Nebula Award Nominees Announced

From Gwenda “Don’t Call Me Lazenby, But Daniel Craig is Okay” Bond, comes this year’s Nebula Award nominees:

NOVEL:

Geoff Ryman, Air
Joe Haldeman, Camoflauge
Terry Pratchett, Going Postal
Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
Jack McDevitt, Polaris
John C. Wright, Orphan of Chaos

NOVELLA:

Clay’s Pride” by Bud Sparhawk
Identity Theft” (available via PDF or DOC) by Robert J. Sawyer
Left of the Dial” by Paul Witcover
Magic for Beginners” by Kelly Link
The Tribes of Bela” by Albert Cowdrey

NOVELETTE:

The Faery Handbag” by Kelly Link
Flat Diane” by Daniel Abraham
Men Are Trouble” by Jim Kelly
Nirvana High” by Eileen Gunn and Leslie What
The People of Sand and Slag” by Paolo Bacigalupi (who blew me away a few years ago with his fantastic short story “The Fluted Girl”)

SHORT STORY:

Born-Again” by K.D. Wentworth
The End of the World as We Know It” by Dale Bailey
I Live With You” by Carol Emshwiller
My Mother, Dancing” by Nancy Kress
Singing My Sister Down” by Margo Lanagan
Still Life With Boobs” by Anne Harris (This should win an award for best title!)
There’s a Hole in the City” by Richard Bowes

[UPDATE: Thank you Perry and Abigail for filling in a few missing links to short stories available online!]

The Sony Metreon Scam

Expect the area south of Powell Street Station to turn into a consumer-centric nightmare. That’s because Westfield San Francisco has purchased the Sony Metreon complex for $70 million. Now David Lazarus might tell you that the Sony Metreon venture was a sad failure. He might imply that this was a dream that didn’t deserve to die. And he certainly paints a human face in talking with Trevor Bryant, the senior vice president who supervised the development of the Sony Metreon and who claims in Lazarus’s article, “It was supposed to be a place where you couldn’t tell where the entertainment ended and the retail began. I truly believed in it 100 percent.”

But if customers are constantly entertained, how then will they purchase products? And doesn’t it make sense to give the customer clear terms with which to purchase these products? I’m no MBA, but how can any business succeed if the customer doesn’t even know what the hell he is buying?

I smell bullshit. It seems pretty clear to me that Trevor Bryant was played for a fool.

Here’s what I think: The Sony Metreon, arriving in 2001, was one of those crazy ideas that came into fruition during the dot com days. Sony wanted presence and presence alone, not unlike the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Alas, presence is not exactly the best of business models. Not unless you can turn a profit.

Now just as the deal gets finalized, Sony starts to get cold feet. Or, rather, they wake up. They wonder just what the hell they’ve gotten themselves into and perhaps fire the crazy bastard who convinced some top man that the Metreon was a great idea. But at this point, the deal is too far along to stop. And besides this is a really hot property development spot in San Francisco. There are all sorts of things being built nearby. An Old Navy store. An Apple store. The like. All of them constructed and developed because with Sony’s $85 million move, there’s an aura in the air that, around Fourth and Market, some serious and profitable shit is going down.

So, six months after the Metreon opens, Sony cuts off the development money it’s earmarked, per Bryant’s corroboration in the Lazarus article, and they think to themselves, “Let’s see what Bryant can do on nothing.” So Bryant works his ass off, while some transactional law and assessment division of Sony starts factoring in just who in the hell they can sell this big complex to. Meanwhile, the economy’s not doing so hot because of September 11 and the recession that lasts through 2003. Stores open, stores close. But the movie theatre is successful. But who the hell cares? Because this thing’s a big shark waiting to die.

And then the economy picks up and Westfield, who just happens to own the nearby San Francisco Shopping Centre, starts thinking about malls and monopolization. And Sony sells to them for $70 million. This may seem a bad deal. But au contraire. Because let’s consider how much Sony’s made leasing out all that space, as intermittent as it was. Let’s also factor in the strange arrangement in 2002, where Sony offered to operate a store on a retailer’s behalf, a way to accumulate a quick amount of cash and ensure that some income was coming into Sony’s coffers. Surely, much of this makes up for a $15 million shortfall, doesn’t it?

