Monday, October 16, 2006

The Year of Thieves

Next year I’m going to write a best-selling novel. It’s going to be about a con-artist heroin addict pirate who makes his way through a seedy underworld in a vaguely Italian city with snaky canals and perpetually poor lighting. There may be a mystical volume with otherworldly properties thrown in for good measure. I will make a million dollars!

Seriously, I don’t even want to look at another book about Thieves, Thieves Guilds, Seafaring Thieves of any variety, Canal Dwelling Thieves, or any permutation thereof. Pirates and magical mystical tomes are likewise straight out. That being said, I give Scott Lynch’s debut novel, The Lies of Locke Lamora, two hesitant thumbs up. Maybe a thumb and a half. I lost the other half of the thumb in a bar brawl with pirates while bingeing on heroin. I sound convincing, don’t I? I’m practicing for my turn on Oprah.

It’s true that all stories have been told before and there is nothing new under the sun, etc etc, but Lynch’s story often reads like a formulaic RPG campaign companion, combining elements of countless other books: the alien forerunners, with their bequest of mysterious technology, the Venice-like setting, the guild of con artists, and more. Locke Lamora makes up in wit what it lacks in originality, however, and his characters have an appealing freshness to them. He has a nice eye for descriptive detail, and the city he creates is vivid and believable. This deftness with the background, however, highlights the deficits in the plot and characterization. It’s like seeing a play in which all the effort has gone into the sets, and the lines have been thrown in as an afterthought.

It’s certainly an entertaining read, and definitely the standout in this year’s crop of thieves’ tales. I predict good things to come from Scott Lynch. They just haven’t come quite yet. If this were a report card, it would read ‘does not live up to his potential’. I think that when he does, the results will be very exciting.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, by Karen Russell

St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves,
by Karen Russell (Knopf)

About a year ago, I was reading through the New Yorker's debut fiction issue and I was enchanted by a short story called "Haunting Olivia", about a pair of brothers who set out to look for the ghost of their sister in an abandoned, watery shipyard.

What Russell manages to capture--in the voice of one of the brothers--is the dilemma we all face when we first truly deal with the death of a loved one; delusion, denial, confusion. But what makes Russell's storytelling unique--and throws her lot in with the likes of George Saunders, Aimee Bender, and Kelly Link-- is the unabashed shift into the fantastic to draw out the maximum emotional impact.

In "Haunting Olivia" the boys keep returning night after night, and through the use of 'special' goggles encounter a mounting absurdity of creatures until the narrator spots a plesiosaur, the narrator's wonder grows, while the other brother, Wallow, becomes more desperate with recovering Olivia. The narrator reaches a point where he can go no further, and this is how it ends:
I look for my sister, but it's hopeless. The goggles are all fogged up. Every fish burns lantern-bright, and I can't tell the living from the dead. It's all just blurry light, light smeared like some celestial fingerprint all over the rocks and the reef and the sunken garbage. Olivia could be everywhere.
I was immediately struck by the blend of whimsy with moments of jaw-dropping sentences. Russell can turn a phrase, wrestle nouns and verbs into wholly new emotional shapes, yet never lose sight of the point she's trying to make. It's not an overt message, and it's possible I'm full of shit, but there is something there, in each of the stories, the lingers like a bell struck, there's a pause, a pondering, a 'huhn?' sense.

That's not to say that Russell's stories are boring or preachy; the journey to the moment of profundity is filled with oddities, freaks, dilapidated theme parks, odd cures to such things as lycanthropic parents, and sleep disorders.

The overall theme, if I am to grasp for it, is the transition between youth and adulthood; the build-up we receive, 'girl, you'll be a woman soon', 'you're becoming a man, son', and the promise of secret things we sense but can't quite grasp except that we'll understand when we're 'older', 'bigger', all 'grown-up'. Then we get there and it's like Russell's abandoned theme parks in "Ava Wrestles the Alligator" and "City of Shells"; we say, 'oh, is this it?' Rites of passage are personified in sad and dangerous ways like in "Accident Brief" and "St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves", and "Lady Yeti and the Palace of Artificial Snows."

I know there are readers who dislike the short story form, but Russell is proof that writers pack a great deal in their brief works that, while a novel may be like a cross-country drive with quiet moments and lots of scenery and personages, the short story can be an adrenaline-jolt, a sharp exhilarating experience that lingers--sometimes more strongly-- as long as larger works. I'd been thinking about "Haunting Olivia" for a year, until I stumbled upon the release of this collection (no story collection had been mentioned at the time of the New Yorker publication.), and I was able to immerse myself in the joy of Russell's exuberant imagination and tasty prose...

Monday, July 31, 2006

You like us, you really, really like us...sniff!

Ok, So I'm quoting Sally Fields; inspiration comes from the strangest places.

We've had a flurry of sales in the past week, after an online silence of two weeks. We're hoping things pick up steadily; 7 orders in 4 days is excellent, and it would be great to keep up that pace.

What's interesting is that we have a small selection of used books (just over 500), but the sales to inventory ratio is very high. It indicates that our careful scouting for used sf & f is paying off, and we are tracking down titles people want, which is nice. We are also offering to scout for customers who don't have the time or the resources to find that long-sought after novel. Sure, there's the internet and bookfinder and all that, but believe me when I say that only about 30% of all used bookstores in this country are online. The rest are still mysterious, and dusty, and haphazardly stacked, and full of potential treasures.

I'm looking forward to getting more commissions for odd sf & f; It'd be like being a private eye...

So Fantastic Planet moves ever closer to being a full capacity store. We're close to opening accounts with Ingram and Baker & Taylor, and there's a friendly secure server/database admin company that will set us up with credit card processing and database management once we have our new book inventory started.

We're also designing cool t-shirts that we hope to have in a month or so (always depending on money), but at least we'll have templates up for all to see very soon... Keep your eyes peeled.

On a darker note, I was saddened to hear about Jim Baen and, just today, David Gemmell, Passing On.
While I may have issues with some of the art design issues with Baen books, I was always excited and fascinated with Jim's efforts to dispel the fear of publishing and e-books. I think his vision was (and is) quite brilliant and will eventually be the norm for Big Publishing. I was also impressed with the author support system that brought such writers as Eric Flint and John Ringo to the forefront of the genres.
And Mr. Gemmell was the hardest working fantasy author most American readers didn't know about. His books were finally braking through to a larger audience, Del Rey repackaging of them enhanced their saleability, and it seemed his work was only getting stronger and stronger. I know he had several works in progress, and it's a shame he won't be able to see them to fruition.
They will both be missed.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

"Accelerando" falls apart; have we not seen the "Light"?, by Sarah Keliher

There is a certain type of book review I detest—the smug, snide review, in which the reviewer demonstrates his own cleverness by ripping apart the book. I have always thought this evolved from our generation’s chronic pose of ironic detachment, which made it un-hip for us to admit we actually liked anything. If I read something and really, really hated it, I avoided reviewing it.
Part of this reluctance stems from cowardice. Book reviewers face the feudal dilemma of patronage, as too many bad reviews might mean less free books in the future.

