Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Death By Stuffing

"Well," I can hear you saying, "we may eat too much turkey over the holiday weekend, but at least turkey is low in calories and cholesterol!"

Pah! Not if you have Thanksgiving at our house! Not if you are served Uncle Walter's Bacon and Sausage Stuffing!*

Start by cutting up a POUND OF BACON into strips. Cook the bacon in the bottom of a large stock pot until it renders up its fat. Then throw a POUND OF SAUSAGE MEAT into the pot, and cook it until it renders up its fat.

Then throw in THREE CHOPPED ONIONS and HALF A DOZEN CHOPPED GARLIC CLOVES. Cook until the vegetables grow all wilty.



Cook until the bread crumbs no longer crunch when you bite them.

(And, come to think of it, when you have this, why do you need a turkey exactly?)

This may send you into the hospital for your second bypass, but you'll be smiling as you go.

*Which, it must be admitted, is mostly Craig Claiborne's sausage stuffing recipe, with some minor changes.

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As you sail off on oceans of food for your Thanksgiving holiday, take a look at the metaphor made real in this photograph by Carl Warner. There are fourteen images in all; be sure to check them all out.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!


An Embarassment of Riches

Okay, so I may have titled this "An Embarrassment of Riches," but I'd like to state right off the bat that I'm not embarrassed at all!

Orbit has offered on two new books! One will be a sequel to This Is Not a Game, and the other, while possibly not a direct sequel, will be a thematic sequel. So it looks as if I will be writing near-future, high-tech thrillers for a while.

I have also sold TINAG and the Praxis books in Germany, for Euros that are much reduced in value from their standing a few months ago.

Maybe I'll have to go to Europe to spend them.

It is good to know that I will have employment during the next two years during which millions will lose their jobs and the economy will be wandering in the wilderness.

I only hope that readers will be able to afford to buy the books.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Return to Wall Street

Michael Lewis, author of Liar's Poker, returns to Wall Street for a thoughtful look at the meltdown.

"“You have to understand,” Eisman says in his defense, “I did subprime first. I lived with the worst first. These guys lied to infinity. What I learned from that experience was that Wall Street didn’t give a shit what it sold . . .

"But Eisman couldn’t figure out exactly how the rating agencies justified turning BBB loans into AAA-rated bonds. “I didn’t understand how they were turning all this garbage into gold,” he says. He brought some of the bond people from Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, and UBS over for a visit. “We always asked the same question,” says Eisman. “Where are the rating agencies in all of this? And I’d always get the same reaction. It was a smirk.” He called Standard & Poor’s and asked what would happen to default rates if real estate prices fell. The man at S&P couldn’t say; its model for home prices had no ability to accept a negative number. “They were just assuming home prices would keep going up,” Eisman says . . .

"“You have to understand this,” he says. “This was the engine of doom.” Then he draws a picture of several towers of debt. The first tower is made of the original subprime loans that had been piled together. At the top of this tower is the AAA tranche, just below it the AA tranche, and so on down to the riskiest, the BBB tranche—the bonds Eisman had shorted. But Wall Street had used these BBB tranches—the worst of the worst—to build yet another tower of bonds: a “particularly egregious” C.D.O. The reason they did this was that the rating agencies, presented with the pile of bonds backed by dubious loans, would pronounce most of them AAA. These bonds could then be sold to investors—pension funds, insurance companies—who were allowed to invest only in highly rated securities. “I cannot fucking believe this is allowed—I must have said that a thousand times in the past two years,” Eisman says."

In other words, they were all crooks. They were all rotten. Top to bottom, from the biggest to the smallest, and the people who were supposed to separate truth from fact were a willing part of the con.

This is really worth reading.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Every so often, a memory comes out of the blue and illuminates a bit of the past that I had thought gone forever.