So Sony makes most, if not all, of its $85 million development money back. It gets free advertising for five years, but without having to pay for it to like Pacific Bell (later SBC, later AT&T) did for the ballpark. And the area around Fourth and Mission Streets turns, two years from now, into either a bona-fide, obscene and profitable mall or another ghost mall to decimate the landscape. One thing’s for sure: the drive to open more retail isn’t going to hinder that area’s homogenized development anytime soon.

Regardless of Westfield’s success or failure with the Metreon, Sony makes out okay on this score. But for San Francisco, the area loses any and all distinction. It’s another “bad” business deal in which many unspoken entities win, but the people lose.

It’s Not Exactly Like We’re Reading Laurell K. Hamilton

Kevin Kinsella offers an anecdote that represents a type of experience I’ve encountered far too many times myself. Except in my case, it’s generally bankers, lawyers, doctors and other “educated” people who belittle my reading selections. San Francisco is a city of snobs, you see. Not that I give a shit either way, but it still always amuses me when these detractors can’t even remember the basic characters from, say, the current beat-up William Faulkner novel I’m rereading or confuse Sherwood Anderson with (I kid you not) Sherwood Schwartz. Which makes me wonder if there’s a novel I don’t know about called Gilligan Amberson’s Magnificent Island.

Roundup

Apologies for the roundup. It’s a very crazy day here. More long-form posts tomorrow.

Star & Buc Wild: One Year Later, No Consequences

Return of the Reluctant regulars may remember last year’s Star & Buc Wild episode, in which two DJs verbally berated an Indian call center employee with sexist and racist language. As of this writing, Star & Buc Wild are still employed at Power 99 and Power 105.1.

One year later, Kai Yu sends word that the Coalition Against Hate Media has formed to protest the racist programming of Emmis Communications. The CAHM website is still up and there are no protest events planned. But perhaps they’ll get their act together and do something constructive, such as jam phone banks, fax machines, mailboxes and the email of Jeaneane Brennan, the ClearChannel contact for the New York cluster.

Ms. Brennan’s contact info is listed here. Protest away!

Jeaneane Brennan
EEO Manager for NY Cluster
Clear Channel Radio 525 Washington Blvd.
16th Floor Jersey City, NJ 07310
Phone: (201) 420-3703 Fax: (201) 420-3847
Email: JeaneaneBrennan@clearchannel.com

Shedding Light on City Lights’ “Fascism”

The good folks at the SFist somehow caught it before me, but Catherine Seipp attacks one of my favorite bookstores, City Lights, for not carrying Oriana Fallaci’s The Force of Reason.

I call bullshit. First off, Seipp is resorting to hearsay in reporting that “a friend of hers” overheard a clerk snap, “We don’t carry books by fascists.” Hearsay is not permitted as evidence in a court of law and it sure as hell shouldn’t be permitted as a legitimate argument in an op-ed piece.

Second, how does not selling a particular title make City Lights fascist? Fascism, as I understand it, is “a system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism.”

So let’s clarify here. City Lights is not a government nor is it a philosophy which espouses a government. It’s a bookstore that caters to a particular niche. As such, it is a capitalistic entity that sells books. A customer can decide whether to patronize the store or not. If City Lights were “fascist,” then I suppose Ferlinghetti would lock the doors upon a customer’s arrival, point a gun against the customer’s head, and force the customer to purchase Che Guevara’s Guerrilla Warfare or die trying not to. But the truth of the matter is that customers are free to come in and leave, often without buying a single thing! In fact, if you walk into the fiction section, you’ll notice a sign that urges visitors to sit down and read a book.

As it so happens, I just spoke with a City Lights clerk on the phone and he told me that the official City Lights policy is this: If someone wants the Fallaci book, the store would send them somewhere else if a customer really wanted it. The store simply doesn’t want City Lights customer money going to support Fallaci. Now how exactly is this fascist if City Lights is facilitating the purchase for a die-hard Fallaci fan (albeit not at its store)?

75 Books: Eat the Document

I’m still woefully behind on logging my 75 Books Challenge. I hope to get to the ten or so books I’ve read in recent weeks as soon as I can. But in the meantime, to offer some positive thoughts to combat the sad news over the weekend, I must report an astonishing development! I think I may have read the best book of 2006 (so far).

