s a little complex to plot it all in the short space of a month.  I’m not used to writing on a schedule.  I certainly understand that the whole point of Nanowrimo is to create a sense of discipline to sit down and “put garbage on the page”, since you can edit it later.  I’m trying.  I just can’t steel myself to write anything without sitting back and editing it on the fly.  It’s slow.  So I might try speeding up, but realistically, I’m off to Fall-IN! tomorrow and that will command about a half week of creative time that would best be put towards writing.  So it goes.

Maybe the whole experience will teach me some good habits.

Review: Lord Valentine’s Castle, by R. Silverberg


Lord Valentine's Castle (Majipoor, #1)Lord Valentine’s Castle by Robert Silverberg

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Some Spoilers. Review based on a second reading decades after the first time, when I was still in my teens. At the time, I remember liking this book. Now, as an adult, I find that I’m not nearly as impressed with it as I was long ago, but there are still some fun moments. Lord Valentine’s Castle is about one Valentine, who comes to wakefulness near the seaside city of Padruid, on a giant continent on a giant planet called Majipoor. He has no memory of his previous existence before this point. The story concerns itself with his quest to recover and reclaim his identity, which is pretty much established in the first chapter or so. The book, thereafter, is a long hero’s journey style story where he overcomes enormous difficulties to achieve his goal. All well and good, we’ve seen this kind of story before, and Silverberg is a great writer and a great world builder, so I was prepared to be engaged with it. The thing is, the lead character is weak. He’s a pleasant enough fellow, and likable, but he’s not very engaging. And all the supporting cast, including his incredibly convenient love interest, just seem to exist to confirm his activities and occasionally act like cannon fodder. Characterization was minimal at best, we don’t really see people– even the protagonist and antagonist in any level of detail. The real star of the novel was the setting– the planet Majipoor, a sort of fantasy/SF fusion setting, being a place colonized by Humans after fighting the aboriginal natives into submission. Majipoor is so vast.. a planet roughly the size of Jupiter, but inhabitable, that the humans have invited several other alien races to settle on the planet to help them rule. Due to the unique dream control technology which helps to govern the planet, all residents, aliens and human alike, are capable of receiving messages through dream states. This apparently has a lot to do with the harmonious government of Majipoor. No war, no crime and not even murder has occurred on Majipoor in 14,000 years. Until the events of LORD VALENTINE’S CASTLE that is. Valentine’s Eastward track through the giant continent that he is on, to the Isle of Sleep, to the Confrontation with the False Coronal that took his place, that’s the real story in Lord Valentine’s Castle. The conspiracy is often forgotten in page after page of travelogue writing, and I found myself not minding much, the setting was the best part of the novel.

Conclusion. Three Stars, really more like two and a half.  Characters were mediocre at best, plot was long and meandering, the conclusion telegraphed. The travel elements of the book make it worth a read, at least once.

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Book Review: THE EXTRA by Michael Shea


The ExtraThe Extra by Michael Shea

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Review based upon the Blackstone Audio version of THE EXTRA by Michael Shea, narrated by William Hughes.

Reading (or listening to) a Michael Shea novel is a rare treat for me, because Michael Shea doesn’t exactly crank novels out like a factory. So when they do appear I snap ’em up promptly without much further ado. THE EXTRA caught me by surprise.. I was browsing the audio book section of the U.S. Army’s online library (no kidding!) and there it was, so bang, zip, it was downloading to my Ipad 2.

To say Mr. Shea is “variable” in his style is not entirely accurate, but in the past, he has written in a sort of old pulp pastiche style not unlike a Weird Tales writer from the 50s– almost baroque with his language, florid and very descriptive– my favorite example of this is the outstanding NIFFT THE LEAN series, which I recommend highly. NIFFT is a sort of dark hero/rogue in a humorous, Fritz Leiber vein. There is also THE QUEST FOR SIMBALIS, which is set in Jack Vance‘s DYING EARTH world, and THE COLOUR OUT OF TIME, which is a not-very-subtle homage to Lovecraft. Even with all this hopping about between genre homages, I find Shea’s literary style both instantly recognizable and a joy to read. Shea loves language, that much is obvious, and if he can add in a twelve letter adjective where a five letter one will do, he certainly will do it. This can make his writing a little dense for the newcomer expecting a slam bang adventure novel. Like a good Gene Wolfe or Tim Powers story, Michael Shea’s fiction must be consumed by the sip, not the gulp, like good Tennessee bourbon. You will appreciate them all the more for putting in the effort.