I have certain memories from my infancy. I remember my first birthday, and the toy blue rubber motorcycle cop that my Aunt Josie gave me. I have some indistinct memories of standing in the crib in my parents' room, and of being around visiting relatives. I don't remember my first Christmas, because I was only two months old, but I remember my second, because the tree fell down and nearly conked me.

One of the distinct memories I had was of a young, good-looking guy in rimless glasses, sitting at our house and talking. I figured this was my Uncle Al, who moved to Alaska before I was born, but who visited when I was very young. And then, in my teen years, I met my Uncle Al, and realized that he wasn't the man in rimless glasses at all.

But now, as I look through the photo albums my mom left behind, I find the memory looking back at me. That's my mother on the left, and her sister Mardy on the right. Who is the guy in the middle, and why did I have such a vivid memory of him?

A little checking with one of the relatives tells me that this is Bill Marholic, Mardy's husband. He and Mardy lived with my parents in their little two-bedroom house, and continued to do so after I was born, but he developed an incurable disease. My overprotective father asked them to move out, because he didn't want me exposed to a dying man at a tender age. (And, in his defense, it was a very small house for five people.)

My Uncle Bill died, and Mardy eventually married Bill Mattson, who I knew as Monty, because he was from Montana.

But it left me with a very strong memory of someone I couldn't place. And here he is.

Maybe my father was right to ask the Marholics to move out. Because my memory really is better than I think it is.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Genres That Die

I was watching Operation Petticoat last night in TCM, and I realized two things: first, this is a movie in which the two male leads are made up and lit to be prettier than any of the women; and second, that the film belongs to a dead genre, that of the service comedy.

Once it was common to view the humorous side of war and/or the armed services. There was another Cary Grant vehicle, Father Goose, and yet another, I Was a Male War Bride. There was The Wackiest Ship in the Army, there was Sgt Bilko, there were those James Cagney/Pat O'Brian vehicles of the '30s like Devil Dogs of the Air and Here Comes the Navy. There was No Time for Sergeants and McHale's Navy and Gomer Pyle. Hogan's Heroes even attempted to find the funny side of German POW camps.

It wasn't that these movies didn't recognize that war and the military were serious endeavors. Actual tragedy happened in some of these films--- more often in those where a hot war was going on, but even in the peacetime services people die. Characters like Hogan and McHale were actually heroic, and McHale actually killed people, whole submarine crews sometimes. But these movies realized a highly structured environment such as the military contrasts extremely well with chaos and absurdity, and that strong contrasts are what comedy is all about.

Now the service comedy is a genre as dead as that of the lost-race novel. Attempts to revive it, as with the McHale's Navy and Sgt. Bilko movies, flopped hideously.

The lost-race novel, begun with King Solomon's Mines, died either when all the blank spots on the map got filled in, or when Edgar Rice Burroughs kicked the bucket, your choice.

But what killed the service comedy? Herewith a list of suspects:

Gomer Pyle. A series so egregiously awful that the very thought of it, or anything resembling it, made intelligent or creative people retch. This was a series about the Marine Corps that ran coterminously with the war in Vietnam, but never mentioned that, in real life, Gomer and his buddies would have been sent to Khe Sanh to be blown to shreds and eaten by rats!

We'd like this thesis to be true, but in fact the service comedy survived Gomer just fine.

The Sudden Discovery that War is, well, Bad. (For children and other living things.) Boomers tend to award themselves all sorts of original insights, as for instance the notion that they discovered sex and drugs. They also tend to think of themselves as the first generation to observe that war kills people, and perhaps therefore honored themsleves with the corollary that the military couldn't possibly be funny.

This doesn't quite explain why the World War II generation, who lived (and died) through all sorts of hell in the biggest war in human history, nevertheless lined up to watch the likes of Operation Petticoat and Sgt Bilko.

If the observation that "war is bad" killed the service comedy, you couldn't prove it by them.

Nevertheless, it does seem true that our wars don't seem as funny as they used to. The embedded reporters, with their closeups of the action, have shifted the focus quite a bit.

