6/17/2015

An Unsuitable Cover For A Classic

It's always good to see an important and influential SF writer's magnum opus get a new printing. But I was really taken aback to see Phoenix Pick had chosen this as the cover for their new edition of Cordwainer Smith's Norstrilia:


What this image says to me is: "This book is Horror. HORROR, HORROR, HORROR."

(The red-glowing eyes also inevitably bring to mind Carly Fiorina's infamously bizarre "Demon Sheep" campaign ad for her failed 2010 Senate campaign.)

While elements in some of Smith's stories are pretty horrifying ("Mother Hitton's Littul Kittons"; "A Planet Named Shayol"), he's not a horror writer. His work is very much science fiction, with far flung space empires, animals uplifted to human intelligence, immortality drugs, and other aspects sheerly in the science fiction camp, written from idiosyncratic angles and perspectives that few other writers have managed to emulate. Smith might be described as the grandfather of the New Weird movement, epitomized by writers such as China Mieville and Jeff VanderMeer, although New Weird tends to frequently mashup horror, fantasy and science fiction (usually with the major emphasis on horror, it seems to me) into its own particular stew.

Googling around, I found this image originates as a piece of vector stock illustration, available from a number of stock-image providers. *sigh* While I can understand why a small press like Phoenix Pick would want to use stock art (they save a lot of money over a commissioned piece), I wish they'd hunted around longer to find something more suitable.

6/10/2015

My Day So Far




(The photo comes from Flickr Commons, a Swedish carpenter in 1932. But it's pretty much how the day's been.)

6/06/2015

The Brave Free Books -- 2015 edition

I've been winning occasional books on giveaways from Goodreads, tor.com, and other contests. There's a goodly stack of them sitting in a box right over there [points helpfully], and figure it's about time I take a whack at reading and reviewing more of them:

- - - - -

SUPER BORN: Seduction of Being by Keith Kornell (Harper Landmark Books, 2013).

I'm a pretty easy mark for "ordinary person gets superpowers" story.  This one, ehhh, sorry; it had problems.

There are several PoV characters. They switch back and forth, frequently in the same chapter, with no clear demarcation between the switch. That last is exacerbated by all the PoVs being 1st-person viewpoints, all expressed in similar speech patterns and phraseology. To try and make clear which character is speaking, some particular detail gets inserted into the first paragraph of each switch in PoV; it felt like a forced and clumsy technique. The prose is workmanlike, interrupted by the occasional *clunk* of a poorly written sentence or unnecessary phrase.

None of the characters came across as sympathetic, or engaging, or as possessing any real depth. They were all idiots and cartoons, to one extent or another. (To be fair, part of the plot is that men who live in Scranton, PA are, literally, idiots. There's a reason for this, not just because, y'know, Scranton.) I could never decide if the novel was supposed to be a straight story, or humor. If the latter, I didn't laugh at the jokes. The portions where the "humor" was based on self-destructive behavior (alcoholic blackouts, promiscuous sex, etc.) just made me feel sad. I felt like I was watching an Adam Sandler movie. (There are people who would consider that last a positive attribute. I am not one of those people.) (Spoiler whited out: The major female and male characters end up hooking up because, and almost solely because, they turn out to have *SUPER-ORGASMS!!!!* together.)

I finished the book, but more from a reviewer's obligation than the meager enjoyment I got from the experience. I'd give it two stars.

(Other reviews mostly rate it higher, four or five stars. That sort of thing is why I complain about the "irrational exuberance" of most ratings on Amazon, Goodreads, etc. No one wants to be a meanie, so most reviewers over-rank by at least one or two stars. Five stars? That's something I think should be given only to books that are extraordinarily good. I don't like being a meanie, either, but I try to give criticism that will be useful to the writer as well as the reader.)

- - - - -

Highfell Grimoires by Langley Hyde (Blind Eye Books, 2014).

This was a lot more satisfying and enjoyable to read than the above-reviewed book.

It's a steampunk story, or more exactly an "aetherpunk" story. "Aether" is a wind-like natural energy source, found more freely at higher elevations. The Dickensian society of the book develops this by dividing society into literal upper and lower classes; the upper classes live on immense airborne ships/platforms that float at aether-rich heights. The lower classes are ground-bound (or work as servants on the flying platforms), and are subject to occasional skyfalls of trash or sewage from the platforms above.

The aether's energy is accessed via spells written in magical grimoires. There had been some kind of worldwide magical disaster long ago that left society in disarray for centuries, and many of the grimoires surviving from before are either magically locked or written in dead or obscure languages.

Neil Franklin, the upper-class protagonist, is proficient in languages. But his fortunes have fallen, hard, and he ends up having to take a lowly teacher's position at a charity school high in the sky.

All Is Not As It Seems, of course. There are a great many secrets being held, and the plot develops as these secrets are revealed one by one, with significant consequences for both individuals and society.

And Neil himself has a secret: He's a deeply closeted and self-denying homosexual, in a society where gay men are still considered deviant and perverted. Only to feel a frightening attraction to the rugged Leofa (who has secrets of his own), workman on the school's sky-platform.

Langley Hyde does a nice job combining elements of fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction. I thought the romance arc between Neil and Leofa was a bit predictable, but otherwise it's a fine debut novel. I note Langley Hyde is a Clarion graduate; you don't have to attend the Clarion workshop to become a better sf/fantasy writer, but, goddamn, it sure seems to help.

- - - - -

Burn The Orphanage, Daniel Freedman & Sina Grace (Image Comics, 2014)

Collected edition of BTO comics #1-3. Streetfighters Rock, Bear and Lex vs. corporate thugs and villains, an alien deathmatch contest, and a giant monster.

