Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"Incarnations Of Burned Children" By David Foster Wallace

A one-paragraph story of run-on sentences that work, by David Foster Wallace: "Incarnations Of Burned Children". As seen over at Esquire. I'm sure you guys can spare the time today to read a one-paragraph short story. :)

Incidentally, Esquire has an ongoing fiction contest right now, but it's open only to residents of the US and Canada. If there are any PGS blog readers out there reading this post and who are residing in those countries, you may want to give this contest a try.

More of Esquire's fiction here.

The 2009 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

A little something to lighten your day: The 2009 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest Results are in. :D

"They Don't Fear Us"

PGS contributor Paolo Chikiamco has an article entitled "They Don't Fear Us" published over at The Inquirer. An excerpt:

I am not, generally speaking, a very tolerant man. But of all the things that rouse my ire, I reserve a special, searing hatred for the wang-wang.

My favorite wang-wang anecdote concerns the mad-cap journey of one particular convoy of official vehicles that a friend had the bad luck to witness. All the vehicles had their windows done up in the always trendy opaque tint which reflect dully the red flashes of their sirens. While most of us would automatically assume that the beneficiary of such royal treatment was a high-ranking politician, it turned out that this particular convoy was bearing a famous hairdresser who had presumably been summoned to deal with a fashion emergency of great national significance.

I know that I am not alone in feeling this way; the Inquirer ran an editorial last April denouncing the wang-wang culture of our government officials. In an age when grainy videos of consensual coitus can ensnare the attention of media and government for days, I am fairly certain the matter could do with a bit more exposure (pun unintended) and a lot more indignation.

Click here for the whole piece.

Fifty Books For Our Times

As seen over at Newsweek: Fifty Books For Our Times. The introduction:

What To Read Now. And Why.

We know it's insane. We know people will ask why on earth we think that an 1875 British satirical novel is the book you need to read right now—or, for that matter, why it even made the cut. The fact is, no one needs another best-of list telling you how great The Great Gatsby is. What we do need, in a world with precious little time to read (and think), is to know which books—new or old, fiction or nonfiction—open a window on the times we live in, whether they deal directly with the issues of today or simply help us see ourselves in new and surprising ways. Which is why we'd like you to sit down with Anthony Trollope, and these 49 other remarkably trenchant voices.

Click here for the list.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Reading And Poverty

As seen over at The Spy In The Sandwich: Reading And Poverty by Roberto S. Salva. An excerpt:

I found compassion and camaraderie in these authors. My own imagination and my own ideas surfaced and they were strengthened by being rubbed against their works. I had no illusions whatsoever that I was in their league. (But that is another one good thing about reading books: we rub elbows with the authors, even the big ones.)

Reading made me acknowledge the existence of my own imagination, my own ideas, and my own visions. My own mind. These were strengthened with every reading.

If you are poor and marginalized, you need to have your own mind for important discourses are taking place with every step you take toward development—every single step.

It is easy to be defeated by these voices when you do not have your own mind. It is easy to accept that you are poor because you are supposed to be lazy. You are a criminal because you live in the squatters’ area. You deserve to be ridiculed and treated badly because you are deaf or poor. You do not have to go to college because higher education is only for those who are “normal.” You do not have a future because you were born to a hopeless situation. You do not read because reading is only for the educated and the well-placed.

Most of the development initiatives do not touch upon the discourses going on in the mind of the poor and the sidelined. There may be livelihood projects, but do you know that many urban poor are paralyzed when they are asked to fill up a bio-data form or to take a personality test? Gawad Kalinga may build you a house, the microfinance institute may give you access to credit, and your community organization may give you a voice, but what happens when you have your house, money or voice?


Click here to read the whole piece.

"Tulaan Sa Tren" Poetry Writing Contest

As seen on School Librarian In Action: "Tulaan Sa Tren" Poetry Writing Contest. An excerpt:

The National Book Development Board (NBDB), Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA), and Vibal Foundation are giving aspiring poets a chance to have their poems posted in LRT trains as part of the "Tulaan sa Tren" readership promotion campaign.

First prize is P5,000.00, second is P3,000.00, third is P2,000.00. Click here for more details.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Text About A Book Sale (Updated)

Received this text earlier today:

"Book sale at SM Megamall June 23 to 27, 2009, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Megatrade Hall 1, 5/f, Mega B"

FYI. :)

Update: The Bibliophile Stalker texted me that it's an academic book fair. FYI.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Unconventional Writing Contest

I saw this over at The Art Of Non-Conformity: Introducing The Unconventional Writing Contest (Your Chance To Write For AONC).

...write a short essay of 500-1200 words describing an unconventional life topic of your choice. A panel of anonymous judges (I’m calling them the Supreme Court) will review the entries and select a short list of finalists for my review. I’ll choose the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners. The winning essays will be posted on the site for all to see, and there will also be some great prizes.

Click here to read more about it and to see the prizes being offered.

But if you're into more conventional writing contests, you can click here for one with a US$1,000.00 prize, or here for one with a UK£10,000 prize.

If you're joining any of these competitions, good luck!

I Before E, Except After C. Let's See...

The British government is spelling the end of the "i before e" rule.

"...new British government guidance tells teachers not to pass on the rule to students, because there are too many exceptions.

