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Sunday, July 22, 2001
Typos, lace knitting, and schadenfreude

At various points in my career I've worked as a typesetter, research checker, technical typist, proofreader, slugger, copyeditor, line editor, writer, six kinds of editor, and asst'd misc. other. I wouldn't say that typos are my life, but they're a constant feature of it. And I wouldn't say that I'm superstitious about typos; say, rather, that experience has taught me that there's a certain perversity to the universe where typos are concerned.

There's an apocryphal story about the man who tries to produce a book with no errors in it at all, and winds up misspelling the title of the book on the title page; but we don't have to settle for apocrypha when so many real examples are available. My personal favorite is in Robert Cawdrey's A Table Alphabeticall of Hard Usual Words (that's a shorthand version of its title), which was published in 1604 and is generally held to be the first real English dictionary.

Digression alert: I'm very fond of Cawdrey, whose pithy initial address to the reader contains a great deal of common sense. Read it out loud if you're having trouble with the spellings, and it'll come clear. An "ynckhorne" is an inkhorn, or inkwell, and "ynckhorne termes" are the kind of arcane or obscure words and phrases which a scholar might use, but which never turn up in normal speech.

SVch as by their place and calling, (but especially Preachers) as haue occasion to speak publiquely before the ignorant people, are to bee admonished, that they neuer affect any strange ynckhorne termes, but labour to speake so as is commonly receiued, and so as the most ignorant may well vnderstand them: neyther seeking to be ouer fine or curious, nor yet liuing ouer carelesse, vsing their speech, as most men doe, & ordering their wits, as the fewest haue done. Some men seek so far for outlandish English, that they forget altogether their mothers language, so that if some of their mothers were aliue, they were not able to tell, or vnderstand what they say, and yet these fine English Clearks, will say they speak in their mother tongue; but one might well charge them, for counterfeyting the Kings English.

Also, some far iournied gentlemen, at their returne home, like as they loue to go in forraine apparrell, so they will pouder their talke with ouer-sea language. He that commeth lately out of France, will talk French English, and neuer blush at the matter. Another chops in with English Italianated, and applyeth the Italian phrase to our English speaking, the which is, as if an Orator, that professeth to vtter his minde in plaine Latine, would needs speake Poetrie, & far fetched colours of strange antiquitie.

Doth any wise man think, that wit resteth in strange words, or els standeth it not in wholsome matter, and apt declaring of a mans mind? Do we not speak, because we would haue other to vnderstand vs? or is not the tongue giuen for this end, that one might know what another meaneth? Therefore, either wee must make a difference of English, & say, some is learned English, & othersome is rude English, or the one is Court talke, the other is Country-speech, or els we must of necessitie banish all affected Rhetorique, and vse altogether one manner of language. Those therefore that will auoyde this follie, and acquaint themselues with the plainest & best kind of speech, must seeke from time to time such words as are commonlie receiued, and such as properly may expresse in plaine manner, the whole conceit of their mind. And looke what words wee best vnderstand, and know what they meane, the same should soonest be spoken, and first applied, to the vttrance of our purpose.

So, returning to our subject, there's Cawdrey's A Table Alphabeticall, the first English dictionary -- a mighty blow struck, you'd think, in the cause of orthography. And yet, right there on the very first page of the definitions is a dirty great typo -- by my guess, a slugging error -- whereby the word "aberration" appears twice on the page, once in its proper place and once out of sequence, with "astray" spelled two different ways in the definitions that follow.

I wish I could find a facsimile of the page. You can't properly appreciate what a glaring error it is if you can't see that the book has roughly 42 characters per line and 27 lines per page. There are only twelve definitions on the first page, and "aberration" is two of them.

It would be "aberration". It would be "astray". And it would be on the very first page of definitions.

(Am I going on too long here? Doesn't everyone keep lists of their favorite typos? Want to hear about my three favorite typos affecting saints' lives? No? Perhaps another time.)

Anyway. Anyway. As I started out to say, I'm wary of presumption where typos are concerned, because the little suckers have a knack for getting even. And that, dear readers, is why I'm not going to say I recently ran into the most painful typo of my life.

The only mitigating factor was that it was someone else's typo. Normally that would be enough to take the sting out of it. There are even times when someone else's production error can take the sting out of your own. I was much consoled over the bits of pied and missing text in Walter Jon Williams' Angel Station (my book) by the entire page that went missing at the climax of Dan Simmons' The Fall of Hyperion (someone else's book).

Alas, the typo I'm writing about was in a set of knitting instructions in A Gathering of Lace, which in knitting circles is a hot book just now. And justly so: it's beautiful, well-written, and full of great patterns. It also has a few inspiringly loopy ones, like a lace coracle. (No, that's not a typo.) For reasons I won't go into, I've been wanting a wretchedly difficult piece of knitting to work on. I'm not there yet, but to warm up for it I decided to knit a big circular lace shawl -- specifically, the pi shawl that starts on page 38. For related reasons, I decided that for once I was going to knit something entirely according to the directions, without throwing in any of my own frets and variations. Call it an exercise in faith.

Unless you knit you've probably never thought about this, but when you make a circular shawl that starts in the center and is formed outward in concentric rings, in order for it to lie flat the number of stitches per row has to gradually increase. By the time I hit the typo, I was up to 574 stitches per row, and was working the last lace pattern band before before the edging. It's a pretty pattern: Diamond Madeira, 14 stitches by 36 rows, in 41 repeats around the circle. The book helpfully supplied a chart of the pattern on page 40. I must admit that as I knitted from the chart, it did occur to me that the developing pattern didn't look quite like the the one shown in the book, but I was determined to follow the directions for once so I knitted even more energetically so I could see how it came out.

About halfway through the band, the horrid realization struck me: the results didn't look right because the stitch chart I was working from had a major error in it. After some study I figured out that the first eight of its 36 rows should have been the last eight. Ripping out lace knitting is a major pain under any circumstances. Worse, by my calculation I had by now knitted 9,184 stitches in error.

O, the embarrassment. All die.

This was such an unpleasant thought that I put off deciding what to do about it, then put it off again. In the meantime, I got in touch with the publisher so we could all share the joy. Traci Bunkers, the Instruction Editor at XRX Books, took it fairly well. It probably helped that I wasn't the first person to report that particular bug. She told me she keeps track of errata and posts them to the XRX website. She's not the only one who collects knitting-pattern errata. I hadn't previously known this -- though I should have; it's such an obvious answer to a perennial problem -- but there are a number of websites that collect knitters' bug reports.

Which is all very useful if you know about them in advance; but I had my 9,184 erroneous stitches to consider. In the end I wussed out, kept the existing stitches, and worked forward repeating same rows I'd already knitted in reverse order. It made a tidily symmetrical pattern. Disasters are always better if you can make them look intentional.

Since then my spirits have continued to improve. Thinking about poor brave Traci Bunkers has helped. When there are typos in my books, I of course regret them, but most times they just cause a little confusion. They don't blossom forth as botched and misshapen handwork, and I don't hear about each and every one of them from irritated readers.

O happy me. There's nothing like other people's production errors to cheer you up. This is as good as the time I read that long detailed angst-ridden article about magazine disasters caused by binding in those little sample envelopes of perfumed handcream. It's almost as good as that missing page in The Fall of Hyperion.

