Friday, May 30, 2008

A Couple of Webcomics

After a few days I've managed to read through the archives of two of the webcomics I was introduced to at Balticon.

First is Sudden Valley. Written and drawn by Baltimore resident Jamie Baldwin, she's put together a pretty promising series. Although things are really just starting----the series has been going since December----I have a pretty good sense who the characters are and I'm pretty confident Jamie knows where it's going. It looks like it will mostly be based around the relationships of a group of twenty-somethings as they figure out life. The main plot points, anyway. I also really like the art. Simple, just a little cartoony.

Second is Dead of Summer, by Baltimore-based guys Nick and Marty. Basically, zombies invade the city of Baltimore and hilarity and horror ensues. This series has no redeeming value whatsoever, and I love it for that. It's pulpy, bloody and doesn't take itself too seriously. They're really just having fun with the idea of zombies trouncing the city of Baltimore. It's been running for a couple years now and having read the run thus far it's been fun seeing the series both look better and develop a more complex story as it went along. A true guilty pleasure, this one aint for the squeemish.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My Balticon Recap

Both Miss L and I had a really good time at Balticon this past weekend. It was very relaxed, and a good chance to feel like we were getting away without going very far.

Miss L hit a bunch of panel discussions on Web Comics. They covered just about everything: software, artwork, the business side, and even writing. I went to a couple with her and even though the panelists were pretty much the same folks at each one, they kept it fresh and interesting each time. They were a nice bunch, and as I dig through the web links to all their various projects I'm sure I'll be sharing some of them here. Although I know a bit about comics in print, web comics is an area I just haven't delved into very much yet. It was interesting learning about the differences and the similarities, and also just hearing what people are really into. Miss L came out, I think, a little overwhelmed at the end but still interested in the medium.

I hit a bunch of panels on my own as well, things like "Worldbuilding", "What Draws You to an Author for a Second Book" and a even a panel devoted to the BBC show Torchwood. My only complaint about the panels was how casual they all were. It worked for the comic book ones because only a few people attended those each time. But some of the others I went to seemed disorganized to me, like the panelist didn't come in with clear ideas for what they were going to say and just let the audience jump into the conversation without any real direction. And the fanboys and fangirls? Good lord, calm down. Get over the fact that someone new (Simon Pegg) will be playing Scotty in the new Star Trek movie and move on with your life. There are far more important things to get upset over.

My favorite panel was one on Sci Fi/Fantasy for kids and young adults. Moderated by local romance/fantasy author Stephanie Burke, who looked like she was having a great time dressed as a goth bunny, I came away with a pretty sizable list of authors to check out and also learned about an interesting program NASA has in the works. They are looking towards bringing in authors and teaming them up with NASA scientists to write novels and/or short stories to help get kids interested in science. It's an interesting idea and I hope they can get it to work.

The dealer room wasn't that impressive. It was set up a lot like a comic book convention, with different book stores trying to sell there wares more so than publishers or authors---although there were a small handful. I'm not sure why they don't hit this convention. If there were more small presses there selling stuff, I know I would have spent a lot more money. I'm just not interested in buying a first edition Heinlein or an authentic blaster gun from Star Wars, but that's me.

I did end buying a few things, though. First of which is the anthology Steampunk, edited by Ann VanderMeer and Jeff vanderMeer. I like Jeff a lot as an author and I appreciate both of the VanderMeers as editors as well. The book has a lot of good names, and it's something I'm really curious to dig into. Other than some stories in mags here and there I haven't read a lot of Steampunk.

I also got sweet-talked by C.J. Henderson, one of the few authors there with his own table, to buy a couple of his books. I've never read him before, but at least the ones I bought look like fun. He basically takes old characters like H.P. Lovecraft's Inspector LeGrasse and writes new stories for them. Looks like good, pulp-inspired fun and sometimes I need that.


Saturday, May 24, 2008

Don't Forget Your Towel

I'm working today, but I'm looking forward to hitting this year's Balticon tomorrow and Monday. For the uninitiated, it's a pretty solid SF convention. The focus is on books and they're hosting panel discussions and forums covering everything from submitting work, general themes in SF and examinations of authors works. For those more into movies, comics and cartoons there will be plenty of that as well.

But really what I'm really looking forward to is Towel Day, an odd international tribute to dear ol' Douglas Adams. It's tomorrow as well and I'm hoping to see lots of towels at Balticon. I've never been into the whole Cosplay thing, but carrying a towel around? That I might be able to manage.


Friday, May 23, 2008

A Little Bit of Controversy

A few weeks ago I reviewed the book Welcome to Shirley by Kelly McMasters. It's a non-fiction book that I had some misgivings about, mostly because it seemed to want to be both a history and a memoir without fully exploring either form. But If you look at the comments for the blog post you'll see someone named Ken Spooner mentioning a high number of factual errors in her work.

