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From the EASI announcement list

Webinar Book Review Free Webinar:
Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice
Presenter: Sheryl Bergstahler, Ph.D. DO-IT, University of Washington
Tuesday June 14, 11 AM Pacific, Noon Mountain, 1 PM Central, 2 PM Eastern
This presentation will provide an overview of the history of universal design,
back to its origins in architecture and product development. The presenter
will share examples of applications of universal design in higher education - to
technology, instruction, services, and physical spaces. She will also discuss
various approaches that have been taken to apply universal design to learning
environments, with a focus on practical applications that instructors can employ to make their courses more welcoming and accessible to all students.
The Webinar is based on the book: Universal Design in Higher Education: From
Principles to Practice edited by Sheryl Burgstahler which is accessible at Bookshare.

Free Webinar: Book Review: Managing the Assistive Technology Process: The
Nontech Guide for Disability Service Providers.
Presenter James Bailey, MS, Adaptive Technology Adviser, University of Oregon.
continued below cut )
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_Harold and the Purple Crayon_ by Crocket Johnson (1955, 1983) []

I've been trying to create a list of books about art, or books which inspire creativity,* and I realized recently that, for me, this book was one of my early inspirations.

Although there are now many books which attempt to inspire creativity or explain in great detail why someone wishes to create art none, in my mind, convey these ideas more succinctly or more cleverly than _Harold and the Purple Crayon_. _Harold and the Purple Crayon_ gets to the heart of what is so appealing about creating art by showing the reader how Harold uses drawing to literally give his ideas form.

While in the book Harold's drawings actually become real--his drawing of a moon becomes *the* moon, which then follows him around wherever he goes--and we understand, even as children, that this won't really happen, there is still a core of truth to this kind of magic, because when we create a piece of art we are indeed taking an idea and making it real. Additionally, the fact that Harold uses his drawings to alleviate his anxieties also underscores how art can be used to explore and express real fears and anxieties, and how that kind of catharsis can allow us to feel better.

Purple has always been one of my favorite colors (as a child, I wanted everything I wore or used to be purple), and LJ user Issendai has pointed out how, unlike in the mundane world, purple is overwhelmingly popular, because it seems to imply magic. I can't help but wonder if this is in part true because of how many children have read and loved this book.
* Feel free to leave recommendations for favorite art or creativity books.
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_Arcadia Falls_ by Carol Goodman (Ballantine Books, 2010) []
Description: A widow with a teenage daughter gets a job at an isolated boarding school in the Hudson Valley, and soon becomes drawn into both the mysterious death of a female artist who founded the school and the recent death of one of the students.

Things I liked about this book:
* the descriptions of the Hudson Valley landscape and folklore, including references to the Dutch moss maidens and wittewieven (white women)
* the bits about women as artists and the discussion of the Arts and Crafts movement and the art nouveau style
* the references to feminist fairy tales (favorite quote: "You'll find nineteenth century children's literature good preparation for this place: it's mad hatters and goblins all around.")

Things I didn't like about this book:
* the superficial research done about paganism, i.e., the book store owner of a pagan shop who recommends Margaret Murray's _The Witch Cult in Western Europe_ as a scholarly text, when it hasn't been considered robust scholarship for decades.
* the totally humorless emo-mom protagonist who keeps the story well within the parameters of the "woman in peril" cliche.

It's this last element which persuades me that this book is an example of what I call the pseudo-gothic, or gothic-lite. It uses the earmarks of the gothic genre--the isolated setting, the preoccupation with history, the mysterious murder from the past--but it never seems to quite dig into the deeper, more fertile psychological aspects of gothic literature.

As an example, the female protagonist is supposedly a scholar of the fairy tales of Angela Carter. Those fairy tales often featured women who managed to hold on to a certain aspect of wildness, they refused to be fully domesticated by traditional female roles. The author herself claims to be a fan of such stories.

