Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Delicious Harry Dresden

There are many iconic characters in the canon of Science Fiction; Decker from Blade Runner, Paul Atredies from Dune, Captain Kirk, Luke Skywalker, Conan the Barbarian, Buck Rogers, Miles Vorkosigan, Wonder Woman and even Sookie Stackhouse, psychic barmaid from Charlaine Harris' fabulous "Dead" series.
Yet few icons have been as three dimensional, realistic and beautifully written as Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden, the gumshoe wizard from Chicago Illinois. Though the Dresden Files TV series was short-lived, it only proved to the legion of Dresden fans that their battered, wise-cracking hero was indeed the stuff of legends and that Jim Butcher should have a place reserved for him in the Science Fiction authors Hall of Fame at the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle.

"There's power in the night. There's terror in the darkness. Despite all our accumulated history, learning, and experience, we remember. We remember times when we were too small to reach the light switch on the wall and when the darkness itself was enough to make us cry out in fear."

"My third eye showed me Chicago in its true shape, and for a second I thought I'd been teleported to Las Vegas. Energy ran through the streets, the buildings, the people, appearing to me as slender filaments of light that ran this way and that, plunging into solid objects and out the other side without interruption. The energies coursing through the grand old buildings has a sold and unmoving stability about them, as did the city streets, but the rest of it, the randon energies generated by the thoughts and emotions of eight million people, was completely unplanned and coursed everywhere in haphazard, garish color. Clouds of emotion were interspersed with the flickering campfire sparks of ideas. Heavy flowing streams of deep thought rolled slowly beneath blazing, dancing gems of joy. The muck of negative emotions clung to surfaces, staining them darker, while fragile bubbles of dreams floated blissfully toward kaleidoscope stars."

Who can read such glorious graphs and still think that genre writers are somehow less adept at prose than literary fiction authors? Butcher treats us to his Hemingway-crossed-with-Fitzgerald-and-a-sprinkling-of-Steinbeck prose style throughout "Turn Coat" the 11th novel in the Dresden Files series. This time Harry is caught up in a race to prove Warden Morgan, one of his tormentors, innocent before the White Council Wizards catch up to Morgan and behead him for murdering one of their own. Harry's apprentice Molly, his vampire brother Thomas, the local werewolves and the pizza-loving pixies are also on hand to help Harry track the killer and solve the case, as well as find the real traitor on the White Council.
We are treated to a trial at wizard HQ in Edinburgh, Scotland, a party and fight at a pleasure emporium for the rich called Zero, and a battle with a 'shagnasty' skinwalker on a sentient Island called Demonreach.
As usual, Harry gets busted up pretty bad and barely makes it through the various crisis alive, and those who come to his aid often die in the process, but justice is served, the good guys win the day, and, though he breaks up with Luccio, Harry and Murphy have a tender moment before one big battle.
"Then she kissed my forehead and mouth, neither quickly nor with passion. Then she let me go and looked up at me, her eyes worried and calm. "You know that I love you, Harry. You're a good man. A good friend."
I gave her a lopsided grin. "Don't go all gushy on me, Murph."
She shook her head. "I'm serious. Don't get yourself killed. Kick whosoever ass you need to in order to make that happen." She looked down. "My world would be a scarier place without you in it."
"I chewed my lip for a second. Then I said, "I'd rather have you covering my back that anyone in the world, Karrin. I cleared my throat. "You might be the best friend I've ever had."
She blinked several times and shook her head. "Okay, this is going somewhere awkward."
"Maybe we should take it from "whatsoever ass" I suggested.
She nodded. "Find him. Kick his ass."
"That is the plan. I confirmed. Then I bent down and kissed her forehead and mouth, gently and leaned my forehead against hers. "Love you too," I whispered."

You just have to love that guy, he's so tough and so vulnerable and such a smart ass, all at the same time. He's the delicious Harry Dresden, and I love him, too.
Don't miss this latest in the series, as it's got all the action, adventure and twists fans have come to expect from the Dresden Files, with the added fun of great moments like the one above, and some truly insightful thinking and ruminating on the part of Chicago's favorite wizard.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Curses on Theives and Amazon's Rising Profits

The following is an amusing and well placed curse upon those who shoplift from bookstores...heaven knows in this economy, most bookstores are struggling to stay open and really can't afford to lose money to the light-fingered Louis out there.

Another warning sign possibility is a "curse of uncertain origin." I
found it in "People who steal books
A 2001 article by
E.C. Abbott in the Canadian Medical Association Journal:
For him that stealeth a book from this library, let it change into a
serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck by palsy and all his
members blasted. Let him languish in pain, crying aloud for mercy and
let there be no surcease to his agony till he sink to dissolution. Let
bookworms gnaw his entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not and when
at last he goeth to his Final Punishment, let the flames of Hell consume
him for ever and aye.

