Friday, July 31, 2009

New E-Readers From Sony Leaked

The Kindle, the rumored Apple tablet, Samsung's e-reader (available only in South Korea, for now), the Kindle copy from China, and now, Sony's new E-Readers, leaked to the public. An excerpt from the article:

A couple of days ago I posted an item on how I'd heard whispers of a new Sony digital reader potentially hitting the market in August. Well, now some images and details of two new Sony Readers, the PRS-300 and PRS-600, have made their way into the blogosphere, thanks to a poster in the Sony Insider boards who simply wrote: "I just found service manuals for 2 unannounced Sony Reader model-the PRS-300 & PRS-600."

Click here to read the whole article.

Books On Sale

Just some reminders on where to look for and buy books if you're itching for something to read (and even if you're not, there's no harm in browsing; you just may find something you'll like):

The Book Fair mentioned in this post will end tomorrow, August 1, 2009.

The Bibliophile Stalker posts that "local bookstore Fully Booked at Bonifacio High Street will be having a sale on August 5 - 9 (August 3 - 4 for discount card holders)."

Powerbooks will be having a sale of up to 80% off from July 31 to August 31, 2009.

The Manila International Book Fair is in September, about a month away from now.

If there are any other book sales or promotions ongoing, post a comment, or let me know so I can blog about it. TY!

Author Adam Roberts On The 2009 Hugo's

Here's an article from The Guardian: When Democracy Fails: The Hugo SF Awards, which echoes the sentiments linked to in this earlier blog entry. An excerpt:

Science fiction author Adam Roberts is cross with science fiction fans. The line-up for this year's Hugo awards – selected and voted for by readers – isn't very good, he says, and he's not pleased.

"What do these lists say about SF to the multitude in the world - to the people who don't know any better? It says that SF is old-fashioned, an aesthetically, stylistically and formally small-c conservative thing. It says that SF fans do not like works that are too challenging, or unnerving; that they prefer to stay inside their comfort zone," Roberts writes, before going on to criticise the five-strong shortlist for this year's best novel award.

The novels on the Hugo shortlist – apart from Anathem, which Roberts feels should be on the shortlist despite his dislike for it ("I think it fails, but I think it fails in heroic, mad, reader-stretching, you've-never-come-across-anything-like-this-before ways") – are all old-fashioned, he says: "formally, stylistically and conceptually unadventurous". Where's The Quiet War, House of Suns, Song of Time? he asks. Where are the books trying something new?

It's the same old chestnut of whether book prizes should be decided by popular vote or by jury, as some commentators point out in a furiously debated comment section on Roberts's blog.

Click here to read the whole piece.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sony And Google Aim To Outdo Amazon And The Kindle

From The New York Times: Sony Reaches Deal To Share In Google's E-Book Library. An excerpt:

Aiming to outdo and recapture the crown for the most digital titles in an e-book library, Sony is announcing Thursday a deal with Google to make a half million copyright-free books available for its Reader device, a rival to the Amazon Kindle.

Since 2004, Google has scanned about seven million books from major university and research library collections. For now, however, Google can make full digital copies available only of books whose copyrights have expired.

The books available to Reader owners were written before 1923 and include classics like “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” by Mark Twain, and “The Awakening,” by Kate Chopin, as well as harder-to-find titles like “The Letters of Jane Austen.”

“We have focused our efforts on offering an open platform and making it easy to find as much content as possible, and our partnership with Google is another step in that direction,” said Steve Haber, president of the digital reading business division of Sony Electronics. “We would love to continue working with Google to see how we can get more content for Reader owners.”

The companies did not disclose financial terms of the deal.

Sony is hoping that the partnership and its newly expanded library help slow some of the Kindle’s momentum. Amazon currently has 250,000 books in its Kindle library, but it stresses that they are the books people are most interested in reading, like new releases and best sellers.

And let's not forget that Barnes & Noble is also a player.

Manila Litcritters Open Session

The next Manila Litcritters open session is on August 1, 2009, 2:00 p.m. More details, and the links to the readings, here.

Is Apple Jumping On The E-Reader Bandwagon?

An anonymous comment on this blog entry pointed me to this CNN article: An Apple Tablet Could Pit iTunes Against Amazon. An excerpt:

With rumors piling up about a forthcoming Apple tablet, it appears more and more likely that such a device will emerge soon.

But what's still unclear is how this gadget will set itself apart from Apple's multimedia-savvy product line, including the iPhone and iPod Touch, as well as the scores of failed tablet PCs that have come and gone.

Judging from the company's past moves, we're betting that Apple's tablet will be a media-centric device, focused -- at least in part -- on shaking up the publishing industry.

Apple is already prepared to blow Amazon and other e-book makers out of the water with one key weapon: iTunes. Having served more than 6 billion songs to date, the iTunes Store has flipped the music industry on its head.

Apple was not the first company to release an mp3 player. Other companies had been in the business ahead of it. In fact, when they announced their first iPod, the response was pretty underwhelming, to the point that some pundits were wondering if Apple had lost its touch in making innovative and flashy, faddy gadgets. But when Apple opened the iPod to Windows, the dominant computer operating system, it went on to become the #1 mp3 player of choice in the worldwide market. Now, we have mp3 players--expensive and really cheap--available everywhere. Almost everyone owns an mp3 player, whether as a separate gadget or as a feature of their cellphones. The iPod did not just take over the market, it grew it. Could Apple do the same for e-readers?

A Talk On Writing The Young Adult Novel

Received this text from The Sumatra Woman's Brew:

"PBBY invites you to a talk on writing the YA Novel, August 1, 2009, 3:30 p.m., Trinoma Mall, Cinema Lobby, Level 4. Free and open to the public."

2009 PBBY Salanga Prize Call For Entries

The Philippine Board On Books For Young People (PBBY) has an ongoing poetry contest. Deadline is on October 23, 2009. First prize is P20,000.00. More details here.

Komikon Nominees

Elbert Or and Andrew Drilon are nominated at Komikon! Congratulations, guys! I hope you win!

"Reading Inspires Kids"

Check out this video I saw over at Sillington House. :)

And if you will allow a bit of my cynical gallows humour to come through (with all due apologies to Sillington House and everyone else who liked the video--don't get me wrong, I like it myself), reading can also inspire "pambobola". (English trans. bullsh***ing). :D

Into The Wardrobe

Rediscovered this blog via The Sumatra Woman's Brew: Into The Wardrobe (I linked to this blog once before). It's a blog by Tarie of Quezon City, who writes, "We don't have a magic wardrobe like the Pevensie siblings, but we have books to take us to different worlds." Her entries are reviews of YA and children's books, as well as interviews of their authors and illustrators. Head on over to check it out.

