A Brief Note on the State of eBook Readers

So Kindle just announced a $139 wifi ereader along with their new $189 3G Kindle model. This competes with the Nook's $150 wifi and $199 3G readers, the price just enough lower to be giving B&N the finger. Only a little while ago, Sony's $199 reader with no connectivity at all seemed like a decent buy, but now it looks ridiculous, even with it's own price dropped to $150. And the 3G Sony Reader that was $400 and has now plummeted to $250? Still an overpriced joke. Since the introduction of the iPad, ebook-only readers have been engaged in a vertigo-inducing race to the bottom. Meanwhile, independent ebook readers, like Cool-Er, have been driven out of business because they can't meet loss-leader price points.

So how long until there's $100 reader? A $50 one? How about a free ereader, given away to lock you into an ebook format? Time will tell.

Mind, Body, Spirit, Whatever: The New Poetics of the Metaphysical

Adam Fieled has published a very interesting essay at Word For/Word about what he sees as a needed resurgence of metaphysical concerns in contemporary poetics. I largely agree with his thesis that the poetics of previous generations, in particular those of the American avant-garde of the latter half of the twentieth century, have been overly enmeshed in a variety of materialisms. There are notable exceptions, of course, chief among them I think would be poets of the Beat generation like Gary Snyder, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg and a few others from the New York School, most notably Joseph Ceravolo. But in surveying the poetics of the major movements of the last 50 years of poetry, it's clear that in particular the obsessions of post-structuralism and the new criticism with the text as material object have infected a great deal of the late poetries with a pervasive materialism that has created the problems that Fieled notes. I don't want to quibble with the problematization as Fieled conceives it, but I do see a flaw in his historical analysis that I'd like to reformulate because I think it will make clearer those problems as well as help to point out possible approaches to solutions in the search for a way forward.

Weekend Reading - 7/23/2010

Wet Asphalt favorite Tom Bissell (author of the recent, wonderful Extra Lives) has a new article in Harpers about the Rocky Horror of our time, a film that is mesmerizingly bad. Subscription required to read it at the link, or you can just go out and buy the issue, trust me, it's well worth it.

Also not our typical link material, but this article about the man who played a perfect game of The Price is Right is fascinating and really well written, by excellent journalist Chris Jones.

A comic that gives an excellent summary of what's wrong with moon hoax theories.

It's always nice to read a new interview with Alan Moore, where he talks about comics, magic and his new project, Unearthing.

A weird, alternate reality comic called The Moon Prince is my new favorite web comic. Now if only they had an RSS feed...

And as always, FICTION TIME:

Wet Asphalt favorite Brian Francis Slattery wins the Brain Harvest Mega Challange with a story called "The World Is a Voice in My Neighbor’s Throat", which is as well-executed a short-short as you're likely to find.

The Canadian Radio series The Vanishing Point made a series of adaptations of the stories of legendary writer JG Ballard. It's JG Balllard. Go listen.

James Wood Has a Superficial Understanding of Fiction

James Wood is perhaps the most celebrated literary critic around, and his offer of employment at the New Yorker a few years ago was practically an inevitability. Long time readers of this blog will know I have mixed feelings about the man, on the one hand praising his analysis and critical acumen, and on the other despairing his hopelessly conservative tastes and high modernist sensibility. However, I never quite grasped the true depths of what is deeply wrong in his critical understanding until I read his most recent book, How Fiction Works.

Understand: this is a book that spends three chapters talking about the importance of detail (before Wood concludes that he is "ambivalent" about details in fiction), but has not one single chapter about plot. Indeed, plot is twice dismissed as juvenile, and Wood turns to the example of Flaubert again and again, the man who, Wood says, wanted to write a book about "nothing", that got by on style alone.

The Magician, The Priest, The Conjurer & The Lawyer: Law, Mysticism, Magic, and the Occult

I begin with my own personal definition of magic: magic is the explanation of last resort. I am, among other things, an amateur magician; or to put it another way, don't play cards with me for money. I use this concept of magic, tho, because it encompasses not only legerdemaine and conjuring as entertainment, but also magic as a subject of anthropological study: the practice of various believers in magic that exist and have always existed in human society. It also encompasses practices that, I think, the people who engage in them would hesitate to describe as magic. I'm thinking here of the sacraments of various christian churches, marriage rites, funeral rites and the like that are more generally thought of as religious rather than magical. My thinking about magic is intentionally wider than what I think most people would accept for various reasons, but most fundamentally it is to encompass in a single concept the resonant similarities I feel in my encounters within four cultural institutions that I see as making use of magic to accomplish their ends.

The ReaderCon Interviews

ReaderCon is the science fiction and fantasy convention devoted specifically to books and reading, and attracts some of the best authors in the field (and in some cases, out of it). Below are my interviews, mostly about the future of publishing and genre, conducted with (in chronological order) Gavin Grant, Charles Stross, Barry Malzberg, Cathrynne M. Valente, Junot Diaz, Samuel R. Delany, Elizabeth Hand, John Clute, John Kessel, Alexander Jablokov, Ted Chiang, Gary K. Wolfe and Peter Straub.

ReaderCon Note

Just a quick note to say ReaderCon was fantastic. I should be posting a video later in this week that includes short interviews I conducted with Barry Maltzberg, Samuel Delany, Junot Diaz, Ted Chaing, Charles Stross, Elizabeth Hand and many more...

Weekday Reading - 7/7/2010

I'm off to ReaderCon tomorrow, and you can follow my time there on Twitter. To keep you busy, here's some stuff to read:

Hal Duncan writes what is probably the best meditation on The Last Airbender, whitewashing, racism and writing about the Other I've read yet and is eminently worth reading.

io9 gives us an interesting reevaluation of To Your Scattered Bodies Go, the first novel in Philip José Farmer's Riverworld series.. The series is about an impossibly long river on which every human who has ever lived wakes up.

The always interesting Matt Cheney writes about Reality Hunger, Narrative Power and the relationship of fiction, non-fiction and narrative.

Fun stuff:
This hilarious parody of old Spider-Man comics really hits the nail on the head in terms of the cognitive dissonance between different presentations of the same character, in this case Spider-Man comics and the ads for Hostess products starring Spider-Man that often appeared in those comics.

Science Time: Is the an evil, goteed version of you somewhere in the multiverse? io9 (again) crunches the numbers for us.

(No, I'm not linking to io9 just because they published me, I swear.)

Finally, Fiction Time! Audio edition: Stephen Colbert reads TC Boyle and David Rakoff reads Lydia Davis.

The iPad: Not the Writing Tool I'd Hoped For

I had high hopes. Something as portable and powerful as an iPad could be an amazing writing device, a tool you'd carry around with you all the time anyway, lightning quick to boot, and (almost) always connected to the Internet for instant back-up. Plus, the iPad's lack of multitasking is practically a feature for writers—no more constant alt-tabbing to the web browser to procrastinate. Brilliant. When I found out there were writing programs for it that synchronized directly with Dropbox, the service I use to back up and synchronize my files anyway, I went out and bought one, along with the Apple keyboard dock.

Now the iPad is amazing at a lot of things. For web browsing, watching videos (non-flash of course) and reading comic books it's perfect. There's an app called "Reeder" which has completely changed the way I interact with RSS feeds, allowing me to effectively take Google Reader on the subway. But alas, after trying out the major word processing options, all were missing key features that I'd come to take for granted, making them annoying to use at best.