The End of the Draft. Now here's an idea. Up to a certain point in American history, the military was a touchstone for tens of millions of people, mostly male. When the military draft ended in the early Seventies, and the services were staffed entirely with volunteers, the vast majority of the movie-going public no longer had a first-hand experience with the military and its absurdities. Watching a service comedy would have been like watching a comedy about aliens.

(Wait a minute . . . Third Rock and ALF were big hits, weren't they? Nevermind . . . )

M*A*S*H. Now here is a thesis worth examining. M*A*S*H, the film and the TV series, may have done the service comedy so brilliantly that it left the genre with no place to go. M*A*S*H was funny, it was tragic, it was well-written, it was gory, it was absurd, it was ironic, it was hip. (And if there was one thing the service comedy had never been, it was hip.) It was more about the Seventies than the Fifties, and more about Vietnam than Korea, but that didn't matter. The TV series lasted for ten seasons, and it examined war and war humor from every conceivable angle.

After M*A*S*H, what was left? After M*A*S*H, of course, which lasted only a single season.

That genre was dead, dudes. Nothing to do but zip it in a body bag and bury it.

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I Haz Ebook!

Once again, the author is the last to know.

But I am reliably informed that you can purchase an ebook of Implied Spaces at Baen's online site.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tips For Writers, Part xxvii

When plotting your stories, novels, or movies, be sure never to give your characters cell phones!

Or this could happen.


Meet Little Nemo

Meet the latest member of our family.
I don't think his name is Nemo (though it might be). I'm calling him Nemo for the moment because I haven't figured out what his real name is.
I'm very bad at naming animals. Usually my friends do it, or Kathy.
Maybe you will come up with the appropriate name. Suggestions will be gratefully received.
I've been thinking about getting a kitten ever since Sandman died in June, but I thought I'd wait until my life had settled down. At present my life is as settled as it ever gets, and here there was this half-grown stray that started hanging around Kathy's Socorro digs. Kathy moved him up to the Big House, and he's been making life interesting for our other cats ever since.
He's a green-eyed short-haired orange tabby, making him something of a visual analog to our long-haired orange tabby Topaz. The first day all he did was chase our other cats around--- seeing Topaz, who is three or four times Nemo's size, scuttling away from the invader was amusing for us, if not for Topaz.
Nemo has small eyes and small paws, which leads me to think he won't be getting much bigger. At certain attitudes he looks more like a stuffed toy than a live animal.
Things seem to have settled down in the meantime. Truces have been established, except at feeding time, when the other cats have to explain to Nemo the concept of my food vs. your food. All with a little help from me, of course.

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Psittacus Exanimus

The Monty Python troupe had the collective advantage of a classical English education. Perhaps, somewhere in their studies, they encountered this ancient Roman version of the Dead Parrot Sketch . . .


Friday, November 14, 2008

Reviews Too Late: La Vie en Rose

In Implied Spaces, I wrote a completely gratuitous scene in which I, using Aristide as a mouthpiece, expressed my admiration for Edith Piaf. "Who could forget Piaf?" Aristide asks, with some incredulity.

Not me, obviously.

La Vie en Rose is a biopic about Piaf, and it's not a cheerful film. It's very long and it's filled with misery, despair, abandonment, pain, murder, depression, illness, addiction, death, and tragedy. This is perhaps the ultimate movie for people who want reasons to be thankful that they're not superstars.

Piaf's life sucked. She was abandoned by both parents and partly raised in a brothel. As a child she was blinded by an infection that lasted seven years. She was only four feet ten inches tall. Her child died of meningitis, the impresario who discovered her was murdered by her gangster friends, the love of her life died in a plane crash, she was crippled by arthritis, addicted to painkillers, and died at the age of forty-seven.

The thing that kept her going was talent and will. In her forties, hunched, in pain, looking thirty years older than her actual age, and barely able to move, she had to be nearly carried to the microphone so that she could sing "Je ne regrette rien."