Cover Girl Mismatch

Saw this article over at Publishers Weekly: Justine Larbalestier's Cover Girl. The gist of it is that the author wrote a book, "Liar", whose protagonist she envisioned as being "black with nappy hair which she wears natural and short." Her publishers placed a white girl with long hair on the cover. An excerpt from the article:

Fifteen years ago, critics accused Time magazine of racism when it darkened O.J. Simpson’s mug shot. Fast forward to the latest cover-and-race controversy: bloggers are making similar charges against Bloomsbury Children’s Books, which put a white girl with long, straight tresses on the jacket of a novel about an African-American tomboy with short, “nappy” hair. Phrases like “that poor author” and “that’s just wrong” are showing up in comments sections online, in the escalating flap over Justine Larbalestier’s Liar, which hits shelves September 28.

Their perception: that publishers think books won’t sell as well with blacks on the front. “I kept wondering if the publisher thinks books only sell if they’ve got white people on the cover. It bothered me,” wrote Dianne Salerni, author of the upcoming novel We Hear the Dead, in an review.

Even Larbalestier is upset. “I love my publisher,” she said. “[But] I never wanted this cover. I made it clear I didn’t want a white girl’s face. Having this cover on the front is undermining the book that I wrote.”

And yet, some readers—and Liar’s editor—are defending the cover, noting that Micah, the unreliable narrator, could have fibbed about her own appearance. “The entire premise of this book is about a compulsive liar,” said Melanie Cecka, publishing director of Bloomsbury Children’s Books USA and Walker Books for Young Readers, who worked on Liar. “Of all the things you’re going to choose to believe of her, you’re going to choose to believe she was telling the truth about race?”

Unlike Larbalestier’s light and upbeat How to Ditch Your Fairy, which came out last year, Liar is a psychological thriller, with a mentally unstable main character who may (or may not) have committed multiple murders. Bloomsbury is printing 100,000 copies.

The publisher believes that there’s a silver lining to the firestorm. “I do think it’s going to raise awareness of race in teen literature to new levels,” said Cecka. “Clearly, our striving for ambiguity with this cover, and for it to be interpreted as a ‘lie’ itself didn’t work for everyone. But again, if this jacket proves a catalyst for a bigger discussion about how the industry is dealing with its books on race, that’s a very large good to come of this current whirlwind.”

Click here to read the whole article.

The author shares her opinion on the matter here. An excerpt:

There is, in fact, a large audience for “black books” but they weren’t discovered until African American authors started self-publishing and selling their books on the subway and on the street and directly into schools. And, yet, the publishing industry still doesn’t seem to get it. Perhaps the whole “black books don’t sell” thing is a self-fulfilling prophecy?

I hope that the debate that’s arisen because of this cover will widen to encompass the whole industry. I hope it gets every publishing house thinking about how incredibly important representation is and that they are in a position to break down these assumptions. Publishing companies can make change. I really hope that the outrage the US cover of Liar has generated will go a long way to bringing an end to white washing covers. Maybe even to publishing and promoting more writers of color.

But never forget that publishers are in the business of making money. Consumers need to do what they can. When was the last time you bought a book with a person of colour on the front cover or asked your library to order one for you? If you were upset by the US cover of Liar go buy one right now. I’d like to recommend Coe Booth’s Kendra which is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Waiting on my to be read pile is Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger, which has been strongly recommended to me by many people.

Clearly we do not live in a post-racist society. But I’d like to think that the publishing world is better than those many anecdotes I’ve been hearing. But for that to happen, all of us—writers, editors, designers, sales reps, booksellers, reviewers, readers, and parents of readers—will have to do better.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Writers Going Virtual

As seen via Breaking Camp's Twitter: How Writers Are Using Second Life To Find Audiences And Readers. An excerpt:

Imagine this scenario: You’re an unpublished, unknown playwright and you’ve just written a play that you believe needs to be staged. Your income is commensurate with most writers’ – i.e., not a lot. And you don’t have rich friends or family who might fork over the tens of thousands of dollars needed to rent a theatre, hire a cast, create sets and costumes, and advertise your production.

What do you do?

Well, in the physical world, you probably send out queries to agents or producers, cross your fingers, and hope.

In the virtual world, you simply produce your play!

That’s one of the things I love so much about a virtual world like Second Life. It’s a great “leveler”: You don’t have to be wealthy or famous to have your creative work see the light of day.

This weekend (July 24 and 25) brings the final performances of the premiere run of an incredible play written and produced in Second Life that might have ended up buried in the author’s bottom drawer if the only outlet she had was first life. Not because it doesn’t deserve to be staged – quite the contrary; it’s a remarkable drama – but simply because money to support art in first life is about one-gazillionth of what it should be!

Click here to read the whole article.

The Changing World Of Publishing (And A Reaction)

Saw this article over at The Times Online: At The Front Of A Book Revolution. An excerpt:

The book business is facing its greatest revolution since the invention of printing, but Victoria Barnsley, chief executive of Harper Collins, says it is an exhilarating time.

“I predict that, within 10 years, 50% of all books will be read electronically. We are at the equivalent of black-and-white television now, but once the technology is perfected everything will change.”

She said the nature of books will also change.

“Consumers now want images, music, video as well as words. It is no longer enough to say to authors you have to produce text. We need things to go with that text. Our business is not just about words, but content in all its guises. Not many authors are engaging with this yet.”

A reaction to what she said is here at Conversational Reading: Yet Another Example Of What's Wrong With Corporate Publishing. An excerpt:

Despite all the insistence I keep hearing that people want all this stuff in addition to "the text"--as if "the text" was just one element of a book instead of the whole thing--I have yet to actually hear one of these executives explain why consumers want audio, video, etc. with their text.

I also have yet to hear any actual consumers ask for this.

And in addition to that, I haven't really found any authors who are dying to figure out how to incorporate audio clips and such into their text.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A New Page -- Can The Kindle Really Improve On The Book?

First off, check out this e-reader that will launch in China before the end of 2009. The article calls it a Kindle copy. Thanks to Bahay Talinhaga for the link. I've written before, and I'm more convinced now, that e-readers will become as ubiquitous as mp3 players.

Then, read this article from The New Yorker: A New Page -- Can The Kindle Really Improve On The Book? An excerpt:

Instead of ink on paper, there’s something called Vizplex. Vizplex is the trade name of the layered substance that makes up the Kindle’s display—i.e., the six-inch-diagonal rectangle that you read from. It’s a marvel of bi-stable microspheres, and it took lots of work and more than a hundred and fifty million dollars to develop, but it’s really still in the prototype phase. Vizplex, in slurry form, is made in Cambridge, Massachusetts, by a company called E Ink. E Ink layers it onto a film, or “frontplane laminate,” at a plant in western Massachusetts, and then sends the laminate to Taiwan, where its parent company, P.V.I. (which stands for Prime View International, itself a subsidiary of a large paper company), marries it to an electronic grid, or backplane. The backplane tells the frontplane what to do.

The prospect of Vizplex first arose in the mind of a scientist, Joseph Jacobson, who now works at M.I.T.’s Media Lab and avoids interviews on the subject of e-paper. Sometime in the mid-nineties, according to a colleague, Jacobson was sitting on a beach reading. He finished his book. What next? He didn’t want to walk off the beach to get another book, and he didn’t want to lie on the beach and dig moist holes with his feet, thinking about the algorithmic beauty of seaweeds. What he wanted was to push a little button that would swap the words in the book he held for the words in some other book somewhere else. He wanted the book he held to be infinitely rewriteable—to be, in fact, the very last book he would ever have to own. He called it “The Last Book.” To make the Last Book, he would have to invent a new kind of paper: RadioPaper.

