Archive for September, 2008

In memoriam

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

Today we keep the silence.

MIRRORED HEAVENS tops bestseller list!

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

Well, okay . . . the bestseller list at Borderlands Bookstore in San Francisco. But still: the book was first (!) on the July trade paperback list, and then came in fourth for the month of August, tying with Warren Ellis’ CROOKED LITTLE VEIN! (A tie with Warren #$# Ellis! Can life get any stranger than this? Hopefully the answer’s yes, and I’ll *steamroller* him next time around.)

At any rate, here’s a link, but I’m posting the entire July list as well, as it’s pretty interesting. Very cool to see that Richard Morgan’s ALTERED CARBON just keeps on selling. And I’ve heard a lot of good things about WJW’s IMPLIED SPACES. Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy.

(And thanks to Alan and Jude and all at Borderlands for being such incredible advocates for what I’ve written.)

Top Sellers At Borderlands

1. Toll the Hounds by Steven Erikson
2. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
3. Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik
4. Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross
5. Implied Spaces by Walter John Williams
6. Escapement by Jay Lake
7. Jhegaala by Steven Brust
8. The Man With the Iron Heart by Harry Turtledove
9. The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong
10. Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr

Mass Market:
1. The City, Not Long After by Pat Murphy
2. The Devil You Know by Mike Carey
3. The Good Fairies of New York by Martin Millar
4. Ha’Penny by Jo Walton
5. Snake Agent by Liz Williams
6. Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan
7. Mainspring by Jay Lake
8. Shadows Return by Lynn Flewelling
9. Valiant: The Lost Fleet by Jack Campbell
10. Sun of Suns by Karl Schroeder tie with
The Margarets by Sheri S. Tepper

Trade Paperback:
1. Mirrored Heavens by David J. Williams
2. Thirteen by Richard K. Morgan
3. Spook Country by William Gibson
4. Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr
5. The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie tie with
The Word of God by Thomas Disch

Stalin the mass-murdering rationalist

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

As the New Russia continues to take shape, the Old Russia’s getting a makeover. Case in point: the latest Russian school textbooks go a long way toward exonerating Stalin for all that pesky mass-murder stuff, emphasizing the work he did to save the Soviet state, and instructing teachers to emphasize that all Stalin’s actions were “entirely rational.” What makes this all the more fascinating is that Prosveshenije, the textbook company that’s released this magnum opus, is the same one that for years had a monopoly on Soviet textbooks: i.e., they’ve got a lot of practice in making the past whatever it is that the present needs it to be.

Walk Like an Egyptian

Monday, September 8th, 2008

So this is interesting: Will Smith will be potentially be starring in The Last Pharaoh, about Taharqa, one of the Nubian rulers of the 25th dynasty. He spent most of his life fighting the Assyrian Empire, which ruled the Near East out of the Fertile Crescent (in the middle of modern-day Iraq). Of particular note here is that the screenplay’s being penned by Randall Wallace, who wrote Braveheart. And what happened to Mel Gibson/William Wallace is pretty much what happened to Taharqa too: the Assyrians kicked him out of Egypt and back into Nubia, though not before he’d fought and won at least one heroic battle. This could be really cool, and might even lift the curse that Oliver Stone laid on the swords and sandals epic after Alexander sold about ten tickets.

Though I may as well confess though that for me the real payoff here would be seeing the Assyrians in action on the silver screen. They were the most ruthless empire the world had seen up to that point, and they took siege warfare and propaganda to a whole new level. Their big claim to fame is turning Israel into the seventh century BC equivalent of a parking lot (which got them into the Bible), but I’ve always had a soft spot for them after seeing the incredible recreation of a corridor of the Assyrian royal palace at the British Museum. How can you beat winged lions with human heads? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Obama veers into Carterland

Sunday, September 7th, 2008

So Obama clearly had his work cut out for him appearing on Bill O’Reilly’s show. But O’Reilly couldn’t be happier with this first part of the interview. What a #$# disaster for Obama. The clip’s at the end of this (and at this link): but on question after question Obama comes off as a waffler. If he goes into the debates like this, he’s going to get taken apart. Play by play:

First, at the beginning; Obama suddenly smiles, and it looks fake as hell. This is undoubtedly Fox News’ little touch (it’s a travesty they call themselves unbiased and fair); he didn’t know when the camera started running, but it’s not a great start.

