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August 2002
 
Book Reviews
Charles de Lint
Elizabeth Hand
Michelle West
James Sallis
Chris Moriarty
 
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F&SF Bibliography: 1949-1999
Index of Title, Month and Page sorted by Author

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Books To Look For
by Charles de Lint

The Ogre's Wife and Other Fairy Tales for Grown-Ups - Richard Parks
Obscura Press, 2002; 336pp; $18.95
Trade paperback

Readers pay far less attention to writers' by-lines than the writers themselves would probably like. This is especially true with magazines and anthologies where one is presented with large numbers of by-lines, all bunched together on the contents page, many of them unfamiliar. Readers are far more likely to remember the stand-out story than the name of the person who wrote it.

I know I'm guilty of this behavior. I try to pay attention to the by-lines, but I simply read and sample too many short stories, and my recall for facts and figures has never been particularly good (just ask my annoyed teachers, back in my school days). But I do remember the stories.

I mention this because when a friend brought Richard Parks's collection to my attention, I started to read it on his recommendation, rather than on the basis of any personal familiarity with Parks's by-line. So I was surprised to discover that I'd read most of these stories before. Not only read them, but was quite taken with them at the time of those first readings.

Discovering them again in The Ogre's Wife has only increased my admiration for Parks's remarkable storytelling talents.

I think part of the reason that his name didn't stick with me (as in "oh, this is a Richard Parks story so it'll be good") is because his story palette is so much larger than that of most writers. He ranges with enviable ease from high fantasy, fairy tale, and fable (as in "My Lord Teaser," the title story, and "Golden Bell, Seven, and the Marquis of Zeng") to dark fantasy ("Doing Time in the Wild Hunt"), contemporary fantasy ("Take a Long Step"), near future sf (the wonderful trio of stories featuring the ghost hunter, Eli Mothersbaugh), and even Twilight Zone-ish excursions (such as my favorite story in the collection, "Borrowed Lives").

Along the way we also get to step into the minds of gods (Norse, as well as Christianity's God), have a speculative peek into the possible future of the entertainment industry, and find out how and why fairies die.

In short, Parks is all over the place in terms of subject manner and style. But it's to his enormous credit that all these different voices ring true. You never get the sense that he's merely dabbling in various genres, or that he can't make up his mind as to what sort of story he wants to tell. Instead, like the best storytellers, he goes where the tale takes him, and then proceeds to write that story as truthfully as possible, in the voice that he needs: sometimes lyrical, sometimes hard-edged; sometimes in a voice that sounds as ancient as the first stories told around our early ancestors' campfires; sometimes in a voice so new that we have yet to hear it.

What ties the material together is that, without exception, these stories all have heart. Even the lighter pieces have a foundation of emotional fortitude as solid as bedrock.

The Ogre's Wife is an absolute treasure of a collection, one that I know I will return to again and again. And now when I see that by-line of Richard Parks in a magazine or anthology, not only will I remember it, but his story will be the first I'll turn to.

I've read this from an advance galley, and the publisher is unfamiliar to me, so I can't tell you what the book itself will look like. But I do know that it also has an insightful introduction by Parke Godwin.

If your local book store doesn't carry this book, try contacting the publisher at: Obscura Press, P.O. Box 1992, Ames, IA 50010-1992.

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How to Get Your E-Book Published by Richard Curtis & William Thomas Quick
Writer's Digest Books, 2002; 278pp; $21.99
Hardcover; ISBN 1-58297-097-1

I don't plan to make a habit of reviewing how-to books in this column. However, I will continue to do so when I see a title that is of broader interest than might be a simple discussion of the mechanics of writing. The book in hand is a perfect example.

Yes, as you'd expect from the title, it does discuss the minutiae of creating, formatting, publishing, and distributing an e-book. But it also provides a very good background on the whole phenomenon of electronic publishing, from a history of the Web and the first electronically-distributed texts through to informed speculations on where e-publishing will take us in the future.

I'm not familiar with William Thomas Quick, though perhaps I should be since he's cited as having written more than thirty books and his short story "Bank Robbery," published in Analog back in 1989, apparently predicted the e-book revolution before it was even in its infancy.

I am familiar with Richard Curtis, as I assume most everyone in the field is. Although better known as an agent, Curtis is also an author and the driving force behind e-reads, an e-book and print publisher specializing in keeping backlist books in print. Like Quick, Curtis was on the cutting edge of e-publishing before most of us even realized how viable it would be, and I especially admire the fact that he was willing to put his money where his mouth is in the formation of e-reads. Its subsequent success makes it clear that he knew, and knows, what he's doing.

How to Get Your e-Book Published is written in an easy-to-understand manner that's both good and bad. Because much of its audience might not even be familiar with computers, the authors explain in clear and basic detail the basics of the Web, word processing programs, image files, compression programs, and text formats. Which is good for those new to the material, but might at times feel too simplistic for anyone with some familiarity in the subject. That said, I think that only the most knowledgeable expert won't find something of use and of interest in its pages. This is especially true when the authors speculate on where this rapidly-growing off-shoot of traditional publishing is bound.

I did note one surprising omission, however. The authors appear to ignore completely the enormous presence that handheld devices such as Palms, Visors, iPaqs, etc., have in the e-book world. I know many, many people who read e-books, and those are the devices they use to read them--not the desktop and notebook computers, or dedicated e-book readers, that the authors do discuss.

They also ignore the PDB format--perhaps not so surprisingly, since this is one of the main formats used by those same handheld devices (and makes for a much better reading experience than the clunky software made by Microsoft or Adobe, for example). The PDB format provides the option for full formatting and encryption, and I'd say that ninety-five percent of the people I know who read e-books are reading them in this format. There are also many free readers available for PDB text files, from the Palm Reader that works for both the Palm OS and Pocket PC, as well as others such as SmartDoc, AportisDoc, etc., that support only the Palm OS.

So it doesn't make sense to ignore it.

On an amusing note, I did a Web search (in March) for an e-book version of How to Get Your e-Book Published (given its subject, it seems a given that it would be available), but it wasn't to be found. Although to be fair to the authors, that might have more to do with the publisher not wanting to cut into their print sales.

Still, nitpicking aside, if you have any interest in this subject, this is an excellent jumping-in point. And if you're an author, or a regular reader, you should have an interest, since e-publishing will continue to become an ever-stronger presence in how we access our reading material--not in the far future, but month by month from this point on.

E-books won't necessarily replace hard copies, and frankly, I don't think they should, but they will certainly augment publishing lists, allowing many more out-of-print books, or quirky ones, to remain "in print." And from both a reader and an author's point of view, that's a good thing.

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Material to be considered for review in this column should be sent to Charles de Lint, P.O. Box 9480, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1G 3V2.

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