At M.I.T., Jacobson and a group of undergraduates made lists of requirements, methods, and materials. One of their tenets was: RadioPaper must reflect, like real paper. It must not emit. It couldn’t be based on some improved type of liquid-crystal screen, no matter how high its resolution, no matter how perfectly jewel-like its colors, no matter how imperceptibly quick its flicker, because liquid crystals are backlit, and backlighting, they believed, is intrinsically bad because it’s hard on the eyes. RadioPaper also had to be flexible, they thought, and it had to persist until recycled in situ. It should hold its image even when it drew no current, just as paper could. How to do that? One student came up with the idea of a quilt of tiny white balls in colored dye. To make the letter “A,” say, microsquirts of electricity would grab some of the microballs and pull them down in their capsule, drowning them in the dye and making that capsule and neighboring capsules go dark and stay dark until some more electricity flowed through in a second or a day or a week. This was the magic of electrophoresis.

Click here to read the whole piece.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Electric Fan Euphemism

I got a new electric fan for my room. Wait, no. It's not an electric fan. It looks like an electric fan: It's got the plug, the stand, the circular housing to protect you from the rotating blades, and the switch that lets you choose the three speeds (light speed, ridiculous speed, and ludicrous speed). But it's not an electric fan.

How do I know that? It says so, right on the front, right in the center of the housing, where the bullseye would be if the housing was a dartboard.

It isn't an electric fan. It's a "high velocity air circulator."

No kidding. That's what it says.

Waking The Dead Book Launch

From Yvette Tan's Twitter:

Waking the Dead book launch, August 15, 2009 4-7pm at Powerbooks Megamall. Everyone's invited! :D

Andrew Drilon did the cover and illustrations.

Book Fair (Updated)

Received this text from a relative:

"There's a book fair in Market Market from July 27 to August 1, 2009, in case you're interested."

Update: Bahay Talinhaga blogs about the details of this book fair here.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Cinema Paradiso Moment

In one of the latter scenes of the Giuseppe Tornatore-directed movie Cinema Paradiso, the protagonist, Salvatore "Toto" Di Vita, returns to his hometown to attend the funeral of someone he knew in his childhood, after many years of purposely staying away from home. He sees many of the faces he knew from his younger days--older, white-haired, dim-eyed, wrinkled--much like his own. They all recognize and nod solemn greetings to each other.

Before sunset yesterday, a relative needed someone to drive her to church. I had time, so I offered to take her. I knew she still attended services in a small chapel in my old neighborhood, one that I used to go to together with my whole family every week when we were all much, much younger, and did not yet have our own schedules and individual lives to live. It's been years since I've been to this place.

I became Toto, and then some, receiving and giving smiles to familiar, older faces.

"Long time no see," Mrs. G. said.

"Welcome back," R. said, gripping my hand in a firm handshake.

Mrs. R's eyes brightened when she saw me. "Oh my gosh, it's you! It's really you!"

C., jolly old C., laughed out loud when she saw me. "What are you doing here?" she said.

The organist, still the same one, still playing the same songs, waved at me. From across the pews, her smile shone on me like the noonday sun.

There were a number of missing faces. When I inquired, Mrs. G. told me that some had moved on to other neighborhoods, some had moved on "upstairs".

"Mr. N. and his family stopped coming when Mrs. N. passed away," she said. "He also had a feud with the D. family. They stopped coming, too."

"Oh, wow," I said, dumbly. The N. and D. families had been attending chapel services the longest among all of us. "Where do they go now?"

"No one knows," Mrs. G. frowned sadly. "When Mrs. N. moved "upstairs", Mr. N. and his children just disappeared. I also don't know where the D. family is."

Everyone was older, and I felt my age along with them. I was surprised at the number who didn't use to need canes now leaning on sticks and hobbling clumsily to their seats. Though inconvenienced by this, they found the time to spare me a smile of recognition. I was most happy to see many young children, the progeny of those who had greeted me, running and playing in the aisles, reminding me how some of their parents used to do the same.

Way, way back when, I used to be the lector in that small chapel; R. had taken over, and frankly, I think he does a better job. I tried to keep my mind on the services, but my eyes wandered over families that had lost members, or gained some through marriage or birth. There were newer, unfamiliar faces, too. I suppose they were new to the area, or more appropriately, new to me, since they could've been going to this chapel during all those years I had been away.

The chapel itself hadn't changed. The design of it is very old-fashioned, at least twenty-five years old by my count, but quite well-maintained and very serviceable. The ceiling fans, the altar, the pews, the lectern, the sound system, are all vintage; I think the organ is a certified antique. Even the grain of the wood panels lining the walls was something from the early 80's, something one doesn't see much of anymore.

When services were done, the goodbyes were as sweet as the hello's. "Don't be a stranger," Mrs. R. told me, touching my hand with her gnarled fingers.

I don't know when I'll be back, though. Like Toto, I have to "head back to the city", so to speak. But I find comfort in knowing that this small chapel has weathered time well, even if not all its congregants have, me least of all.

8 Reasons To Read Fiction

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Quote From Einstein... why I like the educational focus of the current first lady of the United States.

Albert Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand."

Michelle Obama was quoted as having recently said, "An educational foundation is only part of the equation. In order for creativity to flourish and imagination to take hold, we also need to expose our children to the arts from a very young age."

A Comment On The 2009 Hugo's

This link was sent in by Zen's Site, a blog entry about this year's Hugo's. An excerpt:

Dear Science Fiction Fandom

I wanted to have a word about the Hugos. Science Fiction Fandom, these are your awards: the shortlists chosen and voted for by you. And because I too am a fan (though without Hugo voting privileges) they are my awards. They reflect upon us all. They remain one of the most prestigious awards for SF in the world. These lists say something about SF to the world.

Science Fiction Fandom: your shortlists aren’t very good.

I'm not saying the works you have shortlisted are terrible. They're not terrible, mostly, as it goes. But they aren’t exceptionally good either. They’re in the middle. There’s a word for that. The word is mediocre.

Widely publicised shortlists of mediocre art are a bad thing. What do these lists say about SF to the multitude in the world—to the people who don’t know any better? It says that SF is old-fashioned, an aesthetically, stylistically and formally small-c conservative thing. It says that SF fans do not like works that are too challenging, or unnerving; that they prefer to stay inside their comfort zone.

This is bad because the very heart’s-blood of literature is to draw people out of their comfort zone; to challenge and stimulate them, to wake and shake them; to present them with the new, and the unnerving, and the mind-blowing. And if this true of literature, it is doubly or trebly true of science fiction. For what is the point of SF if not to articulate the new, the wondrous, the mindblowing and the strange?

Click here to read the whole entry.

Dissatisfaction with the nominees, eh? Maybe the solution The Oscars took, increasing the number of best picture nominees from five to ten, would help.