Second, he’s asked if he thinks Iran is a threat, and he launches into a discussion of Sunni vs. Shiite. Does he think Middle America cares? He should have just said, absolutely, it’s a threat and left it at that.

Third, when he’s asked if he would use military force against Iran if necessary, he says he wouldn’t take the option off the table. A yes answer would have been a little more impressive.

Fourth, when he’s asked would he even PREPARE for the military force option against Iran he starts waffling about all those other great options:  embargos, sanctions, etc., etc., while O’Reilly jumps all over him.  Aargh.

Fifth:  the surge.  This is giving Obama all sorts of trouble, especially because he’s already said the surge has worked “beyond our wildest dreams.”  So naturally when O’Reilly says, “c’mon, admit it, you were right on the decision to go to war, and wrong on the surge, c’mon, just say it,” Obama comes off as stubborn.  There’s a far easier way out of this:  look, Bill, the surge may be working so far, but it hasn’t worked yet….and unless we follow it up with rebuilding and aid to Iraq it’s not going to work….and if we do all that, I’ll be happy to come on your show and say it works but until then how about you shut the fuck up with all your posturing, huh, Bill?

Sixth:  when they get to Pakistan, O’Reilly taunts him with “well, you wouldn’t send in the ground troops”, and Obama doesn’t disagree.  We’ve already HAD ground troops (well, special forces) in Pakistan; why assume anything at this point?

Anyway.  Point being we’ve seen all this before:  Democratic candidates/presidents coming off as being way too reluctant to use military force.  It spells electoral disaster.  And it also makes for weak presidents.

The experience question, and the Palin trade-off

Friday, September 5th, 2008 has a great article on how overblown the whole experience issue is. Put bluntly, there’s no evidence to suggest that less experienced presidents underperform more experienced presidents. This is in large part due to the nature of the Oval Office: by definition, everyone who ends up there has no idea what it’s really like, and they’re going to be playing catch-up as best they can.

Which may still leave open the question as to whether there’s an “experience threshold”: i.e., a desirable minimum of exposure to the pitfalls of high office prior to taking over the highest office of them all. While the Dems hasten to defend the magic power that serving only a few years in the Senate can apparently have (at least on Democratic candidates), I think the most telling argument in favor of Obama is the campaign he’s run:  a highly successful undertaking that beat the favored incumbent and may yet win the presidency.  While the nature of modern campaigning gets (and deserves) a lot of flack, the sheer volatility/complexity of running a national campaign has the benefit of signaling when someone’s totally unqualified, as a candidate who loses control of his campaign isn’t likely to make a good president.  (Which is one reason I think Kerry would have been a disappointment had he won in 04.)  This of course doesn’t prove that Obama would make a great president, but it does at least indicate he has the potential.

Palin is more of an enigma.  Whereas with Obama we have at least have some clue as to how he might cope with a blizzard of domestic and foreign issues/crises, with her we have none (beyond, of course, her socially conservative views).  This doesn’t mean she would make a terrible president.  Were she to shadow a President McCain for several months/years, she may yet cut a formidable figure on the world stage.  Great leaders often come from humble origins and backgrounds; there’s nothing in Palin’s biography to suggest she won’t learn if given time.

But that’s the problem:  time.  McCain is betting that he’ll have it, and he may, if all goes according to plan.  The press is agog with the notion that the Palin pick is a terrible risk to his campaign.  I don’t think it is:  she will fire up the GOP base like no one has done since Ronald Reagan, and her very lack of experience will prove to be a boon with an electorate desperate for something new.  The real risk here is that Palin may succeed quickly to the presidency, and I can’t see anyone arguing with a straight face that putting someone into that office after (let’s say) three months in the national spotlight isn’t a colossal gamble.  It’s hard to escape the notion that in picking Palin, McCain has optimized his campaign at the expense of his legacy, and the repercussions could be with us for a long time to come.

Governor Palin’s debut

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

Sarah Palin’s speech last night was pretty much made to order: she scrupulously avoided all (well, most) of the really controversial stuff, and instead beat the drumbeat of family values and small town Americana. The questions that swirl around her will only intensify across the next few days, though, with the really big wild-card being whether there any other surprises in her past that the McCain campaign failed to discover.

