27 April 2009

Aardman Animation, home of Wallce and Gromit, to bring Gideon Defoe's Pirate Captain to the screen

Sony Pictures and stop-frame animation house Aardman Animations (Wallace and Gromit) have announced plans to adapt the Gideon DeFoe novel The Pirates! (in an Adventure with Scientists).

I love this series of humorous novels, that include The Pirates! (In an Adventure with Ahab),The Pirates! in an Adventure with Communists and the upcoming The Pirates! in an Adventure with Napoleon.

This first book in the series is set in 1837, and follows the adventures of The Pirate Captain (that is the only name he's called. His crew have names like the Pirate Who Wore Red and so on...) and his crew of non-orthodox pirates. They meet a young Charles Darwin and Mister Bobo, a highly trained and sophisticated "man-panzee".

The Pirate Captain doesn't really know what he is doing, but is very much respected by his crew. He has a full luxuriant beard. His arch nemesis is Black Bellamy, a pirate with a beard that goes all the way up to his eyes, who often outsmarts the pirate captain.

Ham is very important to the pirates and is taken very seriously. The Captain has a prize honey-glazed ham which he keeps in a glass display-case, with a silk bow tied around it.

The book is not aimed at children, as much of the humor relies on an adult appreciation of the cliché and irony, and resembles, sometimes, British shows Monty Python, Dave Allen and The Two Ronnies.

20 April 2009

Dan Brown returns (finally) with a new Robert Langdon book, The Lost Symbol

Six years after the publication of his multi-million bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown -and his hero Robert Langdon - will return this September 15 with The Lost Symbol. The title is rather plain and opaque after 2003s The Da Vinci Code, and 2000's Angels and Demons, two novels that antagonized Christian groups which detailed religious organizations such as Opus Dei who were willing to do almost anything, including murder, to keep themselves in power (The Da Vinci Code) and tackled a secret society called the Illuminati (Angels and Demons).

Part of the reason might all of the books that were published after The Da Vinci Code. When this long-rumored sequel was originally listed for publication back in 2006, it was under the title The Solomon Key. This led to a rash of pre-emptive books about how to unlock the Solomon Key.

So, for now, the plot seems secret, though what is known that novel takes place in a span of 12 hours. Plot points should start appearing as the publication date comes closer.

The good aspect of this news is The Lost Symbol could become the biggest-selling book of 2009, which could be on the same level as Harry Potter, giving the ailing book industry a much need boost in the arm.

13 April 2009

Starlog to end print run; will remain in digital world

The granddaddy of sci fi magazines, Starlog has announced they're ceasing publication of the magazine after issue #374. In a recent posting on their web site, the magazine noted they've relaunched in beta as part of a "massive digital initiative" and touting the fact a "Digital store," to launch next month, will feature digital editions of the entire Starlog catalog.

"It is also at this time that we announce the temporary cessation of the current run of Starlog as a print magazine," the statement read. "After 33 years, and considering the present state of the economy, we feel [it's] time for a major revamp and will be temporarily discontinuing publication while the model and redesign of the magazine are contemplated and executed.

The magazine debuted in 1976 as a quarterly before going monthly in 1978. It was the fall of 1979 that I started reading the magazine and have been reading it ever since. The magazine was created by Kerry O'Quinn and Norman Jacobs. Jacobs eventually sold the company to the Creative Group, and the Brooklyn Co. bought Starlog and its horror-centric sister magazine Fangoria last year from the Creative Group, which had fallen into bankruptcy.

Fangoria, which already has a strong Web presence, will remain a print entity.

Still, I'm not surprised at their demise as a print outlet. The Web has been the place, for the last few years, where I've got my info from. And since they did not use advertising in the magazine, I kinda sensed their days were numbered. Still, 33 years is impressive.

Why Conservatives live in a different Universe than the rest of us

Taken from Bill in Exile:

If you ever doubted that conservatives operate within a radically different reality than the rest of us just check this out.

The first qoute is an entry from the conservative blog Redstate.