Brilliantly, one might add.

There are two reasons to see this movie, even if it makes you want to throw yourself off a balcony afterward.

The first is the astounding performance given by Marion Cotillard as Piaf. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress for this part, even though the part is in French. How often does the Academy reward an actress performing in a language other than English? (Twice, actually, the first winner being Sophia Loren nearly fifty years ago.)

Cotillard doesn't look anything like Edith Piaf, but she had to play the character from her teen years through her death. The makeup was a miracle, but it was the performance that really made the character come alive. Cotillard captures Piaf's rapture, her agony, and her impish humor. Watching her mobile face reacting to the situations had me astounded and delighted.

The second reason to see the film is a single scene. (Note: spoiler follows) Edith is in New York, and her lover Marcel is in France. She calls him and begs him to visit her.

Next we see her in bed, in the morning. Marcel arrives and climbs into bed with her. They have a brief conversation. Edith is delighted by his appearance, and in a long tracking shot walks through her apartment to the kitchen (passing her lifelong friend Momone on the way, propped in a corner like a mannequin). She makes toast and coffee for two, puts them on a tray, and walks (another long tracking shot) back to the bedroom, for another short conversation with Marcel. There's a huge, beaming smile on her face all this while.

Then Edith remembers she has a present for Marcel, and goes to fetch it. She can't find it, and gets a bit hysterical, opening drawers at random throughout the apartment. Momone and other members of her posse stand around watching. This is all in one take.

Edith demands to know why in hell they're standing around watching while they should be helping to find Marcel's present. Her manager takes her by the shoulders, tells her that she must be brave, and informs her that Marcel has died in a plane crash.

Disbelieving, Edith rushes through the apartment to the bedroom (the camera following). Marcel is gone. She calls out for him and he doesn't answer.

Edith falls apart and races through the apartment screaming. The camera follows her. This goes on for a long while. Right at the point at which we can't really take watching this any longer, she opens a door, and steps out onto the stage of a nightclub.

In a reverse shot, she sings "Hymne a l'Amour" to an empty club, the seats filled only by ghosts.

This scene was such a miracle I had to watch it twice.

It's the only extended scene in the film that suggests the supernatural. (Well okay, Ste. Therese appears briefly in another scene, as a scintillation of light, to cure Piaf's childhood blindness.) The nightclub scene is the only one to be the least bit surreal. But it works. It's perfect.

The scene works as an extended metaphor to show Edith's journey from bliss to tragedy. It works as another metaphor showing how Edith transforms the tragedy of her life into art. It works as a scene showing how another's death can fragment one's existence, and leave a person inconsolable and alienated from their surroundings.

The supernatural element makes it stand out from what is otherwise a grimly realistic rendering of Piaf's life. It makes the viewer stand up and take notice. It's really the best ghost scene I've seen in ages, far more chilling than anything I see in so-called horror films.

I have no idea whether Piaf ever claimed to have encountered Marcel's ghost on the day of his death. It doesn't freakin' matter.

They should be teaching this scene in film classes for the next hundred years.

And--- just to show you how much of a miracle was Marion Cotillard's performance, here's a video of her neither looking nor singing like Piaf.