And there may well be. But nothing that’s surfaced so far is likely to be damaging, despite the growing speculation. In fact, a lot of those “issues” in Palin’s past are likely to redound to the GOP’s favor. The “Troopergate” question, for example: Palin may have crossed the line, but the cop she was targeting was clearly completely out of control, and the details of the incident are unlikely to win her anything but electoral sympathy, regardless of what the law says. And as to the speculation on her/her daughter’s baby: do the Democrats really believe there’s serious upside to pursuing this? Based on what we know now, nothing that’s occurred in the Palin household is likely to disturb the voters of Red State America. If anything, they’ll rally around her more fervently.

And that’s likely to be the crux of the matter. Palin has virtually no chance of pulling any but the most diehard/confused of Hilary Clinton’s followers into her orbit. But she has energized the Republican base in a way that I suspect the mainstream media (and certainly the left) has yet to fully understand. There are many reasons why we’ve had only two Democratic presidents since Richard Nixon took over. One of them is the Dems’ perennial tendency to underestimate their opponents. In focusing on the Alaska governor’s experience, they run the risk of falling into the same trap.  McCain is betting that Palin will ignite the NASCAR circuits this fall, ensuring that the GOP base is mobilized and in the voting booths this November. From what I’ve seen so far, he’s probably right.  Whether this can be done without diminishing McCain’s chances of clawing enough centrist votes to win:  that’s the big question.

Bear baits eagle/Putin shoots tiger

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

So President Medvedev gave a speech a couple of days back in which he articulated in some detail the governing axioms of Russian foreign policy. We can assume, of course, that this is the word direct from Putin himself; otherwise Medvedev wouldn’t have said it. The five principles are:

#1: Russia recognizes the primacy of international law

#2: The world should be multipolar. No one nation should dominate the international system.

#3: Russia doesn’t seek confrontation with any other country.

#4: Russia will protect the interests of its citizens abroad.

#5: “As is the case of other countries, there are regions in which Russia has privileged interests. These regions are home to countries with which we share special historical relations and are bound together as friends and good neighbours.”

No prizes for guessing that #2 and #5 are the really important ones here.  The Kremlin is signalling to Washington that what’s happened in Georgia is the first part of a more general settlement within (and possibly beyond) the former Soviet Union.  The Russian gamble here is that the U.S. is too bogged down in its MidEast quagmire to do much about that, at least in the initial phases.  At the same time, I would doubt that we’d see any more overt moves by Russia (beyond that already underway in Georgia) until after the U.S. presidential election.

In other news, Russian media continues to hail Putin as the incarnation of manhood in the New Russia.  And what better way to prove it than by having him shoot a tiger on national TV?

I guess that settles that.

Alas Babylon

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008

With Babylon A.D., Vin Diesel’s career careens precariously toward what we call the Rutger Hauer Event Horizon: that point of no return beyond which a star only makes straight-to-DVD guilty pleasures. There’s a lucrative career there, to be sure, and hey, it beats auditions while you hold down the day job. But Diesel has fallen a long way since his Pitch Black glory days, and that’s a real shame.

Particularly because Babylon could have amounted to a damn sight more than it did. Someone clearly sank some money into the thing, and the world it depicts has a cool dystopian feel to it (there’s some truly gorgeous scenery at times). It opens well, too: in a hellhole that looks it might be round twelve of some Chechnyan war.  And they probably should have kept the whole thing there, rather than turning the movie into the Children of Men-meets-Cyborg roadtrip that it rapidly becomes.  By the time the narrative reaches America, the plot has descended into near-total incoherence, and by the time the movie ends, the audience’s reaction was one of near-total derision.  (They were vocal about it too.)

Leaving us to wrestle with the question of Just Went Wrong.  The script feels like it was done by a committee, so that’s one thing.  And the movie ran over-budget, which seems to have gotten the studio involved perhaps earlier than it should have.  Director Mathieu Kassowitz has claimed that the studio bosses cut 20 minutes of his vision, and maybe that was the problem, but I didn’t see anything on the screen to convince me that there were uncut gems lying around in the vault.  I’m also not inclined to give the guy who unleashed Gothika upon us the benefit of the doubt.

And I have to wonder why Vin Diesel’s agent did.