Archive for the ‘thoughts’ Category


Losing Touch

February 27, 2011

The Facebook minions are stepping up their campaign to assimilate me. Not sure how much longer I can hold out.

It occurs to me that for anyone over 20 now, Facebook etc. are letting people get back in touch with people they knew in college, high school, a town they used to live in, an old job, all of those kinds of things. But for kids growing up now, the whole idea of losing touch with someone in the first place is going to become meaningless. It will be almost impossible for them to grow up without some kind of online presence. The only way they’ll be able to lose contact with someone is if they do it intentionally.

Or maybe I’m underestimating the power of lazy. Maybe with ubiquitous connectivity the kids will find new ways to waste time and still manage to forget about all those real humans they used to know.


Hugo Follow-up and Other Book Items

September 26, 2010

One thing I like about the Hugo awards is that they release the complete voting and nomination results–see them here. This particular year I think it’s interesting to see that the top two novels started out in a tie, shifted around a little bit as others were eliminated, and then ended in a tie again. It felt like justice was done, as both The City & The City and The Windup Girl are deserving winners.

(If you haven’t looked at the process before, basically each round the lowest-ranked candidate is eliminated and the votes are recounted for the ones that are left, until one gets over 50%)

I think you can also see fan-base voting in the numbers. Sawyer, for example, got a lot of first-place votes, but he didn’t go up very much in the subsequent rounds, meaning that he didn’t get as many high rankings from the other voters. There’s kind of a similar effect for Scalzi in the novella category and for Stross in novelette. Which doesn’t mean they aren’t good, just that opinions are divided on them.

Also, I said something about Dr. Who splitting votes in the short-form drama category, but in this voting system, as long as the Dr. Who fans vote all three of their choices on top, the split doesn’t hurt them and they still win.

Nomination counts I think also give an indicator of fan-base and of what people were reading when there wasn’t an award at stake.

Last week I went to a reading/book signing by William Gibson, for his new novel Zero History, and he made one comment that I thought was very interesting. Since he is known for predicting the effects of new technologies, someone asked him about the future of books, reading and writing. His answer was that when the Internet and HTML started to get popular, people predicted stories full of hyperlinks which would either take you to definitions and explanations of what you were reading, or would allow you to take multiple paths through the story. Nothing like that really caught on, but what did happen was the advent of search engines. Search engines have affected books because now there’s no terminology, idiom, landmark, or anything else so obscure that you can’t look it up on line. So books being written now tend to have less explanations of things because they assume that curious readers can Google. But what’s really interesting is that this affects all books retroactively, so older books are being looked at in new ways. And going forward, we can’t assume that some unknown future technology won’t affect books being written today.

And although Gibson didn’t pursue this idea any farther, the Internet also serves as a platform for fan sites which can also affect the understanding of a book. You can find interactive maps of Middle Earth, class schedules for Hogwarts, and just about any moderately popular book probably has some kind of fan site somewhere. So even writers working with completely made-up material can have their work fully analyzed and annotated on-line, and I wouldn’t be suprised if sometimes the fan’s version could become more “canonical” than the author’s.

To bring this back to the topic of Hugo voting, you also have the effect of on-line criticism. Between blogs, Amazon reviews, and who knows what else, there are lots of recommendations and reviews to be found on-line. Some are well thought-out, but many are just fans expressing their fan-hood, and some are amateur reviewers trying to be “right”, basically agreeing with the majority as a way to demonstrate that they are discerning reviewers (or along the same lines, the derisive trolls who go against the majority as a way to convince themselves that they are smarter than everyone else). The question is, do the same symptoms affect award voters? Do they form opinions based on whose fans shout the loudest? Do they vote for a candidate perceived to be a front-runner, just so they can say they picked the winner? Or maybe they vote more fairly because there’s more information about all of the nominees.

This year, I think all of the Hugo winners are deserving. Next year, who knows? Although even if there is an occasional glitch, I don’t think it will diminish the award overall. But I think the increased availability of information does impact the votes in ways we haven’t figured out how to measure yet.


How Not to Blog

March 23, 2010

I need to give myself permission to write short blog posts. Not everything has to be a cogent, weighty, detailed, insightful essay (thank you Nor does everything have to fit into a tweet. I have a bad habit of overanalyzing whatever the subject is to the point where when I’m ready to blog about it, everyone else has moved on to something new. So no more of that. Let’s not let this site go to waste.