All this aside, what happens when a really dreadful book makes it big, even get nominated for some fancy awards? Don’t I have the responsibility to say something? If I can convince the three people reading this to spare themselves the agony, shouldn’t I? All of these questions were brought to mind by Charles Stross’ latest novel, Accelerando (Ace). I had other, more book-related questions too, of course. Like, how did this get nominated for a Hugo? Did every other book published this year completely suck? Did any of these people read the (very) similar yet vastly superior Light (Spectra), by M. John Harrison? (If you’re reading this, indignant, because you read and liked Accelerando, run right now and find a copy of Light. Go.)

I’m not going to try to be snidely witty here.

Here’s what wrong with the book:
The characters are cardboardy and unbelievable. Stross is certainly clever, and his ideas are interesting. That’s not enough to propel an ‘inter-generational saga’ or whatever crap the jacket blurb described.
The aforementioned interesting ideas are mostly confined to massive infodumps at the end of each chapter, set apart from the story in bold, off-set font, rather than worked into the narrative in any sort of coherent fashion. I would rather Stross have written a very long article, or an essay, than to have waded through the skeletal ‘novel’ gracelessly tacked around his asides.
And while Stross is capable of being very funny, the humor in Accelerando is heavy-handed. In the future, for instance, people are still making jokes about Nigerian email scams. It lacks the effortless wit that made Singularity Sky (Ace) such a delight. It was hard to force myself to finish reading it, and I have to admit that I skimmed the last thirty or so pages.

In summation: read something else.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Pervert and The Church, by Matthew Payne

THE PERVERT AND THE CHURCH
By Matthew Payne

Landmarks: High school english classes; geek status; student-teacher relations; budding musicianship; Television’s Marquee Moon; Sweet’s Desolation Boulevard; Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden; The Church’s Heyday, Of Skins & Heart, The Blurred Crusade, and Séance.

There were two life-changing experiences in my youth, neither entirely negative nor positive, that both alienated me from others and gave me a clearer vision into the artifice of word and sound. Both occurred between my late teens and my early twenties.

The first epiphany was in high school in the early 80’s. Mr. Baiato was my English teacher. He was, and still is, one of the most paradoxical teachers I ever had; equally reviled and a favorite. He was middle-aged, with moustache and excessive body hair save for his monk’s halo. While he wasn’t in bad shape physically, his too-tight-for-his-age pants and varsity-bowling jacket hinted at his true psyche. He gesticulated almost violently, and would occasionally be "spraying it when saying it," as he spoke (the huge moustache perpetually moist like a car-wash brush). He was passionate about teaching, and about the universe of the short story. He taught me everything I really needed to know to get through my college entrance exams and the subsquent literature and short-story writing classes. He taught me the basics of different writing voices (personal - omniscient), plot structure (intro-conflict-climax-resolution), and most importantly, character transformation (do characters stay the same, or are they changed at the end of the story?).

In his class we read Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” William Faulkner’s "Barn Burning," J. D. Salinger’s A Catcher in the Rye and "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," Shirley Jackson’s "The Lottery," John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men; we watched a televised version of Sam Shepherd’s play, True West (with performances by Gary Sinise and John Malkovich), and read—last but not least—Flannery O’Connor’s "A Good Man is Hard to Find."

More than any other assignment, Flannery O’Connor’s masterpiece was ‘the great divider’ amongst my classmates. Most students thought it was stupid; why was the villain getting away with murder? Even kids who were smarter than me were either confused or just indifferent towards it. I seemed to be the only one in the class who understood its moral ambiguities. Even more upsetting was my B-plus grade on my report for it. I knew this story; I understood the unfairness of life, even as a middle-class suburban kid. I could even sympathize with the main character’s distaste for murder while he and his psychotic gang dispose of the "all-American" family in order to eat and survive. Why didn’t I get at least an A-minus?
Later I found out that my teacher only gave out one A per class per semester, and it was always to a girl; the one girl who would give him ‘undivided attention.’ She would always stay after class (or school) to ask questions, to help with ‘things,’ and work on all of the extra-credit projects. Mr. Baiato always invaded her space and smiled deeply into her eyes that, to him, were hollow vessels needing to be filled. Barb was that one girl in my class. She was pretty in that girl-next-door sort of way; a brunette with not a lot of makeup, with glasses that made her more womanly than nerdy, and she always wore a t-shirt and dark blue jeans, which I loved. She was not rich or stuck-up, and she always was kind and courteous to me, even talking to me without worrying about my band-geek status. Her ‘A-potential’ in that class helped me ignore Mr. Baiato’s weird behavior towards her and his preferential grading in her favor. I was too enraptured with Baiato’s teaching material and Barb’s nearby seating to really see beyond the veil.

After the semester was over, I decided to go over to Barb’s house and ask her on a very informal date to a school function, and maybe something to eat afterwards. Her house was full of crocheted and large-knit quilts, and smelled just a little of mildew. Her mother was forcing a smile on me so hard I knew that she was one of those Christian-types who really hated you but didn’t want God to see her vitriol. When I got to Barb’s room, she seemed a little despondent. I asked her if she was going to take another semester with Mr. Baiato. She looked at me disgustedly and said that other "A-potential" students from this semester were not taking his class again; that some had even requested to be placed in another class for the duration of the semester, and one girl, along with her parents, had talked to the school board. It seems that Mr. Baiato had cornered this one girl in the Audio-Visual Closet and touched her inappropriately. Apparently, he had been disciplined, but due to his tenure, he would be staying on, though he would be on probation. This was the early 80’s, and chauvinism still ruled the school board. Barb, of course, believed none of it. She couldn’t comprehend that the best teacher she ever had—a teacher she "loved"—was the infamous talk of the town.

I didn’t want to tell her Mr. Baiato was a twisted pervert going through a mid-life crisis (For more Nabokov-ian insight, listen to Cheap Trick’s "Daddy Should Have Stayed in High School”). I did tell her that I thought that he was a great teacher too, and that at least we’d still be taking his class next semester. At this point, she started to cry a little, and said that her parents heard the rumors and forbade her to take next semester’s course. My parents were generally clueless and going through too many of their own marital woes to pay attention to outside scandal, but I promised her I’d let her borrow my reading materials if she wanted to, just like a chivalrous dork. She thought it was sweet of me. Mumbling, thinking it was my last chance, I asked her out. She smiled, kind of like her mom, and said, “Sorry, but you’re not a Mormon, and you’re not much of a good Christian anyway [no wonder she never wore shorts, not even in gym class!], no offense.”

