Jumpdrives & Cantrips

Grit, as Writ

I’ve been thinking for a while about grit in the SF genre, especially in fantasy. You can’t go more than a few reviews or browse more than a few book covers in a store without the use of “grit” somewhere. What is grit, and what’s the appeal?

LOOK! Boys wanted to sell GRIT! Continue reading

More Book Sale Madness

I love book sales. I love being able to search through piles of books and pick out the treasures, and sometimes find treasures for other people.

This past weekend I managed to hit part of the Children’s Hospital Book Sale–which is a bonus, because all profits go to a good cause as well. And you know something? As much as I like reading classic SF, I can’t always bring myself to shell out the $11 per book that it costs. I am a cheap person, and looking back at some of these book prices… I mean, for god’s sake not much more than twenty years ago, paperback books were still under three dollars! Talk about craziness, eh?

Of course, I managed to pull out some treasures this time around: two novels by James Tiptree, Jr. which I am sure are out of print, a pile of Leigh Brackett, a not-quite-so-battered copy of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, Clarke’s Childhood’s End since I have always managed to miss it, the second and third books following Kate Elliott’s Jaran, an omnibus of the first three books in Diane Duane’s Wizard series, and a copy of Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself for $4 in trade paperback. I suppose given that I now have Abercrombie’s first book, I’ll be able to find out what all the fuss and bother is about.

One of the other things I love about book sales is looking at all the different covers over time for certain books. Stranger in a Strange Land is particularly good for this, but it’s neat to see how design ideas change (or don’t) over time. And sometimes finding odd notes in the books used as bookmarks. I once found a letter apologizing to a lover after an argument; but I commonly find more prosaic things like grocery lists, or classified clippings from the automotive section. I always wonder about the people who read the books. Did they ever finish, or did they just stop?

And just a reminder: if your book smells like vomit, please don’t give it to a book sale. I don’t care if it’s immaculate and has never been touched by projectile body fluids. If it smells like someone puked on it, I will not buy it. Not even if it was a first edition of some extremely famous literature. Not even if I could auction it off for a small fortune (a large fortune I may consider in special cases, and while using a hazmat suit).

Anyhow, largely I enjoy the smell of books. But, you know… there are limits.

If you’re wondering what’s up next, I’m currently reading Sandra McDonald’s The Outback Stars and Grimspace by Ann Aguirre.

Dragon Song!
April 12, 2008, 2101
Filed under: Misc | Tags: , , , ,

…Because everyone needs to hear a song about a dragon. And let’s be honest: Puff was wearing a little thin.

End Trans?
April 5, 2008, 1345
Filed under: Misc | Tags: ,

Contrary to all appearances, Jumpdrives & Cantrips has not shut down as of April 1 (that would be a rather cruel April Fool for those of you who enjoy the site). Instead, life took a front seat with some additional work and family issues that required resolving.

I also happened to hit one of those bumps that I encounter every once in a while as a reader. Sometimes I just don’t want to read. And so I did other things of muchly fun in the past while that I highly endorse:

  • Playing RockBand. It’s an awesome co-operative game that encourages people to work together to “play” instruments in a band or sing. I’m partial to the drums–it’s enjoyable beating the crud out of things in an artful manner. Even people who have no sense of rhythm can get by playing it, because there are visual cues to get you through when your internal pitch-o-meter is less than helpful.
  • Seeing friends from out of town. Always enjoyable, and our friends have one of the smartest two-year-olds I’ve seen in a long time, despite his having a stroke early in life and various seizure issues. He spent part of the night testing different methods to try and politely trick me into giving abandoning chocolate to him. He didn’t get it, but he was more inventive than any adult probably would have been!
  • Getting stormed upon. I love storms, especially when I am not directly in them, and our somewhat balmy weather in Winnipeg has been punctuated with brief ice storms and hail this week. Yesterday I went to work and it looked as though some giant sea salt machine dusted our front yard, but it was leftover overnight hail!

As much as I love reading, I think if I read books when I didn’t feel like it, it would be a greater travesty. I wouldn’t enjoy them just because I didn’t want to enjoy them at that point in time. And you’d probably get sick of reading loads of more-cranky-than-usual reviews. However, I’m currently working on the review for the third Jani Kilian book, Law of Survival. After this one, I’m going to take a break from the series for a while to catch up on some other books. Grimspace by Ann Aguire is still on the list, and I’ll see where I am after that.

Any requests? Send ’em on in.

Pile o’ Shame

Aidan at A Dribble of Ink came up with the brilliant idea of airing his Pile o’ Shame: books that perpetually get stuck on the to-be-read pile. I’ve actually been actively working to rectify my pile o’ shame over the past few years by purposefully seeking out some of the classics in science fiction and fantasy, but it never seems to be enough. And I wonder too if a good pile o’ shame keeps us readers on our toes, so to speak… Or maybe it just engenders embarrassment *sigh*

Douglas Adams

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the GalaxyThat’s right–I haven’t read a single thing by one of the most popular comic SF writers EVAR. Despite the sheer amount of people who recommend The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to me, I just haven’t found any motivation to read it. Even though my friends have their own version of the pan-galactic gargleblaster (or some such drink that apparently is in the books), even though my husband wanted to drag me to the movie, and even though several people have GIVEN me their copies at various points in time. Partly, I am a contrary person at heart and the more I’m pushed, the less likely I am to actually do anything. But it doesn’t change the fact that Adams’ book has been hugely influential and is apparently quite good. Not to mention the radio broadcasts, films, etc. etc.