Afterword: The technical bits

- = knit one
# = purl one
/ = k2tog
\ = ssk
A = Sl2tog-k1-p2sso

Here's the wicked mendacious chart as it appears on page 40 of A Gathering of Lace:

36 0 / 0 - 0 / - \ 0 - 0 \ 0 A
35 / 0 - 0 / - - # \ 0 - 0 \ -
34 0 - 0 / - / 0 0 \ \ 0 - 0 A
33 - 0 / - - # - - - # \ 0 - -
32 0 - - \ 0 0 \ / 0 0 - - 0 A
31 \ 0 - - - - - # - - - 0 / -
30 - \ 0 - - \ 0 0 / - 0 / - -
29 - - \ 0 - - - - - 0 / - - -
28 - - - \ 0 - - - 0 / - - - -
27 - - - - \ 0 - 0 / - - - - -
26 - - - - - 0 A 0 - - - - - -
25 - - - - 0 / - \ 0 - - - - -
24 - - - 0 / 0 A 0 \ 0 - - - -
23 - - 0 / 0 / - \ 0 \ 0 - - -
22 - 0 / 0 / 0 A 0 \ 0 \ 0 - -
21 0 / 0 / 0 / - \ 0 \ 0 \ 0 -
20 - 0 \ 0 \ 0 A 0 / 0 / 0 - -
19 0 - 0 \ 0 \ - / 0 / 0 - 0 A
18 \ 0 - 0 \ 0 A 0 / 0 - 0 / -
17 # \ 0 - 0 \ - / 0 - 0 / - -
16 0 \ \ 0 - 0 A 0 - 0 / - / 0
15 - - # \ 0 - - - 0 / - - # -
14 / 0 0 / - 0 A 0 - - \ 0 0 \
13 # - - - 0 / - \ 0 - - - - -
12 0 / - 0 / - - - \ 0 - - \ 0
11 - - 0 / - - - - - \ 0 - - -
10 - 0 / - - - - - - - \ 0 - -
09 0 / - - - - - - - - - \ 0 -
08 0 - - - - - - - - - - - 0 A
07 \ 0 - - - - - - - - - 0 / -
06 0 \ 0 - - - - - - - 0 / 0 A
05 \ 0 \ 0 - - - - - 0 / 0 / -
04 0 \ 0 \ 0 - - - 0 / 0 / 0 A
03 \ 0 \ 0 \ 0 - 0 / 0 / 0 / -
02 0 \ 0 \ 0 - - - 0 / 0 / 0 A
01 \ 0 \ 0 - 0 A 0 - 0 / 0 / -

To generate the correct version, move rows 1-8 to the other end of the chart. Renumber the rows as at right.

08 0 - - - - - - - - - - - 0 A 36
07 \ 0 - - - - - - - - - 0 / - 35
06 0 \ 0 - - - - - - - 0 / 0 A 34
05 \ 0 \ 0 - - - - - 0 / 0 / - 33
04 0 \ 0 \ 0 - - - 0 / 0 / 0 A 32
03 \ 0 \ 0 \ 0 - 0 / 0 / 0 / - 31
02 0 \ 0 \ 0 - - - 0 / 0 / 0 A 30
01 \ 0 \ 0 - 0 A 0 - 0 / 0 / - 29
36 0 / 0 - 0 / - \ 0 - 0 \ 0 A 28
35 / 0 - 0 / - - # \ 0 - 0 \ - 27
34 0 - 0 / - / 0 0 \ \ 0 - 0 A 26
33 - 0 / - - # - - - # \ 0 - - 25
32 0 - - \ 0 0 \ / 0 0 - - 0 A 24
31 \ 0 - - - - - # - - - 0 / - 23
30 - \ 0 - - \ 0 0 / - 0 / - - 22
29 - - \ 0 - - - - - 0 / - - - 21
28 - - - \ 0 - - - 0 / - - - - 20
27 - - - - \ 0 - 0 / - - - - - 19
26 - - - - - 0 A 0 - - - - - - 18
25 - - - - 0 / - \ 0 - - - - - 17
24 - - - 0 / 0 A 0 \ 0 - - - - 16
23 - - 0 / 0 / - \ 0 \ 0 - - - 15
22 - 0 / 0 / 0 A 0 \ 0 \ 0 - - 14
21 0 / 0 / 0 / - \ 0 \ 0 \ 0 - 13
20 - 0 \ 0 \ 0 A 0 / 0 / 0 - - 12
19 0 - 0 \ 0 \ - / 0 / 0 - 0 A 11
18 \ 0 - 0 \ 0 A 0 / 0 - 0 / - 10
17 # \ 0 - 0 \ - / 0 - 0 / - - 09
16 0 \ \ 0 - 0 A 0 - 0 / - / 0 08
15 - - # \ 0 - - - 0 / - - # - 07
14 / 0 0 / - 0 A 0 - - \ 0 0 \ 06
13 # - - - 0 / - \ 0 - - - - - 05
12 0 / - 0 / - - - \ 0 - - \ 0 04
11 - - 0 / - - - - - \ 0 - - - 03
10 - 0 / - - - - - - - \ 0 - - 02
09 0 / - - - - - - - - - \ 0 - 01

Wednesday, July 18, 2001
Wedding Hell

June is over and done with. Goodbye, orange blossoms and lace; hello, post-mortems.

Start with the smart-mouthed And the Bride Wore... website: MST3K for bizarre wedding fashions. They're spot-on, especially about the cupholders.

Onward to the compulsively readable Wedding Etiquette Hell, a collection of misbegotten wedding stories that have the horrid fascination of a train wreck in progress. Here's a former Matron of Honor describing a ghastly limo ride:

The wedding goes just fine, and we all file out into the hot, late-June sun to await the limo that is not yet there. It finally pulls up, and I can't believe it when the driver steps out and introduces himself. He has no teeth! I can't even remember his name, but he was memorable. As we all try to pile into the back, of course there is not enough room for us all. My husband and I have to sit up front with the driver. The day being hot and sunny, we asked that he turn on the air conditioning for us. "Hope you don't mind", he says, "but the air conditioning is broke." So we ask him to roll down the back windows. He says he can't, it's against company policy. Whatever! So we finally take off. The driver asks the newlyweds where they want to go. Their response? "We don't know." ...We drive around downtown.

Then the bride and groom have an idea--let's go to the local Home Depot and parade around there in our wedding attire! Help me! We arrive and file out of the limo into the store. Needless to say, the workers and customers are rather surprised to see us. We traipse all over the store, and for some bizarre reason the bride decides to have her picture taken on a TOILET sitting in the aisle. Can we leave now?

We file back into the limo and head for the reception (held in the lower level of a bowling alley). We get out, and the driver takes off! All of my husband's and my stuff is in the trunk, including my purse! Aaaah! We go to the reception, considering everyone is waiting for the bridal party, and perform as usual. Meanwhile, I am telling the groom to call the limo service and the photographer to get his money back, and my husband is on his phone trying to get a hold of the limo service to bring the limo back. Nobody there! He tries again, and gets someone that does not speak English! Finally, somehow, he gets the limo driver to come back and retrieves our things from the trunk.

After all that hoopla, I was exhausted. I feigned a headache and we left! I don't think I ever want to be in another wedding again.

And another former attendant recalls an exceptionally unattractive Bridezilla:
A woman who I thought to be a close friend of mine was getting married. She didn't ask me to be a bridesmaid, which I thought was odd, but I just figured that she had lots of cousins that she had to ask or something. She asked me to be a "special attendant" who would help her in her wedding preparation, since her Maid of Honor (her cousin) lived out of town. Since I thought she was a great friend, I said yes.

She ended up picking 3 bridesmaids and one Maid of Honor--2 were family members, 2 were what I can only call casual acquaintances of hers. I was baffled at this selection, especially when I was not chosen, but I let it pass. As time went on, I noticed something that I include here only because it is crucial to the story of this bridezilla...all four of the 'maids were *significantly* overweight. I would say that the *least* overweight of the four was about 45 pounds overweight, and the heaviest probably weighed around 350 pounds.