Book #? was Dana Spiotta‘s Eat the Document. It’s a stunning novel: taut, deeply perceptive, mysterious, mildly satirical, and wistful. I read it in one sitting. I could not stop. Imagine if Don DeLillo actually wrote from the gut again and rediscovered that sense of playfulness he lost after Underworld and you have perhaps one fifth of what makes Spiotta such a fine novelist. Eat the Document tells the tale of a radical who committed some unknown crime in 1972 and contrasts her disappearance against a group of activists and bohemians in the late 1990s. There are fantastic parallels and even the playful hint of a nuanced allegory between the two ages, as we encounter a mysterious man named Nash who works in a bookstore and lives off the grid, while organizing meetings for extremely eccentric and, in some cases, outright nutball political movements (complete with crazed acronyms), the 1972 activist’s son, who has a great affinity for the Beach Boys, and a number of young ragtag activists who may or may not be true to their ideals.

Without coming across as didactic, Spiotta has important and often provocative things to say about the nature of political protest. At what personal cost does one rage against the machine? Surely, dissent is needed. But is a hard-fought battle for a tiny advancement truly worth it?

One of this novel’s delights is how Spiotta keeps you guessing about how she’s going to tie everything together. Sure enough, it all lines up as neatly as a Buckminster Fuller dome at the end, but Spiotta is good enough to leave lingering questions that will likely keep you up late and perhaps typing in theories on Internet discussion forums.

Roundup

Octavia

1987. Sacramento. I was in eighth grade and my best friend was African-American. And he was a handful of African-Americans in a school comprised almost entirely of whites. This made no difference to me. I was simply relieved to meet someone who dug Full Metal Jacket and Doctor Who as much as I did and who liked to contemplate some of the strange observations around us. The girls we blushed over at recess. (Embarassingly, I still blush around women to this very day and I can’t help thinking of my old friend every time I do.) We’d go crawdad fishing and ride away long weekends on our bikes. We exchanged rap tapes. Kool Moe Dee, Too Short (before the $ sign), Ice-T. He introduced me to his friends and I’d hang out with the posse contemplating Arsenio Hall’s appearance in Amazon Women on the Moon and trying to figure out which girls had the best booties. His mother, who raised my friend on her own, was kind enough to let me stay over and she somehow knew that things weren’t exactly scintillating at home. But no matter.

What I had no way of knowing back then, what indeed was a horrible mystery to me, was when I came home with black eyes and bruises and horrible aches in my pale and skinny limbs simply because this boy was my best friend. I was called “Nigger Lover.” I was punched and beaten, thrown into trash cans and mercilessly taunted between periods. For what crime? Partly because I was poor, but mostly because I hung out with a kid who was not of my race. This was not the South, but suburban California. How could this be? I asked myself. Hadn’t these days passed?

Eventually, my friend had to move away to St. Louis. His mother had found a better-paying job. And I lost track of him. I’ve made several attempts over the years typing his name into search engines, aching to know what happened to him, wanting to make sure that he made out all right. But I’m pretty sure he made out okay. He was a good kid.

Back in those days, I was a heavy reader of science fiction. Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Robert Sheckley, Richard Matheson, Harlan Ellison, Robert Bloch, and Douglas Adams were all names that graced the covers of the books I read. Fantastic worlds reflecting the phantsmagorical awaited me in the library. But when I checked out a mass-market paperback of Kindred from the library, I had no way of knowing that it would be Octavia E. Butler who would tell me, perhaps more substantially than the others, just what speculative fiction was all about and why my schoolmates had beaten the shit out of me more than a century after emancipation. For in Butler’s hands, speculative fiction wasn’t just “speculative.” It was fiction that stood on its own, going well beyond what even my English teachers often dismissed as “flying saucers and bug-eyed monsters.” It unearthed human ambiguity. In one glance from a character, Butler revealed untold decades of subconscioius behavior that our contemporary society had failed to discuss, much less address. And she did so with a clearly written and utterly compelling tale involving time travel and years waiting for one’s lost love to return. It was Kindred which explained to me why I had been hurt and taunted and abused.

That was no small task.

To me, Kindred was one of those key books that told me that literature was about something. Years later, in my late twenties, I reread the book and was astonished by how well it had held up. And with more than decade of life experience accumulated, the chasm between Kevin and Dana hurt even more.