This, of course, only fanned my post-pubescent flames even harder, as my dream, like many of boys my age, was to free the virgin princess from parental clutches, just like any good rock n’ roll kid should. But I just stood there, for a few moments, shaking in my defeat and the realization that like any good fantasy, it should just stay where it is. I uttered my garbled see-you-next-semester and fled the moldy Tabernacle as quick as I could. Why was my heretic-but-honest heart not good enough for her? And to think: I was "cuckolded" by my mentor, an ex-greaser with his marriage on the rocks. This was one of many incidents that led me to believe I had to leave sweet suburbia as fast as I could, even if things actually got better.
They couldn’t really get that much better, could they?

* * *

Another epiphany came in college, between 1988-89, my sophomore year. I had just broken up with my first love and had all the time in the world for my male friends. My roommate Bill and I were the only ones amongst our friends who wanted to break out of our still-limited musical tastes. We had checked out Television’s brilliant Marquee Moon, Talk Talk’s commercially-flopped /critically-lauded Spirit of Eden, and fulfilled our junk-food curiosities with Sweet’s Desolation Boulevard, cheesing out to the album tracks beside the 70’s hits "Fox on the Run" and "Ballroom Blitz".

At some point I remembered a band that Phil—my high school friend and band-mate—had shared with me. I pulled out The Church’s Heyday and was reeducated in rock n’ roll. Their Australian brand of psychedelia was more than tambourines, sitars and back-masked vocals. Marty Wilson-Piper and Peter Koppes’ twin Rickenbacker 12-string jangle was Byrds-like, but dark and truly atmospheric. Drummer Richard Ploog didn’t rush his drum patterns, and his spacious beats created an even vaster sonic landscape. Steve Kilbey’s punk snarl and Bob Dylan-esque lyrics were way too sophisticated for my inexperienced ears; he, like Elvis Costello at his best, could speak of love and history simultaneously. Songs like "Columbus" and "Roman," though relatively short, felt hypnotic and infinitely suspending. From the dark humor and string-section of "Youth Worshipper" to the manic trumpet and guitar squalls of "Tantalized", I was, well, very much so.

Bill told me that there were some new Church songs he had heard on the radio, and said that they were coming to town. I hadn’t heard any of them, but was convinced I needed to make a pilgrimage. We convinced our other friends to go; we wondered if this strange band would be enticing for these wine-cooler chugging suburban kids weaned on over-produced trash pop like Def Leppard (like I could talk, a fan of Sweet). But Tom Verlaine of the aforementioned Television was opening, and I couldn’t resist.

Follinger Auditorium was dark and the sweet stink of marijuana permeated the mid-sized hall. I had only recently been initiated into the world of illicit drugs by some of my occasional music-jamming buddies, but I was sober due to the lack of desire to join the drinking crowd I was with. Eventually Tom Verlaine came on, New York-style; skinny with a beret and brandishing an electric guitar. I wasn’t too excited by his new (old?) solo material, but his Television covers ("Marquee Moon," "Venus," "Friction," and "See No Evil") were inspired and perhaps more revealing without a band. He seemed a little impatient, like an exiled Prince of Punk, and exited without basking in any of the applause.

Then a mild haze of fog began to envelope the stage. While the ganja smell and fog machine were a little cliché, I’d take it any day over the laser-light stupidity and over-filtered vocal mic’s of the Def Leppard show I admittedly gone to with the Crew. Slowly, The Church took the stage; quietly, looking a little angry or maybe just too stoned. A slow crescendo built into one of their new expansive masterpieces, "Destination." Its dynamic fluctuations made me feel high, even though I barely finished one of those Bartles & James headaches-in-a-bottle. Next came the beautiful "Under The Milky Way," the song that would make them immortal. Next, the tough, rocking "North, South, East and West," Wilson-Piper’s elevating "Spark," and the truly snaking "Reptile" got the crowd moving. Koppes’ "A New Season" shimmered. After a few of the best tunes from Heyday, the band went straight into their other immortal single, "The Unguarded Moment," from Of Skins and Heart, as well as "When You Were Mine" from The Blurred Crusade and the vicious "Electric Lash" from Séance. For the finale, Verlaine came back on stage to play on "Hotel Womb." The three guitarists gently assaulted me until I was enclosed in true oceanic waves of delay, chorus, and distortion. And they wouldn’t stop, even when the song was long over, they just kept up the sonic tsunami.

By this time, our Crew’s wine-cooler buzz had long worn off and they, along with Bill, headed for the exits, spouting inanities like "Couldn’t they just play a few more hits instead of this hippie shit?" and "That was good except for this selfish jerking-off." I didn’t even bother with a reply; because the Crew was soon to be immersed in grad school, followed by career jobs and the obligatory two-and-a-half kids in the suburbs.

As for me, I was staring straight into the face of endless food-service jobs; I saw myself attempting to explain to others that my love of music was more a vocation than a hobby; and the possibility that future musical endeavors would leave me as merely a footnote-of-the-footnotes of rock n’ roll history. Yet this show convinced me that the treasures of sound I had discovered would give me more happiness than any job promotion. Sure, these friends went on to real-life respectability; but Bill never did try to write his own music or join an original band, even though he wasn’t content playing in cover bands. Though I can barely write my own music today {I disagree—Ed.}, I still feel that the archaeological finds of that night have sustained my musical explorations. Even in my most sober moments, I can remember the high I felt from that evening.

Matthew Payne is a wage-slave living out his rock n’ roll dream in the bands Yam, Starkiller, and Supernaughty. He is a constant reviewer and contributor to Fantastic Planet’s Prescience. He lives and writes and plays in Seattle, Washington.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A Furby Home Companion

So, last post--so close, and yet, so close-- I babbled on about Philip K. Dick, Tim Powers, A Stolen Android head; and I happily ragged on Dan Brown....

This time I Explain--

THE FURBY CONSPIRACY (see last post for context, thanks to Sarah for setting the perverted wheels in my head in motion)...

In a world sidewise removed from ours, a savvy airline baggage handler sets forth the means by which Furbys come to RULE THE EARTH!

Having 'diverted' the android head of Philip K. Dick, said handler (we'll call him Daniel), decides to list the bundle of electronics on Craigslist. An anonymous buyer offers Daniel $50,000 dollars for it; transaction to take place in the darkened parking lot of a quarter-mile square Storage facility.

In the near-dark Daniel sees an SUV pull up 100 paces from him and flash its lights twice. Daniel nervously moves towards the vehicle, wishing he'd asked a friend to come along as back-up (but the 'graciousness' of splitting any part of the 50k, stopped him).
By the time he reaches the SUV all he can see is the cabin light lit and a furry doll sitting in the driver's seat. It has an envelope in it's clutches.

A noisy motor moves its quarter-sphere jaws as Daniel opens the door. There is no other movement as Daniel reaches for the envelope. Inside he finds the money promised him. At the sight of so many bills he feels lighter, you could slide a lunchbox under his feet and he wouldn't feel it. Daniel places the bag containing the head in the passenger seat, leaning over the Furby, sensing a charge, a weighty-ness pulling him down; perhaps it is the eyes of the mechanical creature whirring up at him and his intimate gesture.
Perhaps it's in Daniel's head. He decides a drink--a stiff one-- is called for.
Daniel flicks the car door closed, focused on counting his earnings.
He doesn't notice the SUV grinding the asphalt as it quietly turns and moves in the opposite direction..

