Monday, March 29, 2010

March Links & Things

Following are my links and such for the month of March. I've listed them here, all in one post, and with additional detail and comment (and the occasional rant). You can receive these links in real time by following me on Twitter: @martyhalpern.

  • If you haven't surmised by now, I am a freelance editor; my wife is also self-employed. When our health care premium topped over $1,100 per month -- more than $13,200 a year (and that was 2 years ago!) -- we had to abandon that plan and go with an HSA plan with a high deductible. So you won't be hearing any complaining from me about health care reform; in fact, I'm truly saddened there is no public option: that was the only way to force some real competition among the private health care providers, who whine about rising costs as they give multi-million-dollar bonuses to their CEOs.

    I bring this to your attention because of a blog post by award-winning author George R. R. Martin, who speaks from the heart on health care and its impact on freelance writers: himself and his close friends. "It is worth pointing out that if either of my friends had lived in Canada, or Australia, or France, or England, or any country with that old vile 'socialized medicine' the right wing likes to denounce, they would never have gotten so sick. They would have seen a doctor much earlier, early enough so that their medical problems could have been diagnosed, treated, and perhaps cured or ameliorated before they required major surgery. But no, they couldn't afford doctors, and they didn't feel THAT bad... not at first... so they did what millions of Americans have done, and ignored their symptoms until it was almost too late."

    If you are a freelancer, if you are self-employed, and you have health care coverage -- even what is termed "catastrophic coverage" -- consider yourself very, very lucky indeed.

  • In my February Links & Things, I talked about Paul Williams, former editor of Crawdaddy, former head of the Philip K. Dick Society, author of the Bob Dylan: Performing Artist series, and all-around great guy; and I linked to an article about Paul's current illness: early-onset dementia. As a follow-up to that entry, author Paul Di Filippo has an article on in which he discusses the significance of the Collected Stories of Theodore Sturgeon (12 volumes to date), all of which have been edited by Paul Williams. The final volume, entitled Case and the Dreamer, is scheduled to be published this October. Paul Di Filippo expresses concern that Paul Williams "might already be beyond the point where any kudos can reliably reach him." It's a well-done, albeit short article highlighting the significance of Sturgeon's short fiction, and this 13-volume series in particular. I have all 12 volumes in my library, and am eagerly awaiting the final volume in October.

  • Author Mark Teppo (@MarkTeppo) is in the news a lot these days to promote Heartland (Night Shade Books), book two in his Codex of Souls. You can read my previous blog about working with Mark on the first two books in this series.

    Mark has two entries on Amazonblogs's Omnivoracious, hosted by Jeff VanderMeer. In the first, on "The Nature of Magick," Mark writes: "I love the idea of secret knowledge, and when you strip away all the pomp and circumstance surrounding most modern religious practices, what remains is an unshakable faith in a secret." The second entry is entitled "On the Existence of Monsters": "I think we're more afraid of our fellow man. We're more terrified of the innocent-looking neighbor who might worship a different god or who has a predilection for devouring children or who might simply want to tell us what we can do in the dark privacy of our own home. These sorts of monsters are hard to defang because you can't find them, because they aren't physically different than you or I. What makes them different is the way they think."

    Lastly, here's an excerpt from the Mark Teppo interview in Fantasy Magazine: "I jettisoned all of [the urban fantasy tropes] for historical occult practices, secret religious doctrines, alchemical theories, and other religious magic practices. Why? Because I couldn't sort out a worldview where vampires didn't turn us all into cattle, or we got our shit together to wipe them out. Couldn't do it. Stopped trying after a while. Though, to be fair, Markham [the protagonist in the series] is, essentially, a psychic vampire, and the soul-dead are zombies, so I haven't quite abandoned the tropes.... Ignorance is not the victor; that is certain. Ignorance is what gets Markham into trouble and what hounds him during the ten years he spends wandering. In Lightbreaker, it does come down to a faith and/or knowledge, and [which one] the reader chooses will inform how they interpret the last chapter."