And the end of the story, all the good women turn out to be those who are mothering and nurturing, and all of the bad women are those who either rejected becoming mothers by not having children (more specifically, daughters) or who abandoned their daughters. All these bad women come to bad ends sooner or later. Even the student who dies is characterized by her (unnatural?) preoccupation with her academic and professional ambitions. So much for the subversive aspects of gothics and feminism.
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I think everyone should get one of these for the hollydaze!

Okay, so it turns out that Cemetery Dance is offering one of Peter Straub's books,
_Porkpie Hat_, for $2.99
not Peter Straub himself. Too bad, because aside from writing wonderfully complex stories and having a fabulous voice, I hear Peter has great taste in whiskey.

Seriously, _Porkpie Hat_ is one of Straub's best stories, set at Halloween and involving a blues singer, so if you know any horror fans with good taste, this would make a great stocking stuffer. It's also not a blatantly violent story, I would label it more as a Southern gothic, so you don't have to be a horror fan to enjoy it.
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Just because it's the season of lights doesn't mean you can't look on the dark side.

Aside from such party games as flinging small twigs of mistletoe at people who are all sunshine and light--oh, wait, that's just me--there are other fine seasonal traditions, like, um, oh yes, the subgenre of murder mysteries set at hollyday time!

Thanks to my new reading chair (it's name is Ektor and yes, it is an Ikea chair) along with many cups of Earl Grey tea and many clementines, I have been snuggling up to a number of seasonal mysteries. Two of my favorites have been _Envious Casca_ by Georgette Heyer (1941) and _Corpus Christmas_ by Margaret Maron (1989).

A pile of Heyer mysteries recently showed up on Bookshare and, sad to say, her mysteries have not aged nearly as well as those of her contemporary, Dorothy Sayers (although Sayers seems to be one of the few detective fiction writers since Christie who didn't write any mysteries set during Christmas).

Heyer's mysteries follow a very narrow pattern: a female protagonist, not wealthy but not in a situation where she has to do anything as tedious as rub shoulders with the working class, finds herself in the middle of a murder mystery, often at an English country house and typically featuring the murder of a rich old curmudgeonly male relative. The rest of the cast are types, including the saturnine smarter-than-everyone-else male lead, who often treats the female protagonist like an annoying and intellectually inferior younger sister. Heyer's mysteries show particularly poorly if you read a series of them close together, as the sexism and classism becomes difficult to ignore. I would recommend _Envious Casca_ as one of the best, however, along with _Death in the Stocks_.

_Corpus Christmas_ features a murder set in a historical Victorian house, and the protagonist is a female New York City detective. I really enjoyed this unique female character. There is also a mentally disabled character who features prominently in the story and does not ultimately prove to be an evil gimp.

[Dear Mystery Writers of the World, pay attention! Novels such as Away with the Fairies by Kerry Greenwood (2001) and _Larceny and Lace_ by Annette Blair (2009), which both end with the twaddle that the gimp did it because being disabled makes you psychologically twisted and feeling that the world owes you, is both blatant stereotyping and poor writing.]

Back to seasonal murder mysteries, the next on my list is the anthology _Murder is No Mitzvah_. _A Puzzle in a Pear Tree_ was skipped over because, although I understand that people do say things like "Whatcha" and "gonna" etc., reading these words in every other sentence really irks me. Also, just for fun, I'm reading _Norse Code_ by Greg van Ekout (2009)--valkyries, Ragnorak, and Loki's kids running amok, how cool is that??

Lastly, Here is a nice bit of dark tradition which I hadn't known about: Krampus

Now I'm off to play Christmas carols and scan a book on serial killers and philosophy which I need to read for review. It's amazing how ominous many holiday songs sound when you really listen tot he words...


Sep. 3rd, 2010 08:03 am
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Battening down for Earl, which in my case mostly means finding something appropriate to read: should I go with something creepy or something seaworthy? I'm still on something of a piratical kick of late, although most things seem kind of boring after the Henry Morgan biography _Empire of Blue Water_ and Chris Moore's book _Island of the Sequined Love Nun_, but _And a Bottle of Rum_, the cultural history of rum which I am currently reading, does a pretty good job. I will try to post a piratical overview soonish, since Talk Like a Pirate Day is coming up in a couple of weeks and some folks might be wanting to do a little research.
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"So, after culling a bunch of books from my library and putting them in the 'Free books' box, and redistributing the books in the aerye bookcase, I have this shelf which is *totally empty*, which means I can take this pile of books in the crate next to my computer desk and put them on the no-longer-empty shelf, which means I only have one box-worth of books taking up the incredibly limited floorspace in the aerye. "

"I am strong and self-restrained--witness my virtue as demonstrated by the neatness of my books. Go me!"

