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Spring 2011: Semester Changes & the New Offering

Posted on : 18-01-2011 | By : Dean | In : Literature, Science Fiction, Teaching, Tech and Teaching, UWP

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I have made a few conscious changes to the classes that I am teaching this semester. One of them I have wrestled with for a long time.

1. Walden gets a rest, sort of.

Probably the biggest change to my EN227 class is the omission of Walden. It’s a book that is rarely appreciated by students on a first reading. I have come to accept that this is not only because it is difficult in its use of language and allusions, but because many of its central arguments contain contrary notions. Those elements are often read as contradictions, errors in logic, rather than nuanced acknowledgements of differing strains of Thoreau’s experiment. It is difficult to get past these things, so we’re going to try a few shorter pieces. Never fear, though, as I have included a chapter or two from Walden.

2. Nothing Online!

Although I have had overwhelmingly positive feedback on the courses that I have taught in Second Life, some students may note that there are no offerings there this semester. Those who have taken those classes know how much work goes into them, and while I am an advocate for such venues for online instruction (a much better choice because it offers real-time discussion), the fact is that Parkside doesn’t have the software or the support in place to facilitate these offerings. I may return to the virtual classroom in upcoming semesters, but spring will offer a welcome break from the computer programming and administrative work that was involved to ensure the success of the course I taught there.

I have kept Snow Crash on the list for EN237, though, and I am teaching the class in a computer lab, so there is always that chance for a foray or two into the world of Goreans and Furries!

3. Steampunk and the bookstore!

I have wanted to teach Steampunk in a sixteen-week format since I first taught a brief summer version of it two years ago. This semester will be my chance. I taught Cyberpunk over the 2010 summer session, so spring will offer a nice compliment.

I have found that both courses offer a challenge: Books. With many of the titles being tossed from one publisher to the next or in out of print status (with new titles available through amazon), coordinating with the bookstore is difficult. I have added a few books to the list available through the bookstore, and we will have to discuss options for the readings.

*It should be a wonderful semester. I still get a bad case of nerves the night before classes start. I won’t sleep tonight, so those of you who see me in the hall or in class tomorrow may mistake me for an animated corpse. That’s nothing new, though.

Murakami on Contemporary Narrative

Posted on : 21-10-2010 | By : Dean | In : Literature

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Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami, had the following to say in an interview with the Paris Review:

I’m a writer of contemporary literature, which is very different. At the time that Kafka was writing, you had only music, books, and theater; now we have the Internet, movies, rental videos, and so much else. We have so much competition now. The main problem is time: in the nineteenth century, people—I’m talking about the leisure class—had so much time to spend, so they read big books. They went to the opera and sat for three or four hours. But now everyone is so busy, and there is no real leisure class. It’s good to read Moby-Dick or Dostoevsky, but people are too busy for that now. So fiction itself has changed drastically—we have to grab people by the neck and pull them in. Contemporary fiction writers are using the techniques of other fields—jazz, video games, everything. I think video games are closer to fiction than anything else these days.

Murakami’s novels include The Wind-up Bird Chronicles, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Norwegian Wood, and Kafka on the Shore. He is also the author of several short story collections.

Borders and BookBrewer to Launch eBook Publisher

Posted on : 18-10-2010 | By : Dean | In : ebooks, Literature, Publishing, Technology

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Last week, Amazon announced its Singles program, a service that will digitally publish works ranging from 10,000-30,000 words, catering to independent authors. Today, Borders announced it is teaming with BookBrewer to launch Borders – Get Published, a service that will publish works of indeterminate length. This service will be available to any author or blogger, as it features a method to publish content via feed, directly from a writer’s blog.

Borders promises to make the works available across several devices and readers, including “iPhone, iPad, Android-powered tablets, eReader, Aluratek Libre Pro, and Velocity, Micro Cruz Reader.”

The pricing for the service has also been announced:

BORDERS – GET PUBLISHED(TM) Powered by BookBrewer gives authors a choice of two publishing packages: the $89.99 basic package and the $199.99 advanced publishing package. Under the basic package, BookBrewer will assign the book an ISBN (a $125 value), and will make it available to all major eBook stores at a price set by the writer. Royalties will be based on sales and will vary with each retailer. Authors who choose the advanced package will receive a full version of their ePub file, which they will own and may share with friends, family or submit on their own to eBook stores.

You may have noted that the Kindle (and other devices) are conspicuously missing from the list preceding the press release. However the advanced package offers an ePub version of the text, meaning that work can be transfered between online retailers pretty much seamlessly.

While writers can feasibly put together similar packages for themselves and make them available to any of the online retailers, the pricing and the feature that allows writers the ability to essentially blog their way to a book and edit afterward has a certain appeal. There are already several ongoing blog and wiki based projects like Neal Stephenson and Greg Bear’s Mongoliad.

Certainly, Get Published offers another option for writers without agents or publishers.

