Posted tagged ‘Readercon’

I’m a Collection Development Expert Now

August 29, 2008

I just found out that WebJunction has me listed as one of four blog resources for collection development.  I’m flattered, but I actually feel that that distinction is a bit inappropriate, and I don’t think that’s false modesty on my part.  Sure I’ve discussed the subject a few times, and I enjoy writing book reviews, but it is an aspect of tech services that I have no formal training in.

I can probably claim some expertise as a selector for graphic novels, but besides that all I have to go on are my own reading habits, which probably don’t make a great basis for building up anyone else’s collection.  Besides tons of comics I mostly read New Wave, Slipstream, and New Weird S.F., hard-boiled detective, and anything by either Haruki Murakami or M.T. Anderson.  All of which makes me a great selector as long as the target audience is solely the attendees at Readercon, but probably disqualifies me from anyone else.

Oh, and just to clear up some other confusion from WebJunction, I am a guy.

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Review: The Man In the High Castle

August 1, 2008

I’ve been slowly working on reading the complete works of Philip K. Dick, maybe two books a year.  He is one of my absolute favorite authors, and thus I’m sort of ashamed to be getting to the Man in the High Castle, one of his most well known and well regarded works, so late.  I’m happy to report that the novel lived up to much of the hype, becoming one of the few works of alternate history I thoroughly enjoyed.

Very roughly stated, this is a novel in which the axis powers won world war two and divide up the globe accordingly.  What set the story apart, enough so that it won Dick his only major science fiction award (a slight now made up for by naming an award in his honor) is the multiple narrative structure that Dick employs.  This is a technique he used in quite a few of his better novels, A Martian Time-Slip comes to mind, but this is where it may be put to it’s best use.  Every character is fully realized and they all have their own perspectives on the world of the novel that grants the reader an incredibly nuanced feel for the environment, especially consider this is such a short book.

This is not quite at the top of my list of Dick’s works, but it’s very close.  At Readercon (yet again), Jonathan Lethem mentioned that this is his book that is most likely to make a new reader want to seek out another of his novels.  I think I agree with that assessment, and Dick is very much an author that more people should read.

The Fate of Reading

July 28, 2008

I’ve been thinking a bit about the current state of literacy in the wake of reading the Times article I posted yesterday, and I’m very troubled.  On one level I’m perfectly fine with the idea of on-line reading skills replacing the previous printed page paradigm for some people.  They are two totally different skill sets and I don’t believe one is necessarily superior to the other, and if the end result is more people reading then that’s great.

But I am worried that what’s going to get lost eventually are our current ideas of narrative and story.  On-line reading is great at promoting critical thinking and research skills, but I find it also tends to distribute a person’s focus in ways that are anathema to the ways one traditional reads.  And maybe this is something harmful in the long run.

One of the ongoing theories to come out of Readercon is the idea that storytelling is something ingrained in the wiring of our brains.  Cold facts cannot convince a person of a new idea nearly as well as a good story can (yes this is the faith vs. science argument).  For another example just try to tell someone about your day by merely listing your itinerary without embellishing it a little.  Those little details change your life into a story, and are the only way to really hold another person’s interest.

We need narrative in our lives, and that is what gets stripped out when we bounce around like we do while web surfing.  And if the theory about stories and how we think is true then maybe this way of reading could prove to be outright harmful.

Review: Solaris

July 22, 2008

It’s a few days late, but here’s the last part of my Readercon reading list.  Solaris is Stanislaw Lem’s most well known work, although not necessarily his best, and definitely not in the English translation.  From what I understand the English edition is a second generation translation (Polish to French to English) and a few large passages were cut out because it was thought they would be boring.  So the book starts off with one strike against it.

But there is a reason Lem is considered to be one of the greats.  It’s just ironic that a book which is so heavily focused on communication barriers has been so badly served by the same.  What manages to survive the translation process is still a great piece of science fiction.  The story is one of,the best first contact stories.  And it’s probably the best in terms of presenting an alien that truly earns the name.

The creature in question is the living ocean of the planet Solaris.  Throughout the course of the book, the sparse cast of three encounters a series of ghosts and visions that are their only form of communication with the alien…however the purpose of these visitations is never defined.  Instead the alien remains unknowable and human science reaches the limits of its capabilities.

Certainly not a story with a terribly wide appeal, but a masterpiece if you (like me) enjoy that sort of thing.

Readercon is Upon Us

July 17, 2008

I’m heading off to Readercon for the weekend, the best convention by far on the East coast.  If anyone happens to be in the greater Boston area this weekend and has some free time I highly recommend it.  This convention has the best ratio of pros to attendees of any con I know of, and the level of the discourse (one panel this year is entitled Consciousness, Free Will, Evolution, and Memory) is just lightyears beyond what you’d experience elsewhere.

Oh and since the guests this year are Jonathan Lethem and James Patrick Kelly (along with Stanislaw Lem as the ghost of honor) this is the must attend con this year.  I’ll be back on Monday.

Review: Think Like A Dinosaur

July 10, 2008

With Readercon only a week away it’s time for some catch up reading.  First up, guest of honor, James Patrick Kelly’s first short story collection, Think Like A Dinosaur.  After finishing it the first thought I had was that I was ashamed it took me so long to get around to reading it.  This is a phenominal collection that does a great job of showcasing Kelly’s range as a writer.

The highlight of the collection came as little surprise to me given its hype.  The title story, which won the Hugo in 1995, is a gutwrenching tribute to the classic story, the Cold Equations.  But what did surprise me is that nearly the entire collection was written at the same level.  The dystopias of Pogrom, Mr. Boy and Rat had moments every bit as strong and the characterization didn’t falter in a single tale.  Although if I have to single out another story it has to be the First Law of Thermodynamics, which best illustrates the humanism Kelly is known for (according to Wikipedia at least).

I’ll definitely be hunting for Kelly’s other collections at the con next week.