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Is that a poppy in your lapel, Walter?
Dave Bishop asked a question in regard to the photo of me at Tech preparing to talk to Mike Fincke. The answer seemed worth giving at greater length, so here we go.
Yes, that is a poppy, though it's not on my lapel, it's just stuck on my shirt.
It's a Remembrance Day poppy, acquired in Canada, where Remembrance Day is a ongoing custom that seems to be taken with grave seriousness. Remembrance Day, November 11, was instituted in the U.K. and Commonwealth countries in memory of those who died in the War to End All Wars.
(Do they still to the two minutes of silence in the U.K., Dave? Or has that part of the custom been abandoned?)
Dave asked if we wear poppies in the States, and the answer would seem to be that some people still do, though on another day.
In the States we have two competing holidays, the first being Memorial Day, in May. Memorial Day, originally Decoration Day, was instituted to remember the dead of the American Civil War, and thus predates Remembrance Day.
What is in the Commonwealth called the Flanders Poppy is in the States called the Buddy Poppy, and is worn for Memorial Day. Poppies are made by disabled veterans, and sold by same.
It has to be said that I haven't seen anyone wearing or selling a Buddy Poppy in decades. I remember my father, a World War II vet, used to wear one every spring, but the custom seems to have largely died out since the Sixties. I blame the Vietnam War, which as a culture we prefer not to remember.
November 11 was called Armistice Day in the States, and was the only holiday on our calendar honoring the making of a peace. In the 1950s it was changed to Veterans Day, to honor veterans.
So we've got Veterans Day, which honors all veterans, and Memorial Day, which honors dead veterans. Memorial Day is a bigger affair, with more parades, speeches, and wreath-layings.
We no longer have a holiday devoted to making peace.
Be that as it all may, I think the wearing of the poppy is a fine old custom, and so I wear the poppy in this photo, in memory of the war dead.

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Hear Me! Hear Me Now!

Alert reader Minax has informed me that Voice of the Whirlwind and Hardwired are both available in audio format! This was news to me, even though the books seem to have been available since July.

Oh, I knew that Blackstone Audio had purchased the audio book rights. Their check cleared and everything.

It's just that nobody told me that the books were, like, available, so I could mention this fact to my legions of fans and maybe make everybody involved some money!

Minax also kindly directed me to the site, which was lucky because Blackstone Audio's site kicked me back to the index page every time I tried to search for my own work. It did this both with Firefox and with Explorer. (I wonder if Blackstone has given any thought to why their online business isn't prospering?)

Blackstone nevertheless seems to be committed to building a good science fiction list, so let's hope that they can work out these little glitches and tell the world they have two of my best books available.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

I Talk to the Spaceman

So here I am (top) earlier today, as I prepare to talk to Colonel Mike Fincke (below), who happens at this moment to be the commander of the International Space Station.

Can I just say that this has been the highlight of a really great couple of weeks?

It turns out that Colonel Fincke is a big fan of my writing, and it so happens he's reading Implied Spaces right now. He happened to mention his choice of reading matter to someone at NASA, and as a result they contacted me and set up a teleconference, courtesy of a great many people at New Mexico Tech.

The teleconference was supposed to be a private conversation between Col. Fincke and myself, so there was no advanced publicity, and no recordings were made (except by eavesdroppers in other countries, maybe). When the chat started, everyone was shooed out of the room so that I could have some privacy.

We talked about my books. (I think I already mentioned that he likes them.) We talked about the fact that due to his training schedule, he's spend a third of his life in Russia since 2002. We talked about space tourism--- he'd shared a few days of his mission with Richard Garriott. I mentioned that, since he's an MIT graduate, I was surprised he wasn't talking to Joe Haldeman.

Every so often, he'd turn a cartwheel. I assume this wasn't out of exuberance--- although he's a pretty exuberant guy--- but a result of some gesture or shift of position that spun him around.

At one point, when I mentioned that I envied him his view, he offered to pick up his computer and move it to the window so that I could get a picture. Houston vetoed this, however, as the space station had just been maneuvering and the windows were supposed to be closed for a time.

We compared notes about the fact that we both chose our career at a very early age. I decided I wanted to be a writer before I could actually read or write: I'd dictate stories to my parents, who would write them down for me. Mike saw men walk on the moon when he was very young--- he would have been five at the time of the last Apollo mission--- and decided at that point that he was going to be an astronaut.

I mentioned that we were both being paid for jobs we'd do for free.

The conversation lasted only twenty-five minutes or so before we lost telemetry.