"I will sit here and bask in my virtue and...hey, how on earth did I manage to miss that triple column of books on top of my dresser?"

(On a totally unrelated note, do not open the door to the Closet of Mysteries unless you are wearing head protection. And maybe body armor. A luck charm or two couldn't hurt, either.)
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First, thank you to the people who posted happy birthday wishes on my Facebook page--I tried to figure out how to reply, but I've never actually posted to my wall before, and I didn't have enough brain to figure it out, but I really appreciated the messages.

And to think: not only do I get a meteor shower on my birthday, but I also get a Friday the 13th on the day after, how cool is that?

For the past week or so I have been trying to lighten up the aerye. I got really tired of wanting to put stuff down or away and having no available space (really, personal DVDs almost seem like an outdated medium as opposed to storing everything on NetFlix, and as for audio cassettes...?), and I was also tired of all the dark colors. I've declutterd significantly--there's a floor which is actual and not merely theoretical!--and pulled out tie-dye and Hawaiian shirts to brighten things up. I'll be doing some more tie-dye in a couple of weeks. I may even be able to fit another bookcase into the aerye, if it is a skinny one.

The soundtrack for this venture has been a playlist of songs about sea, ships, pirates, and general outlaw types, with Surfing Safari Cthulhu perched on top of my boombox.

When not cleaning something I've been reading _Empire of Blue Water_ by Stephan Talty (2007), which is a very nice biography of Henry Morgan, the iconic pirate/privateer and the basis for many fictional pirates, such as Sabatini's Captain Blood, played to perfection in the film by Errol Flynn. _Empire of Blue Water_ is actually more of a cultural history, as it includes a lot of the social and political background, along with many descriptions of tactics and technologies such as the handmade French muskets the pirates used. There is also a glossary and a bibliography in the back. All in all, highly recommended to the pirate fan.

I feel much more ambivalent about
_The Code of the Zombie Pirate: How to Become an Undead Master of the High Seas (Zen of Zombie Series)_ by Scott Kenemore (October 2010). It's not so much the zombie pirates--those have been around since the days of weird fiction--but the fact that it is listed as a self-help book. Though I guess zombie pirates would be really good at helping themselves.
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1. _The Third man_ (1949) by Graham Greene [etext ]
This novella started out as a way of working out the story for the screenplay Greene wrote for the film noir "The Third Man" (1949)
starring James Cotton and Orson Welles, one of my favorite films. This is one of the instances where I believe the film really is much better, and not only because the film is the perfect medium for a story which is full of shadows and misapprehended images (not to mention that the film has Orson Welles in a very brief appearance as Harry Lime but an appearance which, like Anthony Hopkins as hannibal Lector in "The Silence of the Lambs," colors every other perception of the rest of the film).

Greene does do many things extremely well, however, and the gothic roots of noir definitely show in the way the ruined city is equated to the corrupt ruins of an individual's moral sense. This grim but surreal sort of atmosphere has become very much a part of the works by such authors as Tim Powers, and for more on this linking of exotic but corrupt landscape with the psyche itself read this article on what the scholar refers to as "Greeneland" .

Also check out
"The Lives of Harry Lime"
a series of radio episodes starring Orson Welles which are a sort of prequel of Harry Lime's activities.

2. _The Fabulous Clip Joint_ (1947) by Fredric Brown [etext at
ManyBooks.Net http://manyb
and Munseys.Com,_The ]
I'm trying to cover some of the classics of a noir/crime fiction education, and this novel along with another Brown novel, _Here Comes a Candle_ (1950), is mentioned frequently. This novel won an Edgar Award and is the first of seven novels in the Ed and Am Hunter series.