The "Support For Spelling" document, which is being sent to thousands of primary schools, says the rule "is not worth teaching" because it doesn't account for words like 'sufficient,' 'veil' and 'their.'"

Click here for the whole article.

I first heard of this rule from the cartoon, "A Boy Named Charlie Brown". That's the scene where Charlie Brown is studying for a spelling bee, and Linus and Snoopy are helping him memorize spelling rules. It ends with them prancing around and dancing to the song "I Before E, Except After C", instead of studying. :D Sounds a lot like my own study habits back when I was in school.

What Is The Longest English Word?

Some people say it's a 45-letter long word.

Click here for the answer.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Young-Adult Fiction Takes A Dark Turn

Saw this piece over at The Wall Street Journal: It Was, Like, All Dark And Stormy. It talks about how young adult fiction has taken a turn for the grim. An excerpt:

Until recently, the young-adult fiction section at your local bookstore was a sea of nubile midriffs set against pink and turquoise backgrounds. Today’s landscape features haunted girls staring out from dark or washed-out covers. Current young-adult best sellers include one suicide, one deadly car wreck, one life-threatening case of anorexia and one dystopian universe in which children fight to the death. Somewhere along the line our teenagers have become connoisseurs of disaster.

To understand this recent wave of desperation lit, it’s useful to consider the history of books read by young adults that traffic in death and cruelty and mental illness. Think of Mary going blind in “Little House on the Prairie” or the ultimate institutionalization of Holden Caulfield in “Catcher in the Rye.” Teenagers have historically shown a certain appetite for calamity; they like a little madness, sadism and disease in the books they curl up with at night.

Right now, though, the motif of impending disaster—about a job that will be lost, a house that will be foreclosed, a case of swine flu that will sweep through the nation—looms large in our culture, and it may be no coincidence that the dominant ambiance of young-adult literature should be that of the car crash about to happen.

Unsettling as it is, there is a certain amount of comfort to be gleaned from the new disaster fiction; it makes its readers feel less alone. What is striking in the response to these books is how many teenagers seem to identify with their characters, even though their experiences (suicide, car crashes, starvation, murder) would seem to place them on the outer fringes of normal life.

It might appear to adults casually perusing “Wintergirls” and “Thirteen Reasons Why” that the kids and experiences within their covers are fairly uncommon and overwrought. But it seems that the extreme and unsettling situations chronicled in these books are, for many teenagers, accurate and realistic depictions of their inner lives.

Given the grim story lines, not to mention absence of designer shoes and haircuts that readers of lighter young adult titles are accustomed to, it’s easy to assume that this new batch of young-adult books peddles despair. In fact, the genre is more uplifting than the fizzy escapism that long dominated the young adult marketplace. Today’s bestselling authors are careful to infuse the final scenes of these bleak explorations with an element of hope...

Flatmancrooked--The Story, Reborn

Saw this site, Flatmancrooked, which, to use their words, "is dedicated to identifying, recording, and disseminating good stories. Flatmancrooked strives to promote the narrative form in all of its manifestations, be they fiction or nonfiction, written, spoken, or visual. As we progress, the projects and products we produce will be only of the utmost quality and craftsmanship, with focuses on content and design."

They currently have an ongoing contest, too. First prize is US$1,000.00, and the deadline is August 15, 2009. Click here for more details.

Book View Cafe's Third Twitter Fiction Contest

Book View Cafe is sponsoring a Twitter fiction contest.

To celebrate the release of Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff's ebook Laldasa: A Beloved Slave, BVC will hold a new twitter fic contest June 17-19.

The task: To write a complete story incorporating the contest theme (see below) in one tweet.

The prizes:

First prize—pdf of Laldasa and signed copy of Bohnhoff's fifth novel, Magic Time:Angelfire.
2nd & 3rd prizes—signed copies of Bohnhoff's Magic Time:Angelfire.

The judges: Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, Phyllis Irene Radford, and Jennifer Stevenson

The Theme: You got mystery/romance in my science fiction!

The timeline: The contest opens at 9 am EST Wednesday June 17 and closes 9 pm Friday June 19.

Where: Twitter: http://twitter.com/bookviewcafe

Click here for more details.

The Future Of The Book: It's Already Here

Saw this over at The Creative Penn, a site on writing, self-publishing, print-on-demand, internet sales and marketing for your book: The Future Of The Book: It's Already Here. An excerpt:

Last night I attended an event at the State Library of Queensland with Bob Stein, founder and co-director of the Institute for the Future of the Book, in conversation with @Kate_Eltham, CEO of Queensland Writers Centre.

The publishing industry is changing right now, and we can be a part of it by exploding old school ideas of what an author is. Creativity has never been so easy or accessible to express and collaborate on. If we can break out of the idea of physical books and traditional publishing, there are endless opportunities for authors in this new world!

Here are some of his ideas, and my responses.

Books in the future will be an experience in cross-media. We need to look to the gaming industry to see a space where people are not constrained by the old forms. Fiction authors will become creators of worlds that readers populate like World of Warcraft.

I disagree with Bob. This is not the future. It is happening right now.

Click here for the whole entry.

Fully Booked Book Grab!

Fully Booked is holding a Book Grab contest on August 1, 2009. How many books can you grab in two minutes? The answer to that question is how many books you get to take home for free! Click here for details.

