Friday, December 28, 2007


Sorry for my absence. I've been out of town visiting the folks, and internet access has been limited.

I just stumbled upon (and before I get any further, I've noticed some stumble upon hits lately, so those of you who enjoy this blog and are SU users, you should give it a thumbs up if you haven't already) The Secret History of Star Wars, which, like most "Secret History" books, makes me cringe to read the title.

I mean really, people.

Is it impossible for us to write a history book with a new take on a subject while resisting this thoroughly bizarre temptation to label its contents "secret"? (and yes, I know that punctuation is supposed to go inside the quotations, but, really, how much sense would that make here?)The Secret History of the Sword, a book which I love, suffers from the same defect. Let me explain it to you, especially you, the authors:


It's merely little known - but I suppose that "The Little Known History..." isn't quite as compelling.

Regardless, don't let my ranting prevent you from reading the book. I'm not all that far in, but it seems to be a very well researched look at how the Star Wars movies came about. Since it's free on the net, and geeky in nature, I figured that it fell within the purview of the blog despite being nonfiction, and if you disagree, I really don't care.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Ten Car Train: E. B. Satt

Update: Perhaps as a result of my good-natured (I hope) needling, "E. B. Satt" has abandoned said pseudonym in favor of good old Jason, over on Ten Car Train. I'm going to let the title of this post stand, but I figured I'd clear up any potential confusion now.

If you head over to Ten Car Train, you'll find some pretty cool stuff. You'll also find E. B. Satt - or Jason Sattler, or whatever else he's calling himself. I can't figure it out, but hey, I go by a handle too, so who am I to talk.

Anyway, Satt's stuff isn't just cool - it's excellent. OK, I lied, it's actually somewhat hit-or-miss, but some of it is really excellent.

Like his story A Single Drop of Water Helps to Swell the Ocean, or How I Need a Hand in Mine to Feel, which may be his best piece on the site (I'm not 100%, because I'm not entirely certain that I've read every one of them).

The stories are somewhat reminiscent of Jeffery Harrell's - over at Lies that are true (He's currently selling his book, so buy it, but he says the stories will be back up for free sometime at the start of 08).
The prose is soft, and somewhat conversational. That's not to say that it feels like dialogue, but neither does it feel like a diary. Still, you get the feeling that the narrator is talking to you, and that they're real.

I know I'm not the only person to be uncertain whether these were stories, or real life tales like those of Sedaris.

That's what they're like.
I'm not doing a good job articulating this, and I haven't even mentioned the tragic-but-commonplace themes of the stories. You should go read the stories and come back to me with your thoughts.

Oh, and if you like them, you might also check out A Softer World.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Guest Post

Check out my guest post over at Novelr - a blog about blooks and web fiction that ought to appeal to those of you who are thinking about, or have already begun, writing your own web fiction.

Webcomics: Zebra Girl

If you want amazing art, an intriguing story, and worthwhile characters, Zebra Girl is for you.

If' you're impatient with sporadic updates and infrequent newsposts, then not so much.

Starting off as a gag-a-day strip, but quickly transforming into a character driven story with a plot and everything that entails, Joe England's comic is definitely worth a read. At this point there are fairly extensive archives, as he's been at this since May 2000.

The art is black and white, with a high-contrast approach that I find myself partial to (If you like the art at Zebra Girl, Shades of Grey might be worth checking out - the art is less clean, but still very good). The art starts off better than that of most webcomics, but by the time you reach the most recent pages, it's clearly of professional caliber.

One thing that does bug me somewhat is Joe's insistence on representing himself as a rabbit; he also has a side story with more furry characters, most of which I skimmed over. This is just a matter of personal preference, but I do feel that it mars an otherwise excellent comic.

Overall, an excellent comic. Read it.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Pages Unbound

Pages Unbound intends to be a central hub for readers of online serial fiction.

And it's well on its way, as far as I'm concerned.

Lexy says that a user rating system is in the works. Good. That's the one thing it needs but still lacks. I fully expect Pages Unbound to become the buzzComix of the web fiction world.

It seems, however, that I hold the minority opinion.

