Rambling Round Up

You know Dennis Johnson may be serializing his new novel in Playboy, but I'm still not gonna buy Playboy. That's a problem with publishing fiction in a magazine that people are embarrassed to have around the house.

Meanwhile, Internet service providers want to start metering bandwidth usage again, but if you ask me it'll never work. As long as any ISP (and independent ISPs are legion) offers unlimited bandwidth no one will want an ISP that doesn't. However, apparently Time Warner is already rolling this out in Texas, so what do I know? Here's what I know: Time Warner is my Internet service provider right now. If they start limiting the amount I can download, I'm dropping them like a hot potato.

Here's another writer offering his book as a free download. Is it any good? I don't know, though I've already downloaded it. I'll probably even read it. I'm just waiting for the iPhone/iPod Touch app store to come online so I can get a decent PDF reader on my iPod. I know, I know, I should jailbreak the thing, but even jailbroken apps don't have a real PDF reader available, one that allows bookmarking of pages, and you have to download a completely separate file system app to transfer files over to the thing in the first place. Me, I'll wait for the real deal.

Finally, the Associated Press doesn't seem to understand the concept of fair use because they want to start charging you to quote as little as five words from them. And so, "Welcome to a world in which you won’t be able to effectively criticize the press, because you’ll be required to pay to quote as few as five words from what they publish. What a bunch of assholes.

Another Long-Awaited Round-Up

First off I should mention that some cohorts and I have created a site called Literate Machine which allows people to upload and sell or give away comics, ebooks and other digital content. Probably more on this later, but go check it out.

The Watchmen movie will have a spin-off DVD of the pirate story that was a sub-story in the original comic. Why? "Because pirates sell. Thank you Johnny Depp.

Are creative writing courses the new mental hospitals?

This may be the worst contract for creative types every created, courtesy of TokyoPop. It's actually offensive.

This is the strangest interface for reading free books I've ever seen. It's supposed to look like your doing work while your reading. Unfortunately their selection is not so great, not to mention that seeing that horrible Windows desktop sprawled over my beautiful Linux screen gives me the heebie-jeebies.

The Millions rounds up over-used book reviewing cliches.

"The Singularity" in Science Fiction -- the moment when machines become smarter than humans -- has become the new Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Why are book reviewers ignoring the fiction boom?

Keith Gessen is a very troubled young man. Who represents everything that's wrong in the literary world. Who makes me want to scream and rip my hair out. Or better, his hair out.

And finally, a non-literary link: Doritos go to space.

Richard Grayson on Print on Demand

The new issue of The Quarterly Conversation has some great stuff in it, including Daniel Green on Barthelme and an article about the man who made a metaphysician out of Borges. There's also a piece by Richard Grayson about his experience with print-on-demand.

Some of you may remember the review I wrote of Grayson's self-published book, And to Think He Kissed Him on Lorimer Street. In that review I puzzled over Grayson's motives,

Grayson's work paints a portrait of a talented writer whose ambition has washed away in a sea of middling reviews and self-pity. This is a man who has given up, and I'm not talking about going to law school, I can understand resigning yourself to not making a living as a writer when so few do. It's like he's given up on being read, he's given up on literature, and he's given up on mattering. And frankly if he thinks so poorly of his own work then why is he inflicting it on other people at all? Why bother?

In the new essay, Grayson talks about how, after a recurring piece on McSweeneys.net, sending out review copies, and paying $350 dollars for a review from Kirkus Discoveries, he sold a grand total of 15 copies of the book I reviewed (as well as 15 copies of another book, and 35 copies of a collection of the McSweeneys pieces). 15 copies. "But then," says Grayson, "I've never done this for the money. I would just like people to be able to read my stories if they want." He goes on,

Who needs unnecessary books? And what books are really necessary? Not mine, I'll admit.
Nearly all POD books are absolutely dreadful, published—or privished—by people who can't write much better than the students in remedial writing classes I've taught over the years. Most serious literary writers don't want to be associated with that kind of crap.

On the other hand, for an older writer like myself who's been through trade and small press publication and essentially has nowhere else to go if he wants a book published—also, recall that a major newspaper called my first book crap anyway—POD books from Lulu and similar companies seem like a good deal. (Emphasis Mine)

Once again I wonder why someone who seems to think his work belongs with "that kind of crap" would bother going through the trouble of publishing it. It's not a question of being in it for the money, it's a question of being in it to be read at all. My girlfriend seems to think he's just being emo, like publishing is a cry for attention.

