June 29, 2006

Jim Baen (1943-2006)

Influential editor Jim Baen, co-founder of the independent SF/fantasy publisher Baen Books, died yesterday at the age of 63. He suffered a massive stroke on June 12, and never regained consciousness.

Any serious science-fiction reader doubtless has a few books from Baen on the shelf: authors in their catalogue include Ben Bova, C. J. Cherryh, Frederik Pohl, Lois McMaster Bujold, Robert A. Heinlein, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Timothy Zahn.

Baen was also a leader in Web publishing, starting a subscription service called webscription.net, then later a free library of dozens of novels. Science-fiction publishers have been among the first to pick up on the benefits of free and unencrypted distribution of their material on the Net, realizing that since there is no market for "teaser" excerpts and DRM-crippled books, giving away a few novels for free doesn't hurt profits in the long run; indeed, it helps improve them since people will buy what they like. Public libraries are good for business, in other words.

Jim Baen turned out some quality SF, not to mention some plain good yarns. His presence in the publishing world will be missed.

Killer irony

Mark Driscoll's take on gay Episcopalian bishop Vicky Gene Robinson is a wonderfully subtle bit of ironic commentary:

First the Episcopalians gave us V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the openly gay bishop who left his wife and kids to have sex with a man and later revealed that he had been a closet alcoholic for years. He was the obvious choice because he is just like Jesus with the minor exceptions of his beliefs and life. (Emphasis added)

The remainder of the article, by the way, is a good commentary on the sad state of American Anglicanism (which Doug Wilson terms the "Episcopalian death spiral").


June 26, 2006

Road rage

The short story has hit upon hard times in recent years as a literary form. Now basically the property of "serious" authors, it survives in the mainstream almost exclusively in the imaginative genres of horror, fantasy, and science fiction. (I suspect that at least part of the reason is plain old laziness: it takes work to compact a whole story into ten or so pages and still have it cohesive and well-formed. I'm not slamming novelists, it's just that they don't have to work with quite the same limitations.)

Mind you, you can't get much more mainstream than Stephen King, reputedly history's bestselling author. Throughout his career, he has continuously published collections of short fiction. I've said before that I regard him as the reigning master of the form.

So who influences the influencers? King is known as an aficionado of the seminal horror writer H. P. Lovecraft, another short story master; indeed, he is largely responsible for a revival in Lovecraft's popularity. But another influence is Richard Matheson, whose work I was recently introduced to through his 2003 collection of stories, Duel.

June 21, 2006

On the subject of Google Maps wonkiness . . .

. . . what's casting the shadow of the Stratosphere Tower on the Las Vegas Strip, since it appears that the actual tower has evaporated?

Good one, Google

It's part of my job to occasionally look up specific addresses and directions, which sometimes involves taking advantage of Google Maps for its intended purpose, not merely virtual tourism. So I noticed right off the bat that something was different: the aerial view of Ottawa has changed.

Tourists interested in visiting our beautiful nation's capital will be thrilled with the wonderful new view of Parliament Hill, the War Memorial, Majors Hill Park, and the Byward Market. Also, friends and family trying to figure out how to get to my place will love the new view.

Whose idea was this, anyway?

June 15, 2006

Lady [still] be good

There are "Sarah" people, "Billie" people, and "Ella" people. You can mark me down as a committed Ella person.

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the death of jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald, known as the First Lady of Song, and one of the great performers of the so-called "Great American Songbook," the repetoire of the period from 1930-50 that is widely considered the zenith of popular music composition.

A teenage runaway, Fitzgerald was singing whenever she could to make ends meet when she was discovered by bandleader Chick Webb in 1935. Her first hit was a recording of the nursery rhyme "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" in 1938. Following Webb's death in 1939, she took over as bandleader of his orchestra, pursuing a solo career a few years later. When the Verve jazz label was founded by Norman Granz in 1956, Ella was his flagship artist. Her most notable work was the eight "Songbook" albums recorded from the mid-50s to mid-60s, each showcasing the music of a notable American composer, including George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Cole Porter.

Fitzgerald died of complications arising from diabetes on June 15, 1996, at the age of 79.

June 09, 2006

Maximum tinfoil headgear in Ottawa this weekend

From June 8-11, the secretive, so-called Bilderberg group is meeting in the west end of Ottawa.

Influential world leaders such as Queen Beatrix of Holland, Henry Kissinger, and David Rockefeller are meeting for the closed four-day meeting at the luxury Brookstreet Hotel in Kanata.

The high-profile membership of the "Bilderbergers" and the secret nature of their annual conference has made them fodder for conspiracy woo-woos worldwide. Indeed, the tinfoil-hat-wearing crowd has also descended on Ottawa, including Jim Tucker of American Free Press and Alex Jones - the latter supposedly being detained at the airport and interrogated for hours.

The stated purpose of the Bilderbergers is to foster good transatlantic relations: the first meeting in 1954 was convened to smooth over some latent European anti-Americanism by inviting representatives from both sides of the Atlantic to discuss the common threat of communism. While the location, guest list, and general agenda are public information, there are no minutes kept of the meetings and participants are pledged to secresy. The Bilderbergers meet in secret so as not to be unduly pressured by the media.

According to the conspiracy nuts, however, the purpose of the group could be anything from fixing commodity prices, to deciding the outcome of presidential elections, to pulling the strings of national governments to conform to the Bilderbergers' own nefarious agenda.

As it happens, a few years ago I worked at that end of town. I seem to recall that there was a pretty decent Vietnamese restaurant a few blocks from the Brookstreet, in case any of the locals want to chat up Henry Kissinger.