Thanks, Baen

Somewhat out of the blue last week, I found myself thinking of picking up some Heinlein. Maybe it was because I’d recently started a re-read of Jumper (just finished tonight). I went back through my own reviews and realized the last couple of Heinlein books I’d read (a novel and a double-collection) were a good two years ago, when I went on a review request spree just before leaving for Costa Rica, and spent the next few months working through it all during the rainy, tropical days.

The Heinlein books I had requested from Baen Books, which does a lot of military fiction, but after covering those, I haven’t asked for anything from them since. (I was assigned Bujold’s latest some time after that but didn’t get it from directly contacting the publisher myself.)

I went back to Baen last week to see the new Heinlein releases they’d made available in the last couple years, and fired off a quick email requesting five books. I found a mid-sized package in the mail today and there was every single thing I’d asked for.

Baen, I think I love you.

I have a pretty decent-sized Heinlein collection already, including a couple of omnibuses from the Science Fiction Book Club which sometimes contain two, three, or four short novels in one volume. But I wish now that all of them were Baen editions, because with their steady release of new editions, they also get some nice intros and closing remarks, the latter from various individuals, the former from Heinlein’s biographer, William Patterson, who always has some interesting tidbits about the history of the writing of the work in question.

I started reading one of the juveniles tonight. With this latest batch, I have nearly every Scribner book, and the one major middle-period work my collection was missing. Expect to see reviews over the next few months as I’m able to cram the reading in. The old grandmaster has a way of fitting into the smallest cracks of time, so I don’t expect it will take long.

The Hugos! and Death

It’s Hugo nomination season again. That’s fairly coincidental to my perusing one of my more frequently-consulted Wikipedia pages: The Hugo Award for Best Novel. The reason I come back to this page again and again is that one of my long-term reading projects is to read all the best novel winners of the last 61 (and counting) years, as well as any notable books that were nominated as well.

I’ve read none of the handful of winners (and just one 1959 nominee) from the first decade. Half of the winners from the ’60s and ’70s (plus another half-dozen that were nominated). Only a handful of winners and nominees from the ’80s and ’90s. But almost every winner since 2000, and as many nominees.

It’s not an overwhelming task. The trick is to grab a book and read, and not let it go into a pile that I won’t touch in awhile. I’ll have to be equally careful for epubs, now that I’m making regular use of my new reader (a basic Kobo, if you’re wondering). It’s easy to quickly thrown a dozen digital books on there. Humble Bundles and all that. How long will it take to read them all, or will I?

This is the great tragedy of the reader who is also an existentialist: knowing you will never manage to read all those books. Sometimes counting the remaining years of my life in the books I could optimally read brings home the frailty of human life in a more immediate way than anything else.

This took a turn for the morbid, didn’t it?


Some things changed when I turned 30. I started using “who” and “whom” properly, purchased sensible shoes, and I became ready to appreciate The Great Gatsby.

I really don’t think it’s a novel for teenagers, or at least it wasn’t for me as a teenager. It’s probably true that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s best-known work is on most every approved high school reading list. And certainly my own grade 12 English teacher thought it an appropriate book to assign our class. The language itself is easy enough; even the story is relatively straightforward.

But I couldn’t find myself enjoying any aspect of it. Just another over-rated novel they make us read for no reason, I thought. It didn’t occur to me at the time that the failure might have been mine, rather than Fitzgerald’s. I just hadn’t had enough life yet.

But I’ve wanted to re-read it before seeing the movie, so I cast about for a copy.

(Sidenote: Winnipeg Public Library, how is it that you don’t have more copies when every high school must have several dozen? A 17-person waiting list? That’s a year not counting renewals! (Side-sidenote: I also decided to read April Raintree, this one for the first time. My verdict: it’s deservedly a Winnipeg classic, but holy cow this has been a depressing reading month for me. (Side-side-sidenote: The Winnipeg publisher of the first edition, In Search of April Raintree, was, until recently, just down the hall from my office. Local history! Let’s get some Nutty Club pink popcorn!)))

One thing that surprised me was how distinctive Fitzgerald’s voice turned out to be, and yet how utterly familiar. I already knew that he was one of Haruki Murakami’s major influences, but wow! For a long-time Murakami fan, Gatsby is like coming home.

Is Jay Rubin, the Japanese author’s most frequent translator, responsible for the Fitzgeraldian flavour of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka by the Shore? Or is the resonance deeper than language?

 Can DiCaprio capture that same essence? I daresay he can. But I’ll be finding out soon enough.

Waiting for Books in the Era of Instant Gratification

The nice thing about reviewing books is, in those rare cases I’m really feeling, shall we say, antsy about an upcoming book release, I can almost certainly get a copy weeks, if not months, before its actual release. It’s the literary equivalent of a backstage pass, except not being really like that at all.

Frankly, aside from the long-worn off novelty, this doesn’t usually matter in any case. I’m always behind in my book reading, so what’s the rush to add to the pile? There are a few titles, however, that I genuinely am impatient for, and you know what? Sucks to be me, because I still have to wait, and wait good.

William H. Patterson wrote an excellent biography on Robert Heinlein, and even though it approached 1000 pages and had lots of end notes, I immediately wanted to jump into Volume Two. The problem, Volume Two was still in manuscript form and far from its publication date. So I’ve waited, and waited, and waited. Every few months I pop over to Patterson’s seldom updated blog to see the progress, if any.