Ed Hunter is a young man in 1940s Chicago who teams up with his carny uncle Ambrose to solve the murder of Ed's father. This story is quintessential 1950s crime fiction complete with period slang, descriptions of jazz, and the tropes of classic noir before it was noir, not to mention more evil-hearted dames than you can shake a stick at. It is also, however, a coming of age story about a young man who finds out that things are rarely what they seem to be and that managing to hold on to your hopes and dreams is probably the hardest part of becoming an adult. This definitely belongs on the Crime Fiction 101 syllabus.

Also read: "THE ERLKING" by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum
[The New Yorker, JULY 5, 2010 ]

In part a story about how adults and children live in very different worlds, and in part a commentary about how insidious acquiring stuff can be, as addictive and self-destructive as fairy food itself.
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I meant to add this to the list of books I mentioned yesterday, but for some unfathomable reason, I totaly forgot I had read this one, and I finished it just a few days ago, no less.

Remember what I said yesterday about feeling that the supernatural elements of _Big Machine_ seemed as if they had been grafted on? I'm beginning to think that this is actually a trend. The idea is to take an otherwise nongenre narrative which contains no other hints at anything supernatural occuring within the story and then take a random supernatural element--ghosts, angels, whatever--and kind of crazy glue one onto the other.

Definitely do not spend a lot of time integrating the supernatural elements into the otherwise mainstream story: think of it as a hit and run supernatural fiction event.

So, yes, there are ghosts in _Alive in Necropolis_ and yes, only the protagonist can see them and yes, he has taken a number of blows to the head so he may just be hallucinating, but otherwise, this story does that thing which a lot of mainstream fiction aiming for a literary prize does: it sets up some characters who are so boring that the author has to emotionally torture them constantly in order to get them to do anything interesting.

And the characters all suffer from Wile E. Coyote syndrome, since it isn't as if the characters ever learn from their mistakes and say, oh, last time I picked up that stick of dynamite with the lit fuse it blew up in my face, maybe I shouldn't pick up lit sticks of dynamite. No, they each repeat their mistakes a few times so that you, as the reader, think Oh hey, they've learned their lesson, they won't go picking up sticks of dynamite again.

But no. See, that's the big plot twist :the characters do *precisely the same thing again*.

Yes, I definitely was not expecting that.

So yes, the cat dies, the kid dies, anyone who might have a chance as a couple either abandons or betrays their potential partner, and at the end the protagonist goes off to live with his mom in Tahiti.

This book was an Amazon Best of the Month book for July 2008, and I have no idea why.

I'm kind of curious about the use of supernatural elements stuck onto otherwise mainstream fiction, though. This reminds me of the Preston and Child Pendergast series, which I admit to being a guilty pleasure of mine. Only that actually has an interesting protagonist (even if his type of supernatural detective has been around for a hundred years) who meets other eccentric characters and solves murders (though it's never that difficult to figure out who did it in a Preston and Child book: just look for 1. a disabled person, 2. a professional woman, or 3. someone with a Latino name). I refer to these books as mainstream gothics--they take on just enough of the trappings of the gothic to titillate but never fully commit to the supernatural.
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1. _The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia de Luce Mystery_ by Alan Bradley (Delacorte Press, 2009)
Flavia de Luce is an eleven-year-old girl with a flair for chemistry growing up in 1950 England, the youngest of three sisters who live in an old country house where obviously no one has ever organized a closet let alone thrown anything out, and a would-be poisoner: how could I not love this character?

I think every eleven-year-old girl should be given a copy of this book. And a chemistry set. Let the rest of the world tremble in fear (it's probably just as well I didn't get to read this book when I was eleven).

I also read the next in the series _The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag: A Flavia de Luce Mystery_ (2010), but found it to be somewhat less satisfying, possibly because it focuses more on the mystery and less on any character development.