The intent of this comic series seems to be to take typical scenarios from video games and give the main fighter characters some depth of background and character. (Rock was the sole survivor of an orphanage fire, Bear is a big gay guy, and Lex has commitment issues and can't seem to find guys who don't want a serious relationship with her.)

I thought this was an interesting challenge. Alas, I don't think this succeeded very well. The fight sequences were too video-gamey -- sometimes blatantly so -- to keep my interest. (Full disclosure: Over the years, I've found very, very, very few videogames that haven't bored me after a short period. I'm missing the Gamer gene, or whatever it is that attracts so many gameplayers so deeply.) The characterization, while not as cardboard or one-note as found in videogames, seemed rather strained and forced to me. In the end, my impression was that BTO was trying to have both the kind of characterization found in prose fiction and the kind of action found in videogames, and failed to fully succeed in either.

- - - - -

Project Superhero, E. Paul Zehr, illustrations by Kris Pearn (ECW Press, 2014)

Paul Zehr is best known for Becoming Batman, a non-fiction examination of how someone might train and educate themselves to try and match Batman's abilities.

Project Superhero covers a lot of the same ground, but slanted towards a middle-school audience, and with a fictional story to overlay the educational aspects of the book.

13-year old comics fan Jessie is thrilled when her school announces a year-long cross-class project about superheroes. Students are to choose an individual superhero to represent as being the best. At the end of the year, a series of elimination debates will decide which superhero is the best superhero. Jessie chooses Batgirl.

Along the way, life continues. Family, friends, enemies, with complications and misunderstandings and young-teenager confusion. Jessie's work on her superhero project ties into those life and family issues.

It's a... nice... story. The problems and complications that arise get resolved, but I never felt any sense of urgency about Jessie's story. I think I'm probably too old for this book. Some YA and middle-school books can be read and enjoyed with no problems by adults, but this particular one feels really targeted for that middle-school-age audience.  For adults, Zehr's Becoming Batman would probably be the better choice. But this would make a good gift book for any middle-schoolers interested in comics or superheroes.

(As part of Jessie's project, she writes to real-life people who've done heroic or extraordinary things. The actual replies to those letters are included as part of Project Superhero.)

- - - - -

I think that's it for this round of "Brave Free Books". More reviews, hopefully, as I work my way through the box.

5/22/2015

File 770 - Some statistics

Mike Glyer, over at FILE 770, has been providing daily or almost-daily posts collecting links to commentary on the Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies controversy over the Hugo awards.

I dropped out of reading the comments to the linkposts there about a month ago. (Why make myself feel sick or angry? Yeah, some of the commentators are that bad.I reached my limit with the guy who feels mass-murderer Anders Brievik was admirable for slaughtering dozens of the children of liberals.) But I still browse the front page of F770, and it seemed to me the topic isn't sloping off (like most topics eventually do), but actually increasing.

So, because I have absolutely nothing better to do with my life (AIEEE! THE GUILT! THE GUILT IS GNAWING AT MY INSIDES LIKE CRAZED WEASELS ON PCP!), I gathered data on the number of comments noted at the top of each F770 linkpost. The results, through 5/21, are shown below.




Yeep. I'll leave any actual interpretation of this data to others, those with the stomach to try and make a correlation to the contents of comments on the linkposts.

(The gap in early April is from several days when Mike posted single-subject topics related to SP/RP, but didn't post link collections. I also left data out from later single-subject posts.)

I sent Mike an advance copy of this post. He responded: "Wow, that's interesting. I've been too busy to notice a new record was set this week. And the new record is 9X as many comments as the record set by any F770 post having nothing to do with the puppies  had 88."

5/16/2015

Mad Libs: Sad Puppies Edition

The Wall Street Journal published a recent story about the Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies gaming a vulnerability in the Hugo Awards nomination procedure to almost completely dominate the 2015 ballot with their own, ah, particular point of view.

I was reading the comments (yes, I should know better than to read comments on posts about this subject by now; doing so mostly just raises my blood pressure) and came across this paragraph from one John Hardy:

Personally, I don't like progressive sf because it is too predictable and I've read different variations of the stories over and over... underestimated ___ is harassed by powerful ___, yet through superior intelligence/emotional maturity/etc. supposedly unique to ___'s persecuted group, manages to humiliate/destroy ___  With that first bout of morally superior dialogue, I know what's coming and I'm just not interested anymore. 

Hmmm. Somehow that sounded familiar. It sounded very familiar. And giving it some thought, I realized why.

Let me fill in the blanks in Mr. Hardy's template:

I've read different variations of the stories over and over... underestimated WHITE MALE AMERICAN HUMAN is harassed by powerful ALIENS, yet through superior intelligence/emotional maturity/etc. supposedly unique to WHITE MALE AMERICAN HUMAN's persecuted group, manages to humiliate/destroy ALIENS  With that first bout of morally superior dialogue, I know what's coming and I'm just not interested anymore.  

That is an almost perfect template for much of the fiction John W. Campbell (in particular; but many other science fiction magazine editors as well) published in ASTOUNDING/ANALOG magazine back around the last mid-century.  Christopher Anvil, Eric Frank Russell, and Keith Laumer come to mind as authors who frequently wrote to the Campbellian template. (Sometimes to great effect. Russell's WASP is a heck of a lot of fun, even today.) This is also the template some of the SP/RP supporters seem to want to see return to current science fiction.

But I'm having a hard time thinking of any obvious modern-day authors who regularly invert that template, to have the ALIENS (aka women/gays/minorities) humiliate or destroy WHITE MALE AMERICAN HUMANS, as Mr. Hardy seems to be objecting to.

I can think of a few particular works that might fit such an inverted template. Spider Robinson's NIGHT OF POWER, about a black revolt that takes over New York City and declares it a separate nation. (It's also Robinson's worst book, imho.) Several books that eliminate males from the git-go and are about all-female societies. And, umm, not much else that comes immediately to mind.