THE EXTRA (2010), wellllll, it pretty much turns everything I just said about Michael Shea on its ear. Gone are the long and thoughtful baroque dialogues, adjectives and pithy asides. Gone is the murky fantasy setting. Gone is the insidious lurking evil… replaced by a modern dystopian setting in a future Los Angeles, where Live Television events have become a billion dollar killing art form, hiring thousands of extras who risk their necks (and many are deliberately slaughtered) in hopes of earning a big cash reward for surviving the movie shoots that employ them. In this future, movie extra work will most probably get you killed, but if by some chance you make it, you will earn enough money to escape the grinding pressures of poverty in future Los Angeles.

Perhaps THE EXTRA was written as a tongue in cheek observation on our societal addiction to increasingly violent forms of entertainment mixed in with Reality Television. It’s hard to say, but the setting was close enough to our own here and now to make a casual reader wonder just how far from reality this story gets. I’ve never been very optimistic about the public taste..

The story is told with multiple points of view: Curtis, a “Riser” who is essentially the lowest rung of the middle class, living in high rise urban arcologies called Risers. Maggie, who is from the lower rent “Zoo” district, poverty ridden and determined to make something of herself for her family’s sake, Kate, an Assistant Director disgraced to a position of “paymaster” on one of the rafts that rewards extras for making Kills against the robotic beasts used in every movie as killers– and Val Margolian, the Supreme architect and director of the movie being shot during the story.

This is a new Michael Shea. No leisurely storytelling pace, no arcane forces at work, just a fast-paced, well written story about Dystopia and what a small group of people had to endure to escape it.

My verdict is easy.. I loved this novel. EXTRA shows great imagination and decent worldbuilding. It will hold up to repeat readings. The Audio Version by Blackstone is quite good. William Hughes does a great job with dialect and voices. A good listen!

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The Hunger Games (book): A Review


The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Suzanne Collins’s mega-hit novel, THE HUNGER GAMES, opened in theaters last week to be number 1 in the box office. My family has been bugging me to read at least the first book, and as I may end up seeing the movie at some point, I decided to give it a try. This, therefore, is my review of THE HUNGER GAMES (the book, not the movie).

The Hunger Games is the first book of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Trilogy which features CATCHING FIRE and MOCKINJAY as followups. I am not going to reveal anything of any importance to someone causally reading this review, so you may consider it mostly spoiler free.

If you’ve been under a rock for the last few years you’ll probably wonder what all the hoopla is about. If not, suffice to say that the story is about one young Katniss Everdean, and her experiences in the state run entertainment/political contest called “THE HUNGER GAMES”. The origin and reasoning behind the tournament is a critical element of the Dystopic setting of the series. The location is North America, but not any North America we know– this is a North American “successor nation” after an named implosion has occurred. I’m not certain if “Panem” from the book is set in the ruins of the United States or not, but the geography roughly matches. There’s a capital city area that is located somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, which acts as a sort of cultural and political suzerain over 13 distinct sectors (well, 12, the 13th was destroyed in the distant past). As the 13th sector had risen up in rebellion and was brutally destroyed, the ostensible purpose of the games is to teach the 12 sectors a lesson in who’s the boss, year after year. This lesson is the contest of the Hunger Games. Every year, a duo of children aged 12 to 18 are sent to the capital to fight to the death as “Tributes” to the Games. The winner, of course, is lauded and feted in his or her own district, and can live forever with all the food and wealth he or she wants (I forgot to mention that the districts are mostly starving, right?).

Of course, Katniss is going to be one of the Tributes from her home district (twelve, near Appalachia). We knew that going into the book, or there wouldn’t be much of a story. The Tributes are all made much of in the events leading up to the arena. The story enfolds. There’s the arena and the games. You can probably guess the outcome, as there are THREE BOOKS, right?