Well, she had finally coordinated schedules so that all four could be in town together on the same day to go have bridesmaids dress fittings. I went with her as her "special attendant" to help see that things went smoothly. But when the 'maids saw the dress she had picked out for them, they looked appalled. When they tried their dresses on, at least a couple of them were in tears. She had (unknown to me) picked out tight, spaghetti-strap sheath dresses.

Now, even though they were all significantly overweight, all of her 'maids were quite beautiful women. They would have looked and felt gorgeous in a different style of dress. But a tight sheath??? Every bulge showed prominently. And SPAGHETTI STRAPS??? Most overweight women do not feel comfortable showing off less-than-toned upper arms, backs, and shoulders like that.

As I said, her 'maids were in tears. They asked her to reconsider her dress decision. She threw a fit and said that this was the ONLY dress that fit into the "vision" she had of her wedding. Then they asked if they couldn't just order some matching shoulder wraps (which were available, by the way) so that they didn't feel quite so exposed. She continued her fit, ending by sobbing that they were trying to "ruin her wedding" and that if they were good friends or relatives they would just "shut the hell up and wear the dresses she wanted for HER day." One maid had had enough, and told her that she quit. Inside I was shouting "you go girl!" But outside I was still trying to be the good "special attendant" and console the sobbing bride.

Well, anyway, when we got in the car to leave, Bridezilla showed her true thought it was bad until now? It gets better! She turned to me and said, "It's too bad Gina (names changed) balance of my attendants with his is going to be ruined now!"

I offered to step in and take Gina's place. She snorted and said, "Don't you get it?" I shook my head in bewilderment. She said, as though explaining something to a 2-year-old, "YOU'RE NOT FAT." She then proceeded to explain to me that she had specifically picked only bridesmaids that were, in her words, "really gross and fat." And that she had specifically picked the dresses to highlight their figure flaws so that she would look better. Or in her words, "Next to those fat cows in those dresses with their fat hanging out all over, I am gonna look like a supermodel on my wedding day."

... I rode home in shocked silence. The next day, I wrote her a letter telling her exactly how nasty, selfish, and mean she was, and that I quit as her "special attendant." I should have told her to her face, but I guess I just didn't have the nerve...not to mention I was so shocked the words didn't come to me until the next day anyway! I never heard from her again, did not attend the wedding, but always hoped it turned out well for her remaining 3 ' maybe they ALL quit! I also admit to hoping that she gains about 200 pounds someday and has someone give her a dose of her own medicine!

Another scientific breakthrough from Philip Morris, Inc.

The world's largest tobacco company has issued a report saying that premature deaths by lung cancer save the government money, because the smokers die before they need all that expensive senior care.

Monday, July 16, 2001
Bringing the light to Bognor Regis

How did I miss this story until now? According to a story in the London Times, "Missionaries to spread word in 'heathen' Britain", South American and African missionaries have taken to preaching in the UK:

Among the first are 12 Brazilians who have gone to spread the gospel to such places as Bognor Regis in West Sussex, Edinburgh and Orpington in Kent. In Harrogate, North Yorkshire, people taking the waters today will be greeted by the gentle samba of Viva Vida, a Brazilian dance troupe gyrating to the music of Christian songs.

Missionaries who have travelled 5,000 miles from the Sal da Terra (Salt of the Earth) church in Uberlandia will ask onlookers whether they are ready to commit themselves to Jesus.

Marcos Barros, head of the Sal de Terra mission, will give holy communion today in a restaurant in Bolton, Lancashire. "Britain is ungodly," he said.

More Bad

In re the Bulwer-Lytton contest, Barnaby Rapoport writes:

...As you say, there are much worse sentences in published work. I've been reading a lot of Richard Shaver for a fiction project, and I recently came across this:
"In the dark gloom cast by the shadow of the gloomy old "Home" (for even the workers of that far past had their accidents sooner or later in the endless lives their medicinal science gave them so that the legend of their immortality still is remembered today), Tim parked the rollat in the shadow of the overhanging stone monster of stone that graced the weird architecture of the great pile."

-- from "The Masked World" by Richard S. Shaver, Amazing, May 1946, pp. 30-31.

Thursday, July 12, 2001

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown slash. What more can I say?

Wednesday, July 11, 2001

Question Settled: Does the Internet Really Change Everything?

It doesn't.

I came to this decision after noticing that it's a rare week in which someone on eBay isn't auctioning off a bit of the True Cross. At the moment that I'm posting this there are one, two, three bits of the True Cross up for auction, accompanied by bits of (respectively) (1.) SS. Agnes, Anthony of Padua, Apollonia, Blaise, Catherine of Alexandria, Constantia, Donatus, and Francisci Solani; (2.) Didier, Claire, Romain, and Felix; and (3.) Dominic, Leonidas, and Francis of Assisi, plus a bit of the BVM's veil. This week there's also a relic of the Holy Lance.

The world may be turned upside-down, but it's still made of the same old stuff.

Not Half Bad

The results are in on the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, and as usual, the winning entries aren't bad enough to be interesting. In fact, you could pretty much construct them to a formula: "Take two normal expository sentences, plus a third sentence containing a heavy-handedly inappropriate element. Remove the terminal punctuation of the first two sentences, and string all three of them together. Identify any recurrent elements and translate their second and subsequent instances into obscure equivalents. Randomly decorate the whole ad libitum with extraneous details, parenthetical remarks, and overblown verbs."

But don't take my word for it. Here's the prizewinning entry, the overall runner-up, and the winner in the Detective category:

A small assortment of astonishingly loud brass instruments raced each other lustily to the respective ends of their distinct musical choices as the gates flew open to release a torrent of tawny fur comprised of angry yapping bullets that nipped at Desdemona's ankles, causing her to reflect once again (as blood filled her sneakers and she fought her way through the panicking crowd) that the annual Running of the Pomeranians in Liechtenstein was a stupid idea. (Sera Kirk, Vancouver, BC)

The lone monarch butterfly flew flutteringly through the cemetery, dancing on and glancing against headstone after headstone before alighting atop Willie Mitchell's already lowered casket, causing gasps of awe to fly from the open mouths of five or six lingering mourners, until a big shovelful of dirt landed on it and it died. (Julie Stangeland, Seal Beach, CA)

The graphic crime-scene photo that stared up at Homicide Inspector Chuck Venturi from the center of his desk was not a pretty picture, though it could have been, Chuck mused, had it only been shot in soft focus with a shutter speed of 1/125 second at f 5.6 or so. (Ms. Rephah Berg, Oakland, CA)

Bah! I could find worse (and livelier) specimens in a ninety-second troll through the office slushpile or a fifteen-minute troll through any bookstore. Those aren't bad sentences. They're an exercise in milk-and-water naughtiness for daytrippers who think it's deliciously wicked to let their participles dangle in the breeze, but wouldn't dream of appearing in public in a sentence that doesn't parse. They're playing at being bad.

Once, years ago, I did see a Bulwer-Lytton entry that was up to spec -- a sentence that instantly told you that you didn't want to read any further, that was guaranteed to make the book drop from your numbed fingers --

"I was a very, very, very sensitive child."
-- but this formalist work of art only got an Honorable Mention.