McSweeney's Is Looking For Columnists

McSweeney's is looking for new columnists, and is holding a contest to find them.

McSweeney's Internet Tendency is looking for some new and fresh blood for our semi-regular columns that run as the rather disordered series of links toward the bottom of this page. In order to facilitate this search, we've decided to have a contest.

Click here for details. Good luck to those who are joining!

"Ulysses" On Twitter

Can you imagine James Joyce's 1922 novel "Ulysses" on Twitter? Here's the article explaining how two people tried it. An excerpt:

Twitter, the social networking site favored by some celebrities, has gone highbrow with a performance from James Joyce's 1922 novel "Ulysses."

Two "Ulysses" enthusiasts, videogame designer Ian Bogost from the Georgia Institute of Technology and colleague Ian McCarthy, wanted to use the site in a culturally interesting way rather than just as a service that lets users send 140-character messages, known as tweets.

They came up with idea of re-creating a chapter from "Ulysses" on Twitter.

They chose chapter 10, Wandering Rock, which is famous for showing the interlocking events of 19 characters walking through central Dublin on their daily business.

Bogost and McCarthy registered 54 of the novel's characters as Twitter users and adapted the chapter in a large series of 140-character-or-less first-person statements, using a specially created software to automate a performance.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Increase Your Vocabulary...

...and learn these 25 words.

I don't know if you're ever going to need 'em or use 'em, but your chances of passing a word-test will go up. :D

A Vote For E-Readers

From The Guardian, My Ebook Epiphany. An excerpt:

...for all this, I still needed hard evidence that e-reading was here to stay - until last week, on the train from Liverpool Street to Norwich, it happened. I saw a woman happily ensconced with her ebook, lost in the words on the screen like any reader of traditional books.

For me, this is the tipping point. All the anguished commentary in the trade press, all the anecdotes from the US about New York editors reading "manuscript" submissions on e-readers, all this dwindles beside that thirtysomething train traveller quietly at home with her Kindle.

To see a regular commuter choose an ebook over a newspaper or a magazine, a paperback or a library book, indeed over any piece of conventional print, all competing literary distractions: that seems to me to be a moment of the greatest significance.

I still firmly believe that the new technology will not eliminate the old. It's not an either/or choice. That's the lesson from the history of IT, from Caxton to Google.

But now, and increasingly, the printed word will reach new readers less on paper than through screens. Moreover, this change will seem utterly routine, unthreatening and normal.

I look forward to seeing more e-reader devices for consumers to choose from, in the same way that we have so many mp3 player options today.

Google's Digital Book Future Hangs In The Balance

The Library Of Alexandria has been romanticized as being the great storeroom of all the knowledge of the ancient world. Imagine a place where all the collected ideas, inventions, thoughts, stories, and philosophies of many men of different backgrounds were kept on scrolls for anyone to read. Sounds great, huh?

Now imagine the same in the 21st century, but instead of having a physical library, all this collected knowledge can instead be found online.

That, in a nutshell, is what Google is trying to do.

There are copyright issues to be sorted out, and a lot of other legal matters, which is why this article, Google's Digital Book Future Hangs In The Balance, is of great interest to any reader.

If Google settles all the legalese, they are one step closer to furthering their corporate mission of "organizing the world's information and making it accessible and useful", while using their advertising model as a source of profit, of course.

I am a bit bothered though at the possibility that those who hold the rights to material may not get their due, somehow.

Nice Poster

Nice poster here about libraries for these challenging economic times. :D

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Penmanila On Books And Literature

In his latest blog entry, Penmanila writes about books and literature in light of "The Great Book Blockade". An excerpt:

Literature pertains to any and all material—written or spoken—that employs words and language to convey meaning. In a narrower sense it is an art form comprising printed or recorded words that may be further classified into the genres of poetry, fiction, drama, and non-fiction. Literature is an imaginative exploration, through language, of human experience.

Thus, the creation and consumption of literature is an important cultural activity. Literature helps to describe, define, and even direct the thoughts, feelings, and practices of a community of readers.

All books, regardless of what may be perceived to be their artistic merit, belong to literature. They possess intrinsic educational value, as they can be used to illuminate and instruct the reader about some particular aspect of human life or about the craft of literature itself. Thus, even "bad" literature (bad whether in form or substance) may have something of instructional value to be derived and developed by a capable teacher.

It is not only the Bible nor Shakespeare nor a physics textbook from which or from whom we can learn. Even works of popular fiction—such as the Harry Potter series or The Da Vinci Code—conceived primarily for their entertainment value, can be used to teach readers about life and about literature itself, and may even have greater cultural and social significance precisely because they tend to reach much larger audiences.

It should never be left to government—and not even to literary critics—to decide which books are “educational” or of “social or cultural value” and which are not. Literary tastes and fashions change, as do societies themselves, and there is certainly more to literature than its moral content or the lack thereof, as important as this aspect may be to some readers and policymakers. Books facilitate cultural exchange, fostering in the reader a better understanding of the outside world and improving his or her ability to engage with that world.

As with democracy itself, literature must allow for a wide variety of subjects, themes, treatments, and styles, even the shallowest or most repugnant of which helps define a range of standards that can guide intelligent readers in forming their own informed assessments and conclusions. Thus, all books deserve equal protection and consideration under the applicable laws, as far as their tax-exempt status is concerned.