Doing the Meme Thing

September 18, 2009

Let me get this out of the way first: you should not tag me with memes. I’ll only do the ones I find interesting anyway, and I’ll take my own sweet time doing them. Of course it’s pretty optimistic on my part to think anyone would consider tagging me, but now I’ve got the official disclaimer, just in case.

Now that’s out of the way, the meme was to think of 15 books in 15 minutes that “will always stick with you.” Officially I think you were supposed to list your favorites first, but I’m not doing that. I didn’t cheat, didn’t look at any bookshelves or websites or anything, it was strictly from memory. I didn’t use a stopwatch but I think I came up with most of them pretty quickly. So let’s go to the scoreboard:

Desolation Road, Ian McDonald

The Book of Three, Lloyd Alexander

The Final Encyclopedia, Gordon R. Dickson

The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester

Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, Hayao Miyazaki

American Gods, Neil Gaiman

The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkein

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card

Dune, Frank Herbert

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

Nation, Terry Pratchett

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Robert Heinlein

The Rise of Endymion, Dan Simmons

But we can’t just list them without comments, can we? Desolation Road was the second book I read by Ian McDonald, but it was the one that really blew me away with his unique ideas and writing style. The Book of Three could be a stand-in for Alexander’s whole Chronicles of Prydain, but it was the first of the series and the one that got me interested in that world. Nausicaa is a manga, but that hasn’t stopped Nausicaa the character from becoming one of my all-time favorites. To Kill a Mockingbird seems a bit obvious, and maybe the movie is influencing me a bit, but I also didn’t want the list to be all SciFi/Fantasy. I picked The Hobbit over Lord of the Rings not because I think it’s better, but because it “sticks with me” more according to the meme. The Hobbit has more of a sense of fun, where LotR just has a sense of impending doom, so I think that’s why The Hobbit came to mind first. Along the same lines, most people wouldn’t say Speaker for the Dead or Rise of Endymion are the best books by those authors (especially Simmons), but the themes in those books resonated more for me than Ender’s Game or Hyperion, respectively. Nation is the most recent book on the list, so maybe it benefits from being fresh in my mind, but I think it fits in pretty well. I guess I’ll have to do this exercise again in a few years to see how it holds up.

If you were counting, you may have noticed that’s only 14 books. I spent most of the time trying to decide what should be #15, but since nothing really stood out I felt like I had to just stop at 14.

Books I considered for #15:

The Forever War, Joe Haldeman

The Doomsday Book, Connie Willis

Only Begotten Daughter, James Morrow

The Elfstones of Shannara, Terry Brooks

When I finally did start looking at my bookshelves and such, I also came up with

The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster

Battle Angel Alita (series), Yukito Kishiro

Phantom Tollbooth probably would have joined that group that was just out of the top 15. Battle Angel Alita seems too long to call one story, and no single volume stands out enough to make it.

But then I thought of one more book that really could make the cut: The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. When I was a kid I was a big fan of Baum’s whole Oz series, and I suspect that influenced me in favor of SciFi and Fantasy later on. I still have good memories of reading those books. I need to get new copies since I don’t seem to have them now. The kids today can have their Harry Potter, I’ll take my Dorothy Gale every time.


One more book just occurred to me as I was writing this. Something you probably haven’t heard of:

There’s a Marmot on the Telephone by Joe Van Wormer

Joe Van Wormer wrote a number of books featuring his wildlife photography, discussing the characteristics of the animals in his pictures and the photographic techniques he was using. Marmot is a little bit different in that it tells the story of a marmot that he and his family kept as a pet. If you were to read it, I’d like to think you’d find it entertaining, but probably not mind-blowing. What sets it apart for me is that Joe Van Wormer was my grandfather, and one of the people in the books is my mother when she was a teenager. To have that little piece of family history preserved like that is just the coolest thing you can imagine. If any book could be said to “stick with me” it would be that.


In Which I Declare Myself Champion of the World

August 11, 2009

So my Hugo predictions turned out 2 for 3 but my preferences were only 1 for 4 (I could add that I voted for WALL-E for long-form drama). So I guess all the other voters are clueless.

Or possibly not.

In the past few weeks it seemed like there was a fair amount of chatter about the nominees for best novel. Some said they weren’t worthy. Others said it’s a fan vote, and who’s more worthy to choose than the ones buying the books? And so on. Maybe that happens every year and I haven’t been paying attention until now, but it did seem to find its way onto some prominent blogs.