This year the first entry of any note is the runner-up in the Detective category, which has a nice little confusion-of-motion problem:

This was the night, the night that began when the sun dipped its hot belly below the trees outside Detective Gravning's window, the night that would not end until the sun rose in the morning, like the flaming red hair on the married head of Dectective Gravning's lover, who rose now from his bed, and pranced through the room, like a match struck, then thrown. (Steve Gehrke, Austin, TX)
The winning entries in the Fantasy category are both one-bang jokes, I uterly diskard them. They're nothing next to the simple elegance of one of Jacqueline Lichtenberg's actual published opening lines:
Before him, the road receded in both directions.
But back to the Bulwer-Lytton contest. The winning entry in Purple Prose is a finger exercise. Again, the runner-up is more interesting. Its real problem is that it's a quick edit away from being a passably interesting description of its subject. Here's the original:
Like most members of "Mustela putorius fero," known to laymen as the domestic ferret, our inquisitive hero (about whom more we shall shortly read) resembled a shrunken polar bear, toasted by a blowtorch, suffixed by a tail, and stretched out like taffy while still hot. (Tristan Davenport, Santa Cruz, CA)
Here's the fix:
Like most specimens of Mustela putorius fero, or common ferret, our inquisitive hero resembled a miniature polar bear that had been toasted by a blowtorch, suffixed with a tail, and stretched out like taffy while still hot.
Forget the Science Fiction entries. They're trifling riffs on Star Trek that wouldn't raise more than a polite giggle at Godawful Fan Fiction, where bad sentences are regarded as an art form. If you want the real thing, read the works of Mary Sue Whipple, author of the deathless The Night the Ship Exploded and Everyone "Did It". Here's a specimen:
"With that I am adone for anow. Let us have sex."

With that Janeway nodded much appeased.

The Captain and Ensign Mary Sue are doing it on my desk, thought the Doctor with a harsh pain where his heart would be if he had one.

Onward. Skip Western and Romance. Skip the Vile Pun entries, which manage to be even more labored and unfunny than the rest. Skip Adventure and Children's Literature, and Dark and Stormy Night, and the Special Silicon Valley category. Mercifully avert your eyes from the entry in Miscellaneous Dishonorable Mentions which demonstrates by its presence that the judges don't know the difference between a bad sentence and a good piece of Irish Bull.

I see a lot of bad writing professionally. Know what? Most of the people who write it work just as hard and love their work just as much as the good writers do. The difference is that their writing doesn't love them back. That's not a moral failing. It's just sad.

I won't deny that inept writing can be funny, and I don't mind people laughing at it. Neither do I mind them playing at being bad, tourists in the land of unfortunate word choices. But I do mind them slumming.

Tuesday, July 10, 2001

This must be the future

Actually, it's just the Textura Trading Company's catalog listings. They're a mail-order business that sells yarns and unspun fibers to weavers, spinners, and other textile artists. Traditional pursuits, right? But their yarn listings are a descent into techno-weirdness. Their fibers, too.

Monday, July 09, 2001

If I tell you that people in Utah give their babies strange names, you'll think you understand. But I tell you: if you have not seen, you do not understand. I'm not just talking about giddy flights like Heavenly Melanie, Young Elizabeth, Kaysional Tempest, Liberty Lulu, and Miracles Precious One. They name kids after cars --
Audi, Auto, Avis, Chevrollette, Lexus, Pontiac, Porsche, Turquoise Nova
and common nouns --
Brunette, Camera, Canteen, Crayon, Jar, Lawn, Magpie, Mothers, Novella, Panda, Pork Chop, Quorum, Soda, Stripling, Thermos, Timber, Tithing
and rather less common nouns:
Celestial Glory, Christmas Holiday, Confederate American, Denim Levi, Friends Forsaken, Logan River, Messiah Angel, Paradise Sunrise, Sincere Devotion, Southern Justice, Stormy Shepherd, Thankful Flood, Vernal Independence, Welcome Exile
In some cases I'm convinced that the parents rashly omitted to look words up and pronounce them out loud before wishing them on their helpless infants, or "just liked the sound of it" and didn't have the necessary vocabulary to spot an unfortunate meaning:
Apathy, Barbeli, BeDae, Chlorine, Clitoris, Codiene, Fawn-Dew, Feramorz, Iron Rod, Knight Train, Latrina, LaVirgin, Malis, Mikatin, Morona, Nudity, Paradi, Pratt, Rube, Sambo, Sham, Sleeza, Sterile, Tugdick, Vindalu, Vinyl, VulvaMae
Occasionally their ingenuity runs short, especially in those really big Mormon families --
Seavenly, Eighta, Ninea, Tenna, Elevena, Twenty, Finita, Amen
but alas, not for long, as witness the generally inexplicable
Ara-Om, Bimberly, Casualeen, Chip-wa, Chod, Corx, Cimemthymia, CoJane, Czar, D'Bora, D'Dee, D'Loaf, DaLinda LaDale, DeFonda Virtue, DeRail, deRalph, E'all, Elvoid, Garn, Gatobon, Grik, Halloween, Halo, Hereditary, Jennyfivetina, Jeopardee, Jilbear, Justa Cowgirl, Justan Tru, K-8, Ka, Kris Miss, L'orL, La, Laalaa, Laddie, LaDeeDee, LaDonnaJosephrania, LaEarl, LaNondus, LaZello, LeVoid, Luvit, M'Lu, Musser Cenia, Nafeteria, Najestica, NaLa'DeLuhRay, NaNon, NB, Non, Nymphus, O'Ann, Patches, Pictorianna, Prime, Queenola, Revo Cram, Sancie D'Wan, Saunsceneyouray, Shimber, Shlori, Shrudilee, Slaughter, Slayer, Stod, Synthi, Syrullean, T-vive, Tabernacle, Truly, Xanton, Violeet, Vyquetoriya, WaThene, Wavie, Yodawn, Young'n, Zagg, Zaragrunudgeyon ("Zarg," for short), Zedwain, Zem Saxon, Zenus, Zestpoole, Zhalore, and Zion Anakin.
This is only a tiny fraction of the oceanically weird whole. I haven't gone near their perverse respellings of otherwise normal names (viz., Aarikkaa), but I have to stop somewhere.

It's all from The Utah Baby Namer: For years now, the website that most reliably leaves me weeping.

Botts' All-Flavor Beans for Your Eyes

A friend recently observed that the www.we-didn' domain name is still up for grabs. It may stay that way. In the meantime, a random collection of images:

Fans of anthropomorphic (a.k.a. "funny animal") comics, whose passion is to dress up as same, get together for a healthy all-American night of bowling.

The Song of Songs, illustrated: Take that, Biblical literalists!

In celebration of Valentine's Day, Japanese tatting enthusiast Megumi "Exanimis" Okamura, who has a thing for bats, devised paired symmetrical kissing bats enclosed within a heart.

Sports for Jesus! We have this courtesy of Catholic Supply of St. Louis, Inc., from whose site it may be divined that Our Lord and Savior is into baseball, football, basketball, track, hockey, and soccer, but not golf. Not personally, at any rate.

Click here for Sumo wrestlers in Sailor Moon drag. All I can say is, it's a real shame they aren't into bowling.

Jason Shih, a very earnest Taiwanese rockhound, is concerned about the number of faked fossils on the market.

Sunday, July 08, 2001

Igor learn write book fast, Umgawa! Or, as the site puts it, "How to Write A Book On Anything in 14 Days or Less ... Guaranteed! -- A Guide for Professionals." I suppose it uses the conceit of being addressed to professionals so it'll sound like hot stuff to its real audience: Wanna-be writers (of whom there are approximately 2.4 bazillion in the English-speaking world alone).