Click here to read his blog entry.

Innsmouth Free Press Special Multi-Issue 2010 -- Call For Submissions

(Sorry for being away for some time. My attention's been divided of late).

Innsmouth Free Press is calling for a special multiethnic issue in 2010:

We’re running a multiethnic issue in 2010 and we want your scary, funny, exciting and plain-bizarre stories with a Lovecraftian twist.


  1. Must have a minority character in a major role. We are trying to produce an issue that showcases diversity in speculative fiction. We get a lot of slush with characters with English backgrounds, and a lot of stuff set in the United States. We are trying to do something different this time around.
  2. Special attention will be paid to writers submitting from outside of the United States, so mention it in your cover letter. ‘Cause we don’t get that many of them and we really, really want to read Filipino Lovecraft.
  3. If you’re a Pakistani-Canadian, we’d like to know it. We’re trying to represent different regions of the world, so this is an important factor.

Send only from August 1, 2009 to October 31, 2009. Submit to: innsmouthfp(at)gmail(dot)com, Subject line: Multi-issue, Story Title. Read our usual submission guidelines for pay rates, formatting info and tips.

Click here for full details.

Saturday, June 06, 2009


Iggy Pop says, "Literature's like coke, music's like heroin." His latest album is inspired by a French novel about what he says is "death and sex", Michel Houellebecq's "The Possibility of an Island". An excerpt:

"Literature's like coke and music's like heroin! Literature sharpens the mind, music stupidifies," laughs punk legend Iggy Pop, whose new album is inspired by a French novel about "death and sex".

Released late last month, this latest offering from the long-haired, blue-eyed 62-year-old godfather of punk not only takes its inspiration from Michel Houellebecq's novel "The Possibility of an Island" but also carries a French title, "Preliminaires" (Preliminaries).

Why? "I felt that the whole plot of the novel is a preliminary to death," he said in an interview.

"And at my age everything you do is a preliminary to death: whether you're gonna fuck or not, work or play, chase money or freedom, ideas or cynicism. You've got the clock."

Iggy Pop -- real name James Newell Osterberg -- was lead singer of The Stooges, the 1960s-1970s garage rock band that influenced heavy metal and punk rock and whose live acts included Pop taking drugs, self-mutilating, verbally abusing the audience and leaping off stage.

His best-known solo numbers include "Lust for Life," "I'm Bored" and "Real Wild Child".

The idea behind this somewhat melancholy album came after he was asked to write music for a documentary about Houllebecq's novel which Pop sees as being about "death, sex and the end of the human race".

A resident of Florida, he first read it in a French seaside resort during a typically cool European summer and enjoyed it's "mid-life sci-fi crisis".

Literature, he said, had always been important to him, citing the early works of William S. Burroughs along with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

Click here for the whole article.

Still More On The Changing Times

I've been coming across so many pieces on the changing face of the publishing/book world. After the articles in these three posts, there is this from The Washington Post: At Publishers' Convention, Is The Writing On The Wall? Excerpts:

"If you read a book on paper, you're going to be definitely stamped as retro," Shatzkin said. "This is not going to be a fashionable thing to do."

What advice would the venture guy have for Borders, then?

"Shut it down in an efficient fashion," came the prompt reply.

"When we talk about others failing, we're talking about the music industry," the moderator said helpfully. This allowed Anderson to make a point about a misunderstanding that "drives me berserk." The music industry, broadly defined -- which includes bands, fans, concerts, recordings, iPods, etc. -- is thriving, he said. It is only the major labels, with their foolish attempt to cling to the CD model, that crashed.

"We don't need those jerks," Anderson said.

A message for publishers, perhaps?

Not necessarily. The analogy, in Anderson's view, is not precise. For one thing, the physical book is a far better product than the CD. For another, well, traditional publishing has been very, very good to him.

"There are many kingdoms now," he said. And if an author can't find a publisher to work with, "the Twitter to Amazon link is now a viable career."

The increasingly unavoidable social networking sites created the biggest digital buzz at this year's BEA. And small wonder: Word of mouth has long been the holy grail of book marketing, and now it's digitally enhanced.

The point is, digitization creates "this incredible opportunity between readers and writers," Carlton said. We're entering a golden age in which the genius of "Gutenberg and Zuckerberg" -- the latter would be Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO of Facebook -- are being combined. Friends will hand-sell books to each other online! Meanwhile, the gloomy cloud of what Carlton called "FUD," or "fear, uncertainty and doom," that has pervaded the publishing industry is starting to lift.

It's not lifting for brick-and-mortar booksellers, though.

A few yards away in the New Media Zone, Bill Reed, the co-owner of Misty Valley Books in Chester, Vt., was taking the latest Kindle for a spin. Lynne Reed, his wife and bookstore partner, stood nearby and contemplated the future.

"I think the publishing industry will have to change, but it's still a viable industry," she said. "Whereas bookselling -- nah. In 20 years, there won't be bookstores. Science fiction is coming true. You'll go into a house and you won't see any books."

Self-Publishing Finds Commercial Niche In Digital Age

Time was, printing and publishing your own work was frowned upon. In many quarters, it still is. But before I give the link to the piece on self-publishing I saw over at The Washington Times, I'd like to share a quote from it:

"The stigma is much greater among writers themselves than among readers or even publishers. Readers aren't biased against self-published books; they're biased against bad books."