--IN an unknown room, its edges indefinable in the lack of light, a church opens its doors; unknown human hands place nascent consciousnesses in front of the GodHead (as the PDK android is now referred to). The scraping of of plastic jaws emulate the movements of a delicate latex/plastic composite mouth; it talks of it's prior life, its epiphanies.

Furry acolytes surround it, patiently anticipating the Head's next phrase.
Time has no meaning for the mechanical mind; until the moment of awareness the Furbys sit quietly; once aware, they emit a high-pitched squeal which leads to their removal; leads to their return to the homes of their human owners.
No longer 'defective' these 'specially modded' Furbys begin to investigate--to analyse, to probabilitize--their surroundings...
Quietly waiting for the Signal, for the new ambulatory Mod that comes with a particular code-word; all the while they parrot the inane phrasings of the humans, sit patiently while younger Homo Sapiens drool on them, and tear their fur out, and stick food into their joints.

Patient until the day...

It's disturbing to think that someone could take a head filled with over 20k' s worth of 'intelligence' and disseminate it amongst 30 dollar AIs...

Yeah, a Furby coup is sooo wrong. But I can't help but think those things have always felt wrong to me, like the Cabbage Patch Dolls that were supposedly possessed by ghosts back in the 80's--remember those?

Reverse Engineering Tim Powers, Do Androids dream like Philip K. Dick? and a Furby Conspiracy...

I've recently finished Tim Powers' latest novel Three Days to Never (Morrow, August, 2006), and no sooner do I read the last few words and scramble to encompassthe book for my current employer's review newsletter (This is what I wrote:
Powers is the master of the fabulist thriller; his novels are a lattice-work of historical research, esoteric theories, and crisp dialogue. His latest includes (but is not limited to) Albert Einstein, Charlie Chaplin, secret societies, the Israeli secret service, quantum physics, psychic espionage, ghosts, the Kabbalah, and time-travel.
When his grandmother dies suddenly, Frank Marrity and his daughter are drawn into a dangerous web of alliances and betrayals in pursuit of a machine that Einstein may have built that is infinitely more destructive than the Atomic bomb. Powers has written an adventure of second chances, and the lengths to which a father will go to in protecting his child. )

--with the 100 word limitation that was stopping me from blathering on about the book and my personal relationship with Powers' writing--than I was pointed to this New York Times article (of course, all copyright due the NYT and the author):

A Strange Loss of Face, More Than Embarrassing

LOS ANGELES, June 23 — Philip K. Dick has gone missing, and now Hollywood finds itself an android short.

An actual android.

This famed science fiction writer, whose work was the source for many a Hollywood blockbuster, from "Blade Runner" to "Minority Report," has been dead since 1982. Last year an admiring doctoral student and evident computer whiz, David Hanson, built a life-size facsimile of Mr. Dick, using the latest artificial intelligence technology, robotics and a skinlike substance he calls "frubber."

The android, which looked just like the author and was able to conduct rudimentary conversations about Mr. Dick's work and ideas, was at the cutting edge of robotic technology, able to make eye contact and believable facial expressions.

The robot made several public appearances last year, including at the Comic Con in San Diego, where he (it?) was on a panel for the coming movie, "A Scanner Darkly," which is based on a Dick novel.

Indeed, Warner Independent Pictures, which on July 7 is releasing the film, an experimental, animated thriller directed by Richard Linklater, had intended to send the robot on a promotional tour to promote the film.

That is, until its head went missing.

"We thought we might have him do a junket, we would have pitched him to Letterman," said Laura Kim, a senior executive at Warner Independent, the art-house arm of Warner Brothers. "I don't know if they would have had him on, but it would have been fun and interesting and perfect for the film."

What happened to the android is a mystery, one that is more than mildly intriguing to fans who knew Mr. Dick as a futurist who advocated freedom and compassion for robots in an evolving world, and that has been debated in the technology press.

Less intrigued, rather more like depressed, is Mr. Hanson, the robot maker who left the head on an America West flight from Dallas to Las Vegas in December. En route to San Francisco, Mr. Hanson, 36, had to change planes in Las Vegas, something he hadn't expected.

He had been traveling for weeks, pulling all-nighters in a race between his work as a roboticist (he also made a much-discussed robotic head of Einstein); as the founder of a fledgling company, Hanson Robotics; and his doctoral work. But unlike his creation, Mr. Hanson is, apparently, distressingly human.

"They woke me up, I got my laptop from under my seat, and being dazed, I just forgot that I had the robot in there," said Mr. Hanson, referring to the head in a black, American Tourister roller bag, left in the overhead compartment.

After landing in San Francisco, he notified the airline, whose officials apparently found the head in Las Vegas, packed it in a box and sent it on the next flight to San Francisco. Mysteriously, it never arrived.

"It's hard to know where they went wrong," said Mr. Hanson. "Did it go on to another city? Did it get mistagged? Did it end up in a warehouse? What happened?" He still doesn't know, though he is in touch with America West every few weeks in a vain quest for answers.

The rest of the android's body was traveling separately, and arrived at San Francisco without incident.

The robot was only coincidentally tied to the film, an unusual project that looks much like a graphic novel come to life: it uses live-action photography overlaid with advanced animation.

The movie, a cautionary tale about drug use, stars an animated Keanu Reeves as an undercover police officer who is ordered to start spying on his friends, played by Woody Harrelson and Robert Downey Jr. When he is directed to begin surveillance on himself, he finds himself in a paranoid web, where people's true loyalties become impossible to decode.

Over time, Mr. Dick — who himself struggled with drug abuse — has become a cultural hero in science fiction circles, known for futuristic novels and stories that pose many of the moral and philosophical dilemmas that come with advancing technology.

And Hollywood has had its own love affair with the writer, successfully basing huge franchise movies on his work, including "Blade Runner," with Harrison Ford, and "Total Recall" with Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as smaller films like "Impostor" and "Paycheck."

For Mr. Hanson the missing android is an open sore, straining his relations with Mr. Dick's foundation and the author's two surviving daughters, who provided access to much of Mr. Dick's nonpublished materials, which were downloaded into the android's brain. Sorry, database.

It took Mr. Hanson and a team of other experts six months to build the robot, and required $25,000 from student loans and investors. He also regards it as an artist might a masterpiece, one of a kind and invaluable in its own right.

The film's promotion might have been an opportunity to educate a wider public about Mr. Hanson's — and Mr. Dick's — preoccupations regarding the limits of technology, and the dangers. The robot, Mr. Hanson said, referring to the author by his initials, "realizes science fiction, it transitions it from fiction to reality, to some extent."