To forestall the obvious question, yes, of course it's a scam. Or, more carefully: It would be such an extraordinary breakthrough for the author, Steve Manning, to be able to do what he claims -- surely by now we'd have heard about him from other sources? And: I assume he's lying about stuff I can't check, because he lies about stuff I can.

Is he able to teach the blind, lame, and halt to write? Maybe. That's unascertainable from here. But he also claims he can teach you -- guaranteed! -- how to get an agent in just 36 hours, create a book proposal no publisher can resist, ensure that your book is a best-seller, and abolish the role of luck in publishing.

No, really! He actually says that.

After more than a decade of research, more than a decade of finding, evolving, creating, and developing these strategies--strategies that many of my clients are using right now--I've encountered some amazing truths that I'll share with you right now. These are truths you've probably suspected all along:

1. Talent: in order to write a book, the less writing talent you have, the easier it will be for you. If you're a professional writer right now, it's an uphill struggle as you try to perfect what's already perfect. These techniques will free you from the bonds of perfection and you'll discover in minutes that you already have all the talent you need to write an outstanding book...honest!

Amazing, innit? That paragraph is the main reason the URL for this site has been quietly circulating in author-and-editor circles.
2. Creativity: I have one word of advice for you when it comes to creativity. DON'T. I'll show you exactly what publishers want...and it's NOT creativity. Those who wish to be creative will rarely be published. The sooner you learn that, the sooner you'll be a very successful author.
Fibber. Creativity is of course a necessary component of a good book, though it's not sufficient by itself to make a book good.
3. Time: You're a busy professional. You've probably been told it takes years to write a good book. These are lies. You can write your book in 14 days or less, even if you've got a full-time business or career and have other demands on your time. No tricks, no asterisks. As one of my students, professional speaker John Watkis, said to me, "Steve, if I hadn't used your information I'd probably STILL be writing my book. A book that's now published and selling fast!"
There are cases where notable authors have written books in less than two weeks -- but they'd been writing for years when they did it, and they didn't write all their books that fast.
4. Luck: Forget luck. Luck has nothing to do with writing and publishing your book. Follow the guidelines I'll set out for you and you'll be on a direct course for publishing success.
That's the other passage that makes people in the industry thrash around on the floor and make strange noises.
5. Writing ability: Do you know how to talk? Then you know how to write! Writing isn't like painting or sculpting or playing tennis. You don't need to spend years learning the basics and mastering the techniques. You've already done that as a child. You're already a master writer. I give you the techniques to make it happen!
Talking isn't writing; it just sounds a lot like it.

As a rule of thumb, someone who can talk can learn to write. That doesn't mean it'll come easy, or that they'll write well enough to sell, or that they're already master writers who just need to learn how to let their genius out. It means they have the basic abilities they need to start learning. There'll be a lot of work involved. There always is. That's why the line about being freed from "the bonds of perfection" is such a hoot. If perfection is bondage, and if as writers we're fortunate enough to be wearing those bonds, we've spent years getting into them.

I'm wondering whether Manning isn't just repackaging known material. There's a fairly simple set of techniques and exercises for getting students to stop writing in that dreadful stilted "My-report-is-about-algae,-algae are very important" style so many of them pick up while writing themes in school. The trick is to get them to break out of that, and into the language of everyday speech. It's a great corrective. The change can be striking. The basic work on this is Ken MacRorie's Telling Language, which has been around since 1970 and is now in its fourth edition. (Here's a link to a nice sample of the first chapter.) If you're trying to learn to write, it's one of the best books you can buy, and it costs a heck of a lot less than Manning's little opus.

6. Getting an agent: I don't want you to simply write a manuscript. I want you to SELL your book to a publisher. I'll give you the three steps to getting an agent that will have several of them lining up within 36 hours! That's right, 36 HOURS!
If your book is SF or fantasy, those 36 hours had better not fall over Labor Day or Halloween weekend.

Summoning agents from the vasty deep is no great feat. The trick is to get a good one. The good ones tend to be busy. Claiming that you can have them lining up within 36 hours is like claiming that a scented aftershave will cause scantily-clad women to throw themselves at you: If it actually starts happening, keep a firm grip on your wallet and head for a better neighborhood.

Now, those are all bold claims. And each one of them has been challenged by "professional" writers. But when they see the techniques and strategies, when they actually use them, they actually write me letters afterwards apologizing and agreeing that these strategies not only work, they work better than anything they've ever seen in their lives.
Name three I've heard of.

The Alchemist's Challenge is an unusually good quiz where the wrong answers are half the fun. A couple of the questions are glitched, like the one that assumes that there's an authoritative answer to where the word "okay" comes from, but most quizzes have questions like that. Few of them have questions like this:
1. Dido is:

A machine used to cut ornate moldings in wood.

An extinct flightless bird once living on the island of Mauritius.

A sex toy.

The queen of Carthage and the spurned lover of Aeneas.

A group of early twentieth-century artists who used accidental and incongruous elements in their work.

An accomplished female classical singer.

I am exceptionally fond of question #14.

Knit and Tuck is a custom knitting firm with a profound understanding of human nature, and I wish them well. Go here, to their site, and click on "Project Completion" to see what I mean.

Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Los Angeles explained; e-book praised; and other improbabilities

The Universities of Nottingham and Birmingham have cooperated on something called The Three Cities Project: Literary and Visual Representations of Three American Cities, 1870s to 1930s, and in connection with it have published an excellent e-book on a proprietary website. There are essays, illustrations, appurtenant scholarly material, the works -- and well designed and implemented, too. It's a great idea. Publishing the same material as a conventionally printed book would have been prohibitively expensive. Chances are it would never been published, or would have appeared in truncated form; and if it had been so lavish and expansive, it would have cost so much that I'd never have gotten my hands on a copy.

(See? I don't dislike e-books per se. I just dislike bad books, badly published, in any format.)

The three cities under consideration are New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. I'm sorry to say I found the New York essays the weakest of the lot. The Chicago essays were better; I enjoyed several of them. But to my mind the prize of the lot is Jeremiah Borenstein Axelrod's "'Los Angeles Is Not the City It Could Have Been': Cultural Representation, Traffic, and Urban Modernity in Jazz Age America". The text is concise, literate, and punchy, but it makes most of its points with pictures, and they're goodies.

Tuesday, June 19, 2001

The last time I talked to Gordon R. Dickson,

over Easter weekend of 2000, he said, "SF will be a different place when the last person dies who remembers a world that didn't have science fiction in it."

(You could quibble about when SF became available where; but Gordy grew up in Alberta in the 1920s and 30s, and it warn't. And that matters less than the fact that he's right.)

More on the SF community in the early 50s

Quite by accident, while I was looking up something else in Harry Warner Jr.'s A Wealth of Fable: An Informal History of Science Fiction Fandom in the 1950s (Van Nuys: Scifi Press, 1992), I ran into a passage that discusses the mindset and tastes of fandom circa 1950-1951, and how much things had changed by the end of that decade.

(An oversight: I should have mentioned A Wealth of Fable in my earlier post on historical sources. My all-time favorite work of fannish historiography is HWJ's history of the 1940s, All Our Yesterdays, which is a bit better integrated and has a more coherent narrative; but A Wealth of Fable is nevertheless and hands-down the best overall history of fandom in the 1950s. And if it's a tad less coherent, well, so was fandom.)