But I think the best writing, the writing that might deserve a Hugo or other awards, is writing that tries to avoid templates, and formulas, and cliches. (I noted above that Russell's WASP is still a fun read. But, boy, after more than a half-century reading SF, it's hard to not see that template in action when trying to re-read WASP.)

And the best way to avoid those templates, those formulas, those cliches, is to try new approaches, new viewpoints, new techniques, new contents and characters.

In short... whoa, dirty word (for some people) coming up... I want science fiction to cast a wide net, to be open to possibilities, to be daring, to be unpredictable, to be... diverse.

4/24/2015

Grace of Kings arrives


Grace of Kings, a first novel by Ken Liu, arrived in the mail today. Liu's been producing an extremely impressive string of shorter fiction in recent years (he's one of my "must-read" authors), as well as translating works of Chinese sf authors. (He did the English translation for the recent US publication of The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu.) Grace of Kings, an epic fantasy influenced by classic Chinese literature, has been garnering outstanding reviews and recommendations; it'll almost certainly be a major award-contender next year.

I've also seen a lot of appreciations for the striking cover of the book, but I'm surprised no one seems to have mentioned the gorgeous endpapers, with a map of Liu's fantasy archipelago. How about we fix that right now?



(The Grace of Kings cover is by Sam Weber. There doesn't seem to be an internal credit for the endpapers. Were they by Weber as well?)

4/16/2015

Sad Puppies: Some brief thoughts, and a link-back.

If you haven't been following the Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies mess over this year's Hugo Awards, or don't care, count yourself lucky. (Boy, are you lucky!) But a lot of people care, and thousands (no exaggeration) of posts and comments have been written. I've made a few brief comments myself on sites like File 770, but haven't gotten into the ugly (again, no exaggeration) back-and-forth to the extent some people have.

I'm thinking of writing some extended commentary, though. Probably two posts: One in which to allow my inner Rude Pundit out to vent (hope them Sad Puppies have a sense of humor!, though I expect not), and one with a more serious reasoned response.

In the meantime, my post about the same issue from 2014, before it went nuclear this year,  Some Points Re: Recent Matters, is just as (or more) applicable to the ongoing kerfuffle/fracas/debate/argument/Holy-War (choose one, or several, as you deem applicable). The takeaway line: "Some people are proud of being a prick."

4/03/2015

Iggy the Easter Iguana


Sure, it may look like something only Satan could hug and cuddle,
but at least it actually lays eggs, for Christ's sake!

The local Wildlife World Zoo decided to put bunny ears on its resident iguana for a recent publicity appearance on local tv. Because why would you not?

4/01/2015

Coconut-Pineapple-Ginger Smoothie

I've been making fruit smoothies at bedtime to take my daily pills and supplements with. Besides being good for that, drinking the smoothies (essentially fruit salads in pureed form) means I indulge in a lot less ice cream and other high-sugar, high-fat snacks than I used to.

I use a wide variety of ingredients. This combination worked particularly well, so I thought I'd preserve the recipe.

Coconut-Pineapple-Ginger Smoothie

11/ C. coconut milk
1/2 C. Del Monte pineapple in coconut-flavored light syrup (these come in lunchbox-size plastic cups with a half-cup in each)
1/2 tsp. ginger paste (or more, if you like ginger)
1 scoop whey protein powder (about 34 grams, or slightly over 1 ounce by weight, or about 3 ounces by volume; it's fluffy stuff)

Blend until smooth. Enjoy. About 300 calories.

(My carton of coconut milk came out of the fridge in slushy form. You might want to add several ice cubes to chill the mixture.)

A Few Words About Obamacare

From bankrate.com: What If Obamacare Never Happened? A chilling look at the world Republicans want to resurrect.

For another reminder of what the Working Poor had to do before the Affordable Care Act. here's one of my own posts from 2006, New Millennium, Old Style Medicine.

Until the ACA went into effect, one of our friends had to try and make do with with herbal and folk remedies to treat her asthma and other problems. Under ACA provisions, she finally qualified for AHCCS (Arizona's equivalent for Medicaid) and has been able to see actual medical professionals and get prescription medications.

One of the dire predictions Republicans made about the ACA was that people would have to pay more for insurance under ACA. That's turned out to be mostly untrue. There's a small number that fall into various qualification cracks, but most of those increases in premiums are small. (I checked the ACA website to see what coverage matching what I get through my USPS retirement would cost. It was about $40 more a month than what I currently pay. That would be annoying, but it would be something I could afford without much trouble; most people who complain about increased premiums seem to be in a similar financial niche as I am, and could similarly afford such an increase if  ACA coverage was their only option.)

I actually met someone recently complaining about ACA premiums being unaffordable, though. It was a new co-worker, who had been on AHCCS during a long period of unemployment. When he finally re-entered the workforce, that AHCCS coverage ended, so he went to the ACA website to see what he could get. He complained that he ended up with a figure of $490 a month. Since he's one of our temporary contract workers at $9.00/hour, that would be over a third of his monthly income.

That figure sounded WAY too high to me, especially for someone who'd just come off of AHCCS, so I suggested he contact one of the person-to-person ACA counselors to see if that amount was accurate. Surprisingly, he actually took my advice (he must have missed the memo everyone else in the world has apparently read, because no one EVER takes my advice). As it turned out, the counselor was able to figure out that in the process of filling out the online questionnaire, the guy's grandchildren had somehow gotten listed as dependents, so that $490 figure had been for the fellow employee AND several grandchildren. The actual cost for solo coverage equivalent to what he'd had under AHCCS would only be about $200 a month. That's something he can afford, so he was a LOT happier the next time I talked with him.