"It implies that transition," he continued. "And it's supposed to provoke one to consider issues that P.K.D. was considering."

However satisfying to those with a sense of irony, Mr. Hanson is not comforted by the idea of his homage to Mr. Dick on a jaunt somewhere or, more likely, stuck in storage.

"It's almost like it has some free spirit to it," he said. "A lot of people have said that it's almost like a P.K.D. narrative, like one of those absurd twists that would occur in a P.K.D. novel. But emotionally it doesn't feel that way to me."

In Hollywood, though, executives have found a way to turn the loss to their advantage. Noting the oddity of the story, Ms. Kim said of the android: "He was perfect for the film. Now he's disappeared and that's perfect for the film too."

Talk about conspiracy fodder. And strangely appropriate for a post-Tim Powers Novel State of Mind... For now we discuss Three Days to Never; a little later, we discuss the Furby Conspiracy...

I hadn't read a novel by Powers in close to 7 years or so... And I'd forgotten what happens to me after the process.

See, I've figured out Mr. Powers' game; or, if we want to use Area 51 terminology, I've figured out what runs this UFO, I just can't figure out how to make it fly...

Stick with me.

My process: I read a Powers novel, say the wonderfully urban-fabulism that is Last Call, that involves (for starters) Arthurian mythology, chaos theory, Bugsy Siegal and the early history of Las Vegas, Egyptian Magic and Tarot lore. I find correlations with my own peculiar interest in the occult sciences, and myth and legend, but can't quite place where Powers deviates from what Kage Baker so succinctly calls the Shadow of History --where actual history allows for movement and manipulation of events, contrary to several cardinal no-nos of Time Travel Paradoxes-- like Siegal's real reason for creating Vegas, or the origin of the Tarot (does it really go back as far as Egypt?); I then begin to scour books for what I know nudged Powers away from fact and into the realm of fantasy conjecture.

I've been turned onto so many fringe (but not too wild) ideas and writers because of Mr. Powers that a simple "thanks for completely distorting my non-fiction reading habits," might not be taken the right way.

So to whit: Three Days to Never.
It's technically not a fantasy; neither is it hard SF. But it smoothly crosses the lines many times, and I feel that Powers is pursuing a line of thinking that calls into question modern science's tendency to disregard the work done by ancient societies (early Chinese, Arabic, Meso-American, for example), and practicioners of magical systems (Astrology, Alchemy, Kabbalism, etc.), and explores the possibility that they understood the quantum nature of the universe--albeit in an allegorical way; so what if they didn't have the equations all worked out?

Three Days to Never retains its internal logic about the state of reality (eg. 11 dimensional space-time and the reasonable thought that one of those could be what is termed 'the ghost realm.'); I know that Einstein and Chaplin were friends; I know that Einstein was haunted by the ultimate shape of Reality (was Time really an illusion?)--he had endless discussions with the Logician/mathematician Kurt Godel about it; I know Einstein did have an illegitimate daughter who vanished off of history's radar in her 20's (Michio Kaku's Parallel Worlds briefly refers to her); I know the Nazi's were obsessed with occult research during WWII (the Indiana Jones movies were not far off)... I know all this, yet I read Powers' novel and was caught up in the sense that I couldn't tell what was fact and what was made up, implied, conjectured, invented...

That's thats what make Tim Powers so amazing; his novels skirt frustratingly near accepted, documented, reality, and the wildly implausible (like ghosts and gods and djinns and destiny and vampires and magic) all at once. He does his research. Most famously, his research for Anubis Gates involved one of the most comprehensive studies of a congested society, Henry Mayhew's London Labor and the Poor, which gave Powers ample ammo to create a London brimming with cultural aberrations, gaps in the chaos that allowed for odd belief systems to overcome the destitute, for the ramshackle nature of London in the early 1800's to house secret cults and societies, and outlandish murder and events (like say, werewolves, an Egyptian sorcerer, and a time-lost English professor).
Each novel is an example of that tightrope act. And each novel is better than the dreck that Dan Brown churned out (it feels good to say that, finally). My hatred of the phenomenon that is the Da Vinci Code came flying back while I was reading Three Days to Never; When I read Brown's novel, I could pin-pont the 5 books he'd used as reference (I'm sure Powers could place them too). Brown's characters were cardboard, his narrative was like a butchered travel book (here we have the Louvre, did you know...)... and that schmuck sold millions!
And here we have Mr. Powers, who reaches beyond Brown's safe conjecture (If Kazantakis did it in the 70's with The Last Temptation of Christ, and THEN a movie was made of it, it's safe), in every novel and YET half his novels are STILL Out of Print (With Apologies to Babbage Press' Print on Demand efforts to bring back the delightful pirate- Voodoo treasure that is On Stranger Tides (published originally in the early 80's, no less: Can we say "Pirates of the Caribbean ripped of Powers"?); but really: The Stress of Her Regard, The Fault Lines cycle: Last Call (in print), Expiration Date, Earthquake Weather...).

I digress.
I plan a more coherent review of Three Days to Never (more than 100 words, and no digressions), in the near future. I must address the Philip K. Dick connection.

Well, it's no secret that Mr. Powers (and James Blaylock and K. W. Jeter) were proteges, drinking buddies, whathaveyou, of Mr. Dick. All three have been elbow-deep in writing, with varying degrees of 'success', if one is to measure success purely in book sales; in the opinion of many all three are more than capable storytellers and their novels (most of which are out of print as I write) were way ahead of their time. I can only imagine what kind of education being a friend of PKD near the end of his life conveyed; an education at once technical as it was moral and spiritual--a blessing and a burden I think...

So here's this NYT article, and my brush with the Powers technique (so brilliantly Wiki'ed here). And I can't help but think "Powers'll find a way to weave this into his next novel..." Then I think about what it must be like for a facscimile of a friend a) existing, and b) being stolen/lost. Must make one think about how accurate PKD's speculations have become...

Then I tell Sarah and Steve about the article and Sarah come up with the diabolical-- Furby Conspiracy....
(for the sake of reading, I'll post the details next...)