Grayson seems like a nice enough guy. But if he doesn't think his books are important and if he's resigned to nobody reading them, why does he publish at all? I could probably get fifteen readers by writing a book and emailing it to friends and family. At some point I fail to understand.

Round Up

This is what criticism looks like today

How the novel can survive as an art form

What the hell is going on with Dave Sim. (I can't look away, it's like a train wreck.)

The sub-$200 e-book reader. It reads PDF files, which is all I really wanted from an e-book reader, besides e-ink capability. Are we finally heading towards the era when e-books become affordable? $200 is still a bit much, but it's getting there...

Some ideas about why Marvel Comics is doing so much better than DC
. And here I thought it was just because DC sucked.

See SF people? Literary Fiction can be formulaic, derivative crap too!

Fantasy and Science Fiction and the state of Fantasy and Science Fiction

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction recently made a marketing push, sending out copies of their latest (July) issue to any blogger who asked for one. I have mixed feelings about The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. On the one hand, everything about it from the covers to the editorial position seems generally rooted in 60s and 70s New Wave (strange how a magazine of a genre that thinks constantly about the future can dwell so much in the past). On the other hand, the stories in F&SF are generally better than those of its rival publication Analog (which is not just SF, but Hard SF, the most tired and irrelevant type of that genre), and more over, I'd much rather read F&SF than Glimmer Train or The Paris Review or any of the other publications running the MFA meat grinder for what passes for literary short fiction these days. At least I can read F&SF without falling asleep. Still, compared to quite edgier magazines like A Public Space, Weird Tales or Strange Horizons, any given issue of F&SF seems like a relic from another age.

A Counter Proposition

I recently linked to John Scalzi's post about SF writers jumping ship to become Young Adult writers, and Mediabistro's additional notes on the subject. Scalzi expands more on this, but the bottom line is the same; books in the Young Adult section of the bookstore sell better (and therefore pay better) than books in the SF section of the bookstore.

"As a final kick in the teeth," Scalzi observers, "YA SF/F is amply represented at top of the general bestselling charts of YA book sales, whereas adult SF/F struggles to get onto the general bestselling adult fiction charts at all." The overall effect? Adult readers, he proposes, "are missing a genuine literary revolution in their genre because the YA section is a blank spot on the map to them, if not to everyone else."

As an example, consider Cory Doctorow's new YA novel Little Brother which is the first of his novels to make it to a New York Times bestseller list (granted it's the kids bestseller list, but still).

There have been a number of explanations of the reasons for this discrepancy, but let me put my two cents in: SF titles sell better in the Young Adult section because they're mixed in with non-SF titles as general fiction aimed at a certain age group. On the contrary, adult SF is segregated from the rest of the "Fiction and Literature" as if it were not fiction or literature, but instead the embarrassing power fantasies of people who think making women wear "touch-my-boobies" pins is acceptable adult behavior.

Let me say this to all you SF/F people out there: sometimes it's really hard to take you folks seriously. And there's plenty of talk about stigmas and ghettos in the SF world and even talk about how the constant death of SF is part of the nature of the beast. But so what? How low do your sales have to get before you finally abandon ship?

Overdue Round-Up Rag

What does the future of publishing hold?

What foes the MFA industry mean for writing in the long term?

Bruce Sterling gives a fascinating talk about design in science fiction, and what it means for how we write.

Philip Roth gets the roasting treatment

Genre vs. Big Ideas

NPR shorts does a reading of Philip K. Dick's "Beyond Lies the Wub"

Art is a social construct; so what?

The beginning of this Tom-Bissell-does-super-heroes story is great. I just wish VQR put their content online for free...

"The SF short fiction market is toast".

But then, short stories were never quite as lucrative as people think...

Speaking of which, John Scalzi has an idea; the "shareware short story".

Yes, you can have a novel with talking animals.

Franzen vs. Wood, competing to see who can be more annoying.

What's the real problem with reading?

The Strand still sucks. And let's not fool ourselves, it's always sucked.

John Scalzi examines why SF writers are jumping ship for YA. SF/F as a field wasn't worth Scott Westerfeld's time anymore. MediaBistro expands on this.

China's bizarre best-selling author. Not mentioned in the article: he's also a plagiarist.

Cory Doctorow wants writers to "think like a dandelion", and spread their seeds far a wide.

Chabon: genre doesn't matter.

David Lapham has a blog. One of the best creators in comics lets us in on his weird world... (Also check out his new comic Young Liars which is freakin brilliant.)

And finally, Does fiction in the VQR have "a lack of attention to character and a focus instead on culture and outside events"?