Monday, March 30, 2009

Roger Zelazny's new book -- three surprises

Three interesting facts about the new Roger Zelazny novel, "The Dead Man's Brother," published a few weeks ago:

(1) It's a surprise, first of all, to see this title in print at all, as Roger Zelazny died in 1995. A couple of his books were completed by his girlfriend, Jane Lindskold, after he died, but I had no idea there was a completed novel out there until I saw this title in Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona.

It's not that unusual for even a successful writer to have unpublished novels. There are two or three unpublished George Alec Effinger novels that may never come out, barring a sudden revival of interest in his work.

(2) A bigger surprise is that "The Dead Man's Brother" is so good. This isn't "To Die in Italbar" or even "Jack of Shadows." It is a top flight Zelazny novel, crackling with wit and literary allusions, colorful and thoughtful. Trent Zelazny, the author's son, estimates in an afterward that the book was written "around 1970 or 1971." It's amazing that a book this good has gone unpublished for more than three decades.

(3) Finally, although this book is marketed as a mystery, it does have a science fiction element. The hero, Ovid Wiley, has been determined by scientists to be difficult to kill, i.e. they have used statistics to determine that a certain number of individuals can be determined to be "lucky" in surviving plane crashes, assaults by hit men, etc. This quality of Wiley's plays an important part in the plot. He's not another immortal Zelazny protagonist, but he is certainly less than mortal.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Prometheus Award nominations announced

Movie lovers have the Academy Awards, music fans have the Grammys, readers have the Pulitzers. Science fiction fans such as myself have their awards, too.
One of the awards given out in science fiction is called the Prometheus. Its list of 2008 novels nominated for the award was announced today. (Disclosure: I am one of the judges who worked on the list).
The books are:
“Matter” by Iain Banks;
“Little Brother,” Cory Doctorow;
“The January Dancer,” Michael Flynn;
“Saturn’s Children,” Charles Stross;
“Opening Atlantis,” Harry Turtledove;
“Half a Crown,” Jo Walton.
More information here.
The Prometheus, given to science fiction novels that promote the cause of freedom, are not the biggest award in science fiction. At best, it’s like the Golden Globe. The top award, the equivalent of the Oscars, are called the Hugo Awards, and the novel nominees for the award were announced a few days ago.
The Hugo nominees are:
“Anathem,” Neal Stephenson;
“The Graveyard Book,” Neil Gaiman;
“Little Brother,” Cory Doctorow;
“Saturn’s Children,” Charles Stross;
“Zoe’s Tale,” John Scalzi.
I have read all of these books except for the Gaiman and the Stross. I especially recommend the books by Banks, Doctorow, Stephenson and Flynn.
(Cross posted at Jackson Street Beat).

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Getting computer advice

(Another Internet column for my former newspaper, The Lawton Constitution).

My first computer was a Commodore 64 that my sister gave me when she bought her first IBM computer.
It sat on my desk for months because I had never used a personal computer before, and I assumed that I would not be smart enough to figure out how to put it together and make it run. I finally worked up the courage to hook up the cables and components.
I discovered I could get the thing to run. I then discovered that playing with it was fun, and started attending the meetings of the local Commodore users group.
My point is I didn't always write a computer column. Everyone has to start somewhere, and even people who know quite a bit about computers can learn more.
The Internet is a great place to learn about computers, whether you are a novice who barely knows what a "mouse" is or a sophisticated techie who puts together his own distributions of Linux as a hobby.
People who don't know much about computers and need help with basic tasks while running Windows programs should look at the Computer Lady site run by Elizabeth Boston at She offers two free e-mail newsletters, "Ask the Computer Lady" and "Computer Lady Lessons."
More sophisticated users are the target audience for Lifehacker (, a blog that concentrates on offering computer advice but also provides tips on many other topics, including diet and personal finance. Much of its advice can be used by anyone, but its detailed tutorials on Linux are aimed at computer nerds.
The blog makes good use of article tags. Visitors can browse the archives for a specific topic, and can subscribe to all posts about a particular interest. For example, you can follow all the posts about cell phones.
Most computer advice sites fall somewhere between these two. They are aimed at people who already know something about computers but are not experts.
Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal is a genuine expert, but he makes a conscious effort to write for ordinary computer users. His columns and advice appear in the Journal, but all of his articles, and the articles written by a sidekick named Katherine Boehret, are available free on the Internet at
If you are planning to buy a desktop computer, laptop computer or digital camera, I suggest checking out Mossberg's buyer's guide.
All Things Digital frequently has articles about useful Web sites; currently the site has articles about an online college guide and a site for home buyers.
Lately, I'm convinced one of the best things about The New York Times ( is the free "Circuits" e-mail. Last week's issue had a great article, "Low-Tech Fixes for High-Tech Problems" by Paul Boutin. Google it to find out how to make credit card swipes work, how to keep your cellphone battery from losing its charge so quickly, what to do if you drop a cell phone in the toilet, and so on.
Mediamaster shutting down. One of my favorite music sites, MediaMaster (, is closing down.
The site allowed users to upload music files and then play them from any computer with an Internet connection. No date was announced for the shutdown, but I assume it will be gone soon.
"It was a good time, but not good enough to make a business from in the current world," the owners said.
MediaMaster's blog suggests that music fans try or I'll take a look at those sites soon and write about them here.
Jazz sites. I'm a big jazz fan, but I have had trouble finding jazz Web sites that would inspire me to pay a repeat visit.
Beckey Bright of the Wall Street Journal, however, has found some good jazz blogs for her column, "Blog Watch." Rifftides ( is written by author Doug Ramsey. Do The Math ( is written by Ethan Iverson of the group, The Bad Plus. Straight No Chaser ( by Jeffrey Siegel also seems to cover the jazz scene well. I've added all three blogs to my Google Reader subscriptions (
The Wall Street Journal is a paid Web site, but "Blog Watch" apparently is included among the free content (