Here's the short version of this post: THANKS, OBAMA! No, really, thank you. I mean that.


3/31/2015

Modern Mysteries: Living In The Past?

Besides science fiction and fantasy, I try to maintain a general impression of the state of the mystery genre.

It's seemed to me that a lot of newly-published mysteries over the last several or more years have been set, not in the present day, but back in the 1970's, 80's, or earlier decades.

I wonder if that might be because those earlier times were pre-cellphones, pre-Internet, pre-Surveillance-Society?

In a society where everything is known, or has the potential to become known, has the traditional mystery story become impossible (or at least damn difficult) to write?

- - - - -

Along the line of mysteries, I only recently realized science fiction blog Tor.com has a sister site, Criminal Element, covering the mystery and thrillers beat. One of their regular columns is "Noir's Goon Squad", profiling some of the actors and actresses who regularly portrayed thugs and goons and femme fatales in films of the mid-20th century. "Noir's Goon Squad: Barton MacLane" covers the career of a man who "just had a face you wanted to punch", "was the king of the assholes", and portrayed characters "like he was born in a bad mood."  Apparently he was a pretty good actor; outside his film work, MacLane was a playwright and musician.

3/29/2015

Library Update, and other stuff

Ack, it's been a busy last few weeks, and I've kept running out of time to make new posts here.

The Foothills Library "expansion" (as in gut, downsize and relocate to smaller quarters in a different facility) proposal I've been writing about recently came before the Glendale City Council on March 17th. In the face of an overwhelming public response against the proposal, the council voted unanimously to remove the proposal from consideration. So Foothills Library is safe for now. The question still remains, why was this awful proposal ever given any consideration in the first place? (I may write more about that when I get time.)

- - - - -

I'm going to admit defeat on the idea of making a regular "Weekly Links"post. I'll go back to making irregular posts and links to things that catch my interest. I have a stack of notes and URL's, so some posts will probably appear in the next few days.

3/05/2015

The Uninvited Guest

"That's right, I've come into your backyard, I'm lounging around on your back porch,
in front of your patio door. Excuse me, did I say YOUR back porch? Sorry, I meant to say
MY back porch. Because possession is nine points of the claw, sucker,
POSSESSION IS NINE POINTS OF THE CLAW."

2/26/2015

The Twitter So Far

So, after having been on Twitter for a couple of weeks, how do I like it?

My primary use, and initial reason for joining, was to follow and support some of the grass-roots opposition to the Foothills Library relocation proposal, the subject of most of the recent posts here. (Never my intent for UF to become a one-issue blog; the Foothills issue should reach a resolve when it finally gets voted on by City Council, probably sometime in mid-March. Posts here should get back to their regular varied mix after that.)

It's been useful for that. Bit of a learning curve, but the Twitter Help pages are pretty useful. (Not always the case with other sites and apps.)

I've added some non-library sites to follow, but it's something I'm doing slowly. A lot of chatter and small talk, a lot of interesting links. Fun, but also another time-sink, of which I always have too many. Even with following less than a dozen Twitter feeds, it's been hard to keep up sometimes. (That Scalzi fellow posts so often I sometimes suspect he Tweets in his sleep, or keeps clones chained to keyboards in his basement or something.)

I see some people on Twitter who are "Following" hundreds or even thousands of others. That seems... unsustainable. How many of those Twitter feeds do they actually read, and how do they pick and sort and choose?

If the fiction I've got out for submission to various markets starts selling, or if I ever get off my butt and finish prepping a couple of self-publishing projects I've had in mind, Twitter will probably be very useful for promotion and publicity.

In the meantime, I'll stick with it, with a bit of caution and an eye on the clock.

2/23/2015

Foothills Library: Open Letter to Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers & City Council Members

TO: GlendaleMayor Jerry Weiers and City Council members
Re: Foothills Library relocation proposal



What is a building worth?

A building is not just the land it stands on, and the materials it's built from. The worth of a building comes from the use to which it's put, and how well it serves that use.

In the 2nd appraisal of the Foothills Branch Library building, buried deep in the 150 pages, one line stood out for me:

"Functional obsolescence = $0"

What that line means is that the Foothills Branch Library building is as capable of fulfilling its function as the day it opened. It was designed to serve as a public library, it has functioned as a public library since 1999, and according to the appraiser's report, it is capable of continuing to serve as a public library for many more years.

I submit that, with no loss of function, there has been no true loss of value. The functional value of the building is the same as when it first opened. The financial value should, at a minimum, be the same as when it was first built for 7.8 million. The low market value in the appraisals is a function of a still-incomplete economic recovery, and a large glut of business properties on the current market.

And even that original cost doesn't reflect it's complete value. A truer value might be the replacement value, the cost of building an identical or similar library structure today. That cost would be around 17 million dollars.

But that replacement value isn't the complete value, either. Good libraries (and I consider the Foothills Branch a very good library) provide a public value to cities and their residents. That's a figure hard to put a dollar amount to, but its a large figure, much larger than even the 17 million dollar replacement value for the building.

Accepting an offer of a mere 5 million dollars for a building of such high value would be very, very foolish.

How much is a book worth?

Eviscerating Foothills Library's collection of printed books by eighty percent, one hundred forty thousand books, and moving the remainder into one-quarter the space at the Aquatics Center would also be very, very foolish.

The Aquatics Center was not designed as a library. Moving the downsized library into those spaces at the Aquatics Center would be a kluge, a fix-up, a make-do. The functional value of the smaller space would be less than the functional value of the same square footage in the current, designed-as-a-library, building. The library space at the Aquatics Center would be a degraded version of what we currently have. Foothills Library is a first-class library. At the Aquatics Center, the best we could hope for would be a second-class library.

