iPad dumpfest

So here’s Penny Arcade’s Tycho on the iPad:

As an eReader, the iPad doesn’t match a dedicated machine for comfort. The iBooks narrative is strong, “does what iTunes did for music,” but that’s purely aspirational and doesn’t recognize just how late they are to the table. They are like Pink suggesting that the party has not been a party prior to their arrival, they’re wrong, and for a company of their vision and scope it’s embarrassing.

First, and I hate to point this out, this is wrong. It’s just wrong. Here’s Jobs presenting the iPad. You can skip the early stuff where he talks about the whole place they see it occupying and get to 51:30, where he starts talking about the iBooks.

By talking about the Kindle.

And how Amazon’s done a great job, and where they see their ability to make something different.

How is this not acknowledging the party in progress? Or asserting that it doesn’t start until they do?

It’s Steve Jobs! At the announcement! Starting his discussion of the iBooks app by tipping his hat to the Kindle.

I don’t know.

And it’s weird — I’m kind of resigned at this point in life to seeing people do things like this, where there’s some stereotype about smug Apple, strutting about like they’re the first ones to the party, and it’s accepted without further examination. Even among Apple users, like Tycho.

But I would think that someone like Tycho, who knows as a gamer what it’s like to be lumped in with the neeeeeeeeeeeeerds, would be more cautious about this kind of stuff.

Beyond which — Apple’s claim here and with the iPhone’s never been that no one had done those particular things. They never said “we’re the first to do email on a phone” or “first to allow web browsing”. But those experiences were painful to the point of uselessness, and they entered the market when they thought they could do it right.

That’s the iPad. And they’re totally upfront about that. They’ll talk about what they think they can do and why they think it’s awesome. And sure that’s arrogant: it’s saying “we think everyone else did okay, but check this out. But I don’t see why they shouldn’t also get at least the credit for specifically calling out the other players who were there first and did well.

Norwescon Best of 2009 panel notes

Posted quickly for maximum usefulness.

David Hartwell
me, Derek Zumsteg
Bob Kruger

Notes, with some attribution and not a lot of formatting:

Year’s Best 2009 notes

h1. Flash fiction
Brain Harvest (brainharvestmag.com) runs sci-fi/fantasy flash (up to 750 words)
Everyday Fiction runs a lot of speculative flash fiction

Audience suggestion: flashfictiononline.com

Thaumatrope (thaumatrope.com) runs stories and serial via Twitter

h1. Short stories
The big print mags accounted for about a third of the year’s best lists, original anthologies another third, and online sources (particularly semi-pros).

h2. Anthologies:
There were three that dominated the Best of 2009 lists:

New Space Opera 2, edited by Dozois and Strahan
Includes the best short story of the year, “The Island” by Peter Watts. Read it!
Seriously, we went on about this for a while. It’s amazingly good. Watts’ website: www.rifters.com

“Utriusque Cosmi” by Robert Charles Wilson (and a general recommendation for him)
“The Far End of History” John C Wright

Eclipse 3, edited by Strahan
“It Takes Two,” Nicola Griffith
“The Pelican Bar,” Karen Joy Fowler

h2. Other fantasy anthologies:
Clockwork Phoenix 2 had a great story, Saladin Ahmed’s “Hooves and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela”
Cat Rambo’s short story anthology
Camille Alexa has a short story collection

Other science fiction anthologies:
Charles Stross’s anthology “Wireless” contains the novella “Palimpsest” which would have made it into year’s best anthologies but for rights issues

Other Earths (ed Jay Lake and Nick Gevers):
“This Peaceable Land; or, The Unbearable Vision of Harriet Beecher Stowe” by Robert Charles Wilson
“Donovan Sent Me” by Gene Wolfe

“Infinities” Vandana Singh was in “The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet”

h2. Magazines:
Asimov’s and Fantasy & Science Fiction produced a ton of great fiction.

Nancy Kress’ “Act One” tremendous novella
+like 90 other good Kress shorts/novellas in Asimov’s in 09

Charles Oberndorf’s novelette ‘Another Life,’
“Blocked” Geoff Ryman
“The Unstrung Zither” Yoon Ha Lee

Analog had James Van Pelt’s “Solace” which was great

Interzone had a great year:
One issue had “Black Static” by Bruce Sterling and “A Clown Escapes From Circus Town” by Will McIntosh, there was another great Domic Green issue.

Also: “Lady of the White-Spired City” by Sarah Edwards

(Interzone: $25 on Fictionwise! Beats paying $1,000 for postage)

h2. Online Zines had a huge year:
Tor.com ran some great stuff. Particularly “Zepplin City” by Michael Swanwick and Eileen Gunn

Subterranean Online
Clarkesworld — Hartwell loved “Spar” by Kij Johnson in particular
Strange Horizons, recommended by Hartwell.
“Bespoke” by Genevieve Valentine

Fantasy Magazine
“Light on the Water” by Genevieve Valentine

Beneath Ceaseless Skies is great, running a lot of extremely good fanatasy

Rudy Rucker’s “Flurb” is pretty awesome

Authors who had good years, generally:
Stephen Baxter was all over the place and they were great. “Formidable Caress” (ran is Asimovs)

Side note: David Hartwell is also a fashion theorist.