It’s difficult to sum into words just what Octavia E. Butler did for fiction. At the risk of coming across as a jejune generalist, Butler didn’t just demonstrate that science fiction wasn’t the exclusive territory of white male writers, but she proved more adeptly than most writers that issues of race, environment, ideals in a dystopic state, and the like were the stuff of Fiction. Period.

So when Tayari Jones tipped me off this morning with the possibility that Butler had died, before Butler had even had the chance to celebrate her sixtieth birthday, I couldn’t believe it. I had to find out for sure. Surely, the woman who had planned to be an “80-year-old writer” and who had, with Kindred, rediscovered the great joy of writing after the dystopic Parables wasn’t gone. And when I confirmed the news this morning, I was numb and more than a little dumbstruck and really couldn’t do much of damn anything all day.

I’m extremely grateful that I had the chance to talk with her and to thank her. What I can tell you about Octavia Butler from the hour I shared with her is this: I had taken her to a cafe that I thought would be relatively depopulated, but to my great surprise, it was extremely noisy and crowded. I remember buying her a bottle of mineral water, which I had initially misheard as “water.” I remember Butler wincing and raising an eyebrow every time the report of the espresso machine went off. But I also recall her being extremely relaxed and diligent with her answers, even though she didn’t really care much for doing press, much less being in public. Because I knew Ms. Butler had a heart condition, I offered to walk her back from the hotel. But she was a self-sufficient woman and she preceded the walk back to her hotel with an unexpected “It was nice meeting you” and a disappearing act that was so rapid that I rushed out the doors to find no trace of her. I had horrible nightmares that she wouldn’t make it to her City Lights reading that night. But thankfully she did.

In the end, Butler’s work will live on. But there is nobody who can replace her. I can’t imagine any other author who could have helped me understand that I wasn’t alone when the preteen thugs tried to dissuade me from my friendship but completely failed in the process.

[UPDATE: Tayari has more words, as does On the Verge of Dating White Girls and Cory Doctorow.]

[UPDATE 2: And, thanks to Gwenda, more from Jenny D, Scott Westerfeld and Known Forms.]

[UPDATE 3: Still more. Cyborg Demoracy, L. David Wheeler, Earthseed poetry, Kelly Sear Smith, and Pantry Slut, who remembers Butler as a Clarion instructor.]

Octavia Butler Dead

Octavia Butler died on Saturday as a result of a fall from her home in Seattle. I talked with the King County Medical Examiner’s office. They have confirmed that they have an Octavia Butler there. Damn.

This is a major loss to American letters and I’m a bit shaken up by this. I’ll have more to say about Octavia Butler’s importance as soon as I collect myself. But I was extremely fortunate enough to talk with Octavia just before she passed away. You can listen to the podcast here.

The email currently making the rounds:

“Yesterday Octavia Butler fell outside her house during what neighbors thought was a stroke. A neighbor kid found her outside her house. They rushed her to the hospital, and found blood had pooled in her brain, they operated but she passed away today.”

(Source: Steven Barnes’ blog.)

Edward Champion: The Internet’s Unsung Prophet

A popular proverb in LOGO says, “FD 200 BK 300 FD 100.” But sometimes you can simply type in “HOME.” That’s more or less how litblogger Edward Champion feels today, as he asks aloud why he isn’t more famous than Kate Braverman.

After all, his 2004 San Francisco Fringe Festival play, Wrestling an Alligator, was hailed as a failure, Champion says, by the evil demons who live inside his right shoulder. His less well-known 16mm film, Servant of Society, was shot while he was a film student and never completed. Meanwhile, his blog, Return of the Reluctant, “is unknown for the collection of ravings that it is.” Champion has tried to write novels and short stories for years, only to collect rejection notices for the ones he has actually bothered to finish and put in the mail. He can’t even get regular work writing in newspapers, much less low-paying websites. So why isn’t he better known?

“I’m just another blogger,” Champion says. “I don’t think people understand my sense of humor, much less the occasional personas I create. But it’s probably because I’m just not that good of a writer.”