Impressions. It’s a good story, told in a workmanlike, but not especially skillful, manner. The setting is hardly original– it shares the same Story DNA as Shirley Jackson‘s “The Lottery“, Stephen King’sThe Long Walk” and “The Running Man“, and most especially Koushan Takawi’s “Battle Royale“, which it shares many themes with. Frankly, all of those writers are far more skillful than Ms. Collins, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t created a decent effort. Sadly, the novel did not feature a very well defined dystopian setting or theme.. other than some obvious Bread and Circus metaphors (naming the country Panem (Latin for bread), or naming one of the most psychotic Tributes after Rome’s most famous stoic Senator, etc.). There’s just not a lot to go on in the book– we are never told what happened to the United States (if Panem ever was in the US), we do know that the coastlines have receded, and that’s about it. As the author’s central motif is the violent showcase that takes up the last half of the novel, the reader is left asking a lot of questions about what created this world.

Of course, the second half of the novel focuses around the grand event itself, and then it becomes a fairly standard Lord of the Flies style “to the last man standing” contest. If you have any doubt as to the outcome, remind yourself that this is the first book of a trilogy.

The characters are all very surface level creatures. We all admire POV character Katniss, the central character, who is brave and smart and skilled. She is more of a paradigm than a person, as her motivations are noble. We also admire Peeta, the bluff, friendly and kind baker’s son from district 12 who is also chosen for the contest. The problem I have is that once Ms. Collins invests all this time building up the adventure story, the motivations of the POV character get a little muddled up. It’s an adventure story.. it’s a love story.. it’s a protest story. I am not really being overly critical here, I enjoyed the book, I just didn’t find it all that deep or compelling, like popcorn or macaroni and cheese fiction. I don’t expect that much from Young Adult fiction, and I’m glad the book got written. I have just read better stories on the same or similar subject, aimed at the adult market.

I will probably read the follow on novels, as THE HUNGER GAMES ended quite abruptly, leaving me with a sense of “Huh? What was that? the Ending?” I suspect Ms. Collins is setting up a trilogy that either plunges the same characters in a revolution against the Panem government, but it’s hard to tell, we didn’t get much from the first one.

In summary: Good, not great, young adult fiction. Don’t expect a lot of meat with the french fries. Try reading THE LOTTERY instead. Both will take about the same amount of time.

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Aside

The Silent Land by Graham Joyce My rating: 2 of 5 stars The Silent Land was a decent read, but not a riveting one. Jake and Zoe are caught up in a sudden avalanche while skiing. They emerge from a … Continue reading

The Western Front


Testament of Youth Cover

Testament of Youth Cover

“At The Western Front” excerpted from Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain.

I originally came across this passage quoted out loud when watching a show about the Great War on The History Channel.  I remember thinking it was a humdinger; one of the most poignant descriptions of the rekindling of hope and enthusiasm I have ever read.

Vera Mary Brittain (29 December 1893 – 29 March 1970) was an English writer, feminist and pacifist, best remembered as the author of the best-selling 1933 memoir Testament of Youth, recounting her experiences during World War I and the beginning of her journey towards pacifism. (– Wikipedia entry)

I’m not posting this to be jingoistic– the fact that the author is describing American soldiers as heroes and I happen to be an American citizen is just a happy coincidence.

http://boos.audioboo.fm/attachments/818086/Recording.mp3?audio_clip_id=242151″

The Etymology of Military Ranks (from the Inky Fool)


Thanks to my friend Glynis‘ recent discovery, I have started to read the delightful blog on word origins, THE INKY FOOL.  The Inky Fool concerns itself with the origins of words and phrases in common use; it is much like the great blog World Wide Worlds in that regard.   I enthusiastically recommend it.  Their most recent  posting on the Etymology of Military Ranks had to be shared (in part, visit the original post for the whole megillah*).

In the current post, Dogberry writes:

  • The modern ranks were only arranged a few hundred years ago. This means that many of the etymologies make no sense at all. Heads outrank horse-servants, and biggers are smaller.
  • A corporal has nothing to do with corporal punishment. He comes, via caporale and capo, from caput, the Latin for head*. This is odd as a corporal is the lowest and least of non-commissioned officers.
  • A sergeant is simply a servant, and is therefore superior to the head.
  • A lieu-tenant is simply French for a place-holder, or a substitute. The idea is that if I can’t be present in person I can send a somebody to take my place and to act with my authority. American lieutenants are loo-tenants, because they’re incontinent. English lieutenants are left-tenants, because they’re all socialist. French lieutenants have women.
  • A captain, like corporal,derives from the Latin caput, meaning head.
  • Major is Latin for bigger. A major was originally a shortening of sergeant-major or bigger servant and his rank has been steadily rising. In Catch-22 a chap whose name is Major Major Major is promoted to the rank of major through an administrative error: thus becoming Major Major Major Major.
  • A colonel is, literally, a colonnade. A colonnade is a line of columns and a colonel is the chap marching at the head of a column. In a nutshell, colonels have nothing to do with kernels, and there is no truth in them.
  • Generals are, in general, the general head of the army. It is a shortening of captain general, which was formed along the same lines as attorney general and Estates General and other post-positive adjectives. Generals are therefore generic and genetic, ruling over a genus of soldiers.
  • I have always wilfully misunderstood Hamlet’s line about a play being “caviar to the general” as referring to a gourmandising soldier. The phrase actually means that, just as caviar is disliked by the general public, but loved by gourmets, so the play he refers to is unpopular with the hoi polloi, but appreciated by those who know about such things. I am certain that Shakespeare must have used the phrase himself, before giving it to Hamlet.
  • Fields Marshals are not, etymologically, martial. Martial comes from Mars, the god of war and relates to martians. Marshals, on the other hand, are mare-skalkaz or horse-servants. Thus putting them, etymologically, below corporals, which shows how logical the army is. It also makes Marshall Ney’s name even more amusing.
  • Soldiers themselves: the word derives, as I have already mentioned, from salt. This means that, if you’re an officer, you have salty privates.

Attribution: The Inky Fool, post for 30 Nov 2010, The Etymology of Ranks

File this under “Hmmph, who knew?”

* For a charming dissertation on the origins of the term “The whole megillah” see this post on WWW

 

 

The Crypt, by Scott Sigler


“Welcome to the P.U.V. James Keeling, known as THE CRYPT. Where the only way off is to die..”

The Crupt

PUV James Keeling, aka "The Crypt"

I really enjoyed author Scott Sigler’s podcast novels INFECTED and CONTAGIOUS.   Sigler’s unique, non-stop, action packed writing style, combined with his “aw shucks, I’m just a regular ol’ guy” delivery (he performs and records his own work) was a big hook.  I’d never listened to a podcast novel all the way through until INFECTED came out, now I listen to them all the time.  At first glance, podcast novels seem a bit ridiculous from a commercial standpoint.. the author’s GIVING AWAY his precious creativity, to be downloaded to our Ipods and consumed by greedy geeks everywhere?  It’s writers like Scott Sigler, Mur Lafferty, and J.C. Hutchins that demonstrate that there’s gold in them thar hills.  If you look in the WORDS Link section, in the left hand column of this blog, you’ll find links to their websites and the work they are (absurdly!) giving away for free.

I didn’t think lightning could strike twice in the same place after INFECTED (which I liked better than CONTAGIOUS), but it has.  Sigler’s latest project is THE CRYPT, an unusual Space Opera/Mystery novel in a setting that I hesitate to apply the label “Siglarverse” too… let’s just say it’s his created Science Fiction setting.   The title is the name of a ship, the PUV (planetary union vessel) JAMES KEELING.  The Keeling is a mysterious ship that exists half in rumor, half in reality– apparently it’s an alien construct of sorts, but this is not explicitly described, at least yet.  I’m only 12 chapters in so far, so I’m only now reading the background to the science fiction universe that forms the background to THE CRYPT, THE ROOKIE, and TITLE FIGHT.  It’s an interesting place, with three political entities in contention: The Purist Nation (a group of religious fanatics), The Planetary Union, and The League of Planets.  The James Keeling apparently was discovered and added to the Planetary Union Navy.

The Crypt’s storyline will stretch over two novels: THE CREW and SHAKEDOWN.  So far, I am in the middle of the Crew, and I am really enjoying this storytelling style.  Sigler, an obvious proponent of both podcast novels and the podcast novel entre into publishing, wrote THE CREW in a unique fashion– by collaborating on each chapter with another podcasting author who was tasked to come up with a character to add to the mix.  The result is an unusual approach to a plot line– we spend many chapters being introduced to the (literal) dregs of the PUV Navy, as the PUV Naval brass sends each castoff, criminal or mutineer to go serve on the Crypt, which has a reputation of killing off its crew.   The crew of jailbirds is given a choice: two years on the Crypt and a clean slate at the end of it, or death by venting into space. 

Sigler has crafted a great patchwork-quilt of space opera here; I hope he can maintain the pace for the next installment.