Playing pansy politics with pirates put the Captain’s life at increased risk. His first escape attempt was thwarted by the thugs as Phillips remained adrift from the aid and cover of the US Navy, which sat restrained by an administration too cowardly to let slip the dogs of war. Each day the tension and humiliation of a nation grew. The emboldened pirates fired upon our men of action, who thus restrained could not yet act in kind. The terrorists’ defiant lack of fear inspired their fellows to target other American vessels. All while the community organizer in chief flipped through his conflict resolution handbook.”


“After four days of floating at sea on a raft shared with four Somali gunmen, Richard Philips took matters into his own hands for a second time. With the small inflatable lifeboat in which he was being held captive being towed by the American missile destroyer USS Bainbridge, and Navy Special Warfare (NSWC) snipers on the fantail in position to take their shots at his captors as soon as the command was given, the captive Captain of the M.V. Maersk-Alabama took his second leap in three days into the shark-infested waters of the Indian Ocean.

This diversion gave the Navy Special Warfare operators all the opening they needed. Snipers immediately took down the three Somali pirates still on board the life raft, SEAL operators hustled down the tow line connecting the two craft to confirm the kills, and a Navy RIB plucked Philips from the water and sped him to safety aboard the Bainbridge, thus ending the four-day-and-counting hostage situation.”

From Redstate

Then there’s this account in the New York Times that was provided by U.S. Navy personnel who were actually, ummm, you know……. on the scene and not completely crazy.

“Two of the captors had poked their heads out of a rear hatch of the lifeboat, exposing themselves to clear shots, and the third could be seen through a window in the bow, pointing an automatic rifle at the captain, who was tied up inside the 18-foot lifeboat, senior Navy officials said.

It took only three remarkable shots — one each by snipers firing from a distance at dusk, using night-vision scopes, the officials said. Within minutes, rescuers slid down ropes from the Bainbridge, climbed aboard the lifeboat and found the three pirates dead. They then untied Captain Phillips, ending the contretemps at sea that had riveted much of the world’s attention. A fourth pirate had surrendered earlier.”

Oh, and it should be noted that the President had approved the use of deadly force just as soon as the USS Bainbridge arrived on the scene and that the use of that force was solely at the discretion of the Bainbridge’s commanding officer.

As I said, conservatives simply are not like the rest of us. For when the facts fail to match their twisted world view they do what conservatives everywhere do best: they simply make stuff up.

Books: Deflowered: My Life in Pansy Division by Jon Ginoli

For me, one the reasons I wanted to read Deflowered, was I liked Pansy Division. Which might not seem so much as a surprise. I mean if your going to read the inside story on the first gay pop-punk band, it’s a good bet you like their music. Which brings me, first to point out I’m not really into punk music and over the last twenty years or so, I’ve lost my taste for music in general. Now, most of music influences came from the early 1980s MTV days, when the cable music channel played videos. Still, then, a lot of what they played and the stuff I liked, was shoved into 120 Minutes, their alternative showcase for music outside the norm. And 120 Minutes usually aired late at night, on Sundays if I remember right.

Anyways, I discovered Pansy Division, early in their career, when I stumbled across Deflowered, their second CD in 1993 (I also think I read something about them in one gay magazine or something). I bought the CD and it still remains my favorite, and is on rotation on my iPod. But it wasn’t until Green Day (just as the punk band was getting bigger, outside the small, cultish nature punk music likes) asked them to be their opening act that many people -mostly straight - would hear about Pansy Division.

In Delfowered, Ginoli recounts his days growing up in Peoria, Illinois (a mere three and half hours from Chicago). For me, maybe that is also why I liked PD -we had the same roots in many ways, as he’s only 9 months younger than my older brother. Plus I never -and still do - feel I don’t follow the whole gay culture things. Sure I love my showtunes, but I hate dance music, disco and have little or no feelings about Kylie Minogue or Madonna. And like Ginoli who also discovered this, some gays are shocked by this. But that’s always been my goal, in some unintentional way. I never wanted to fall into the gay stereotype.