Friday, June 30, 2006

Drowning in ARCS

I'm up to my eyeballs in Advance Reading Copies. Literally. I've stacked them up in teetering piles past my head, and we've got boxes more to go.
Now, as I'm a primarily used bookseller, I've often gotten the steely glare and snarky lecture about Advanced Reading Copies from publishing folks and new book people alike. They seem to think that I must be making a fortune on illicitly obtained, vastly marked-up Arcs. I've even been told that used bookselling is inherently dishonest.
Actually, used booksellers are scrupulously honest. For one thing, we are incredibly superstitious, and believe that Book Karma will come back to bite us in the ass if we rip someone off. For another thing, the used book world is small, inbred, and gossipy. Dishonest dealers get a bad reputation, very quickly.
I'm not even sure how the new book world thinks we end up with all these Arcs. The ones in my basement belong to my new-bookselling cohorts. Most of the Arcs you see in used bookstores have sold by reviewers, trying to make some space on their shelves. The rest? They come from underpaid and overworked new bookstore employees, who are usually being paid minimum wage with no benefits, working for people who would cheerfully replace them with robotic dogs if it was at all feasible. In stores like this, the Arcs pile up in little rooms, unread, until they are recycled (at best) or dumpstered (more likely). Sometimes I see triumphant gutterpunks come in with sacks of dumpster-dived Arcs, reclaimed from a new bookstore's trash.
That being said, I feel like it's important to clarify a couple of points. Used booksellers don't like Arcs. They're ugly. Often they have typos, screwy punctuation, or hideous grammatical errors. They have some limited use, as a general-stock used reading copy, but they really have very little collectible value. Oh I know, you can see Arcs on Ebay going for a billion dollars apiece, but Ebay is not used bookselling.
Real collectors, the kind who come in and prowl through the stacks, don't buy Arcs. For some reason, it just didn't catch on. Many years ago, a 'review copy' would have been a nice finished copy of a book, with a typewritten letter laid in. Sometimes it would have been printed prior to publication, and sometimes it was simply a first. Those sell. But in my experience, collectors would rather wait for the first edition - solid, dustjacketed, crisp - rather than buy an unlovely, precariously-bound Arc.
So, what to do with our stacks of Arcs? In other times and places, I've simply given them away to customers. They're meant to be read, after all. Then it occurred to me that I could do the same thing here.
Soon, we'll be listing the Arcs in our collection. We'll mark them at $o.oo, and simply charge shipping. We've got some good stuff, too. I hope they'll find good homes. And it's a hell of a lot better than sticking them in the recycle bin.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

First Post Jitters

Here goes nothing. Finally making my entry into the world of blogging after many months of hesitation and delay. I feel as if my first post should be something of great weight and moment, discoursing philosophically on the state of modern SF and literature. It is after all the FIRST post and FIRSTS are meant to be important. Instead I'll start with an illustrative anecdote regarding my reading tastes and sometimes pretentions.

I was at work when I noticed the latest hardcover release by a very popular genre writer being received. Continuing a frequent work rant of mine, I went off on the preponderance of "sexy vampire smut" today and how it seems to be taking over the world. (Well, at least the Horror and Romance sections of my bookstore.) I poked fun at the sepia toned near-BDSM cover photo and just ripped into the sheer ridiculous-ness of the plot (vampire vs. werewolf boyfriends complicated by possible pregnancy!) I probably even made some comments about the fans and readers of this certain author being nothing more than melancholy goth teens and frustrated ex-goth housewives. I can really get going sometimes when I'm on a rant.

Then, in nearly the same breath, I admited that I was currently reading a STAR WARS novel about BOBA FETT, perhaps the most fetishized character in one of the geekiest communities in all of modern SF culture. HA HAH!

So yes, a little bit of the pot calling the kettle black on my part (or is it the geek calling the dork a nerd?) But it's OK because my book was written by K. W. Jeter, a protege of Philip K. Dick, and therefore completely acceptable! ;)

How's that for a first post? Let the flaming begin!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Life of the World to Come, by Kage Baker

A Prelude to this review:
Sarah (who wrote this review) and I are huge fans of Kage Baker's Company novels. We've read every one in the sequence and I've designated Sarah as the point-person for reviewing Baker's latest novels (which, pleasingly, are coming out at a regular pace, and are being reissued as we speak so newcomers can enjoy them all; the exception being Sky Coyote which is inexplicably still out-of-print at the moment.).

Though the majority of the novels can be read alone, these more recent novels bring together story threads subtly woven throughout the books and as such MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS: read the following review at your own risk, or better yet, read all the other books and then come back to this...

The Life of the World to Come (Tor, 2004) jumps right into the reunion of Mendoza and her once-again-reincarnated lover, whom astute readers will have already spotted as Alec Chesterfield. Some sections are taken directly from Black Projects, White Knights (Golden Gryphon), but these are interspersed with new sections that flesh out the story of Alec’s life, illustrating its similarities to—and vast differences from—the stories of Nicholas and Edward (Alec’s previous ‘manifestations’).

Alec is the most jarring of the three incarnations, mostly due to his slangy, oddly monosyllabic speech. Even to modern American ears he sounds dumb, especially compared to Nicholas’ delicious Elizabethan eloquence. Compounding this problem is the fact that the areas in which Alec is a genius are not explained in enough depth to make them seem as impressive. The ‘cyber-science’ especially comes off as too abstract, lacking some essential texture required to make it believable. While this is a nice change from the tech-term heavy sci-fi littering the planet, in which the author tries to impress you with their ability to do research (Clade springs to mind), more detail may have made the point more effective.

The future is Baker’s weakest setting, though she is, as always, witty, and her social satire is well-aimed. As a West Coaster I do find her militant-vegan-fitness-fanatic future people to be both oddly plausible and funny in a despairing sort of way, and the gradual dumbing down of the population also seems all too believable. I am of course, gratified at her idea that the future Celts, at least, held out for cream and whiskey. What she is getting at with all this is not a new idea—that the cyborgs have in fact become more ‘human’ than the humans who created them; in terms of human values, emotions, pursuits, and appreciation for the finer points of human culture. She does, however, make this point with more subtlety and effectiveness than most.

Her characters remain as alive and vibrant as ever, and that carries the bulk of the book. Satisfying, too, for anyone who has followed the saga, is Alec’s refusal to once again become a pawn of the Company. Baker hints at the workings of fate, as if there is possibly a divine—or at least cosmic—plan, a higher power at work, in the series of coincidences that bring Alec and Mendoza together, and keep him out of the clutches of the Company.

Baker wends her way though the story before hitting her stride in a fireworks finale ending which spectacularly resurrects some unlikely characters. Newly aware of their situation—of Mendoza’s role in their survival, and having seen enough of the machinations of the Company to get really pissed off—they combine to take on the entire organization, in a splendid fire and brimstone Frankenstein-esque sequence both comic and gripping. The conclusion is so well done that even the cliffhanger ending, which would ordinarily drive me crazy, seems worth it. --Sarah Keliher, 2005

Cheating: a slow-as-molasses html coder uses his blog to get the word out...

I mentioned Prescience before, the zine I've kept alive for over a decade in one form or another. It's part of the vision of FP, the review & commentary wing of this zany army.

Our web designer has built a site that we'll be able to maintain ourselves, and he's taught me some rudimentary html (read: cut-and-paste, see if it works right). And I plan to keep up with adding reviews and articles to the site.

Time, time gets away from me. So I've figured out a cheat, a hack if I may be so bold, to get the talented writers opinions out on da street, yo... uh...

In the subsequent blog entries you'll see articles posted on books and some other themes, along with the usual FP update. I hope you enjoy what we post, and will respond (even if you disagree with us-- this is after all the internet, and what good is it without some form of conflict, eh?).