To me, the discussion went overboard in trying to put a value on the awards. If the five finalists don’t represent the absolute pinnacle of writing for the year, well, it’s not that big of a deal. Really, there’s no such thing. Statistically speaking, whenever there’s a field of 4 or more candidates, even the winner is only going to get a plurality of the vote. The majority of people will have voted for something other than the winner (The Graveyard Book got just over 25% of the first place votes).

This is not to diminish the winners. Being the last one standing from a long list of nominees would be pretty cool. I wouldn’t turn it down. I’m sure it helps sell more books, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But it doesn’t automatically confer historical significance. No award does. This isn’t the Olympics where the gold medal winner is indisputably the best in the world. Sometimes that’s not even true at the Olympics. And at least subconsciously, people are aware of this. So when my favorite book doesn’t win an award, I don’t suddenly decide that my favorite was junk, and the award winner is brilliant. I can accept that the other book met the criteria for that award and still be a fan of the books I like.

Do Hugo-winning books stand the test of time? Only time will tell. And time will also tend to find those books and authors that were worthy, but didn’t happen to win. I don’t want to pick on any books, but looking at Oscar history, would Kramer vs. Kramer still win over Apocalypse Now? Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan? Annie Hall over Star Wars? What a travesty!

So based on that, I’ve consulted a blue-ribbon panel of experts, surveyed all eligible voters, and determined that the Champion of the World award goes to…me! I want to thank all the little people that paved the way for this great achievement, and if you don’t like it, you can invent your own damn award.


Tabloid Media Claims Another Victim

August 4, 2009

I’m not going to mention his name and risk getting a lot of traffic I don’t want, but you can probably figure it out. It’s been more than a month since he died, and several celebrities have died since then, but he’s the only one who still shows up in the news every day. And the irony is, I think he might still be alive if the media wasn’t so obsessed with him.

They keep looking for sensational angles: drugs, conspiracies, murder. Not really any different from when he was alive. But they never quite get to asking the question, “Why?” Because if they did, the obvious answer would be that he wasn’t comfortable having every detail of his life reported in the media. He hadn’t looked healthy in years, the stress was clearly wearing him down. Maybe there was some other factor that was the immediate cause of death, but odds are that he didn’t have much time left regardless.

Fame may be a double-edged sword, but that shouldn’t be the same as carte blanche to take away every last vestige of someone’s privacy. Every celebrity seems to have a different level of tolerance for the prying eyes, but the thing about the tabloid media is that it’s their job to cross the line and go where the celebrity doesn’t want them. That’s the only way they can get their Exclusive! Shocking! Scoops! Celebrities these days are probably under tighter surveillance than any criminal.

The consumers can’t claim total innocence either. Somebody did buy enough of that tabloid media to keep it profitable, so the cycle of sensationalism continues. A classic case of killing the goose that laid the golden egg, where everybody had a hand on the axe. But in that tale you can’t discount the role of the instigator that sets things in motion.

The media always defends itself by saying they’re only giving the people what they want. I’ve always thought that’s a bit of a cop out. They spend plenty of money marketing that stuff, convincing people that what they want is what they’re being given. If something doesn’t sell now, the solution is always to up the shock value. And then the mob mentality of the competition drives everything straight to the bottom.

Anyone who blames the media for their problems is automatically dismissed. When you blame the media for reporting something false, everyone assumes that the report is actually true and you just wanted to keep it hidden. It’s a not-so-inside joke, to the point where the media is always happy to note that someone is blaming them. But there are other ways they can do harm besides misreporting. The issue isn’t always truth vs. lies, sometimes it’s triviality. Just because they have a bunch of facts they can report doesn’t mean that information has any value to the viewer. Maybe if they pulled back just a bit, the public wouldn’t really miss that stuff and the celebrities could live longer, happier lives.

Yeah, I know. Fat chance.

P. S. I never really had any interest in his music. But it’s kind of bugging me how even after he’s dead, they’ll use any excuse to get his name in a story, just to try and sell their product.


Hello world?

April 5, 2009

I feel like I should have some really momentous topic to kick off this blog. Some deep insight.

But if I wait until I have that topic, then this will be an empty blog for a long time. I already waited I-don’t-know-how-many years to even set this thing up. The whole point is to just spout off, right?

So was that deep enough? At least there was irony.