More Novellas, from David Hartwell’s Massive Spreadsheet
Hot Rock, by Egan (rights issues prevented it from running in anthologies)
“Wind Blowing, and this tide” by Demien Broderick (ran in Asimov’s)

h1. Novels
Best: Windup Girl, Paulo Bacigalupi.
Implied Spaces, by Walter Jon Williams
The City & The City, China Mieville
VanderMeer’s Finch
Terry Pratchett’s Unseen Academicals
Julian Comstock, by Robert Charles Wilson
Gweneth Jones’ Spirit

Audience suggestion: a “Squid Dog” book which I cannot for the life of me find now that I’m not looking at it. Help!

Ignorance as anger

One of the big things that drives me just batshit about trying to do anything but particularly on the internet is the people who don’t know anything but believe they know not only more than you, but that it proves you have some ill intent.

For instance. Over at the good ship USSM, Dave took on a job to edit a Mariner annual for Maple Street Press. I’m mostly out of writing about baseball, but for Dave, I was totally willing to take on writing two pieces for straight freelance rates. We all got paid a flat rate. Well, we didn’t, because we haven’t even been paid yet, thank you standard industry practices. But yeah: $x and thanks.

Dave did a great job recruiting people, the annual turned out amazing, and as a result, it’s sold ridiculously well. I don’t know how well, but whatever. I posted on USSM about where to get it and noted in passing that we didn’t make any money for extra sales, so we’re not pumping it out of some naked greed.

One of the host of people that like to hang out and complain about USSM accused me of lying about it. While the money we made for each additional copy might only be a few cents, it was something, so I should stop lying to our readers, etc etc.

To review:
– I agreed to write for a flat payment $x, and signed a contract that says that.
– I mentioned that we made no money from additional sales in a post.
– Someone who has no knowledge of what our contracts were accuses me of lying and acting in bad faith because they believe they know more about the situation even though they have no actual knowledge of it.

And it wasn’t “I believe the usual arrangement is x, so I’m extremely suspicious…”

Seriously. This kind of thing drives me insane. Would you go argue with a particle physicist that quarks had three kinds of spin and therefore they were skimming money off the LHC and spending it on ripple and fast women?



“If we had signed to Gold Mountain management, or if we had signed with Geffen, maybe Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain sells 750,000 copies instead of 250,000 copies. But it was really just the difference between being Pavement or being Weezer,” Malkmus says. “I never had a great deal of confidence in my ability to write hits. There’s a formula to that, and I’m not a good chorus writer. I’m better at the verses. Sometimes I don’t even get to the chorus.”

— From Chuck Klosterman’s interview of Stephen Malkmus, of Pavement

Oh future, and the measurements of Killer Loop Coup glasses

I had a pair of Killer Loop Coup sunglasses way back when, and they fit amazingly well, I saw well in them, and then someone stole them, and ever since I’ve been burning through knock-offs, being disappointed in new ones, and fighting the temptation to buy a used pair off eBay for $200.

So I’ve been idly trying to figure out what the nearest current replacement is to at least get a reasonable fit. And after searching for a while, I was getting really honked off that the Internet wasn’t bowing to my will and I realized what I was mad about (and that Google has created an Internet where keyword spamming has destroyed nearly all context and meaning).

I was mad that I could not, from my desk at home, search for and easily locate the measurements for a pair of sunglasses from ten+ years ago.

The level of immediate gratification and information retrieval we have available and have come to expect is that high, and the absurdity of it struck me only then: why in the world should it be true that I should be able to go to Google and say “killer loop coup lens width” and have something returned?

And then Bing returned the results, nice and clean, translated from the Japanese.


Lens width: 56 mm
Lens height: 32 mm
Overall width: 145 mm

Aw yeah.

The year in gaming for a really jaded gamer

So! Here was my year, essentially, as I finally gave up on PC gaming.

Persona 4. Times a lot. I very nearly played it twice. It’s so great. If this had come out on the Wii, say, it might be the game of the year on that console. It’s funny, cool, it’s sooooo Japanese and weird, and it takes itself seriously too, and the characters are great (and kind of hilariously stupid), and combat is deep and interesting (and challenging throughout)… loved it. I didn’t think I would, either, and I was utterly won over.

Fallout 3. Still. Hated the crashes, hated the whole Windows Live experience w/DLC.

Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood. I’d heard a lot of good things, and it was Zero Punctuation-endorsed, so I was in. But it’s… it’s not good. It’s a Western shooter where you end up killing 100, 200 or so people while making your way through a town of 12 people. And the cover mechanic is okay but I never quite got it, so I spent a lot of time in controller frustration land. Also, I don’t understand how the South lost the Civil War. They could have just sent the worthwhile brother north to rend destruction all the way up the coast until the North surrendered. I know, that’s not the point, but when you and an NPC can kill off huge units of organized, heavily-armed military units, it raises some questions.