And, lest we forget, the Aquatics Center would be losing some its current space, taken over by the downsized library. Its own functional value, as an Aquatics and Recreation Center, would be degraded. It too would suffer a functional downgrade, from a first-class facility to a second-class facility.

No, no, no, we are told. The new library space will be as good as ever, we are told, because the library will be going digital. The library of the future, we are told, won't need printed books, or the shelves to hold them, or the square-feet of floor to put the shelves on.

There are many problems, though, with what we have been told about the digital future of libraries. Problems practical, aesthetic and economic.

The practice of "browsing the stacks" is a common one among library users. If you need a particular book, by a particular author, about a particular subject, you can go straight to that spot. But sometimes what you want is just a good book, an interesting book, a well-written book. How do you find those books?

Sometimes you just walk slowly past the rows and shelves of books, scanning spines and covers, titles and authors' names. Something catches your attention. Maybe it's a brightly-colored spine among a run of dull ones. Maybe it's an intriguing title. Maybe it's an author's name you've heard of, but never read before. Maybe you're even looking for a particular author's books, but the books by adjacent authors on that shelf catch your interest, too.

Think of it as a bibliophile's version of window-shopping. There's luck, and serendipity, and coincidence involved. Sometimes it seems like a little bit of magic, too. I've found wonderful books and writers by such browsing, books and writers I'd never have had reason to specifically seek out. It is one of the joys and treasures of a good library, particularly a good-sized library with depth and breadth to its inventory. (Foothills' current inventory of 175,000 books seems about ideal to me.)

In a digital library, or at Amazon and other online booksellers, the experience of that simple footloose wandering is largely lost. Over and over again, a leading complaint about digital catalogs is the inability to browse easily and casually. If you know what you're looking for, if you have a particular title or author or subject, if you can guess the right keywords to search on, digital catalogs can probably take you there. But you can only view a fraction of a fraction of a digital catalog at a time if your search is just for "something interesting". It's slow, and frustrating, and unsatisfying.

With printed books, stacked on shelves, I can browse hundreds of titles in just a few minutes. That's why I, and many others, hope digital books never completely supplant printed books.

I said above that there are economic problems regarding the idea of an all-digital library. Let's crunch some numbers.

Under the relocation proposal, some 140,000 books would be culled from Foothills' current inventory. At first, the public was told those books would be "sent to Main and Velma Teague branch libraries." This turned out to be – let us use a polite phrase – non-factual, and was later revised to state that only a portion would go to Main and Teague, with the remainder to be either sold or donated.

I'd estimate that Main and Teague would probably only be able to absorb about 20,000 of those books, mostly titles Main and Teague don't already duplicate in their own holdings. But let's be generous and say they could take 40,000. That leaves 100,000 titles, a nice even number to work with.

For the new library space at the Aquatics Center to provide a selection with the same depth and breadth as the current printed inventory at Foothills, the new library space would have to replace those 100,000 titles (or a similar selection) with digital versions. This wouldn't be the "expansion of library services" promised in the proposal, it would just provide a digital equivalent to Foothills' current physical holdings.

How much would that cost?

Researching the topic, I found 2013 data that libraries pay pretty close to retail price for printed books. On average, about seven dollars ($7) for mass market paperbacks and about twenty-seven dollars ($27) for hardcovers.

The average cost, to libraries, for a digital book, also in 2013, was... sixty-three dollars ($63).

Does that surprise you, Mayor Weiers, Council members? Those numbers surprise a lot of people.

When a library buys a printed book, they buy an object. They own that book, and they can keep loaning it out until it literally falls to pieces if they want.

When a library pays for a digital book, they're buying a licensing fee, permission to download that book's file to library patrons' devices. Not only does that licensing fee cost more than a printed book, but usually that digital file can only be loaned out to one patron at a time (as if it were a physical book) and only for a limited number of total lend-outs (as if it was accumulating wear and tear like a printed book).

Let's crunch a few more numbers:

If the library space at the Aquatics Center were to match the depth and breadth of the current Foothills Library, to be as good as what the city already owns, they would have to increase their digital holdings by at least 100,000 titles.

The cost for that would add up to... lemme see...

Six Million, Three Hundred Thousand Dollars ($6,300,000).

The City of Glendale would have to spend every penny of the five million dollars offered by Midwestern for the Foothills building, plus over a million dollars more, just to digitally replace the Foothills materials they seem so casually intent on disposing of. But somehow we're also supposed to pay for remodeling the Aquatics Center, and moving the remnants of Foothills there, and buy shiny new computers and other tech, and somehow still have over four million dollars left to pay down a small fraction of the city's debt.

The numbers simply don't add up. The promises aren't believable.

What is a city's reputation worth?

This proposal has brought Glendale into the media spotlight, both locally and nationally. It's not a very flattering light. Glendale is becoming a laughing stock. Not only did previous city administrations toss the city into a black hole of massive debt, but the current administration wants to sell one of its most-appreciated and socially valuable assets at a loss, and tries to pass it off as a good deal. Glendale's government looks like a pack of clowns.

This relocation proposal is one of the shoddiest and most incompetent sales campaigns I've ever seen. From the first day it went public, the flaws and bad data, the spin and half-truths, the misleading promises and lack of timetables, and especially the sheer audacity of trying to pass off the evisceration of a well-stocked, well-housed full-service library as an "expansion", have been pointed out and criticized.

This proposal is a train wreck. As more and more of the true background of how this proposal came to be conceived and presented comes out, the sleazier and more deeply dishonest it appears.

The only clear lesson in this entire affair so far is this: The Glendale city government cannot be trusted to tell its citizens the truth.

Cut your losses, Mayor Weiers and council members. Kick this proposal to the curb, as quickly as you can. Because a lot of people are angry and disgusted over this. And I can make this personal promise: If any council member votes to approve this so-called "expansion", I will do everything I can to see they are not elected to another term.