_Big Machine_ by Victor LaValle (Spiegel & Grau, 2010)
This book just won a Shirley Jackson award for best novel, and it definitely delivers a haunting story about a black man named Ricky Rice who is trying to cope with the everyday struggle to be a decent person despite nightmarish memories and almost crippling self-recrimination. He reminded me a lot of Eleanor in Jackson's _The Haunting of Hill House_, because his past is a cold cruel sea which is always waiting to drag him down. So when he gets a chance to make a new start as a scholar working in a secret archive (secret library!) in the wilds of Vermont, he grabs at it, never suspecting what a long strange trip it will turn out to be.

The two main characters of this novel, Ricky Rice and Adele Henry, are great--tough but imperfect people who are struggling with addictions, harrowing memories, and the struggle for self-respect. They are the two last people who would expect the heroes of the story to turn out to be themselves, and LaValle does an outstanding job creating a sense of the hopelessness and horror of having to struggle just to keep body and soul together.

My one issue with the novel is that the supernatural elements, which show up pretty late in the story, felt grafted on, leaving me wishing that there had been either more or less of them, but perhaps I am just a cynic. Ultimately, the story is really about faith and doubt and what people are willing to sacrifice for what they believe in, and the ending will probably strike you as either hopeful or ambiguous depending on your own belief in the miraculous.

_Book of Shadows_ by Alexanda Sokoloff (St. Martin's Press, 2010)
I felt last year's Sokoloff novel, The Unseen, was pretty tepid, but I got drawn into _Book of Shadows_ because it promised an evil book (evil book!) and it has a character who is a witch from contemporary Salem (books involving Salem are one of my guilty pleasures, even when I know the author is going to do a half-sass treatment of real witchcraft). The witch really is a witch, but the book is just an ordinary book of shadows, so that was pretty disappointing. The male protagonist, a Boston police officer whom every female in the book finds irresistible, ultimately turns out to be a hypocritical jerk--all the characters in this book are cliches--but the action is non-stop, and hey, in this novel Man Ray still exists, so it was kind of a nostalgia trip. The story is really a mystery concerning who killed a glamorous Amherst coed, and the entirety of the novel is preoccupied with keeping you on the edge of your seat asking if anything supernatural is actually happening, but frankly, by the end of the novel, I was glad to be rid of the whole group of whiny characters. Still, I've read much worse books while on summer vacation in the wilds of Maine with nothing else to read, so others may find it enjoyable as a beach book.
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You can find all threee reviews linked from
the new edition of Green Man Review
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Kes: Although it seems as if almost every book is available in a wide variety of formats, I often find that it is precisely the kind of literature I am most hoping to find--the more literate speculative fiction being published through the mid-sized and small presses--which is still the most difficult to find in electronic formats. Thus it is that I religiously prowl Fictionwise's "new ebooks" list every week, and this week I was doubly rewarded.

1. Phantom Edited by Paul Tremblay & Sean Wallace (Prime Books, 2009)
available as a MultiFormat ebook from Fictionwise
$9.95, on sale this week $8.46

As one of those people who admits to being a horror fan, I am often asked--as occurred just earlier this week--why do you read that stuff?

While my long answer can be found here
my short anser is, in hopes of finding books like _Phantom_.

_Phantom_ contains fourteen stories written by some of today's most intelligent writers of horror and speculative fiction, each exploring the idea of what scares us. The answers in this collection offer nothing so trivial as zombies, vampires, or ghosts. Instead, they explore the fears which lie even deeper down in the psyche: the fear of being a monster, the fear of the human potential for inhuman violence, the fear that our very fears will overwhelm us.

_Phantom_ is an excellent introduction to the world of literary horror, as co-editor Paul Tremblay describes the term:

Block quote start
The literary horror story aims to do more than shock, titilate, scare, or affect the reader. While affect is a clear and important (possibly defining)
element of horror fiction, there needs to be more. In using the
elements of literary fiction-style, theme, setting, character-the
literary horror story goes beyond the scare, beyond the revealing
of some terrible truth (personal or social or universal) and asks the truly terrifying questions: What's next? What decisions are
you going to make? Does it matter the consequences? Do you know the consequences? How are you going to live through this?
How does anyone live through this? Stories where the shock or the grand revealings or implications aren't the point, but just a part of the exploration of how people react to the everyday horrors of existence, how they might answer How does anyone live through this?
Block quote end

I have not yet finished all the stories in the book, but among my favorites so far are: "The Cabinet Child" by Steve Rasnic, which explores how the desire we keep hidden can become both magical and monstrous;
"The End ofEverything" by Steve Eller, in which the last human living after a zombie apocalypse turns out to be the most monstrous of all;
"Kinder" by Steve Berman, in which a man is literally overwhelmed by his own fears.