He’s dressed in a T-shirt that one might imagine on a teenager and jeans that don’t appear to have been washed, with a ratty wool coat as a carapace. He hasn’t bothered to shave because, he tells me, “the Los Angeles Times is run by a bunch of assholes.” He’s balding and he’s a bit tubby and he knows it. And aside from the occasional lay now, he hasn’t had a girlfriend in a while. When I ask him how long, he says it might have been the last time he had to pay taxes.

“I’m 31 years old. Surely, the world must understand my genius by now!”

It’s the lack of recognition that keeps Champion going. Well, that and the free books. The man blogs prolifically with the vain hope that someone will eventually hire him.

“There is not another blogger in the United States who sits between Cory Doctorow and Jason Kottke, next to Derek Powazek and Nick Denton. I have the most literary stature, certainly, of any assclown with an Internet account,” Champion says — a view that certainly isn’t confirmed by his Technorati rating.

“I was a total Internet addict,” said Champion of his initial foray into blogging. “The problem is that I can’t say no. Others tell me I have hubris. But they’re just jealous that I’m so ambitious.”

When I asked Champion if he was interested in drugs, he showed me a framed certificate that he had obtained from a correspondence course. The certificate read: “LITERARY BLOGGER.”

“You see that!” Champion shrieks. “That’s accredited!”

But I’m already out the door. I’m going to string up the editor who gave me this assignment.

“No,” Champion screams as I run to my car. “I’m a member of the LBC!”

Champion stands in front of my 1982 Toyota Corrolla. He does not budge. I beep my horn at him and Champion begins jumping around like a loon, cackling maniacally and begging me to put on the straightjacket. I throw him an early draft of David Mitchell’s latest novel and he then begins groveling for it in the street. I leave Champion in the dust, watching him lick the paper in the rear view mirror.

I’ve been a reporter for too damn long.

Concert Review (2-23-06, The Fillmore): Nada Surf/Rogue Wave/Inara George

It had been a long while (well, only a mere two months, but for a music freak, that’s an eternity) since I had seen a live show. And I suppose this desire, along with the recent discovery that you could escape exorbitant Ticketmaster charges (i.e., $10 for a $20 show!) at the Fillmore by buying tickets directly from the box office, led me to select Nada Surf (opening acts: Inara George and Rogue Wave) as the band to get back into the game with. Agent Tito Perez, who I later learned wasn’t really a fan for bands serving that halfway point between party band and indie pop, was kind enough to accompany me. But as it turned out, Mr. Perez’s wisdom on this point far exceeded mine. And we were both duped as a result of my ill-fated excitement.

Nada Surf, as a live experience, turns out to be a band that has little to offer to anyone over the age of 24. Their lyrics come across as more puerile in person (or perhaps reveal themselves as such). Their stage presence is hackeneyed and culled from strange sources. Bassist Daniel Lorca, for example, regularly smokes cigarettes, shooting out great plumes while playing as if this gleeful self-immolation is some kind of musical innovation. But in lieu of Slash’s wild hair or soulful guitar solos, we get a dreadlocked idiot bouncing up and down without √©lan, much less a point, while offering straightforward bass lines while muttering asides like, “Fillmore! Fuck yeah,” and without, say, the admirable goofiness of bald Rogue Wave bassist Evan Farrell, whose spastic stage presence was easily the highlight of a mostly mediocre evening, but only when compared with the lifeless performances of his compadres. Their vocalist/guitarist, Matthew Caws, is an adenoidal adolescent long overdue for an elocution class, much less a lesson in subtlety.

I could offer sad excuses, such as the fact that I have a weakness for arpeggio-based bands and the fact that, even now in my early thirties, I am still trying to prolong certain immature impulses, which may explain the whole halfway “party band” thing I am still coming to terms with. But I must thank Nada Surf for delivering an austere lesson: A party band is a party band is a party band. I walked away from the show feeling nothing more than the paper-thin razzle-dazzle that one easily outgrows. The hollow dupe of hubris-laden vocalists and, most criminally, a sound engineer who boosted up vocals with excessive treble that agitated my ears, as if I was being bombarded with an array of unwanted whispers, and, most unpardonably, the shameful sham of reverb for tunes that, to my ear at least, did not require much of a larynx stretch. Unless, of course, the live limbo bar has been raised to a rather comfortable two-octave range.