And here's the three-page article: Self-Publishing Finds Commercial Niche In Digital Age. More excerpts:

"Publishers are going into hibernation right now," said Jason Boog, an editor at the publishing blog GalleyCat, to The Washington Times a few months ago. "While they hibernate, a lot of writers aren't going to have a place to publish."

Some already are looking elsewhere. Wil Wheaton declares, "The incredible ease of distribution online and the fact that more authors — and actually, all creative people — can reach their audience and their customers more easily and more directly than at any other time in history, I think makes self-publishing an option that can be considered in the first round of choices rather than the last resort it's been perceived as up until, let's say, 1998 to 2001."

Melinda Roberts last month got what she calls "the holy grail" for authors — an appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." Her book? The self-published "Mommy Confidential."

She published herself after agents said they loved her writing but couldn't sell another memoir. "My mother is a writer and editor. I'm a graphic designer. Between us, we had all of the publishing skills we needed," she says. Her book, based on her humorous blog, has been described as "Erma Bombeck meets Bridget Jones."

She admits it's been tough going: "When I sell a book, I can buy a Big Mac, and that's about it. My last quarterly check, which is sitting on my desk waiting to be deposited, was $24."

She worried about the stigma, too. "It's almost like marrying beneath yourself," she says. "It's a matter of public record, and you can't take it back once you've done it."

Now that she's been on "Oprah," though, she has agents calling her. "One woman said, 'If you want to write anything else at all, call me,' " she reports.

An author can get his or her Lulu book in days. One also can self-publish within minutes, thanks to the increasing popularity of e-books. Amazon.com allows authors to upload a book in minutes and see it for sale in its Kindle store within hours.

April L. Hamilton has done just that. Her two novels are available as Kindle books and paperbacks, and she has published the IndieAuthor Guide to help others do the same. "At last, we're living in a time when authors can go 'indie,' just like musicians and filmmakers before them," she enthuses.

She had an agent but couldn't get published — like Ms. Roberts, she found people liked her work but thought it couldn't sell. She entered Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award contest on a whim and got dozens of glowing reviews from the site's customers.

"I decided maybe New York editors don't really know what the book-buying public wants," she says. "I think the publishing industry is looking more like the movie industry all the time. Big, mainstream publishers want blockbusters and sure things. They can't cover their overheads on books that only sell a few thousand copies. But that doesn't mean a book that's destined to sell only a few thousand copies isn't a good book that would be very much enjoyed by its audience. And many an aspiring author would be very happy with a loyal readership of a few thousand."

Click here to read the whole article.

I like that part where writers are described as being able to go "indie" like musicians and filmmakers. However, there is a downside, of course, and that's not being able to work with an experienced editor. A lot of our favorite books improved and benefited from having been read by editors. Perhaps getting comments from test readers is a way to address this? But really, if a story works, it works. The traditional process of finding a publisher for a book may take longer, and the product may not even be marketed to an author's liking. The internet has opened a way for writers to go "indie", and I think the stigma attached to self-publishing will diminish over time, especially given how so many traditional publishers are holding back (and even retrenching) because of the bad economy.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Science Fiction's Vital Contribution To The Life Of English

From The Guardian, this article: Science Fiction's Vital Contribution To The Life Of English. An excerpt:

If you measure the health of literature by its impact on language, than there's no genre in better condition than SF

I have a new test for checking English literary health. I make no claims for its originality, efficacy, scientific rigour or infallibility. But here it is: the more neologisms or new uses for existing words a literary movement donates to the English language, the stronger it is.

Coleridge and friends had their new uses for "sublime", new constructions like "unfathomable seas" and "organic form", new uses for "romantic" (of course), and totally new words like "reliability" (surprisingly). The Lost Generation, even though they tried so hard to do nothing fancy, still had "rotten shames", "lovely pieces" and thousands of new inflections to the words "hell" and "damn". The Beat Generation had, well, "beat", as well as a whole new vocabulary centred around dharma, jazz and smoking "tea". Writers in the Enlightenment went one better by inventing the modern dictionary, as well as a whole lexicon relating to "reason" and "capital" to add to it. Meanwhile, the king of them all – the one-man literary movement and word machine that was William Shakespeare - is credited with more than 2,000 neologisms - among them hundreds of words we now take entirely for granted: "articulate", "pedant", "accommodation", "addiction", "dislocate".

The New Puritans, in contrast, and so far as I know, didn't give us any. Nor, so far, have those poets ascribing to the New Sincerity - unless you include the contortions you have to go through to give them a moniker (New Sincerecists? Sincerelys?)

OK, I'm sure you can come up with plenty of counter-examples, but there seems to me to be something to the idea. And even if there isn't, it's fun to toy with it. Certainly, I've enjoyed the book that set this thought-train chugging through my head - Brave New Words, the Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction, edited by Jeff Prucher. Here, a splendid case is made for the fecundity and inventiveness of the SF genre in the rich and frequently astonishing vocabulary it has donated to contemporary language.

Perhaps you won't be surprised to learn that "robot" is a relatively recent SF coinage. But if you're like me, you might be interested to discover it comes from the Czech word "robota", meaning forced labour. It was first used in a 1920 Czech play called RUR, Rossum's Universal Robots by Karel Capek and first came into English in Paul Selver's 1923 translation. It then appeared in the Times in the same year in the wonderful sentence: "If Almighty God had populated the world with Robots, legislation of this sort might have been reasonable."