Meanwhile, it appears that Amazon.com, which doesn't have to worry about theft because they're an online bookseller, is doing extremely well in this terrible economy, via GalleyCat on MediaBistro:

Amazon's Net Income Up 28 Percent in Q1

Since Amazon.com, Inc. released the Kindle 2 and Kindle iPhone application in the first quarter of 2009, net sales have risen 18 percent to $4.89 billion. In contrast, net sales were $4.13 billion during the first quarter of 2008.
Net income increased even more, the company announced today, jumping 24 percent in the first quarter of 2009, totaling $177 million. Book watchers should pay attention to second quarter results, as they will include any side-effects from the Twitter protests sparked by "a ham-fisted cataloging error."
In the release, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos attributed the first quarter gains to the company's digital reader: "We're grateful and excited that Kindle sales have exceeded our most optimistic expectations."

Monday, April 13, 2009

Now I Want to See This Movie

This article is brilliant, and the comment below it perfect in stating exactly what I've been thinking/feeling about the demise of journalism as a profession and a writing craft.
Blessings on the heads of Simon D and Janet, the commentor from Iowa, my home state.

Hero Journalist?
Journalism as a Brand, and Journalists as a Special Breed, Get an Epitaph in Russell Crowe's Latest Film

by Simon Dumenco

Published: April 13, 2009

I have just seen what may end up being a cinematic landmark. It's called "State of Play," and it's coming to a theater near you (if you happen to live in the U.S.) Friday, April 17. Sure, in a lot of ways it's just what you'd expect from Hollywood these days -- it's a fast-paced thriller, a murder mystery with big-bucks casting (Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck and supporting players including Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Jeff Daniels and Jason Bateman). But what makes it feel milestone-y is that it presents its protagonist, a newspaper reporter (Crowe), as gritty, complicated and entirely essential to the Republic. And in that regard, it feels like possibly the last of its breed.

Watching "State of Play," I couldn't help but think that I was witnessing the dying of a cinematic archetype: the Hero Journalist. It feels like a bookend to "All the President's Men," with Crowe's worn-down, worn-out reporter character, Cal McAffrey, as the earnest-but-embittered descendant of Robert Redford's and Dustin Hoffman's dashing young Woodward and Bernstein. Hollywood's going to stop making movies like this because, let's face it, newspapers -- those that are left -- are in no position to inspire yarns like this anymore.

Just so you know, there are no spoilers in this column. I'm not trying to review it here (though, for the record, I found it hugely entertaining). Besides, those who have seen the original "State of Play" -- an acclaimed six-hour BBC miniseries from 2003 that's since been released on DVD -- know a lot of the plot twists already. (I saw it at a press screening with an old colleague, a film critic and fan of the BBC original, who was surprised to quite like this compressed adaptation.) The major difference here is that the action is transplanted from London to Washington, and the journalist who is entangled with a troubled politician (Affleck, who plays a young congressman instead of an MP) is working at the fictional Washington Globe. Which is, of course, a failing newspaper with penny-pinching owners.

And just to further update the plot, Crowe's character teams up with -- get this -- a blogger! (Gawker et al. are going to have fun with this.) The cranky, crusty newspaperman teaches the young, ambitious blogger (Rachel McAdams) the investigative-reporting ropes. Intrigue and assorted thrilling chases ensue, and in the end Truth and Justice prevail.

Now, you don't have to be a newspaper person to realize this zesty character dynamic -- a reporter-blogger duo -- is a fairytale. It's not so much that the new and old generations of media people can't work together; sometimes, in real life, they sort of do. It's just that the ranks of investigative reporters are dwindling so rapidly, and everybody knows that the hottest bloggers -- whether they work for old-school newspapers or for new-ish blog publishers/networks -- have little interest in reporting, period, let alone being apprentice reporters.

McAdams' character is obviously meant to be a Wonkette-y sort of gossipy snark mistress. Of course, the world has changed again even since this movie was in preproduction. Last spring, right around the time "State of Play" was shooting around Capitol Hill, Nick Denton, the owner of Wonkette's then-parent company, Gawker Media, announced that he was putting Wonkette up for sale (even in an election year, the ad revenues from political-gossip bloggery were underwhelming). And by the time "State of Play" was in postproduction in the fall, Denton was announcing Gawker Media layoffs. His downsized (or right-sized?) empire now seems to be holding its own, even as the media industry continues to crumble, but no matter: There is no way Denton or any other blog manager or mogul would ever let one of their charges repeatedly take their fingers off their laptops long enough to pick up the phone, or even get out into the world, to do in-depth interviews with sources, let alone chase after bad guys. Not in this economy. Keep posting, keep getting page views, or you're out on your ass.