Sincerely,

Bruce Arthurs

2/18/2015

The Foothills Library War: An Introduction, Overview & Linkfest


When a library is endangered, I get concerned. The first book I remember reading, Space Cat, when I was six years old, came from the library. I've been a constant user of libraries since, no matter how many books I bought and still own. Any time Hilde and I have moved to a new city, one of the first things on our agenda has been to get a city library card.

Libraries are important. Not just to us personally, but to the public and to civilization at large. The growth of public libraries over the last 150 years or so has been one of the most progressive, beneficial, and praiseworthy accomplishments in American history. 

When it's my own local library that's endangered, I get very concerned.

Many people, even locally, haven't heard about this yet. I'm writing this post as an introduction to the issue, both for people affected locally and those people in the general public who care about libraries.


First, a little background. OK, a lot of background, but even this barely scratches the surface. :

I've been spending a lot of time the last few weeks here in Glendale, Arizona, where Hilde and I have lived since 1985, trying to help save our local library branch, Foothills, from having 80% of its books removed (about 140,000) and the remainder of the library's holdings moved from it's current 33,000 square-foot building and crammed into a 9,000-sqft space at a nearby city aquatics/recreation center. (Bad news for the rec center too, because they've been using those meeting rooms for classes and things like table tennis.)

The Foothills Branch Library serves the northern portions of Glendale. It opened in 1999, on land purchased from Midwestern University, a large osteopathic college located across the street. The purchase contract stipulated that MWU would be given first option to offer to buy the land and building at some future date.

Midwestern made such an offer in early 2014, for 5 million dollars. Knowledge of that offer only became public last month, when a proposal to accept the offer, downsize the library, and move the remainder to the recreation center was placed on the city council agenda. That triggered three public meetings earlier in February, before the various advisory committees for Recreation, Libraries, and Arts. (The Foothills library has a massive Dale Chihuly glass sculpture, valued at $400,000, hanging from its lobby ceiling. Midwestern's offer included the purchase of that, and other valuable public art, as part of the sale.)

At the meetings, the city's Recreation head, Eric Strunk, and the newly appointed Chief Librarian Michael Beck gave a Powerpoint presentation in support of the proposal. The Powerpoint presentation has been widely criticized for dubious and confusing numbers, highly lacking in hard data, the lack of any mention of negative impacts,  and using not-to-scale conceptual drawings of how the rec center space would be used. (The drawings also use false perspective to make the rec center's rooms appear larger than they actually are.) 

But what really sticks in people's craw is that this proposal to eviscerate and downsize the library is labelled "an expansion of library services". Yes, "expansion"; they really used that word. (The rationale is that digital offerings, and equipment to access them, will be expanded. By how much? How  quickly? Are there any guarantees the city will authorize an adequate budget -- in 2013, the average price a library paid per ebook was $63; the average cost for printed books in libraries that same year ranged from $6.17 to $27.78 -- to expand digital offerings? Vague answers, or none, to those and many other questions. Smoke and mirrors and bullshit.)

Besides the prospect of seeing their library gutted, residents are also upset about the $5 million dollar offer from MWU. The library's construction originally cost 7.8 million. A similar building constructed now would cost about $17 million. If Midwestern gets the library building for only $5 million, many Glendale residents would consider that to be, literally, a steal. (Two appraisals, one by MWU, one by the city, both came in under $5 million for the building's value. There have been questions raised about the city's appraisal process; the appraiser was paid $4,999; under the city's requirements, if he had asked for a single dollar more, $5,000, the appraisal would have had to be publicly posted for bids and the city council advised, instead of being kept hidden for nearly a year until it came to light.)

Why would the city of Glendale even consider this? Previous city administrations made high-risk investments in bringing sports venues to the city -- a football stadium, hockey arena, baseball training camp -- none of which have brought in the predicted revenue for the city, and have instead left Glendale saddled with massive and continuing debt and expenses. It was bad business deals that got us into this mess; why make yet another bad business deal that will only give partial and temporary relief? (If the entire $5M was used to service those debts, it would pay for less than four months of the hockey arena's expenses alone.)

The public has been extremely opposed to the sale, and the proposed move to the rec center. One poll noted 93% disapproval. At the three meetings, when members of the public were given a chance to speak, no one spoke in favor of the sale. Regardless, there's a great deal of concern that during the months between MWU's offer to buy and the public finally learning of the offer, there may have been a handshake-under-the-table deal between MWU and the city that the sale will be approved no matter how loudly Glendale citizens object.

The various advisory committees will meet again in March, to decide on a recommendation to the city council about the proposal. The city council will meet some time after that for a final decision.

This is way more than you probably want to know about local Arizona politics, but libraries, books, what make a city a good city, all those are important.

Links to various websites, news articles, blogs, and other commentary and information:

This page on Glendale Public Library's website provides links to the Powerpoint presentation, conceptual drawings, an updated FAQ sheet, the two appraisals of the library building, and a form on which to submit comments. I'll be making a later post about the FAQs -- some of the answers don't pass the smell test, and some of the information in the updated version is only there because too many people called foul on obvious BS -- and on portions of the city's appraisal.

Best Commentator To Date:

The best reportage on this has come from Joyce Clark, a former City Council member, who's been doing a continuing series of reports about the library issue on her blog,  Joyce Clark Unfiltered. Below is a list of posts so far:
Other Library Supporters:
Twitter: Save The Library 
Twitter hashtags: #savethelibrary #stopthetrend

Individuals speak out:
Shelley Mosley, retired Library Manager: Look Past The Hype
Valerie Burkhardt Betters: text of an outstanding speech given at 2/11 meeting; well worth reading, and I'm planning to highlight it in a separate post.