RELATED:

“Siglerpedia” wiki page on THE CRYPT universe
“Siglerpedia” wiki page on THE ROOKIE, set in the same universe
Podcast Download site, Scott Sigler blog

IROSF bids farewell


The Internet Review of Science Fiction has been around for six years.  IROSF is a small webzine which has always been electronic; the primary content has been reviews and commentary of science fiction in the genre’s multiple incarnations.  I have been a subscriber for at least three years or so, and have always enjoyed it.  Unfortunately the magazine has hit upon hard times.  As noted in last month’s editorial, this month saw its final issue.  I’ll let the editor, “Bluejack”, describe the situation in his own words:

Many other volunteers came and went over the years, culminating in our most amazing, Stacey Janssen, without whom IROSF would have perished many, many issues ago. I continue to expect great and wonderful things of Stacey in the future. But even with volunteers, each issue took a lot of work, and volunteers turn out to be real people, with other things going on in their lives.Which pretty much brings us to the present day. The money ran out a while ago, and we’ve been scraping along as best we can. The master plan has gone no further than a slowly developing gleam in my eye. Writing has been a slow and largely unproductive hobby for a few years now.

I want to be clear that it’s not just about the money. I continue to believe that with the right energy behind fund drives, advertising, and perhaps some further experiments with subscription models and/or donation mechanisms, IROSF could potentially break even this year. Stacey and I talked about these options in depth, and on some days got ourselves psyched up to try it.

But here’s the thing. If Paul Allen (noted Science Fiction enthusiast and my current (albeit at a certain great remove) employer) were to hand me a couple of hundred grand and tell me to turn IROSF into a business, I would decline. Or rather, I would pitch him the master plan. Because IROSF by itself has been a wonderful experience, and, from all the positive feedback over the years, I think it has been a worthwhile gift to the science fiction and fantasy community. But it’s not a business model, and will always be, at best, a labor of love.

No, the empty coffers are just an excuse. A really good excuse to go back to the original mission and see if we can’t do something a little more significant. Something that changes the way publishing itself works.

We know that digital distribution is changing the way people buy their reading material. We know that the music industry, the film industry, and the television industry are all in deep experimentation, struggling–in some cases with, in most cases against–the changing times. Journalism is completely on the rocks. Publishers, distributors, and booksellers are all in the same boat, and the past six years have taught me a thing or two about the struggles that face even a very small, distributed publishing team.

My conclusion is that now is the time for that old master plan, now thoroughly updated and juiced with new possibilities that didn’t exist back in 2003. I can’t hold down a job, continue to improve the IROSF experience, and undertake new experiments in publishing.

… and thus we have a text book example of of a rapidly increasing trend over the last several years– the decline of free journalism content as costs (both economic and opportunity costs) drive even electronic efforts to the brink.  

I’ll miss IROSF, it was a very congenial little publication, and I read a lot of good reviews and even short fiction there over the years.  But I’m hardly surprised.  The internet has become a grim arena for the labors of love that used to dot the landscape of cyberspace. 

Farewell, IROSF, and I hope we see you again some day, resurrected in another more sensible form.  Perhaps as a downloadable gadget for the Iphone or Kindle, perhaps?

Stand back, I’m in pulp hawg heaven again.


No Good from a Corpse

No Good from a Corpse

For many years, I was (and still am, I suppose) a Palm operating system (Palm OS) afficienado. Back when Palm was in the business of making affordable, versatile Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), they had the market in their, uh, hand. A friendly, easy operating system that performed minor miracles, including handwriting recognition. Several cheap, useful, multimedia friendly electronic text formatters and readers were on the market in those days, but my personal fave was MobiPocket.. Mobi would take a formatted text document, break it up into chapters, maintain your bookmarks, display illustrations, and maintain a digital library on your Palm Pilot, for virtually no overhead except disk space. There were repositories of free, public domain books, short stories and articles on the web in those days. Some, like memoware.com, The Baen Free Library, and Project Gutenburg have continued to thrive and expand with the passing of the years. Others, such as Black Mask Quarterly, have fallen by the wayside, and are much lamented. The Black Mask Quarterly site specialized in pulp horror, western, fantastic and science fiction stories from early in the 20th century. If you had an interest in reading spooky stories from an earlier era, the Black Mask Collection was the place to go. Their fate is an old story on the internet– they ran afoul of the titular copyright holder and had to close their doors, disappointing hundreds of fans.  Black Mask Quarterly slid into the “remember when”? category for me, and I forgot about it.  That was, until I discovered MUNSEYS.COM today.  Munseys is a portal for electronic book formats specializing in (you guessed it), the pulp, science fiction and fantastic literature format.  I found it via the “browse catalogues” feature on STANZA, by Lexcyle probably the best portable book reader “app” I have on my Ipod Touch.   Voila!  Instant access to a giant compendium of old pulp authors.  I quickly downloaded The Seed from the Sepulchre by Clark Ashton Smith, The Sword of Solomon Kane and the Valley of Worms by Robert E. Howard, and The Zap Gun by Phillip K. Dick.  Heaven knows when I’ll have the time to read them, but they are all free.. and you just can’t beat that phrase, can you?  Free books.  As many as you like.  All you have to do is read.  So!  Check out Munseys if you can.  I suspect those folks at Black Mask had to go somewhere, and this is where they ended up.  Enjoy!