2009 Man Asian Literary Prize

The longlist for this year has been announced:

The Administrative Committee for the 2009 Man Asian Literary Prize has today announced the longlist of works for this prize:

Gopilal Acharya , With a Stone in My Heart
Omair Ahmad , Jimmy the Terrorist
Siddharth Chowdhury, Day Scholar
Kishwar Desai , Witness the Night
Samuel Ferrer , The Last Gods of Indochine
Eric Gamalinda , The Descar tes Highlands
Ram Govardhan, Rough with the Smooth
Kanishka Gupta, History of Hate
Kameroon Rasheed Ismeer , Memoirs of a Terrorist
Ratika Kapur , Overwinter
Mariam Karim, The Bereavement of Agnes Desmoulins
Sriram Karri , The Autobiography of a Mad Nation
Nitasha Kaul , Residue
R . Zamora Linmark , Leche
Mario I. Miclat, Secrets of the Eighteen Mansions
Clarissa V. Militante, Different Countries
Varuna Mohite, Omigod
Dipika Mukherjee, Thunder Demons
Hena Pillai , Blackland
Roan Ching-Yueh, Lin Xiu-Tzi and her Family
Edgar Calabia Samar, Eight Muses of the Fall
K. Srilata, Table for Four
Su Tong, The Redemption Boat
Oyungerel Tsedevdamba, Shadow of the Red Star

Please click here for more details.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Old Manila

Facebook users, check out the photo gallery of Old Philippines, in particular this album from Manila circa 1960's: The Harrison Forman Collection. This was Manila then, even before I was born. There's no need to describe them if you can see the photos for yourselves.

My heart ached when I saw the pictures and inevitably compared them to what we can see today of these same places. I understand very well that snapshots of ugly things can be kept away in drawer corners, and that the issues of those times most likely felt as grave and troublesome as those of today's. But of one thing I am sure: you can't deny a clean Pasig, or smogless, orderly, and litterless streets.

There's a Filipino word for this: "Sayang." In English: "What a waste." Lots of lost opportunities.

I don't want to end on a sad note, so even if I don't like the tone of it, may I say something a bit preachy, and then crack a weak joke?

Preachy part: Let's not get stuck on "Sayang", and let's see if we can turn this ship around, somehow. It won't be easy (it never is), but who's to say it can't be done? No use wishing for a past that can't be brought back (except maybe in a story).

Weak joke: And besides, as much as I can appreciate vintage cars, some of those vehicles look downright fugly. And I Iike having internet, cable TV, and cellphones.:D

Mapping The Digital Age

As seen on The Grin Without A Cat: Mapping The Digital Age. An excerpt:

I'm planning to run an online press with the launch of The Farthest Shore anthology as the initial release. As has been mentioned before, the collection of short stories will be released as a PDF file. But as part of the online press I'm setting up, the stories will also be offered on a website that's currently being built. After this anthology, further themed-anthologies as well as non-fiction collections will be offered on the site.

One reason I came up with this idea is so that Filipino speculative fiction-- though I'm not limiting it to that-- can have a chance to be read by the international audience as well as the local one. And yes, as with The Farthest Shore anthology, this will be a paying market-- a small one-- but a paying one nonetheless. (Unfortunately, this will be limited to local writers only.)

Click here to read the whole blog entry.

The Power Of Reading

As seen via Zen In Darkness' Facebook profile: The Power Of Reading by Blake Morrison, from The Guardian. An excerpt:

One of my favourite André Kertész photographs shows two young men sitting with their backs to a tree, each absorbed in a book. Both are wearing glasses; both use their thighs as a lectern; the one facing forwards is black, the other, in profile (a dead ringer for Woody Allen), is white. Their proximity suggests they know each other and are friends. And given the time and place of the composition, the photo could serve as an icon of the civil rights movement – racial harmony as observed in Washington Square, New York City, 1969. What's equally striking, though, is how separate the two men are, how oblivious to each other's presence (and to the camera). They might be friends but their real companions are their books.

The Budapest-born Kertész enjoyed a long life (1894-1985), visited many countries and was involved in several different artistic movements. But wherever he went and whatever the commission, a constant preoccupation was with people reading. In one of his earliest and most moving images, three small boys (two of them barefoot) crouch over a book in a Hungarian street in 1915; in one of the last, a young woman stands reading in the shadow of a vast Henry Moore statue. Ferocious concentration is common to both. The act of reading involves no action, beyond turning the page. But the mental activity is intense, and it's this that fascinates Kertész.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

It's The End Of The World Again

Haven't done an end of the world post for a while, and seeing as someone just sent me an email about the apocalyptic movie 2012 (nice special effects), I trawled the web during the lunch-break and found this: 5 Horrifying Apocalyptic Scenarios (That Have Already Happened). Heavenly bodies smashing into the planet, virulent diseases, volcanic explosions, they've all occurred at one time or another. And while we're at it, I also found this on the same site: The 6 Best 2012 Apocalypse Theories.

You know what? The disastrous events and the prophecies are indeed catchy, but more interesting are how people react to them. Try tossing this topic into a discussion and find out for yourselves. My own example: In the 1980's, at the height of the cold war (and the popularity of the movie "The Man Who Saw Tomorrow"), I found myself with some people who were discussing this very topic (I forget the reason why; maybe there was just nothing to do that afternoon). One person was deeply religious and was afraid that the world was going to be flooded again, or destroyed ala Sodom and Gomorrah; he really took The Book of Revelation, The Rapture, as well as Nostradamus' quatrains, to heart. Other people started quoting from the soothsayer and from the Bible to support or disclaim armageddon. Then a more scientific person started talking about the chances of good ol' sol going nova, about asteroids hitting Earth, about epidemics (hey, just like in the post above). The most pessimistic of us believed that man was going to lay waste to himself, if not through nuclear war, then through suicide via pollution (man's actions causing weather patterns to change and kill him had not yet "come of age", so to speak, but I wish I knew of it then, so I could've shared my own world-ending scenario). Speaking for myself, I couldn't contribute much, but I enjoyed the talk because it was all "story" to me; and not just for what was being said, but for what made these people opt as their most likely method of mankind's destruction. I learned a lot about those people that day.

And we're all still here, decades later. I don't know if they remember that talk or not, but I do, and I'm suddenly curious to find out how the years have changed their mindsets. I think the next time we're all together (which isn't often, but happens maybe once or twice a year) I'll throw this topic into the conversation and see if they still react the same way, or if they don't react at all (which is my bet, given how daily living has pretty much consumed us all).

Heh. All this from an email about the 2012 movie.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Memorable Short Stories To Add To Your Reading List

As seen on SF Signal, via The Bibliophile Stalker's Twitter: Memorable Short Stories to Add To Your Reading List, Part 1 and Part 2. There are links to the stories that have online versions. No excuse not to do some reading, people. :)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Vampires For Christ; Amish Love Stories

It seems that Christian literature in the U.S.A. has diversified to find its way through this worldwide economic recession: romances in contemporary Amish society, and upcoming Christian perspectives to vampires and other undead creatures. An excerpt from the article:

The Christian book business, optimistic that a little literary escapism might be an antidote for readers in hard times, is turning to bonnets, buggies and bloodsuckers.