News Reports:

New York Times, 1/26: Albatross of debt weighs on super bowl city This recent NYT piece gives some background of Glendale's financial woes.

Your West Valley, 2/6: $5M deal would move Glendale's Foothills library to rec center

KTAR 12 News, 2/9: North Glendale residents not thrilled by library sale

Your West Valley, 2/11: Residents throw book at proposed north Glendale library sale

KTAR, 2/12: Arizona Coyotes subsidy prompts proposed sale of library branch: More background on the high-risk gambles Glendale made, and lost, on its sports venues investments.

Glendale Daily Planet, 2/12, Glendale Citizens Not Buying Sale of Foothills Library. This is the most through coverage of the Feb 11th meeting I've seen. (There's even a picture of me!) You have to scroll down to find the story; this local online paper is presented as a single very (very) long webpage, rather than providing links to separate presentation of each story.


I speak at the Feb 11th Foothills Relocation meeting.
Photo by Ed Sharpe, Glendale Daily Planet
arizona.newszap.com, 2/16, "Potential library relocation causes community concern"

Glendale Star, 2/17: Foothills patrons defend their library



Miscellaneous Documents:

factsheet on 2012 sales tax increase; In 2012, voters approved a city sales tax increase that was supposed to enable the city to deal with its debt problems and continue to provide public services. Among those services: "libraries".

Cholla Chats, Sept 2014: This City Council member's newsletter reported that MWU may be planning to build a seventh specialty college, one for Speech Pathology. There's been speculation that, if MWU succeeds in buying Foothills Library, they would use that as a wedge to buy the adjacent dog park and ballfields for the new college.


How To Help:


The Glendale City Council needs to understand that a good public library system is invaluable. It benefits the citizens, and it benefits the city. Downgrading the library system degrades the city as a whole; it affects business investments, the influx of new citizens, and the city's public reputation. Does the council really want Glendale to be perceived as "Detroit On The Desert"? That's the message passing this horrible proposal will send.

The "invisible benefits" predicted for the sports venues (growth of surrounding property, increased property values, etc) have never been met. The invisible benefits of public libraries, the benefits that come about when minds, particularly young minds, are used and exercised and given the widest possible opportunity to learn and grow, have been proven time and time again.

This is a list of email contacts for Glendale's mayor and council members,and a link to a map of the city's districts:
  • Mayor Jerry Weirs: jweiers@glendaleaz.com
  • Ian Hugh, Cactus District: ihugh@glendaleaz.com
  • Bart Turner, Barrel District: bturner@glendaleaz.com
  • Lauren Tolmachoff, Cholla District: ltolmachoff@glendaleaz.com
  • Gary Sherwood, Sahuaro District: gsherwood@glendaleaz.com
  • Sammy Chavira, Yucca District: schavira@glendaleaz.com
  • Jamie Aldama, Ocotillo District: jaldama@glendaleaz.com
  • Glendale District Map
Even if you're not a Glendale resident, letting the Mayor and Council know how important public libraries are, to individuals and cities and society at large, will help. Please write. 


"I do not believe that all books will or should migrate onto screens: as Douglas Adams once pointed out to me, more than 20 years before the Kindle turned up, a physical book is like a shark. Sharks are old: there were sharks in the ocean before the dinosaurs. And the reason there are still sharks around is that sharks are better at being sharks than anything else is. Physical books are tough, hard to destroy, bath-resistant, solar-operated, feel good in your hand: they are good at being books, and there will always be a place for them. They belong in libraries, just as libraries have already become places you can go to get access to ebooks, and audiobooks and DVDs and web content." (Neil Gaiman, 2013)


2/15/2015

Foothills Library: An Alternative Proposal

FOOTHILLS LIBRARY: 
AN ALTERNATIVE PROPOSAL:


Midwestern University's proposal to purchase the Foothills Branch Library building from the city of Glendale is reportedly for use as a medical/dental library and study space.

Midwestern University, a large osteopathic educational institution, has been on a building frenzy for several years. The additions to their property surely must be several hundred thousand additional square feet by now.

If MWU takes over the Foothills Library building, resulting in the drastic downsizing of a widely-loved library (an 80% reduction in inventory and square footage, the remainder to be crammed into several meeting rooms of the Aquatic & Recreation Center, rooms the Aquatic Center would no longer be able to use), it will seriously downgrade Midwestern's reputation and regard in the community. 

Glendale would have to replace a well-stocked, full-service library with an inferior Circle-K sized version, that might eventually be mostly digital. (What kind of budget would need to be appropriated to replace the lost printed books with digital versions? Especially since many publishers charge libraries substantially more for an e-book's licensing fees, sometimes three to four times more, than a printed book costs?)

Everyone loses with that deal.

I suggest, rather, that Midwestern either retrofits some of their recently-added space, or adds square footage to upcoming construction plans, and builds a nice compact mostly-digital library of their own.

Such a library, on Midwestern's current property, would have numerous advantages: It would be more convenient for MWU students to go to. If digital libraries are the wave of the future, surely Midwestern would want to get an early lead on such an upgrade. Culling outdated medical reference material from their current library, and moving to digitize much of the remaining material, would also free up space to use as study areas. And having a more centrally-located library on their current property would mean MWU students wouldn't have to go to the far corner and across the street from their current property to use the Foothills Library building.

And there's this: The remodeling and equipment purchases to install the reduced, mostly-digital, public library into the Aquatics Center space is estimated to cost about a million dollars. (That does not include any budget for increasing digital holdings.) If Midwestern spent triple that amount, three million dollars, to establish a similar mostly-digital library, MWU would still SAVE two million dollars over their five-million dollar offer for the Foothills Library building. Glendale citizens get to keep a full-service library, the Aquatics Center doesn't lose useful space.