Your History Moment: Twitting the Pepys-verse


Forgive the insipid tagline– I didn’t actually chose the new hip tech lingo for micro-blogging/social networking/microchat or whatever you might call the phenomenon created by the Twitter service.  I do, however, use Twitter (as TheLastBrunch), so when in Rome.

Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys, diarist extraordinaire

One of the more impressive uses I’ve seen made of Twitter’s service is the ‘micro-community’ of 17th century voices that have clustered around one Twitter account:  samuelpepys Yes.  The diarist.  If you don’t understand who Samuel Pepys was, you might want to go look him up right now.  Google will get you started.  “Sam” himself was not someone destined for greatness, if you consider his professional achievements, which were essentially to be a mid-ranking naval bureaucrat and member of Parliment.  It is highly unlikely we would ever have even heard of his existence (aside from some odd mention in the Naval Gazette), were it not for one singular achievement.  He kept a diary.  Of everything.  And what a diary it was– Pepys was a compulsive chronicler.  EVERY DAY, for decades, he wrote something about what happened to him that day– from a few sentences to a couple of pages.   And this was no grand overview of historical events– the Pepys diary is a veritable snapshot into another century’s day to day living– from constipation to visits from the King.   It’s a very earthy, enjoyable read.. it drags here and there but the overall result is quite entertaining.

In any event, some kind (but anonymous) soul has taken on a magnificent project: they have taken the online archive of Samuel Pepys diaries, parsed them for a daily segment that best represents the activities of Mr. Pepys for that day in history, and converted it to be posted as a “Twitter Tweet”.    So if you are fond of the idea of viewing into the 17th century on a daily basis, I highly recommend adding Mr. Pepys to your friends list.  Of course, you have to have your own Twitter account, first.

Mr. Samuel Pepys: “Diarist Extraordinaire” http://twitter.com/samuelpepys

Oddly enough there has been a growing micro-community of 17th century “voices” on Twitter that play off of Pepys’ Diaries– characters mentioned often in the main diary series (such as Mr. Pepys’ wife) now have their own accounts as well, and they appear to interact with each other from time to time.  I have no idea if this is one human creating all of this activity from whole cloth or if more enthusiastic Twitters have jumped on Mr. Pepys’ 17th century bandwagon.

Mrs. Samuel Pepys, “Elisabeth, married to Sam, quondam scribbler”
http://twitter.com/mrssamuelpepys

Frances Stewart, “lady who has no wish to be mistress for any man to be master of her.” http://twitter.com/LaBelleStuart

Queen Catherine Braganza, “Portugese Princess married to Charles, King of England,with bloom all lost from my sickness”
http://twitter.com/QueenCatherineB

Lady Barbara Castlemaine, “Commander of the King’s Heart and Purse”
http://twitter.com/LadyBCastlemain

William Hewer, “Clerk to Mr Samuel Pepys, most kind and honourable Gentleman”
http://twitter.com/WilliamHewer

Wayneman Birch, “I am servant to the Pepys household courtesy of my sister Jane”
http://twitter.com/WaynemanBirch

Jane Birch, “maid to Mr Samuel Pepys, a master I serve as well as he serves me”
http://twitter.com/MaidJaneBirch

Several of these accounts map directly to members of the Pepys household, past or present, so perhaps the person or persons responsible for the diaries being Tweeted wishes to expand the narrative for multiple points of view, Rashomon style.  I generally regard Twitter.com to be somewhat superfluous, but useful on occasion.  I really like the ‘microPepys-verse’ that all this interrelated activity creates.  Part of it is stark reality, part of it blatant supposition, and the whole of it rather entertaining.  A very interesting use of social media technology, indeed.