Even as Christian publishing suffers during the recession -- one study found net sales for Christian retailers were down almost 11% in 2008 -- several publishing houses are adding or expanding their fiction lines with both the tame (Amish heroines) and boundary-pushing (Christian vampire lit).

The undisputed industry leader is so-called Amish fiction -- typically, romances and family sagas set in contemporary Amish communities. They're a surprise hit with evangelical women attracted by a simpler time, curiosity about cloistered communities and admiration for the strong, traditional faith of the Amish.

The success of the genre has spawned not just new Amish fiction authors but also spinoff series about other cloistered communities. If you want to sell it, as one literary agent put it, put a bonnet on it.

But not all new Christian fiction is prairie wholesome. There's building buzz -- and some trepidation -- about upcoming titles that bring a Christian perspective to tales of vampires and the undead.

Forecasting E-Reading

So, Barnes & Noble plans to go up against Amazon's Kindle sometime in 2010, which is less than six months away. Competition was inevitable; after all, even if most people use iPods, there are so many other mp3 player choices out there, too. I think there will be more devices going up against the Kindle soon. How soon? Check out this forecasted timeline:

  • 2007-2009: E-reader adoption is driven by early adopters.
  • 2009-2011: More mainstream folks buy e-readers as features like animation, content ports to other wireless devices and the $199 price point is breached.
  • 2011 and beyond: Video and color appear and the $99 price point becomes reality.
  • 2013-2020: The green movement drives e-reader usage.
The full article where I picked up this timeline is here.

The article also mentions Fujitsu, Samsung, and Sony as other companies producing e-Readers, with possibly Google and Apple joining in the fray. For me, Amazon's advantage is its store, akin to Apple's iTunes online store; but Google has been talking to publishers for some time now, and Barnes & Noble, being a bookstore, can easily do the same. Apple can also modify iTunes for downloading ebooks in the same way that people now download music.

Interesting times.

Monday, July 20, 2009

3 Interesting Pieces On The Digitization Of Text

Do you remember the early years of the iPod? Apple's mp3 player was still locked to its proprietary operating system, still some years away from becoming Windows-friendly (which eventually led to its roaring success). Napster's first incarnation was also in full bloom, and mp3's were being shared by millions of users (iTunes didn't exist yet), to the consternation of the music industry. With the advent of better made e-readers, pundits are now seeing similarities (and differences) between that time and now for book buyers and the publishing industry. Amazon's Kindle seems to have the upper hand at becoming the iPod of e-readers, though that can still change.

Which makes these three articles an interesting read, as each tries to foresee how the industry's business model will change in the near future, how it will affect readers, writers, editors, and everyone else involved, and how lessons can be learned from what happened to the music business.

Does The Book Industry Want To Get Napstered?

Bits Of Destruction Hit The Book Publishing Business: Part 1, Part 2.

"Ang Panggagahasa Kay Fe" Cinemalaya Reminder

Just a reminder of the Cinemalaya schedule for "Ang Panggagahasa Kay Fe", which will be shown the rest of this week starting tomorrow. Click here for the schedule. TY!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

An E-Book Convert Speaks

Here's an article from The Inquirer where an avid reader explains why she now doesn't mind reading ebooks: An Electronic Book Convert Speaks. An excerpt:

Reading books was more than a mental exercise, it was also a sensory experience, from the delicious smell of paper and ink, to the feel of the crisp page or the embossed script on the front cover.

And then the e-book came along.

When I first came across it, it didn’t interest me at all. I scoffed at and denounced it, because a bunch of scrolling words on the computer screen could not compare to the feel of a real book. I even gamely tried it out, when a book I wanted to read was out of print but had a digital copy. I read it from my computer, and after the 30th page, longed for my bed where I could lie down and finish the book snuggled under the covers. Except my arms would probably give out holding the laptop the way I did a conventional book. Not to mention how dizzy I’d get after reading scroll after continuous scroll. I thought that would be my last foray into the world of electronic books.

Until the Kindle was born.

Click here to read the whole article.

British Children's Authors Boycott School Readings

Why? Because of a new policy requiring them to undergo background checks to make sure they are not sex offenders. An excerpt:

Some of Britain's leading children's authors are refusing to do readings in schools because of a new policy requiring them to be registered in a national database and undergo criminal background checks to prove they aren't sex offenders.

It's not just the $104 fee for the police checks that has outraged the authors. It's the idea that they — and even parents who volunteer in schools — must be declared innocent before being allowed to read to children.

Some of the biggest names in children's book publishing have joined the boycott beginning this fall, including a number of past recipients of the prestigious children's laureate prize. Akin to poet laureate, the government-appointed position is awarded to a noted children's author, who is charged with promoting children's literature in schools.

"Of course we have to take care, but this is not necessary," said Michael Morpurgo, the 2003-2005 children's laureate whose more than 100 books have long been revered by British students and teachers.

"I've done this hundreds of times, and you are never alone with children. There are always 100 to 200 children and teachers around you. It's absurd to think children are in any kind of danger."

The new rule, which takes effect in October, requires anyone who comes into contact with schoolchildren or vulnerable adults to register with the newly established Independent Safeguarding Authority and undergo a Criminal Records Bureau check to prove they are not a known threat.

Click here for the whole article.

Orwellian Irony

Kindle owners were surprised to find that some books they bought were deleted by Amazon without them being informed. The irony of it? The books were George Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984. Big Brother at work. More details here.

Author Frank McCourt Near Death (Updated)

Frank McCourt contracted meningitis and "is not expected to live." He's the author of "Angela's Ashes" and "'Tis", memoirs I enjoyed reading back in the 1990's. It's wonderful how he told his poverty-stricken story with humor, and without letting it get overwhelmed with too much bitterness and heaviness. Here's hoping he recovers.

Update: He passed away last Sunday, July 19, 2009.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Defending Sword & Sorcery

Saw this blogpost, Blaming The Beermaker, over at The Ham-Sized Fist Award for best Heroic Fantasy or Sword-and-Sorcery Short Fiction. An excerpt:

Fantasy, especially heroic fantasy, is humanity's oldest form of fiction, and many of the greatest works of fiction ever written, from The Odyssey to the Epic of Gilgamesh, Beowulf to Outlaws of the Marsh (and yes, The Lord of the Rings) fall squarely into the heroic/epic fantasy pigeon hole, much to the dismay and consternation of "serious" authors everywhere. The focus of these stories is Story, because our roots lie in storytelling round the fire, telling tales of heroes and gods, not deep psychological profiles about a person's inner struggle to overcome a tragic childhood. Conan had a tragic childhood - he overcame it by smashing heads with his ham-sized fist.