A few words about the Fillmore, which may further explain the Nada Surf decision. It’s a good venue. Nearly every music freak knows its history, but it’s also the place where strange things always seem to happen for me. The band that once told the audience that, “If you want to hang out with us, we’ll be out front.” Not just once, but repeatedly. In between each song. As if the prospect of hanging “out front” would somehow allow one to parse this band’s allure. Or, as I later observed that evening when I went “out front” (not, I assure you, to hang out with this band but to relieve myself), scantily clad and underaged girls throwing themselves at the frontman. The band that once screamed to the crowd, “We’re from Walnut Creek! And we’re angry!” (Indeed.) There was also the incident about a year ago of the attractive blonde, seven years my junior and surprisingly sober, who once groped me while simultaneously trying to get me to dance, apparently smitten with my T-shirt, which had an obscure cultural reference on it, and what she referred to as my “amazing brain.” I found this somewhat sad and yet the perverse side of me couldn’t resist its sordid appeal.

And, as I shall soon relay further, Thursday night likewise possessed a seamy undercurrent that more than made up for Nada Surf’s deficiencies.

But before I get to Nada Surf, let me talk of the two bands that preceded them.

We arrived as a woman named Inara George sang songs, accompanied by a keyboardist who did not move, much less perform, and a moribund guitarist, both of whom I felt very sorry for. Her tunes were wholly undistinguishable from each other, much less an open mike night at a coffeehouse. This was a singer who had clearly spent many years in a bedroom impersonating Bjork, Dolores O’Riordan and Laetitia Sadier, and had failed to come up with a distinct voice of her own. As I said to Mr. Perez, “This chick gives chick pop a bad name.” Her lyrics were immediately suspect because she seemed to be under the false impression that the words “fashion” and “reaction” rhymed. Further, in between songs, Ms. George kept insisting to the audience that she was not drunk. Drawing attention to one’s weaknesses to a lukewarm audience is, in my view, a pretty suicidal move. But that wasn’t the least of Ms. George’s self-sabotage. She then proceeded to crack a lame joke about Paris Hilton, which received no laughs. She then said, “If Paris Hilton is in the crowd tonight, I’m sorry. I think she’s pretty cool.” Oscar Wilde, Ms. George clearly is not.

If there was a positive during during Ms. George’s peformance, Mr. Perez and I made known our secret appreciation for Joanna Newsom (who may actually be related to Mayor Gavin), who has seemingly disappeared from the face of the earth after the excellent album, “The Milk-Eyed Mender.”

Sometime around Ms. George’s performance, I had the first of two whiskey sours, in large part because the high audience contingent of youths ten years my junior was making me feel like an old lady and I figured I should imbibe along these lines.

Thankfully, Ms. George concluded her interminable set. Rogue Wave then appeared. Rogue Wave hails from the East Bay and I had been intending to see them. I can recommend their album, “Out of the Shadow.” The live Rogue Wave is, with the exception of the aforementioned bassist Evan Farrell, fairly lifeless. Vocalist Zach Rogue hides like a coward behind the smooth polish of overdone reverb. It’s a shame, because he doesn’t have that bad of a voice. The backup guitarist and the drummer frequently switch positions, but, outside of Farrell, this is the only real animation that you are likely to encounter from this band. Apparently, Rogue and company didn’t get the memo that the shoegazing thing died out around 1993.

I am not certain if Mr. Farrell might find a way to urge his fellow bandmates to amp themselves up. He had, as Mr. Perez observed, good clapping moves. And any bald musician contorting his body like a fey fish deserves many plaudits from this cultural chornicler.

Unfortunately, Farrell also had to play bass. And his moves were naturally occluded by this and the telling awareness that his fellow bandmates were tragically inert.

Perhaps the solution here is some mad roadie running around on stage threatening to electrocute Rogue Wave’s remaining members if they refuse to move. In fact, this might be a dependable approach used across the board to break bands out of the dreadful habit of staying in place. If you’re going to perform, then, dammit, perform!

We now come to Nada Surf, of which I have very little to add. They did have an intriguing stage setup which I thought might factor into the show. Five round mirrors were placed behind the band, as if to suggest some conceptual angle that would play out later in the show. Alas, it was little more than a literal reference to “In the Mirror,” a track off their album, The Weight is a Gift.