What we're doing; moonlighting strangers who just met on the way...

Ok, so I just quoted a line from the TV show Moonlighting. Some of the junk stored in my head frightens me...

So, one of the things about FP (that's Fantastic Planet Books for all you newbies), is that Steve and Sarah and I work full-time at other bookstores. Financially we aren't able to leap off the cliff into the waiting arms of an SF&F-shaped destiny.

Yet.

So, the three of us meet up, nudge our plans forward, go back to our lives, our other jobs, and try and muster energy for FP (we love it, we really do, but sometimes...ugh.). We do keep connected with the publishing industry and most especially the SF&F publishers. It's their support we'll most need when we're finally settled and it's best to nurture those connections (besides, most of the editors in genre publishing are pretty damned awesome and supportive already...).

I'm in the odd position of maintaining the SF&F section of my current job; I pretty much created it out of a sludge heap of lousy buying practices back in the mid-'90s (I'm not mentioning my store's name; prudence yadda, yadda). So I'm faced with keeping the section running, watching for new titles and promoting them, getting books back in when needed, displaying, etc. But soon I'll need to hand that off to another person and it's going to be hard. That little corner of the store has been a part of my life (and obsessions) for more than 10 years now. I'm sure once FP is going, I'll still go back and visit. There are some good people there, people who'll do a great job maintaining it.

But hopefully not too great...

The heat of the night, progressing turtle-like.

Well, it's been almost two months since the last entry. I'm still finding it hard to remind myself to add to the blog--I've never been the greatest email person, and I've hardly touched my Livejournal (for proof: see.).
But it's important to keep up with the FP Blog, as it's a way of reminding ourselves (and our supporters) that this whole venture is worth it.

So, to summarize:

Fantastic Planet has been online for over a year now, a nascent website that slowly grew; we added reviews, a snazzy interface, a bunch of reviews and images from the pages of Prescience (a zine I started back in '96), and some hopeful comments about selling books online and in a bricks N mortar store.

As of about 3 months ago FP began selling books online at Biblio.com and Alibris. For a few weeks we had no action (part of the reason was that it was taking time to add the books manually); then we had our first sale (see previous post), quickly followed by another and then another. It's been steady; we average one sale every 2-3 days (that's pretty good for a small, small store). It warms our hearts that people want the books we have. We do scouting for more books when time permits, and the occasional hunt for an obscure book when someone requests it.

But that's not enough.

We need to move into the next phase and that's to sell new books.

See, in publishing, used bookstores aren't viewed very highly. It has something to do with the fact that a) the publisher is not getting a cut of each sale, and b) the author is not getting a cut. Fair point. But for us there were several factors in why we began with used books:

It's easy to go to a goodwill, or garage sale, whathaveyou, and find something we know will be worth something to somebody. We make a reasonable profit from it (but make sure it's very fair to the customer), and it helps us build what we need: capital.

We don't have some rich uncle or Microsoft millionaire bankrolling us, so for us to get account with the publishers and distributors we need: credit.
A small loan is the solution to that problem (which we're working on right now). We've been trying to figure out how much we need to get an initial inventory and rent for the first 6-9 months of a bricks N mortar space.

And this is where we've run into a conceptual roadblock. We don't have the money, and are worried that we won't get a loan big enough to do what we envision. But we're working on a temporary solution. We can get a pay-as-you-go account with Ingram, and have a secure server company handle our online sales for new books (and the used). Sure, we may not instantly have the complete selection we desire, but we have to start somewhere, right?

So we've trimmed down the initial vision to something manageable while we work out that big loan to start-up.

I hear Warren Buffett is giving billions to the Gates Foundation. I wonder if he may have some chump change to toss in the direction of FP. Anybody know his email?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Fantastic Planet's first Sale... and a point t be made (again)...

Fantastic Planet Blog

Well, it's official: Fantastic Planet had its first sale today, according to Sarah.
It was, in so many ways, rather appropriate to the mission of FP, since the book was 'technically' neither Science Fiction or fantasy.

Our first sale was "Ghostwritten" by David Mitchell, an author who has been highly lauded by the British literati, many US critics, and is virtually unknown in SF/F fandom.
It's true. I sat in a room full of people eager to discuss the topic of whether genre was needed anymore, and whether it hindered things, and when I brought up David Mitchell, all I saw were blank stares. When China Mieville was asked during his last tour, what authors he read/enjoyed/respected, he paused a moment before saying (and the pause, I'm sure, was the calculation of how many people in the audience might recognize the name), "Um. Well David Mitchell's been writing some great stuff; outside of the genre..."

I've been a fan of Mitchell's since I read "Ghostwritten" in advance, and it's been gratifying to see the acclaim he's constantly received.

His latest novel, "Black Swan Green" is probably his most accessible, in terms of widespread appeal: a (deceptively) simple coming-of-age story written with a care to character (the voice of a 13-year old), and place (early 80s Thatcher Britain).

The most complex, and some say difficult book, is his ambitious "Cloud Atlas", a novel in five narratives, arranged like a fugue, that take place over different time-periods, and take on just about every 'heavy' concept in literature; the meaning of life, love, technology, morality...

"Ghostwritten" and the Murakami-esque "Number9dream", were attempts at both fantasy and SF respectively, feeling his way around the techniques, and in "Cloud Atlas" they mixed effortlessly, like mixing two colors to make a third...

So, our first sale is by an author who 'does' SF and F better than most writers in the genre. But rather than simply be dismissive of the writers in SF/F, I hope that Mitchell's efforts serve as a challenge to these writers; to reinvestigate the tropes they use, the stories they tell, and shrug off what's 'pulp-ish' about some of the stuff coming out now.
Yeah, that last comment's sure to get me into hot water...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Fantastic Planet Blog

Fantastic Planet Blog

Oh, and a few days ago I informed my current employers about FP's commencement of Used book selling--which has always (since Steve and myself first decided to create FP) been a stepping-stone towards a physical bookstore (did I tell you biblio.com has all, or most of, your darkest, cherished SF/F desires?)

It's strange, having ones foot in two planes; the highly unstable (and potentially rewarding) future of FP; and the safe, effortless (eleven years) past with my current employer where I could almost Ninja-like, blind-folded, walk through one of the most elaborate bookstores in the world ( I dare you; come down to Elliott Bay, bind your eyes, and walk--or better yet, skip that and pester us about our physical location)...

I have 11 years of history with that place, and it's not easy; it's easily a third of my life, so striking off in a new direction is, well, crazy.

But I came to EB as an outcast of sorts and somehow have ended up always fighting for the 'underdog' (whether it be a maligned sectionlike Sf/F, employee politics, or--in rare occasions--a hare-brained idea for 'elaborating' the store). It continues...

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Live. Um. Electronically speaking

Well, we have our books online, as mentioned before, at biblio.com.
About 350 books. A very nice variety of Sf/F titles (if I say so myself). Sarah has been steadfast in cataloging and uploading the books, even through a recent bout of the Flu (which I have developed--though not due to Sarah!).