These days Story just isn't very popular among MFA graduates at the pretigious writing academies, nor with those authors who aspire to be recognized by them and obtain visiting author positions. But blaming sword and sorcery for not being French neoreductionism is like blaming the beermaker for not making wine. I have nothing against realist literature. I enjoy reading Faulkner - how many MFAs can say they ever read Absalom! Absalom! unless somebody forced them to, for a grade? Neither is there anything wrong with Harry Potter. But Harry Potter isn't Quentin Compson, nor was he ever meant to be Quentin Compson, nor did Ms. Rowling ever pretend that Harry should be taken as Quentin's literary equal. Quentin killed himself. Harry killed Voldemort. C'est la vie.

Heroic fantasy and sword and sorcery are what they are. The only question that can be asked of any story is - does it succeed at what it set out to become? Does it fulfill its own promise? You don't ask beer to be wine, nor judge the quality of beer based on the requirements of wine. Nor do you whine when your Corona doesn't taste like Corsendonk. To do so would be extremely silly. Yet this is done to literature every day by some very silly people.

Early Grinch

The Grinch in me poked his head out of his cave very early this year. Last night, I was monitoring Channel 26 on Skycable for ticker-news on the current storm, when the channel suddenly played Johnny Mathis' version of "The Christmas Song" as background music. What the...?!?!! It's the middle of July!!! December is months away!!!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Brain Harvest Writing Contest (Updated)

Brain Harvest, An Almanac Of Bad Ass Speculative Fiction, will be having a contest from July 15 to August 31, 2009 to be judged by Jeff VanderMeer. The prizes?

The winning entry will receive $100, publication in Brain Harvest, a hand-knitted mustache, 1 Fresh Eyes crit (up to 10,000 words) to be used on the piece of their choice, and the accolades of their peers, friends, and family.

The second place winner will receive $25, publication in Brain Harvest, and a hand-knitted mustache.

Interestingly, they want tales in 750 words or less that "create something interesting, solid, and, well, bad ass from...overly familiar clichés." To think that a few blog entries ago I wrote about the challenge of familiar stories and their tropes.

Click here for the contest rules. Good luck to those who are joining!

Update: I've been having fun reading about more speculative fiction tropes here, at TV Tropes.

SpecFic World Computer Crash

Read on Bahay Talinhaga's Twitter about SpecFic World's computer crashing, so for those of you who sent them stories, you may have to send them in again. FYI.

This Issue Of Language...

...crops up in music too, not just in literature.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Challenge Of The Familiar Story And Its Tropes

It's been said that there are no new stories, that every tale can be traced to an earlier one, and so on, ever backward like a traceable genealogy, showing similarities as with a blood line. Some say this is because when tales are stripped down, there are only 7 true stories, or 12, or 24, or 32, or 56--heck, pick a number--and that what differs is the manner of the telling and the accompanying details.

Within these familiar stories lie even more well-known tropes. Depending on the genre, you will know them for what they are: the dark and stormy night, the strong but lonely man, the tortured and tragic hero, the sun-washed green fields, the shadowy castle crowned with lightning, the powerful weapon, the deserted island, the ship floundering in the storm-swept sea.

(At this point, I break for a brief plug: I would like to mention Ria Lu's Talecraft story-creation card game once more. I've blogged about it before, and I think the card game is a well-researched trove of information about various story genres and their accompanying tropes (with bibliographies too!). I think there are new expansion packs available in the market to enhance the original set; and the way the game's set up, you can get some pretty challenging combinations of tropes to fit into the story you're tasked to write. For example, using some of the Talecraft cards (and bending the rules a bit), try coming up with a horror-mystery-romantic comedy-adventure, featuring a haunted hero, a vigilante, a clock, a disease, and a cat. Gee, why not throw in a dog and a mouse as well. It's not impossible, but it's sure going to need some time to form).

No one, not even non-readers, have escaped the most common of these tropes. The knight in shining armor in fantasy is reflected as the virtuous and valorous hero in all tales, even if we don't immediately recognize him since he doesn't always wear chain mail and carry a big blade and a shield. The damsel in distress, serving sometimes as the sole reason for action for every other character and that only (her role is simply to shriek and cry for help when in danger), still exists in many books and films, much to the chagrin of feminists the world over. Some months ago, I read a piece of fiction where I immediately recognized the main character as another incarnation of the mad scientist from Shelley's Frankenstein, which, some argue, was preceded by statue-loving Pygmalion. The former is a tragic horror/science-fiction story, the latter is labeled as a Greek love myth, and in the story I read, the main character did some horrifying things to others out of some twisted emotion he believed was love; but they were all the mad scientist.

It's not just the typical genres that are suffused with tropes. Taking realism into account, we often find the same, introspective, emotionally sensitive, tortured and troubled characters. In some acclaimed realist tales, you can recognize folks like the despicable thief, the cowardly soldier, the quiet rebel. The wise teacher is also pretty common in realist tales; just Obi-wan or Gandalf in different clothes, is all. I'm sure you've encountered the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold many times in local stories as much as in foreign ones. Likewise, setting can also become a trope. Philippine social-realist stories have many scenes of rural or urban poverty, or farmland with chickens and carabaos, or noisy rallies teeming with activists carrying placards and bullhorns. The OFW character has, in reflection of our society's current state, become a trope now, too, and I'm sure the settings these folk find themselves in--airports, ships, the countries they work in--will become more commonplace in future stories.

Which brings me to a couple of stories I read over the weekend for a closed fiction workshop hosted by The Manila Litcritters. Two of the pieces taken up were the authors' versions of what for me were the "ghost-hitchhiker" and the "space opera" story.

I'm sure you all know these two familiar story-types: The "ghost-hitchhiker", in its most common variation, is that of a lone driver on a deserted road who picks up a hitchhiker that disappears when they get to their destination, leading one to conclude that said hitchhiker was not a real person but a ghost (I kinda' remember reading an Archie comic when I was a teenager that told this same tale, but the writer also included an unresolved crime into the mix); the "space opera", though more broad a term, has for me as its most common tropes as interstellar travel, giant space ships, space-men, maybe an alien or two (even just a hint), an invasion, lasers and other similar advanced weaponry, with a big chance of battle and giant explosions (which still makes a big boom in the vacuum of space somehow, even if there's no air to carry the sound, but who cares, eh?).

I could tell that both authors had fun with these two stories and their tropes. I think they succeeded because both authors played fair, and stayed true to what would be expected by a reader when they come across such tales. If they had been unfair to their readers and did not stay true to the tropes, it would have turned their stories into something else; but by sticking to the parameters of what was expected while still laying a claim to their own innovations (in other words, playing by the rules without breaking any--maybe teasingly trying to bend some now and then--all the while introducing their own originality and variations on the story without stepping over the lines), they gave their own twist to the familiar. To further explain, I'd like to borrow quotes from the article "Genre Tropes And The Transmissibility Of Story" by Jay Lake and Ruth Nestvold:

"In genre, we have stockpiles of tropes of varying familiarity. These elements serve to enhance the transmissibility of the story. When a writer takes up a standard trope, either to serve in its stock role or to invert it for their own purposes, they are tapping into the traditions and shared referents of their genre.

Without these tropes and the shared assumptions they signify to serve as lubrication in the machinery of plot, genre stories would be heavily constrained by the need to explain.