In honor of Sam Pepys’ work, I have 86’d the feed for my Pandora stations and am now feeding in a daily hyperlink to the current Pepys Diary entry (right hand side of this page).  Enjoy.

The Baen Free Library and the Ipod Touch 3rd Generation


It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the Baen Free Library.  This invaluable service has been online for years and provides a wonderful service to SF geeks.

What?? You’ve never heard of it?  Okay, let me help you remove that rock you’ve been hiding under and I’ll describe it in their own words:

Baen Books is now making available — for free — a number of its titles in electronic format. We’re calling it the Baen Free Library. Anyone who wishes can read these titles online — no conditions, no strings attached. (Later we may ask for  an extremely simple, name & email only, registration. ) Or, if you prefer, you can download the books in one of several formats. Again, with no conditions or strings attached. (URLs to sites which offer the readers for these format are also listed. )

Why are we doing this? Well, for two reasons.

The first is what you might call a “matter of principle.” This all started as a byproduct of an online “virtual brawl” I got into with a number of people, some of them professional SF authors, over the issue of online piracy of copyrighted works and what to do about it.

There was a school of thought, which seemed to be picking up steam, that the way to handle the problem was with handcuffs and brass knucks. Enforcement! Regulation! New regulations! Tighter regulations! All out for the campaign against piracy! No quarter! Build more prisons! Harsher sentences!

I, ah, disagreed. Rather vociferously and belligerently, in fact. And I can be a vociferous and belligerent fellow. My own opinion, summarized briefly, is as follows:

1. Online piracy — while it is definitely illegal and immoral — is, as a practical problem, nothing more than (at most) a nuisance. We’re talking brats stealing chewing gum, here, not the Barbary Pirates.

2. Losses any author suffers from piracy are almost certainly offset by the additional publicity which, in practice, any kind of free copies of a book usually engender. Whatever the moral difference, which certainly exists, the practical effect of online piracy is no different from that of any existing method by which readers may obtain books for free or at reduced cost: public libraries, friends borrowing and loaning each other books, used book stores, promotional copies, etc.

3. Any cure which relies on tighter regulation of the market — especially the kind of extreme measures being advocated by some people — is far worse than the disease. As a widespread phenomenon rather than a nuisance, piracy occurs when artificial restrictions in the market jack up prices beyond what people think are reasonable. The “regulation-enforcement-more regulation” strategy is a bottomless pit which continually recreates (on a larger scale) the problem it supposedly solves. And that commercial effect is often compounded by the more general damage done to social and political freedom.

In the course of this debate, I mentioned it to my publisher Jim Baen. He more or less virtually snorted and expressed the opinion that if one of his authors — how about you, Eric? — were willing to put up a book for free online that the resulting publicity would more than offset any losses the author might suffer.

The minute he made the proposal, I realized he was right. After all, Dave Weber’s On Basilisk Station has been available for free as a “loss leader” for Baen’s for-pay experiment “Webscriptions” for months now. And — hey, whaddaya know? — over that time it’s become Baen’s most popular backlist title in paper!

And so I volunteered my first novel, Mother of Demons, to prove the case. And the next day Mother of Demons went up online, offered to the public for free.

Sure enough, within a day, I received at least half a dozen messages (some posted in public forums, others by private email) from people who told me that, based on hearing about the episode and checking out Mother of Demons, they either had or intended to buy the book. In one or two cases, this was a “gesture of solidarity. “But in most instances, it was because people preferred to read something they liked in a print version and weren’t worried about the small cost — once they saw, through sampling it online, that it was a novel they enjoyed. (Mother of Demons is a $5.99 paperback, available in most bookstores. Yes, that a plug. )

Then, after thinking the whole issue through a bit more, I realized that by posting Mother of Demons I was just making a gesture. Gestures are fine, but policies are better.

So, the next day, I discussed the matter with Jim again and it turned out he felt exactly the same way. So I proposed turning the Mother of Demons tour-de-force into an ongoing project. Immediately, David Drake was brought into the discussion and the three of us refined the idea and modified it here and there. And then Dave Weber heard about it, and Dave Freer, and. . . voila.