The question is whether this is a good thing or a bad one. One of the grand failures of Web 2.0 is that user-generated content produces much more questionable or just plain bad content than it does good. We have to endure hours of the “bad” to find those few second of the “good stuff.” And a novel is a different animal than a two minute song or a video. There’s a real time commitment involved in every single published work. Will these services produce income for the companies like Amazon, Borders, and Barnes & Noble, only to produce stagnant markets? They will certainly (at least initially) be filled with many of the novels that have been shopped at the big publishers and rejected several times.

If the service sounds too close to a vanity press to garner a second look, consider that they offer distribution, and unlike most vanity presses they can and will deliver. And with the initial fees paid, the author is free to take his or her work to whichever retailer he or she desires, at whatever price. Most important, authors claim the vast majority of the profits from those retailers. At amazon, that’s 70% of the profits, far more than any of the big print publishers offer. The pricing model offers legitimate incentive for established writers to publish electronically. It’s a good bet that we will see established authors publishing in these markets.

Another factor to consider, from both a consumer and production standpoint, is that these services have the potential to put the digital rights in the hands of the artists and writers. Decisions about DRM will no longer be made by publishers under this monetization platform. They will be made by the person who should make them: the writer.

National Book Award Finalists

Posted on : 17-10-2010 | By : Dean | In : Awards, Literature

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Fiction Finalists:

Peter Carey, Parrot and Olivier in America (Alfred A. Knopf)

Jaimy Gordon, Lord of Misrule (McPherson & Co.)

Nicole Krauss, Great House (W.W. Norton & Co.)

Lionel Shriver, So Much for That
(Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers)

Karen Tei Yamashita, I Hotel (Coffee House Press)

Man Booker Winner Announced

Posted on : 15-10-2010 | By : Dean | In : Awards, Literature

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From the Booker Prize site:

Howard Jacobson is tonight (Tuesday 12 October) named the winner of the £50,000 Man Booker Prize for Fiction for The Finkler Question, published by Bloomsbury.

London author and columnist Howard Jacobson has been longlisted twice for the prize, in 2006 for Kalooki Nights and in 2002 for Who’s Sorry Now, but has never before been shortlisted.

The Finkler Question is a novel about love, loss and male friendship, and explores what it means to be Jewish today.

The Booker Prize short list:

  • Peter Carey for “Parrot and Olivier in America” (Faber and Faber)
  • Ms. Donoghue for “Room” (Picador; Pan Macmillan)
  • Damon Galgut for “In a Strange Room” (Atlantic Books; Grove Atlantic)
  • Howard Jacobson for “The Finkler Question” (Bloomsbury)
  • Andrea Levy for “The Long Song” (Headline Review; Headline Publishing Group)
  • Mr. McCarthy for “C” (Jonathan Cape; Random House)

2008 Hugo Winners

Posted on : 09-08-2009 | By : Dean | In : Awards, Literature, Science Fiction

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Here are the winners, compliments of the official Hugo site:

  • Best Novel: The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins; Bloomsbury UK)
  • Best Novella: “The Erdmann Nexus”, Nancy Kress (Asimov’s Oct/Nov 2008)
  • Best Novelette: “Shoggoths in Bloom”, Elizabeth Bear (Asimov’s Mar 2008)
  • Best Short Story: “Exhalation”, Ted Chiang (Eclipse Two)
  • Best Related Book: Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever, 1998-2008, John Scalzi (Subterranean Press)
  • Best Graphic Story: Girl Genius, Volume 8: Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones, Written by Kaja & Phil Foglio, art by Phil Foglio, colors by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
  • Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: WALL-E Andrew Stanton & Pete Docter, story; Andrew Stanton & Jim Reardon, screenplay; Andrew Stanton, director (Pixar/Walt Disney)
  • Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Joss Whedon, & Zack Whedon, & Jed Whedon, & Maurissa Tancharoen, writers; Joss Whedon, director (Mutant Enemy)
  • Best Editor Short Form: Ellen Datlow
  • Best Editor Long Form: David G. Hartwell
  • Best Professional Artist: Donato Giancola
  • Best Semiprozine: Weird Tales, edited by Ann VanderMeer & Stephen H. Segal
  • Best Fan Writer: Cheryl Morgan
  • Best Fanzine: Electric Velocipede edited by John Klima
  • Best Fan Artist: Frank Wu

And the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (presented by Dell Magazines): David Anthony Durham

You can find a breakdown of the votes on the official site, but over at Anticipation, they’ve even been kind enough to link to all the available online versions out there: Anticipation SF

The Novels

Gaimen has now taken the Newberry and the Hugo for The Graveyard Book. It’s not the only non-adult book that was in the running, either. Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother (like all his work, available free at craphound.com) was second place. Anathem‘s third place showing was fitting. The 980 page length may not have helped. Saturn’s Children is one of the few Stross books I haven’t read yet.

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