Still as a confident gay man, he (like many gay men) needed to get out of their small, ands sometimes, small minded home towns, to achieve their destinies. Moving to San Francisco, it was their in the City by the Bay that Jon started Pansy Division -a humorous take on a dance act called The Panzer Division.

And while Jon loved punk music, he also though -at times, I guess - thought it took itself way too seriously. His idea was to have fun, so most of the songs he wrote had a very humorous bent to them. And while humor was its main thrust (if you can excuse the pun), politics also played a role. When Chris Freeman joined, Jon really thought they could now make an impact in a few areas no one had dared go before.

The book over flows with Jon’s wit and since he kept a detailed diary of their adventures (including the tales of their ever revolving door of drummers) it does not get bogged down in any sort of ennui. Plus, its nice to read a book about a band that actually got a long, and where ego and drugs never seemed to hinder their performances -unlike some of the venues they played. The only ax Ginoli might grind is PD’s association with Lookout! Records, the indie company that released their early CDs. Still without their support and Green Day’s insistence that they tour with them, one wonders how much Pansy Division might not have gotten out to gays like me.

It’s a fast read, and a wonderfully detailed account of a band that more gay people should be listening and buying. And while I own only three of their CD’s -Deflowered, Pile Up and Wish I Taken Pictures, I will always adore Jon and Chris (and whatever drummer is currently playing for them), Luis and Joel. For me, it made it okay to like something other than the mainstream and while some people may think their nothing but a joke, I know that Pansy Division was best thing to happen to music in the last (almost) 20 years.

06 April 2009

Books: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains."

And thus begins a mash-up between Jane Austen's classic 19th Century comedy of manners and the 21st Century fondness for the undead. Not those lame vampires of the Twilight Saga, but the "the George Romero zombies of the 1960s and 1970s. The slow-moving, limb-dragging, single-minded creatures that care only about infecting others and biting brains," he told the LA Times.

While some may claim this type of hybrid is nothing short of colorizing classic black and white films, what Grahame-Smith has done here is add some horrific, very comedic zombies, to a novel that is pretty funny in itself, despite the run-on sentences from her original text. Still, one can't think that even Jane Austen might be amused by the fact that despite a decades long period where zombies plague 19th Century England (how it all began is not explored, but does not really matter, either) life in the Bennet household goes on as Mrs. Bennet's main goal in life remains getting her daughters married off. And the fact that the zombies are called "unmentionables" might even amuse Austen.

This remix, or what ever you want to call it, is pitch perfect. It brittle's with great humor, and makes you want to -maybe -even take on Pride & Prejudice.

Okay, maybe not.

But I highly recommend this one.

02 April 2009

Borders Books becoming Glengarry Glen Ross?

n the 1992 film Glengarry Glen Ross, Alec Baldwin plays Blake, a sort of hired gun brought in by Mitch and Murray, the unseen characters who are owners of a Chicago real estate agency, to force a group of agents to engage in any number of unethical, illegal acts—from lies and flattery to bribery, threats, intimidation, and burglary—to sell undesirable real estate to unwilling prospective buyers.

As Blake tries to “motivate” the group, he tells them:

“We're adding a little something to this month's sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anybody want to see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you're fired.”

It’s funny, it’s cruel and sadly, probably completely legal.

It seems Borders Books and Music is becoming a version of that David Mamet screenplay. The flagging book company, in a last desperate effort to remain meaningful, has put a gun to all of its employees heads in the field and is forcing them to sell a handful of titles selected by the buying department.

Essentially, we need to have sales on these titles and if not, you’ll be written up. Well, at least the GM’s of the stores will be. And like the proverbial rock rolling down a hill, if these sales trends are not met, the write-ups will escalate to managers and then supervisors. Eventually, people will be fired. So, while in the play and movie there are wonderful prizes for first and second place, at Borders all you’ll get is fired.