Thanks to Kelly Curtis and the other folks at NASA for setting this up, and to Rob Hepler and the staff at NMT Distance Education.

I hope Mike Fincke keeps turning those cartwheels.

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Saturday, November 08, 2008

Tiger Lillies!

When we were in Calgary, my agent took us to see the Tiger Lillies in concert. (Can I just say that I really like my agent? )

I knew vaguely about the band and their New York success with Shockheaded Peter, but I'd never actually heard them play. The concert was Halloween night, which was not inappropriate--- plenty of devils and ghouls in the audience, and onstage as well.

The Tiger Lillies are a trio. Lead vocalist Martyn Jacques, a classically-trained counter-tenor, sings many of the songs in falsetto, wearing a bowler and whiteface while playing the accordion, piano, and banjolele. Adrian Stout plays double bass, theremin, and saw. (I believe this is the first time I've ever heard a theremin in concert.) And the drummer, Adrian Huge, plays a child's trap set and is absolutely brilliant on it. I rarely see drummers that I could watch for hours, but he's one of them.

Whereas Shockheaded Peter was about ghastly methods of doing away with children, and their other production The Mountains of Madness (with Alexander Hacke) was based on the Lovecraft novel, their current show is The Seven Deadly Sins, clearly inspired by the Brecht/Weil production of the same name that got the latter chased out of Hitler's Germany.

The music is Brechtian cabaret meets the Sex Pistols. The subject matter deals with pimps, whores, masturbation, circus freaks, drugs, drink, and killing Jesus.

A sample lyric:

The rain falls down drop by drop
As you suck another cock

It must be admitted that their palette is rather limited, though they perform well within their chosen milieu. And I must also admit that, by the third crack whore song, I began to wonder if there was a story here that I wasn't getting. (Perhaps the story is that Martyn Jaques, while studying music, lived for years above a brothel.)

I'd recommend the Tiger Lillies for anyone who thinks that Randy Newman, say, is too light-hearted.

I was trying to explain the show to Laura-Anne Gilman later that night, and I got a little carried away with the song about killing Jesus, so I was singing "bang bang bang bang bang bang banging in the nails!" in falsetto, and Laura-Anne stopped me dead.

"You must promise," she said very seriously, "never to do that again."

"Didn't you like the falsetto?" I asked.

"The falsetto was okay," she said, "it was the little dance you were doing that totally creeped me out."

And here I didn't even know I was dancing.


Thursday, November 06, 2008


While I was in Canada, I spent a good many hours wrestling with the copy-edited manuscript of This Is Not a Game.

The relationship between a writer and copy editor is complex. For one thing, it is the job of copy-editors to point out an author's mistakes, and that is never fun for the author. The majority of the time, the copy editor is right, and the author is left slapping his forehead, muttering "How did I let that sentence get past me?" Which, with repetition (and given the noted insecurity of creative types) can soon turn into, "I'm a wretched hack! I couldn't write a decent paragraph if you gave me a hundred years! As a writer, I totally suck!"

On other occasions the author is left stomping around in an angry circle, hurling pencils at makeshift dart boards while shrieking, "How dare she????" while angrily writing STET on the copy in very large letters. (Note for those not in the business: copy editors are almost always female. STET is Latin for "let it stand.")

I suspected that This Is Not a Game really needed a good copy-edit, because it had been through several revisions, and I didn't know whether I'd successfully patched over all the transitions. (Turns out I had, pretty much.)

The copy-edit was an excellent one. The editor sharpened my prose, edited out redundancy, and suggested changes aimed at improving clarity. The book is far stronger for her having been involved.

But the editor also did what all copy editors do, which is try to make me consistent. I hate that!

Sometimes I capitalize words that I think need emphasis, whether a style sheet calls for that or not. (As TNH wrote in her splendid sf&f style sheet, "A King with a Sword is different from a king with a sword.") Copy editors always correct this, even when my intent is obvious.

