1) Aaaaand we’re back! Let’s start with some intriguing news: after a century of waiting, we will finally get to read Mark Twain’s complete autobiography. The Independent has a pithy story on it. While some of it has been used by biographers and some bits were published by Twain to make ends meet in his final years, this will be the entire manuscript, which should prove very illuminating given how his views on many things (such as American imperialism) changed towards the end of his life.

2) There’s a critique of the Nebula Award-winning The Windup Girl over at SFSignal. It’s very spoilery so don’t read it if that upsets you. Karen Burnham pins down some things about the book that weaken it for her. I think one of those has a lot of merit, which specifically relates to the ending and how the characters work. I agree less with her other critiques: that knowledge of Thailand might be necessary to understand the problems it has in the novel and that perhaps focusing on the events previous to this book (the Contraction, a great catastrophe triggered by the oil running out) would make the point more sharply. I was pleased that Bacigalupi focused on the Expansion, which has plenty of problems of its own, and even given recent events in Thailand, what happens in the novel felt different, not a product of Thailand as much as larger economic and material conditions in the world.
I like seeing these sorts of pieces, and the discussions they spawn. While I think some of the critique misses the mark, I appreciate that she chose this popular and well-received book for more scrutiny. I thought that the book was one of the best I read last year, and what I found disquieting was the deus ex machina that appeared near the end and tied up the book too neatly. After the struggles and complexities Bacigalupi presents, it was a bit unsettling to have a rather pat ending. Despite those complaints, I think it is a book that everyone should read and ponder.

3) My friend Michelle D. Sonnier writes about some recent yammering over Neil Gaiman. Speaking a library. And donating his speaking fee, which did not come from the library, to charity. This angered some people. Apparently he was even referred to as a “douche” and castigated for the temerity of his visit. I mean, for the love of Willy Pete people, what the hell?!?!?

I said a bit about my take on it over at Chelle’s blog, but to build on what she discussed: why do artists consistently get shafted in American culture? Why is it OK for a movie star to make eleventy-billion dollars per movie, or for Sarah Effin’ Palin to collect (for her own personal gain) monstrous speaker’s fees to spout bullshit, but when a writer gives a talk and doesn’t even take the money for himself, a hue & cry is raised? What is it that gets people so upset?
This extends past a single incident. Think about the Great E-Book Kerfuffle, where people dumped on the authors for wanting fair compensation for their efforts. People went to Amazon and left 1-star reviews of books they had not read, because a certain publishing house had printed the author’s book, or an author has spoken up about the issue. People went onto the Kindle community and caterwauled about greedy writers and the unfairness of being asked to pay more than the artificially-depressed prices Amazon had created to leverage the market. A lot of readers were quite put-out that authors wanted to make a living at their work, and considered them charlatans for asking to be paid for months or years of creative labor.
There’s more to the E-Book issue than that, but the furor over artists asking for compensation that is a fraction of movie stars or political demagogues is strange and unsettling. I really wonder what it is that upsets people?
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