In the end, this movie feels like a memento mori for newspapers -- and not just because its closing credits scroll over loving shots of newspaper presses that we all know will sooner than later forever grind to a halt. It's watching Crowe's character do what he does so well -- extract important information, for the public good, from actual sources (cops he's known for decades, the medical examiner who owes him a favor, etc.) -- that really broke my heart. Who's going to do that anymore?

It's an interesting Hollywood-historical side note that Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck are actually replacements -- for Brad Pitt and Ed Norton, the "Fight Club" duo, who were originally attached to this film. Pitt dropped out when the writers strike put the kibosh on his demands for a rewrite (and then Norton dropped out because of scheduling conflicts). Mr. Angelina Jolie was serious enough about researching his role that he paid a four-hour visit to the newsroom of The Washington Post back in early 2007. At the time, the paper wryly reported on the actor's visit:

"The Post's scribes tried -- but not too hard -- to act nonchalant while gazing dreamily in the actor's direction. 'It was like angels singing,' one female employee was overheard saying after apparently making brief eye contact."

The paper also quoted Metropolitan Editor R.B. Brenner, a consultant to the film, as saying of his extended chat with Pitt, "It was really a conversation about craft."

Can you imagine? Craft?

Do I hear angels sobbing?


By Janet | Des Moines, IA April 13, 2009 12:39:46 pm:
Hooray for Hollywood! It's high time for a positive look at journalism. I think one of the reasons that the electorate finds the probable demise of newspapers so noncompelling is that movies and television producers have portrayed journalism and journalism as nothing but nuisances. All the big-time crime shows rarely pay even lip service to that quaint concept, the public's right know. Reporters and photographers are always portrayed as being in the way, venal, vacuous, self-centered, unethical and concerned only with winning prizes or scooping what little competition remains. The reporters I know--as former colleagues or former students--are none of those things. They are dedicated, honest, by and large underpaid or unemployed. The last time journalists were portrayed positively on television for anything other than laughs was in the old "Lou Grant, City Editor" show and sometimes in "Murphy Brown." I thought Rory Gilmore offered possibilities when she got her degree from Yale and was to hit the campaign trail with Barack Obama. Alas the show went off the air at that point so we'll never know. We're going to miss our newspapers and their real reporters when they're gone. Bloviating bloggers will not fill the void.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Creators of Liad Speak!

For all those who love Sharon Lee and Steve Millers Liaden Universe as much as I do, they've just completed a bunch of YouTube video interviews about their universe and what is to come in their new fantasy series. Someday I hope to actually meet Sharon and Steve, if they ever make it out to Seattle for a convention. Their Science Fiction/Space Opera books are treasures of meticulous prose and unforgettable characters.

Buzzy Multimedia interviewed Steve and me for about an hour at
StellarCon33. Edited, the interview goes to seven installments and can
be viewed here:

Main Buzzy youtube page

or go to individual pages

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Art of Books

As a book lover, bibliophile and veteran reader of 44 years, I have come to appreciate not just the wonderful worlds available inside the covers of a book, but also the design and look of books themselves, and of bookmarks and things made to look like books. I have a tissue-box holder that looks like a stack of books, and several boxes containing some of my pen collection that are also shaped like books stacked on top of one another, spines out. I once had an interior design catalog that had a coffee table shaped like a book and bedside tables shaped like books. I would love to have a headboard that doubled as a bookshelf with reading lights in it, and I've always longed for quilts, comforters and pajamas with a book motif (it would be even better if they had a book and butterflies design).

Since April is poetry and book appreciation month, I found these web sites to be wonderful stops on a journey into the beauty of books themselves, and the bookmarks that are fashioned to hold your place within them.

Mirage Bookmarks
Website about bookmarks. Features an exhibit of "outstanding bookmarks from 1850s up to now with over 150 images" (with topics such as Victorian, bookstores, religious, heroes, handmade, museum, and French advertising), history of bookmarks, bookmark quotes, and related material on interesting bookstores, libraries, and other topics. From a Swiss company that sells metal bookmarks.
URL: http://www.miragebookmark.ch/

An Archive of Book Cover Designs and Designers
View hundreds of recent book cover designs "for the purpose of appreciation." Browsable by designer, illustrator, photographer, author, and other categories (some categories are under development). Also includes a blog with "industry news, site updates, [and] assorted book cover-related miscellany," and links to related sites. From enthusiasts.
URL: http://bookcoverarchive.com/

Companion to an exhibition that "includes a wide range of works from sculptures that reference books to books that reference movement and shape beyond the bound page," and typewriter poetry, "an important variant of visual poetry." Includes introductory essay, which considers "what is a book?", images of selected books sculptures, description of how to make a typewriter poem, and typewriter poem examples. From the University of Central Florida Art Gallery.
URL: http://www.readies.org/typebound/