Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Bionic Woman; Verne (Jules) in Reverse; I have a beef to pick with the end of the world

Ginger is in the middle of getting upgrades (no, I won't make reference to cosmetic surgery), and I've taken to thinking of the process as what they did to Jaime Somers in the Bionic Woman. Fitter, Better, Smarter, Stronger. My preference is to think about the short-lived remake rather than the original (I have a thing for that Michelle Ryan-- rowrrr!).
I watched the technicians for a bit, dismantling plexi-glass, mountings... but when they pulled out the drills I had to leave. It was all a bit too intimate. Like watching major surgery on a relative. In just over 24 hours Ginger will be up and running again with new features and doo-hickeys (yes, that is a technical term) that hopefully won't take long to adjust to. It was odd to not have access to Ginger the whole day, like ghost limb syndrome or something. So I wandered over to the bookstore and did a thorough check on my only section (Graphica, which, due to the hectic nature of TPPress of late, I haven't taken care of properly). When I came back later in the afternoon, the Techs were gone, off to Village Books to help the operator fix a few glitches on her machine. This gave me an opportunity to quietly work on more book design projects, have a meeting with an author I'm excited to be working with (more details as they unfold), catch up on Twitter and find myself being followed (on Twitter, not in real life) by rising literary star Nick Harkaway . Cool.

Jules Verne. Several weeks ago I received an email from J. who politely asked me if I could print the book attached to the link below his sentence. I did and was very surprised by what was there: "Journey to the Center of the Earth". So what? you might say? It's in Hebrew. Printed in 1878. Published in Poland, rebound in the 1950s in Charlestown, Mass., ultimately residing in the Harvard University library. Wow. After several emails back and forth, I contacted Google, who O.K'd the one-off printing.
But I was feeling cocky. I told J. that not only would I make the book for him, I would print it in the Hebrew fashion (Hebrew is read from right to left). So after a couple of weeks of dabbling, I managed to make it. You'll notice two books in the photo below, and that's because during the process J. wanted me to print "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea", in Hebrew, from 1878. The original scans were a tad spotty, the Hebrew type was a bit small, but for a scholar, easy access to a work like this more than makes up for the roughness of the PDF.

Post-apocalyptic this, Post-apocalyptic that.
O.K., great. another SF trope is being embraced on a large scale. "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy is but one example of the hot new trend in literature: _____ - Apocalypse (Post-, Zombie-, Vampire-, Barbie-). And this article chronicles the increasing speed that YA publishers and their readers are eating up the books.

My problem is that most of these are not Post-Apocalyptic (dictionary: predicting or presaging imminent disaster and total or universal destruction.). Now I can see, growing up in the 1980s that Post-Apocalyptic referred to a Nuclear exchange, which would bring about the dictionary definition above, but the vast bulk of books being published don't fit the bill.
Ahhh! An EMP pulse destroys all electronics! Post-Apocalyptic!
An earthquake destroys most Californian cities! Post-Apocalyptic!
Vampires come out of the dark and battle humans! Post-Apocalyptic!...
Not really. Ok, maybe the last one is close. I think we need to refer to most of these books as Post-Society novels. The deconstruction of societal norms does not an Apocalypse make. Even global events don't neatly qualify as Apocalyptic conditions.
I'm a big believer in talking about writing in the correct way, and even scholars make the mistake of talking 'genre' when they should be talking 'technique.' It's a meme-thing: once 'genre' slips out of a person's mouth, the people in the room shift in their seats and develop walls (even at SF & Fantasy conventions this occurs); it becomes a 'which genre is better' dialogue and nobody ever learns anything.
The point I'm always making is that the hottest writers out there (including Mr. McCarthy) are hot because they are breaking the pre-established literary divisions by using any tool in the writer's kit-bag to tell their story. In the case of "The Road", McCarthy realized that he needed the elements of a 'dystopian/apocalyptic', dare I say it, Post-societal story, to get to the essence of the emotional reactions he needed from his characters, and to properly address the themes he was ruminating upon.
So here's to the flood of post-society novels! Long may they crumble...

Friday, February 12, 2010

Book-a-palooza; Makin' Da Books; Takin' Da Books Away; Google-gobble; Douchy Ads

I know I keep saying this in almost every post, but dang, has it been busy lately!
That's a good thing, though. Unfortunately, it means less blog posts...
Or at least posts with the kitchen sink thrown in.