For their first two songs, Nada Surf started off with a nice sound. Rich guitar, vocals balanced, and of course the aforementioned stage animation from Lorca, which offered great relief to the rectilinear antics of Rogue Wave. But after the second song, Caws raced over to the sound guy and the band made a tragic mistake. Suddenly, Caws’ vocals dwarfed the entirety of the mix. This was unfortunate, because Caws was riding high on reverb and it soon became apparent how childish his lyrics were (“I want you lazy science / I want some peace / Are you the future? / Show me the keys”) and how deficient his vocal timbre was.

“Concrete Bed,” in particular, suffered from the mid-set remix. The song, for those of you who have heard the album, relies on a very catchy guitar hook to drive the song forward. For whatever reason, when the sound guy was asked to change levels, it came at the expense of the levels on Caws’ guitar. And without the jangly rhthym guitar, the song felt as if it was missing something.

Was this a vocalist’s arrogance or a case where Nada Surf’s monitors were malfunctioning, simply not reflecting the mix the audience was hearing? I didn’t see it, but Mr. Perez observed the drummer pointing upwards as Caws was negotiating with the sound guy.

But the end result was that I came away not really wanting to listen to Nada Surf anymore, feeling very much an adult surrounded by children. Because the secret to their success (careful production in the studio) had been exposed, revealing a band that was utterly anemic in person. There are some bands that are like this, unfortunately. Which begs the question: If you’re unwilling to expose your band’s vulnerabilities on stage, why tour at all? Mistakes are one of the reasons people go to see live shows. I hereby declare a moratorium on the use of excessive reverb in live shows.

While my interest in Nada Surf’s live act flagged considerably by the fifth song, I did espy a very creepy situation going down on my left. Apparently, a man, who was somewhere between the age of fifty and fifty-five, was trying desperately to talk with someone who appeared to be an eighteen year-old girl. The girl was with two other friends. And I thought at first that this man was escorting his daughter to a live show. He seemed quick to prove that he was enjoying himself by bobbing his head up and down and shaking his body. But it soon became apparent by the girl’s body language (frown on face, trying to avoiding this man’s repeated efforts to chat her up) that she was uncomfortable and that she didn’t know this guy. It wasn’t a case of mere avoidance. It was a case of this girl not really having any other place to shift to on a crowded floor.

Then the girl’s two friends disappeared. And I watched the girl repeatedly brush her hair with her hand as the man held up first three fingers and then five fingers. He then pulled out his wallet and returned it back to his pocket. Was this a proposition? It certainly looked like it. Could it be that older men attend the shows at the Fillmore with the express purpose of picking up young women? If so, I’m sure this wasn’t a first. This unsettled me. But before I could find out a definitive answer, the show was over.

I Won’t Phone It In For You Folks

The day is shot, the schedule too impacted for a roundup or a post pulled from my matts. I’ll see you tomorrow. But in the meantime, as Ron and others have pointed out, the Gray Lady has reported some major book news: Sales of Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman are up after the book appeared on Lost.

I don’t have the Times‘ resources, but I just might be able to scoop the New York Times by reporting that J.T. Leroy is a fake, James Frey is a liar, and, to my great astonishment, Vollmann was nominated for the National Book Award (will he win?).

Besides, the biggest piece of news doesn’t involve books, but it depresses the hell out of me: Bush got re-elected! Who knew?

Antjie Krog: Plagiarist or Not Plagiarist?

Because fresh plagiarism charges seem to be unfurled more frequently than we replenish our own underwear drawer with scores of freshly laundered boxers (Is it too late to call 2006 the Year of the Plagiarist ?), the time has come for Return of the Reluctant to institute a new weekly feature: Plagiarist or Not Plagiarist ?

This Week’s Plagiarist : Antjie Krog

Source of Charges: Stephen Watson, writing in The New Contrast

Author’s Response to Plagiarism: “Stephen Watson in the annals of Plagiarism”

Work in Question: The Country of My Skull

Alleged Sources of Plagiarism: Multiple. Ted Hughes’ essay, “Myth and Education,” and two 19th century European linguists.

What the Publisher Says: Eve Gray at Random House: Only one phase strikingly similar, Krog’s book different in tone. Random House considering libel action against Watson.