There has been lots of criticism leveled at PU (Isn't that a horrible acronym? Too bad - I'm using it anyhow) lately.

Essentially, the complaint is that PU, by allowing anybody to submit a story, forces the potential readers to wade through a bunch of drivel in order to even have a chance at finding something worthwhile. Therefore, PU should have an editorial process (which, incidentally, would just make it more closely resemble the traditional publishing industry, rather than the blogs from which this new medium has drawn its inspiration). Such an editorial process would help readers find the "good stuff," amongst the flak.

Hearing this made me very happy. Because that is the function this blog serves. One of them, anyway. I wade through the piles of amateurish, lowercase "i" prose, find the gems hiding inside, and present them to you, my loyal readers.

I even said as much here.

Oh, and a side note. I have changed my handle here to Sebatinsky. My linked comment above is written under the same name.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Dirty Red Kiss

A Salinger for our generation, Dirty Red Kiss's Caulfield-esque narrator opens a window through which we can see humanity in a way that is beyond the capabilities of a more articulate, self-aware narrator.

Caulfield isn't the only protagonist that Derek Henkel's narrator reminds me of - he also bears a resemblance to Titus, of Feed, and Arel Ashe of Scorch.

What, you ask, could these four possibly have in common? Each book is set in a different moment in time, the protagonists are different ages and different genders. Feed and Scorch are both clear indictments of the consumerist west, while Catcher in the Rye and Dirty Red Kiss are both a bit more open ended. It seems as if there is nothing real or significant to tie these books and characters together.

I'm sure you'll not be surprised to find that I believe there is something they share. I would even go so far as to class them all as examples of an archetype, albeit one that I am proposing right now, for the first time: "everyman with the potential to rise above."

This is a fundamentally hopeful archetype, but one whose characters are usually tinged by sadness and uncertainty. They are normal, near average, and surrounded by friends and peers who are decidedly mainstream. Unlike their peers, they contain within them seeds of insight of creativity - seeds that we can only see because of our privileged position as readers. Perhaps, then, we are too rash to assume that they are alone among their peers? As much as our narrator may appear to be the only character with the potential to grow, it is mainly by their thoughts that we determine their potential.

It's for this reason that the "everyman with the potential to rise above" is fundamentally hopeful. No matter how poorly the protagonist's journey may go, their hidden seed of insight gives the reader hope that the most abject of us may yet go on to blossom.

So. Read it.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect

The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect (or MoPI) is a novella length work of fiction by Roger Williams, available free on the net. Many of you who read this blog may already be familiar with MoPI, but I'll address this post to those of you who aren't.

MoPI is a work of singularity fiction, that is, fiction that deals with the world after an intelligent agent (named Prime Intellect in MoPI) has taken more or less total control over the earth and/or universe. In such a world, humans would have essentially unlimited lifespans, no ability to harm one another, and no desire left unfulfilled.

This brings us to Williams' first chapter. He makes the reasonable argument that with nothing left to achieve, and no meaningful goals to strive toward, many people will turn to pain and death as the only worthwhile things left to them. In his world these people are called "Death Jockeys," to the ranks of which our first protagonist, Caroline, belongs. I need not go into details, since Williams certainly does, but, essentially, Death Jockeys attempt to get themselves killed in new, innovative, and particularly painful ways.

That's the first chapter.

It is incredibly gory, grotesque, violent, and perverted. I am not an easily flustered person, and I felt queasy at various points. In fact, I almost did not continue reading past the first chapter, which, apparently, is a fairly common sentiment.

The rest of the eight chapter novel is very different. We get to see the creation/childhood of Prime Intellect, which is exciting, and we explore the backstory of Caroline, as well as that of Lawrence, our second protagonist and genius programmer. There are a few points of physical and sexual perversity in the remaining eight chapters, but if you made it through the first chapter, you shouldn't have any problem. Which is good. Because I don't know if I could have handled eight chapters of that level of violence.

Overall, I like the story quite a bit more than Wax Banks, who feels that the ideas of MoPI are "not original and have likely been presented more beautifully elsewhere." I, on the other hand, have not encountered anything quite like MoPI before, and while the potential beauty of the story is definitely marred by a certain roughness of narrative, it is full of worthwhile and relatively original ideas (that is to say, they are certainly not derivative).