And now? Finally we’re at a point where an actual publication date might be settled on in the next couple of months. The book will probably be out in 2014. Yes, I’ll be going after an early copy. But they haven’t even copy-edited it yet. I’m not getting that early of a copy.

On the fiction side of things? Lev Grossman wrote a book called The Magicians that I heard a little something about and thought sounded kind of interesting but it wasn’t enough for me to actually seek it out, especially as the particular review I first saw was a little mixed (though a good reviewer gives the reader a sense of what the book is like and allows for a prospective reader to recognize if there’s something they might like even if it wasn’t to the reviewer’s taste).

It came up for review along with its newly-released sequel, which was even better, and I devoured both. Extremely readable, fresh, and with the hallmarks of true classics. Two or three years have gone by and I think Grossman has just now started writing the conclusion of the trilogy this year. Hurry up, won’t you? But also, make sure you take your time and don’t screw it up. That’s reasonable, isn’t it?

Then there’s Murakami, the Japanese writer with an English fan-base most native speakers wish they had. It’s great being a fan of a foreign-language author, because you get to hear about his latest Tokyo book launches and how great this new novel is and what the critics are all saying and you get all jazzed up and then you wait two years for the translation. Awesome.

See you in 2014, English version of 色彩を持たない多崎つくると、彼の巡礼の年. Unless I die before then.

Keeping Up With Reviews

I’m down to my last three review titles on hand. I expect to finish off two of them (a pop physics book from Brian Greene and a text from an academic press for Library Journal) this week. Then I’ll get started on the last by the weekend, and hopefully put a big dent in it before a new batch of review copies from a favourite small press of mine will be introducing me to a new author.

I’ve made notes of a few books from another publishing house I plan to request, but I’m not even going to ask for them until I get caught up with my other stuff.

You might well ask, with so many review books, when do I get a chance to read for pleasure? Well, the answer to that is two-fold:

First, by and large, I do get pleasure from reading these review books, or I wouldn’t have requested them in the first place. Some were assigned to me, rather than requested, but I have broad interests, so I usually enjoy them, as well.

Second, I do find time to slot in books I’ve bought and paid for (though I make fewer purchases these days than I used to and have mostly been working my way through a two-year old pile). Sometimes I’ll have a pile of six books to review, and after reading half of them, I’ll grab something from my non-review pile that will be a fast read, a sci-fi paperback, for example, and take a couple of days with that before jumping into more review copy.

It all depends on my deadlines, of course. But deadline-wise, I’m doing okay. I haven’t been late on any assigned reviews this year. Not that that’s a frequent occurrence even at the worst of times.

Exclusive Interview: Robert J. Sawyer

Conducted by yours truly. Robert J. Sawyer is a favourite author of mine, and I enjoyed the opportunity to learn a little bit about what makes him tick. His new novel, Triggers, comes to bookstores everywhere today (so if you haven’t read him yet, this is your perfect opportunity to start).

You can read my full interview here at the Green Man Review.

Nebula Nominations Open

I’m scheduling this post to auto-publish in my absence, as by the time you read this I’ll already be in Panama. Gonna go see the canal and have some Panaman tacos or something, I guess. Back on Monday, meanwhile, here’s a quick write-up I’ve done on this year’s SF (certainly not exhaustive), in light of the Nebula Award being open for nominations.

A Plagiarist Confesses

Here’s an interesting story. A guy who loves to read and wants to be a great writer starts finding that his work is much improved when he spices it up with big chunks of text lifted from famous authors. He goes to college (I’m guessing English Lit), graduates, works in a bookstore, and all along is writing, with small successes here and there (a poem in a major anthology, a well-received short story).

This all culminates in a spy thriller book that receives great initial reviews and is selling well, until three weeks in it’s discovered that the first fifteen pages include twenty plagiarized passages from everyone from Robert Ludlum (creator of Jason Bourne) to the James Bond novels (created by Ian Fleming, but it’s not clear if he took anything from Fleming’s original books). All the books are now being recalled, and customers are being told to return them for a refund (though I wouldn’t, it might be worth something on Ebay one day).

The plagiarist tells his story on an addiction support site, and talks a lot about AA. Interestingly, as one commenter points out, he doesn’t actually apologize in the entire piece.

Cory Doctorow on Non-Traditional Publishing

Cory Doctorow is someone who’s thought a lot about whether the traditional ways we do things in publishing are the only way. But he doesn’t just pontificate about it, he puts his money where his mouth is, experimenting with his own paycheque. If he succeeds, he has proof of concept of a new sort of marketplace. If he fails, it’s back to the drawing board.

For his Little Brother follow-up, For the Win, Doctorow decided to use a Creative Commons License. Digital copies are available as a free download at his Web Site, under multiple formats. Under the terms of the license, anyone can do pretty much whatever they want to with the text, and then re-release it, as long as they aren’t charging money for it. In this way, fan-made releases under every kind of format, for every kind of device, including, most recently, this audio version podcast, are available to everyone. And, if you enjoy it, just send a little donation Mr. Doctorow’s way. No obligation, though.

Doctorow’s even more recent release, the collection, With a Little Help, also comes with free digital downloads (again with a “pay what you want” policy), but he’s also trying to cut out the middleman for his physical editions, utilizing print on demand, and acting as his own publicist and agent and publisher. He describes this whole ongoing experiment at his Publisher’s Weekly blog, here.

I loved Little Brother, so I think I’ll be checking out that podcast. I’ll try to think of a fair payment to give him in return.