Um, really, there are lots of great stories written by people not named Steve, too.

2. The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia (Prime Books, 2008)
This book is on the Locus Recommended Reading List
and was also on the Honor List for the 2008 James Tiptree, Jr. Award
Available as a MultiFormat eBook from Fictionwise

$9.95 Sale: $8.46
eBook Description: Mattie, an intelligent automaton skilled in the use of alchemy, finds herself caught in the middle of a conflict between gargoyles,
the Mechanics, and the Alchemists. With the old order quickly giving way to the new, Mattie discovers powerful and dangerous secrets - secrets that can
completely alter the balance of power in the city of Ayona. This doesn't sit well with Loharri, the Mechanic who created Mattie and still has the key to
her heart - literally.
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The complete list is here
but following are a few which I found particularly of interest, first and foremost being

LGBT SF/Fantasy/Horror
Palimpsest, by Catherynne M. Valente (Bantam/Spectra Books)
Kes: is Palimpsest even out yet?

LGBT Nonfiction
The Greeks and Greek Love, by James Davidson (Random House)

Lesbian Memoir/Biography
The Talented Miss Highsmith: The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith, by Joan Schenkar (St. Martin's Press)

Lynnee Breedlove's One Freak Show, by Lynn Breedlove (Manic D Press)
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1. For the Win (2010) by Cory Doctorow

2. From Bricks to Brains:
The Embodied Cognitive Science of LEGO Robots

by Michael Dawson, Brian Dupuis, and Michael Wilson (AU Press, 2010)

Available as a paperback or a PDF ebook

About the Book

From Bricks to Brains introduces embodied cognitive science, and illustrates its foundational ideas through the construction and observation of LEGO Mindstorms

Discussing the characteristics that distinguish embodied cognitive science from classical cognitive science, From Bricks to Brains places a renewed emphasis
on sensing and acting, the importance of embodiment, the exploration of distributed notions of control, and the development of theories by synthesizing
simple systems and exploring their behaviour. Numerous examples are used to illustrate a key theme: the importance of an agent’s environment. Even simple
agents, such as LEGO robots, are capable of exhibiting complex behaviour when they can sense and affect the world around them.
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From Cory's mailing list

Are you a teacher, librarian, youth worker, or someone else who could
use a copy of my new young adult novel FOR THE WIN?

As I've done with my previous three books, I've set up a matchmaking
service for people who need copies of my books and people who want to
buy copies of my printed books as a way of paying me back for the free,
downloadable versions I make available on my site.

If you work at an institution that could use a free copy, please send
your details to The book launches tomorrow, and
the website and free ebook editions direct potential donors to the list
of institutions that need copies. Previous donation programs have
resulted in hundreds of hardcovers being donated to worthy institutions
by generous readers.

Please pass the word!
about For the Win )
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Kes: Two info bites from Cory's mailing list; I encourage folks to read the column about how Cory got phished, as I came very close to falling for a similar attempt myself.

1. Info re Cory's new YA book _For the Win_:

Monday morning (volcano permitting!), I fly to the US for a tour to
promote my latest book, the YA novel For the Win. I'll be making stops
in Chicago, Seattle, Portland OR, San Francisco/Palo Alto, Austin,
Raleigh/Chapel Hill, New York and Toronto. Tor books has just put the
schedule online -- I hope to see you!

And yes, the book will be available as a free download, just as soon as
I touch down in Chicago and get the site online. I'm also going to pop
in at Forbidden Planet London this weekend and sign their stock before I go.