Red Faction: Guerrilla. There’s just something about taking down buildings with a sledgehammer that makes my soul smile. And it had a sense of humor I just loved. “Given enough explosives, any moron can destroy a building. Don’t you want to be that moron?” Yes. Yes I did.

Grand Theft Auto 4. I gave it up for being tedious and boring when it came out, and finished it off. It had its moments, but I kept wishing I was playing GTA3, or GTA San Andreas instead. Or something actually fun. The bugs didn’t help. I hated all the driving around: it really just sapped the fun out of it. If you have an hour or two to play a game, the last thing you want to do is spend it driving to a mission start, from there to the mission, and then losing. Some of those missions required so much driving it made me hate the game. I hated the friend mechanic, especially because it required so much driving. I hated that at several points your success in a mission depends largely on amazingly stupid AI-controlled characters (“There’s a boathouse full of guys with automatic weapons firing at us! Chaaarge! Hey I’m dead and you fail the mission and have to go back and pick me up and drive me here so I can do that again it’ll be awesome!”)

Prince of Persia. It’s fun, it’s gorgeous. I don’t like the Street Fighter-style combat system (I’m old, I don’t have time or energy to memorize combo sequences, sorry). I loved playing it, and I never got frustrated because I found the partner-saves-you mechanic charming. The hero does look… dumb. And the dialogue is both great and a little too self-aware and clever sometimes. I ended up giving up when I needed to go floaty-white-blob-hunting to advance agaaaaaaain, and it felt like makework, going back through sections collecting McGuffins for no good reason. Also, I got

Dragon Age Origins. I like it, and I’ve liked everything Bioware’s ever done, but it is a little Knights of the Fantasy Republic. And on the console, I can’t control stuff as well as I used to on the PC, and the difficulty of some encounters is just crazy. And I’m constantly broke. And the other characters are jerks and the companion-soothing part of the game makes me want to scream sometimes. But it’s sooooo deep and often wonderful. That got put on pause for

Assassin’s Creed II. What a game. It’s a testament to how beautiful and well-done the world is that I often find myself wandering around the cities, getting in trouble, running around the streets taking side missions, rather than advance the plot (which is quite nice). I hate when the free-running mechanic fails (and it does), causing Enzo to veer 30 degrees off-course from the post I was heading straight for and instead into the five-story free-fall the game thinks I wanted to do. And the combat sometimes doesn’t make any sense to me, and I’ve spent some time trying to figure that out. And the Tomb Raider sections require me to take blood pressure medication.

But then there are moments where it all comes together and feels so perfectly natural. I was on a mission going after some guy across rooftops, and a guard got me, knocking me of and into the street below, and I started to run alongside the buildings, knowing that if he kept going in that direction he’d have to drop down in a hundred yards or so, and if he did, I could catch him there. So I barreled through the crowds, knowing if I tripped or missed a turn he’d get away, not really sure if I was even right about the geography… and I made it, came around just as he dropped onto the street, lept, and as I stood and cheered Enzo tackled him. It felt perfect: a payoff for all the time I’d spent wandering around, running the streets, learning the controls, all of it turning this slim chance of success into triumph.

I played the first game and found enough of it annoying and broken to make me give it up early, and this… it’s an amazing achievement.

Rock Band Beatles is great, too. Whole other thing, though. I played Gears of War 2, it was… Gears of War 2. Had some great scenes and set pieces. Plot doesn’t make any sense. Or the world. Or… never mind. I know that’s not the point. Also, the biggest bad-ass on the planet has a death allergy to water, which sucked.

Oh, DS-wise: Scribblenauts was pretty great for the first bit and then I grew to hate the controls, how so much stuff doesn’t work how it’s supposed to, and how you’re reduced to using the same six objects over and over. And the controls, oh, how I hate the controls.

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box was Layton-y and the plot doesn’t make a lick of sense. It has a plot that makes less sense the longer you play, and the least sense when it’s all supposedly resolved. The fact that one of the characters is absent for– I’ll stop.

Game of the Year as played: Persona 4. In terms of hours of enjoyment, it’s on the all-time list.
Game of the Year as released: Assassin’s Creed 2.

Games I still need: Batman, Borderlands, a PS3 and a host of PS3 games. I uh… also still want to play 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand. YO FIDDY. I’ll play Halo ODST when I can get it for $30. Or $20. I may never play it. I went back to play some Halo 3 and it didn’t go well.

I’d say art is subjective

But then I’d have to talk about what art is.

Why Armageddon is one of the movies in the Criterion Collection

…it is never confusing, never boring, and never less than a brilliant mixture of what movies are supposed to do: tell a good story, depict characters through active events, invoke an emotional response, and entertain simply and directly, without pretense.