What makes a genre story transmissible, which is to say, accessible and meaningful to the reader, is its use of genre tropes. Viewed from that perspective, the tension for the genre writer lies in the balance between the degree of familiarity of the trope and the degree of novelty of the writer's innovation within the story at hand.

The story is transmitted to the reader at least in part because of the tropes. Some are emotional, some are external. The transmissibility of story is both enabled and restricted by the tropes of the genre within which the story—and the reader—are functioning."

The rest of the piece is here, over at The Internet Review Of Science Fiction.

Stephen King wrote about doing something similar with his short story "1408". For all the years he had been writing horror, he had yet to write his "ghostly room at the inn" version until "1408" (he had already written his vampire, zombie, haunted hotel, and end-of-the-world stories, though). The "ghostly room at the inn" is another familiar tale, handed down over many years and which exists in many cultures (I kind of remember reading a young adult story set in medieval Japan that also tackled the same).

Simply put, the two authors in the closed fiction workshop had been busy working on their versions of those old tales and their tropes, and by giving them their own personal twists and approaching them in their own way without being unfair to the reader, they churned out stories that work. Everything is there in their stories: The person who was actually a ghost, the spooky, lonely, uncertain atmosphere, the terrible weather and the lack of sunshine, the hints that some things are "not quite right"; the lasers, the space ships, a black hole, the threat of an invasion, the technical scientific jargon that makes sense if you don't think about it and doesn't make sense once you do, and yes, the giant explosion that still goes "boom" in the vacuum of space (the author may not have explicitly written "boom" in the text, but I swear, I heard it).

Which brings me to this: Some of you may want to try your hand at doing the same, even as just a simple writing challenge. This is more than just retelling an old fairy tale in your own way, though that can be fun also. This involves taking a story that has been with us for ages, maybe even some urban legend, and, while staying true to its core, adding your own flavor.

An example: Who can forget that campfire story about two lovers making out in a car in the middle of the night with the radio playing sugary-sweet, diabetes-inducing songs, when suddenly, the DJ interrupts the music to report that a notorious serial killer (sometimes called "The Claw", sometimes "The Hook", because he lost a hand and it was replaced by, well, a metal claw or a hook) had broken out of a nearby jail. This scares the girl so much that every noise she hears outside the car makes her think of the killer. The boy argues with her, still tries to get into her pants, but fails because she's no longer "in the mood". Frustrated at the news report, and knowing he won't be able to get any that night, the boy just drives the girl home in a rush then heads home himself. Natch, the next morning, the boy checks his car and finds a claw (or a hook) dangling from the end of his bumper.

Do you think you can come up with your own version of this?

It doesn't have to be an urban legend this specific; in fact, it may be harder to work with something like this since there are more elements you have to stay true to. You can try the local urban legend of "the white lady" instead. Heaven knows the Philippines has more than its share of ghostly white ladies running around every road, street, avenue, boulevard, and dirt track. The white lady story is sufficiently vague that you can have more leeway to play around with.

Or you can go even more generic, and try your own "haunted house" story, your own "feeling the presence of a recently dead relative" story, your own "hero killing the evil monster and saving the world" story. Lest crime readers out there feel left out, then here's this: try and write your own "locked-room mystery", wherein somebody gets killed or something gets stolen inside a, well, locked room (duh). If you want to make it a bit more challenging, you'll have to end the story with the head sleuth assembling all the suspects and personages inside a common room, whereupon he will explain to them his wonderful deductions, until he names the murderer or the thief, after which, the usual hijinks ensue.

Just remember to stay fair, and play by the rules; don't cheat the reader. He should recognize the familiar story and tropes you are playing with. This could make for an interesting writing exercise in case your mind is particularly dry for the moment, because you already have a familiar story and its tropes to serve as your skeletal framework. Whatever "fleshy mutations" you plan to visit upon your skeleton will then be of your own doing.

A Fantastic Weekend With Diana Wynne Jones

Here's an article from The Guardian about British children's fantasy author Diana Wynne Jones, who just had an entire academic conference devoted to her work. For all the fans of her book Howl's Moving Castle, as well as of her other novels, this article may be of interest. On a sad note, she's recently been diagnosed with lung cancer. :(

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Why Teenagers Read Better Than You

From Tomorrow Museum: Why Teenagers Read Better Than You. An excerpt.

Asked to picture a reader — a passionate reader — many of us will think of ourselves when we were young. Tucked under covers with a flashlight, staying up until the morning, so desperate to see the story play out. Maybe you didn’t have friends to sit with during lunch period, so you hid in the library. Maybe your parents didn’t let you keep a TV in your bedroom — or maybe they did but you thought sitcoms were stupid. You needed solitude — to shut the door behind you and escape from the daily trials of childhood. Homework, hormones, teasing, rules, chores, boredom.

China Mieville, at his talk at the Harvard Bookstore a few weeks ago, said he wrote his YA book “Un Lun Dun” because he’s “jealous of the way [young people] read.” No matter how much he loves a book now, it’s never quite as intense an experience. Cynics might say his publishers encouraged him as young adult books are so profitable, but, “if it were a mercinary decision,” Mieville explained, he’d just write ten more Bas Lag sequels.

For all the alarmism in our dwindling newspaper book sections on how our collective declining attention spans make novel reading more and more impossible, one point is completely lost: who reads more than teenagers?

As I explained in my talk at the Media in Transition conference at MIT a few months back, YA book sales are rocketing. Young people, who learned T9 before long division, have no problem curling up with a good book. Sales of young adult lit remain high even in this economy. Why is it other than teenagers are the most passionate readers?

There are several reasons why so many teenagers are passionate readers. A book is a pathway inside another person’s head. When you are young, you have few deep relationships, maybe no real emotional connections with others at all. You connect in the text. At that age, it is a revelation to see an author has the same dreams and insecurities as you do. Plus, there is a confidence and conviction to a fiction narrative’s voice. You are eager for someone to look up to, but certainly not your parents, not your teachers. A novel is an opportunity to really listen to another human being.

The solitude, the sense of emotional connection, and the guidance of a novel are all appealing to teenagers who might otherwise busy themselves exclusively with videogames and the Internet. And it shows. For the most part, young adult sales continue to rise even while book publishing is experiencing a significant decline.

Industry experts will say sales reflect the new diversity in the young adult market. There is a Harry Potter gold rush of writers who might never otherwise consider the genre. These writers are pushing the boundries, introducing ideas and themes darker and wilder than ever before.

Certainly, the increasing quality of young adult books is a draw. But there are exceptional videogames, there are exceptional websites and exceptional television programs to fight for a teenager’s attention. So why are they still reading?

I think there is another reason why young adult novels are doing well, and it is less easy gauge. As of yet, there are no real studies determining this, but anecdotally, we all relate to it. A book is an opportunity to get “off the grid.” We read to break free of their digital tether. To experience what life was like before the net. To disconnect. To finally feel alone.

A book holds your hand in solitude and says, here you are alone in your room and everything is alright. You don’t need to call a friend or Twitter something. The world is still turning. If you go for a forty minute walk without your mobile, don’t worry, you’re not going to miss anything.