Sometimes, when a character is thinking, I italicize the words. Sometimes I don't. Generally I italizice interior monologue only when I would italicize the words if spoken aloud. But in any case, I'm inconsistent. And copy-editors are always trying to fix it. Aaagh!

This copy editor was also fond of the word "gotten." I hate the word "gotten," and I never use it. "Got" works just fine in all circumstances, thank you. (But I didn't STET that one, because it was just too much trouble for something I don't care that deeply about. So TINAG will be full of gottens, which I will be wincing at for years.)

Copy editors are also fond of the Chicago Manual of Style, which has some things in it that are just annoying, because the Chicago Manual is really a guideline for academic publishing and not for fiction. So editors are always trying to make my fiction consistent with, say, Ronald F. Follett's Agricultural practices and policies for
carbon sequestration in soil,
Lewis Publishers, 2002. (A fine work in its way, I am sure.)

The copy editor was also fond of Webster's, even for foreign words. Webster's is not the authority for spelling Javanese words, which are fairly common in the first part of the book. I had to change all that back. I wish she'd used an Indonesian online dictionary.

Also, because we had to be consistent, all foreign words had to be italicized. I wanted to write a little essay explaining that the English word for pentjak silat is, in fact, pentjak silat, the same way that the English word for karate is karate, and that it shouldn't be italicized, but I didn't have time, so I just wrote STET all over the place.

And, most horribly of all, the name of one of the major characters was changed in order to make it consistent. (I am becoming consistent in italicizing consistent, aren't I?) Consistent, in this case, with Webster's, which is flat wrong.

I have a character who, because he had an Eastern European name, goes by his initials, which are BJ. Webster's insists that this be rendered as B. J., with a space between the letters. I don't know who this B. J. person is, but he's not my character.

And besides, the character himself should decide how his name is spelled.

STET, please. STET STET STET STET STET, all the way to the end of the manuscript.

It has to be said that the copy-edit did an excellent job of improving the book while nevertheless wreaking havoc on the psyche of its author. At times, I felt myself teetering on the brink.

But it is a necessary job, both for author and copy editor. And it was done. And the book is better for it.

(Note: the author uses "copy-edit" with a hyphen, but "copy editor" without. Is this consistent?)

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The Staggering Bravery of the American Press

We're now finding out all sorts of things about the campaign. Fox News revealed that Sarah Palin thought that Africa was a country, that she didn't know what countries were in NAFTA, that she refused to prepare for interviews and that she threw temper tantrums. The GOP has sent a lawyer to retrieve Palin's clothes. Rick Sanchez confronted Joe the Plumber and showed the world that he is a looudmouthed bozo. (Big surprise there.)

But we only find any of this out after the votes are counted--- or, in the case of the Rich Sanchez interview, on election day--- basically, when it no longer matters.

Apparently we're not supposed to know that Palin knows less about geography than a fifth grader until after they've had a chance to vote for her. We only hear from Joe the Plumber after McCain used him as an shining example in a couple hundred stump speeches.

We only find out these things because the Republicans lost. If McCain had won, the press would be kissing Palin's Gucci-shod instep and praising her brilliant fashion sense, and no one would know of her colossal ignorance unless McCain dropped dead, Palin had to step into his place, and announced her choice for Ambassador to Africa. If McCain had won, his staffers wouldn't be so eager to place blame for the defeat on someone other than themselves that they're allowing reporters to actually report on the stuff they've all known for weeks.

Okay, fine, it was all "off the record." But don't tell me that seasoned political reporters don't know how to get off-the-record before the public.

Our press is often partisan, but hardly ever brave. They love a winner. They love the access they get by being cooperative, but forget that the whole point of the access is to report what they know. They can read polls nearly as well as the Supreme Court.

I have to say that this makes me wonder what we're not finding out about the Obama side. Obama was not nearly as popular with reporters as McCain, largely because he doesn't talk to them when he doesn't have to, and because his campaign was very disciplined where information control was concerned.