Here's the passage, from chapter one, "Oscillating Fans", page 24:

Hugo and International Fantasy Association awards paid too little attention to fandom to give much information on fannish preferences in the 1950s. The 1959 Fanac poll received 125 filled-out ballots, probably a better response than that year's Hugo balloting. It showed that as the decade ended, Fanac, Cry, and Shaggy were the favorite fanzines; George Barr, Dan Adkins, and Bjo, artists; ATom, Bjo, and Bill Rotsler, cartoonists; John Berry, Terry Carr, and an ancient Hagerstown fan[1], writers; Berry, Bjo, and Carr, the top fans in general. In the same year, Skyrack took a poll about United Kingdom fandom. Winners included, for fanzines, Aporrheta, Hyphen, and Orion; artists, ATom, Jim Cawthorne; writer, John Berry, Walter A. Willis, Vincent Clarke; favorite column, "Inchmery Fan Diary"; and best individual article, "The Goon Goes West."

Unfortunately, I have been unable to find a comparable poll from the start of this decade. But the poll which Don Wilson took in 1948 might not be an anachronism, because the choices shown through it reveal the changes wrought by the 1950s. All of the four favorite fanzines that finished highest in the Wilson poll were sercon[2] to a greater or lesser extent: The Fanscient, Dream Quest, Fantasy Commentator, and Gorgon. Redd Boggs, never an all-out serconist, was nevertheless more sedate and scholarly than the fans who were favored by the end of the 1950s, and he finished first in 1948 both as best fan writer and as most popular fan.

Willliam Austin took a poll early in 1951, getting 52 replies which indicate what fans thought of prodom just before major convention awards began to be made in that field. In order, the favorite authors were Heinlein, Bradbury, Sturgeon, Van Vogt, Asimov, de Camp, Kuttner, Lovecraft, Campbell, and Merritt; prozines, Galaxy, Astounding, FandSF, Startling, and a tie between Other Worlds and Galaxy Science Fiction Novels. If you are wondering whether you are sercon or fannish in nature, it is not hard to find out. You are sercon if you can identify the authors and original places of publication for all the novels that got the most votes in the Austin poll: To the Stars, Time Quarry, The Wizard of Linn, Dying Earth, and The Hand of Zei.

[Non-footnotes: 1. The ancient Hagerstown fan is Harry Warner Jr. himself. 2. Sercon (adj., from "serious [and] constructive"): (1.) Of or having to do with the assumption that fandom and fan activity should have some loftier purpose. (2.) Formerly, having an exaggerated sense of the importance of one's own projects; see "serious constructive" in Fancyclopedia II. In modern fandom, most often used to characterize attempts to write about and discuss fantastic literature and related subjects in a more earnest, structured, and formal fashion. (3.) Stoned. (An occasional informal usage, 1980s and later.)]

If all those names and titles mean nothing to you, the gist of it is that the SF community underwent a sea change in the 1950s. It became more self-aware, more sophisticated, less formal. It stopped worrying what it was for, or about.

In many ways this was the same process the literature had been going through when it figured out that science fiction wasn't really a way to teach popularized science to the masses, or a technology for predicting future social and technological developments, or a nascent modern mythology that would supplant the outworn beliefs of an earlier era. Sure, it dabbled in all those things, and still does today; science fiction never entirely throws out its old toys. But science fiction and fandom both slipped past those early attempts to define their purpose and meaning. It was sufficient that they existed. Their discourse moved on to other subjects.

That change had been coming for a long time. In 1950-1951 things were just beginning to start to tip over, and would shortly be heading for a new equilibrium, but ... only kind of, so far; it hadn't happened yet, not really. Which makes it a very interesting moment.

Forget the stupid Retro Hugo ballot (once you've voted "No Award", that is). History is interesting. The Retro Hugos aren't. The only good thing about them is that no matter how well or how badly they work out, they're bound to be a self-limiting phenomenon: there were only so many years of Worldcons but no Hugos.

Saturday, June 16, 2001 is a momentary glimpse of another world, only dimly understood. I remain bemused by one guy's claim that on four separate occasions, he's heard people who were trying to get backstage use the line, "The singer has my prosthetic leg!"

History: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Fandom, and the greater SF Community

A few notes to start: (1.) The history of science fiction, fandom, and the SF community are braided together. There are sources that deal only with one or the other, but that's more a matter of focus than any real-world distinction. (2.) The SF/fannish world regards clear-cut definitions as a challenge. (3.) "The SF community" is slightly larger than fandom, since it includes some non-fannish bits of the pro community, publishing industry, other SF-related media, academia, etc. (There are also fannish bits of all those milieux; see note 2.) (4.) Persons who explain why they're not fans at more than a couple sentences' length are almost certainly fans. (5.) Writing is best honored by being read.

The two best books about the early history of the field are All Our Yesterdays, by Harry Warner Jr., and The Futurians by Damon Knight. Find copies where you can.

Before this past decade or so, the wildest imagining of SF wouldn't have encompassed the idea that old fanzines would be available via the web. They're vastly more accessible now than they were when I was young fan.

The Enchanted Duplicator, by Walt Willis and Bob Shaw, is a loose pastiche of John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress which combines a picaresque spiritual quest with bad puns, advice on etiquette, broadly comic descriptions of perennial fannish types and their characteristic follies, and tips for avoiding overinking. It has been called "the national epic of fandom," which may or may not be overdoing it, but it's still being read, long after mimeography has disappeared from general fannish use.

The Fancyclopedias did their level best to catalog and explain fandom. You could do worse than to browse them. Here's Jack ("John Bristol") Speer's 1944 Fancyclopedia I, and Dick Eney's 1959 Fancyclopedia II. Cum grano salis, as Speer and Eney would be the first to tell you.

Then, Rob Hansen's ongoing history of British fandom. Also, George Flynn's history of Hugo and site selection voting. Also, Laurie Mann's Awards Page.

The essential newszine Ansible, by the even more essential David Langford. Eighteen Hugos are not too many. Good links, btw.

The skiffy stuff its ownself:

NESFA Press, which is run by the New England Science Fiction Association (NESFA), has been putting some of the best old SF (and some that's not so old) back into print in a series of single-author collections. Note: The link that says "A short list of titles and prices" is how you get to the complete list of all publications available from NESFA Press.

Even if I do say so myself: Orb (an imprint of Tor Books) has also been putting old SF back into print.

The Internet Speculative Fiction Database is up and running again. This is where to find out who wrote what, under what pen name, as part of which series, and where and when it was published; plus diverse other databits. Not an interpretive site, but it's unequalled for depth and breadth of data collected in one place. It's been sorely missed.

The other good bibliographical site: The Locus Indexes, which has Charles N. Brown and William G. Contento's Locus Index to Science Fiction (broadly informative listings,1984 to the present), Contento's Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections ("An index to 3,428 SF anthologies and single-author collections published before 1984, containing over 23,000 works by 3,850 authors), and Stephen T. Miller and William G. Contento's Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Weird Fiction Magazine Index, 1890-1998: A Checklist of Magazine Titles and Issues.

More miscellaneous than usual:

Anything SF-related can probably be found somewhere on the Science Fiction Resource Guide portal sites, all of which are maintained by Chaz Boston Baden. The two I generally use are SF-Lovers (New Jersey), hosted by Saul Jaffe, and the Linkoping Science Fiction and Fantasy Archive (Sweden), hosted by Mats Ohrman.

Thursday, June 14, 2001

The Retro Hugos! What a Terrible Idea!

A plea, and one I wish I'd thought of it earlier: Please consider voting No Award on the Retro Hugos. (Sorry, Bruce, Rick, Saul; and meaning no disrespect. Highest personal regard, and all that.)

The Millennium Philcon, this year's World Science Fiction Convention, has picked up the idea of awarding Retro Hugos for past years in which Hugos weren't awarded -- in this case, 1951. I acquit the idea's supporters of any ill intent. It's an earnest undertaking. It would work just fine if all the voters knew as much SF history as (say) Bruce Pelz; but they don't, and it doesn't. These are not the 1951 Hugos, and pretending that they are leaves us knowing less, not more, about the field.