Part of the reason for this, I guess, is to get books like The Middle Place and City of Thieves (some of the current crop of titles) onto the New York Times Bestseller List, and so they can claim it was Borders staff (good, really) that help propel them. Thus, I’m guessing, customers will then assume Borders people know good stuff (which we do) and people will avoid Barnes & Noble (which they don’t, more on that later). As recent as this week, last months Borders Recommend, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, is sitting at #15 on the NYT fiction list. The Middle Place sits well at #2 on the Non Fiction Paperback list, though its sales have come because it was mentioned on the all powerful juggernaut that is Oprah.

I really don’t mind having to pimp these titles, cause some are pretty good. But with popular fiction taking over the world as it is, trying to convince customers to take a chance on new, untried author -in hardcover also - is akin to trying to sell ice to Eskimos. Or pork chop to a Hasidic Jew.

Still, on the other hand, Borders tends to choose titles that, should I say, tend to skew more liberal. My store, in Rancho Cucamonga, tends to be more conservative, more Christian based. Take last months Jodi Picoult book Handle with Care they wanted us sell like was going away in a day. The novel takes on a somewhat ethical notion that if you knew your unborn child was going to born with a disease that would mean a life-time of devotion to that child, would you terminate it? I tried to sell the title to two people over the weekend, but both said -once I described part of the story - that they were Christians and there is no ethical area for them. They would have the child. Why, as they asked me, should I read it (beyond the fact that most of Picoult’s fans seem to feel her novels are getting to formulaic: a child with a medical issue, parents with personal issues, and an angsty lawyer with a long backstory)?

I thought it was a good point. Still, had Borders chosen Love Dare - a book based on the film Fireproof - that one would’ve sold like crazy in my store. The point, I guess, is that instead of the whole company getting behind titles such as The Middle Place, City of Thieves, Star Wars: Outcast, and Long Lost by Harlan Coben, select one or two and then let the region or the stores themselves dictate the rest.

Hollywood has been using demographics to decide what films and TV shows to make, and realized young kids with way too much time and money on their hands will see almost anything. The book industry seems to think that the only way to appeal to those young people, is to “recommend” books that none of them will read.

Hate it or not, we need to redirect our efforts to appeal to younger people, and not older ones. Book surveys show reading for them is in a downturn and the industry and book stores seem little interest in appealing to them. Yes, older people have money, but they’re also set in their ways. They like to read what they like, and most are unwilling to take on a new author or quirky titles that they no nothing about.

For me though, this latest effort is nothing short of trying to close the barn doors after the horses have left. They’re putting loaded gun to every ones head and they seem not to care that firing their staff is no way to make sales. Sure, with this economy, there are plenty of people lining up for any job, but Borders has always been most peoples favorite place to shop; mainly (once upon a time) for its selection, but mostly for its knowledgeable staff.

I’ve heard it many times in the 12 years since I started working for them, that most customers love our stores. Here in SoCal, many come from the High Desert to shop in our store. They all say the same thing, yeah we have a Barnes & Noble up there, but we like yours better. Why? Because the staff is friendly and knowledgeable. Boom, easy sale.

So, what’s the point of firing us? Eventually, they'll have no one with experience there, and the odds are people will then really go to B&N. It’s not like the number one bookseller already has a leg up on us in the branding name game.

As just noted, I’ve worked for Borders for 12 years, yet even family members ask me to this day, how’s things working at Barnes & Noble? My own family gets confused. Why? What has B&N done that makes them the first bookstore people think about on the retail level? What is Borders failing at that, despite the love we get from people, they think we’re Barnes & Noble?

At the end of the day, most of Borders problems can be blamed on the old regimes of the middle to late 1990s. They’ve made huge financial mistakes and have stumbled one to many times in trying to make Borders a better brand name than Barnes & Noble. Right now, they’re treading on an ever thinning ice and are forcing its employees to engage (to their customers) in a number of what is probably some pretty unethical things. Plus our DM's are using threats and intimidation in forcing the staff to sell what is probably undesirable reads to unwilling readers.

Welcome to Glengarry Glen Ross, can I help you?