Freedom’s Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose

An interesting exchange between Vollmann and Kate Braverman: “If freedom means anything, it’s about being repulsive as well as being able to do flower paintings. I believe that we have to focus on the other. I’m not saying pedophilia is right. But I imagined someone who would be, by our culture’s standards, the most vile and repulsive character, worse than Osama bin Laden. But let’s make him wise and a guide or bridge to the Queen. And it’s through somebody like that Tyler gains entrance to the Queen. He endures humiliation and insult from Dan Smooth. That’s the price he pays. In so many ways, this novel is about degradation. One of the questions I’ve often had is, when does self-actualization end and degradation begin? What does it really mean if we’re going to try to be ourselves? We don’t want to be conformists. We don’t want to follow social conventions, but how far do we want to take that?”

(Thanks, D!)

[UPDATE: Mr. Hogan has discovered the complete version of the interview.]

Oh, What Suckers You’ve Been!

One year ago today, I asked readers of edrants.com to become micropatrons and support my indolent lifestyle. I suggested to you that I would, in fact, be writing more. But what you didn’t know was that the $39,900 that you gave me would be spent on hookers and trips to exotic locales, and that this blog would in fact become less of a passion and more of a half-assed obligation. Not unlike that ship in a bottle I’ve been working on for the past five years.

Thanks in part to you readers, who, much to my amazement, foolishly ponied up the dough, I’ve received more blowjobs in the past 365 days than I had during the past 31 years. I was able to propose to my partner in crime, Wing Nut. I now have a manservant named Topei who I picked up in Southeast Asia. He polishes my shoes with his tongue. I’ve become accustomed to flogging him at random moments. I had no idea how much fun it is to beat an indigent manservant. If you make a six-figure salary, I highly recommend it. But thanks to you readers, I am now fully acquainted with the pleasures of the leisure class. And there’s no turning back.

And of course the blog here has become much worse. Several literary experts have appraised the content. They have personally assured me that the content here has fallen far below that of a Fleet Street hack.

I won’t be asking for donations again — in large part because I know that I can’t fool you twice. I’ve found another money-making scam to maintain my lifestyle. My (unstated) intention from the beginning was to approach this site as a startup. I remember those heady dot com days where you could draw out a baroque diagram on paper and get $3 million in venture capital.

Well, if anything, this great one year scam has proven that Web 2.0 isn’t just a myth. While I didn’t get $3 million, I did get some pretty good payola. What this demonstrates is that, with a decent Technorati rating, fools will happily part with their money and give it to you.

So thank you, dear readers! You’ve been inveterate fools and you’ve allowed me to live it up! I’ve seriously considered changing my last name to “Kottke.”

Now excuse me while I have Topei read me some Malcolm Gladwell while I beat him with my ARC of Steven Johnson’s Emergence.

Roundup/Update

  • Podbop: Enter your city and listen to MP3 snippets of bands touring in your town this week. (via Irregardless)
  • C. Max Magee, having now shifted to a more RSS-friendly home, offers a thoughtful take on the future of the book and gets a surprise response from George Saunders.
  • Robert “Prolfiic Is My Temperament, Prolific Is My Interviewing” Birnbaum talks with Andrew Delbanco.
  • Well, I guess Jessa Crispin hates such “desperate” works as James Joyce’s Ulysses, e.e. cummings’ No Thanks, Lord Byron’s early poems, Willa Cather’s One of Ours, Waltman’s Leaves of Grass, Thoreau’s Walden, Virginia Woolf’s early novels, and Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style (which was initially self-published).
  • Haven’t forgotten about the Black Swan Green discussion with Megan. It’s coming. The ball’s in my court. But there are many things currently going on. Hopefully, we’ll get up the copious correspondence next week.
  • I have a little under ten books to log for the 75 Book Challenge, including my long and long-delayed thoughts on Perlman’s Seven Types of Ambiguity. Again, spare moments, hopefully soon.
  • Segundo: Three podcasts to finalize, some very special authors (including one HUGE surprise!) coming in the upcoming weeks, including Jonathan Ames, who also got a chance to talk with Pinky’s Paperhaus when rolling through Los Angeles.
  • Nor have I forgotten about the Naughty Reading Photo Contest. I apologize to all the entrants for the delay.
  • Do you have any more coffee?