(I'm going to dodge the temptation to take up a related argument, which is that the imminent Heat Death of Science Fiction is going to occur at that point at which everyone in SF simultaneously receives and administers an award. Two weeks after that, the last detectable author who ever made a commercial sale but didn't win something will be posthumously given the SFWA Grandmaster Award. We've gotten trophy-happy, and the last thing we need is to add more awards to our liturgical calendar. But I'll save the full-scale rant for another day.)

It's always hard to remember how the world looked to us at some past moment, even a fairly recent one. We existed, then, in a complex state of knowledge and projection: imagining links between the past as we understood it, and the future as we imagined and predicted it. Then a circumstance changed, or a decision was made, and we unhesitatingly revised our models, overwriting without saving. We still know what we know, but we're less clear on what exactly we knew and what we thought about it. And what we imagined would come of it? That's unrecoverable, except as scraps and fragments. (Thus the joy of a primary-source historical document: it still exists in that moment, unaltered by later knowledge and the multiplication and foreclosure of possibilities.)

We can't vote on behalf of 1951. Too much time has passed. Characters that should have sounded like our friends now sound like our grandparents. Ideas that were fresh and startling have gone stale; formerly allowable assumptions seem stupid or distasteful; and we know entirely too much about how the story comes out.

That last is the big problem. The Retro Hugos are seriously distorted by votes cast, not for work that appeared in the target year, but for the nominees' work overall. Four nominees -- Ed Emshwiller, Harlan Ellison, Dave Kyle, and Bjo Trimble -- were excluded from the final ballot by the administrators because they had no work published in the nominated categories in 1950. Robert Silverberg stayed on the ballot, because he did have writing published in 1950 -- but he was fifteen that year, and he and Saul Diskin were publishing a not-yet-prominent fanzine called Starship. Within a few years Starship would become one of the most distinguished fanzines of the day, and by the end of the decade Silverberg was the wonder of the professional SF world, selling over a million words a year; but not yet.

That's a surprising thing, that he should go from promising neofan to BNF fanpublisher to professional SF's stupor mundi in a single decade, but reality is surprising. Lists of actual Hugo awards are full of oddities. You look at them and blink, wondering who Ron Ellik was, or Roy G. Krenkel; or how it happened that a Pohl and Kornbluth short story got a Hugo in 1973, or why They'd Rather Be Right got a Best Novel Hugo at all. The Retro Hugos don't have that. They're a half-remembered rehash of secondary sources, possessing none of the diversity and unpredictability of real history.

If we're going to honor the history of our field, let's honor it in all its deeply weird particularity. Better yet, let's remember it, and to hell with the awards.

I was going to finish with a few links to sites about the history of science fiction and the SF community, but the list grew in the compiling so I'll post it separately.

Tuesday, June 12, 2001

Crimes of Persuasion

"It appears at times that our justice system does not place adequate emphasis on fraud and other white collar crimes, especially when it is considered a non-violent victimless crime," argues Les Henderson, in his Crimes of Persuasion website;

One disturbing fact is how the offense is perceived, not as a criminal offense at all, but as simple bad judgment on the part of victims, by both the general public and by the victims themselves. This perception can lead to a tendency to blame the victims for their own losses. ...

Compared to the murderers, rapists and urban gangsters that get the headlines, white-collar criminals just don't scare the public very much. ... The price tags attached to some economic crimes are so staggering that they are difficult to comprehend. As an example, the price of bailing out a single corrupt savings and loan institution surpassed the total of all the bank robberies in American history. ...

While few laws are enforced 100%, white collar crime has a much lower margin of non-enforcement. ... Many law-makers and judges are of the mind that, with an already overloaded justice system, jails should be used for violent offenders only, so fraudsters are given what are perceived as lenient sentences, or an absurdly low penalty in comparison to the crime committed, such as alternative sentencing (e.g. warnings, probation etc.) or by "buying their way out" of prison by paying a fine or restitution. ... AARP research indicates that less than 5% of people believe that fraudulent telemarketers are "hardened criminals."

White-collar crime, because it requires planning, is a prototypical example of deterrable conduct, but to prevent it through deterrence the punishment must be designed to teach offenders that crime does not pay. ...

He's done a tremendous amount of work. His site is in the same weight class as the National Consumer League's National Fraud Information Center, but it's a one-man project.

I like his approach. He's been compiling a taxonomy of frauds. Naturally, the first thing I did was check out the frauds that affect my own industry. Not only are they there, but they're correctly filed: Vanity Press Publishing is listed under Fraudulent Business Opportunities, subcategory Frauds Which Use Vanity as a Lure (which subcategory it shares with Fraudulent Offers to Assist Patenting Inventions), while the perennial Make Money Reading Books scam is listed under Work at Home schemes. Correct!

(Henderson doesn't list Display Sites, but they're a relatively recent development. I sent him email on the subject, referring him to sites that specifically focus on publishing scams (such as this site, that site, and yon site), but now that I check, I find they no longer discuss display sites in as much detail as I remember. That's interesting. Bless for getting the DejaNews archive up and running again. Here's one discussion of display sites; and here's another. Or you can just go to SFF Net, find the Publishing Scams discussion, and politely ask the regulars to tell you all about it.)

Another thing I like: Henderson never loses sight of the victims: Financially strapped households persuaded to pay substantial "application fees" for subsidized debt consolidation loans that never materialize. The elderly, targeted in part because they're unwilling to admit they've been robbed for fear they'll lose their independence if their children think they're incompetent. The workers desperate for employment, and families desperate for college scholarships, who are conned into buying worthless how-to guides. These are crimes that hurt people, not clever abstract capers, and he makes sure his readers understand that.

Henderson started out to do a book, not a website, but he wound up doing both. He now hawks copies of the book from the site. If you can afford it, think about buying a copy. The information isn't going to go out of date. Besides, it would be nice if he made even a fraction as much from his book as the con artists made off their scams, but if he doesn't get his sales numbers up he'll never get a decent per-unit cost:

I hope the book makes me rich and famous, but realize that I'll be lucky to break even years down the road. When I sell the book, which presently costs $14 to produce, through retail outlets for $29.95 I actually lose $2 per sale. That's how tight the industry is. Mind you I am hedging my bets by doing small print runs initially and trying to sell to you directly. Even with large print runs the cost will not likely drop below $10, so unless I change the name to Harry Potter Battles Fraud, I will value your being a customer and promoter more than you can imagine.

Sunday, June 10, 2001

Some (but not all) of my favorite rose sites

Just Rose Pictures is just what it claims to be: "A bunch of rose pictures from Susan, in Auckland, New Zealand, and Regina, in Reno, Nevada." Their pictures are professional-quality high-resolution shots; their roses (over 150 varieties!) are sumptuous. There's also a curious sequence of photos from the time Regina's blooming summer garden was hit by a freak hard freeze.

Karl King's energetic CybeRose & Bulbs has faint overtones of "mad scientist on the loose". He's into the heredity and taxonomy of roses, plus some Amaryllis and Zephyranthes and a few other odds and ends. (He also has an unfortunate soft spot for Nerium oleander, but I suppose that can't be helped.) The section I most enjoyed on this visit was Belladonna News, a chronicle of his research into the nomenclature of Amaryllis belladonna, which at times reads like an Avram Davidson short story:

28 Aug 1998: Species Plantarum 2 (1762). Copied descriptions.

Willdenow's Species Plantarum 4 (1797). What a mess! Linnaeus's references for Amaryllis Belladonna are split between A. Belladonna and A. equestris, but has the Hort. Kew. description for A. Belladonna, which is of the Cape Belladonna.