A random trawl through the book uncovers hundreds of other such treasures. "Mutant", in the sense of genetic freak, first appeared in a 1938 edition of Astounding SF. "Alternate history" has a first citation from a 1954 Magazine of Fantasy and SF. "Fanzine" was first used by SF fans – the first citation the lovely "We hereby protest against the un-euphonious word 'fanag' and announce our intention to plug fanzine as the best short form of 'fan magazine'" from something called Detours in 1940. "Anti-gravity" appeared in 1896 in a story about Mars in the Massillon Independent; "tractor" (as in beam) in a 1931 story by EE Smith called Spacehounds of IPC. "Cyberspace" appeared in William Gibson's Burning Chrome in 1982. "Newspeak", of course, appeared in 1984, in 1949.

It's perhaps natural that a genre that deals so specifically with science and technology should have come up with so many new terms. Science, after all, is the single biggest contemporary fattener of dictionaries. But these words also bespeak active imaginations and that curious form of literary finesse that enables writers to label an object, and readers to understand that label, even though both label and object have never before been encountered.

It is, in short, difficult to come up with such inventions and neologisms.

Click here for the whole piece.

Google's Browser-Based Plan For Ebook Sales

This article, Google's Browser-Based Plan For Ebook Sales, is related to this older entry.

BEA '09 may be remembered as the moment when Google formally entered the ebook market. From the New York Times:

Mr. [Tom] Turvey [director of strategic partnerships at Google] said Google's program would allow consumers to read books on any device with Internet access, including mobile phones, rather than being limited to dedicated reading devices like the Amazon Kindle. "We don't believe that having a silo or a proprietary system is the way that e-books will go," he said.

He said that Google would allow publishers to set retail prices. Amazon lets publishers set wholesale prices and then sets its own prices for consumers. In selling e-books at $9.99, Amazon takes a loss on each sale because publishers generally charge booksellers about half the list price of a hardcover -- typically around $13 or $14.

In addition -- and this is pure conjecture on my part -- Google's push into HTML 5 is a potential shot across the bow of e-reader manufacturers. Assuming it's widely implemented, HTML 5 will further blur the line between standalone software and Web browsers/cloud-based content. Toss in Google's Chrome browser and the Gears plugin and you can see how the dots (might) connect.

According to the Times, Google intends to launch its ebook project in 2009. This effort is separate from the pending Book Search agreement.

Speculative Cat Fiction

(Banzai Cat's gonna' like this post, methinks).

Scouring bargain book bins and second hand book shops is akin to Forrest Gump's box of chocolates: You never know what you're gonna' get. In fact, you almost never get the complete books in a series, not even consecutive novels in a trilogy; finding consecutive yearly anthologies is even harder. The exception here would be huge bestsellers like Harry Potter, The Lord Of The Rings, the Hannibal Lecter books, and the like, but anything even slightly obscure is bound to be incomplete. Of course, buying brand new is the solution if you want to find all the titles in a series, but what if: 1. the title is out-of-print?; or 2. after a trip to browse brand new titles, you engage in checking out bargain book bins and second hand book shops for lower-priced treats just because you want to? (Buying online is the answer to 1., but with such a quick solution, this would end up a very short blog entry, wouldn't it?)

So you can imagine my surprise earlier this year when, within a span of four weeks, I found, at separate second-hand bookstores in different parts of the metropolis, Catfantastic and Catfantastic II. The former I found tucked away under a heap of books in a dusty corner of the shop; the latter I found on a lower shelf between a science-fiction mystery and a fantasy adventure novel.

The books are short fiction anthologies edited by Andre Norton and Martin H. Greenberg; all the stories are speculative fiction in nature, and all have cats in them playing the hero. The first anthology was published way back in 1989, and after searching the web a bit, I discovered that the series published up to Catfantastic V. I can't say that I'm a cat lover, but going through fantasy and science fiction stories of the type I encountered back in the late 1980's and early 1990's makes for fun reading.

And this makes the rest of my trips to second hand book stores and bargain book bins for the rest of the year quite interesting. I'm not expecting anything, but if my luck holds out, maybe I'll complete the anthology series before 2010. :D

Oh! Here at the end of this entry, it just struck me: I was lucky to complete Garth Nix's Abhorsen Trilogy, but only one book was bought brand new. I would've bought them all new if the store had all three in stock, but at that time, they didn't. Instead, I found the other two separately in two different second hand shops some weeks later. I doubt if I'll still be able to find any Catfantastic book new, but I'm going to keep my eyes open for the rest that I don't have. :D

Food Writing Contest

Here's an announcement of a food writing contest over at the website of The National Commission Of Culture And The Arts. An excerpt:

The 7th Doreen Gamboa Fernandez Food Writing Contest

The topic this year is biskwit: traditional cookies that have been part of Philippine cuisine, nationaly or locally, for at least 50 years.

There are many types including pan de san nicolas, kamachile, uraro, roscas, biscoch principe among many others. Modern products like today's chocolate chip cookies are not included.