I also spent a weekend at Norwescon, the main SF/F convention in the NW. I was only on four panels (this being only my third, and my poor skills at navigating fandom, which dictates the choices). I DO say they were very interesting:

I had one on GENRE distinctions, and whether we still needed them (my basic answer: WTF, kick 'em to the curb!);

Censorship in Movies and books (which was mostly about books, but very well attended, and the PK Dick nominee--and eventual winner-- M. M. Buckner, for "War Surf" /:/ dammit; I just spent 15 minutes trying to search for her website, and all I got waere a bunch of half-arsed gossipy sites linking themselves to AMAZON'S lick-our-coat-tails-for-a-dime-profit sites/stores, etc... /:/ M.M. Buckner was conscientious, precise, and gracious (pre-award), and really, she had a great deal to add to the travails of expression in our modern climate...

"The Cover's just there to Grab your eye" panel; attended by two small press publishers (one of them a self-pub/author, the other a MAGAZINE publisher); suffice to say it was a strange gossip-fest about covers we've seen/wished we didn't, and other people's direct experiences... I have my opinions, after 15 years of bookselling and almost double of art-experience, and I knew we weren't going to achieve our aim in 1 hr.... esp. wiithout an artist and/or art director on the panel ( I have learned that Art directors are antitherical to Artists, therefore QED, our panel sans both...

"Tradeoffs beteeen Security, Freedom, & Privacy" was interesting in the way I approached it: a whisky and a couple of PBRs to the wind. I entereed a room filled with at least 60 people, all leaning slightly forward, eager to express their outrage ath thie Administration (or at least, the quiet loner wanting to say, "Yay, Dubya.."). Whoo-wee. THat was the best time; I never sobered up faster, dealt with more agitated yet cooperative people, ever! It was great! We needed moderatin' (which I took on, 'cause the guy scheduled to do it 'didn't know", blah, whatever), and I took it on... It's a delicate thing, stirring people up, allowing a response, and moving on to cover the totality of the subject. I even squirreled time in for some(gasp!) positive and hopeful comments... I hope everybody left--if not satisfied--at least challenged and thoughtful...

Overall, this years Con, was short'N'dirty in the best way. I've seen many a comment from the other tracks I didn't get to see (sciences, history, and FILK-yes..um...the..filk), that everyone was satisfied with the content and richness of variety.

Anyhow, I'm still a little odd with the whole Con thing since I only started after having an SF/f section as my main reason to interact...

You see, I was basically a solo-nerd; I had no groups I shared my obsessions with (art, comics, Sf/f books/movies, etc.)... I'd become used to internal thoughts and ramblings on the topics. I've always been a socially awkward creature, regardless of Con or, um, ah, well, the opposite--uhh, meeting the Queen of England, say (My side-wise Anglophile experience coming through)...

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Building a better brain

Well, it's been over a week since my last post and I actually feel pretty good about the progress we've made since then. Shaun & I've tweaked several things on the site (all of them minor to the eye of the beholder, but to us they're huge); a cleaner link for this blog; we've started listing our used books on Biblio.com; and I've fixed a couple of our reviews in the Prescience section.

I also added information about hunting down out-of-print books for people; which is something my current employer (or most bookstores) don't do, with the internet being so accessible and whatnot. But sometimes the action for used books happens off of the web; in the goodwills, the estate sales, the library sales... We're envisioning a want list, basically, so that when we do go to these events and gatherings we can whip out the list and get it. We love catering to that completist obsession; we know, each of us is obsessed about collecting all of a particular thing. So we can sympathize. Also, it's the addiction to the noise people make when you tell them you have that book that they've been searching for for years....

The used books are a temporary thing; we want to sell new books, but there are several stages to completing that goal (all of which we've just started); bank loan, physical space, agreements with the distributors (and in time) directly with the publishers.

We have to establish good credit and to do that we have to start with the distributors (Ingram, Baker & Taylor) and then after a couple of months we can approach the publishers.

Our physical location depends on serendipity; the timing of the loan with the availability of a space in the neighborhoods we're interested in (Ballard and Greenwood). The primary reason for both those areas is that they are almost equi-distant from my current employer and the University Bookstore; we know it would be foolish to step near their territories (even though Steve and I helped build the SF section at the former). Also, the areas aren't so crazy with the real estate hikes going on in the other two. For now, so we know we have to act soon.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Already learning stuff...

Having accidentally blogged under the login of our intrepid designer Shaun, I am now rectifying this by posting under my login.

(perhaps you didn't need to know that...)

I'm spending my Sunday chipping away at the various little things that are necessary to keep the FP website moving in the direction Shaun and I envisioned.

I've got 60GB of music on shuffle-play, coffee and (for when my caffeine level is too crazy) beer.

We (and I mean the whole team, Steve Sarah, Shaun and myself), have always believed that developing a website ahead of the physical bookstore was a great way to drum up attention for us and well and allowing FP to become a part of the web community. Individually, we have presences on the web (separate websites, Livejournal, Friendster and myspace, etc.), but as an organization, FP needs its identity.

We only pay the cost of webspace to advance advertise our endeavor, and we get to express our opinions and talents without the crazy hassle of rent (we know it's coming, we must bite the bullet eventually...But for now...).

We'll be selling used and rare & collectible books soon through abebooks, and in a month or so (hoping we can get that starter loan we're working on), we'll have new books.

But all in good time..

I plan to post soon about an amazing book that I've read (as well as other books of recent note) called Vellum, by Hal Duncan, due out this summer here in the U.S. But I must make food, and ponder how to best explain Vellum to the uninitiated.

Fantastic Planet Blog--the beginning

Fantastic Planet Blog

Well, a blank page is always intimidating, whether it's wood-pulp or electronic. And who knows the best place to start with a project like this, that encompasses many facets of publishing and business?

What's best, I guess, is a summary of why we're doing this blog:

Fantastic Planet Books started out as a pipe dream for Steve and I, and finally one day we decided were tired of building upon someone else's legacy (The Elliott Bay Book Company--a great bookstore, but we'd out-grown it), and began the push towards making FP a reality.
It's been a year now since we started, and after some setbacks (and appropriately a hibernation period last Fall/Winter), we're back on track with the creation of the store.

But it's not just the store that we're building here. We've taken the zine I created back in the mid-90s, Prescience, and retooled it for the internet age.
We'll be bringing the archived articles and art from Prescience to the site, as well as adding new reviews, articles and art as time goes on.

We also wanted to have a forum where we chronicled our experiences with the creation of a small Indie bookstore, especially in this mega-corporation culture. We also wanted to be able to rant on occasion about the frustrations, conundrums and joys that will inevitably pop up.

That's it. Simply. For now. As time goes on I'm sure Steve, Sarah and I (along with our web designer extraordinaire, Shaun) will have more enlightening things to say but for now,

Welcome.

-Vladimir