A wrap up of the steady flow of database books: French-language "Dangerous Liasons", a paranormal thriller "Blue Moon", the Libertarian classic from the 1990s "From Freedom to Slavery", "Studies on Fermentation" by Louis Pasteur (Beer is the mind-killer!), "The Charles Fort Reader" (the Fox Mulder of his day), "William Tyndale's Five Books of Moses" (big, big book... Moses apparently had a lot to say), "The Collected Articles of Frederic Douglass" (plus a second work)... The couple that I wrote about in December, came back for a massive Google order, Some Books on Boxing, theatre, "A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon, and Cant: Embracing English, American, and Anglo-Indian Slang, Pidgin English, Tinker's Jargon , and Other Irregular Phraseology" (2 Volumes), and several more.
My co-workers are also contributing to the variety of books discovered on Google: "Observations of Sir Richard Hawkins" was ordered by a Greg, who is a descendant of the Hawkins line and has of late discovered that his family history is littered with the fingerprints of adventurers and explorers. Lucky Sod. Mine were con-men and farmers... Adam, who lead me to write about the fate of an Alan Lomax book and the state of copyright, has been ordering books on early American Folk and Minstrelry, books buried in time, with vital clues for musicians like Adam (who plays in a duo called The Whiskey Swillers) who want to revive these songs. So much to discover yet!

I've been working furiously on several book designs for clients; a few are about to be finalized, while some are queued up next. I won't talk specifics but I will mention the dazzling variety in just these handful of authors: an Alternate History novel; a fiction about being a nurse and appreciating the fullness of life in middle age; a book on knife collecting with dozens of photos; a collection of hunting escapades; a fictionalized biography of a favored and adventurous family Aunt... Each one brings a unique design challenge, and I love working on each one equally... And as of this writing, I've done layout for 2 books (totaling 800 pages) just this week. Phew. And they keep coming.

I've been on Twitter several weeks now, and I find that while my time has been busy with running the press, Twitter offers me that brief moment to cast a thought, a link, into the universe. So while I may be silent on the blog, Twitter has a steady drizzle of errant thoughts flowing through it @3rdplacepress...

Amazon and Macmillan. That happened since my last post... The meeting between the two industry giants took place on the day Apple debuted its Unicorn. Amazon and Macmillan were at a stalemate over e-book pricing and the publisher walked away from the meeting feeling at an impasse. Amazon on the other hand, walked over to its wizz-bang-doodle Oz machine and hit a button (well, actually took it away) effectively neutering Macmillan's titles on the Amazon site. Such a sulky, bully thing to do. And John Scalzi had the best summary of the events and why Amazon was in the wrong, and why, even after events spun out of control, their media department's reaction was brutish at best. I certainly have my opinions of Amazon (which go waaaay back to 1996-7), so I won't rehash them here. Essentially, I know Amazon feels the heat over the announcement of Apples ibookstore in tandem with the Unicorn; I don't pity them, since, from day one, their Kindle strategy has been to be as proprietary as possible and totally dominate the emerging e-book market-- a Reader (Kindle) that only reads one format (Kindle format). Months later, people were still reading e-books (in various formats) on the iPhone, so a Kindle App was grudgingly released to the public. The second Kindle version came out, right when at least 10 other companies announced their own e-readers (including the god-awfully-named Vook from Barnes and Noble), most of which were open-format. Suddenly market control was slipping out of Amazon's hands and voila! that fateful meeting and the subsequent behavior and backlash. But to be fair, Amazon's not the only large company to flinch and overreact. Don't even get me started on the 'new' Facebook format (coincidentally widely released the day Google Buzz went live)...

Speaking of Google: they continue to expand the database of titles available, with Stanford recently agreeing to let Google list their titles. Regardless, Google is facing tough opposition to it's digitization program, which I'm on the fence about. On the one hand, I see the benefits of having access to those millions of forgotten, public domain titles; on the other hand, due to the blanket scanning of titles in libraries, Google now has access to digital editions of works by authors still alive. I know Google's created a nonprofit Book Rights Registry in order to clarify and alleviate many of the authors concerns. So, um. They're trying? A decent summary of events (including the dissenting authors and those who agreed) can be found here.

Whimsy: R.I.P (Rest in Public) J.D. Salinger. The world will soon be inundated with Salinger-fest. Though this film-maker's work will probably be the most genuine, least likely-to-cash-in-on-the-writer.

An awesome interview with a 'street' scientist with the brilliant quote: "I'm not a Rock Scientist. But then again, Rocket Science is just plumbing with math."

When I watched the Superbowl (the only time I watch NFL), the Dodge Ad that came on left me angry, and I'm a guy! The backlash from women was strong, and often funny. My main problem with this ad is that it preys on outdated gender stereotypes, like this horrendous humor book called "Porn for Women" which depicts men doing things like ironing, washing the dishes, vacuuming, being considerate. Har, Har, very funny. Let's tell women we'll only be neat and grown-up, and responsible because we want sex, or a new car. I like to iron (it relaxes me), I like to clean up after myself, and I'm considerate because it's what adults do. Regardless of gender. I know women who love to work on cars, climb rock walls, and playfully oggle men at bars... So what? Let us be what our inclinations guide us to be. Stuff it, Dodge (and the Mad Men at that Ad agency who thought it up)!

Finally, as the weekend approaches, all I have to say is: Kitchen Sink...