English-language essays from 4,500 to 5,00 characters (800 words) will be judged by professional writers for content (50%), research (30%), style (20%). The judges' decision is final, and submissions become the property of Manila Ladies Branch of the International Wine & Food Society who manage the contest. Entries should be 2 pages, double-spaced on short bond paper. Submit 1 printed and 1 digital copy of the essay. For the digital copy use Word (doc.) or rich text file (rtf) on a CD. Deadlines for submissions is Aug 31/09, 5pm.

Click here for more details.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

"The Castaway's Dream" by Dominique Cimafranca

PGS contributor Dominique Cimafranca has a new story out, "The Castaway's Dream", in the June 1, 2009 issue of The Philippine Graphic. Congratulations!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Two Genre Writing Contests

Here's the first, care of Bahay Talinhaga: Crossed Genres Flash Fic Contest. Deadline is on June 14, 2009. First prize is a free one-year subscription to Crossed Genres, US$8.00, and a prominent link on the site. Full details here.

Here's the second: Free Writing Contest For Science Fiction Writers--Theme: What If? Deadline is on August 31, 2009. First, second, and third prizes are US$50.00, US$20.00, and US$10.00, respectively. Full details here.

Good luck to those who are joining!

"Night Out" by Eliza Victoria

"Night Out" by Eliza Victoria is now out at Expanded Horizons (Issue 8). Click and read! Congratulations!

Websites For Writers

Could be useful, this: Websites For Writers. It's in beta mode, but it lists sites that are helpful for the writers among you. It describes itself as "an independent directory of online writing resources."

Monday, June 01, 2009

Preparing To Sell E-Books, Google Takes On Amazon

And so the evolution of the market continues. Check out this New York Times article: Preparing To Sell E-Books, Google Takes On Amazon. An excerpt:

In discussions with publishers at the annual BookExpo convention in New York over the weekend, Google signaled its intent to introduce a program by that would enable publishers to sell digital versions of their newest books direct to consumers through Google. The move would pit Google against Amazon.com, which is seeking to control the e-book market with the versions it sells for its Kindle reading device.

Google’s move is likely to be welcomed by publishers who have expressed concerns about Amazon’s aggressive pricing strategy for e-books. Amazon offers Kindle editions of most new best sellers for $9.99, far less than the typical $26 at which publishers sell new hardcovers. In early discussions, Google has said it will allow publishers to set consumer prices.

And Google has already made its 1.5 million public-domain books available for reading on mobile phones as well as the Sony Reader, the Kindle’s largest competitor.

Under the new program, publishers give Google digital files of new and other in-print books. Already on Google, users can search up to about 20 percent of the content of those books and can follow links from Google to online retailers like Amazon.com and the Web site of Barnes & Noble to buy either paper or electronic versions of the books. But Google is now proposing to allow users to buy those digital editions direct from Google.

Mr. Turvey said that with books, Google planned to sell readers online access to digital versions of various titles. When offline, Mr. Turvey said, readers would still be able to access their electronic books in cached versions on their browsers.

So, one may not necessarily need a Kindle? Maybe Apple will make an e-book reader, the way they made the iPod and took over the mp3 player market? Or maybe there'll be so many types of e-readers out there for us to choose from, the same way that there are so many types of mp3 players?

The times, they are a-changin'.

Will print books disappear? Maybe not immediately. After all, music CD's are still around, though their sales are diminishing vis-a-vis the sales of online music files. And vinyl is making a comeback and finding its own small niche.

But the ways we read our books, they are a-changin'.

Clive Thompson On Why Science Fiction Is The Last Bastion Of Philosophical Writing

As copied-and-pasted (with permission) from Gelo's Digithoughts, the following blog entry:

[ I had to post this since TJ deleted (accidentally) this thought-provoking entry from his blog :) ]

Recently I read a novella that posed a really deep question: What would happen if physical property could be duplicated like an MP3 file? What if a poor society could prosper simply by making pirated copies of cars, clothes, or drugs that cure fatal illnesses?

The answer Cory Doctorow offers in his novella After the Siege is that you'd get a brutal war. The wealthy countries that invented the original objects would freak out, demand royalties from the developing ones, and, when they didn't get them, invade. Told from the perspective of a young girl trying to survive in a poor country being bombed by well-off adversaries, After the Siege is an absolute delight, by turns horrifying, witty, and touching.

Technically, After the Siege is a work of science fiction. But as with so many sci-fi stories, it works on two levels, exploring real-world issues like the plight of African countries that can't afford AIDS drugs. The upshot is that Doctorow's fiction got me thinking — on a Lockean level — about the nature of international law, justice, and property.

Which brings me to my point. If you want to read books that tackle profound philosophical questions, then the best — and perhaps only — place to turn these days is sci-fi. Science fiction is the last great literature of ideas.

From where I sit, traditional "literary fiction" has dropped the ball. I studied literature in college, and throughout my twenties I voraciously read contemporary fiction. Then, eight or nine years ago, I found myself getting — well — bored.

Why? I think it's because I was reading novel after novel about the real world. And there are, at the risk of sounding superweird, only so many ways to describe reality. After I'd read my 189th novel about someone living in a city, working in a basically realistic job and having a realistic relationship and a realistically fraught family, I was like, "OK. Cool. I see how today's world works." I also started to feel like I'd been reading the same book over and over again.