Click here to read the whole piece and the comments.

I do recall many times when, as a teenager, I got lost in a book. It was much easier to do then; could happen with a snap of the fingers, in fact. Takes a bit more effort now, but I haven't lost it, yet. I hope I never do.

Can Language Skills Ward Off Alzheimer's Disease?

An interesting article here from Yahoo News: Can Language Skills Ward Off Alzheimer's Disease? An excerpt:

Adding to the deep body of research associating mental acuity with a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease, a study published online on July 8 by the journal Neurology suggests that people who possess sophisticated linguistic skills early in life may be protected from developing dementia in old age - even when their brains show the physical signs, like lesions and plaques, of memory disorders.

That discrepancy is not unheard of: many elderly patients develop the brain lesions, plaques and tangled neurological-tissue fibers that are indicative of dementia and Alzheimer's disease, but not all of them exhibit the memory loss and confusion that typically characterize these disorders.

The leading theory to explain this fortunate disconnect is the brain-reserve hypothesis, which suggests that people who have more cognitive ability and more neural tissue to start with - sharper minds, broadly - may be better able to withstand the ravages of age. "In some ways, you could think of it like a trained athlete who might be able to resist some atherosclerosis of the heart," explains Dr. Bradley Hyman, director of the Massachusetts Alzheimer's Disease Research Center and a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School.

Past studies have shown that patients who have so-called asymptomatic Alzheimer's disease - those who have the hallmark brain lesions and plaques of Alzheimer's disease but no memory loss - also have enlarged neurons, compared with patients who suffer cognitive impairment.

The finding adds to a collection of studies suggesting that the greater one's initial mental fitness - measured variously as higher educational achievement or high IQ, for example - the better it may be safeguarded in old age. "It's broadly consistent with the notion that if someone starts out with the ability, however their brain is organized, to have a greater set of skills in language and performing other complicated tasks, then maybe that brain is more resistant [later in life]."

It is not yet clear whether highly developed language skills actually play a role in fending off Alzheimer's disease or whether the correlation is merely a side effect of other protective processes. Indeed, Iacono's study, which involved 38 nuns, only 14 of whom he had writing samples from, is too small to show a definitive effect. But the way Iacono looks at it, no one knows how much of the risk of dementia is hardwired into our DNA and how much is determined by environmental factors like physical exercise and social activity, so while the jury is still out, brushing up on your Shakespeare certainly can't hurt.

Click here for the whole article.

Yes, I do know that writer Terry Pratchett has early onset Alzheimer's. I wish him well and hope for nothing but the best for him; but this may emphasize what's stated in the piece's last paragraph, that other factors may be involved and not just linguistic skills. Still, I do not see anything wrong with keeping the mind active as one gets older, and reading, which enhances one's language skills, can only help keep the brain active.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Komikid's Art In A Music Video

Check out PGS contributor Andrew Drilon's artwork in Bamboo's music video, "Muli". Congratulations on some fine work, Andrew!

Call For Submissions: The Way Of The Wizard

As seen on The Bibliophile Stalker: Editor and writer John Joseph Adams has issued a call for submissions for an intended anthology called The Way Of The Wizard. He writes:

(a) The story should be about a wizard, witch, sorcerer, sorceress, of some kind (basically, any sort of user of magic).

(b) The fact that the story has wizards in it should be vital to the story, i.e., magic should be an important factor in the resolution of the plot.

(c) The wizards should be literal, in that they do actual magic, not like a pinball wizard or something like that.

(d) I’m interested in all types of wizard tales, but am especially interested in seeing some stories that explore the idea of wizardry from a non-traditional viewpoint–i.e., something based on the Chilean Kalku or on the supernatural practices of other cultures.

Click here for more of the guidelines. Deadline is on March 31, 2010.

The World's First Fantasy Magazine

Songs In The City sent me this link (which The Bibliophile Stalker also blogged about): The World's First Fantasy Magazine -- Der Orchideengarten. It preceded Weird Tales by about four years, according to the blog entry.

I told Songs In The City that I found the illustrations downright attractive but weird (or is that weird but attractive), to which he replied that they were: "weird and effing terrifying ;). They make me uneasy like I was a child uneasy: fearful of too many things I don't understand and don't really want to. ;)".

I understood what he meant right away. The illustrations seem to come straight from J.R.R. Tolkien's world of Faerie, which The Lord Of The Rings author described as an unsafe and dangerous place for mortals (see "Smith Of Wootton Major"). In my case, it's not easy to look away from the beautiful drawings, even if they unsettle and disturb me. And like Smith, it makes me want to visit Faerie and see the place for myself, but not without some sort of protection like he had.

Book Publishers' Latest Hobby?

Saw this over at Crunch Gear: Book Publishers' Latest Hobby? Complaining About The Amazon Kindle's Success. An excerpt:

We’re starting to see more and more “hate” being thrown Amazon’s way. That’s because, of course, the Kindle is something of a success, and publishers, who already operate a pretty wonky business (more on that in a bit), are becoming concerned that Amazon will soon be able to wield the same kind of power that Apple did over the music industry. Basically, book publishers don’t want Amazon to “own” the digital book market.

This isn’t a new complaint; I could have sworn I heard similar complaints only a few days. But the fact that we’re continually seeing these complains must mean that Something is Up.

It’s simple: book publishers don’t want Amazon’s Kindle to become synonymous with electronic books. If that happens, just like how iPod/iTunes became synonymous with music downloads, they’ll have zero power...

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Bibliophile Stalker Over At SF Signal

Over at SF Signal, The Bibliophile Stalker answers this question: What is going on right now in the international sf/f scene that anglophone readers might be missing out on? An excerpt of his answer.

I think a lot's going on in the global speculative scene right now--but it's natural that we haven't heard of them either because of the language barrier or the cultural barrier.

The field that I'm most familiar with is my own--the Philippines. When it comes to speculative fiction written in English, we have several talented writers. A book I'd like to highlight is Philippine Speculative Fiction (disclosure: I'm one of the contributors) because it features a lot of stunning fiction.

Click here to read the whole article.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: The Bibliophile Stalker is doing a yeoman's job in keeping us informed through his blog's updated links about the world of publishing, writing, and authors in speculative fiction, and in pushing the local speculative fiction scene to other countries. Charles in charge!

"Great Book Blockade" Aftermath: Receipts, Evidence, And Testimony Wanted

As seen on Bahay Talinhaga: "Great Book Blockade" Aftermath: Receipts, Evidence, And Testimony Wanted. An excerpt:

Sure, the Great Book Blockade is over, but the price of peace (or duty-free books in this case) is eternal vigilance–let’s not forget that even before the GBB, there were already people being taxed when they sought to bring books from abroad into the country.

Remember guys, books aren’t free and clear just because the GBB is over… you can be sure that if we don’t prove to be vigilant, little infractions that slip through the cracks will embolden those who see books as just another commodity, and then before you know it, one day we’ll wake up and experience a glitch in the matrix (or groundhog day for the youth-challenged).

In taxation, just as with health, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Click here for more details.