George R. R. Martin

A Game of ThronesLong ago, before these books really got popular, I read A Game of Thrones and told my friends who liked Robert Jordan (I am probably one of the few adamant not-fans of Jordan) to give up the ghost and switch series. Sadly, after nearly three years of waiting for the next book, I lost interest and never returned to read the rest of the series even though I really liked the first book. And to be honest, I’m a little scared to return to the series because I don’t want to go back and think, “Man that was not as good as I remembered it being!”

Robert Heinlein

Stranger in a Strange LandI know. You really don’t need to say anything. It’s unneeded, and I’m not sure how this happened. One of the biggest all time writers in science fiction, and I haven’t read a whit of his works. Not even one. Stranger in a Strange Land has been in the pile for over 3 years, and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is right beside it, alongside Starship Troopers. One of the freakin’ grandfathers of SF and his books sit around gathering dust on my pile. Oh well…

China Miéville

Un Lun DunEvery single time I read summaries of this guy’s novels, they sound so darned good. But for some reason I just can’t quite get around to reading any of his books. A friend of mine even lent me King Rat, which is currently sitting in the middle of my hallway floor. I suspect, wily New Weird Novel that it is, it’s following me until I give in and curl up to devour it. Never have I known a book to be so forward about this whole process. Truly though, I know how good Miéville is supposed to be, but…

All I can do really is shrug my shoulders and say, “It’s on the pile.”

Thus, The Pile has been partly aired (they always grow) and hopefully I will actually get into gear to read some of these poor ignored books. I find it interesting to see that these authors are all male… Though I’m quite aware I tend to read women more often than men in general for some unknown reason.

In any case, spur me on if you want reviews of these up here!

Of Things Good and Bad
March 23, 2008, 2226
Filed under: Misc | Tags: , , , ,

I was thinking back to my university days not that long ago and about one of the ideas my friends and I used to toss around. The vast majority of us took some form of English Lit class, and the discussion of good and bad came up. Of course, Good Literary Behaviour dictates a need to refrain from judging a work as “good” or “bad”, but rather deconstructing its meaning, identifying themes, so on and so forth. In academia, people refrain from judgement calls.

Note: in academia.

In everyday life I don’t sit and ponder arcane Freudian sexual references, or immediately look at biblical meanings of names, or even (gasp!) search out bizarre pronoun changes that indicate a first person POV written to appear as a third person POV which could just have easily been a textual or copy-editing error when short fiction is read out of the context of its published collection. What I’m really interested in is the story and how well it’s told, which academics don’t necessarily care about. Works important enough to study are not always well-written. This is why capital-L Literature doesn’t usually storm the bestseller list.

And in real life, enjoyability counts for a whole lot more.

There is good, which is obviously pleasing, and there is bad, which is obviously not. But there are all sorts of middle grounds and can vary throughout one’s contact with a given medium. And sometimes, the experience of seeing a movie or reading a book that is bad becomes so over the top, so contrived, and so amusingly enjoyable that it becomes good.

Thus, the Good-Bad Continuum was conceived.

The Good/Bad Continuum

This continuum is what makes utter schlock enjoyable, transforms the cliché to endearing, and is entirely why cult films exist. If you’ve ever heard someone say, “It’s so bad, it’s good!” then you have probably already experienced the heart of this concept. It’s a simple concept, really; Snakes on a Plane is not high cinema, but it was so bad it was good. Something I suspect Samuel L. Jackson understood when he fought for the title to remain Snakes on a Plane rather than Flight 201.

It’s a lot harder to manage so bad it’s good in literature, but people keep trying. In fact, they try too much. Satire and humour are contextual, and when done improperly they stall somewhere in the bad region.

To be so bad that you’re good requires exceptional crafting that doesn’t impair the subject matter–which must be so bad it becomes good again. It takes more effort to plan that than many people give credit. If you have ever heard the Arrogant Worms sing Christmas in Ignace, they sing off key, which takes far more skill to do consistently than to sing well. Spider Robinson is a master of this with his Callahan pun-based groaners.

So. Think about that while I ponder exactly how I’m going to approach this next review…

Trouble in computer land…
March 4, 2008, 2225
Filed under: Misc | Tags: , ,

So my husband and I have been dealing with a massive computer problem since last summer, when our computer failed. Apparently the motherboard, the power supply, and memory all were borked and had to be returned to the manufacturer while under warranty. In the interim, one of our friends has been kind enough to lend us a machine (this was back in July-August). Well, last week we thought we had everything put together again after getting the parts back finally, but alas, the machine started crashing randomly and programs self-corrupted themselves. This meant another trip to the shop.

We now have a working computer again, which is a lovely thing in terms of writing (not to mention my new wireless keyboard with keys that feel bouncy–I love it!), but it meant a great deal of bargaining and another borked memory stick. Anyhow, the important thing is I can write this now, but because we spent the last few days running around partly on computer related errands, I haven’t had as much reading time as I wanted.

Er, well, I did spend about a day’s worth of time playing Rockband’s cathartic drum kit, but that’s to do with the computer as well…

In any case, the more important thing is that I’m in the midst of reading the first Jani Kilian book, Code of Conduct, by Kristine Smith as well as Doranna Durgin’s Dun Lady’s Jess. So expect to see reviews of them soon.