  • Another new title (which I also edited) is Matthew Hughes's Hespira (Night Shade Books), the final volume in his trilogy of Henghis Hapthorn adventures. Hapthorn is a "discriminator" (think Sherlock Holmes but in the style/language of Jack Vance), who is trying to survive in a world in which the age of rationalism (aka science) is succumbing to sympathetic association (aka magic). Hespira is reviewed by Andrew Wheeler, former editor of the Science Fiction Book Club. Wheeler writes: "I can't see any reason why the SF audience would avoid a writer as witty and endlessly pleasurable as Hughes, but they certainly didn't buy all that many copies of [his earlier Warner and Tor] books. But Hughes has kept writing, adding new wrinkles to his Vancean far future with each book and becoming one of the most entertaining writers the modern genre has to offer.... Again, I can be reliably counted on to call each new Matthew Hughes novel a triumph; he writes wonderful books that I enjoy massively. The Vancean flavor [has] mixed with a dash of Wodehouse, a couple of jiggers of Conan Doyle, and a shot or two of Wolfe to form a bracing cocktail that is nothing but Hughes. Hespira in particular builds on its two predecessors to make a satisfying end to a trilogy -- and what SFF reader can resist a trilogy? Hughes is the writer I invariably mention whenever the question of modern underrated writers comes up; he writes the kind of wonderful, funny, thoughtful, exciting, zippy novels that should be massively popular and winning him shelves-full of awards."

  • We've all been hearing about the demise of print media -- magazines and newspapers in particular; how ad revenue has dropped 30-plus percent over the past year, thousands of newspaper and magazine employees laid off, etc. Well, here's one: Robert Feder of writes: "'d think the chief executive officer of a company struggling to emerge from bankruptcy and desperate to salvage an $8 billion buyout-gone-bad would have better things to do than pester his underlings with crazy proclamations. But in the case of Tribune Co. CEO Randy Michaels, you'd be wrong. The man at the top of the troubled media empire took time out of his real job this week [the week of March 10] to issue a list of words and phrases -- 119 of them, to be exact -- that must never, ever be uttered by anchors or reporters on WGN-AM (720), the news/talk radio station located five floors below his office in Tribune Tower." Here are a few of those banned words: "alleged," "close proximity," "flee," "icon," "legendary," "motorist," "untimely death," "vehicle," and "youth," to name only a few of the 119 words/phrases. You will be shocked to see the everyday words on this list. (via

  • NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, has updated its Flickr account with some new, astounding photographs of the "Blue Marble" -- Earth. I often imagine what it would be like to be "out there," looking down. Whew.... (via @Huffingtonpost)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Is Anybody Out There? -- Revealed

If you're a Star Trek fan, you may recall in the series ST:The Next Generation, in the episode entitled "Relics" (First aired: 12 October 1992), the Enterprise picks up a distress call from a transport vessel that has been missing for 75 years. "As the Enterprise drops out of warp to respond to the signal, the starship is rocked violently by a massive gravitational field. Although initial scans do not find the source of the field, they trace the field to its center and discover a massive spherical structure, 200 million kilometers in diameter (or two-thirds of the Earth's orbit around the Sun). The sphere's dimensions are consistent with those of the (until then) theoretical structure known as a Dyson Sphere."1 This is the episode in which the Enterprise discovers that a pattern has been locked in the transport vessel's transporter buffer these past 75 years, and after some tinkering by the Enterprise crew, Captain Montgomery "Scotty" Scott materializes on the transporter pad.

Dyson Sphere is named after noted physicist Freeman Dyson, who originated the idea in 1959. Via @projectblackcat, I found a link to the Discovery Enterprise blog, which features a video of Dyson from the TED Conference -- Technology, Entertainment, Design -- held in Monterey, California, in February 2003. I'll save you the trouble of clicking on over to the DE blog and include the video below. Dyson speaks on searching for life in the outer Solar System; he is a genius, a space geek, even a comedian, as you'll see if you watch the vid, and though he rambles a bit, if you have the time (approximately 20 minutes), it is well worth the investment. More after the vid....

Monday, March 1, 2010

February Links & Things

I back up my working data automatically every half hour to a USB drive; specific files and folders (all working data) are backed up nightly to a stand-alone external drive; and the entire "My Computer" (essentially my entire PC) gets backed up to that same external drive once a week. Well, during my weekly backup I have begun to receive bad sector errors, so I ran a disk check upon startup Saturday morning and received four different "File record segment is unreadable" error messages. Disk check fixed the errors so that I was able to then complete the "My Computer" backup, but I'm afraid my hard drive is headed for HDD hell. I have a couple projects that I hope to complete within the next two days, and then I suspect I'll have to replace the hard drive and reinstall the entire "My Computer," and hope that there hasn't been too great a loss of data due to those unreadable file records. Sigh....

Following are my links and such for the month of February. I've listed them here, all in one post, and with additional detail and comment. You can receive these links in real time by following me on Twitter: @martyhalpern.