Here's my overly reductive, incredibly nerdy way of thinking about the novel: Consider it a simulation, kind of like The Sims. If you run a realistic simulation enough times — writing tens of thousands of novels about contemporary life — eventually you're going to explore almost every outcome. So what do you do then?

You change the physics in the sim. Alter reality — and see what new results you get. Which is precisely what sci-fi does. Its authors rewrite one or two basic rules about society and then examine how humanity responds — so we can learn more about ourselves. How would love change if we lived to be 500? If you could travel back in time and revise decisions, would you? What if you could confront, talk to, or kill God?

Teenagers love to ponder such massive, brain-shaking concepts, which is precisely why they devour novels like Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, the Narnia series, the Harry Potter books, and Ender's Game. They know that big-idea novels are more likely to have an embossed foil dragon on the cover than a Booker Prize badge.

Adults and serious intellectuals used to love ruminating over this stuff, too. Thought experiments formed the foundation of Western philosophy — from Socrates to Thomas Hobbes to Simone de Beauvoir.

So, then, why does sci-fi, the inheritor of this intellectual tradition, get short shrift among serious adult readers? Probably because the genre tolerates execrable prose stylists. Plus, many of sci-fi's most famous authors — like Robert Heinlein and Philip K. Dick — have positively deranged notions about the inner lives of women.

But the worm is turning. For whatever reasons — maybe the reality fatigue I've felt — a lot of literary writers are trying their hand at speculative fiction. Philip Roth used a "counterfactual" history — what if Nazi sympathizers in the US won the 1940 election? — to explore anti-Semitism in The Plot Against America. Cormac McCarthy muses on the nature of morality in the Hobbesian anarchy of his novel The Road. Then there's the genre-bending likes of Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, Susanna Clarke, and Margaret Atwood (whom I like to think of as a sci-fi novelist trapped inside a literary author).

Those aren't writers whose books are adorned with embossed dragons. But that doesn't mean they don't owe that dragon a large debt.

email clive(at)clivethompson(dot)net


Book Fiesta Sale

Up to 10% off on books this June, at Powerbooks. Details here.

Bloggers Are Publishers

A blogger has been jailed in a defamation suit in Houston, Texas. It reminds me of The Right of Reply issue. An excerpt from the article:

A real estate agent in Houston who blogged about Anna Nicole Smith was jailed for contempt last week in a defamation case brought by the late Playboy model's mother.

Legal experts said bloggers are increasingly the targets of such litigation, which are testing the bounds of free speech.

Lyndal Harrington, who is accused of helping to spread falsehoods that Virgie Arthur married her stepbrother and abused Smith as a child, spent four nights in jail after she failed to comply with a court order to turn over her computer.

Like many bloggers, Harrington doesn't consider herself a publisher and did not realize she could be held liable for her posts.

Lawsuits against bloggers in the United States have been doubling every year since 2004 with $15 million in judgments so far against them, according to Robert Cox, president of the Media Bloggers Association.

"A lot of bloggers think of themselves as individuals or maybe writers but in the courts, they are considered a publisher," Cox said.

"A lot of these cases could have been avoided if things had been worded just a little differently or if they had double sourced their information," Cox said.

Moreover, the technology exists to find anonymous bloggers.

"People can find you," said Cox at the Media Blogger Association, which this year began offering its members legal expenses insurance for an annual fee of $540 for $100,000 of coverage.

The majority of cases against bloggers are for defamation but they are also frequently sued for copyright infringement and invasion of privacy.

"There's this Wild West mentality where people think they can do anything on the Web and not be held liable," said Bayard.

While state laws vary on what constitutes defamation and who qualifies as a journalist and thus who can protect sources, Bayard said, judges have consistently applied the same standards to blogs as they would any other medium of expression.

"Defamation is defamation no matter whether it is written on paper or on a blog," he said.

Paper Vs. Computer

Here's a blog post from A Continuity Of Parks that talks about getting printed on paper versus online: Paper Vs. Computer. An excerpt:

As far as the first question goes, there is no doubt that the entire industry is floating, on a speed boat with the throttle stuck in high gear, toward the electronic mediums. You can look at the newspaper and magazine industry for this. Time magazine gets ten times as many readers online than they do in their print journal (and the material isn't the same). More people read the Drudge Report than the New York Times, even if they just skim the headlines. So what does this mean to the industry. Will paper be a thing of the past in ten years. Probably not, but it might be harder to find a paper copy of your favorite book in a used book store.

I have worked in print magazine in the past and I can tell you that getting the layout just right for the printer is a pain, big pain. I don't don't have any experience with the electronic layouts, other than this blog, so I asked someone who has experience with both. Jason Sizemore of Apex Publications has had a successful Pro-market magazine and a successful Pro-Market e-zine. I asked him which took longer to produce, the print issue or the e-zine, or if it was a wash. He responded with "(It)Takes me way, way less time to prepare a digital issue of Apex Magazine as opposed to when it was in print.” This got me thinking of the magazine from the editors POV. If you are giving the authors the same money, and reaching more people, it takes you far less time which in Jason's case gives him more time to focus on the Book part of his business, why wouldn't you go to an online format. Sure I miss the paper editions, but printers cost money, a lot of money so from the editors point of view I can see the online edition being advantageous.

From the writers point of view I would like to think we have two goals in mind, get paid for our work and have as many people as possible read that work.