The Baen Free Library was born.

(“Jim” in the preceding quote is the late and much missed Jim Baen, editor in chief of Baen Books for many years, and a seminal influence on SF publishing in the 80s and 90s).

So, essentially if you have the right platform to read it, you can download as many novels from this giant fiction archive as you like, and have at it.  It’s a wonderful gesture.

I had a Baen novel or two on my old Palm handhelds for the last several years… never was I without one of them.   I recently got an Apple Ipod Touch for Christmas, which has many good reader softwares available for it, including Kindle, of all things.  But I couldn’t just download a Baen Free Book, drag it on to a chip and start reading, as I had in the past.   One has to use the “Webscription” paradigm now, which involves using a reader that can read RSS feads (STANZA in this case), and then it becomes possible.

Baen Free Book on Apple Ipod

It works! It works! Successssss!

It turns out that Stanza (the Ipod software) itself will make the connection (as long as their is a wireless internet somewhere near), link the RSS feed page and download novels it finds there.  Not as simple as the old “drag and drop” method I used from the Palm, but you can’t argue with success!  A whole vista opens up to me now!

Related:

Baen Free Library
Jim Baen RIP
Make some Good Kharma for Jim Baen

Neil Gaiman’s Bookshelves.


I just discovered a blog called SHELFARI, which appears to be set up to provide us (the uninvited schmoes) a voyeur’s eye view into the bookcases of the rich and famous.. or just famous. It would appear the the sole person who has photographed his library for this effort so far is prolific fantasy and horror writer Neil Gaiman. Man, what a library! Imagine having space for this many books! Or time to read that much! WOW!

The picture below is just one of the TWENTY-NINE pictures that describe the boundaries of Neil Gamin’s library. Click on the first one to proceed to the main site.

This is just one out of 29 bookcases.  Click to proceed.

This is just one out of 29 bookcases. Click to proceed.

Related:

Main Site

It was a dark and stormy night!


bullet rocket

2006 Bulwer Lytton contest results revealed

We all remember Charlie Brown’s dog Snoopy and his many attempts at writing a novel. They invariably start with “It was a dark and stormy night. Lighting flashed. Suddenly, a shot rang out! The maid screamed!…” and so on.

What Charles Schulz was parodying was the opening lines of PAUL CLIFFORD, the magnum opus of Edward George Bulwer-Lytton. Bulwer-Lytton’s turgid prose and run-on sentences (which was perfectly acceptable during the era of his writing career, during the 1830s) seems comically amateurish today; indeed, the famous BULWER-LYTTON FICTION WRITING CONTEST, held annually, seeks to find the ideal parody of Bulwer-Lytton’s style. The contest entries range from wretched to brilliant, and the winners never fail to elicit a chuckle.

The results for 2006 are announced here.

Here’s the winning entry:

Detective Bart Lasiter was in his office studying the light from his one small window falling on his super burrito when the door swung open to reveal a woman whose body said you’ve had your last burrito for a while, whose face said angels did exist, and whose eyes said she could make you dig your own grave and lick the shovel clean.

Jim Guigli
Carmichael, CA

(from the b-l site)
A retired mechanical designer for the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory is the winner of the 24th running of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. A resident of the Sacramento suburb of Carmichael, Guigli displayed appalling powers of invention by submitting sixty entries to the 2006 Contest, including one that has been “honored” in the Historical Fiction Category. “My motivation for entering the contest,” he confesses, “was to find a constructive outlet for my dementia.”

Guigli’s entry certainly is impressive, but I have to confess I laughed loud and long when I read THIS runner up:

“I know what you’re thinking, punk,” hissed Wordy Harry to his new editor, “you’re thinking, ‘Did he use six superfluous adjectives or only five?’ – and to tell the truth, I forgot myself in all this excitement; but being as this is English, the most powerful language in the world, whose subtle nuances will blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel loquacious?’ – well do you, punk?”

Stuart Vasepuru
Edinburgh, Scotland

Now THAT’s some turgid prose! I guess the judges found it too gimmicky. In any event, the results are worth a visit!

I might point out in passing that PAUL CLIFFORD, the source for all this parody, remains in print to this very day, while these contests and cartoonists come and go. So Bulwer-Lytton is actually enjoying a cosmic “last laugh” at their expense.

RELATED LINK: GUTENBERG edition of Paul Clifford