Obama's ride will be smooth until he makes a mistake and shows a moment's vulnerability. And then there will be "surprise revelations" of all the stuff the reporters have been holding back in order to maintain their access. Most of it, let's hope, will be trivial and pointless, along the lines of W.'s pretzel attack, but it will be presented in big flaming headlines whether it matters or not.

And speaking of reporters, here's Sarah Palin in her former job. Note that she hasn't yet acquired the Youper accent. Where did she find it, I wonder?

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

More Canadian Patriotism

George RR Martin, in response to the version of "Oh Canada" I posted yesterday, pointed me at this fine Canadian patriotic song. And also this one.

I found this third one by myself.


Return Engagement

A few weeks ago, I pointed y'all at MightyGodKing's revised and horribly truthful covers for all the books he liked when he was a teenager. And then he got Boing'd, and the pages got taken down.

Well, they're back.

Here's the first page.

Here's the second.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A Remarkable Encounter With One of the Most Significant Writers of This or Any Time

I am interviewed by Charles Tan.

"I need people to buy my stuff and to tell perfect strangers how wonderful I am. I need to be interviewed constantly on the nationwide networks. I need people to buy my books as presents for their loved ones. All my books.

"What I really need is for the whole universe to be about me. Is that too much to ask?"

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Kenya Declares a Holiday

I watched the election results on the BBC, partly in order to avoid having to view the same smug talking heads saying the same smug things, but mainly because they had some really interesting guests, like John Bolton, Christopher Hitchens, Jay McInerny, and Gore Vidal.

Vidal was a disappointment, since all he did was insult his hosts. But Hitchens calling Sarah Palin a "nut job who believes in witches" was a sweet moment.

Ted Koppel set a more gracious tone by remarking that this felt like the first year of the 21st century. So it does.


Back from Canada

We're back from Canada and the World Fantasy Convention. I had very little to actually do at the convention--- I was on one panel, and my agent took me to a concert, and other than that I had nothing to do but enj0y myself. So I did.

One morning I didn't get to sleep till nearly 5am. Good to know I can still do that, and with surprisingly few ill effects.

A few odd things about Canada.

Some of the men's rooms I encountered had a feature I've never seen anywhere in the world. There were the normal stalls for the sit-down potty, but they also featured a stall for a pair of urinals, placed next to each other. Apparently in Canada you (assuming you're male) and a friend can urinate side-by-side in privacy.

I asked my (Canadian) former editor John Douglas about this. "It's for privacy," he said.

"But," I asked, "how can it be private with two urinals right next to each other?"

"You have to understand," said John, "that many of our ancestors came from Scotland, and that we are cheap."

Okay, got it.

During the trip, I also got to taste "neo-Canadian cuisine." Which, you will be relieved to know, does not involve poutine. At its worst, it's a smallish, perhaps even tiny, amount of protein balanced against a tower of roast vegetables and splattered with a sweet, cloying berry reduction sauce. At its best, it features wonderfully flavored, tender proteins, such as AAA Alberta beef, matched with an appropriately tangy, interesting berry sauce.

At any rate, berries are certainly involved.

Having voted before I left, I was also hoping to get away from the exhausting American election, which was slowly and surely turning my brain into oatmeal. But whenever I turned on the CBC news, practically all their news had to do with Obama vs. McCain. They were obsessed with their neighbor to the south. Canada had just got a brand-new government of its own, and they damn well didn't care. You had to look in the back pages of the newspaper for that.

I happened to catch the swearing-in of the new ministers, and I noted that the oath delves unexpectedly into the state of their souls. American government officials just swear to do the job, but Canadians have to sincerely swear, and that they will render their opinions faithfully, honestly, and truly. And then they have to repeat the whole thing in French.

In thanks for the wonderful hospitality I experienced in Canada, I'd like to close with a link to this splendid video featuring the Canadian national anthem.

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