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A new Zelazny novel

Yes, you read that right. The late, great Roger Zelazny died in 1995, but a new Zelazny novel, "The Dead Man's Brother," has just been published.

I've had Roger Zelazny on my mind a lot lately. I live in the Cleveland area, where Zelazny orginally was from, and I've been wondering which Zelazny book I should read next. (I've read many of them, but not all of them.) I'm on vacation in Arizona, and I was astounded when I went to the Poisoned Pen, a mystery bookstore in Scottsdale, and found "The Dead Man's Brother" on a display table, with the words "first publication anywhere" on the front cover.

It's a mystery novel he apparently wrote around 1970 or 1971, when he was writing science fiction mystery novels such as "My Name Is Legion." The afterword by his son, Trent Zelazny, says the book was discovered by Zelazny's agent.

It's published as a "Hard Case Crime" book, a cheap paperback available for $7. I haven't had time to read it yet and find out if it's any good, but at this point it feels like an unexpected gift.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

My 'Black History Month' column

Belatedly, here is the Internet column I wrote for Black History Month.

We are in the middle of Black History Month. I've tried to write about that in past columns, when I could find a site interesting enough to make that worthwhile.
This would seem to be one of those times, because the Smithsonian Institution has mounted a Virtual Heritage Tour on African American History.
The tour is an online exhibit of various objects in the Smithsonian's collection that relate to black history and culture. Visit it here
One thing I liked about the tour was that navigating around it was so easy. There are different ways to browse the site, none of them wrong. Clicking on "Timeline" and "Explore Objects" at the top of the page worked, but so did clicking on little icons of the objects themselves at the bottom of the page.
The exhibit seems to be aimed at children, although there's enough substance to keep the attention of adults. As I clicked on each, I could read a brief caption and hear a brief audio lecture.
Lawton's former Congressman, J.C. Watts, played a role in creating what will be the new National Museum of African-American History and Culture, which will likely be another wonderful Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C. You can find out how the museum is coming along by going to
I downloaded document from the site that told me an architect for the new museum is supposed to be selected in April. The estimated start of construction is in 2012, with the museum to be finished by 2015.
Weather alerts. In light of the tornado damage at Lone Grove, it seems timely to remind everyone that the state government offers weather alerts at
Notifications are available for winter weather, flash flood, severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. The alerts can be sent as e-mails or as text messages to your cell phone.
Love me, love my pet? I should have gotten around to mentioning this site before Valentine's Day. Oh well. Date My Pet ( is a site that aims to unite dog and cat lovers. Visitors can browse the site for photos of owners and their pets.
Visiting college campuses. If someone in your family is trying to figure out where to go to college, point that person to Campus Tours (, which offers virtual tours (or least links to home pages) for many different colleges across the U.S.
Customizing your signature. Like many people, I run all of my e-mail through my Gmail account. It means I can check all of my e-mail in one place, rather than three different places.
But I've had one complaint about Gmail. The signature I use for my work address (promoting my newspaper's Web site) is not the one I wanted to use for my personal e-mail. Gmail only lets me create one signature, but I needed two. I wanted a personal sig to promote my personal blog site.
Wisestamp ( is an extension for the Firefox Web browser that lets me create different business and personal signatures, and quickly choose one when composing an e-mail.
(Tom Jackson wants to hear about interesting Southwest Oklahoma Web sites and blogs, and sites that his readers find interesting or useful. Write to him at