That being said, I have two main reservations with the story:

1.) Is all that violence and nauseating sexual activity in chapter one really necessary?

Wellllll, yes and no. That is, I do think that I developed a greater appreciation for the gravity of the situation from our author's and protagonists' viewpoints. However, it also made the story feel disjointed, and, in a way "lied" to the reader by misrepresenting what the novella was about. In my opinion, it was a good lie, since I thought the actual subject of the story was far more interesting, engaging, and worthwhile than the first chapter would have you believe. But, by that same token, it was a bad lie, since it could (and, I'm sure, does) turn off readers who might actually enjoy the contents of the other seven chapters.

2.) Where is the competitive instinct?

When I first read the term "Death Jockey," in the context of this singularity story, I assumed we were talking about some kind of thrilling mortal combat, or potentially fatal race. That's because something of that kind provides the participants the chance to illicitly experience the same pain and death, but also a chance to prove themselves better than their opponents, and we all know that there aren't many things that people like more than feeling superior to other people (Think religion, clubs, arrogance, false humility, patriotism, fandom, etc).

While I think the second qualm is the more picky, it also seems to be the more legitimate. My issue with the violence could just be a difference of opinion with the author - he thinks it's necessary, I'm not so sure. The second point, however, seems less debatable. The absence of combat or competitive games of any type is difficult to ascribe to a conscious decision on the part of the author. They would seem to be more common and more popular than Death Jockeys, and yet there isn't a single mention of them (The same author does mention combat to the death, briefly, in another story set in the MoPI universe.).
I just can't bring myself to believe that we'd have more masochists than Jocks, more sadists than patriots, more... I'm out of synonyms, but you get the idea.

Overall, a very worthwhile story - you know your own ability to handle gore, so use your judgment. If all else fails, just stop reading Ch. 1 and skip to chapter two. You won't miss much.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


I can't help but feel silly when I write the word, but "blook" is a term that appears to be gaining legitimacy: there's even a blooker prize.

A blook, apparently, is a book whose contents were based on a blog. At least, that's how the Lulu blooker prize defines them. It seems to me that a serial novel published in a blog would be a great definition. The above-linked blook, Plague Zone, is by David Wellington, who seems to be after print publication, so he fits the Lulu blook definition pretty well.
There are, however, plenty of examples of web serials that might be called blooks - and often so call themselves.

On the other hand, maybe we need a better word (or words) for all of these things. Any suggestions?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

55 A Day

Short Stories for Short People.

This is the reason I'm writing this blog. Simply wonderful examples of fiction you'd never run across in a bookstore are cropping up on the web all the time.

55 A Day is a nanofiction blog whose author invites all of us to submit stories of exactly 55 words. He even provides prompts, if they help remind your muse exactly what the hell she's supposed to be doing.
So, go ahead and submit something

You know you want to.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Apostrophe

As those of you who know me are aware, my last name contains an apostrophe, so the subject is particularly close to my heart. There's a great article over at I Love Typography, or, in this case, "I Love typograph'." It highlights a couple of the most common types of apostrophe abuse.

However, it doesn't touch on the one that bothers me most: the stubborn belief that the apostrophe is merely a comma stuck in the air. You see this phenomenon whenever the right type of person encounters a word word containing an apostrophe they have never seen before. They pause. That's right - they act as though there is a comma in the middle of the word, and pause.

Imagine what that does to my name.

The Apostrophe Vigilante!

Friday, November 2, 2007


Wow, that's a mouthful. It stands for the National Novel Writing Month, which, with an appropriately assessed amount of alliteration, is November.
Now, I realize that I'm a little late here, since it's already November 2nd, but, I figure, if you're going to write 50,000 words in a month, missing a day shouldn't throw you off too badly.

A friend of mine is taking the challenge, and I'm going to see if I can get her to post her progress in a blog. If I'm successful, links will be forthcoming.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Fight Club Jr.

So, I stumbled upon this site, which claims to draw its inspiration from Palanhiuk's novel.