I've spent the last couple of days checking out Spooner's site, and a number of the claims do seem to check out in other sources. I'm not an expert on the town of Shirley, NY and don't really have the time to become one, but it does seem like the book is filled with lazy scholarship. At least that's what I'm thinking it is, rather than a more purposeful glossing over of details. It's a shame this book made it to print without a real fact-check, because I still think McMasters had her heart in the right place in trying to tell the story of this town. My guess is she really wanted to write a memoir but didn't have enough for full a book; the historical sections possibly came later to give a full page count. I could be wrong, but Spooner seems to agree with comments like this on his page:

I am reasonably certain it was witnessing as a young girl, the slow and painful death from cancer of her neighborhood girlfriend Tina's father Jerry, that inspired Kelly to write this book or set her main topic up of environmental stewardship. The true neighborhood good guy with a huge heart, it is her storytelling about Jerry that resonated the strongest with me.

This section Spooner describes is easily the most powerful in the book, and if McMasters had focused on her memories and the emotions behind them she probably would have created one hell of a book.

I was intrigued by this controversy of scholarship, because when I read the book I was surprised by the lack of citations in McMasters's work. Very little of her research was cited so I came away wondering how she pulled together her information for the more factual, less memoir sections. What I had in hand was a preview copy, so I emailed the publisher and was assured that a bibliography of her sources would be published with the final version. Yesterday I found a final version at my local bookstore and it still lacks a bibliography, giving validity to Spooner's claims and, frankly, making me feel guilty about reviewing the book for a major library publication. I'm not saying Spooner is right, and I'm not saying McMasters is right. But if you do read her book read it with some level of caution and decide for yourself.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Take Stuff From Work

One of the deep, dark, dirty secrets in libraries is how much they get rid of every year, every month, every week and every day. While some people I work with seem to relish the duty because it makes space for newer items, I always feel guilty. I'm afraid of getting rid of undiscovered literary gems or a non-fiction title that really teaches something new.

Of course a number of books are removed because they are in bad shape, but many are weeded because no one ever checked them out. The general rule of thumb where I work is to pull a book if it goes through a period of 16 months without a check out to its record. I'll often see first novels by writers who just never got lucky enough to land a review in the NY Times or the Washington Post, oddball non-fiction, and poetry. There's almost always lots of poetry going out our door and in the trash.

The worst part is we're not allowed to sell these in the annual booksale. We apparently used to do that, but people complained about their tax dollars going towards the purchase of books to only have them sold as used books a year later. So now they go right in the trash, unless someone on staff wants to take them home. These are the five I saved yesterday.

Books I saved from the library

Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension. by Michio Kaku. This guy's been growing into one of the best known physicists in America. I first heard of him when this book came out in 1994. It's a great compilation of crazy sci-fi theories and how they have influenced real scientific thought. Fascinating, easy to read and fun. This one, I should note, is in pretty bad shape. It's got a pretty ugly coffee stain on the back and the front cover is barely hanging on.

Chris Ware: Monographics by Daniel Raeburn. Seeing as how the library I work at doesn't have any actual books by Ware, it was probably a strange purchase to begin with. Basically it's a celebration of Ware's work in comics, with reproducitons of pages of his work, covers of books and odd merchandising like a Jimmy Corrigan lunchbox. This one's partly my fault. While I've flipped through it, I hadn't bothered to check it out yet.

My Dad's a Punk. edited by Tony Bradman. This one's also my fault. I saw it when it first came in, meant to check it out and promptly forgot. The volume collection twelve short stories about teens with dad's who maintain a bit of good ol' punk spirit. With authors like Tim Wynne-Jones, it's probably a good collection, but unfortunately short story collections just don't check out that much.

We Saw Lincoln Shot: One Hundred Eyewitness Accounts. compiled/edited by Timothy S. Good. The title pretty much sums this one up. The book's in great shape, and it looks to be a real gem of first-person accounts. I'll be giving this one to Jim, an old friend of mine who's a big civil war buff.

The Way to Rainy Mountain. by N. Scott Momaday. Seeing this one on the discard pile almost made me cry. Momaday's a fantastic writer and I love mythology of any kind. This title collects a number of short-short tales based on myths of the Kiowa tribe. I'm really looking forward to reading this one.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Time for fresh air and sunshine

Today's the first day in what feels like several in the DC area that the sky's not filled with a canopy of gray clouds and rain sprinkling down. I never quite know what to do with myself when sunshine returns. It's almost like I've forgotten what it is, this big giant blazing ball up in the sky. I go outside not to run, not to hike, not to work in the yard but to get reacquainted with how everything feels. The warm sun on the skin, fresh air going in and out of almost feel real that first time you step out into it.

This kind of echoes my life for the past year and a half. With school I've been caught up in a gray downpour of projects, papers and academic essays. But now it's finally over and I really don't know what to do with myself. Oh, I've got plenty to do looking for a full time job. Helping pull a fall wedding together. Preparing to move. Catching up on some reading and writing.

One thing I really let slide in life was hitting all the cultural things DC has to offer. I celebrated the end of school last Friday night by taking in the Cure's local stop on their US tour. Even though I've seen them before---this would make the fifth time---it was still fantastic. Even the opening act, 65DaysofStatic, was really good, and the Cure is notorious in having weak opening acts. This past Sunday I hit some museum exhibits downtown and tonight I'm going to see the Gamer Symphony Orchestra perform at the University of Maryland. Needless to say, I'm kind of making up for lost time.

I don't know what I'll be doing with the blog here. I know it will continue to include reviews, but It's likely to change as I figure out the next pieces of my life. But for the moment I plan on going outside and enjoying the weather, before the rain comes back.