23 July 1999: Amaryllis were received in England by the box or barrelful. Apparently they were a byproduct of the diamond trade. Thus, the sources of the various imported forms likely corresponded to the diamond districts. ...

5 August 1999: Herbert's 1839 discussion of why Linnaeus could not have named the American plant Belladonna is so wildly fanciful -- and wrong -- that I can only assume he wanted to be found out. Almost everything is wrong, and too easily checked.

6 August 1999: In 1754, Philip Miller identified the Mexican lily by Royen's name for Amaryllis orientalis (L) Heister. This has puzzled me for months. Today I recalled that in 1753 Heister made the remarkable statement that Merian had painted Ferrari's plant. However, the plant in question was the Brunsvigia, and the painter was probably Matthaus Merian -- father of Maria Sibylla. This may also explain Herbert's apparent belief that Maria Merian was alluding to Ferrari's Cape plant while painting the American Belladonna. (Herbert must have been kidding.)

Mac Stephenson's Socorro Roses Roses Roses Roses Roses Roses Roses Roses Roses Roses Roses would be on my list of favorite websites even if I weren't into roses. It's the website equivalent of those unclassifiable midlist books like Anything Can Happen and I Capture the Castle which have such distinctive voices that you don't so much read them as make their acquaintance. In this case the short version is that Mac Stephenson is retired, lives in New Mexico, and likes what he likes.

Brent C. Dickerson's literate, information-dense, faintly twee page has lots of good reading, though I'm sorry to see that his books, most notably The Old Rose Advisor vols. I and II, are now being published by iUniverse.

It's hard to imagine a better website on its subject than S. Andrew Schulman's Yesterday's Rose: A Tribute to Old and Old-Fashioned Roses. It's beautiful, informative, well organized, and well written, like the electronically enhanced version of a superior coffee-table book.

The Philadelphia Rose Society's HelpMeFind is the best of the online public databases: a searchable, sortable, hugely compendious trove of information. I'm obscurely comforted by its four main clickable options -- I know more about this, I have a question about this, I found an error, and I need help here -- even though I never use them. Note: If you don't know rose genealogies and you have a slow connection, think twice about clicking on the "parentage list" link -- you'll get what you ask for.

Next favorite database is, a worthy and useful site but not quite as compendious, nor quite as well constructed.

The rec.gardens.roses FAQ is authoritative and essential.

Friday, June 08, 2001

Good search strings for bad writing

It's like an infallible fishing lure for unreadable fiction: If you go to and type in "She loved him. She really loved him.", you'll turn up between twelve and twenty specimens of online fiction, not one single piece of which will be good. "He loved her. He really loved her." works just as well, though the results are a bit steamier. Oddly enough, the same-sex variants, she-loved-her and he-loved-him, aren't represented at all. I see no reason why gay writers should have denied themselves the use of this cliche in bad online fiction, but there it is. If you're desperate, you can substitute he knew he loved him or she knew she loved her, though you have to ignore the instances where "her" is being used as a possessive rather than a pronoun.

I take more than a little pride in the search strings for bad poetry I suggested to my friend Scraps, who collects the stuff: peom and peotry. Scraps says poerty works too. He also says that Martha, who's particularly fond of bad poems about dead celebrities, recommends that fateful day. Velma's inspired suggestion, a new star in the, fished up a lollapalooza.

Friday, May 27, 2001

And now for something completely different:
The Pharaoh's Thanes versus The Spear-Host of Moses

It's the Exodus section of Codex Junius 11 (ms. Oxford, Bodleian Library 5123) (tr. 1916 by George W. Kennedy), and it's a hoot. It's part of a late-10th-C. Anglo-Saxon compilation of poems written between the 7th and 10th C. The poems used to be attributed to Caedmon -- following the natural scholarly tendency to ascribe motherless works to someone famous, or failing that to someone they've heard of -- but the attribution just doesn't work out, so the poems are now called Caedmonian.

But never mind all that; it's just the message header. The poem's the point. It begins:

Lo! far and wide throughout the earth we have heard how the laws of Moses, a wondrous code, proclaim to men reward of heavenly life for all the blessed after death, and lasting gain for every living soul. Let him hear who will!
-- thereby giving notice, if any were needed, that this is not a straight translation. It's more or less chapters 11-14 of Exodus, from the tenth plague through the crossing of the Red Sea, only all the boring bits get left out in favor of a highly-colored version of the Israelites' departure from Egypt, told in proper Anglo-Saxon style.

Moses is transformed into "... a lord of men, a wise and ready leader of the host, a bold folk-captain. ... The Lord was gracious unto him and gave him weapon-might against the terror of his foes, wherewith he overcame in battle many a warrior, and the strength of hostile men." The Israelites are heavily-armed vikings, marching to the sea. Before they reach the Red Sea marshes they come up against the mountainous borders of Ethiopia. There the biblical pillar of cloud by day is transformed into a day-shield, a protective cloud-cover like a sail, "though earth-dwelling men knew not the mast-ropes, nor might behold the yards, nor understand the way in which that greatest of tents was fastened."

They reach the shore. Right on cue, the Egyptian army shows up behind them, a forest of spears held upright above their shields, accompanied by carrion-crows and wolves looking to feast on the dead. Things are looking bad for the Israelites:

They had no way of escape nor any hope of their inheritance, but halted on the hills in shining armour with foreboding of ill. And all the band of kinsmen watched and waited for the coming of the greater host until the dawn, when Moses bade the earls with brazen trumpets muster the folk, bade warriors rise and don their coats of mail, bear shining arms, take thought on valour, and summon the multitude with signal-beacons unto the sandy shore of the sea.
Then the miracle happens: the Red Sea parts, and the Israelites go dryshod across the seabed, mailcoats and linden shields and all. The poet, in his enthusiasm, chooses this moment to digress into recapitulations of the story of Noah's flood and Abraham's near-sacrifice of Isaac. (Anglo-Saxon narrative does this a lot, ornamenting one story with the Good Parts Version of another.) We don't know how he manages the transition back to his main story, because at this point a page or two went missing. The manuscript abruptly picks up again in the midst of the Red Sea, where the Egyptians are getting theirs. This goes on for some time. The poet has a good time with the scene, combining as it does several favorite Anglo-Saxon themes: hopeless doom, the fury of the ocean, and lots of people dying.

Moses, watching from the shore, is moved to observe that "This earthly joy is fleeting, cursed with sin, apportioned unto exiles, a little time of wretched waiting. Homeless we tarry at this inn with sorrow, mourning in spirit, mindful of the house of pain beneath the earth wherein are fire and the worm, the pit of every evil ever open." (Observations of this nature are as unavoidable in Anglo-Saxon literature as the "please don't smoke" and "buy our fine junk food" trailers at your local multiplex movie theater.)

Moses finishes by declaring that the episode is a portent of victories to come: " shall vanquish every foe and hold in victory the banquet halls of heroes between the two seas. Great shall be your fortune!" The Israelites applaud wildly. On the shore appear African maidens adorned with gold, rejoicing in their deliverance from bondage. The gold gets shared out evenly; Pharaoh's army is still dead; and, all the conditions for a happy ending thus being met, the poem ends.

Check it out.

(Archive #2, July 23, 2001 - August 15, 2001)

(Archive #3, September 10, 2001 - October 01, 2001)

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Copyright 2001 by Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.
Don't mess with me; I'm an editor.