I think it's interesting to see how an inspiration can be so blatantly stolen from an existing work, but hardly resemble it by the time the 'thief' is done with it.

I recently encountered a similar phenomenon in art. This image was taken directly from this one. I was there when it was done (in fact, I even suggested the first photo as a starting point). Yet, I think we can all agree that the stencil, while owing its existence to the photo, is not derivative. Odd. It was derived from the photo, but, except in the most technical sense (and certainly not in the colloquial use of the word) it is not derivative of it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


So, I swear I was just about to go to bed when I stumbled across (yes, using the Stumble Upon toolbar for firefox, which is evil and devours all your time in witty goodness).... where was I?

Ah, yes: I stumbled upon "Book-A-Minute," in original classic flavor, and brand new Sci-fi/Fantasy flavor (someday I shall rant on the subject of the combined genre of Science Fiction and Fantasy).

Most of the condensations take significantly less than a minute to read, but they are hilarious. However, you really have to have read the books to find the jokes funny. I don't think that will be a problem for any readers of this blog (what is this, a compliment?!? No. It's not possible.), and the site has a large enough list of books to laugh at that you should be able to find quite a few to laugh at.

My favorites are probably The Xanth Series by Piers Anthony, and Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Books: The Traveler

I'm about halfway through The Traveler, by John Twelve Hawks (Seriously, what's with that middle name? Is it a pen name, or were his parents just exceedingly odd?)

As the NY Times review of the book observes, Traveler reads like "a cyber 1984," which, as far as I'm concerned, is unfortunate. Y'know, since that book has already been written. Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh. Traveler doesn't actually feel like 1984 merely updated for the internet age. It feels more like Hawks loved dystopian novels like 1984 as a young'un, and now, when he has a cool plot idea, he decides to set it in a big brother dystopia.

The problem is, it's getting more and more apparent that the current danger is not an oppressive governmental system. We've been amply warned of that, and are very wary of it. No, the worrisome direction in which we are currently moving is toward the cronyism of a government that is no more than a tool of big business. Sure, the government has done some crummy things lately as far as civil rights are concerned, but it's important to remember that we, the people, have an expectation that the government respects civil rights - there is no such expectation for multinational corporations.

Have any of you heard of CRM? It stands for Consumer Relations Management, and it's a concept so prevalent that it's introduced to business students in their basic marketing course. The idea is that the corporation should pursue a one-on-one relationship with their customers, offering them only the products and services that they are likely to desire. Sounds OK, no? Unfortunately, pursuit of this goal involves collecting LOTS of data about you and your purchasing habits - over the course of years - and then compiling it all into a data warehouse. That's somewhat concerning, but most (not all!) companies have privacy policies that preclude them selling that information to third parties. The catch? When a company with a CRM database goes bankrupt, there is a precedent of considering their consumer data an 'asset'. It is therefore sold to the highest bidder. Disconcerting, no?

To get back to the novel, despite the somewhat juvenile and arbitrary choice to house the story in a big brother dystopia, I'm actually quite enjoying the book. The story follows several different characters living "off the grid," which is quite an accomplishment in Hawks' dystopia (it's tough enough in today's USA!). My favorite, and probably the strongest character, is Maya. She is a Harlequin, a sort of modern warrior - she uses a sword and everything! Well, ok, she uses a shotgun too, but you get the idea.

As I pointed out earlier, I have yet to finish the book, so I don't know if these characters meet up, although I suspect they do. All in all, it's been a good and interesting book so far, and I suggest you give it a shot.

The Traveler

Friday, October 12, 2007

Webcomics: Questionable Content

I've decided to write the first obtrusive post on webcomics about the comic that began my love affair with the damned things.

Questionable Content, or QC, Is a long running online comic by Jeph Jacques. He currently updates every weekday, and is rapidly approaching 1,000 comics, which is particularly impressive for a page style comic, rather than a strip format.

The comic itself is highly amusing, even for folks (like myself) who have zero involvement in the indie music scene which is the frequent subject of the characters' snarky comments. Jeph does a pretty good job of making each page amusing of its own accord, but there are also story arcs that are well worth reading. The art is quite good, and has come a long way from the first comics. Like many webcomics, QC is a testament to the artist's growth, and it records the gradual, but significant, improvements over Jeph's years of drawing.