  • Recent reviews of books from two different authors with whom I worked as editor:

    Canadian author Nathalie Mallet's second book in a series has recently been published by Night Shade Books. Colleen Cahill, in her review on SFRevu, writes: "In her first book, The Princes of the Golden Cage [2007], Nathalie Mallet took a pass at fairy tales and brought us a new version, with the Prince being locked away rather than the Princess. In her second book about Prince Amir, The King's Daughters [2009], we are again in a medieval fantasy setting, but this time we move from the Arabian Nights to a North Eastern European arena. The good news is Mallet continues to bring us a piece full of fascinating characters and intriguing plots, all presented in a compelling style; the bad news (for Amir) is that while the Prince might be out of the cage, life is not getting any easier.... This book is a good read for fans of medieval fantasy, especially those who want something that does not follow the standard plot. You need not have read the earlier work to enjoy this book, but I recommend both of them. On a cold winter's night, you can't do better than snuggling in with The King's Daughters."

    And...Mark Teppo's Heartland, the second book in The Codex of Souls, also from Night Shade Books, is reviewed by @MadHatterReview: "Teppo doesn't suffer the sophomore slump at all with Heartland. In fact, the same level of cleverness and knowledge of the occult still clings to Teppo's prose as this man is a knowledge bucket of the arcane and manages to make it fresh and undaunting.... The Codex of Souls is without a doubt one of the most original Urban Fantasy series going right now. It has stepped away from the pack and embraced a different type of magic and a very different sensibility worth checking out."

    You can read my earlier blog post, entitled "Mark Teppo's Codex of Souls Seeks the Light," on working with Mark on The Codex of Souls series.

  • Ted Genoways, editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review, writes a sharp and critical analysis -- nay, a rebuke -- of the literary magazine, its writers, and the colleges and universities that sponsor them: "Last summer, Louis Menand tabulated that there were 822 creative writing programs. Consider this for a moment: If those programs admit even 5 to 10 new students per year, then they will cumulatively produce some 60,000 new writers in the coming decade. Yet the average literary magazine now prints fewer than 1,500 copies. In short, no one is reading all this newly produced literature -- not even the writers themselves.... To pull out of this tailspin, writers and their patrons both will have to make some necessary changes -- and quick.... young writers will have to swear off navel-gazing in favor of an outward glance onto a wrecked and lovely world worthy and in need of the attention of intelligent, sensitive writers. I'm not calling for more pundits -- God knows we've got plenty. I'm saying that writers need to venture out from under the protective wing of academia, to put themselves and their work on the line. Stop being so damned dainty and polite. Treat writing like your lifeblood instead of your livelihood. And for Christ's sake, write something we might want to read." Bravo! As of this writing, there are more than 120 comments. (via @Catherine_Asaro)

  • As a follow-on to the above link on the demise of literary journals, is this article (rant?) in the Los Angeles Times Book Section from Dani Shapiro, guest editor for the anthology Best New American Voices 2010, the latest volume in a long-running series, which is coming to an end because the publisher can no longer justify its publication due to declining sales. Shapiro criticizes MFA programs because "creative writing programs (not to mention the thousands more who attend literary festivals and conferences) do not include insecurity, rejection and disappointment in their plans. I see it in their faces: the almost evangelical belief in the possibility of the instant score.... The emphasis is on publishing, not on creating. On being a writer, not on writing itself. The publishing industry -- always the nerdy distant cousin of the rest of media -- has the same blockbuster-or-bust mentality of television networks and movie studios. There now exist only two possibilities: immediate and large-scale success, or none at all." If you've often heard other writers say (or have said this yourself, or at least thought it): "So many crappy novels get published. Why not mine?" -- then you need to read this piece.

  • Author @JasonSanford blogs about a website he just discovered: "Selecting and aggregating content from the 'independent' publishing world, FictionDaily presents three new stories each day -- a short, a long, and a genre story. Excerpts of stories in each of these categories are presented without reference to the author's name, the title, or the story's publication. If you're interested, you click over to the original publisher to read the story.... To get a sense of the site's goals, I asked FictionDaily's editor David Backer a few questions." If you're into reading online short-fiction, but don't have the time to search out all the sites and stories, then let FictionDaily do the work for you. I think you'll be amazed as to just how much short fiction is being published online: I counted 54 magazines on the list, and that was only through titles beginning with numbers and the first three letters of the alphabet! And enjoy Sanford's mini interview with David Backer, too.