If MWU builds its own digital library, everyone wins.

Since such an alternative proposal would save MWU several million dollars, I would like to suggest they make the grand gesture of donating one million dollars of that savings to the Glendale Public Libraries, for upgrades of equipment and providing a larger inventory of digital books. MWU would regain its "Good Neighbor" reputation again, and the MWU library would move towards the digital future. And Glendale's libraries would get to move towards that future along with it.


If that were to happen, everyone really wins.


(This is a slightly revised version of a flyer I handed out to a number of people after the February 11th Library Council meeting at Foothills Library. It's also a more expansive version of the remarks I made when speaking at that meeting.) (I'll be making more posts on this subject. This barely scratches the surface of how much is wrong and foolish about the proposed sale to Midwestern U. Google "Foothills library relocation" for more background. The best coverage on this has been coming from a continuing series of posts by Joyce Clark, a former Glendale City Council member, at joyceclarkunfiltered.com.)

2/11/2015

A Kickstarter For "Mom & Pop Move Their Comic Shop"

While I stopped following comics a few years ago when the nearby comic shop closed down, I still get some info about the business by cultural osmosis. And I read and collected comics for enough years that I understand why so many people still do.

All About Books & Comics has been a leading comic shop in Phoenix for decades, but owners Alan & Marsha Giroux recently lost the lease on their long-time location. (The doctor next door offered the landlord more rent when the lease became due to expire; AAC's footage will be turned into a new waiting room.) Moving to a new location will cost about $33,000.

The 2008 recession hit a lot of comic shops hard; the store I shopped at wasn't the only one that folded in the years afterward. AAB&C has managed to be a survivor, and -- even though I've never shopped there -- I think it's worth contributing to, to let it continue its service to comics fandom. (Also, pretty cool t-shirts if you pledge $25 or more!)

Here's the Kickstarter page: Mom & Pop Move Their Comic Shop


More On Foothills Library -- Joyce Clark: "Foothills Library... Why Bother?", plus other links

Following up on the previous post's mention of the proposal to downsize/shrink/gut the local Foothills Branch Library here in Glendale, AZ:

Joyce Clark is a former Glendale City Council member who's been posting some of the most informative and useful commentary about the Foothills Library debacle. "Foothills Library... why bother?" is a eloquent piece about the many benefits beyond lending books that a decently-supported library provides to its community. A quote:

Today’s public libraries are part refuge and part community center. It would surprise you to know that many people who visit a public library don’t borrow a single book. For some it is a quiet sanctuary, warm and dry. You could sit there all day and not be bothered. It wards off the loneliness of life for others. Yet, in a fit of schizophrenia, it is a place of constant activities…you can take a class, participate in a book club discussion, hear a visiting musician or enjoy a lecture. Moms can take their little ones to story time to discover the wonderful, magical world of books.
It is a resource to those looking for a job, or needing to use a computer because they can’t afford one or the cost of the internet even if they had a computer. It is a place where a research librarian has helped countless numbers of children to do research for a writing assignment. 
Its wealth is beyond measure…books, magazines, newspapers, CDs, DVDs, movies.  You can use, read and borrow anything within its four walls…for free. Digital media is fine. I use it often, very often but there is something special about a book. The use of digital media is growing and should be encouraged but not as a replacement for the brick and mortar public library but as an enhancement to its offerings.
More from Joyce Clark here, with some background for the whole mess: Love Your Library... Work To Save it.

azcentral.com, the website for local newspaper The Arizona Republic and Channel 12 news, has a news story and video: "North Glendale residents not thrilled by library sale"

Googling around on the subject of digital libraries, I found this photo from one of the all-digital BiblioTech libraries in San Antonio, TX:


Good God. Being crammed in nearly elbow-to-elbow at long rows of sterile workstations is not anything like my idea of what a library should be. This looks more like a commercial call-center than anything else. I find it ghastly and horrifying. Is that really supposed to be the future of libraries?

There'll be another public hearing on the  proposal tonight, February 11th at 6:00 PM, at the Foothills Library in the Roadrunner Room. If you're local, and can attend, please do. I'd suggest getting there early; over 400 people on Facebook have indicated they're planning to come, plus any non-Facebookers like me, and I'm not sure the Roadrunner Room can hold that many.

2/10/2015

Slow Adapter Adapts, Slowly

I guess it would help to actually let people know about this:

 3 minutes ago3 minutes ago I have succumbed to the concise side of the Force, and signed up for Twitter.

But you still can't make me sign up for Facebook.  There are limits.

I've been following a few people's Twitter accounts manually, but the final push to sign up came from the city of Glendale (Arizona; there are a lot of Glendales) proposing what they call an "expansion of library services".

This "expansion" involves selling off the Foothills Branch Library building (the one Hilde and I use) at a substantial loss, gutting the book collection by 140,000 books, and shoving the remainder into an 80% smaller space at a nearby recreation center.  There's much, much more to the story, mostly enraging, and it's still developing. A lot of people are very upset, myself included, and Twitter is one of the primary venues for coordinating and communicating. I'll probably have a lot more to say about it after a public meeting tomorrow evening.


2/05/2015

Come With Me Now - Kongos Cover by Korbe Canida



Korbe Canida is a rising local musician in Phoenix with a helluva voice. 

Other YouTube videos are here. She was recently profiled in the local New Times paper. ("...when she starts to sing, her powerhouse vocals captivate. Her sweet gaze, which she holds with each intent listener, keeps audience members transfixed and brings some to tears.") A recent Kickstarter for her first EP successfully funded; the EP should be out in the next month or two.

The "nerd glasses" isn't an affectation; she plays D&D. (Hey, this is ostensibly a science fiction blog; I gotta make a connection somewhere.)