In many ways, QC is the golden standard of webcomics. Like Something Positive, QC provides its author with his sole source of income, but unlike SP, QC is lighthearted, and entertains those of us who are not complete jerks (A jerk myself, I can sometimes enjoy SP, but I would fully understand if you didn't. Also, I think SP's popularity says something about the composition of the internet community...).
Jeph accepts donations for QC, but his main income appears to come from the sale of clever T-shirts, both comic related and not.

Now, if you people would just give *me* money, I wouldn't need a job.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Fiction on the Net

I had intended for this blog to focus on books I've read, but I am coming to realize that there is an abundance of material on the net for me to comment on.

In fact, I am only now starting to see the web really begin to display the sort of revolutionary fiction you'd expect out of such a revolutionary medium. Keep in mind that the internet is the first medium for communication that is both a true mass medium and genuinely interactive. We're seeing a rise in egalitarianism as a result (the very fact that you are reading a blog is evidence of this.)

I see two main innovations in fiction on the net (so far). The first is that writers who appeal to a quirky, small, or otherwise non-mainstream audience are able to reach readers on a wide scale, and in a way that is not possible with the traditional print media. This is true of any successful writer with prose (or poetry, though I have less interest) on the net. However, someone who has caught my eye is Jeff Harrell, who, in a Vonnegut-esque fashion has titled his collection of stories "Lies that are true". His stories are here. I particularly suggest "When Alone Was Forgotten," "Cheshire Smile," and "The Slow Ones."

The other innovation I see is very similar to what many webcomics have been doing for a while - that is, using lengths and formats that would be inappropriate for print. A prime example of this is Lexy Erin's writing, particularly her superhero serial Star Harbor Nights, as well as the superior (and currently updating) Tales Of MU. Lexy's writing is certainly an example of an author reaching a readership largely unavailable through print, but she is also writing serials. Each "chapter" is roughly the length of a short novel chapter, but she is in the third book of "MU," and, while the writing would occupy three volumes, the pacing is quite different from that of your average novel. The day to day narratives that get lost in a novel are fully explored here, and, while I have no inside knowledge, I can easily imagine the entire arc of a novel-length plot, but with each smaller sidestory fully developed. I think the format lends itself to empathy with the characters, because it is easy to feel like you are living their lives alongside them.

Again, check out Lies that are true and Tales Of MU.

PS - Tales of MU can be a bit... involved, particularly in the more recent chapters - to the point that they're nsfw. I would say that if you're easily offend you should avoid it, but, frankly, if you're easily offended, I'm not sure why you're reading this blog.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

I'm all for the free books. Are you?

So, I have discovered a website.
I hadn't planned to make a plug on my first post, but these guys are pretty amazing.


They have free books - eBooks, yes, but still books. It works like this: you sign up with a non anonymous email address (meaning no hotmail, yahoo, gmail, etc.) or with your credit card. Then you can download 5 free books each day. So far I have downloaded 35 books.
The selection is not excellent, but that is understandable given that this is a fledgling enterprise, not yet a year old. There is a pretty solid selection of political books, recent and otherwise, a growing selection of novels, and quite a bit of poetry (not my thing - I'll stick with prose, thanks). I personally found quite a bit to read in the way of fiction, because I am a fan of Vonnegut and P.K. Dick, whose books were well represented. I even found a new author, A. D. Nauman, who has a nice little Dystopian novel called Scorch
The books are nice, high quality PDF files. They have two full pages of ads at the beginning, and one more at the end. Right now Verizon appears to be their only sponsor, so expect to see a lot of black and red. Each book has your name on the very first page, and has a very small serial number on the bottom left of each page. They don't really mention this, but it's pretty easy to find if you look.
All in all, they've developed a system that is a pretty good deal for everybody. You get free books - five a day. That should do you, since even I can't manage five full sized books in one day. They make money (I assume) by selling ad space on these books. You have no real incentive to pirate, since your name is on everything, and you might as well just send your friends to the same link.

I've said a lot, but all you really need to know is "Free books!"