Tour schedule:

2. My latest Locus column, "Persistence Pays Parasites," describes the
process by which I fell prey to a phishing attack on Twitter, and how I
learned (the hard way) that my threat-model for this kind of attack was
Persistence Pays Parasites:
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Also, I want to insert a quick but heartfelt "thank you" to everyone who attended the May Day party--it was great! (And the Kraken Spiced Rum wasn't bad, either.)

In the new edition of GMR, I have reviews of
_The Red Tree_ by Caitlin R. Kiernan

_Making the Detective Story American: Biggers, Van Dine and Hammett and the Turning Point of the Genre, 1925-1930_ by J. K. Van Dover

Kate Morton's _The Forgotten Garden_
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I'm currently reading John Crowley's _Four Freedoms_, which features a protagonist with a disability, and I am struck, as always, by how Crowley manages to bring such a visual sensibility to his work, while also providing such a rich sense of the multiple characters's interior lives.

For those who may not know, Crowley has worked for decades in the field of documentary film, and he has a genius for the language of describing visuals. It's
thanks to John Crowley
that I found out that there is a word for something which I had been striving to express to sighted people for years: why is it considered
to be such an impossible dream that I expect visual artists and critics to be able to describe what they see and what they do? Language and art should not be distant countries completely unknown to one another.

John Crowley, like one of the alchemists in his own books, has the mysterious occult
word to give my thoughts shape: "The word for written descriptions, in prose or verse, of works of art is ekphrasis..."

I use the word occult not merely in its meaning of magical but in its meaning of hidden or darkened, because language helps us to cast a light upon what has up until then remained hidden or half-sensed, perhaps only because, in limiting ourselves to a single sense, we fail to place what we are examining in various lights.

It's kind of difficult to talk about art or John Crowley's writing without, perhaps, coming across as wearing one's lit crit hat, but the work which recently reminded me of this link between words and pictures was an old movie, the classic film noir "Out of the Past," starring Robert Mitchum and produced by Jacques Tourneur, whose own work says a lot about thoughts and pictures, dark and light.

What struck me in listening to "Out of the Past" was how it possesses something which I find sadly lacking in a lot of contemporary films: dialogue which is sharp and eloquent, but which reinforces the personalities of the characters and underscores the sensibility of the film.

In checking out he IMDB page for this film, I realized that the person who wrote the screenplay also wrote the book upon which it was based and the radio version. It struck me that it was no surprise that this writer wrote dialogue which was fast-paced and snappy, because radio, like Shakespeare's plays, had to put not only the emotion but the action into the words. No long panning shots to show you the backdrop, no closeups to show you the teary-eyed woman or the squinting, flinty-eyed tough guy. Just words, creating pictures.
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_The City & The City_ by China Mieville (Del Rey, 2009)
_The Little Sleep: A Novel_ by Paul Tremblay (Holt Paperbacks, 2009)-

These two novels, along with _The Manual of Detection_ by Jedediah Berry, are three of the most notable offspring of a new subgenre, noird or weird-boiled noir, which is what you get when you cross speculative fiction with noir. I say "new subgenre" but, as China Mieville blogged about it last summer, I'm probably just betraying the fact that I am hopelessly unhip. Still, if you want to see the baby pictures I recommend Tremblay's post about the term "weird-boiled" on The Little Sleep blog or you can read China Meiville's more ephemeral discription here and Jeff Vander Meer's discussion of the term re Jedediah Berry’s _The Manual of Detection_ here berrys-the-manual-of-detection/
To a large degree, however, the sometimes self-conscious litcrit is superfluous: this noir does what it has always done, namely, to use the recognizably gothic decay of urban landscapes and architecture to cast a flickering light on the interior landscape of the modern psyche, complete with its own particular non-supernatural incarnations of ghosts, ghouls, and vampires.

After all, a modern city is just as capable of hiding old secrets or a meglomaniacal madman as any medieval castle. Probably even better, because there are more forgotten spaces in which to hide and more strangers to suspect. As with the best gothics, the exterior confusion and corruption merely hints at the interior darkness.
continued below cut )


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